Saturday, September 29, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 318: deal

Let’s return to the chambers of the mysterious Madame Chang, somewhere in the dock district of old Singapore, and rejoin our adventurers Big Ben Blagwell and Arnold Schnabel, just as Mojo the Midget has asked Arnold the million-dollar question: “What’s so special about the real world?” 

(Kindly go here to read our previous blood-curdling episode; click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterwork.)

“How sweet it is, after the meaningless shenanigans of another workday are over, to sit in my comfy old armchair, light my pipe, pour myself a cognac, and then fire up my Kindle and read Arnold Schnabel until Morpheus once again enfolds me in his dark cloak.” — Harold Bloom, on
Larry King Live.

“Um, I don’t know,” said Arnie.

“And, anyway,” Mojo went on in that way he had of just trampling his way through a conversation, “how can you be so sure that your so-called real world is the real world anyway? How do you know your world isn’t fictional, and this world isn’t the real one?”

“Well,” said Arnie, “I, uh, I guess I, uh —”

“You got to admit he’s got a point, Arnie,” I said, although I kind of hated to admit it.

“Well, uh, but —” said Arnie.

“Yes, do go on,” said Mojo.

“Well — what about Madame Chang here?” said Arnie.

We all looked at Madame Chang, still lying there in the wreckage of what had once been her fancy red-and-gold easy chair.

“Argghh,” she said, softly, those pretty eyelashes fluttering like black hummingbird’s wings. If there is such a thing as a black hummingbird. Or anyway a hummingbird with black wings maybe. Maybe I’m better off just saying her eyelids fluttered and leave it at that...

“And look at Fujiyama there,” said Arnie.

“It’s Futuyama, actually, Mr. Schnerbel,” said Mojo.

“Okay, Futuyama then,” said Arnie. “And by the way, my last name is Schnabel, not Schnerbel, or Schnaffel, or Schnapfel, or Schnauzer, or Schnavell, or Schnitzel, or Schnarpfel, or Schnübel, or Schnäzzelwürz, or —”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” said Mojo. “Jeeze, somebody got out of the wrong side of his narrow cot in some cheap squalid room today.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Arnold. “But my name is Schnabel. Arnold Schnabel.”

“Okay,” said Mojo. “’Arnold Schnabel’. That’s your name. No need to get all pissy about it. You should hear some of the names I get called.”

“No thank you,” said Arnie. “But all I meant to say is, look at those two. People like Madame Chang and Futuyama don’t exist in the real world.”

“Oh, don’t they?” said Mojo.

“No, really,” said Arnold. “I mean, this Chinese lady with her giant servant, and her Soul Transference Chamber, and her traffic in lost souls, it’s just — it’s just —”

“Well, excuse me here, Arnie,” I said, “I don’t mean to interrupt or nothing, but I seem to remember back in your world you got flies and cats that can talk. I mean, how realistic is that?”

“But — that’s different,” said Arnie, in kind of a half-hearted way.

“Ha,” said Mojo. “It is to laugh. Ha. Talking flies and cats in his world and he says this world is fictional. Ha. Ha, I say.”

“But —” said Arnie.

“And anyway,” said Mojo, “at least you’re not short.”

“What?” said Arnold.

“I said at least you’re tall. How would you like to be a man of modest heighth like me?”

“Mojo,” I said. “Wake up. You’re a whole lot less than short, let alone of modest heighth.”

“See?” said Mojo. He was talking to Arnie, but he was pointing at me with his stubby little thumb. “This is the kind of aggravation I got to deal with.”

“I’m just pointing out the obvious, Mojo,” I said. “You’re a midget.”

“Okay. There you go,” said Mojo, to Arnie mostly. “See? These are the type names I get called. Midget. Shrimp. Half-Pint.”

Arnie took a really big sigh right here. He’d been sighing an awful lot all night, it was true, but this sigh was so big you could almost see him rising up an inch or two off the ground on the intake, and when he let the sigh out it was like the breath of a sad wind ruffling the tops of the jungle trees in Borneo on a moonlit night as you look down on them from the hills where the headhunting amazons live and the deadly man-eating clouded leopards prowl.

Then a rumbling deep humming sound came from somewhere, kind of like the sound of a subway train when it’s still another stop away, late at night at the Delancey Street station on a lonely Christmas Eve when you’re down and out with a powerful thirst but you haven’t got even one thin dime in your pocket, and you know that subway train can take you to one place only, which is where you already are, which is nowhere.

Anyway, sorry, it was Futuyama making this new noise, lying there on his back to the left of Madame Chang, and not only moaning, but also moving a little bit, those tree-trunk legs and arms moving up and down ever so slightly, like he was floating in a salt lake. He had this big bloody gash on the top of his head from where I had beaned him with that ashtray, and the blood was all matted in that long hair of his.

“Goddam bruiser,” I said. “I think he’s got even a thicker skull than I do.”

“I’m not so sure I would go that far,” said Mojo.

“Yeah, come to think of it, I guess I probably do have a thicker skull,” I said.

“I didn’t mean literally thick-skulled, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “I meant thick-skulled in the sense of obtuse.”

“Look,” I said, “if you’re gonna use all these mathematical terms just to show up my lack of a formal education, I don’t think that’s very polite of you, Mojo.”

“I didn’t use the term obtuse in its mathematical sense,” he said.

Now it was me who had to take a sigh, for one thing because I really had no goddam idea what the hell Mojo was talking about at this particular juncture.

“Look, Mojo,” I said, “can we all just stop this stupid arguing for a minute?”

 “I’m not arguing,” he said. “Who’s arguing?”

“Okay, then,” I said, but only because I didn’t want to get into an argument with him about whether we were arguing or not. “Now. You said you could help Arnie. How are you going to do it?”
“I still say Mr. Schnabel — and see, I got it right that time, didn’t I?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Arnie.

“I still think Mr. Schnabel should not be acting so superior about claiming his world is the real world.”

“He’s not acting superior,” I said, although, come to think of it, maybe he was, just a little bit, you know, not a lot, but a little.

“It’s just a trifle — how do you Americans say?” said Mojo.

“Arrogant?” I said.

“Yes, arrogant,” said Mojo. “And not a little — insensitive. To other people’s feelings. How would you feel, Mr. Schnabel,” he put a little extra emphasis on Arnie’s name there, I think he was being a little pissy himself there, you want my opinion, “how would you feel if someone called you a fictional character?”

“At this point I wouldn’t even care,” said Arnie.

“And after all,” said Mojo — I don’t think he’d even listened to what Arnie had just said, or if he had listened he hadn’t cared — “who knows? Perhaps we’re all fictional characters?”

“Hey, speak for yourself, pal,” I said.

“I’m only stating a supposition,” said Mojo. “Don’t you start getting all touchy now.”

“Mwaaaaa,” said Futuyama, a lot louder now, and his body moved a bit more now, too, kind of vibrating a little all over like he was on one of those electrical beds they have in some of those newfangled motels.

“Argghhh,” said Madame Chang, in her higher voice. It was almost like they were singing some strange song together.

“Hey, you want my opinion,” said Mojo. “you better put a couple bullets in each of their brainpans before we do anything else. Madame Chang is not the forgiving type.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right, Mojo,” I said, and more in sorrow than in anything else I pulled Maxine’s Chief’s Special out of my waistband. It had a full load of five .38 Special rounds in it. I figured one in Madame Chang’s pretty little noggin and the other four for Futuyama, just to make sure he stayed down this time.

“Ben!” said Arnie.

“Yeah, pal?” I said, as I stepped a little closer to Madame Chang, because these little snubbies aren’t the most accurate pistols in the world, and to tell the truth I’m not the best marksman with a pistol either.

“Ben,” said Arnie. “Please, don’t shoot them.”

“I don’t know, pal,” I said. “Mojo’s got a point. What if, after she recovers, Madame Chang decides she’s going to pursue us to the ends of the earth? And then, like, capture us and chain us in a basement, and have Futuyama work us over with blowtorches and tongs, and —”

“I don’t care, Ben,” he said. “I’d rather take that chance.”

“Or maybe they’ll chain us up in like pits with rats in them,” I said. “And snakes —”

“Ben,” said Arnie. “I don’t care. Please don’t shoot them.”

“You’re serious?” I said. I had been aiming the snubnose at Madame Chang’s forehead, but now I turned around and looked at my old pal.

“I’m really serious, Ben,” he said. “Please don’t.”

“He’s a fool, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “Better let them have it.”

“Well…” I said.

“Ben,” said Arnie. “If you shoot them — then – then — I can’t be your friend anymore.”

Madame Chang and Futuyama continued to groan while I let what Arnie had said sink in for a second or two.

Arnie was my pal.

That was the thing, he was my pal, and if he didn’t want me to finish off Madame Chang and her big palooka, well, even if I did think Arnie was full of horsefeathers, what the hell and God damn it, I was just going to have to go along with him. Because that’s what pals do. Even if it does mean you’re going to have this nasty dragon lady and her boy who made Haystack Calhoun look like Mickey Mouse on our trail from here to Timbuktu and back on some crazy mixed-up oriental blood-vendetta.

I put the rod back in my pants.

“All right, then,” I said. “We’ll do it your way, Arnie. Now, Mojo, time to put up or shut up. What’ve you got for my pal Arnie?”

“I think I have a way for him to get back,” he said. “To what he most risibly calls his ‘real’ world.”

“Fine,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

“And in return for transporting him back to his shall we say for the sake of argument ‘real’ world I will ask only for a modest emolument.”

“How I about we offer you the modest emolument of not putting a bullet between your two shifty eyes,” I said.

“If you put a bullet between my two shifty eyes,” said Mojo, “then your friend Mr. Schnatzfeld will be stuck in this ‘fictional’ world as he calls it until his dying day.”

“Okay,” I said. “So how about instead I just pummel your round little skull like Rocky Marciano pummels a speed bag?”

“I have a better suggestion,” said Mojo. “I say we turn over this joint together, grab up all of Madame Chang’s cash and precious jewels and split the take, fifty-fifty.”

“Fifty-fifty? After you pulling a double-cross on us tonight like you did?”

“That was business, Ben. You know me, I’m a businessman.”

“You’re a goddam little crook is what you are.”

“As are you a big crook, cher Ben.”

“Except I don’t double-deal my pals.”

“Make it sixty-forty then, and that’s my final offer.”

“You mean like I get sixty, you get forty?”

“It pains me to say so, but yes.”

“All right,” I said, already thinking of the nice little schooner I was gonna pick up, maybe start my own little rum- or gun-running business.

“Then it’s a deal,” said Mojo.

“Yeah,” I said, “but no monkeyshines this time.”

Mojo spat in the palm of his hand and then held it out to me. I spat into the callused leather-like palm of my own big mitt and took his little one in mine, and we shook on it.

“It’s a deal,” I said, taking my paw away and rubbing it on my dungarees because I didn’t even want to know where Mojo had been. “Now let’s see about about getting Arnie back to his world, real or not.”

“Yes, of course, at once,” said Mojo.

“Thank God,” said Arnie.

“God has nothing to do with it,” said the midget, and, you know what? He was probably right.

(Continued here, in the name of truth, justice and the Schnabelian way.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a strictly-updated listing of links to all other ethereally-accessible chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now published concurrently in the CollingswoodPatch — “Not just a newspaper for Collingswood, but for sentient creatures throughout the universe.”)

Friday, September 28, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 75

  "a lady present"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by  roy dismas, konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

  for complete episode, click here

Saturday, September 22, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 317: souls for sale

Let’s rejoin our adventurers Arnold Schnabel and Big Ben Blagwell in the elegant and vaulted chambers of the imperious Madame Chang, somewhere in the dock district of old Singapore, where Ben’s quick thinking has turned the tables on the aforementioned lady and her two confederates, the enormous Futuyama and the rather less-than-enormous Mojo the Midget... 

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the misty and far-off beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 52-volume masterpiece of the memoirist’s art.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s
chef-d'œuvre may not be the greatest work of literature in the English language, but it may very well wind up being the longest.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Joe Franklin Show.

I tossed away the ashtray stand, then breathed in a good lungful from the Sweet Caporal I still had in my mouth: nothing like a good smoke after a scrap. Then I turned to Arnie, who had gotten up from the pink love seat and was just standing there, holding Maxine’s snubnose in his hand.

“How ya doin’ there, pal?” I said.

“Okay,” he said. You could tell Arnie wasn’t too used to this kind of roughplay though, unlike me for whom, let’s face it, it’s all in a day’s work because that’s just the kind of a knockaround Joe I am.

“Well, good, buddy. Good,” I said. “Hey, you hungry? Because I’m goddam starving.”

“Well, uh,” he said. He was staring at the gun in his hand, probably wondering how the hell it had gotten into the back of his trousers, but before he could say anything else there came a high-pitched whining from under the overturned table.

“Ah, hell,” I said. “Goddam Mojo. I tell you, the day they drop the hydrogen bomb, this is the guy who’s gonna crawl out of a basement somewheres, the last man alive on the goddam planet.”

I bent down at the knees, grabbed that heavy table and flip-flopped it over. There was Mojo, lying on his back and groaning, his eyes only half open. The Luger had fallen out of his hand, so I walked around and picked it up.

“Got your Luger back, anyway, Arnie,” I said. “But maybe I should just put a round in this little bastard’s head first.”

“Please don’t, Ben,” said Arnie.

“Your call, pal,” I said. “Here, let’s trade gats. I should really give that snubby back to Maxine whom I borrowed it from without actually telling her about it.” I flicked the Luger’s safety back on, and we traded the pistols. I never did feel good holding one of those Nazi guns. Buy American, that’s my motto, although I wished I had me a .45 instead of this Chief’s Special, because, let’s face it, if you’re going to shoot a guy (or a gal if you’ve got to) and say an M-1 carbine isn’t handy or maybe a sawed-off 12-gauge loaded up with double-ought buck, then you might as well go for the good old service .45 and hit them with a round or two that will knock them right down and keep them down. Reminds me of one time I got in this jam with these nympho assassins out in Jakarta, and --"
But then there came a woman’s muffled groan, underneath the sound of Mojo’s whining.

“Damn,” I said, and I turned and looked at where Futuyama lay sprawled like a harpooned sea lion on top of whatever might be left of Madame Chang and her big red and gold chair. “Don’t tell me that dame’s still alive?”

The female groaning continued from somewhere under that mountain of meat. Kind of like a groaning from the grave. Not that I’ve ever heard a groaning from the grave, but if you imagined what that might sound like, that’s what this sounded like.

“That’s downright creepy,” I said. “So what do you say, Arnie? Let’s roll Mojo, then look around and see where Madame Chang keeps her gelt, help ourselves, then go wolf down a couple of those water-buffalo steaks at Shanghai Sally’s, washed down with three-four Tiger Beers apiece --””

“Ben,” said Arnie. “We can’t just leave her there under him.”

“Arnie,” I said. “May I remind you this broad was just gonna drag us both to the Soul whatchamacallit Chamber?”

“The Soul Transference Chamber,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “Whatever that is, and I don’t know what it is exactly, or even approximately, but it doesn’t sound like someplace I would want to visit just for kicks if you know what I mean.”

“Still,” he said, “we can’t just leave her there under him. She’ll suffocate.”

“God you’re a bleeding heart, Arnie,” I said. “But you know what? That’s one of the things I like about you. Okay. Come on, help me push this goddam hippo off her.”

“Do you think he’s still alive too?”

I looked at that big beached whale lying there. Blood was pooling on Madame Chang’s nice oriental rug under his head.

“Well, looks like he’s still bleeding,” I said. “So, yeah, he’s probably not croaked yet. Come on, pal. This is probably a two-man job.”

We stuck our respective gats in our pants and then we both hunkered down to one side of Futuyama.

“All right,” I said. “One, two, three, heave!”

We both heaved, and I’m a pretty strong guy, and Arnie’s no ninety-pound weakling either, but still after three or four minutes of heaving and ho-ing we still couldn’t get that big pile of blubber to budge. You could still hear Madame Chang groaning under him, but it was getting more faint every second.

“All right,” I said. I don’t mind saying I was sweating like a pig again now, and I was pretty out of breath, too. “Look, Arnie, we tried. No one can say we didn’t try. Now let’s --”

“You’re doing it all wrong.”

We both turned, because this was Mojo who’d just said that.

He was sitting up now, rubbing the back of his head.

“Oh, I guess you know a better way to get a ton of sumo wrestler off a little Chinese broad,” I said.

“What you need is a lever,” he said. “You’re a nautical fellow, Ben. You should know about these things.”

“Hey, don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t know,” I said. “Besides, where we gonna get a lever?”

“How should I know?” he said, and he picked his straw fedora up off the floor and started poking the dents out of it, like he’d said what he had to say and now it was up to us to make of it what we would.

“Um, y’know, how about that chair arm?” said Arnie, pointing to it sticking out from under Futuyama on the rug there.

What the hell, sometimes you just got to admit that other people have good ideas sometimes, even if you are at the point where you’re saying to hell with it and let’s go get some steaks and beer, so I grabbed the chair arm and twisted it free of what was left of that squashed chair, and then I got it at an angle under Futuyama.

I won’t bore you with all the mechanics, I’m getting a little bored myself to be honest, but a couple of minutes later, after we got Mojo to handle the chair-arm lever while Arnie and I did the heaving, we finally got Futuyama turned over, and there was Madame Chang lying there still groaning in the wreckage of her chair. She had gotten pretty flattened out, but she was still breathing. She also still had that little automatic in her hand, and, even as out of it as she was, her eyelashes fluttered and then she slowly raised her gun hand. Fortunately I was on the ball and I grabbed it out of her delicate little paw before she could put a bullet in me.

“Arggghhh,” she said.

“Yeah, sure, Madame Chang,” I said. “I’ll give you your gat back. On a cold Christmas day in hell I will.”

“Arrrgghh,” she said again.

“Yeah, whatever,” I said, and I stood up. Like I had thought, it was one of those little Pocket Mausers, a .25, okay for one of those Gestapo pansies with their monocles and cigarette holders or maybe one of those black-stockinged SS cat-o’-nine-tails torturer babes, but no kind of a real man’s sidearm. I thumbed the safety off and stuck the gat in my dungaree pocket anyway. You never know when even a peashooter like that might come in handy in a pinch. Arnie and Mojo were both standing up now, too, and Mojo had picked up his straw hat from the floor and was poking the dents out of it. “And you, you little runt,” I said to him. “Double-crossing us like that. You’re just lucky we’re only gonna relieve you of your roll instead of taking it out of your midget hide. Now hand over that wad of dough you were flashing earlier tonight.”

“Gee, Ben,” said Mojo, and he screwed his hat onto his egg-like little noggin. “You don’t have to take it personal.”

“Fork it over.”

“My whole roll?”

“All of it. Just for the aggravation.”

“But what if I can help your friend Arnold?”

This was Mojo for you. The guy just never gave up. I almost admired him for it. Almost.

“And how are you gonna help Arnie?” I said.

“He still wants to get back to his own world, doesn’t he?”

“Sure he does, and you were supposed to get Madame Chang here to help him do that, remember? Before you tried to pull a fast one on us?”

“That was all Madame Chang’s fault.” He started straightening his tie. “I assure you my offer was sincere, and I was certain that if anyone could get Arnold back to his so-called reality it was Madame Chang, mistress as she is of various oriental dark arts.” Now he adjusted his pocket handkerchief. “However, when I telephoned her while you were making what you Americans call whoopee with Maxine and while Arnold was otherwise shall we say engaged in the men’s room, after I told Madame Chang about Arnold she demanded that I bring him here at once by hook or by crook so that she could take him to the Soul Transference Chamber and –”

“Okay, slow down, Speedy Gonzalez, you’re losing me,” I said. I had tossed away my cigarette back when we were huffing and puffing trying to move Futuyama (and, yes, I’ll admit I just tossed it on the floor), and now I took out my Sweet Caporals and the Musso & Frank’s matches again.

“The Soul Transference Chamber,” Mojo said, taking one of those big cigars out of his inside jacket pocket and giving it the once-over to see if it was still smokable. “You really weren’t paying any attention when she explained it all, were you, Ben?”

“So sue me,” I said, and I lit up a smoke, coughing a little. I waved the match out and tossed it. Someday maybe I’d quit these Sweet Caporals. But not tonight, that was for sure. “I had other stuff on my mind. Besides, you were paying attention, weren’t you, Arnie?”

“Yes,” he said. “As best I could.”

“Well, in a nutshell,” said Mojo. He bit off the end of the stogie with his sharp little teeth and spat out the plug.  “Give me a light, will you?”

I gave him a light with the Musso & Frank’s matches, which reminded me of restaurants, which reminded me of Shanghai Sally’s joint and her water-buffalo steaks. I hoped Mojo wasn’t going to take too long getting to the point if he had a point, because, man, I was starving.

He took a couple of good puffs on his cigar, looked at it, and then finally picked up where he’d left off.

“In a nutshell,” he said, again, taking his own goddam time, “Madame Chang among her various other enterprises traffics in souls so to speak. You may not be aware of this, but there is quite a lucrative black market in human souls.”

“Really?” I said. “Y’know, I honestly have to say I did not know that. And who buys these human souls, anyway?”

“Rich people,” said Mojo. “Rich people who have lost their own souls, through dissipation or inanition, or who have realized that their own souls are simply too boring to bear any longer. And then also, just as some wealthy bastards love to collect race horses or motorcars, there are others who get their kicks collecting people’s souls. Anyway, when I told Madame Chang about Arnold she became very excited. Very excited indeed. She said that such a one as he could bring an enormous price on the black soul market.”

“Okay, I get it,” I said, although I didn’t really. “But then why did she want to take me into this Soul whatchacallit Chamber?”

“It’s true, cher Ben, that at first she showed no interest in you or your soul, assuming as she no doubt did from what little I told her about you that you were only a not very bright thug, a goon, a palooka, a smaller version of our friend Futuyama here --”

“Hey, wait a minute --”

“But, mon plus cher Ben, when she saw you in person in all your red-blooded glory I think she saw a possible market even for your soul. Oh, not that yours would bring in anywhere near the price that Mr. Schnabel’s soul would command, but enough perhaps to make the deal worth her while.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess I should be flattered then, in a way. Just curious, did she mention what she thought my soul would bring on the market?”

“I think fifty was a sum she mentioned she would find acceptable.”

“Fifty grand, huh? Not bad, yes sir --”

“No, dear Ben, just fifty.”



“American at least?”

“Malayan dollars. Enough for a water-buffalo steak meal at Shanghai Sally’s, provided you didn’t have too many Planter’s Punches and bottles of Tiger Beer, and left only a modest tip.”

“Jeeze,” I said. “What did she hope to get for Arnie’s soul?”

“Oh, sky’s the limit she thought.”

“Yeah? Like, what, a few hundred bucks?”

“Oh, no, much more. Much, much more.”

“A thousand?”

“Try five hundred thousand, Ben. Possibly a million.”

“Malayan dollars?”

“American, Ben.”

“Damn,” I said.

Sometimes in this life somebody will just tell you something and it really makes you stop and think. But if you do stop and think about it too much there’s a good chance you’ll just put a loaded pistol to your head and pull the trigger. Or, if like me right then you happened to have two roscoes on your person maybe you could put one pistol on either side of your head and pull both triggers simultaneously, just to make sure you didn’t screw it up, just the way you had screwed up your whole damn life.

“Don’t feel bad, cher Ben,” said Mojo. “We can’t all be Odysseus or Gilgamesh or Jason or Beowulf.”

I didn’t know who any of those guys were, but I didn’t let on.

“Bunch of overrated bums, you ask me,” I said.

“Ha ha, quite risible, mon cher Ben,” said Mojo. “But there is no need to be defensive. Some of us must settle for being the heroes of cheap paperback novels of the sort one purchases at a drugstore and then, after one has finished it, one leaves on the floor of a bus with the used chewing gum and cigarettes ends.”

“I don’t get it,” I said, and for once I was telling the truth.

“And some of us,” said Mojo, “like me, mon cher Ben, some of us must be merely the supporting players in such ephemeral trash. No, sorry to say, we can’t all be like Arnold.”

“Wait a minute, Mr. Mojo,” said Arnie, who had been pretty quiet through all this. “What makes me so special? Just because I come from the real world?”

“The real world?” said Mojo. “What’s so special about the real world?”

(Continued here, and so on for no one knows how long now, as yet another trove of Arnold Schnabel’s marble copybooks has recently been discovered hidden under some S&H Green Stamps catalogs in a cardboard box that came with a 1957 Philco portable television set on a shelf in the back of the garage behind Arnold’s aunts’ house on North Street in Cape May, New Jersey.)

(Kindly scroll down the right-hand column of this site to find a somewhat regularly-updated listing of links to all other currently available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Tiger Beer™  of Singapore: “I don’t drink pussycat beers. Make my beer a Tiger Beer!” -- Ben Blagwell.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 74

"a curious destination"

manfred skyline

illustrated by rhoda penmarq , roy dismas and konrad kraus

for complete episode, click here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 73

"Hank Blank"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by roy dismas rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Associate Professor of Victorian English Literature, Assistant Rugby Coach, Olney Community College; editor of The Shameful Secret of Mrs. Fairfax, and 37 Other Previously Uncollected Tales of Rich Old Women, by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press, made possible in part by a generous grant from “The Horace P. Sternwall Appreciation Society”.  

“Are you here to enjoy the music, sir?” said the strange old man, still politely holding open the door.

“The music?” said Michael.

Yes, of course, the music, you could hear it from somewhere beyond the lobby, it sounded like a jazz combo, but not one of these new-fangled bebop outfits --

“Yes,” said the old man, in his sad old neatly pressed uniform. “Tony Winston and his Winstonians, featuring the lovely chanteuse Shirley De La Salle.”

“I must say I’ve never heard of them,” said Michael, taking out his cigarettes.

“They are quite well regarded among the cognoscenti for their interpretations of Chicago-style jazz, and Miss De La Salle, whose début it is tonight, has just recently finished a tour of some several of the southern states in a production of Mr. Porter’s Fifty Million Frenchmen. Or was it the Midwest?”

Still holding the door open, the old man whipped out a lighter and gave Michael a light for his cigarette.

“Thank you,” said Michael.

Michael was wondering. Should he pump this old fool about Stan Slade? But what if the old fool was in cahoots with Slade? Everyone knew how venal New York doormen were. It would make sense for Slade to pay the old boy off. No, Michael decided, he would play it cool, like the detectives in the magazine stories.

“So you haven’t come here to hear the music, sir?” said the old man. Which Michael realized was another way of saying, “Why have you come here?”

  (for complete episode, click here)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Big Ben Blagwell: a partial retrospective

Because of a rather unusually busy several days for your humble editor, the eagerly-awaited next episode of Railroad Train to Heaven has been regretfully postponed until next week; however, we hope to forestall any groans of disappointment with today’s submission, a brief backward look at the exciting career of Arnold Schnabel’s friend, that hearty adventurer Big Ben Blagwell.

Ben’s first known appearance was in They Called Her Clementine, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Gold Medal paperback original published in 1949, which opens with these immortal lines:

I liked her face; it was a sweet, open face, a face that seemed to say springtime and flowers and happiness; oh, how wrong I was.

It was almost three years (during which time our hero’s hair somehow turned from “black as engine oil” to “red like dirty rust”) before Ben’s next appearance, in The Magic Pen Wiper, by Horace P. Sternwall; a Popular Library paperback original, 1952 (republished as Port of Passion, by "Hank Peter Savage", a “Perma Book Original”, 1954):

Big Ben Blagwell had whored and boozed and brawled his way through every two-bit dive in the South Seas, but he hadn’t really hit rock bottom until that day he strolled into a little place down Baguio way on the isle of Luzon, a little joint called the Magic Pen Wiper.

A scant two months later Ben showed up again, in My Friend the .45, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Behemoth Books paperback original, 1952:

‎He had a face that looked like it had been run over by a truck a few times; I turned away but then he spoke, the face spoke: "Hey, buddy, no disrespect, can I ask ya a question?

Ben’s next starring role was in Hell in the Amazon, by Horace P. Sternwall, an “Ace Double” paperback original, paired with Five Elegant Hit-Men, by “Henry Per Swenson” (yet another Sternwall nom de plume), 1953:

When my old navy buddy Buzz Maxwell called me up and asked me if I wanted to take a boat trip up the Amazon just for the hell of it with our other navy buddy Chip Weatherby, I said sure, it sounded like fun.

Boy, was I wrong.

Dead wrong.

Like flesh-eating piranha wrong.

We find Ben again, apparently fully-recovered from the numerous wounds incurred in his previous adventure, in Princess of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace paperback original, 1954:

She had a face that reminded me of my mother's face in the casket at the funeral home: painted, hard, and dead, with just the ghost of a smile; I decided to buy her a drink.

Again little worse for the wear, we find Ben a year later in Big Gun For a Little Lady, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Ballantine paperback original, 1955 (originally serialized in abridged form as "Little Lady With a Large Gun" in Savage Tales for Men, August and October, 1954):

“Hey, buddy,” said the dame sitting to Ben Blagwell’s right. “You wanta do me a favor?”

She was a redhead, but not with orange hair like a normal redhead. Her hair really was red, just like her dress.

She didn’t wait for Ben to say anything, but she opened up her sparkly red purse on her lap and brought out a .45 automatic, locked and cocked.

“Here,” she said. “Hold this for me a minute.”

Ben looked up and down the bar. Nobody was paying attention, and the kind of joint this was, even if somebody was paying attention they probably wouldn’t give a damn.

Ben took the gun out of her hand and held it on his thigh.

“Pretty big gun for a little lady,” he said.

“Sometimes a little lady needs a big gun,” she said. “Now put that thing away and let me buy you a drink.”

Still “a sucker for a good-looking dame, and the deadlier the better” we find Ben for the first time in sunny Los Angeles, in A Broad Named Maude, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Signet paperback original, 1956 (“Not a reprint”, but actually serialized in abridged form as “Devil’s Flight” in Torrid Tales, October-November-December, 1953, by “Harry P. St. James”):

It was a long walk back from the Santa Anita racetrack to downtown Los Angeles. Every once in a while Ben Blagwell would stick his thumb out, but nobody stopped. What the hell, Ben wouldn’t have picked himself up either if he saw himself standing on the side of the road in his cheap Robert Hall suit, a big ginger bruiser who looked like he’d kill you just as soon as look at you. It was almost midnight by the time he got back to Bunker Hill, and all the lights in the rooming house were out, which was good -- maybe he could avoid the landlady at least until morning. But someone was sitting on the porch glider up there in the dark. Ben started climbing the creaky wooden steps, hoping to hell that the someone wasn’t Mrs. McGrath, the mean old harridan. And then the someone struck a match, and lit a cigarette, and Ben stopped where he was at the head of the steps.

“Hello, big boy.”

Maude. Maude Collins. Three thousand miles he had traveled to get away from this broad, and here she was.

“You look like hell, big boy,” she said.

I look like hell, thought Ben.

And now I am in hell.

Ben apparently appeared in at least fourteen other Horace P. Sternwall novels, but we have not yet been able to track a single one of them down. If any of our faithful readers does happen to chance on any of them in a garage sale or moldering in a cardboard box in a grandparent's basement, the present writer would love to hear from you.

But in the meanwhile can any of us forget Ben’s first appearance in Arnold Schnabel’s heroic and massive memoir, Railroad Train to Heaven? Yes, it was way back in Chapter 251, when Arnold idly picks up a paperback titled Havana Hellcats (Horace P. Sternwall, publisher and date unknown):

I turned it over and looked at the back cover.

“Trapped in a tropical paradise that turns into a burning inferno of passion and betrayal, Yank soldier-of-fortune Ben Blagwell goes up against a harem of lesbian murderesses whose only motto is ‘More!’”

“By Horace P. Sternwall, author of Say It With a .38, Two Ways to Tuesday, and The Magic Pen Wiper.”

“I couldn’t put this book down, and neither will you!"-- Bennett Cerf

“Not for nothing has Sternwall been compared with Maugham and Conrad." -- Bernard DeVoto

“Sternwall’s Big Ben Blagwell deserves a place in the pantheon of the great heroes of literature, right up there with Leatherstocking, Ivanhoe, D'Artagnan, and Humphrey Clinker.” -- Lionel Trilling

I opened the book to the first page of the novel. I brought the opened book to my nose and breathed in the reassuring smell of the pulpy paper. Then I lowered the book and read the opening lines.

“Your name Ben Blagwell?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I’d like to buy you a drink if you’re Ben Blagwell.”

“I only drink with my friends,” said Big Ben Blagwell.

“And what’s a chap got to do to become your friend?”

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you.”

“Innkeeper!” called the fat man in the wrinkled white suit. “Another drink for my friend here. What’re you drinking, Ben?”

“Planter’s Punch, with a float of ‘151’.”

“Two Planter’s Punches,” said the fat man.

“With a float of ‘151’,” Ben reminded him.

“And a float of ‘151’,” said the fat man.

“Sit down, my friend,” said Big Ben Blagwell….

“All right, buddy,” said someone behind me, in a deep, gruff voice.

I turned. It was a big muscular, sun-bronzed guy with four or five days’ growth of a ginger beard, a crushed and dingy white yachting cap, a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt, equally wrinkled denim trousers, dirty white deck shoes. He had a tattoo of an anchor on one forearm, and there was some sort of a bird on the other. He took a drag from a cigarette...

(Portrait of Ben and unknown woman by Vic Prezio. Please come back next week for another blood-curdling chapter of Railroad Train to Heaven. Ben and Arnold will be waiting for you.)