Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friends the noted author Horace P. Sternwall and (currently sleeping it off in Arnold’s shirt pocket) Ferdinand the talking fly, as Arnold once again must make a life or death decision…
(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; if you think you might have what it takes to become an Arnold Schnabel completist then click here to go back to the very beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterwork.)
“Arnold Schnabel has been called the American Proust, the American Kafka, the American Samuel Beckett, and even the American Homer; but I think it suffices to say (and it says more than enough) that he was – and remains, in all his inimitable glory – ‘the American Arnold Schnabel’.” – Harold Bloom, in the U.S. News & World Report Literary Supplement.
I stared out at those dark woods beyond the graveled lot, those woods beyond which Lily had said lay nothing.
Perhaps the road out front led also to nothing, but at least it was a road.
Perhaps it led to somewhere, maybe even to a roadside diner where we could get some food. This didn’t seem to be asking too much.
“Okay, I vote for the road,” I said.
“Arnie,” said Horace, a little too loudly, because after all he was pretty drunk, “You’re a man after my own heart! The road it is! The great open road! The great and glorious American open –”
“Okay,” I said.
“Road,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“I’m with you, pal!” he yelled.
I started to go to the right, but Horace, who was still holding onto my arm, started to go left, and so both of us were pulled up short.
“What’s the matter?” he said.
“Nothing, I was just trying to go that way,” I said, and I pointed my free thumb to the right.
“Why that way?” he said.
“No reason,” I said.
Now he spoke lower:
“No reason? Are you sure?”
“Horace,” I said, “I don’t care. What difference does it make?”
“How do I know?” he said. “I don’t know.”
“Do you want to go the other way?” I said.
“I don’t know.” He turned and looked the other way. It looked pretty much exactly like the way I had been headed. “What do you think?” he said.
“I think we should just choose a way to go, and go,” I said.
“Wow,” he said, after a pause.
“What,” I said.
“That was really kind of, I don’t know, profound,” he said. “I’d like to use that line in one of my stories or novels sometime. I mean if that’s okay.”
“Sure, Horace,” I said. “Be my guest.”
“Thanks, Arnold. You know what? You’re okay. I’m sorry about what I said about you earlier.”
“That’s okay, Horace,” I said.
“I mean about you being a little, you know, self-absorbed and all.”
“Really, it’s all right.”
“Self-obsessed,” he said. “Narcissistic.”
“Forget it,” I said.
“Solipsistic,” he said.
“Um,” I said.
“You’re not like that, Arnie.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I mean, you know, all of us are a little self-absorbed really, don’t you think?”
“Sure,” I said.
“You’re no worse than the next guy.”
“Right,” I said.
“No worse than the next guy.”
“Yes, you said that already, Horace, now –”
“No worse than the next guy and better than some I’ve met I’ll tell ya that much, buddy.”
“I don’t care what they say about you, Arnie. You’re okay in my book.”
“Good, Horace,” I said. “I appreciate it. Now let’s go.”
I gave his arm a tug, it was his right arm, but he disengaged it and patted his jacket pocket.
“What are you doing, Horace?” I said.
“Just want to light my cigar. You got a match?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Oh, wait,” he said. He stuck his hand into the pocket of his work trousers, and brought out a book of matches, showed them to me.
The matches read LILY’S ROAD HOUSE FINE FOOD AND COCKTAILS.
“Great,” I said.
And I waited while he stuck his dead cigar in his mouth and relit it. It took him at least three of the paper matches, but finally he got it lit.
“Okay,” he said. He put his arm in mine again, and I couldn’t help but think that we were setting a terrible precedent, with him so casually taking my arm this way. But then I supposed this was better than having him fall to the ground every third step. “I’m ready now,” he said.
“Great,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“But which way?” he said.
“Hey you two!” hissed Lily from her chair on the terrace. Well, she didn’t exactly hiss, I suppose that’s something I picked up from the trashy novels I read. Let’s say she called out in a sort of very loud whisper. Anyway, “What’s keeping you guys?” she hissed. I turned to look at her. She was leaning forward over the table, staring at us as if she couldn’t quite believe the idiocy she was witnessing. “I told you two to scram! How stupid are you?”
“Sorry, Lily!” I called, or hissed, or whispered loudly.
“Don’t be sorry, just go, before it’s too late! Unless you both want to die a horrible death!”
“We’re going!” I called again, and I pulled on Horace’s arm, leading us to the right.
“Why are you going that way?” she yelled.
I stopped and turned again.
“I don’t know,” I said, croaked, almost cried. “Does it matter?”
“It might be safer to go to the left,” she said, in almost a normal voice.
“See, I told you,” said Horace, and he pulled on my arm, and we went a couple of steps that way.
“No! Stop!” said Lily.
Of course we stopped, bumping into each other.
Lily held up a hand.
“What is it?” I said.
“Quick, go the other way,” she called. “I think I heard Lou turning the key in the door back there.”
“Oh, Christ,” I admit I said, but I pulled on Horace’s arm, and started us back the way I had originally meant to go, to the right.
“Wait!” she called again.
We stopped again. I looked back at her. She still had one hand raised, and her head was cocked in the direction of the French windows that led back inside.
“Now what?” said Horace.
“Never mind,” she called. She paused. “No! I heard the door open! Go! Go! Damn your eyes, you crazy fools, go!”
“Goodbye, Miss Lily!” called Horace. “And thanks for everything!”
I had had enough of this. I gripped Horace’s arm tightly in mine and pulled him quickly along, down the length of the terrace, and around the building to the right.
I felt better once we had turned the corner.
This side of the building was just bare grey brick, with some windows on the second floor. There were a couple of dumpsters there against the wall. To the left, beyond a graveled driveway, were those dark woods, and ahead I could see the brightly lit graveled lot with its parked cars and trucks, with the dark highway beyond, and more dark woods beyond that.
“Come on, Horace,” I said, and I pulled him along.
We came upon a black cat, standing near one of the dumpsters.
The cat meowed, and I was just glad that it didn’t speak.
“Hi, kitty,” said Horace, and he went over to try to pet the cat, dragging me along with him.
The cat ran under one of the dumpsters.
“Kitty?” said Horace.
I had no time for this, or, rather, I had all the time in the world, but I chose not to spend it in this fashion, and I pulled Horace forcibly along, and then we were out in the brightly lit parking lot.
“Hey, y’know what we should do, Arnie?” said Horace, when we were about halfway to the road. He pulled me to a stop. “Y’know what we should do?”
“What, Horace?” I said.
“Y’know what we should do?”
“Why don’t you just tell me,” I said.
“You want me to?”
“I want to get out of here,” I said.
“Well, so do I, Arnie. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Okay,” I said. “What is it?”
“What is it we should do?”
“Yes,” I said.
All this time he was hanging onto my left arm, and he really was too close to me. I turned my head away because his breath smelled of cheap cigars, of beer and whiskey and fine champagne. Even with the fine champagne it was a bad combination.
But he moved even closer to me, bringing his mouth closer to my ear.
“We should take one of these cars,” he said.
I turned my head and looked at him, even though I didn’t want to.
“Steal a car?” I said.
“If you want to call it that, sure,” he said. “But why not let’s just say we’re going to borrow one. Just till we get to wherever it is we’re going to.”
“Look, Horace,” I said. “Even if I were to steal a car, which I would never do, I don’t know how to steal a car.”
“Oh,” he said, smiling. “Really?”
Yes,” I said. “I mean, don’t you have to, you know, know how to hot-wire it or something? And how do you break in to one? Don’t you need a coat hanger, or –”
All Horace did was smile and shake his head, as if he were talking to someone unbelievably naïve. Then he put his cigar in his mouth and stuck his left hand into his jacket pocket, bringing out a steel ring on which were a couple of dozen keys. He held the keys up and jangled them.
“Oh,” I said. “Look, Horace, I really don’t think I could –”
He let go of my arm, then took the cigar out of his mouth, and looked at me.
“Arnie,” he said.
“Yes?” I said.
“Maybe you couldn’t. And by ‘you’ I mean the old Arnie Schnabel. But now you’re the new improved Arnie Schnabel. A rummy of the open road! And this Arnie Schnabel is gonna take a little joy ride! You see that pink Cadillac over there?” He pointed with his cigar at a pink Cadillac, parked right near the front entrance of the road house. “’55 Cadillac 60 Special. Who d’ya think owns it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Elvis Presley?”
“Wrong!” he said. “I’m gonna lay you eight-to-five that fine heap o’ Detroit steel belongs to none other than that fat bastard that was gonna get us killed!”
“Laughing Lou?” I said, keeping up my end of the conversation.
“Yes,” said Horace, “you got it right on the first guess! That’s just the sort of car an asshole like him would drive!”
“But you can’t know that for sure,” I said. “Look, let’s just –”
But I was wasting my breath because he was already headed quickly over to the Cadillac, weaving only slightly.
I stood where I was. I had always been a law-abiding citizen, unless of course the occasional bout of public drunkenness is to be held against me. I turned away and looked out at the road. Once we got out there, if we ever did, we had to make yet another choice: to the right, or to the left. Both ways seemed to lead to nothing but darkness. Something told me we should go left, I didn’t know why, but for some reason left seemed a little less scary than right. Maybe after a while we would reach a diner, and we could get some food. I was pretty sure I had some money on me, but not completely sure.
Behind me I heard a car start up. I didn’t turn around. As long as I didn’t turn around it was possible that someone had come out of the road house and had got into their car, and started it.
I heard car wheels on the gravel behind me, and then a car pulled up to my left and stopped. It was the pink Cadillac. I bent down and looked into the front side window, which was being cranked down by Horace, who was leaning over from the driver’s seat. He waved his hand at me.
“Come on, Arnie, get in!”
I opened the car door and got in.
(Continued here, and at this rate possibly well into the latter half of this century.)
(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a possibly reasonably up-to-date of listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now also available for a mere pittance on your Kindle™. Nihil obstat: Bishop John J. “Big John” Graham.)