Saturday, June 30, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 307: ecstasy

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has once again found himself in a pickle: in a low dockside bar in Singapore, dosed with the world’s most powerful aphrodisiac (street name: the Pink Death Bomb), and with the clock ticking…

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you think you’ve got what it takes then go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 69-volume masterpiece of the autobiographer’s art.)

“The way I look at the so-called ‘canon’, you have Shakespeare, then a whole bunch of other people who are pretty good, and then you have Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Joe Franklin Show.

“Hadn’t you better hurry, Mr. Schtäpfelberg?” said this Mojo character.

I forget if it’s already been established that I was standing, but I was, awkwardly.

“Yes, I guess you’re right,” I said.

I could definitely feel a stirring down in my organ of procreation, not that I had ever used it for that purpose. If I tarried here too long I might not even be able to walk to the men’s room, at least not without bending forward like a person suffering from some terrible spinal disease. But then I remembered that I still didn’t know where the men’s room was.

“Mr. Mojo --” I started to say.

“Mojo, mon ami,” said Mojo. “Mojo tout simplement, je vous en prie.

“Okay -- Mojo,” I said, “can you direct me to the men’s room?”

“Well, it’s not exactly a room per se, mon cher Monsieur Schtüpfelweiss.”

“It’s not?”

“No, pas exactement.”

I was wondering why he was speaking so much French all of a sudden, but I didn’t have time to worry about that now.

“Well, whatever it is, could you tell me where it is?”

“The dooble-vay-say --”

“The what?” I said.

“The men’s room. W.C. as you Yanks call it.”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “W.C. Sure. So, uh, where is it?”

“Go that way,” he said, pointing with his enormous cigar to his right from where he sat on the bar top. “All the way around the bar here.”

“The bar you’re sitting on,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s confusing the way you Americans call the entire establishment a ‘bar’, as well as the counter to which people, comment ça vous dire, ‘stomach up’?”

“Belly up,” I said.

“Charming idiome, yes, 'belly up'. That the counter at which people belly up has the same appellation as the bar in which it exists -- very strange, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, although I saw nothing strange about it.

“Somehow inefficient,” he said.

“Yeah, well, when I go around the end of the bar, or the counter let’s say,” I said, “do I just keep going, or what?”

“To get to the W.C.?” he said, saying it the French way again, but now I was getting used to it.

“Right, the W.C.,” I said, saying it the American way.

“The what?” he said.

I don’t know, maybe it was the loud chaotic jazz music that was still playing, maybe he was trying to torture me. But I practically yelled, breaking down and pronouncing it the French way, “Yes! The dooble-vay-say!”

“No need to shout old chap,” he said.

“Sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t. “Where do I go when I turn around the end of the bar.”

“Just go straight ahead.”

“Straight ahead,” I said.

Tout droit. Couldn’t be easier to find.”

“Good,” I said.

“You’ll see a doorway, just go straight through it.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said. "See ya --"

“When you go through it, go across the yard.”

“The what?”

“The yard. That’s what you American call it, isn’t it? A sort of empty plot behind a building. Sometimes there might be a lawn, with grass, perhaps a garden, or a fountain.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said.

“In this case alas you will see no lawn, no garden, no fountain neither. Merely some ash bins, and perhaps a hardy weed or two. And a wall, a wall pocked with hundreds of holes, or perhaps indentations is the more accurate word. For it was against this wall that the Japanese were wont to line up young local Chinese fellows suspected of being less than enamored of the rule of the empire of the rising sun.”

“Okay,” I said. “So the men’s room is in the yard?”


“Okay, great,” I said.

“Not actually in the yard,” said Mojo.


“More like at the far side of the yard. Or perhaps you would call it a courtyard.”

“Okay,” I said. "The far side.”

“Yes,” said Mojo. “The far side. But, pas de souci, you can’t miss it. You will see in the not very far distance two bamboo ‘shacks’ I think you call them. One is marked “Pointers”, the other one “Setters”. Use the one marked --”

“I know,” I said. “Thanks.”

De rien, Monsieur Schtüpfelstein.”

I had to go. I suddenly realized I was possessed of at least half an erection. I remembered I was wearing a hat. I took it off, a brown fedora, and held the inside part over the area below my belly.

“Now move swiftly, mon ami,” said Mojo. “Like the -- how do you say?”

“Like the wind?”

“Yes, like the wind. Hurry, before it is too late.”

“Okay,” I said, “see ya.”

“Soon I hope.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I’ll order you a drink.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“Oh but no, I insist.”

“Okay,” I said. "Fine. I have to go now."

“Wait,” he said. “What would you like to drink?”

“Oh, I don't know, just a beer, thanks.”

“Not just a beer,” he said. “You insult me. Have a real drink. Perhaps a pousse-café, with a float of ‘151’?”

“Okay, fine,” I said.

“Unless you’d prefer one of cher Ben’s specials, a Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’.”

“Okay, fine,” I said, again.

“Planter’s Punch then?”


“With a float of ‘151’.”

“Sure, great,” I said.

“Excellent. Now you really better had get moving or else you’ll be able to carry that fedora of yours in front of you without using your hands, ha ha.”

“Right, I’m going,” I said, and finally I started to move, but the little man reached out and grabbed my arm.

“And when you return, Herr Schnübel, we will discuss this little problem of yours.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Perhaps we can, as you Americans say, ‘work something out’.”

“Well,” I said.

“Madame Chang,” he said. “She is your only hope.”

“Okay, I’d really better go now,” I said.

“Your rod is showing.”

“My what?”

He glanced at my middle section, but he wasn’t referring to my tumescence -- that was hidden by my fedora -- but to the butt of the Luger sticking out of my waistband under my open suit jacket. I had forgotten the gun was there. With my free hand, the one attached to the arm he wasn’t gripping with his own strong little hand, I buttoned one of the buttons of the jacket.

“Even in a place like this one must be careful packing a gat,” he said, “unless of course you have a license, which somehow I doubt.”

“Yeah, I doubt it too,” I said.

“Bump into the wrong undercover bull with no gelt on you to pay the pot-de-vin and you might well find yourself rotting in a dank cell in Changi Prison, waiting weeks if not months just for your hearing to come up.”

“Well, thanks for the tip,” I said, “but --”

“You know the way now, Monsieur Schnäzzelwürz?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think I know the way.”

Bonne chance, mon ami.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“And when you return we will talk again about this caper I got in mind.”

I didn’t say anything. I was getting tired of repeating myself.

He made no sign of letting go of my arm so I reached over with my free hand and pried his tiny claw of a hand loose. He had quite a grip for such a tiny fellow. I started off again, but he called after me.

“Monsieur Schtärkel!”

I looked back.

“Enjoy yourself!” he called out.

His face wore a beaming look of joy.

I turned, and forged ahead, keeping my hat in front of me, and walking far more slowly than I would have chosen to had it not been for the rabid weasel on the verge of bursting from my inguinal region and forcing me to hobble in the uncomfortably bowed posture I had feared I would have to utilize, making my way like a rude hunchback through the people who were crowding near the bar, and turning right as instructed when I got to the end of it. Sure enough, Mojo had not lied. There was an open door ahead, and I shuffled toward it and then through it and down a couple of wooden steps.

I was now in some sort of yard, or courtyard, again Mojo had told the truth. It was dark out here, the only illumination coming from the doorway I had just passed through, and from a few windows in the back of the building I had just left, and in three other buildings which hemmed in the yard. The sky above, but then where else would the sky be but above, the sky was as black as coal, but sprinkled with wet-looking blurry stars. From what I could see the yard seemed to be paved with trash and broken bottles and shards of glass glinting weakly in the gloom. To the right along the wall were the dark shapes of half a dozen or so large trash cans, none of which seemed to have lids, all of them overflowing with refuse. I saw the red eyes of two rats on top of the frozen volcano of garbage bulging out of the closest can. They stared at me contemptuously for a moment, and then went back to their meal. To the left at a right angle was the pale and windowless wall of what might be a warehouse or a morgue. It was too dark to tell from here, but I supposed that this must be the firing-squad wall to which Mojo had averred, unless of course he had been lying.

 The air smelled of urine and of feces, of dead fish and garbage, and just very slightly of the sea, but not the clean crisp ocean smell of Cape May, this was a reeking, warm, thick smell, as if it came from a sea filled with the floating carcasses of creatures who had died in despair.

It had been extremely hot in that bar, my clothes were as wet as if I had been dipped bodily into a pool of hot sweat, but it felt even hotter and more humid out here in the air.

Then, suddenly, over the noise of the music and the shouting of the people back in the bar I heard another sort of sound, a harsh deep barking sound mingled with a high-pitched shrieking echoing throughout the courtyard. It sounded as if a rhinoceros and a tiger were locked in mortal combat. At first I couldn’t tell where this awful noise was coming from as it bounced around the walls of the yard, but then I realized it was coming from above me.

I stood there, terrified. Perhaps I had wandered into a supernatural horror novel and what I was hearing were demons from hell, descending upon me. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

But then, amidst the horrible wordless barking and shrieking, I heard clearly the all-too-human words, in a panting female shout:

“Oh, yeah, give it to me, big boy!”

And then, in a deep man’s voice:

“You got it, baby!”

I knew those voices.

It was Ben, and that woman, Maxine Parraquette. Unlike me, they hadn’t wasted any time.

The wordless barking and shrieking resumed.

Well, at least some people were having a good time.

I could now just barely begin to make out two dark oblong lumps across the yard. These must be the shacks, or, as we Americans call them, the out-houses. I adjusted the Luger in my waistband and hobbled towards them, the soles of my shoes crunching in the broken glass and the rubble underfoot.

I came at last to the shack on the left. Sure enough there was a sign on the crooked bamboo-slat door, with the hand-painted word, barely legible in the darkness, “Pointers”.

There was no handle or door knob on the door. I gave it a push, and it opened. Inside was a deeper darkness, and a much, much deeper stench, the likes of which I hadn’t smelled since my army days, when I and my fellow engineers occasionally had to dig out putrefying corpses from bombed buildings. Holding my breath, I held the door open with one hand and looked for a light switch. After almost a minute I discovered -- and only because I was waving my hand about -- a thin chain hanging from the low ceiling. I pulled the chain and a naked overhead lightbulb came on, producing a very dim light, it must have been a five-watt bulb, if they even make five-watt bulbs. My heart sank when I realized the toilet was nothing more than a small hole in the cracked and slimy-looking concrete flooring. To the right was a rust-stained sink with a leaking tap. There was no soap in evidence, and no mirror, but there was a sign above the sink, hand-painted on a piece of moldy-looking plywood: “Employees must wash hands before returning to work.”

Leaving the door ajar, and holding my breath, I stepped over to the hole.

Behind me, reverberating in the thick air of the courtyard, I could still hear the shouting and screaming of Ben and Maxine, in the throes of what was either ecstasy or an excruciatingly painful death. I was still holding my fedora over my middle parts, and now at last I lifted it up and put it back on my head.

I continued to hold my breath. I had the feeling this was either going to be very easy (thanks to the Pink Death Bomb) or (thanks to everything else) very, very hard.

(Continued here, because we owe Arnold that much at least.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a strictly up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon from Ace Books: The Last Time I Saw Arnie: Memories of Arnold Schnabel, by Horace P. Sternwall, available at better drug stores and bus stations nationwide.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 62

"excitement is where you find it"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here

Friday, June 22, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 306: rhapsody

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell in a certain low dive down by the docks in Singapore, where they have just discovered that the exotic chanteuse Maxine Parraquette has dosed them with a powerful and potentially deadly aphrodisiac known as the Pink Death Bomb. Also in attendance: a disreputable gentleman known as Mojo...

(Kindly go here to review our previous episode; click here to return to the hardly-remembered beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 91-volume journey into the infinite.)

“Each morning when I awake, my manservant Odo brings me a steaming bowl of café au lait, and I spend the next half-hour reading Arnold Schnabel on my Kindle™. Then I dress and shave and go out into that infinitely less interesting world, the one we risibly call ‘reality’.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Les Crane Show.

I heaved myself up off my stool, picked up my Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, took out the straw, dropped it down to the spit-gutter, tilted my head back and poured what was left of the drink down my trap, including what might have been another dead fly, but who was I to get particular at this stage of the game?

“And, so, mon cher Ben,” said Mojo, “we will chat some more after you have, as you Americans say --”

He made a circle or a hole I guess you could say with the thumb and forefinger of one of his chubby little hands (well, both his hands were little and chubby, but I’m just trying to be a little descriptive like those real writer fellows) and started poking the lit end of his cigar through the hole, but I held up one of my own big fingers, which needless to say are the only kind I’ve got, big strapping fellow like me.

“Now, keep it clean, Mojo,” I said. “Maxine may be just a blonde canary in a low dockside bar in Singapore, and, hey, maybe her morals wouldn’t meet with the approval of the Daughters of the American Revolution back in Peoria, but she’s still a broad, so let’s watch the language and the lewd gestures.”

“Oh, but of course, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “Please forgive my regrettable lapse in decorum.” And he stuck that enormous stogie back into his yap, damn thing was so big the little guy must’ve had jaws like tempered steel just to keep it from falling out.

“Such a gentleman you are, big boy,” said Maxine, to me obviously. To tell the truth I think maybe she couldn’t remember my name, but I’m not thin-skinned that way.

“Well, it’s like I always say, Maxine,” I said, “it don’t cost nothing to be polite.”

Arnold got up off his own stool. He seemed a little shaky on his feet.

“Are you, as you Americans say, ‘okay’, Mr. Schnitzel?” said Mojo

“Schnabel,” said Arnold. “Again, my name is Arnold Schnabel.” He paused for a moment, and then he mumbled something that I couldn’t hear, especially because the piano man was taking a solo now, banging out great crashing waves of smoky noise like he was Bud Powell at the tail-end of a weeklong hop-and-poppers binge.

“What did you say, Mr. Schappell?” said Mojo, and at least he got it almost right this time.

“I said, ‘Not that it matters,’” said Arnie.

“Not that what matters, Mr. Schnarpfel?” said Mojo.

“I doesn’t matter what my name is,” said Arnie. “It doesn’t matter what you call me. It doesn’t matter.”

“That’s just what I was thinking, Arnie,” I said, and I took out my trusty pack of Sweet Caporals. “You gotta be like psychological about these things.”

“What?” he said.

I gave the pack a shake, offered it to Maxine and she yanked one out.

“I said you gotta be, you know, maybe psychological ain’t the word. Pathological? Psychotical?”

I stuck a Caporal into my pie hole. I never pretended to be an Edgar Rice Burroughs or a Zane Grey when it comes to slinging big words around.

“I think you mean ‘philosophical’, Ben,” said Arnie, although for some reason he didn’t seem as if he really cared either way.

I put the pack away and in one smooth motion also took out the matches Arnie had given me earlier, the ones from the Musso and Frank Grill. I ripped one off, struck it, and cupping it in my two big mitts like I was on the deck of a leaky junk in a typhoon on the Sulu Sea, I gave Maxine a light, and then gave myself one. I breathed in that good hot smoke, feeling that scratchy good feeling way down in my inner engine room, and then I let the smoke out again, slow. That was the thing about a Sweet Caporal. It was kind of like me, really. It just did its job.

“I’m sorry, what did you say, Arnie?” I said.

“Never mind, Ben,” he said.

“Oh, I said,” pulling out the pack of Caporals again, “I’m sorry, did you want a smoke, Arnie?”

“No, thanks,” he said.

“Maybe afterwards,“ I said, shoving the pack back in my pocket. “Well, okay, pal, we better get a move on before those Pink Death Bombs start kicking in. You live far, Maxine?”

“My dump’s right upstairs, big boy,” she said, and she ran her fingers along my biceps, tracing the curves of the hula dancer tattooed there.

“Great,” I said. “I guess there’s no chance you got air-conditioning, right?”

“Not a chance in hell, pal. I got one of them black Westinghouse fans though.”

“The oscillating kind?”

“You bet.”

“Better than nothing, but just be forewarned, I kind of sweat a lot.”

“You’re sweating a lot now.”

“Yeah, but I’ll be sweating even more in a little while.”

“I’ve been forewarned,” she said, in a voice that was kind of like the sound when you pull the husk off an ear of corn. “Come on, boys, I still got two more sets to do tonight.”

“Right,” I said, “let’s shake a leg, Arnie, we got some whoopee to make.”

“Hold on,” said Arnie. “Look, you go ahead, Ben.”

“What, you want me to go first?”

Now here was a real pal, I was thinking, he really was the nicest guy in the world, even if he could be a bit of a party-pooper sometimes, but then his eyes started to dart around like he was afraid somebody was going to sneak up and bash him on the head with a baseball bat just for laughs.

“I, uh, want to, um, wash my hands,” he said.

“Your hands are clean enough,” I said. “Right, Maxine?”

“Plenty clean,” said Maxine. “But maybe he don’t mean just wash his hands.”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You’re just being polite on account of a lady present. Well, look, hurry up and use the head and we’ll wait for you.”

“No, Ben,” he said. “Don’t wait for me.”

“You want us to go upstairs and start without you? Sure,” I said, and I turned to Maxine. “Give Arnie the directions to your cabin, babe.”

“Right up the stairs behind the bandstand,” she said. “First door on the left. It’ll be unlocked.”

“Look,” said Arnie, “I think I’ll just skip it if you don’t mind.”

“Ha ha,” said Mojo. He was still sitting on the bar top, his little legs dangling off, kicking them back and forth just like a little kid sitting on a wall and laughing because he just saw the neighborhood bully get run over by the milk truck.

“Hey, what gives, buster,” said Maxine, to Arnie, I don’t think she remembered his name either. “Something wrong with me?”

“No, no,” said Arnold, “it’s just that --”

“Ha ha,” said Mojo again, almost like he was really laughing. “You had better do something very soon, Mr. Schapfenhürz, either go to Maxine’s boudoir or run quickly to the W.C. because as soon as the Pink Death Bomb takes full effect if you do not seek immediate relief then as I have indicated you will find your own little personal paperback-original novel coming to an explosive and very bloody end.”

“Right,” said Arnie. “Okay, which way is the men’s room?”

“I have never been so insulted in all my born days,” said Maxine. “To think I wasted one of them Pink Death Bombs on a loser like you.”

“Y’know,” I said, “Maxine’s got a point, Arnie. I mean, you’re my pal and all, but a dame’s got feelings too, y’know.”

“I”m sorry,” said Arnie, “but listen, I just can’t do this sort of thing.”

“But I said you can go first, buddy. I don’t mind. Do you mind, Maxine?”

“All the same to me,” said Maxine.

“I appreciate that,” said Arnold, “but it’s just -- I don’t just -- you know -- go to bed with women, just --”

“Oh, so you’re a pansy,” said Maxine. “I wouldn’t have guessed. Too bad. You’re kinda cute, too. Oh, well, come on, big fella,” she said, and she tugged on my Hawaiian shirt short-sleeve. “You’re gonna have to do the work of two men.”

“Wait,” I said, “but Arnie’s not a pansy.” And now it was me who had to take pause. “You aren’t, are you, Arnie? Because, believe me, it don’t affect our bond of friendship even if you are. I am a sailor after all.”

“No, Ben,” he said. “I’m not a pansy. It’s just, it’s just --”

“Oh, wait, I get it now,” I said, and I have to say, I was seeing Arnie in a whole new light now. “It’s because of that doll you left behind. Erika.”

“Elektra,” he said.

“Elektra,” I said. “You’re so much in love with that dame that you got to be faithful to her, even if she is back home in Cape Elizabeth.”

“Cape May,” said Arnie.

“Cape May,” I said. “That’s what I meant to say.”

“Okay,” said Arnie.

“So that’s it? That you’re too much in love with, uh --”

“Elektra,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “You’e too gosh darn crazy about her to even think about, uh, you know --”

“Making, as you Americans say, the act of darkness,” said Mojo.

“Right,” I said, “just too damned crazy about that gal even to think about making the act of darkness with even a class broad like Maxine, even if you have just popped a, uh, --”

“Pink Death Bomb,” said Mojo, “most powerful aphrodisiac known to man.”

“Right,” I said. “And not because you’re a pansy.”

“Right, Ben,” said Arnie.

“I still don’t buy it,” said Maxine. “Look, pal,” she said, talking directly to Arnie now. “Being a pansy is nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t help yourself. It just seems like a goddam waste to me, that’s all. A goddam waste of a big, rawboned good-looking hunk of a man.”

“But, but, but --” said Arnold.

Maxine snaked one of her arms around my arm, or at least as much of it as she could manage, because, you know, my arms have been compared to tree trunks, and not those little spindly little tree trunks, either, and just for the record, it’s true Arnie was a pretty big guy but he wasn’t as big as me, not by a long shot.

“Let’s go, Mighty Joe Young,” said Maxine, meaning me, I guess maybe she really didn’t remember my name, not that I gave a damn, not really, not too much, anyway. “Looks like you’re gonna have to be your own relief pitcher,” she said.

“No problem, doll,” I said. I turned back to Arnie. “So, pal, I guess I’ll see you in about --” I looked at Maxine --”what, fifteen minutes?”

“More like ten,” she said. “Like I said, I gotta get back onstage, warble a few more tunes for my rice bowl.”

“See ya in ten then, Arnie,” I said. “And, Mojo --” I touched the wing of my nose, or at least what’s left of the wing of my nose after all the times my schnoz has been busted with fists and pipes and monkey-wrenches and billy clubs and sliced with butterfly-knives and straight razors and scimitars and whatnot --”Mojo, when I get back you and me and Arnie will have a little chinwag about this caper you got in mind.”

“Enjoy yourself, mon cher Ben,” said Mojo. “And you, too, Mademoiselle Maxine. I wish you both the absolute heights of ecstasy. May your cries of passion echo through the dark alleyways, and may the dust and plaster descend from the ceiling above us like a snowfall of joy.”

“Remind me to add a layer of rat poison to your next pousse-café,” said Maxine. “You vile little rodent.”

“Ha ha,” said Mojo, and he hefted that great log of a cigar up and into his trap again.

Arnie, he didn’t say anything. He just looked nervous. I don’t know what his problem was, but he was really out of sorts this evening.

Maxine gave my elephant-leg arm a pull, and we shoved off finally, but as we did Mojo called out, “I shall be with you in spirit, mon cher Ben!”

Well, I have to admit that last thing he said made me just a little uneasy, but I did my best to put it out of my mind as Maxine and I made our way through that smoky crowded bar toward the bandstand, where those cats were blaring out a crazy gone rhapsody like a sauce-pan factory on the day the boss went nuts and handed out fifths of gin laced with mescaline to all the workers. It sounded pretty good, but it was time for Maxine and yours truly to make our own kind of music now, the kind that doesn’t get written down on lined sheets of paper and printed up in books so the Salvation Army band can play it.

I watched Ben and the girl work their way around the bandstand and go through a doorway, the girl going first because it was too narrow for them to go through side by side. Then I looked at the little man, Mojo, who was still sitting there on the bar top, his little legs dangling off it -- he was smoking that big cigar, and smiling around it, looking at me, and I realized I was narrating the story now, at last, or at least for the time being, anyway.

(Continued here, and until the fourteenth of never.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a reasonably up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-legible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Big Blackie” Graham, D.D. Imprimatur, Rev. William L. “The Boot” Fahey.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 61

"speed is your best thing"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 305: bombed

In a certain low dive in Singapore, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell have just swallowed a shot of ‘151’ rum apiece, in each of which had been macerating a mysterious large pink pill…

(Please click here to read our preceding episode; go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 72-volume voyage into the unknown.)

“After Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Proust, after Joyce and Faulkner and Beckett, after Hemingway and Chandler and Horace P. Sternwall, there is only Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Argosy.

Alors,” said Mojo, “what’s all this about ‘pink pills’?”

“Well, it’s like this, Mojo,” I said. “Y’know this canary who sings with the band here, Maxine Parraquette?”

“Maxine? Sure I know Maxine,” said Mojo. “Everybody knows Maxine.”

I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that, but I went on.

“Well,” I said, “she laid a couple of these big pink pills on us.”

“For free?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And you know me, I was all for popping them right down straight away, but Arnie here didn’t want to take them on account of the germs, y’know?”

“It wasn’t -- just -- the germs,” said Arnold.

“No?” I said.

“No,” he said, he was still gasping a little from the shot, sweat pouring down his face. “You -- don’t even -- know what they were.”

“Aw, they couldn’t be anything that bad. Right, Mojo?”

I gave him a little wiggle and a bounce with my thigh. In case you’ve forgotten, the little guy was still sitting on my lap. He was really light though, so it didn’t bother me. It was like having a little kid on your lap. Or a really small broad. He had been drawing on that big cigar of his, and he let the smoke out slow before saying anything.

Big pink pills, you say?” he said.

“Yeah, pretty big,” I said. “Anyway, so I dropped them in our shots of ‘151’, ‘cause I figured the ‘151’ would like sterilize them.”

“Well, I should imagine it would,” said Mojo, “if anything would.”

“Exactly,” I said. “And then you showed up and I kinda forgot the pills were in the shots till Arnie here just mentioned it.”

Arnie had stopped gasping from the shot, but now he was back to holding his hand over the lower part of his face, while moving his head slowly a little from side to side, but all the time keeping his hand in the same place. He looked kind of worried, to tell the God’s honest truth.

“I guess you kinda forgot the pills were in the shots, too, right, Arnie?” I said.

Arnie didn’t say anything, just kept turning his face from side to side in his open hand, as if doing that would somehow make everything go away.

“I said I don’t think you remembered I’d put the pills in the shots, Arnie,” I said again, just in case he hadn’t heard me because of that sweet smoky racket the combo was laying down, the trumpet player riding a roller-coaster solo now and sounding just like Dizzy himself might sound if he was three sheets to the wind on cheap gin and had just tossed down a couple of cups of black java laced with cocaine syrup in a vain attempt to sober up.

Finally Arnie took his hand away from his face and said, “No, Ben, I didn’t remember the pills were in the shots, otherwise I wouldn’t have drunk that shot.”

“But you would have drunk the shot if the pill wasn’t in it,” I said. You know, I was just curious. But Arnie didn’t say anything in reply, just stared at me with his mouth open just a little bit.

“Your friend Archie seems upset, Ben,” said Mojo.

“His name’s Arnold, actually, Mojo,” I said.

“Yes, of course it is,” said Mojo. “Mr. Schellenberg --”

Arnie turned and looked at him, taking his hand away from his face as he did so.

“My name is Schnabel,” he said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“Yes, of course it is,” said Mojo. “You seem upset.”

“Arnie’s not upset,” I said.

“Oh no?” said Mojo.

“Arnie?” I said. “He don’t let little s**t bother him. Guy’s got ice-water in his veins.”

“He seems upset,” said Mojo.

“He’s not upset,” I said. “Maybe just a little concerned, y’know? On account of he’s trapped in a fictional universe, you know, and separated from his own supposedly real universe by two other fictional universes. And then there’s the fact that a little while ago he took a tab of LSD, thinking it was an aspirin. And now he’s taken some other damn pill --”

“The large pink pilule,” said Mojo, helping me out in case I had just had a brain stroke or something I guess.

“Yeah,” I went on, “the big pink pill, and he don’t know what it is. But I wouldn’t say he’s upset. Concerned but not upset. Right, champ?”

Arnie sighed, and I guess this was about the ninety-seventh time he had sighed just in the past fifteen minutes.

“May I ask you a question, sir?” said Mojo, meaning Arnie, I think he’d forgotten Arnie’s name again, or leastways wasn’t too sure of it.

“Yeah, sure,” said Arnie.

“Do you not have all four of your limbs? Both arms, both legs?”

“Yes,” said Arnold. “I have all my limbs.”

“You will forgive me for asking a rhetorical question,” said Mojo.

“Yeah, sure,” said Arnie.

“What’s a rhetorical question?” I said.

“It’s when you ask a question not really to find something out, but to make a sort of point,” said Mojo.

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “Like if you said, ‘Hey, if God created the universe, then who created God?’”

“Yes,” said Mojo. “Unless of course you truly expect the person to answer the question.”

“But then,” I said, “who created the fella who created God?”

“Are you asking me that?” said Mojo.

“And who created the guy who created the fella who created God?”

“I have no idea,” said Mojo.

“And who created the geezer who created the guy who created the fella who created God?”

“Okay, I get it, cher Ben,” said Mojo.

“It was just a retortative question,” I said.

“A what?”

“A regurgitant question?”

“I see,” said Mojo, and he rolled his eyes for some reason and then turned back to Arnie.

“So, Mr. Schlossberg, not only do you have all four of your limbs, but you are young and healthy, and with the rough-hewn good looks of a Steve Cochran or a Rory Calhoun --”

“I see a little John Garfield there too,” I said.

“But John Garfield alas is dead,” said Mojo. “Your friend Alex is not.”

“Who’s Alex?” I said.

“He means me,” said Arnold.

“Yes, of course I mean him,” said Mojo. “And my point my dear fellow is that why should you be even a little as you Americans say ‘concerned’ when you are in possession of all your limbs, and not crippled, or suffering from some painful wasting disease, leprosy, say? Look at me, I am only three feet ten inches in height -- I know, I know, I look much taller, but that’s because of the high-heeled custom-made boots I wear -- everywhere I go people call me dwarf, shorty, half-pint --”

“Mojo the Midget,” I said.

“Mojo the Midget they call me,” said Mojo. “But you don’t see me looking like my cat just died, do you? So why not cheer up?”

“He’s got a point, Arnie,” I said.

“Okay, I have to leave,” said Arnold.

“Wait,” I said. “Where you going, Arnie? We’re just getting started.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Somewhere.”

“But we’re gonna help you, Arnie,” I said.

“How?” he said.

“This old broad Mojo was talking about. What’s her name, Mojo?”

“Madame Chang,” said Mojo, and he began to sip his pousse-café through the black straw sticking out of it. He drank the bottom layer first, the red one.

“Madame Chang,” I said. “All we gotta do is pull off this little caper Mojo’s got in mind, then we collect the gelt and go see this Madame Chang broad, and get her to, uh --”

“Return him to his own world,” said Mojo, lifting his lips from his straw after the yellow and the orange layers of his pousse-café had disappeared through it.

“Forget it,” said Arnie. “I already told you, I’m not pulling off any ‘capers’.”

Eh bien,” said Mojo. “Qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?”

(This is Frog talk for “Whaddaya gonna do?” by the way. I speak pretty good Frog-talk on account of a six-month bit I did one time in the Port-au-Prince pen, after I had gotten mixed up with these former Nazi female assassins --)

Arnold got off his barstool.

“I really have to go,” he said.

“I should not, as you Americans say, advise it,” said Mojo.

Arnold stood there a moment, looking at Mojo, then at me, then at Mojo again.

“Oh, no,” said Mojo. “I shouldn’t advise leaving. Not in your present state.”

“He’s only had a couple beers and a shot of ‘151’,” I said. “Arnie can handle that.”

“You forget the LSD tablet he, as you Yanks say, ‘popped’ not long ago.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“And the pink pill,” said Mojo. “The pink pill in the shot of ‘151’. The large pink pill.”

“Aw,” I said, “it’s probably just like a benny or something, or maybe one of them amphetamines, they’re pretty harmless, we used to eat ‘em like candy back in the war.”

“If those are the pink pills I think they are then they are far from something as harmless as amphetamines,” said Mojo. “Oh yes indeed. Large pink pills?”

“Pretty large,” I said.

“Say the size of a lima bean?”

“I hate lima beans,” I said.

“They were about the size of a lima bean,” said Arnie. “What are they?”

“You mean what were they,” said Mojo. “Because by now they are already completely dissolved and coursing through your bloodstream.”

“What were they?” said Arnold.

“What were they?” said Mojo. I don’t know why he said this. Maybe he was being rhetoricianal again.

“Yes,” said Arnie. “What were they?”

“The ingredients of the big pink pill,” said Mojo, and I could tell he was going to go off on one of his little speeches, and sure enough he did, this guy just loved to hear himself talk -- “which were first synthesized by a certain Hungarian scientist working for the German Reich who since the war has been forced to live incognito, some say in Brazil, some say in the jungles of New Guinea -- the ingredients as I say are a mixture of Yohimbe bark, ginseng, yage, dried penis of the Indo-Chinese pygmy deer, Jimson root, and the excrement of the Borneo tiger scorpion.”

“Damn, I can tell you a story about them Borneo tiger scorpions,” I said, but Mojo just went right on, he can be pretty rude that way.

“Some people call the pills Pink Lima Beans,” he said, and he tapped his cigar ash off with his finger. The ash fell on the knee of my dungarees, but I didn’t give a damn, and I left it there. “In Hong Kong and Macao they are called Pink Cockroaches,” he said. “The Yakuza of Japan call them Pink Banzais. But more commonly and universally they are known by the street name of -- Pink Death Bombs.”

Arnold sat back down on his barstool. He picked up his Tiger Beer bottle, but it was empty. He put it back down again.

“Pink Death Bombs,” I said. “That sounds like some pretty strong stuff.”

“Oh, yes indeed, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “Strong, as you Americans say, 'stuff', indeed.”

“Y’know,” I said, “Limeys say that, too,” I said. “And Aussies. South Africans, Canadians.”

“Yes of course they do.”

“So you don’t really have to say, ‘as you Americans say’. You can just say it.”

“I can, cher Benjamin, say, as you Americans say, many things.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Or I can say very few things.”

“No argument there,” I said.

“It is not necessary to reply to every vague but undeniable statement I make, cher Benjamin.”

“You’ve got a point there, too, Mojo,” I said.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Arnie.

“What’s the matter, Arnie?” I said.

“He’s upset,” said Mojo. He took another sip of his pousse-café, and this time the chocolate layer disappeared. He licked his lips.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the toy frog himself,” said a lady’s voice.

I turned. It was Maxine, finally back from the powder room.

“Ah, Maxine,” said Mojo. “How nice to see you.”

“Drop dead, you slimy little toad.”

“Charming as ever,” said Mojo.

Ignoring Mojo, Maxine looked at me.

“Hey, buddy, you find what I left on the bar there under your hand?”

“The two pink pills?” I said. “Yeah, in fact --”

“Sssh,” she shushed. “You don’t got to tell the whole world. Including this little tree-monkey here.”

“Well, he, uh, already --”

“I know all about your little pink pills, ma chérie,” said Mojo.

“Shut up, you little anteater,” she said. She looked at me and then at Arnie.

“So, did you take them?”

“We sure did,” I said. “Swallowed ‘em down with shots of ‘151’.”

“Tough guys, huh?”

“Well, I’d say I can lick most fellers my size,” I said. “As for Arnie, well --”

“You boys always swallow strange pills strange broads hand to you?”

I thought about it a second.

“Well,” I said, “it hasn’t happened to me all that often, but I got to say, generally-speaking, yes, I do. What about you, Arnie?”

Arnie didn’t say anything, but he had that nervous look again, maybe even panicky.

“Just a couple of big dumb studs,” said Maxine.

“Hey, are Arnie and I to be, like, vilified, just ‘cause we got trusting natures?”

“Don’t take it to heart,” she said. “I like ‘em dumb. Big and dumb.”

“Well, uh,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said Mojo.

“Maybe you fellas would like to come up to my flat just for a few minutes,” said Maxine.

“Don’t you have to sing?” I said. 

“I’m on my break,” she said. “Come on, let’s breeze.”

With any luck she had some reefer in her pad. Some reefer and a bottle of ‘151’. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a dame who keeps a few amenities in her joint.

“So, like,” I said, “You want like all of us to come up?”

“Not the little iguana. I’m not that desperate. Just you and your muscular pal.”

“Ha ha,” said Mojo.

“Hey, squirt,” said Maxine. “I say something funny maybe?”

“Ha ha, you slay me, Maxine.”

“I’ll slay you all right.”

“Hot to, as you Americans say, 'trot', aren’t you, Maxine.”

“I’m not American.”

“But you are hot to trot.”

“Hey, Mojo,” I said. “You should speak like a gentleman to a broad.”

“Oh, mon cher Ben, don’t you know what the Pink Death Bomb does?”

“Well,” I said, “I guess we’ll be getting pretty high pretty soon, right?”

“I don’t think ‘high’ is the correct adjective.”


“Benjamin, you have heard I presume of Spanish fly.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I usually pick up an ounce or two whenever I hit Tijuana, not that I need it, you understand --”

Eh bien, mon cher, let me just say that Spanish fly is to the Pink Death Bomb as a baby aspirin is to a good shot of raw heroin.”

“Um,” I said.

“Oh, no,” said Arnold.

“Okay, lecture’s over,” said Maxine. “We’d better get up to my trap while you two fellas are still able to walk.”

“Oh, my,” said Mojo, still sitting on my lap you understand, “I think I feel a stirring already beneath my bum.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Arnie.

I picked up Mojo off my lap and sat him on the bar.

“Well, we’d better go, Arnie,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you take firsties, pal.”

“No,” he said.

“I think you better had go,” said Mojo, “Mr. Schna-, Schna-”

“Schnabel,” said Arnie.

“I was going to say that,” said Mojo. “But you really better had take up Mademoiselle Maxine’s offer, because once the Pink Death Bomb takes full effect, which should be in -- oh -- shall we say five minutes?” He took a pause here and slurped up the maroon layer of his pousse-café. “Yes, let us say five minutes at the outside, if you do not immediately seek as you Americans say ‘relief’ within that span of time then your scrotal sack will be in danger of exploding like a popped balloon, with a great shower of blood and other bodily fluids, causing a consequent excruciating and horrible death.”

“Okay, we’d better hurry then,” I said. “Come on, Arnie.”

“Yeah, quit wasting time,” said Maxine, “I’m supposed to be on again in fifteen minutes, so let’s make this quick.”

(Continued here, because the people demand it.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Bacardi ‘151’™ rum. “Please, we know you want to have a good time, but, for the love of God, drink responsibly!”)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 304: Raffles

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Big Ben Blagwell in a certain low bar by the Singapore docks, where they have been joined by a man called Mojo the Midget…

(Kindly go here to read our previous thrilling chapter; those who are not afraid to take one step beyond may click here to return to the misty beginnings of this Gold View Award©-winning 52-volume epic.)

“Somehow Arnold Schnabel’s memoirs, even when told by his friend Big Ben Blagwell, retain a shall we say unified tone of voice.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Rachael Ray Show.

“Thanks, for the lift, big fellow,” said Mojo, wriggling into a comfortable sideways position on my lap, so that he was facing toward Arnold. “What’s your gloomy pal’s name?”

“This is Arnie,” I said. “Arnie, this is Mojo, Mojo the Midget they call him. Mojo, meet Arnie, Arnie Schnabel, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”

Mojo extended his pudgy little hand, and Arnold took it.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Schnaffel,” said Mojo.

Maybe I should describe Mojo a bit more before I go on. Isn’t that what real writers do? Well, here goes. Like I said, he was small, four feet tops, and that was with the high-heeled little black patent-leather half-boots he always wore. He liked cigars, and he was smoking one now, probably a Cuban, one of those really big long fat ones, the damn thing was so big it seemed like Mojo wouldn’t even be able to lift it, but he was a strong little guy, and come to think of it, maybe he stayed strong from the constant lifting of those enormous stogies all day long. He wore a white tropical suit this evening, probably some little kid’s first communion suit. What else? A white straw fedora with a peacock feather in it, a pale pink shirt, a white silk tie, okay, I know, I don’t know for sure if the tie was silk, what do I look like, some pansy who works behind the tie counter at Macy’s? But sue me if I’m just trying to write like one of those real writer fellows write in the paperback novels and the men’s adventure magazines, like that Horace P. Sternwall guy, the one who wrote Bound East for Bombay and Assignment in Tonga? Where was I? Oh, right, let’s see, he had a pink carnation in his buttonhole, and a display handkerchief that matched his tie, and let’s say it was silk. He claimed to be part Chinese, part French, part Negro, and part Cherokee, but who the hell knew what he really was. I’d known him for at least ten years, ever since he and I and some other fellows relieved some female river pirates of a load of stolen uranium...

“Why the long puss, Mr. Schnapfel?” he said, after Arnold had finally pulled his hand away.

“Arnie’s got problems,” I said. “Serious problems.”

“Don’t we all?” said Mojo. “What are those shots you have there.”

“’151’,” I said.

“A most excellent aperitif. But I hope you haven’t forsaken your traditional Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, Benjamin?”

“Got one on the way even as we speak, Mojo.”

“You’ll never change, Ben my boy.”

“Not as long as I got a hole in my ass, pal. You know me, Mojo, I’ll be drinking those damn things on my deathbed.”

“They will probably put you on your deathbed, mon cher.”

“Only if the Sweet Caporals don’t put me there first, little buddy.”

Just then, speaking of Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’, Benny showed up there in front of us and laid another one of those pleasure-bombs down along with a fresh bottle of Tiger Beer for Arnie.

“Three dolla,” he said.

“Allow me,” said Mojo, and he reached into his his Communion-jacket inside pocket and pulled out a fat wad of green in a gold money-clip, “and also please Benny, pour moi, a pousse-café, with a float of --”

“I know, I know, float of ‘151’,” said Benny.

“Thank you, Benny. Also a shot of ‘151’ on the side for me as well. By the way I hope you can break what our American friends call a ‘C-note’.”

“It good?”

“Of course it’s good, there you are my good chap.”

And the little fellow peeled off one of my namesakes from his roll like it was nothing and proffered it to Benny. His arm is pretty short, and Benny’s no Bill Russell in the heighth department himself, so Benny practically had to clamber up onto the bar top to snatch it. After he climbed back down to his side of the bar he held the bill up in one hand, pulled out his Zippo, clicked it lit, and held the flame a couple of inches on the other side of the C-note while he studied it like it held the secret of life, and death, too, maybe. And maybe it did.

“I assure you it is what the Yanks call ‘the McCoy',” said Mojo.

“I be the judge of that,” said Benny, turning the bill over.

“Good as gold,” said Mojo, and he casually shoved his wad back into his jacket, then patted the outside of the pocket in an affectionate kind of way.

“Okay,” said Benny, clicking shut his lighter, “it good enough I guess.”

“May I have my collation now?” said Mojo. “And I’d like some change from that bill, while you’re at it.”

“Don’t worry, I give you goddam change,” said Benny, and off he went again, but not before rubbing the bill vigorously with thumb and fingers, and then examining his fingertips.

“So hard to find good help these days,” said Mojo, and he tapped the ash from his enormous cigar down to the gutter that ran along the base of the bar. “As if I would try to pass a fugazi note in my own local pub. I do have some standards and one of the most ironclad is not to, in your parlance, Ben, defecate where I eat.”

“That’s always been my motto, Mojo,” I said. “Now what’s this proposition you got for me. You got some tinpot warlord you want me to heist a load of gold from? Or maybe some rich rubber baron’s nubile daughter’s been kidnapped by some Commie rebels and you want me to get her back and you don’t care how?”

“Before I answer that question, mon cher Benjamin, I must ask you if I may speak freely in front of our friend Mr. Schoendienst.”

“Who?” I said.

“Your saturnine camarade.”

“My what?”

“He means me,” said Arnie, and he picked up his bottle of beer and started gulping.

“Oh -- Arnie,” I said. “Sure you can talk in front of Arnie. You don’t even know the kind of capers me and Arnie’ve been on. Right, Arnie?”

Arnie put down his beer bottle, of which he had just downed two-thirds. It was good to see he was relaxing a bit finally and starting to get that poker out of his ass if you know what I mean.

“Ain’t that right, Arnie,” I said again, because he hadn’t seemed to hear me the first time.

“What?” he said.

“I said ain’t we had some wild adventures, you and me?”

“Yeah, sure, Ben,” he said.

“You know what kind of adventures me and Arnie been on?” I said to Mojo.

“I’m afraid you have me at a loss, Benjamin,” said Mojo.

“The spine-tingling kind,” I said. “Searing. Blood-curdling. What else? Help me out, Arnie, you’re good with words.”

“Interesting?” he said, and he picked up his beer bottle again.

“Interesting,” I said, “but better than that. Come on, Arnie.”

He took another gulp of beer, but just one this time, then sighed (I know) again.

“Riveting,” he said.

“Riveting,” I said. “Riveting adventures, Mojo. So let’s hear the pitch, because both me and Arnie are just a little light in the wallet at the moment, and if there’s some good money to be made then maybe we’ll be interested.”

“Ah,” said Mojo, “so Mr. Schnauzer is a gentleman of fortune as well?”

“You mean Arnie, right?” I said.

“Yes, of course.”

“His name isn’t Schnauzer, Mojo,” I said. “It’s Schna-, Schna-, um --”

“Schnabel,” said Arnie.

“Schnabel,” I said.

“I beg your pardon, Monsieur Schnavell,” said Mojo.

“That’s okay,” said Arnie, although somehow the poor kind didn't look okay, if you know what I mean.

“I can tell by the look of you that you are -- as your countrymen say -- a ‘tough customer’. And if my good friend Benjamin vouches for you then that is good enough for me. Ah, at long last! My pousse-café!”

“And you change,” said Benny, sliding a big tall glass with layers of white and green and red and chocolate and God knows what else toward Mojo with one hand and throwing some greenbacks on the counter with the other.

“I hope you’re not forgetting my shot of ‘151’, cher Benny,” said Mojo.

“I no forget,” said Benny. “Keep you shirt on.”

True to his word he laid a rocks glass on the bar, pulled out the ‘151’, poured out a shot, shoved it in Mojo’s direction, and then went away, probably to examine Mojo’s C-note one more time.

“Gentlemen,” said Mojo, lifting up his shot. “Let us drink to a mutually profitable enterprise. I cannot say the adventure I propose is not without danger, no, in fact I should say that if you accept this mission your chances of success, let alone your chances of escaping alive, are at least a hundred-to-one. However, should you succeed, then I can promise you a pay-off of --”

“Hold it,” said Arnie. “Look, Mr. Mojo --”

“Just Mojo,” said Mojo. “Tout court. Mojo. We are all friends here. And may I call you Albrecht?”

“My name is Arnold,” said Arnie. “Arnold Schnabel. But, yes, you can call me Arnold.”

“How about ‘Arnie’?”

“Arnie’s okay, too,” said Arnie.

“Good,” said Mojo. (He’s still holding up his shot of ‘151’ through all this, and suddenly I realized I had been letting my latest Planter’s sit there getting all diluted, so I reached over, grabbed it, removed the umbrella, dropped it fluttering down to the foot gutter, and took a good long slurp on the straw.) “Then I shall call you Arnie. Now what were you going to say?”

Arnie paused a moment. The band was blowing sweet and raucous and loud, the licorice-stick man laying it down like Pee Wee Russell on bennies. In fact the band had been blowing sweet and loud all through everything I’ve just been describing here, going back to when that canary Maxine Parraquette had come over to us. And I wondered what was taking her so long in the ladies’ head. Why did women need fifteen minutes just to take a pee?

“Okay,” said Arnie at last, “here’s the thing. I’m not going off on any dangerous adventure.”

“Aw, Arnie,” I started to say --

“No, Ben, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not the type to seek out dangerous adventures. If anything my goal in life is to avoid dangerous adventures.”

“Gee,” I said. “It sounds to me though like you ain’t so good at it, Arnie. Avoiding the dangerous adventures I mean.”

“No,” he said. “Lately I haven’t been too good at it.”

“If I may interpose, Ernie,” said Mojo, “is not life itself a dangerous adventure?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Arnie.

“An adventure which invariably ends in the tragic death of the hero,” said Mojo.

“Jesus Christ, Mojo,” I said. “Do ya have to be so morbid? It’s bad luck to talk about croaking. Especially right before a caper, I mean an adventure.”

“No, of course not, you’re perfectly right, cher Benjamin, why should we speak of our inevitable doom when here and now we are in such convivial company and about to drink a toast to a caper, or, ha ha, une aventure, that with good luck will have the three of us living high off the hog at the Raffles, sitting by the pool sipping fine champagne --”

“I’ll stick to my Planter’s with a float,” I said.

“Of course, cher Ben, of course,” said Mojo, “and have you ever tasted the Planter’s Punch they serve at the Raffles bar?”

“Well, no,” I said, “I mean I’ve passed by the Raffles a lot of times, sure, but --”

“Only the finest, freshest ingredients, cher Ben.”

“And they’ll serve it with a float?” I said. “Of ‘151’.”

“Indeed they will. And the rooms at the Raffles, Ben, the rooms!”

“Nice, huh?”

“Egyptian cotton sheets of the finest quality.”

“Egyptian, huh? Is that the good kind?”

“The absolute best,” said Mojo. “I tell you, just among us three chaps, you haven’t really ‘banged' a broad until you have ‘banged’ a broad on the crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets in the spacious and luxurious rooms of the Raffles Hotel.”

“They got air-conditioning there?” I asked.

“The finest,” said Mojo. “You’d think you were in a chalet in Switzerland in the crisp cold dead of winter.”

“Wow,” I said. (I mentioned it was hot in this joint we were in, right? Hot. Hot like the engine room of a pre-war collier at high noon in mid-August in the Java Sea. Hot.) “So, hey,” I says, “let’s drink to this new caper and then you can fill me and Arnie in on the plan.”

“Wait a second,” said Arnie.

“Yeah, what’s up, pal?” I said.

“Look, Ben,” said Arnie. “And no offense, Mr. Mojo, but, really, I’m not interested in taking part in this, this caper --”

“Call it an adventure then, Bernie,” said Mojo. “We needn’t call it a caper.”

“Look,” said Arnie, “all I want to do is to return to my own world.”

“I see,” said Mojo. “And what world would this be to which you wish to return?”

“I call it the real world,” said Arnie.

“You see, Mojo,” I said, putting down my Planter’s two-thirds gone. “Arnie says he’s sort of found himself in a fictional world.”

“Actually,” said Arnie, after finally polishing off the last of his beer, “this is a fictional world within a fictional world in another fictional world. I know it sounds preposterous.”

“Oh, no,” said Mojo, “not at all. I have heard of this sort of thing.”

“You have?”

“We members of the non-white races have access to all manner and realms of existence unknown to the average Caucasian with your so-called science and your upstart puppy-dog religions.”

“Hey, no need to get sacrilegious, Mojo,” I said. “I’m not a religious man myself in the regular sense, but, still, I do believe in, like, you know, a higher, uh --”

“Excuse me, Ben,” said Mojo, “but you don’t seriously think that Mr. Schteiglitz and I are interested in hearing about your religious beliefs, do you?”

“Nah, I guess not,” I said, stubbing out the last quarter-inch of my latest Caporal in the ashtray. “I was already getting bored myself, so, carry on.”

“As I was saying,” he said, passing his shot of ‘151’ under his nose, “the predicament which our friend Mr. Schnel-”

“Schnabel,” said Arnie. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“The predicament our friend finds himself in is rare -- rare indeed, but not so rare that its solution does not exist, at least in this world, if not in the one it amuses him to call ‘the “real" world’.”

“What?” I said. “You’ve totally lost me, Mojo.”

“I know how to help our friend with his problem.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“And help him I will, and shall. However, in order to help him I will need first a certain sum of money.”

“I got six bucks,” I said. “And change. How much you got, Arnie?”

“I think I have a dollar and some change,” he said.

“So we’re talking seven, maybe eight bucks between us,” I said. “Will you need more than that?”

“I am afraid so,” said Mojo. “And believe me it pains me to say so. But, no, our friend, uh --”

“Arnie,” I said.

“Our friend will need much more than that,” he said.

“How much more?” I asked.

“Minimum? I’m going to say a grand. Yes, at least a grand.”


“Sorry, I was thinking pounds sterling, actually. So we’re probably talking three Gs American, at least. Maybe four.”

“Four Gs?” I said. “Can’t you knock it down a bit for an old pal?”

“The gelt’s not for me, cher Ben. The gelt is for this old broad I know what will help our friend Bernie out, but her services don’t come cheap.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Four Gs sounds pretty steep to me.”

“To transport a man from one state of reality to another, two worlds separated one from the other by two entire other universes? My dear Ben, we’re not talking about a rickshaw ride down to the beach, you know.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I said. “But wait, if -- and note I say if, Mojo -- if Arnie and I were to join you on this caper you got in mind, how much you think our end will be?”

“For the both of you?”

“Yeah, combined, what kind of take we looking at here.”

“If all goes well --”

“Yeah, if there ain’t no foul-up for once, unlike with them female river pirates.”

Putains!” said Mojo, and he spat an imaginary spit toward the floor.

“How much me and Arnie stand to make if the deal goes through?”

“Conservatively, Ben, I want to say, oh, three grand.”

“For the both of us,” I said.

“Yes,” said Mojo, “One large-and-a-half apiece. Maybe two large apiece, but I make no promises.”

“There ya go, Arnie buddy,” I said. “You’re covered. We pull off this little score of Mojo’s, then, first thing, well, maybe after we celebrate a little, but pretty soon after, we go hit up this old dame and see about getting you home, pooling our resources, because my dough is your dough, and I know you’d do the same for me if our situations were reversed.”

“Um,” said Arnie.

“And maybe,” I went on, “I’ll still have some left over for a few good loads and a couple high-priced lays. Now let’s drink these shots before they evaporate for Christ’s sake.”

“Excellent idea,” said Mojo. He raised his glass and I raised mine. We looked at Arnold. He looked at us.

“Oh, what the hell,” he said. And he picked up the third shot.

“To success,” said Mojo.

“To broads on Egyptian sheets,” I said.

“Whatever,” said Arnie.

We tossed the shots down.

It tasted like burning gasoline, and it burnt going down like burning gasoline. Damn, that stuff was good, and now I could tell that I was finally over the fifty-yard line to a good load, finally.

Arnie meanwhile was gasping, sweat pouring down his face almost like somebody had turned on a water fountain on the top of his head under his hat.

“There’s a good man,” I said.

“A stout fellow indeed,” said Mojo, who had swallowed down his shot like it was mother’s milk.

Oh -- no,” said Arnie, in between gasps.

“What is it, Arnie?” I said.

The -- pills,” he gasped. “The -- pink -- pills.


The pills.

I had completely forgotten about those two big mysterious pink pills that that canary Maxine had given us. The pills I had dropped into our shots to, like, sterilize them. We had swallowed them down with the ‘151’.

Well, it was too late to bitch and moan about it now.

(Continued here, because of some inexplicable compulsion.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what on a good day is an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode brought to you by Sweet Caporal Cigarettes: “It’s the ‘manlier’ smoke!”)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 60

"splendid indeed"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas

artistic supervisor: rhoda penmarq

*Associate Professor of Classical Philology, Assistant Badminton Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Six Bullets to Reno: 41 Tales of the Old West by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press; Volume 31 of “The Sternwall Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, June 2, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 303: Mojo

In a dubious bar near the docks in the exotic port of Singapore our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Big” Ben Blagwell have been approached by the lovely and exotic chanteuse Maxine Parraquette…

(Please click here to read our previous episode; those with an unquenchable thirst for artistic exaltation may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 39-volume masterpiece.)

“Beyond modernism and post-modernism there is only Arnold Schnabel. You should know that, Carson.” -- Harold Bloom, on
Last Call With Carson Daly.

She clicked the purse open, but she did it in a funny kind of way, keeping it sideways on the bar and just opening it a little bit, just enough for her to slip her lighter into it. She clicked the purse shut and then the hand that had held the lighter slid across the bar top toward my right hand, which was just lying there holding my Sweet Caporal and minding its own business.

Her red-nailed fingers touched my hand. (Did I mention her fingernails were red? Well, they were, blood-red, the color of blood when it first oozes or bursts or sprays out of punctured or lacerated flesh. Maybe not exactly the same color, but pretty damned close.)

So, I thought, this one’s in the bag, at least as long as she wasn’t charging more than six bucks and some loose change, anyway, and if it came to that I could always try to toss in my old Hamilton navy watch; but then she did a strange thing, or rather her hand did a strange thing: it sort of burrowed under my own enormous meat-hook (I’m not bragging, just stating a fact of public record, but I have huge hands, roughly the size and shape of a big little-leaguer’s infielder’s glove), just like a little animal, but before I could give it one of those reassuring manly squeezes the little critter slid right out again and back to the purse, which it picked up, just as the babe the hand belonged to said:

“Catch you on the flip-fop, fellas. I got to go powder my schnoz.”

And off she went before we could say a word, through the crowd and the smoke, and every man-jack at that bar suddenly got quiet and turned to watch as she passed by, and some of the dames, too, I guess they were lesbians.

“Damn,” I said, “that is one hell of a woman. Hey. What’s this?”

“What’s what?” Arnie said.

I had lifted up my hand to take a drag of my cigarette, the hand that her hand had just burrowed under. There were two pills sitting there on the bar top. Two big pink pills.

Two very big pink pills.

“Hey, that was nice of Maxine,” I said. “One for both of us.”

I picked one up.

“Go ahead, Arnie,” I said. “The other one’s for you.”

“What are they?” he said.

“Hell, I don’t know,” I said right back. “Pills. Pink pills.”

I held my pill up, giving it the old eyeball, turning it around from one side to the other.

“Really big pink pills,” I said.

“Oh, my God,” said Arnie.

“What?” I said. “What’s the matter, pal?”

“I just remembered,” he said. “A couple of hours ago I took an LSD pill. At least I think it was a couple of hours ago. It might’ve been less, actually, although it feels like, I don’t know, six months --”

“LSD, huh? I was reading about that stuff in some magazine, Man’s Adventure I think it was, or maybe it was Man’s Life. Who gave it to ya, one of these beatnik orgy babes?”

“No,” he said. “It was an old man. Mr. Jones.”

“Wait,” I said, “not Mr. Jones! Little old guy, the one who was dead and you brought him back to life? Mr. Jones?”

“Yes,” he said. "Mr. Jones."

“He gave you LSD?”

“Yes,” said Arnie. “You see, I hurt my leg, when we were in the, uh, next world --”

“The what?”

He sighed again.

“The next world,” he said. “The afterworld.”

He seemed a little upset. And I don’t know, a little bored maybe.

“Now excuse me if I’m asking too many questions,” I said, “but is this afterworld you’re talking about different from these, uh, fictional worlds you were talking about?”

Again he sighed. He was sighing a lot.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s a different world.”

“A non-fictional world?”

“You could say that,” he said.

“And you took LSD while you were there? That doesn’t sound like the Arnie I know. Not that I’m saying the Arnie I know is a wet blanket or nothing, but it’s just I don’t see him as the LSD-taking type.”

“He’s not,” he said. “Or rather I’m not. But I hurt my leg when I was there, or rather I aggravated an existing injury, but, anyway, I was in great pain, and Mr. Jones offered me this pill. I thought it was an aspirin or something --”

“Arnie, Arnie, Arnie,” I said.

“I know,” he said.

“What am I gonna do with you?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“So how is it, anyway?”

“How is what?”

“This LSD stuff. Pretty good?”

He paused before answering. Or at least I think he was pausing, trying to organize his thoughts, trying to think of the right words to answer my question, if there were any, but then again, maybe he had no answer, or just didn’t want to answer, or maybe his brain was so scrambled by the drug that he couldn’t answer. At any rate after a minute I got tired of waiting and pushed the one pink pill closer to him.

“Well, look, here,” I said, “take your pink pill. I’m sure it’ll make you feel better.”

He looked at me like I was the one with a history of mental illness.

“Just wash it down with your Tiger Beer,” I said.

“Ben,” said Arnie.

And then he didn’t say anything.

He just kept looking at me.

I knew that look.

It was the same look I used to get from old Reverend Wilson at the God Is Your Pal Mission over on the Bowery near Bleecker, when the bulls brought me over again for stealing apples or for scrapping with the other guttersnipes or for stealing the church candlesticks that one time over at St. Augustine’s. The Reverend knew it wasn’t my fault that my mom was a drunken whore and my dad was an even more drunken seaman who had fallen off a tramp steamer and drowned in the Bay of Bengal when I was only five. He knew it wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t stop him from getting the cops to hold me down while he whacked my ass raw with the rubber sole of an old Wellington boot. Hell, I didn’t mind, it beat getting sent to reform school again…

“What is it, Arnie?” I said. “You can level with me, pal.”

I lifted my drink and sucked on the straw. I’d been so busy chinwagging that I had been forgetting to drink.

“Okay, Ben,” said Arnie, after what must have been his seventy-ninth sigh in the past ten minutes, “first off, you don’t know what those pills are.”

I just kept sucking slowly on the straw. I didn’t want to interrupt my old pal, and to be honest I didn’t want to interrupt my drinking either, now that I was finally approaching the halfway point of tying a decent load on.

“Second of all, who knows what kind of germs are on them.”

I stopped sipping right there.

“Look, Arnie,” I said. “My hands are clean. I took a piss not a half hour ago, and I washed ‘em afterwards. They were out of soap but I rinsed them pretty good in the tepid water. I would have used hot water except they don’t have hot water in the men’s head here. But I rinsed them real good.”

“You don’t know what kind of germs those pills had on them before you touched them, Ben.”

“You’re saying Maxine has germs?”

“Everyone has germs, Ben. And besides, they were sitting on the bar top there.”

He had a point. They had been sitting on the mahogany bar top, which was sticky, and grimy, and kind of slimy, too.

I still held the one pill between my big thumb and my slightly less big index finger.

“It don’t look too dirty,” I said.

“Ben,” said Arnie, “would you eat off this bar top?”

“No,” I said, “of course not. What do I look like, a goddam coolie?”

“Then why would you swallow a pill you just picked up off the bar top.”

“But it’s just a pill,” I said. “I mean, kind of a big pill, sure, but how many germs can it have?”

“I don’t know, Ben,” said Arnie. “A million? Ten million?”

“That many?”

“Maybe more,” he said.

“S**t,” I said.

I put the pill on the bar, then I reached over to where I had pushed the other pill, picked it up, and put it right next to the first pill.

I took another good suck on the straw and finished my Planter’s. This time I didn’t get a dead fly stuck in the other end of the straw. Maybe the joint was running low on dead flies.

Hey, Benny!” I yelled.

“Why you yell. I right in front of you,” said Benny.

Which he was, it was true, I just hadn’t noticed.

“Sorry, Benny,” I said, in a more normal voice, although I’ve been told more than once, more than a thousand times probably, that my normal speaking voice is somewhere between a bellow and a lusty shout, “listen, pal --”

“I know, I know, Planter’s Punch with float of '151', you like a broken record.”

For some reason Benny’s accent was getting stronger and his English was getting more broken, maybe he was hitting the juice back there, God knows I would if I had his job.

“No, listen, Benny,” I said. “I will take a Planter’s with a float of '151', plus another Tiger Beer for my father here, but first gimme two good shots of straight '151'.”

“Ben,” said Arnie.

“No, it’s okay, Arnie, I’m buyin’ this time. Two shots, Benny, '151', straight from the bottle. You don’t have to chill them, but do me a favor, put ‘em in rocks glasses.”

“You want lox?”

“Lox? Why would I want lox?”

“He means rocks, Ben,” said Arnie. “Ice.”

“Yeah,” said Benny. “Lox.”

“No,” I said, “no lox, I mean rocks. Just a good shot but in a rocks glass.”

“You hope I give you more if it in lox glass.”

“Benny, please,” I said. “Just a shot in a lox glass. I mean rocks glass. Two shots, in two separate lox glasses. See, you got me saying it now.”

Right then I couldn’t help but notice that Arnie lowered his face and put it in his hands.

“Hurry, Benny,” I said.

Benny stood there for half a minute, he didn’t like anybody telling him to hurry, then he went and got two rocks glasses and a bottle of '151', put the glasses down and poured out two shots. I wouldn’t say they were really good shots, but they were decent shots.

“Thanks, Benny,” I said.

“One dolla,” he said.

“Look,” I said, “mix me another of my usuals, bring me father another cold Tiger Beer, and I’ll pay you for the whole round then.”

He stood and stared at me.

“Please,” I said.

After only a fifteen-second pause he went away, presumably to make my drink and get Arnie’s beer.

Arnie still had his face in his hands.

“Arnie,” I said. “Pal.”

He lifted his face away from his hands and looked at me.

“What, Ben,” he said.

“Look, pal,” I said, and I picked up the two pink pills, one in each hand. “Watch,” I said.

I dropped one pill into each glass of '151'.

Arnie looked at the glasses and then looked at me.

“See, pal?” I said. “Hundred and fifty-one proof rum. Any germs that were on those pills are dead as doornails now. So now is it okay if we swallow ‘em?”

Arnie didn’t say anything. He just looked at me.

“We can just toss ‘em down with the shots, Arnie,” I said. “Whaddya say, pal?”

Arnie turned away, but this time he didn’t put his face in both his hands. He just kind of lowered his face over one hand, so his hand was over just the lower part of his face. His shoulders shook a little, like he was laughing. Or crying.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mr. Blagwell. Big Ben Blagwell.”

It was a high-pitched voice with a funny accent, kind of Oriental, but kind of British too, with maybe a sort of Hungarian inflection. But the thing is there wasn’t anybody right there except me and Arnie. I looked to my left but the guy sitting there was turned the other way, chatting with one of the B-girls.

“Big Ben himself,”
said the voice. “Tell me, Ben, do moths still come flying out of your wallet on those very rare occasions when you open it?”

I turned back to Arnie. He was still sitting there, kind of hunched forward, with his hand over his face, and his shoulders shaking a little.

I was getting it now. Arnie had finally gotten the poker out of his ass and was joining the party and having a little fun.

“Arnie,” I said, “how’d you learn to throw your voice like that? That’s pretty good, I gotta say. You could probably make money as a ventriloquist if you could learn to do it without your hand over your yap like that.”

Arnie turned to me, taking his hand away. His eyes were moist, I figured from laughing to himself like that.

“What?” he said. “What are you talking about now?”

Then I felt a tug on my Hawaiian-shirt tail. (Did I mention I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt? Well, that’s just me, if I’m not onboard a ship, I’m usually wearing a Hawaiian shirt, if I’m wearing a shirt.)

“Ben, down here you big ape.”

I looked down. Talk about a bad penny always turning up. It was Mojo. Mojo the Midget they called him. He claimed he was just short, but that’s what everyone called him. Mojo the Midget.

“Lift me up, Ben. I have a proposition for you.”

I held my arm down, he grasped it in both of his arms, and I hefted him up and onto my lap. Nothing queer about it, you understand, it’s just the guy is so small that’s the only way you can have a conversation with him when you’re sitting on a barstool.

(Continued here, and at this rate for at least twenty-five more years, God willing.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand side of this page for what is very often an up-to-date listing of links to all other authorized chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Nihil obstat, The Most Reverend John J. “The Big Man” Graham, D.D.)