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Miss Evans said nothing but stared intently into my eyes.
I looked away. Some rock and roll song with no words had been playing, and now there was one of those pauses that happens in the universe of a bar, when one song goes off the jukebox but another one hasn’t come on yet, and all you hear is people shouting and laughing into the void.
“I’ll tell you why, Arnold,” she said.
I had already forgotten what it was she was talking about, and what she now proceeded to say did nothing to enlighten me, because just as she began to speak -- leaning slightly toward me, but speaking not in the somewhat high and trilling tones she had been using but in a low and more serious-sounding voice -- unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, all I could hear was this new song that had come on the jukebox, Lesley Gore singing about how it was some other girl named Judy’s turn to cry. I could see Miss Evans’s lips moving, and I heard some sort of vocal noise coming out from between them, but I hadn’t the faintest notion what she was saying. I suppose I could have leaned forward, or asked her to speak up, or both, but instead I just nodded my head in time to the music.
Finally the song faded away. My head was still nodding I think.
“So you agree?” she said.
“Oh. Yes. Absolutely,” I said.
“This is why I like you, Arnold. You’re very astute.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Isn’t he astute, Joshua?” asked Miss Evans.
“Pardon me?” said Josh. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t been paying attention either.
“Isn’t Arnold astute?”
“Oh, sure,” said Josh.
I was thinking that I could make it through this as long as songs kept coming on the jukebox. Another one about a guy with two faces came on, and I lifted my great mug to take another drink of beer when someone clapped me on the back, causing me almost to chip a tooth on the glass.
It was DeVore, and with him of course was his wife. He held a partially consumed manhattan in one hand, she held both a manhattan and a martini.
“I thought you were gonna come join us at our table,” he said.
I would rather die, I thought, but all I said was, “Um.”
DeVore thrust his free hand past me toward Josh.
“Bob’s the name, fella, Bob DeVore.”
Josh rose from his seat again and shook DeVore’s hand.
“My name’s Josh.”
“Pleased to meet you, Josh. And this is my little lady --”
He said her name I think, but don’t ask me what it was. It sounded like Radish, but that couldn’t be it.
“Hello,” said Josh.
Mrs. DeVore made some chirping noises, and I noticed Miss Evans lowering her eyebrows at her. She spoke, and now I could hear her clearly over the music.
“Listen, we’ll be over in a little while.”
“Why not come over now?” said Mr. DeVore.
“Arnold and Joshua and I are having a private conversation.”
“What are you talking about, Arnold?” asked DeVore.
He had me stumped.
“Uh,” I said. “Um.”
“Look, we ordered you a martini, Gertrude,” said Mrs. DeVore. She raised up the pristine martini. “Very dry, just the way you wanted it.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Miss Evans polished off the martini she was already holding, put it down, then took the fresh one off of Mrs. DeVore. “We’ll be along in a minute.”
“You promised,” said Mrs. DeVore.
“In a minute,” said Miss Evans brightly, but firmly.
“But --” said Mrs. Devore.
“Perhaps two minutes,” said Miss Evans
Mrs. DeVore started to cry.
“Oh, please don’t start blubbering, Gladys. It’s silly cows like you who give our gender a bad name.”
This didn’t help. Mrs. DeVore began to emit a sound like a police car siren drawing closer and closer.
“Frank,” said Miss Evans, “you’re her husband. Make her stop this hideous keening.”
“My name’s Bob.”
“Bob. Make her stop. Stop it, Gladys.”
“My name’s not Gladys,” sobbed Mrs. DeVore.
Josh, who had halfway re-seated himself, now got up again with his beer mug.
“Where are you going, Josh?” said Miss Evans, putting a hand on his arm.
“Just going to play the juke box,” said Josh.
“Oh, I will,” he said. He pulled his arm free, tapped me on the shoulder.
“Come on, Arnold, help me choose some tunes.”
“Oh, I really don’t know much about music,” I said.
“Sure you do. Come on.”
Now he grabbed my arm, firmly, and pulled.
“Okay,” I said.
“Play something lively,” said Miss Evans.
“Play some Kingston Trio!” said DeVore.
“Play some more Lesley Gore!” said Mrs. DeVore, snuffling.
“Sure,” said Josh, and he pulled me along and down through the throng to the other end of the bar where the jukebox was.
When we got there he said, “Don’t look back.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of dimes, and began dropping them into the slot.
“Punch some songs in, Arnold.”
“What do you want to hear?”
“It doesn’t matter. Anything.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Arnold,” he said, dropping in his dimes from his seemingly inexhaustible supply, “I’ve spent forty days and forty nights in the desert, surviving off the flesh of insects. As you well know I was brutally scourged, and then nailed to a cross. I spent three days in a tomb.”
“Yes, I know.”
I saw a Kingston Trio song, “Tom Dooley”, so I punched in the numbers and letters for that one.
“I’ve been through battles, Arnold. I’ve stood toe to toe with Beelzebub himself on a crag in the Atlas Mountains, fencing with thunderbolts. For thirty-six hours we dueled in a blinding tempest.”
“Did you win?”
“I didn’t win exactly but I fought him to a draw. Play another song.”
I saw a Lesley Gore, so I played that one.
“I don’t scare easily,” said Josh. “But that woman scares the hell out of me. How do you deal with her?”
“I try to avoid her.”
“Why didn’t you run away just now?”
“To be honest I was planning to do that after I finished my beer.”
“And leave me alone with her?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Well, I guess I can’t blame you. Look, let’s both make a run for it.”
“She’ll only follow us if we leave together,” I said. “And so will the DeVores.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Damn. Oh, wait. Play that one. ‘Please Please Me’.”
“The Beatles? Never heard of them.”
“Trust me, they’re going to be huge.”
I punched in the song.
(Continued here, and indefinitely if not infinitely. Please refer to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, as serialized on the Chock Full O’Nuts Dramatic Showcase Hour, hosted by Oscar Levant, on the DuMont Television Network.)