We left our two adventurers Arnold Schnabel and Big Ben Blagwell in something of a pickle, apparent prisoners of the beautiful and haughty Madame Chang, here in her exotic chambers somewhere in the dockside district of old Singapore.
Once again we hand the microphone over to our guest narrator, that hearty seafaring adventurer, Mr. Ben Blagwell...
(Kindly click here to read our previous episode; if you’ve recently been laid off from your job and are looking for an amusing way to fill those vast expanses of unscheduled hours in your future then you may want to go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume masterpiece.)
“My pipe, my slippers, my comfortable old chair, and Arnold Schnabel on my Kindle: I ask for nothing more at the end of my day’s work.” -- Harold Bloom, in "Tiger Beat".
“And so, gentlemen,” said Madame Chang, “if you will finish your libations, I think it is time that we adjourn to the Soul Transference Chamber.”
She made a little gesture to Futuyama and he took a step closer to me, standing right near that standing ashtray I was using and staring down at me from way up where his eyes were up near the top of that damn-near must have been seven feet of muscle and fat that he was.
“Um,” I said, “what was that chamber again, Madame Chang?”
“The Soul Transference Chamber,” she said, a bit more emphatically this time, although it would have been hard to imagine her being any more emphatic than she had been all along. “Weren’t you listening to a word I just said?”
“Uh, sure,” I said.
Once again Arnie let out a great sigh, and because we were sitting so scrunched together on that pink love seat, I could feel the sigh running all the way down from his shoulder and even down through his leg.
“Tell me then, Mr. Blogwell--” she started to say.
“Blagwell, actually,” I said.
“Whatever,” she said. “Tell me, what was I just talking about?”
“What -- just now?” I said.
“Yes. Just now.”
“It was,” I said, “you were talking about the, uh, the, you know, the soul thing, the something something -- Arnie, help me out here, buddy.”
“The Soul Transference Chamber,” he said, and he took another good gulp of his tea.
“'The Soul Transference Chamber',” I said.
“No helping!” yelled Mojo.
“I almost had it,” I said.
“Liar!” he yelled. “Black liar!”
“It was on the tip of my tongue,” I said.
“He hasn’t been paying attention, Madame Chang,” said Mojo, who’s still sitting there on that footstool, by the way, holding that Luger braced on that big low table and pointed towards me and Arnie, mostly me. “He was just like this whenever we pulled a caper,” he went on, the little stool pigeon. “We’d plan and plan, or rather I would plan and plan, and I’d explain the whole caper to him, in detail, with maps and diagrams, sometimes even drawings and photographs and slide projections, and I’d go over it and over it, and I’d say, ‘Benjamin, cher Benjamin, now do you got the plan? Do you want me to go through it one more time for you? Because I will if I have to.’ And he’d always say, ‘Sure, little guy, I got it, relax.’ Relax. Relax shmax, as you Americans say!”
“Are you quite finished, Mojo?” said Madame Chang.
“Let me just tell you about this one time in Macao --”
“Mojo,” said Madame Chang. She had been holding her teacup but now she put it down on its saucer on the little table next to her chair.
“You see, Madame Chang,” said Mojo, “I had this plan to heist the priceless statuette known as ‘The Jade Empress’, which was at that time in the possession of the Condessa de Braganza --”
“Mojo!” said Madame Chang.
“Yes, Madame Chang?” said Mojo.
“Shut your trap before I shut it for you. Permanently.”
She didn’t pick her automatic up off the arm of her chair, but she did just sort of tap it with her fingers, tappity tap tap, like that.
And meantime I’m thinking.
Okay, I had no idea what this Soul Transference Chamber thing was, because, like I said -- and, yeah, as Mojo had figured out -- I really hadn’t paid any attention to a single word Madame Chang had said. But you want to know something about me? Well, maybe you don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway, and that is I am a man of action not of words. So, anyway, I might not have known what this Soul Transference Chamber was exactly, or even vaguely, or at all really, but I did know I didn’t like the sound of it, and I decided right then and there I was going to do my damnedest not to go there, whatever the hell it was.
I figured our only chance was for me to wait for just the exact right split-second to reach back behind Arnie, grab that Chief’s Special I had stuck in his waistband, put one shot in Mojo, one in Madame Chang, even if she was a dame, and save the last three for that big tree trunk Futuyama. But now was obviously not the right moment, not with Mojo holding that Luger on us and Futuyama standing like three feet away and ready to fall on me like a house.
So the thing to do was stall.
And the one sure way of stalling a dame short of a quick right to the jaw is to bring the conversation back to her favorite subject, namely herself.
“Gee, Madame Chang,” I said. “I really hate to go to the Soul What-Do-You-Call-It Chamber just so soon, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because it’s just such a pleasure to sit here drinking this swell drink and smoking my Sweet Caporal and gazing at such a beautiful dame as yourself, who has got to be just about the best-looking Chinese lady I ever laid eyes on -- no, check that -- most beautiful lady period, Chinese or not Chinese, so what do ya say we all have another round first, just so I can continue to gaze upon your, like, exotic oriental beauty.”
“As if I would ever give a great brute like you the time of day,” said Madame Chang. “Dream on, buster.”
“Aw, gee, Madame Chang,” I said. “I know I might seem kind of rough, but I ain’t never had no complaints from the ladies yet --”
“Sorry, Cholly,” she said. “But you’re not my type.”
I don’t think she really meant that. She was just playing hard to get, the way dames do in my experience.
“Well, anyway,” I said, and I took a careful little slurp through my straw, almost finishing off the drink, but still saving a little bit, “I sure wouldn’t mind another Planter’s Punch with a --”
“Forget it,” she said. “Finish your drink. You too, Mojo.”
Mojo immediately picked up his pousse-café with his left hand and resumed his own straw-slurping, but he didn’t forget to keep that Luger pointed at me and Arnie while he was doing his slurping.
Me, I stirred up the last little bit of my drink, mixing it up with the melting ice cubes and moving the cherry around in the sludge, acting like I was just really looking forward to this one last taste, or like maybe just making sure there weren’t any dead flies down in there.
“So, Madame Chang,” I said, “I guess you’re more like the, let me guess, a Stewart Granger kind of a lady.”
“Your drink, finish it,” she said.
She had picked up her little automatic, her forearm resting on the arm of that big red velvet and gold chair she was sitting in, and the pistol was pointing right at me.
“Y’know, who I like?” I said. “I like that Steve Cochran guy. Him and Aldo Ray. Not that I find them attractive the way a dame would you understand, don’t get me wrong. Or maybe you’re more like a Rory Calhoun kind of gal.”
She took a slow drag of her cigarette. And then she let the smoke out, real slow, looking from me to Arnie, just staring at him through the smoke for a few long seconds, and then she looked at me again.
“Do you really want to know who I find attractive?” she said. “Or perhaps ‘intriguing’ is the better word.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “Dan Duryea?”
She took another drag off her cigarette, but she kept that Pocket Mauser pointed right at me.
“I find your taciturn friend Mr. Schnabel intriguing,” she said. “I wonder, Mr. Schnabel, have you ever tasted the delights of the secret oriental arts of love?”
“Um, pardon me?” he said.
“You heard her,” said Mojo. “The secret oriental arts of love. Don’t give Madame Chang that schoolboy act.”
“Shut up, Mojo,” said Madame Chang.
“Sorry,” he said.
“So,” said Madame Chang. “The secret and ancient oriental arts of love. Have you ever tasted of them.”
She did that thing she did where she asked a question but said it like a statement.
“I, um, I, uh,” said Arnie, and I hate to say it, but it was kind of nice to have the spotlight shifted away from me for a second. I don’t mind telling you that I had started sweating profusely again, even though like I said it was almost cool here in Madame Chang’s joint, like in a library or a museum or a church, and I know, I know, it’s not like I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time or maybe any at all in those kinds of places, but whenever they turn up in one of those adventure stories in the magazines that’s the way those writer fellows always describe them. What the hell do I know?
“It’s a yes or no question, Mr. Schnabel,” said Madame Chang.
“Um, uh,” he said, and he started twisting his back all around and back and forth in a weird way.
“Why are you fidgeting now?” said Madame Chang. “Does my question make you uncomfortable.”
“No,” he said. “I mean, yes, your question does, actually, but I was fidgeting more because I just realized something is sticking into my lower back.”
“What is sticking in your back,” said Madame Chang.
“I don’t know,” he said, “maybe a busted spring, or --”
“I certainly hope that big oaf beside you didn’t damage my love seat with his huge derrière. That’s a genuine Ruhlmann et Laurent you two are sitting on there, not a some cheap Sears & Roebuck knockoff.”
Arnie now leaned forward a bit, and put his cup and saucer down on the table.
“It’s right back here, in the small of my back,” he said, and he started to reach his right hand around behind him and under the tail of his suit jacket to where I had stuck Maxine’s Chief’s Special back when he was still all doped up.
Well, like I said, I’m a man of action, and although I doubted Arnie even knew what he was pulling out of the back of his pants, that wouldn’t matter to Madame Chang or Mojo or good old Futuyama, who was still looming there like the mountain of meanness he was, so I put my Sweet Caporal between my lips and laid my drink on the table, and just as Arnie was bringing the snubby around where everyone could see it I got my hand under the edge of that heavy low table and jerked it up and turned it right over on top of Mojo. Then I grabbed the brass column of the standing ashtray that was next to the love seat, and I swung the glass ashtray part of it right up into Futuyama’s face. He staggered back a bit and I jumped up after him so I could keep him between me and Madame Chang’s automatic. He had both his hands over his face, with blood streaming out between his fingers, which was tough for him, not that he was ever going to win any beauty contests anyway, but what are you going to do? So I took a roundhouse swing with the ashtray stand and smashed the base of it on the top of his skull, and then with my other hand I gave him a good push so that he collapsed like the half-ton of a great big bastard he was right on top of Madame Chang, crushing that big chair she was in right under her.
Yeah, it was over that quick.
Couldn’t have taken more than three, maybe four seconds.
Like I say, I’m a man of action.
(To be continued, perhaps not quite ad infinitum.)
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 synopsis of the action thus far.