The Adventures of Arthur Q. Pennybottoms (repost)

[This is my favorite story I’ve ever written. It’s really long, but if you’ve never read it, give it a try. Thanks! – Eric]

When I was a kid, Chad Robuckle used to love to play this game called “Wealthy Industrialist”. It wasn’t so much a “game” as it was an excuse for Chad to dress up in his father’s suit, put on a fake moustache and try and scam old people out of their money.

I’m not proud of the fact that I tagged along with him on many of these occasions. In fact, not only was I a “criminal witness” to these deeds, but I actually could have been branded a “felony accomplice,” in some cases. But like Chad says, the statute of limitations has long since passed on anything we’ve done, at least from that period of time, so I feel like I can finally share these awful secrets.

Chad’s parents would leave him alone for weeks, sometimes even months, as they went globe-trotting all over the world on one of their lavish vacations, so I spent a lot of time at his house. It was paradise for a 12 year old: no adult supervision, all the cable channels, a pool table and an absent father with a monumental-sized porno collection.

Inevitably, Chad would get bored and start looking for some excitement. That year, his brand of excitement was playing wealthy industrialist. Now, of course, a 12 year old boy with a fake moustache does not look anything like a wealthy industrialist. What the hell is a wealthy industrialist anyway? What kind of 12 year old kid gets his kicks pretending to be J.P. Morgan? The kind who kept his stash of baseball cards tucked away in the back of his closet, underneath some stolen uranium he got from the nuclear plant that they closed down.

The kind named Chad Robuckle.

Luckily for Chad, the primary target of his game (or scam) was the elderly. If you’ve ever been to Florida, you know old people can’t see too well, so I guess it’s not too surprising that they usually didn’t catch on. That last sentence was confusing, I was just trying to make the experience relatable, not imply this took place in Florida.

So one day, we pull up to the local senior center in Mr. Robuckle’s Ferrari and me and “Arthur Q. Pennybottoms” step out of the car to try our luck with the bingo crowd.

Arthur Q. Pennybottoms may have been short and ill-fitted to his suit and his fake moustache might have moved around way too much, but he sure was able to walk into a room and find a mark.

We sat down next to some rich dowager and immediately he starts with the sweet talk. This lady had one of those fake glass eyes that didn’t quite focus on you when she was talking to you. I kinda got this vibe that she used to be really hot, so his attention probably took her back to a better time, before her grandson threw a firecracker at her face, or whatever.

He starts in with his usual rap: he’s Arthur Q. Pennybottoms, wealthy industrialist. He had this whole script he would follow, though he claimed to improvise and tailor what he was saying to each individual “player”. He told her he had made millions in soybeans and now spent most of his time traveling the world in his yacht. Which would explain why he was in the middle of Connecticut at a senior center playing bingo, but whatever.

By the time we’re done having dinner at Sizzler, we’ve invested a good six hours in this broad. I’m bored out of my fucking skull. She’s telling us stories about FDR and doing the Charleston and god knows what else. Chad, excuse me, Arthur is acting like he’s eating it all up; he couldn’t be more fascinated and on her side of things, she probably hasn’t had anyone listen to a word she’s said in 20 years. What’s the harm, right? Well, I’m getting to that.

Finally, Arthur decides that the three of us: Mabel, I think her name was, him and me, his personal attorney, Jerry Leibowitzstein, should all go back to her place for some warm milk. I thought we were off the hook, because at first she looked pretty offended but then she patted his arm and called him a sly dog.

I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden in a 1988 Ferrari Testarossa, but if you have, you know there’s no back seat. There’s barely a trunk, so I really just wanted to go home, at this point. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, ran over to the pay phone and called Mr. Robuckle’s cell phone, which we brought along to make it seem more plausible that I was lawyer. Well, I run back to the table to answer the phone and pretend to have a serious conversation. I tell Arthur that, unfortunately, we’re going to have to cut the evening’s festivities short, because I have pressing business back at the law firm.

Well what does ol’ Arthur do? He tells her that I’m a liar and I’m not even a lawyer. As I’m sitting there, this kid has the balls to tell this old woman that he feels sorry for me, because I’m not as successful as he is, so he lets me pretend to be a lawyer because I’m jealous of him. He apologizes profusely on my behalf and tells her that we’ll bid her adieu right now, so embarrassed he is by my behavior.

Of course, this only works to play into his favor even more, because she laughs the whole thing off and insists we both come back to her place now. As I’m sitting there, squatting over the hump in the middle of the 3 inch space behind the seats, she tells him that she has many friends who are jealous of her, as well and that people like me should be pitied and not judged too harshly because the poor didn’t have the advantages of a moral upbringing like the moneyed classes.

I know what you’re thinking, but at this point, I’m keeping my mouth shut just to see how far this whole charade is gonna go.

Well we get back to her place and of course it smells like moth balls and Aspercream, but at this point, I’m pretty used to that. Arthur called it “the scent of money”. No wait, it was Chad. Let me reiterate that both these kids were loaded. He had a $1500/month allowance when we were in sixth grade, so he didn’t need this money at all, he just liked to rip people off.

Arthur isn’t through the door more than 2 minutes before they start making out. I took this as my cue to start searching the bedroom for loot. I found the usual crap: stocks, bonds, jewels, pearls, shit like that. Nothing too interesting. If he wanted any of that, he could get it for himself. I wasn’t a thief.

As I was about to leave, though, I spotted a wall safe poking out from behind an old portrait of this lady’s great-granddaughter. For some reason, the picture was painted while she was dressed up for a 1920’s theme party. Anyway, I put the painting on the bed and take a shot at the combo.

I try the old standby: 61 19 26.

Bingo! First try! Matlock’s birthday. I’d need the hands of five people to count the number of times I cracked an old lady’s safe simply by knowing Andy Griffith was born June 1st, 1926.

Well I peek inside and there’s nothing staring back at me but a curled up piece of old parchment. I pull it out of the safe and carefully roll it out on the bed.

A pirate map.

Is she kidding? What hell is an old lady doing with a pirate map? Nowadays, I would have ripped it up and put it back in the safe with a note telling her not to be a fucking moron, but you have to understand this was a different time. We were just a few short years out from the Goonies, at this point, so the lure of a pirate map in the hands of a 12 year old boy was just too great to resist.

I snuck out the door unnoticed while Arthur was busy fumbling with this old woman’s enormous bra/girdle contraption and ran the few blocks back to Chad’s house. Luckily, I knew his parents were one of the few people back then to have their own Xerox machine, so I made a couple of copies of the map, ran back to the old folk’s home and returned the map before anyone had a chance to notice. There were clothes all over the floor in a trail to the bathroom and I could hear the two of them splashing around behind the closed door, so I figured I wouldn’t be missed.

I went back to Chad’s house to examine the copies in greater detail. I knew enough to make sure to copy both sides and scoured them all for clues. Around 3 am, Chad showed up with a smile and a big bag of goodies. He actually seemed pleased that he didn’t have to steal anything this time, seeing as the old woman handed over anything he wanted. I wouldn’t attribute that to relief on his part, for avoiding any criminal activity (besides the obvious fraud and statutory rape), but rather because now he would spend the next few hours bragging about how great he was in bed, going into way too much detail about his exploits.

I told him to shut the hell up and showed him the map to which he made a big show of producing the original from his satchel of booty. My annoyance was quickly forgotten as he launched into the story behind the map. Apparently, it had been a family heirloom stolen from a pirate captain by the Spanish back in 1655. The map lead to a cave on a remote island in the Bahamas that was said to hold a magic lamp.

Sounded like a bunch of bullshit to me, but I wasn’t gonna say so. Not when I knew I was getting a free trip to the Bahamas out of it.

We boarded the Robuckle’s personal Gulfstream III. We took the Gulfstream III because the family’s main jet, the Gulfstream IV was taking Mr. and Mrs. Robuckle to a Japanese island at the time, so we got what Chad referred to as “the filthy leftovers”.

As we took off, he spent quite an amount of time mocking the wide leather captain’s chairs we were sitting in. Apparently the ones in the other jet had heat and massage, these only had massage. Chad was so angry at his parents that when he got sick on all the Dom Perignon we were drinking, he threw up all over his parent’s private bedroom.

I started to yell at him but he assured me there were three other cabins available and we would be landing in a few hours anyway.

So we got to Nassau and our charter boat was waiting to take us to the Island. In addition to the crew of six, Chad had hired a local to follow us around and be our manservant. I guess this guy had a regular name but Chad liked to call his manservants “Jub Jub”. At first he objected to the moniker, but five hundred dollars in cash tends to smooth things over quickly. Jub Jub it was.

I asked Chad if Jub Jub was a sentimental thing, because he always called these people he would hire to carry his bags and spare bowler hats “Jub Jub”. No, he explained, it was simply more humiliating that way. Touché.

After a few days on the yacht, Captain Chad finally located the island in the exact spot the crew had told us it would be, but he wanted to get there on his own, without anyone’s help, save that of the US Coast Guard and the $40,000 satellite navigation system the boat had.

We set down anchor in a harbor and me, Chad and Jub Jub got in a dinghy and headed for shore.

Immediately, Jub Jub started asking for more money as Chad had brought a considerable amount of crap ashore with him and expected this 120 pound man to carry it all. Chad told Jub Jub to quit whining, threw another wad of hundreds at his feet and we were off.

We walked around the island for a while, it wasn’t that big. I didn’t see any cave, though Chad kept referring to the map and his portable GPS while insisting it was just around the corner. There really was no “corner” to speak of, as the island was so small. I think it may have actually been an “atoll”, I’m not sure.

You might be reading this and thought to yourself, “Chad Robuckle had a portable GPS device in 1988? That sounds like bullshit to me.” You might think that only the military had access to things like that back then and you’d be right. They were also the only ones with submarines and jet-packs. So when Chad threw a fit and demanded something like that, that’s where his parents went: the military. But good eye, nonetheless.

Finally, after a few hours of searching and several fainting spells by Jub Jub, we were ready to take a break. The sun was beating down pretty hard and though he was holding an umbrella to block the sun from Chad’s face, Jub Jub was pretty tired and couldn’t hold up his arm that well. Chad was pretty annoyed with the whole thing and took his anger out on Jub Jub.

Jub Jub was pretty pissed off too and threatened to walk. As Chad took out his wallet, Jub Jub told him to shove his money up his ass. No amount of money was worth the humiliation and hardship he had suffered.

Chad tried to reason with him, pointing out that not only was Jub Jub hundreds of miles from home on a deserted island, he was hundreds of miles from home on a deserted island with two 12 year old white American boys with active imaginations and a working knowledge of Bahamian sodomy laws. This seemed to work.

We took refuge under a palm tree and Jub Jub went about laying out our picnic lunch, but after that many hours in the sun, our cucumber finger sandwiches didn’t taste too fresh. Chad started chucking them at a giant tortoise that was lumbering past us, maybe 20 yards away. One of the sandwiches took a weird bounce and disappeared from sight.

Chad and I looked at each other in disbelief. Could it be? We ran over to the spot where the sandwich had disappeared and there it was: the cave! It was little more than a 2 foot wide hole in the ground, but it was a cave, nonetheless.

Chad clapped his hands twice in rapid succession and summoned Jub Jub. He was to lower himself into the cave first, to make sure it was safe. Well, it wasn’t.

From the darkness, we heard Jub Jub scream out in pain. Apparently the floor of the cave was covered in sea anemones and Chad had demanded Jub Jub remove his shoes so as to make sure he didn’t crush any of the pearls or valuable gold trinkets with his feet.

We scurried down after him and even in the little light drifting down into the cave we could tell there was blood everywhere. Chad remarked that it was too bad they hadn’t brought any morphine, which was a lie. There were three or four vials of it up with the picnic basket, I think he just didn’t want to waste any time going back up to get it.

Chad urged Jub Jub along, promising they would take care of his feet after the treasure was found. I can’t help but think that if he hadn’t been so eager to find something so he could go back and tend to his horrible wound, he would have easily seen the tripwire that had been laid along the floor of the passage, but he didn’t.

Real booby traps aren’t like the ones you see in the movies. They’re kind of lame. At least these were. The large wooden spike was not even traveling that fast when it pierced poor Jub Jub’s abdomen. If his brain had been getting the blood that was instead dripping out of his feet and covering the ground, he would have had the mental wits to dodge it or at least put up his hand to deflect it. That’s probably all it would have taken. Like I said, me and Chad easily defeated the next six or seven booby traps we encountered and we were only 12 years old.

As Jub Jub clung to life, we promised him we would find the magic lamp and use it to save him. He gurgled something about not leaving him there alone and that we were a couple of pricks, I’m not sure exactly. Anyway, we raced ahead, merely jumping over the trip wires and walking around the deep pits with spikes in them. We encountered a dead end where there was simply a wall in front of us. We noticed there was some sort of clue or riddle written in Spanish on the wall that I think we were supposed to solve, but instead we just kicked at the bricks until the wall fell down.

And then, we saw it. The magic lamp. I nearly shit myself out of surprise. I was almost as sure of the fact that there was no magic lamp as I was that there would be only two (living) people riding that dinghy back to the yacht that afternoon. I began to question myself, as I often did when I hung around with Chad. Had I misjudged him? Maybe he wasn’t so bad, after all. I knew I was lying when I told Jub Jub we would be back to save him with the power of the magic lamp, but Chad had seemed to believe in the lamp all along. Maybe he really meant it?

Chad walked up and carefully pulled the lamp down from its pedestal in the middle of the room. We heard some rocks moving around in a side compartment somewhere but whatever booby trap they had been designed to power, it had long ago stopped functioning.

He held the lamp up and examined it in the streaks of sunlight that managed to shine through from a mysterious outside light source. He took the lamp in his shirt and lovingly caressed the side of it with the fabric when suddenly, smoke poured forth from its end a giant bald man of Middle Eastern origin appeared out of nowhere.

I shit you not, it was a fucking genie. He launched into some big spiel about how he was the seventh son of Agra bah, king of Arabia, and he had been entombed in this magic lamp for sixteen centuries, yadda yadda yadda. Apparently, Chad sensed the urgency of the situation and told him to shut the hell up. He cut to the chase and asked if we were getting some wishes or not. The genie said that we did indeed get one wish that he would grant with his magical powers, not three like we were thinking we were entitled to. I’m sure if there had been more time, Chad would have wished him back in the lamp until we got three wishes or a million wishes or better yet, infinity wishes, but like I said, time was of the essence.

Chad looked at me and gave a sigh. He told me he knew what he had to do. I had never seen Chad so serious in his life, but this was a big moment for him. He was about to do the one unselfish thing he had ever done in his whole life.

Or so I thought.

When we got back to the yacht, some of the crew members inquired about Jub Jub, but Chad threw some cash at them and said he wasn’t familiar with anyone named Jub Jub. They seemed to catch his drift and didn’t bring it up again. For my part, I didn’t speak to Chad til we were back on American soil and I knew he couldn’t strand me in some foreign country to explain to the local police and Jub Jub’s widow what had happened.

I was fed up. Sure, I laughed when Jub Jub cut his foot in the cave, but murder was something else. And that’s what it was to me: murder. Chad had the power to save someone’s life, but instead, he used his one wish on himself. Not only that, he wished for something so ridiculous and stupid, I can barely repeat it. If he had wished for a giant penis or the power of flight or something like that, at least I wouldn’t have been that surprised. But to let a man die just because you want the ability to tell which celebrities are secretly gay? That’s just plain awful.

Of course, eventually I forgave him. He agreed to send Jub Jub’s widow a letter explaining what happened on the island and where she would be able to find his corpse. I made him put in some stuff about how he was a great guy and he died valiantly, saving some babies who were trapped down in the cave. Chad didn’t like that but he knew I was seriously pissed about it, so he did it.

In the end, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that Chad will always be my best friend. More than a best friend, he’s like family to me. Not in the hokey sense, of “you’re my brother and I’d do anything for you”, but in the real way. You can’t choose your family. They may be terrible murderers who cheat old women out of their retirement savings and laugh hysterically when a man’s stomach is punctured by a sharp wooden spike, but they’re family.

Chad Robuckle is my family. Sure, Jub Jub had a family too: a wife, six kids and several infirm old relatives he took care of, but he wasn’t my family. And while I’m sad he’s gone, you’ve gotta look out for your own family, not some immigrants who you barely know.


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