The old man and Sammy

HE LIVED IN the original part of town, which is to say the neighborhood the conquistadors created after landing their boats on the beach. But that happened a long time ago.

french-bulldogHis home was on the second floor, which is actually the third floor the way the Spanish say it, and it was nothing to write home about as if he could write home, which was right there where he lived with a French bulldog named Sebastian or Sammy for short.

Once happily married, she had died 10 years back, and he’d sold that big home where they had lived and bought this apartment on Calle Mango downtown. There was a balcony overlooking the street. He’d paid extra for that, something he regretted due to the noise. It faced the second story of the building that housed the restaurant across the street, a ground-floor spot whose specialty was chicken and rice.

The restaurant was called El Pollo Gordo, and he ate there once a week, sometimes more, and he always ordered chicken and rice because he liked it, and he was a man of hard habits. If there were leftovers, he returned home across the street with a greasy paper bag which made Sammy smile. The dog liked chicken but not rice.

The old man’s days did not vary. He awoke at 7 without a clock, drank black coffee with honey and nibbled toast on the balcony because it was still quiet at that hour. Sammy ate dog food from a can. It never took long to make the bed and tidy the place — he was a neat man — and noon arrived soon enough and the need for lunch, which sometimes was chicken and rice, as mentioned, but often pork tortas he purchased on the street.

After the death of his wife, he’d taken to smoking again, cigarettes, cigars, a stained Meerschaum pipe he’d bought from a Swedish seaman who was short on cash four years back. The old man would sit in a coffee shop on Calle Calypso most afternoons, re-reading novels, biographies and histories he’d brought from the big house after his wife had died 10 years ago, as previously mentioned.

Sammy liked the coffee shop, so he sat at the old man’s feet. Sometimes he slept and snored. Other times, he watched the people, which is also what the old man did in those moments he looked up from a book to order another coffee or to rest his eyes.

About 8 or so, the two would walk the three blocks back to the apartment and climb the wooden steps and into the sitting room where they would listen to radio music from the Dominican Republic. The old man would think of “the old days,” and Sammy would think or not. Who knows what French bulldogs have in their heads?

This routine never varied. One warm morning, the old man did not get up for black coffee with honey and dry toast. He did not sit on the balcony, which no one noticed, and he did not open a can of dog food for Sammy. The old man had died in the night.

And Sammy was on his own.

Max the cutthroat

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.

a0a97920-1af1-012d-b949-0050569428b1Nights 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.)

Man does not live by stew alone

(I wrote this years ago, and it’s one of my favorites. It demonstrates how something as simple as a Broken Staircase, which was the original title, can change lives. It’s the story of a man named Alcott and a red-haired woman named Vulpine.

(Though I was not conscious of it at the time I wrote this, I have come to believe there is a wishful autobiographical element to this story.)

* * * *

Stairwell in old house of Old Faithful Inn

Five steps rotted and collapsed in the middle of the staircase, and that’s how it all began. Alcott was upstairs. He never left his home again.

He decided to write a history of mankind. It would be thorough, but due to having no reference materials upstairs, it would be fiction by necessity, a history of mankind as it should have been, the perfect people. He liked the idea, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing fictitious history.

. . . which should not be confused with historical fiction. No, he wrote history hidden by a mask, creating a dream world, but really, after all, it was not so different from actual historical writing at times.

But first there was the matter of survival. For that he turned to his old friend Beaman whom he had known since boyhood.

Beaman lived nearby.

There was the question of food.

Beaman tossed up a rope, and that was how Alcott received his daily meals, a basket connected to the rope. Beaman’s wife, Aldyth, simply made a bit more than she and Beaman ate each day, and Beaman took the leftovers to Alcott.

We should mention that Alcott was married too. His wife was Godeleva, but Alcott had not loved — or even liked — Godeleva in many years.

As luck would have it, Godeleva was downstairs when the five steps rotted in the staircase. She noticed the problem even before Alcott. She smiled, walked into the downstairs bedroom, packed two bags, and headed to the beach.

. . . and never returned.

* * * *

Alcott was not a social man, so the upstairs isolation suited him, plus there was lots of time to invent fictional history.

Luckily, there was a bathroom on the second floor of Bockingfold and an antique typewriter.

Bockingfold was the name of the home, which had been in Alcott’s family for generations. Godeleva had always found it dreary there.

About a year after the five steps rotted in the staircase, Alcott awoke one morning thinking of Godeleva whose body was as fine as her personality was foul. That afternoon, during their daily chat through the second-floor window, as warm stew was ascending, he asked Beaman for a woman.

Man does not live by stew alone, he said, or something like that.

There was an obstacle. The rope was medium-weight, and the basket had been bought at a discount outlet that imported from India.

The woman, they concluded, must be lightweight and short, a wisp of a girl.

This was acceptable to Alcott, desirable even, because Godeleva, although quite beautiful, was big-boned. And Alcott was ready for new adventures.

Find a mini-version of womankind, Alcott said to Beaman, but she must be over 21 because Alcott wanted no problems with the police.

One week later, Beaman stood beneath the window with Vulpine, which means like a fox. She said she was 26. And she was quite small, a midget actually, which should not be confused with a dwarf. She was well-formed, firm and fine.

Her hair and full lips were flaming red.

She fit perfectly into the basket, holding the day’s stew in her lap. Alcott, with a bit of extra effort, hoisted both dishes to the window sill and inside the room to which Vulpine hopped effortlessly and looked up at him, smiling.

* * * *

Vulpine did not speak much about her past. There was something about a circus, a prison and horse rides through the mountains with a man named Smoke.

Alcott and Vulpine hit it off immediately. She liked the security, the daily stews, and he liked the look of her, the red lips, the hair blazing like a bonfire.

redhead1And that’s how it stayed. The years passed, and Alcott wrote. In time there were 35 volumes of fictional history. He grew old and gray and stooped. But Vulpine never changed a bit.

She was like magic, and that was what he wanted. No one ever repaired the staircase of Bockinfold, and when Alcott died one day, Vulpine kissed his cheek, shimmied down the rope like a child and walked off into a sunny winter afternoon, her hair lit like Christmas candles.

Fame at last

THE WAIT was long, but now I will be famous. Maybe I’ll be rich and invited to host Saturday Night Live.

TolstoyFor the first time ever, my fiction has been published. And I didn’t even ask for it.

There are three ways to publish:

First, you submit to places that publish. Though often encouraged to do that, I’m too lazy. Second, self-publish. This really does not count. Third, an editor spots something you’ve written, and asks to publish it.

They come to you.

The third option is what happened in my case. It’s the best option of all, if ego-stroking is the objective.

Paper books still are published in today’s electronic world. Two sorts of people purchase them. Luddites and folks who want something pretty on the coffee table.

Old-line publishing houses now publish both paper and digital books. Getting one of them to publish your stuff is difficult, especially in the paper versions. Proven authors are favored. Publishing houses are very risk-averse.

I recently opened an account on Medium, and for the fun of it I downloaded a number of my fiction pieces that have rested on links here for years, mostly on Pearls of Zapata.

Within 24 hours, an editor on Fiction Hub asked if they could publish The Dark Girl in the Blue Dress.

I’ve been entertaining and irritating people online since 2005, but it’s all been self-publishing, which doesn’t count.

Now that I am a truly published writer, my odd, sometimes cantankerous, personality makes more sense.

* * * *

(Note: Fiction Hub uses my real name, but you likely knew that anyway. The photo up top is not me. It’s Tolstoy.)