(Newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of this multi-volume masterpiece. “The only desert island book you’ll ever need.” -- noted critic Harold Bloom, in Woman’s Domain.)
What was it with these infernal creatures and men’s rooms? For that matter what was it with men’s rooms? It seemed as if I had spent a quarter of my night in these foul chambers. No, what am I saying? It was more like a quarter of my entire life, half a lifetime’s worth of my waking hours wasted either heading to or escaping from lavatories. It was enough to make you never want to leave the house. Not that I was safe even in the bathroom of my aunts’ house, as I had learned all too well. Perhaps I should just go in the bushes from now on. How bad could that be? You didn’t hear dogs and cats complaining.
The above thoughts and a dozen more flickered by in the space of two seconds, after which the smiling man said:
“So, at last we meet, Arnold. My name is Lucky.”
“That’s not what I heard,”
“Heh heh. Call me Lucky anyway.”
“Yeah, well, Lucky, I have to go,” I said and I made to step around him.
He side-stepped, moving directly in front of me. He was still smiling, and he took a puff of that fat and rather foul-smelling cigarette. (I think it was French.)
“Oh, please don’t go yet, Arnold. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Oh. From Jack Scratch?”
“No other. He’s most upset. Afraid I’ll demote him for failing with you.”
“Oh, yes. He’s terrified, poor fellow.”
“I didn’t know you could go any lower than being a devil,” I said.
“Oh, there’s always another level down, I assure you.”
“Well, don’t be too hard on him. He gave it a good try. Now I really have to go.”
“Oh no you don’t.”
“Oh. You’re going to stop me?”
“Yes. And you wouldn’t be the first human being I’ve dragged screaming hellward to the eternal flames. You are in a state of mortal sin, you know. Don’t think I wasn’t watching you with your friend Astra in that hallway just a couple of hours ago.”
“Elektra,” I said.
“Her name is Elektra.”
“Well, whatever the hell her name is – it really doesn’t matter, you’re in a state of mortal sin.”
It was true, he had me there.
“But don’t I have to be dead first?”
“That can be so easily arranged, my friend. A quick judo maneuver on my part and you’re just another silly drunken fool who’s slipped on the tiles and smashed his skull on the sink. Happens every day.”
I have to say he looked pretty formidable. Even his diminutive minion Jack Scratch had exhibited what could quite literally be called supernatural puissance. Even though I had been on the boxing team in the army, I doubted that this Lucky fellow followed the Queensberry rules, and if he was really expert at judo I would probably be a twenty-to-one underdog in a fight. I wished I had paid more attention in that unarmed-combat course I had sleepwalked through in the army.
Once again I would have to think quickly and act decisively.
“I wonder if we could make a deal,” I said.
“I was hoping you would say that, Arnold.”
Leaving his cigarette between his lips he took a scroll out from the inside of his suit jacket. It looked like the same one that Jack Scratch had tried to get me to sign earlier in the men’s room of the Ugly Mug.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that you’re being so sensible,” he said.
“Well, I might as well be – if you’re going to drag me down to hell if I don’t sign your little contract there.”
“Your logic is unassailable, Arnold. Believe me, once you sign this document you’ll be joining a most impressive panoply of humanity from all through the ages down to the present day (or night as the case may be): popes and potentates, princes and princesses, most of your own country’s presidents as well as dozens of senators and congressmen –”
He gave the scroll a flick and it unfurled. It had the same sort of strange handwriting all over it as the contract Jack Scratch had tried to get me to sign.
“I hope you’ll still give me a good deal,” I said.
“How’s seven years good luck sound?”
“Jack Scratch offered me some much better bargains than that.”
“Mr. Scratch was desperate. Seven years is standard, trust me.”
“Make it thirty,” I said.
“Thirty? You are greedy, aren’t you?”
“Well, I figure I’ll be seventy-two then, you know, ready to die anyway…”
He smiled, shaking his head.
“Even Adolph Hitler didn’t ask for thirty, Arnold.”
“That’s what I’m asking,” I said.
He pursed his lips and stared at me with his dark eyes through his cigarette smoke. As foul as that smoke was I would gladly have taken one had he offered it. Which he didn’t.
But all the while I was thinking that in movies and books people were always meeting the Devil, and sometimes they outsmarted him. So unless those stories were mere propaganda I still might have a chance.
Finally he smiled, then shook his head again.
“I’ll grant you this, Arnold, you’ve got chutzpah. All right, we’ll make it thirty.”
He took a quill pen out from inside of his jacket. It was a nicer one than the one Jack Scratch had, with black shiny feathers.
“Nice pen,” I said.
“Isn’t it? From a black swan. Okay, if you will be so kind as to hold out your arm, we’ll need just a few drops of your life’s blood.”
“You’ll make the change about the thirty years’ good luck?”
“Well, I’d prefer if you write it in first.”
He poked the quill into the inner wrist of his left hand. A pearl of black blood emerged from his pale skin, and the nib of the quill sucked it up.
“Here, turn around if you don’t mind,” he said. “Just want to use your back for a desk.”
“Sure,” I said, and I did as he asked.
I felt him hold the thick paper against my back, felt some quick scribbling through the thick paper and the thin cloth of my polo shirt. It felt as if a rat were scrabbling at my back.
“Okay, you can turn around now,” he said, and I did.
“You can read it over,” he said. “But I assure you it’s all in order. Oh, you do read medieval church Latin, don’t you?”
“After a fashion,” I lied. “I’m a little rusty, but let me take a look at it.’
“Of course, take your time.”
I took the sheet and pretended to read it, nodding my head. I hated the way the paper felt, like the dry skin of an old person.
“I assure you, this is the standard boiler-plate, Arnold. And, right there,” he touched one part of the paper with the quill, “you can see I’ve amended seven to thirty, ‘triginta’. No tricks, no fine print. All in order.”
“All right,” I said. “I guess it looks okay. Oh, but what about the date?”
“The date’s not necessary, Arnold. We’re dealing in eternal matters here.”
“I’d still prefer it if you put the date on.”
“And you should sign it, too.”
“I sign it after you sign it, Arnold.”
“I’d prefer if you sign first.”
“Jesus Christ. Al Capone didn’t give me this much trouble.”
I said nothing, holding out the contract.
“Oh, all right,” he said, taking the paper, “turn around again.”
I did so, and once again I felt that rat-like scrabbling between my shoulder blades.
“All right.” he said. “Done.”
I turned and once again he gave me the sheet.
“Right there at the top,” he said “’undecem --’”
“Oh, eleven, right?”
“Yes, because it’s after midnight. Eleventh of August. And there’s my John Hancock at the bottom.”
“Okay, Lucifer --
“Please, call me Lucky. On earth I like to go by Lucky.”
“Lucifer sounds so pretentious. And Satan is so sinister.”
“True,” I said. “But here’s the problem, Mr., uh, Lucky?”
“Just call me Lucky. All my friends do. And I hope we’ll be friends now.”
“Here’s the problem, Lucky. It’s not August the eleventh. In fact it’s August the ninth, I believe.”
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Arnold.”
“No, I’m not. Because I have gone back in time two nights. And apparently I’ve dragged you along with me. If you want proof, just look out the door and down to the end of the bar there. You’ll see me with my friend Dick Ridpath, two nights ago.”
“But that’s not possible.”
“Oh, yes it is. This document is inaccurately dated, and, therefore, meaningless.”
I crumpled it up, and, aiming carefully, I tossed it into a urinal, at the bottom of which it burst into flame, giving off a distinct smell of burning flesh.
He put the quill back into his jacket.
He looked very serious. But then he took a drag of his cigarette and smiled.
“It looks as if we’ll have to do this the hard way, then.”
“I don’t think so, Mr. Lucky.”
“And why is that? I hope you don’t think you can take me in a fair fight?”
“I don’t have to,” I said. “Because I’m leaving you here.”
“Where? In this men’s room?”
“In August the ninth,” I said. “I’m leaving you two days behind me. See if you can catch up.”
“So I’ve been told. Goodbye, Lucky,” I said. I stepped to the side, to his left, and he tried to put his hand on my arm.
His hand went right through my arm and came out the other side.
“Shit,” he said.
I could feel myself moving forward in time. But now was the tricky part. I didn’t want to overshoot and go too far into the future, and I also didn’t want to go not far enough and wind up at yesterday morning, or, even worse, the morning of my present day, and have to go through that awful nicotine-withdrawal fit again.
“Come back,” he said. “Don’t leave me here.”
I looked back. He was fading away, like a shadow disappearing in the bright men’s room light.
“Good luck,” I said, “Mr. Lucky.”
(Continued here, because it’s too late to turn back now. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find an absurdly long list of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. An Ambrose Wolfinger Production. Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Big John” Graham, SJ.)