|Will Viharo's Chumpy Walnut: A Runyonesque Fable|
|Written by Will "The Thrill" Viharo|
Retrospective Magazine contributor Will “the Thrill” Viharo’s very first novel was called Chumpy Walnut, the story of a guy only a foot tall—lost, alone and looking for love and friendship in a wacky, wondrous world of hobos, gangsters, gamblers, gun molls, showgirls, and other colorful characters. It is a story anyone who has ever felt “small” can relate to. Recently, Will self-published this novel, along with several others, including his original Thurber-esque illustrations for the book. Below is an exclusive excerpt concerning the two hoboes, Goosey Maloy and Jinx Hoolihan, who discover Chumpy wandering alone in the woods and bring him to the city of Excelsior, “the Big Banana,” to be exploited on the nightclub circuit. First, though, they plan to “auction him off” to the highest bidder, with the help of Booker McBribe, a suspicious agent with his own agenda…
Excerpt from Chapter Four, “Big City Blues”:
When they enter the office, Booker is pacing back and forth with two separate telephone receivers in each ear as he tries to converse with both parties simultaneously. Miss Goodbody greets them cordially and then kneels down beside the carriage and devotes her absolute attention to Chumpy, who enjoys her attention enormously. The room is all set up for the auction, with rows of chairs on either side of an aisle leading up to the desk. At last, Booker manages to hang up both phones, and then he avidly continues his chain-smoking and coffee-gulping.
“Hey, you’re on time!” he says merrily as he sees the hoboes and carriage with its million-dollar passenger. “Good. I wanna see Chuck rehearse his numbers. Here, have some coffee. Miss Goodbody! Bring the little guy over here, willya? The big wheels’ll be here in forty-five minutes. Now, come on, let’s stay on the ball.”
“What’s the story?” Goosey asks.
“Well, I called all the club owners like I said and invited ‘em to this auction, and they agreed to show up with certain conditions.”
“Such as if I’m wastin’ their time again I’ll have my office blown to smithereens, and I if I happen to be inside at the time then that’s tough bananas.”
“Are they serious?”
“Well, I mean, they didn’t all say that, but the least threat I got was that I’d better consider some other occupation because I wouldn’t have my present one very much longer. Some didn’t specify just how this would come about. But we’re gonna be dealin’ with some tough customers, most of whom are more likely than not to have Mob ties of some kind or another, so don’t let nothin’ surprise youse.”
Goosey and Jinx reveal with their silent uneasiness that they are not very keen on the idea of tangling with any trouble-making thugs.
Booker grins and tries to put their fears to rest. “But don’t worry, youse guys. Most of ‘em we’ll see today are small time and just blowin’ off steam ‘cause they’ll finally lose out, but that don’t mean we gotta start tunin’ our harps or anything. Anyway, as for the real hot-shots, I have confidence they’ll be more than satisfied with our show.” Then Booker directs his attention into the carriage. “Heya, Chuck, good to see ya. How d’ya feel?”
“My name is Chumpy, and I feel okay.”
Booker turns and look at a sign taped across the front of his desk which, like all the others, was made up by Miss Goodbody, and it says, “Today, Live In Person – Chumpy Walnut!”
“Oh, yea, yea, yea, that’s right, Chumpy. Chumpy Walnut.” Booker rolls his eyes and whistles. “Well, as long as the dudes in the audience remember it, we’ll be in good shape.”
And remember it they will.
As expected, the guests start arriving at a quarter till ten. Of the eight really prestigious nightclub operators in the city, only half show up to grace the room with their presence. They are: Earl Kingston of The Royal Crown, Howdy Pardner of The Six-Gun Saloon, Shivers Burgman of The Ice Palace, and wealthiest and most successful of all, Lucky Cloverfield of The Green Flamingo. The ten remaining managers represent businesses of lesser stature.
The baby carriage is parked beside the desk, and Goosey and Jinx are seated in chairs against the wall behind it, facing the audience. Booker is seated in his chair, chomping on a cigar now instead of cigarettes, and Miss Goodbody is standing by his side, oozing sexy vibrations and garnering most of the attention. In fact, all of it, discounting one member of the assembly who is blind, but has a seeing- eye dog with him. And even the dog is panting.
“Ooooo!” Miss Goodbody coos softly to Booker. “I’ve never seen so many rich men all in one place at once. And look how they’re all staring at me! You think – giggle! – any of them have matrimony on their minds?”
Booker’s face turns several shades of green and red. “Aw, cut it out, sweetheart. You know as well as I do that none of these classy dudes is interested in a broad like you. At least for nothin’ so respectable as marriage. To them you’re just another floozy. And even if you are, that don’t bother a guy like me none, ‘cause ‘ – “
“Is that so?” Miss Goodbody erupts, as all ears in the room prick up. “So is that what you really think of me, is it? Well fine, just fine.”
Booker tries to calm her down to no avail. “Sweetheart, keep it down, willya? There’s people – “
“You got a lotta nerve, mister! Tellin’ me to pipe down after the way you just insulted me! Well, you won’t hafta bother about hearin’ my voice any more, ‘cause I’ll be too far away for you to ever hear it again!” And with that, she makes a scenic departure with her buttocks wiggling delightfully as she storms out to a standing ovation and ear-splitting whistles. At this time, Booker feels smaller than Chumpy Walnut.
“J-just a publicity stunt to hold your interest, gentlemen,” Booker stammers weakly once everyone is seated once again, and the clamor has died down. To ignore his inner turmoil, Booker immediately throws himself into the introductory speech as if nothing out of the ordinary has taken place. “She’ll be back, she’ll be back,” he mutters under his breath as he stands up to address the assembly.
“We’d better not all be here as a publicity stunt,” warns Lucky Cloverfield. Lucky is a dapper gentleman who looks younger than his bountiful years due to artificial restoration his bountiful bank notes can afford.
“I assure all of you this is a strictly legit meeting youse will not regret attending, ‘cause even if you lose – only one of youse can win – you will at least experience the distinct pleasure of viewing for the very first time in our civilization the only man in history who couldn’t see over the top of an upright ruler.” The interest rate soars. Booker continues happily, “Behind me, gentlemen, sit the two men responsible for bringing our star to us so that he may be revealed to the entire world. He will be marveled at, wondered at, maybe even laughed at by some ignoramuses. Books will be written about him as a miracle of nature. He’ll be a smash in the motion picture market. There’ll be dolls with his likeness – life-sized dolls a child will be able to cradle in his or her arms! Women everywhere will adore him, yearning to mother him and take him into their homes and hearts. Yes, gentlemen, you are in for a most monumental revelation indeed. I now proudly present to you, without further ado, making his first public appearance anywhere – Chumpy Walnut!”
This is his cue, and Chumpy’s enormous amount of nervous energy aids him in his launch out of the carriage and onto the desk, where he frantically gives a tour de force performance – for a novice showman, anyway – lasting two minutes, in which he does a soft shoe number while alternately singing and whistling a recent popular tune. He ends up by banging his candy cane on the desk, leaning on it as he bows with his top hat in his hand placed over his heart. Unfortunately, he leans a little too hard on the candy stick and it snaps in two, sending Chumpy sprawling to his face. He quickly resumes his composure, though very embarrassed and in tears. Intense silence follows, a heavy stillness that makes Booker, Goosey and Jinx, not to mention Chumpy, all very uncomfortable. The faces of the club owners appear frozen and very ludicrous, some with their jaws hanging wide open, others with their eyes glazed over like hung-over winos. But when there finally is a definite response, it is instantaneous and explosive. All at once, the club owners jump to their feet yelling out the first prices that come to their minds, most of which couldn’t be feasibly met by those offering them. But that’s beside the point in Booker’s mind. They have a bona fide hit on their hands.
“Easy, easy, gentlemen,” Booker says, trying to make himself heard over the uproarious outburst. “Please, gimme a break, one at a time now, please. Please. Everyone have a seat. I can’t hear youse all at once, let’s keep this organized…”
The assembly drops into their seats, their collective vision locked on Chumpy. They’re silent now because they’re not cash registers, and it’s a good thing they’re not because the clanging would be deafening. As it is, dollar signs are taking the place of their pupils.
Booker looks them over for a few moments, beaming with victorious vanity, the power of the moment almost driving him to temporary madness, but he keeps a firm hold on his sanity. Chumpy is trembling tremendously, his eyes filled with tears he tries to contain. Goosey and Jinx wait for the next development with bated breath…
Chumpy Walnut, along with Will’s other “gonzo pulp” novels, Lavender Blonde, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, Down a Dark Alley, and Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, can be purchased via links at http://www.thrillville.net/fiction/index.html
Will "The Thrill" Viharo is a freelance writer, host of the film series “Forbidden Thrills” at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, and creator of the long running cult movie cabaret “Thrillville.” He lives in Alameda, CA with his wife Monica “Tiki Goddess” Cortes and their two cats. For more please surf over to www.thrillville.net