Jubilee (3)
At 11 a.m., after the breakfast rush, Maxie arrived at the Jubilee.
He was carrying a powder-blue Samsonite suitcase and a brown leather satchel. Wearing a hooded winter jacket and a black wool watch cap, he peered out the world from behind a pair of thick bifocals. While King was a young 55, Maxie at the same age looked old and worn out. He was bald beneath the cap and his teeth were bad.
Ronnie, who was at the cash register when Maxie arrived, took one look and knew it was him.
- Maxie Fisher. Am I right ?
- Huh ? he said, looking around in bewilderment.
- Maxie Fisher, Ronnie repeated. King's friend from the Navy days. That right ?
- Yeah, I'm Maxie, all right, he answered, standing there uncertainly and holding onto his bags as if for dear life. He added nothing to his statement and looked at the floor.
Ronnie had to help him out.
- I guess you must be looking for King. He's cooking in the kitchen. Why don't you and your bags sit down and take a load off.
She steered Maxie to a booth within sight lines of the kitchen door. Maxie stumbled along, shoved his bags toward the inside end of one of the red leatherette seats, then plunked himself down.
- Would you like a cup of coffee ? Ronnie asked.
- Coffee's no good. And I don't drink and I don't smoke. That stuff'll kill ya.
- Let me go get King, she said, edging away from the booth. She then turned sharply and headed for the kitchen.
- King, there's a guy with a New Yawk accent sitting out there and he's asking for you.
- Oh Jesus, that must be Maxie. How does he look ?
- Like a tired old man. And guess what ? You were right when you called him a sad sack.
- Guess I better go say hello.
By the time he arrived in the dining room, Ruby was seated across from Maxie, listening closely. A natural-born storyteller with a commanding if woeful presence, Maxie could hook people with his tales. In fact, Maxie never really conversed with a person. He told stories. There were usually about himself.
- I used to tame them, boy, Maxie was saying. I was wild. I'd ask them : "What can you offer a man ?" One of those girls, she tried to put her hand on my face. I said : "Don't you do it. I'll put your arm in a sling. Both your arms will be broke." I tell you, I was tough with them. I wouldn't take that for them. At this stage of the game, they're looking for a doctor, a lawyer. They want to see a prince on a white stallion coming up the Boardwalk. "So what are your potentials ?" they ask me. "Do you have a car ? How much money do you make ?" As soon as they open their mouths about money, I leave. Yeah, I'll give 'em, all right. Bupkus is what I give 'em. One of 'em, I told her : "You see that old house on the Boardwalk ? This is your next home. The old age home. Where were you 25, 30 years ago when I was a young man ?" I said. I'm tellin' ya, I'm a hard man.
- Maxie, is that you ? King said.
Maxie looked up. He squinted at King, said,
- King ! You old goat ! and started to laugh. His laugh was beyond belief. It was deep and hollow, like the staged laughter you hear on old radio mysteries. Lasting longer than it should and filling the room like a presence, it exuded more ill will than joy.

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©1997-2000 by pisalou