Friday, August 3, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 311: Shalimar

In the company of the dubious Mojo the Midget, our hero Arnold Schnabel has mysteriously lost consciousness in a dark alleyway in Singapore, but, fortunately for us, that hearty seafaring adventurer Big Ben Blagwell has deftly picked up the narration while Arnold is indisposed…

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 67-volume journey into the unknown.)

“Oh, how I long for my upcoming vacation, during which I intend to spend at least eight hours a day on the porch of our quaint Victorian three-story ‘cottage’ in Cape May, re-reading as much as I can of Arnold Schnabel’s massive chef-d'œuvre on my new Kindle, starting at page one.” -- Harold Bloom, in his “Read a Goddam Book” column in

One thing about me, it doesn’t take me long to get dressed. Pull on the boxer shorts and dungarees, throw on my Hawaiian shirt, stick my feet into my deck shoes (no socks, thanks, that’s just two fewer things for me to send to the Chinese cleaners), screw my yachting cap onto my noggin, and boom, I’m ready to go. Don’t even need to comb my hair on account of I have a crew cut and what I do is I rub about a half-pint of butch wax in it once a week and then it’s like having my own built-in helmet on my bean.

Maxine’s snubnose I stuck in my waistband, same way Arnie wore his Luger, on the left side, just where my gut curved down into my hip. I took one little gander into Maxine’s dresser mirror, you know, just to make sure I didn’t look any worse than usual. There was some red stuff smeared into my facial stubble, but it was okay, it wasn’t blood, just some of Maxine’s blood-red lipstick. She had a box of Kleenex on the dresser, so I yanked out a tissue and wiped the gunk off with that.

Just for the hell of it, I unstoppered her bottle of perfume and gave it a sniff. Shalimar. Made in France. It sure smelled good. Like Maxine. Like lemons and oranges and roses and tea leaves and incense and Christmas trees and ladies’ leather gloves and vanilla soda pop, with just a hint of cat spray under it all just to keep it real I guess. I went ahead and splashed some of it in my armpits, only because I didn’t have time for a shower. I figured Maxine probably wouldn’t mind, not too much, anyway. I gave myself a few more splashes on my jaw stubble, just for good measure, then I re-capped the bottle.

Dames, they sure do have pretty things. No wonder we sailors get so lonesome sometimes out on our long and admittedly sometimes mind-bendingly boring voyages. No wonder sometimes swabbies make up for the absence of pretty dames and their pretty things by having recourse to certain strictly speaking frowned-upon activities with the younger and fresher-smelling members of the crew. Not talking about myself of course, but then who am I to pass judgement?

I left the beside lamp on, on account of I didn’t want to fall over anything on the way out, because, I didn’t mention this before, I guess you’ve gathered by now that I’ll never be one of those real professional writer fellows, so bear with me, or you know, just bail out and pick up the new James Michener book for all I care, but anyway, yeah, I haven’t mentioned it before, but she had a lot of crap all over the floor. Mostly clothes, hills and mountain ranges of dresses and slacks and skirts and stockings and garter belts and slips and bras and knickers, but there were also hatboxes and hats and suitcases and purses and shopping bags and dozens of shoes and piles of magazines and paperbacks and a guitar and a ukelele and God knows what all else, I guess old Maxine just wasn’t one of those babes who traveled light. So I left the light on, picked my way through the aforementioned crap all over the floor like a gyrene making his way through a Nip minefield, opened the door and went out, remembering only after I was halfway down the hall to go back and turn the little button on the inside doorknob so the door would lock when I closed it again.

You could hear the band loud and clear from up here and I could feel the boards vibrating under my feet, those cats were crashing through “How High the Moon” like a stampede of hopped-up bulls demolishing a china shop, with good old Maxine caterwauling over it all like a banshee in heat. Funny, I always feel kind of quiet and mellow after I’ve performed the manly act, in fact it’s usually all I can do not to turn over after smoking a Sweet Caporal and take a good long nap for eight or ten hours, but from the sound of her, Maxine still had plenty of energy left to burn.

I started down those narrow stairs, and I wondered if Maxine already had her eye on some other likely looking big dumb stud in the bar that she could spike his drink with one of those Pink Death Bomb pills and then drag him up to her room on her next break.

Well, I couldn’t worry about that now.

I went through the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and out into the mob alongside of the stage. I stopped when I got in front of the band, and turned and gave a little wave to Maxine. She gave me a light nod, at least I think it might have been a nod, it might have just been a natural movement of her pretty little head as she belted out “How High the Moon.” I’m pretty sure she saw me though, I mean I was only a few feet in front of her, and the stage was only a couple feet high, and I’m six feet four. But after all she was in the middle of her song, so I wasn’t offended. Not me. Not Big Ben Blagwell. I don’t let little things like that bother me. Not usually. Anyway, after giving her another slightly less little wave and getting even less of an acknowledgement in any way, shape or form or of any type or category or description of any possible interpretation even by the most kind and openhearted sap, I turned and headed through the crowd and on out of that dive.

Left had been the direction I had seen Arnie and Mojo going, so left was the way I went along the terminal road, in the direction of the docks and all the little dark alleyways down in that neighborhood, with its cut-rate tattoo parlors and opium dens and mahjongg-joints and rum shacks and really cheap cathouses, in other words it was a neighborhood I knew fairly well, or at least as well as any white man can, which, now that I think about it for about one second is probably not very well at all. But better than not at all, because I knew one thing, and that was if you were going to be walking around this neighborhood at night it was a good idea to be packing a gun. And no need to worry about getting braced by a cop for illegal carrying of a firearm, no need whatsoever, because the cops never set foot in this neighborhood, except for a big sweep at election time, and that was just for show.

I did realize pretty soon I had one little problem though, I mean besides the big problem of the neighborhood I was walking into, and that problem was that Arnie and Mojo were nowhere to be seen. There were a lot of other people passing to and fro, along with cars and trucks and rickshaws and bicycle cabs, but no Arnie and Mojo.

For a second there I thought, what the hell, go back to the bar, you still got six bucks to spend on booze, maybe Maxine would loan me some dough on her next break so I could get a couple of Shanghai Sally’s water-buffalo steaks in my belly with all the trimmings, but I kept walking, thinking, I’ll just go one more block, just for the hell of it, and then at the corner I had the bright idea to ask this street vendor on the opposite side for some gen, so I crossed over. He was a little old guy, selling grasshoppers broiled on skewers, I know, it sounds disgusting, but they’re actually pretty tasty once you get used to them.

I asked him in Malay if he had seen a midget in a white suit and a straw hat with a regular-size white man. The guy just stared at me, so I tried Chinese, and, again, nothing.

“Maybe you should just say it in English,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, “you don’t speak Malay or Chinese?”

“I speak Malay and Mandarin Chinese. Also Tamil, Dutch, French, Spanish, and, as you might have gathered by now, English.”

“Oh,” I said. “I guess I must’ve been speaking a different dialect of Malay or Chinese.”

“Yes, that must be it,” said the guy.

“Anyway,” I said. “Did you see a midget and a white guy pass by here just now?”

“Yes,” he said, “they went into that alley just up ahead.”

“You noticed that,” I said.

“Yes, I noticed it.”

“What’s in that alley, you know?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“No, I do, I really do,” I said.

“It is not safe for a white man to go down that alley.”

I stared at him, but he was one of those guys you really have to prod along to get any information out of him.

“Why is it not safe to go down that alley?” I said.

“Not safe for a white man,” said the guy.

“Okay, not safe for a white man,” I said.

“You buy broiled grasshopper skewer?”

The thing was, as I mentioned before, I was really hungry.

“Okay,” I said. “How much?”

I’ll spare you the next bit as I haggled him down to a quarter for a skewer of a dozen grasshoppers.

“Okay,” I said, finally, after the deal went down, finally, “now what’s so dangerous about this alleyway?”

“Madame Chang,” said the guy, after he had bit my quarter to make sure it was good.

Madame Chang.

The broad that Mojo said would be able to help Arnie out of the jam he was in, but who would need to be paid three or four grand American for the job. But why would Mojo take Arnie to her already, since Arnie didn’t have but more than one thin simoleon on him? It made no sense.

I thanked the guy and took off with my skewer of grasshoppers.

The alleyway was only a few yards away. It was dark, with just a faint light down at the other end. I took a step into it, and my foot hit something soft. I looked down, and I could just barely see a man’s hat lying there on the cobblestones. I crouched down and picked it up, stepped back a little toward the light from the road. It was a worn brown fedora, and it looked exactly like the one that Arnie had been wearing. I looked inside the hat. Printed on the sweatband in faded letters was “Robert Hall - The ‘Hall-Mark’ of Quality”.

I was holding the hat in my left hand, the skewer and the grasshoppers in my other hand. I transferred the skewer to the hand that held the hat, and I pulled out the snubnose and started down the alley, slow.

The faint light got less faint, although not by much, and after about twenty feet I came to a door with a tiny weak little lightbulb stuck in a plain tin fixture over the header. A wooden sign was nailed to the door with some Chinese writing on it, black paint on white, and I can read Chinese pretty well, but this must have been one of those really obscure dialects because it was Greek to me, even if I do read some Greek, but anyway it didn’t matter because there were some English words painted under the Chinese characters.

Madame Chang
Consultations and Advice
Prices Negotiable
Walk-Ins Welcome

There was a doorbell button but something told me not to press it. My hands were full, so I stuck the pistol back in my dungarees, and turned the doorknob, slow and easy like, and pushed the door open, slow and very, very easy like.

It was a narrow hallway about ten feet deep, lit by another dim light hanging in the ceiling, and at the other end of the hall Mojo was dragging Arnie along the floor by his feet, with Arnie on his back and his arms trailing behind him.

(Continued here, but of course.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a strictly up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon from the Olney Community College Press:
The Nicest Guy You’d Ever Want to Meet: Conversations with Arnold Schnabel’s Friend, Ben Blagwell, edited by Dan Leo {Assistant Professor of Classics and Bullpen Coach, Olney Community College}.)


Unknown said...

Ben smelling like Shalimar? I'll conjure up that for years. Among my earliest memories is my mother dabbing some on my wrist when she went out so I'd sleep in my crib without missing her.

Dan Leo said...

Ben may be a bit of an oaf, but he has good taste in perfume!

Unknown said...

He certainly described it well. Only later did it come to me that Ben and my mother are nearly different species. Shalimar splashed under his armpits? Now there's an odor!

Dan Leo said...

Yes, I think the combination of Shalimar with Ben's own natural odors, especially following his sweaty date with Maxine, would be unique.