FATAWAY - ROBERT CAPORALE
Originally published in Zahir 2009
Bobby Train is on the grift.
Nickel and dime.
Esquire has just returned from a court ordered sabbatical after making a fool of himself by dropping his pants in front of a hostile witness. The judge cited him for contempt and sentenced Esquire to ninety days observation at a psychiatric facility.
Esquire is Bobby Train’s longtime attorney.
Bobby Train and Esquire are having lunch at the Canton Restaurant. Its marquee is illuminated by thousands of red white and pink blinking light bulbs signifying the halfway point of Mercury Boulevard.
Mercury Boulevard is the third longest straightest street in the world.
The food at the Canton is hot tasty and pretty as a picture. The dining room is large busy and glows crimson from the vintage lacquered walls, vinyl booths and hanging paper pagodas. The pagodas are dusty and trimmed in black and sway from the waitresses rushing around under them. The constant clatter of voices and pinging forks and spoons bouncing off the low tin ceiling turns the room into a sound chamber making it hard to have a normal conversation.
You’re looking none the worst for wear, Esquire.
How you feeling?
You look rested.
It was quiet up there, that’s for sure.
What did you do all day?
Made leather wallets and wicker baskets.
Sounds like camp.
Need a wallet?
Bobby Train shakes his head.
A busboy fills their water glasses, ice cubes rattle.
I want to make amends, Bobby Train says.
You’re still my attorney, aren’t you?
I need advice on a new deal I’m cooking.
Ever since your episode with that fortune teller last year, you’ve changed, Bobby Train.
You’re a little scary now.
Don’t be ridiculous.
You were predictable before, like a character in a B movie.
How do you know I’m not playacting right now?
My point exactly.
Before the fortune teller, Bobby Train obsessed about every little detail of a scam. Now he doesn’t seem to give a flying fuck; he’s just winging it; riding on the wind.
Everything changed that night he strolled the midway of a carnival on the pier eating fried clams and eyeing all the cotton candy sweety-os and candy apple Romeos riding the neon Ferris Wheel. Bobby Train spotted the black tent, and on a whim he pushed through the beaded door and stepped inside and handed two dollars to Princess Jangle Heart to have his fortune told. The Royal Gypsy Princess read Bobby Train’s tea leaves and lowered her head. Then she took his hands, gently turned them palms up and tracked his lifelines and tightened her lips. She shuffled a deck of Tarot cards and moaned with each flip.
If Princess Jangle Heart had a crystal ball, Bobby Train is sure she would have pulled it out and dusted it off.
The Royal Princess took a deep breath, looked past Bobby Train and told him, You’ll be dead before the year is out. How? In a horrendous car crash. What kind of car? Sports car. What color? I don’t see colors.
Bobby Train is sure the Royal Gypsy Princess Jangle Heart is full of royal Gypsy shit so to test the gods he went out the next day and bought himself a smart little midnight-blue Austin Healy 3000 with wire wheels and drove it like a maniac for one year before selling it to a numbers runner named Franco who promptly smashed it into a bridge abutment while his lady friend was going down on him. Franco died instantly of head trauma. His lady friend choked to death.
The waitress steps up to the booth.
The wonton soup is the best here, Bobby Train says.
They order two wonton soups along with steamed dumplings, pork fried rice and chicken chow mein.
The wonton soup comes right out.
They start in slurping soup with wooden spoons.
So tell me about the scam.
This might be legit.
I’ll be the judge.
Bobby Train is good at what he does. Except for that dash of street-charm he lays out the scam like any entrepreneur presenting a business perspective to an investment banker.
Esquire stops Bobby Train halfway through the soliloquy with a hand gesture and tells him that he is sitting on a cash cow.
Does the stuff work?
Not a chance.
Didn’t think so.
Is that a problem?
Probably not, he says. Our GNP depends upon selling snake oil to the natives. Still you may get sued, class action, never know. That’s why you play it safe.
Sued for what? Bobby Train wants to know.
But you just said...
I know what I said, still you take precautions, distance yourself.
Set up a corporation.
How does that avoid law suits?
It makes it that much harder to get into your pockets.
Is there anything else I can do to I protect myself?
Be very careful how you market the product, what you say in your advertising. Keep it vague, nothing concrete. You don’t want to give some slip-and-fall lawyer anything to hang a hat on.
Give me an example.
Don’t guarantee anything.
I don’t even know how to spell guarantee.
Esquire smirks, fingers his pencil thin mustache.
The waitress picks up the empty bowls and lays out covered platters of steaming dumplings, chow mien and fried rice.
Esquire presses his hands over his ears. What is that ringing?
You don’t hear a high pitched ring?
Damn, it’s annoying.
You’re just hungry. Eat something.
Esquire rubs his chopsticks together. Have you done your homework on this deal? he wants to know.
Esquire snags a dumpling. How are you going to market it?
It sells itself.
That’s expensive. You’ll need up front money.
I’ll get it.
What about product? Where will you get product?
I’m still working on that.
I have some ideas.
Sure you don’t want a piece of the action, Esquire?
I’ll think about it.
This is a sweet deal.
I got burnt pretty bad on your last sweet deal, Bobby Train.
That’s why you get first dibs on this one, Esquire. I owe you.
Don’t con me.
You have to climb right back onto that horse, Esquire.
The only way I get in, Bobby Train, is for half. Equal partners.
It’s my start-up money.
It’s my idea.
I’m setting up the deal and my name will be all over the paperwork. I’ll be the first one they come to again when the shit hits the fan.
I know what I said. But less we forget, the product does not work. It’s a placebo at best.
Worst case scenario, Bobby Train says, we get wealthy and a bunch of fat people get squeaky clean.
We’ll make money, that’s for sure. But still this is a bang-bang deal, Bobby Train. In and out fast. Understand?
Sounds like I have a partner.
We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m going to draw up the paperwork. I’ll need a post office box number for the corporation, and you should start checking into manufacturers. Check with hotels like the Holiday Inn, find out who makes those little bars with their logo on them.
Bobby Train stands, pulls on his London Fog, pays for lunch.
Bobby Train wears that London Fog every day of his life. It’s his uniform. He loves that raincoat; he marvels in its plain simple lines; the less-is-more aspect of the garment and the way that London Fog hangs off his shoulders like he was born in it giving him an air of understated respectability without diminishing his natural street swagger.
Esquire and Bobby Train step through Canton’s revolving door out onto Mercury Boulevard. The city is hot and sticky. The traffic is stalled along the boulevard, horns blare.
Esquire covers his ears. There’s that ringing again. You hear it?
Damn. I can’t believe you don’t hear that ringing.
Relax. Everyone’s ears ring.
Not like this they don’t.
When’s the last time you got laid?
Esquire shakes his head, waves down a cab. Need a lift?
I’m going to take in a flick. Want to join me? Bobby Train asks.
I have to get back to the office.
That’s why I don’t have a desk, Bobby Train says.
Esquire smiles and opens the door to a Checker cab and folds his tall thin lanky body into it.
Across the street the marquee of the Bijou Theater lures Bobby Train with Earth Versus The Flying Saucers and Atomic Ants. It also proclaims that the theater is AIR CONDITIONED. The marquee juts out over a narrow ticket booth. Bobby Train lays down a dollar. A pasty-faced lady reading a worn paperback romance novel pushes a button and a ticket pops up. If you hurry, mister, you can catch the cartoon.
Bobby Train takes the ticket, leaves her the change and steps into Bijou’s satin and gilded Rococo lobby. A thin gentleman in a double-breasted waist coat with brass buttons rips his ticket.
Bobby Train takes a seat dead center of the theater. He makes himself comfortable, lights up a Chesterfield. The cartoon starts.
Timing is everything in this life he mumbles to himself.
Are you talking to me?
Bobby Train turns to find a junkie nodding off. He shushes him and points at the screen where Wile E. Coyote with visions of barbequed Road Runner on his brain is tearing into a large cardboard box from the Acme Company. But even with the new catapult Wile E. can’t snag that little bastard Road Runner.
The newsreel is next. To Bobby Train it sounds more like a movie trailer for another low budget sci-fi flick. Two young physicists from the Netherlands wearing tweed overcoats and plaid hats with ear flaps are being interviewed by a BBC reporter who shoves a microphone in their faces and congratulates them on their new findings. It seems you may have debunked Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, he says. The two egg-heads are sporting broad smiles. Our research with Quantum physics has dramatically changed the space/time continuum, one of them explains to a shaky handheld camera. A rusty freighter passes silently into the North Sea behind them. Time is an ongoing affair, the other points out. The past, the present and the future are constant and happen simultaneously. That ship behind us is forever sailing out to sea. An easy way to understand this, they elaborate, is to picture time as an endless loaf of sliced white bread where each slice represents a moment in time. They also believe that occasionally the universe blinks and things get out of sync and there is the possibility that someone can step from one frame of time into another and back again as easily as stepping through an open door.
A fog horn moans in the distance.
Would that explain the recent rash of UFO sightings around the world? the BBC reporter asks.
After a couple of hours of watching tanks and jet airplanes hopelessly fighting off flying saucers over the skies of Washington DC, and giant radioactive ants wrecking havoc on a hot desert mining town, Bobby Train dozes off before returning to Mercury Boulevard.
It’s dusk. Bobby Train stands under the Bijou’s marquee, yawns and fires up a Chesterfield. A brand spanking new two-toned El Dorado floats past him in slow motion dripping in reflecting neon. The chrome is hypnotic and the fins are dangerously long and beautifully shaped with gentle curves. Bobby Train eyes that El Dorado like it was a gorgeous woman sashaying elegantly down Mercury Boulevard.
The very first television advertisement for Fataway soap is a thirty second commercial that appears on the World Wide Wrestling Federation Showcase at 11 P.M. on a Wednesday night. It features a tall erudite looking man in a white smock with a stethoscope draped over his shoulder articulating the benefits of using the amazing Fataway soap, explaining how it works on a molecular level. In the next scene there’s the silhouette of a plump woman behind a frosted shower door scrubbing her blurred copious body. She steps out wrapped in a fluffy bath towel. She is thinner now and very pretty and sparkling clean and oh-so-happy. She tells the camera she lost critical inches off her waist, hips and legs in just five days by showering every morning with the amazing Fataway Soap. The faux doctor steps back into the picture and says, the best part of Fataway Soap is no diets, no exercise, no pills; eat whatever you want, as much as you want and whenever you want and still lose that unsightly jiggling fat that hangs from under your arms, off your thighs, hips, face, neck and buttocks just by showering with Fataway soap once a day. Think about it folks, the pretty girl says, not only do you lose weight but you smell great. Fataway soap comes in three pleasant fragrances: Lilac, Vanilla Cream and English Leather. A catchy jingle starts playing. The tune sounds suspiciously like, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” with a chorus repeating the catchphrase, “lose weight smell great.”
The day after the wrestling ad runs Bobby Train paces his apartment and chain smokes Chesterfields; he can hardly wait to check the P.O. box. By Friday he’s pretty much a basket-case. He can’t wait any longer. He drives down to the Post Office, slides the key into the lock and holds his breath. The P.O. box is empty except for an official notice requesting he stop at the counter. His heart drops. The clerk at the counter takes the request slip from Bobby Train and disappears through a door. Bobby Train is thinking about bolting when the clerk reappears carrying a large canvas duffle bag. Bobby Train signs a form, the clerk hands him the bag. Bobby Train opens it. It’s chock full of envelopes addressed to Fataway Soap representing thousands of orders and thousands and thousands of dollars.
Bobby Train is in a daze. He does not remember leaving the Post Office. Next thing he’s aware of is driving his Rocket 88 across town with the canvas duffle bag sitting on the seat next to him like a lady in waiting. He keeps glancing over at the bag shaking his head in disbelief. He slows down as he passes a Cadillac dealership. He swears that a shiny black Fleetwood sitting under a sprawling crystal chandelier in the middle of the showroom winks at him. He gooses the gas pedal and turns down Roosevelt Avenue and pulls up in front of Esquire’s office building. He parks the car, drapes the canvas bag over his shoulder and takes a Deco styled gated elevator up to the fifth floor.
He stands in front of Esquire’s desk with a smirk on his face.
What? Esquire asks looking up from a messy stack of papers.
Bobby Train just stands there.
Bobby Train opens the duffle bag, and holds it over the desk.
I’m busy here.
Bobby Train pours out the Fataway soap orders; the envelopes cascade over Esquire’s desk onto the floor.
It’s a beautiful thing.
They both start running their hands through the envelopes.
That one bullshit thirty second ad generated thousands of orders so far.
At two dollars a bar!
We’re going to need a bigger Post Office box.
We could sell this stuff from now till doomsday.
We stick to the original plan, Esquire says. Couple more hits and we’re out.
I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.
I got my eye on a new Caddy.
Cool your jets.
It is a very respectable automobile.
I’m sure, but we have lots of work to do before we indulge ourselves.
Filling these orders, and getting ready for the next round.
Esquire has his secretary cancel all his appointments. They count and stack the bills and checks in separate piles and call the order in to the soap manufacturer. They make up a bank deposit slip for the checks; the cash goes in Esquire’s safe behind a photograph of JFK in a stovepipe hat taking the oath of office.
They start the celebration, beginning at Margo’s Lounge and ending a long wild night of booze barmaids and reefer at the Café A Go-Go’s after hours club where the girls dance in swinging cages hanging from the ceiling. The Go-Go girls wear fringed bikinis and shake their booty to songs like Mustang Sally, Shotgun and Green Onions. Bobby Train and Esquire party until daybreak finds Bobby Train’s sorry ass passed out behind the wheel of his Rocket 88 that is parked on the pier next to Famous Tony’s Foot Longs. His directional signal is blinking, his parking lights are on and the radio is blasting with a morning talk show host venting about the dangers of the Khrushchev/Castro alliance.
Bobby Train opens his eyes, shuts off the radio, stretches, lights up a Chesterfield and gazes out the windshield.
Silk City is as real as real gets, except for these first few daylight moments when the city is shrouded in this sublime golden wash from the morning sun shimmering up out of the Atlantic Ocean creating a false sense of dreamy innocents. The neon nightlife fades and the multitudes of sagging power lines and telephone wires are coated in a sparkling orange glaze.
Esquire is nowhere to be found.
He hasn’t called his office or been to his apartment in two days since the celebration, his secretary is rip-shit. Bobby Train searches all over Silk City for Esquire. No sign of him. He checks out Esquire’s favorite haunts. No one has seen or heard from him, not a soul. It’s like Esquire’s existence was just a rumor.
The second ad runs on the Sunday morning Three Stooges Comedy Hour with the same glorious results.
Bobby Train has an epiphany and hustles his worried-ass back to Esquire’s office to check behind the JFK photograph. All the cash is still stacked neatly in the safe. He sighs and transfers the bills into a valise. He drives the money to the airport and stuffs the valise into locker B22 and decides to a play a game. He assumes the character of a bagman involved in a major international heist with serious political implications, and as he pockets the key to the locker, he checks people’s faces around the concourse of the airport making sure he has not been made; that done he strolls confidently -- exaggerating his footfalls -- across the terminal while pulling up the collar on his London Fog and nonchalantly glancing over his shoulder for a tail. Doesn’t get any better than this, he thinks.
At 3 A.M. Bobby Train is awakened by a dream that Esquire is sitting quietly in the dark at the foot of his bed watching him sleep, only it turns out it’s not a dream, Goddamn if Esquire is not really sitting there. Bobby Train pops up like a Jack-In-The-Box. What the...!
Did I wake you?
You could have given me a fucking heart attack.
Bobby Train fumbles for a Chesterfield on the night table and lights it. You’re a strange man, Esquire.
Grab your London Fog, Esquire says.
Where are we going?
I’m hungry for Bennie’s egg salad.
Bennie’s Cafeteria is three steps below street level. It’s open twenty-four seven and busy with the usual late night suspects: hookers, hustlers, undercover bunko cops, mumbling basket-cases, and third-shift railroad men.
Esquire and Bobby Train step up to the counter and order two coffees along with an egg salad sandwich on a soft roll for Esquire and a BLT with crispy bacon on lightly toasted white bread, for Bobby Train. Bennie takes the order. Esquire and Bobby Train take their mugs of coffee to a booth under a narrow window where an occasional flash of headlight or tail light illuminates the rippled block glass. They stir sugar into their coffees.
So what happened to you?
Fucked if I know.
Where were you?
Not in Silk City you weren’t.
Yeah I was.
I looked all over town for you. Talked to plenty of people. No one had seen or heard from you. Not a soul. Bobby Train lights up a Chesterfield. I thought you ran off with the money.
I know that now.
You’re not going to believe what happened to me.
After I left the Café A Go-Go...
Oh, by the way, we doubled our money while you were among the missing.
I’m trying to tell you something important here.
Sorry, I thought you’d like to know.
After I left you at the Café A Go-Go...
I’ll bet you a ten-spot that Bennie bangs on the bread drawer before he opens it.
The bread drawer...
Please, I’m begging you, listen to me.
Watch, Bobby Train points.
Sure enough, Bennie bangs on the drawer before sliding it open.
See? Told you. He does it every time. Do you know why?
You don’t need luck to make an egg salad sandwich.
Enough with Bennie and the bread drawer.
Roaches, Bobby Train says. To scatter the roaches.
Esquire lunges at Bobby Train with wide wild eyes. He grabs hold of the lapels on the London Fog and shakes Bobby Train. Listen to me! Please.
Relax. I’m all ears.
BLT and egg up, Bennie drops two thick white platters on the counter mounded with potato chips and a deli pickle.
Bobby Train jumps to his feet, straightens out his coat. Christ, he says and walks off to pick up the sandwiches.
Bobby Train drops the egg salad in front of Esquire and sits back down and takes a bite out of his BLT and nods at Esquire to eat something.
They eat quietly for a few moments.
So what happened after you left the A Go-Go?
I stumbled into the back of a cab and my ears started ringing again.
I told you everyone’s ears ring.
Not like this. All of a sudden the cab filled up with a bright light like a big flash bulb going off. I even heard the pop. I got real warm. I thought I was having a stroke. And then I started to float.
Sure you did.
Right off my seat. I held myself down with the armrests, that's when I must have blacked out. Next thing I know I’m standing at the door of my building, the cab was pulling away from the curb but my key wouldn’t open the front door.
Wrong key, Bobby Train says.
It was the right key.
All those brownstones look alike.
It was my apartment building; 2424, only it wasn’t my building.
You’re talking in circles.
Esquire tells Bobby Train that he stepped back and checked the facade to make sure. It was my building alright, he says, same gargoyles.
Seen one gargoyle, seen them all.
Then I check the names on the door bells. My name is missing. Somebody named Ramirez lives in my apartment. And I didn’t know one name on that list, no Tony Gallo in 2C, no Dan Moran in 2D, just a bunch of people I never heard of with foreign names.
Bobby Train opens the BLT and salts the tomatoes.
I must have passed out again right there in the hallway because some kid with powder blue hair hits me with the door in the morning.
He was covered in tattoos with rings and things in his nose and lips like some sideshow freak.
We smoked a lot of reefer that night, Bobby Train says. Are you sure you weren’t just dreaming up this shit?
I’m not sure of anything.
Then what happened?
Esquire tells Bobby Train his office building was gone, replaced by a tall glass tower. And Silk City was different.
It was over-exposed in this bronzy kodachrome color, and there were highways on top of other highways cutting right through the center of downtown with glass skyscrapers everywhere. And the cars, you should have seen the cars, Bobby Train, they all looked alike, they were colorless and moved silently down the streets. And they had no fins.
But in some ways, Silk City was the same.
Different but the same?
Like Sal’s smoke shop was still on the corner of Union. I went in. Sal and Angelina weren’t there.
Sal’s always there booking numbers.
A Spanish couple were working the counter and Eddie’s shoeshine stand was gone.
I hailed another cab. I told the cabbie, Tony’s Famous Foot Longs because that’s where we parked the car.
He just shrugged like he didn’t understand me. I told him Atlantic Avenue. He asked, north south north south.
Was Tony’s there?
Yeah, but Mexicans ran it.
Tony wouldn’t hire wetbacks.
I was hungry. I ordered crab cakes and eggs and sat at one of the picnic tables outside overlooking the bay when this advertising blimp floated overhead.
I’ve seen those.
This one was playing music, Japanese Geisha music and guess what it was advertising in flashing neon?
I’m sure I don’t know.
FATAWAY SOAP. Big and bold and blinking all over it. FATAWAY SOAP.
No lie. So I checked into it with the Mexican couple, they told me everyone uses Fataway soap because it works. I asked them if they use it. Sure, they said. They told me Fataway is a public company and sells on the stock exchange and they own some shares and that Fataway was recently bought out by a huge global corporation owned by a Chinese conglomerate and their shares doubled.
And get this, Fataway soap is in all the stores and they sell the soap world wide over the internet.
You ever hear of a computer?
Yeah, sure, a huge electronic machine that does math problems. I think they call it UNIVAC.
No, these things are no bigger than your pack of Chesterfields and everyone owns one, and I mean everyone and they do everything with them, buy stuff, sell stuff, watch movies, listen to music, play games, take photos, write letters, read the news and they even talk to each other on them. They can’t function without them.
Bobby Train has another epiphany. He puts down the BLT and stares into Esquire’s eyes.
You were in the future.
Funny you should say that, because that’s what I was thinking. I’m in the fucking future.
I know what might have happened to you, Bobby Train says. You had a time slip.
Picture time as a never ending deck of cards, each card representing an exact moment in time and it’s happening all at once, simultaneously. Past present and future.
You just pull this theory out of a hat?
I saw a newsreel. The theory is based on mathematics, physics, Einstein crap.
What do you know from Einstein?
I read books.
Sounds far fetched.
That’s what I thought, too, but after what happened to you who knows for sure what’s what.
How’d you get back?
I have no idea. Next thing I knew I was watching you sleep in the dark.
Did you know you were back?
I had a feeling.
Were you ever afraid?
What else do you remember?
Everyone was fat.
Do you think there is something wrong with me?
What if it happens again?
It was a one-shot deal.
Unless, of course, that’s where you really belong.
This is where I belong, Bobby Train. This is my world.
Then you have nothing to worry about.
Above their heads a street cleaner passes with flashing lights. It sprays an eerie sheet of dirty yellow iridescent water that splashes onto the rippled block window.
Esquire sips his coffee.
Bobby Train lights up a Chesterfield, blows out the smoke and spins a spoon and watches it glint in the fluorescent light.
What do you think we should do? Esquire asks.
Sell Fataway Soap until some little slant-eyed son-of-a-bitch makes us an offer we can’t refuse.
Bobby Train steps into the men's room at Bennie’s. He stands in front of a tall urinal and takes care of business. The place smells of old men and mothballs. There is a detailed historical map of the French rail system on the wall in front of him. He follows the tracks from Paris along the Left Bank to the Riviera where he pictures himself playing Roulette with Murph The Surf. He bets number 22 black. The wheel stops at 22 black. Let it ride, Bobby Train says as Murph the Surf eyes up a diamond studded Riviera Lady. Bobby Train smiles and zips up, turns and faces a bathroom attendant wearing a red double-breasted blazer with a crest standing at the ready with a warm soft cotton hand towel. Bobby Train nods and steps up to a bank of marble sinks and runs water over his hands.
The attendant hands Bobby Train the warm towel.
Bobby Train tells the attendant about his new Fleetwood.
Very nice, the attendant says.
Bobby Train asks the attendant if he has heard of Fataway.
Of course, he says.
I own Fataway.
The attendant holds up a bottle of Witch Hazel. You must be rolling in it, sir.
Bobby Train sticks out his hands.
The attendant sprinkles Witch Hazel on them.
Bobby Train looks at himself good and hard in the mirror and pats his long narrow face with Witch Hazel then runs his hands through his hair. Bobby Train drops a bill in the attendants dish and steps out into Bennie’s Cafeteria to find Esquire among the missing again. Damn, he says, and asks Bennie where Esquire went.
Did you see him walk out?
Not my day to watch him, Bennie says.
Are you sure you didn’t see him leave?
Last I saw he was sitting alone in the booth with his hands over his ears.
You owe me five bucks for the sandwiches.
Bobby Train pays him.
Bennie sniffs. You smell nice.
BIO: Robert Caporale lives and writes in Massachusetts. Some of his work has previously been published in Confrontation, Zahir, Hardboiled, Tattoo Highway, Cafe Irreal, Conversely, Avatar Review, Alsop Review, and Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly, among others.