Maxence had once been a cutthroat but murdering was long behind him. Now, at 78, he was a bellman at the Marbol Hotel.
He was sitting on this dark night, 2 a.m., at the hotel bar sipping a Guinness Stout and talking to Bo the barman. Maxence’s shift had just ended, and big black LeRoy had taken over the baggage cart till 10 in the morning.
Maxence always ended his nights at the Marbol bar. Nobody was waiting at home. It was ever the same. He would talk to Bo a bit, and he would ponder the past even more. Maxence had been born in France — Sant-Amant, a small town south of Paris — and had been a mercenary man.
First, it was the Legion. Later, he freelanced.
After the second Guinness, perhaps even sooner, his thoughts always turned to Chloë Jomo-Gbomo, his long-gone lover from Sierra Leone who had been killed by a berserk jitney bus driven by a Mende man high on ganja along the main avenue of Freetown.
Maxence later killed that Mende man out of pure fury, but he didn’t feel any better for it because Chloë was still dead and gone. He cried and cried.
Maxence liked Guinness Stout because it was dark and savory like the women of the African men he murdered which was how he met Chloë Jomo-Gbomo.
Chloë’s man at that time had missed Maxence’s Jeep with a bazooka shell during a dustup in the Congo. Maxence’s aim was better with his .45.
Chloë dashed out of a nearby hut and kicked her man’s dead body and spit on it. Maxence knew right away there had been no love there, and Chloë was very beautiful. He immediately made her his own, and she was happy with that.
The two of them fled the Congo together and moved to Freetown where they lived six years in a third-floor walk-up. Chloë found work plaiting hair while Maxence drank blazing café and smoked Gauloises.
Nights were spent naked and sweaty under the ceiling fan.
Maxence drank Castle Lager in those days because Guinness Stout was not sold in Freetown. It didn’t matter, he thought, because he already had something dark and delicious with Chloë Jomo-Gbomo.
On Chloë’s free day they often picknicked at Siaka Stevens Park where they would spread a blanket under the African sun shaded by a cercropia tree.
They drank Castle and ate cans of cashews. And sandwiches.
He would rub her silky bare legs beneath the skirt of kuba cloth, and she would caress the scar on his cheek.
Our spirits call you ghosts, she said one day, white and unsolid. But the scar is a good thing because it proves you’re a protective man.
He fell deeply in love for the first time in his brutal life.
And then she was dead on the main drag of Freetown as the jitney driver tried to escape, but a jitney jammed with passengers makes a lousy getaway vehicle.
She had only stepped out for a pack of Gauloises.
Maxence wandered some years through Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean picking up piecemeal murders till one day he realized he was too old for that game. He retired to hotels, luggage and tips.
The Marbol was a good gig, and he intended to stay as long as they’d let him.
Later, he would kill himself. He knew the ropes.
Another Guinness, Bo.
Coming up, Max.
* * * *
(The above is an excerpt from the longest and strangest thing I’ve ever written, The Old Marbol — Skullduggery in Dark City and Beyond, which was published hereabouts perhaps a decade ago. I just reread it for the first time in a very long time, was impressed with myself, so I put this here. The Old Marbol contains a cast of bizarre characters rivaled only by those in the famous barroom scene in the first Star Wars movie. Maybe I’ll do more excerpts here in the future.)