We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel sinking into oblivion in an alleyway in Singapore. We certainly hope he’s okay -- well, obviously he’s not “okay”, but let’s just hope and pray that something really, really horrible isn’t happening to him. But, in the meanwhile, what of big Ben Blagwell, last seen going off for an assignation with that sultry exotic “canary” Maxine Parraquette?
(Kindly to read our previous thrilling episode; if you are recovering from a nervous breakdown and have been ordered to take six months’ bed rest and are afraid of getting bored, then you might want to go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 97-volume masterpiece.)
“The serial publication of Arnold Schnabel’s massive autobiography is perhaps the greatest phenomenon in the world of letters since a young actor named William Shakespeare first took up his quill pen, dipped it into his inkwell, and then put to paper the words ‘Actus primus, Scena prima’.” -- Harold Bloom, The Weekly Reader.
Well, as soon as we were finished, no flies on Maxine as they say, she turned the bedside lamp on, jumped right out of the rack and made it for the bathroom. She kept the door open and I could hear a shower come on. That was good, that she had a shower I mean, because I’ll tell ya, I had been sweating like a pig even before we tumbled into the eiderdown, but now I felt like I was floating in the Dead Sea that mattress was so soaked. I figured I had lost at least twenty pounds in those ten minutes we had been playing hide-the salami. It had been better than a Turkish steam bath in that regard, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable, too.
I reached down to the floor and grabbed my Sweet Caporals and Musso and Frank’s matches out of the pocket of my Hawaiian shirt that was lying there, then I scrunched back up against the brass tubing of the headboard and lit up a smoke, tossing the match into the overflowing glass ashtray Maxine had on her night table. “Palm Grove Hotel, Singapore,” was painted on the ashtray in red.
I smoked and looked down at my gut.
Yeah, the old belly did look a little smaller maybe, more like a tight basketball than say a slightly deflated beach ball: who knows, maybe I had lost even twenty-five pounds.
To tell the truth, although I’ve always been a big muscular powerful kind of guy, I’ve also always tended to pack it on a little if you know what I mean, especially when I’m in between ships. What can I say? I like to eat. Why, just that morning I had started the day off with a big fat T-bone steak and a dozen fried eggs, with hash browns. This had been at a joint called Bill’s Sail-Right Inn which caters to the Yankee sea-dog trade, and it’s the closest you can get to a decent American hash-house in Singapore. I washed it all down with seven or eight cups of black Joe laced with a little whiskey, which old Bill isn’t supposed to serve, but he does anyway, God love the mug.
Then for lunch it had been what they call a rijsttafel at this other joint that caters to Dutch swabbies, called Dutchman Bob’s, and that had been a pretty big lunch too with I guess about thirty-five or forty dishes, with seconds and thirds of pork bellies and lots of shrimp crackers, all of it washed down with about six bottles of good Dutch lager. I figure I must’ve gained a good ten pounds at that meal alone.
Then after an afternoon at the pub me and some of the boys went over to this other joint called Chip’s Chippie which caters to the British nautical types, and we had what they call a “tea”, which consisted of four different types of sausages, rashers of bacon a half-inch thick, lots of toast with butter and jam, and mountains of what they call “chips”, but don’t worry, they’re just French fries really. Of course you had to drink tea, too, but what they hell, when in Rome, and anyways I’m used to living it rough in exotic foreign climes, and I won’t deny that I’ve eaten cat and dog and snake as well, even insects when push came to shove, although no matter how desperate and starving I was I swear on my dead mother’s grave I never tasted one bite of what they call “long pig” out there.
The thing was though, I still hadn’t had dinner, not really. I mean, sure, I guess I’d eaten a couple or three big bowls of peanuts when I had been playing poker downstairs, but I still hadn’t had a proper meal since that tea at Chad’s Chippie, and here it was going on eight bells on the last dog watch, and all of a sudden I realized I could eat a horse, and not a little seahorse either, but a real horse, full-grown, and come to think of it I have eaten horse on at least one occasion, down in Paraguay it was…
Maxine came out of the bathroom, still in her birthday suit except for her string of pearls which she had never bothered to take off. They gleamed on her wet skin, like drops of moonlight, or maybe like tiny little moons, or, I don’t know --
“You can use the shower if you want,” she said.
“Thanks, baby,” I said. “Maybe I will.”
She picked her shiny silvery dress up off the floor and gave it a couple of good shakes, because you never know what’s going to be crawling around on the floor in Singapore.
“Water pressure’s pretty low, don’t be surprised if it runs out halfway.”
She didn’t bother looking for her underwear, she just pulled that shiny dress on over her head.
“I’ll soap up and rinse it off real quick then,” I said. “I hate that itchy feeling when you don’t get all the soap off --”
“Yeah,” she said. “That stinks, so you better make it quick.”
She was dipping her feet into her high-heeled pumps, pulling each lovely gam back behind her a little so she could screw the shoe on with her delicate little hand. She looked really pretty.
“Y’know, it’s funny, Maxine,” I said, blowing out a sophisticated-type cloud of Sweet Caporal smoke. “Some guys like to linger in the shower, I know, in fact a lot of sailors are like that, beats me why, but --”
She was bending down to look in the mirror over her dresser, and she ran a brush through her hair a couple of times.
“No hot water of course,” she said.
“Fine with me, doll,” I said, “fine, a warm night like this, you know, I think it’s kinda refreshing to --”
She uncapped a tube of lipstick and gave her lips a quick smear. She smacked her lips together a couple of times, then capped the lipstick and dropped it into her purse.
“I got to go to work, big boy. Don’t set the bed on fire with that cigarette, and make sure the door’s locked when you leave. Just turn the little button on the doorknob before you go out.”
“Little button, on the doorknob, turn it vertical before you go out.”
“You want me to write it down for you?”
“No, I think I got it,” I said. “Vertical, right?”
She just looked at me for a moment, and then she turned and headed for the door.
“Hey, Maxine,” I said, kind of throaty-like, and loud, but not yelling-loud. I just wanted to get her attention.
She stopped and turned, but just her head, her body she kept facing the door.
“What?” she said.
“Maybe later we can, you know, have a drink, maybe a little, I don’t know, talk.”
“Talk,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Talk.”
She looked at me, over her shoulder.
“Talk about what?” she said.
“Gee, doll,” I said, “I don’t know. Whatever you want to talk about. Flowers, puppies.”
“Flowers and puppies.”
She stared at me for another long moment, then turned her head to the front again, opened the door, and walked out, closing the door behind her.
I never will figure them.
I thought dames liked flowers and puppies and kittens, but I guess not all of them do.
Well, what the hell.
I heaved myself up and managed to make it to my feet. It always felt funny to me being in a broad’s room. Kind of like you were someplace you could just go back to bed in and smoke a few more cigarettes, maybe take a little nap before going out and facing the world again, but that bed was so sweat-soaked I decided against that, and anyways, I needed to get some food in my gut. I wondered if Maxine kept anything up here that was edible, just something to hold me over, but a quick recce revealed nothing more edible than a jar of Pond’s cold cream, and I wasn’t that hungry.
I did find something else though, shoved in the night-table drawer, under some old movie magazines: a snubnose .38. I took it out, spun the cylinder. All five chambers were loaded. Hey, call me old-fashioned but I like something a little bigger like the old service .45, but that’s just me. A little dame like Maxine, a snubby .38 was good for her, and God knows a good-looking dame has to be able to defend herself in this day and age. There’s too many bums out there who are just not gentlemen, and a .38 slug or two somewhere in the torso was probably gonna do the job almost as well as a .45 and without making so much of a mess, too. I stuck the pistol back under the magazines, and shoved the drawer shut.
I walked over to the one and only window she had. It looked out on the alley next door and on the terminal road out front. I took one more drag of my Sweet Caporal and then flicked it down into the darkness.
Time to hit the shower, get dressed and go back downstairs and find out about this caper that Mojo the Midget had talked about. I still only had six bucks in my poke, so what I decided to do, I decided I would ask Mojo for a little advance on my cut of the take, just so I could go get a good dinner over at this joint called Shanghai Sally’s, the proprietress of which, despite her moniker, hailed from Kansas City, Kansas, and she served the thickest juiciest water-buffalo steaks you ever did taste, but then I couldn’t believe my eyes because walking past the alleyway’s entrance came Mojo and Arnold, Mojo practically pulling Arnold along, and Arnie looking like he was about to keel over any second.
Then they were gone, past the corner of the building across the alley.
Something was wrong.
Why did those two leave without me?
Why was Arnie staggering?
Why was Mojo pulling Arnie along like Arnie was a stubborn mule instead of the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, and a personal friend of mine?
Something was definitely wrong. I turned from the window and went back to where my underwear and dungarees and Hawaiian shirt and my deck shoes and my yachtsman’s cap were lying on the floor.
I had to get dressed, and quick, and I decided that while I was at it I’d better borrow Maxine’s snubnose .38, just in case.
As for the shower, well, that was just going to have to wait, and it looked like maybe that water buffalo-steak was going to have to wait, too.
(To be continued; we have only just begun to scratch the surface.)
Railroad Train to Heaven is the living work of fiction writer Dan Leo, who's been working on its more than 300 weekly installments for the better part of five years. To catch up on previous episodes, visit his blog, or read a of the action thus far.