Preface to Anonymous Max

After I beat the boy I’ll stroll down to the plaza and get drunk for the first time. It will be an additional relief, boozing seriously. I’ll try the local gin; I would enjoy taking it straight, or with ice alone, as Negroes and alcoholics are said to do. But I would regret becoming sick in public. I have seen people empty their stomachs on the bar, at tables, out of bus windows. You never forget the face of a person who does that. After a series of discreet triumphs, 1 cannot risk public display. I’ll think of a suitable mix while writing this.

1 am working up ardor. Nicky provides a reason every minute or two. He harasses her constantly —jerks a toy from Silly’s hand, pushes her aside to get to the rocking horse, something. For weeks I have gone to bed enchanted by the prospect of beating him eventually. I believe he has become an obsession, not my first. For various reasons, which I have not time to relate now, I have let him slip away. Today, which is exactly like all the other days, I will not. My plan is to complete this, the preface to my incredible memoirs, hurry in, wait until any offense is committed, beat him, go to the plaza, and get bombed out of my skull. And it all has to be accomplished before Nicky’s mother arrives to carry him off to the dentist in M—. They are scheduled to be off by one o’clock.

I have almost three hours. Bueno.

I will call myself Max Cutley; I will say I am thirty-three years old. I am a criminal, a fugitive from justice. The police are looking for me in the United States, one of the many places in which I do not happen to be. They are concentrating their search on the West Coast, where J once hung out. Sooner or later they will find me. I could hemen have been—killed for what I have done.

Silly shrieked just now. The palm of my right hand, my whipping hand, twitched in answer. This is what we mean by obsession. But the governess, whom I will call Miss X, is there and will prevent serious injury. A twitch is not enough at this hour.

Nicky is a fair, handsome, thin boy of about four. His parents are American. His father is a painter, his mother a schoolteacher, as I was once. They had lived together in this village for some months, he painting, she shopping, when a Scandinavian girl passed through and carried off the husband. I have seen her; she is gigantic. She wears filthy trousers and heavy sweaters and sandals. Her feet are huge and black with dirt; her hair is so greasy it resembles stretched strands of chewing gum. The painter and she live together in a waterless abandoned bain on a hillside down the coast halfway between here and M—. They are pigs, the two of them; and I understand perfectly why they choose to live in slops.

I have Nicky in each morning as a favor to the wife, who is trying to pack up for a return to the States. She asks me questions about crating and shipping, the strongest twine, how to pack things. I answer coldly, a yes, a no, whatever comes to mind, without the slightest pause. Having taken the law into my own hands once, I find that I have become the law in all matters.

Kidnapping is my crime. Used to be punishable by death, under the Lindbergh Law. “Their” law, not mine, of course. I have not asked for ransom, and the child is my own, Silly, so I am not certain of its application. I await their justice. Bueno.

There is silence now. The good Englishwoman, Miss X, is probably threatening. I will say this about her, and this alone; she is seventy years old, thin, spotted, agile, and mean as an alley cat. Here are three random samples of her “method.

“If you don’t eat your breakfast, Miss Silly, your daddy will go away and never come back.”

“If you don’t take your bath now, your dirty toes will turn into worms in the morning.”

“If you continue to cry in that way, the boo-doos will carry you oft and eat you for their supper.”

I don’t stop these threats for two reasons: Silly is accustomed to them now; and disaster does hover over us at all times. We are not safe. I would fire the old bitch in a second, however. She could be a hundred and seventy, starving, and I’d turn her out in a second. No qualms.

It must be clear now that I don’t give a damn about anything. Except Silly, at times, and my incredible life.

I will give a few hints about the contents of my proposed autobiography. I was once extremely wealthy, successfully married (for money), and in line to inherit a profitable business. But I gave it all up, except for the child, because I had indirectly committed murder, for money, and knew I would never be caught. I got bored with serenity, safety, my wife’s tireless golfing. So I split the scene.

I will add a further enticement: those whom I killed were my parents.

For these reasons I have come to this quiet little town “somewhere” in Southern Europe, and I have begun assembling notes toward the book which at present is called Anonymous Max. It is, of course, only a working title. Many of the facts have to be suppressed or altered, because ot the police. I will not leave myself open to incarceration. Freedom has perhaps more meaning for me than for any person who might read this.

At the same time, my obsession delights nre. Perversity, sadism, madness—these attributes of the criminal do not, as some might imagine, shame him. They enlarge the meaning of “freedom.” I have noted somewhere the following: “Punishment would merely have extended my definition of liberty.” I confess I cannot recall exactly what I meant when I wrote it; at the time I had in mind the petty thefts of childhood (taking one of each of the duplicated coins from mother s purse). But I can apply it today. Punishment—jail or execution —would be perfectly in keeping with beating Nicky, not firing that tyrant of a governess, “holing up” here, in the village of N—, on this coast.

You see, I try my freedom now. I expose myself, a portion, so that I may further value the concealed remainder. I will go further. It is the Mediterranean coast. Bueno. (But don’t use the Spanish as a lead; it could as well be planted.)

The rocking horse rocks furiously, so Nicky, my victim, is mounted. Silly probably watches with wonder. He is one year her senior, the only Englishspeaking child in N—.

Time is passing by. They have an imported tonic which others drink with their gin, but it is expensive. I cannot waste money. Perhaps a carbonated fruit juice. Miss X would know the prices.

I’ll go back a bit, give the reader a taste of what will follow. I stole Silly away on a night flight. Her mother thought we were watching The Sound of Music. During the weeks immediately preceding our departure, I had purchased a complete wardrobe for my daughter, had her inoculated, had her included on my passport. No one knew anything. Her reactions to the shots I blamed on the concessions at Disneyland. And Silly was a little soldier.

I convinced her the shots were pleasant. “Look at the doctor’s bright, shiny needle. He’s going to give you a love pinch.” She barely cried at all. I told her the clothes were being saved for her birthday. She accepted that. Of course, my ex-wife’s golf helped me in all of this.

Yes, we snuck away one evening, the two of us, off to London. I had arranged for booking through to Rome; I had paid in advance. Only, by God, it would have taken some looking to find us on that flight to Rome. We were in Folkestone, waiting for a ship.

Brilliant. In later chapters I’ll recount our itinerary on the Continent proper. It took us almost a month to get where we are. We traveled one way, got off the train, crossed the tracks, traveled back. Our arrival at M— was a triumph. Leaving a few bags at the station, I went out and hired a cab to drive us to C—. There I rented a hotel room, took Silly upstairs, changed her, and back we came to the desk. I swung our suitcases about wildly, asked where in C— I would find a man who repaired suitcase locks. Once outside, I hired another cab, this one to take us to S—, where we caught a train back to M—, recovered the rest of our luggage, and came on to N—, here, by means of a public bus.

I would have given anything to see my former in-laws during that period. “Cousin” Art Cutley and sour old Winnie, with her huge face seared by golf, are big and tan, and go about in their leisure wearing shorts and white canvas sneakers. No socks, although Winnie’s ankles are blue with broken blood vessels, and Art’s shins are scarred. Football scars, he’ll tell you, if you give him the chance. They must have been braying like asses. They are both idiots.

Silly’s mother, my former wife, has only one reaction now. She snorts, shakes her head, and reaches for her putter. She lines up her feet and pokes at an imaginary ball. Sometimes the putter is make-believe as well.

Mr. Deck’s story “Greased Samba” won an Atlantic “First” award in 1967 and appeared in The Best American Short Stories, 1968.

There has been nothing but silence for fifteen minutes. I will go in and see what is happening.

Nothing. Miss X is reading to them. The children listen. Nicky looks particularly good today, because he’s off to the dentist. He’s clean, in other words. His shoes are shined. I can picture his mother pressing his short pants and shining those shoes, all alone in what was once a studio and a home. Poor. Bereft. I find it rather delightful.

By the way, she thinks I’m a widower. All do here, including Mis>, X. I stay to myself because of my distress. People are continually coming up to me, when drunk, and saying: “God, old man, it’s awful about the wife. What a terrible thing for the child.” I affect a lugubrious expression and say nothing, nod leadenly. Soon they drift away, shaking their heads.

It has been great fun. Every bit of it. Worth all. An amazing criminal “getaway.”

The boy just came out on his way to the potty. I told him to aim carefully and flush afterward. He shook his head, stared at me for a moment, wistfully. I suppose he wants a father, envies Silly.

I don’t care. If he wants a father, he’ll get a stern substitute in a little while. A walloping. 1 feel I must, and I will.

Bueno. But if i had perfected this I would not need provocation. I would equal Miss X. the automatic bitch. I would beat first. That sort of spontaneity takes years to develop.

For instance, when I knew my parents were dead, and that I was somewhat responsible but completely safe, according to the law, I feigned deep mourning for almost a year. I had to assimilate the guilt. That I destroyed my marriage, ruined my opportunity with “Cousin” Art, made no difference to me. But I had to prepare myself for what lay ahead. I had to convince everyone that I was mad. No I stayed in bed most of the time, wearing an old yellow dressing robe of my father’s, with the blinds drawn and the insurance checks under my pillow. Silly was just learning to walk then, The way the remaining Cutleys worked on that poor child, using her as a lure, is a disgrace to the name. “Max, come in and see Silly run.” “Max, Silly just said ‘Dada.’ Maybe she’ll say it again if you’ll come in and tuck her into bed.” I wanted to go. but I stayed away, for the effect. And often now I regret that it was not perfectly in keeping with my character—my remaining in bed.

I was just laughing, to myself. In the book I’ll devote several paragraphs to those days when Art marshaled his salesmen and mechanics and sent them to save me. “How’s it going, keed?” they’d ask. stumbling into the darkened bedroom. The air was never fresh; I kept it unfresh for my purposes. “When’re you getting in the check pool again? We miss the hell out of you at the shop.”

Art blew up one day. He came storming in while I was again adding up the money, “Cheryl” was off on the fairways, conveniently. Silly was napping.

“What the hell is going on? “ he screamed. He looked shocked. And it had been going on for about six months by then. “I loved Tim and Evelyn as much as anyone. But, by God, Max, you’re bead of a house now. Soon to take over one of the hottest franchises in Southern California. It’s waiting out there for you to pick up, boy. You can’t mope like this.”

I had a punch ready for him: “I killed them, Art.”

Screaming. I go.

Nicky. Little Silly, sweet as you please, clonked him with a wooden block. I went to get him something, a glass of juice, and realized that the carbonated orange drink is the proper thing to drink with gin. Screwdriver, I believe they call it.

She hid that block behind her, Miss X said, and just popped him. It’s in the blood.

Back to Art. He scoffed, listened to my “theory,” and left. But I prove it, in the book. All of this is much more detailed, and our characters emerge more clearly. If my plans hold up. And the notes I have are sharper, more pungent, than these teasers. There are portions written in the method known as “stream of consciousness.” No ordinary narrative method could properly convey the experiences I have had.

My wife could be developed here a little more. She is really an enormous woman from the waist down. From Art she got hips and thighs no father would want to see on his daughter. (Silly is built like me.) She is pretty, though freckles cease being cute at a certain age; her shoulders are delicate, her breasts spritely little things.

Our wedding was dominated by those thighs. Her mincing step in the dress fooled no one. Art’s beaming face and Winnie’s tearless crying were in celebration of the Great Thigh Nuptials. Afterward, at the reception, a dozen of her sorority sisters filed by me, each assuring me that I had married a “good head.” Cheryl had been loved because the thighs kept her home a lot. She took calls for absent sisters, lied about their jiltings, flattered the students of dentistry and engineering who would make them such wonderful husbands later. (When golf replaced me in her affections, the additional weight helped her off the tees.)

After the wedding we spent two months in Europe. It was near the end of summer. “While we were gone someone else took my classes in “history” at the high school, and when we returned the new models were selling like mad. (“Cousin” Art Cutley owns what we will call the “Ford” franchise in my hometown.) It was during that trip that I saw N-for the first time.

There was more to her than the hams. After she finished college she slipped out of Southern California before she became the eternal bridesmaid. Went off to New York City. Three years later she returned, a heavy ruin. She had not lost an ounce except in her face, and that had never been full. Suddenly, however, the clan was holding dinners every time a holiday came up. And I, the bachelor, found myself seated next to her. One birthday of mine, which I was celebrating with my parents at home, was interrupted by the arrival of all the Cutleys. Champagne, a cake (“Cherry baked it,” Winnie whispered) , and presents of all sorts. And Art’s baritone lifted in “Happy birthday.” Cheryl served me, smiled, brought me another napkin when mine dropped, grinned, knelt before me to pick up the original, skirt straining mightily against the bulk of her.

My father, who hated the successful relative, said: “They’re up to something.” My mother said: “Let them be.” And I did. Our being distant cousins delighted all.

I never found out what happened to her in New York. There was some sort of love affair, but it could have been any sort. In all the time we were together she slipped only once, mentioned a trip to the Virgin Islands during the carnival. “We loved it,” she said. “We? Who re we?” She didn’t answer. I have evidence to support my opinion that she lived with a Negro dope addict who was either a professional dancer or an architect. If the former, I cannot be sure whether the lover was male or female. The whole New York “question” will be thoroughly discussed. It should be one of the highlights of the book.

I just checked the time. Getting late. Forty minutes remaining at the most.

For me, in all this, there was money and respect. And pleasure. Imagine the prospect of taking over the “Ford” dealership. Including the used-car lot, the business took up an entire block along the main boulevard in our town. Paint out Art, paint in Max. I will try later to re-create the afternoons I spent speeding around, flat on my back on a gocart, shooting beneath the automobiles to watch the mechanics. By the time I was finished with maintenance, I could adjust any brakes, complete a minor tune-up, replace mufffer-tail-pipe assemblies. I worked, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, when the boys gathered in the washroom and we’d all clean our hands with that ammoniacal cleanser and “shoot the shit.” The happiest days of my working life. The younger men envied me. Still, I insisted they call me Max, and when there was a special job that kept us overtime, I would trot out and buy beer. And I wouldn’t accept a cent in repayment.

Of course, I hated sales training. Parts shop I didn’t mind.

That’s about it. If, in reading this over, you detect that I was being “used,” rest assured that I too comprehended the scheme, watched it with much amusement. There is reason to believe that Cheryl came back from New York threatening self-mutilation (the hulking thighs); I suppose in this respect I saved her. But with “tongue in cheek.”

I’m almost on my way in now, to get Nicky. Mad. Mad!

My youth was miserable, as you will see, but I remained quiet. Like another California criminal, I developed slowly. (1 am thinking here of the young man “Rattlesnake” Dick Barker. But if I were to pick an ideal from that era and territory, I would choose Juan Soto, a “consummate” sonofabitch. I suppose I bear some resemblance to the PO-8, but I consider him too sweet.)

My time must be about up. There is noise from the nursery, the sounds of play, and it has been growing steadily louder. If I wait a few more minutes, it will culminate in a scream. Always does.

The one item of great interest, which I have scarcely mentioned, is the parricide. I cannot give everything away here. I will say that my father never cared much for me. He was one of those self-made men you never hear about because the job they did was mediocre. My mother brought me up in recognition of this fact. She was sure that his failure would lead him to die first, so that she would be a poor widow. She bought insurance; they were “insurance poor” always.

A theory of inherent weakness was transmitted to me early in childhood. My youth was miserable.

She will be here in a minute, the mother, and still I sit writing, reflecting, awaiting my fury.

The murders seem to be accidents. Only a full presentation of the case would convince anyone. I have studied the reports at length. The thickness of the ice, the distance of the skid, traffic conditions that night. There’s no doubt.

Screams. I go.

The odious, conniving, dismal little sneak! His pants were covered with rivets. And he had some hard object in his back pocket, perhaps a hunting knife. Or a stone. I almost broke my hand, can hardly hold my pen. He didn’t cry. Two swats and I was wounded. Silly, however, shrieked. Because I jerked him away too roughly, shouted. He was flipping her with his forefinger, had already started her howling.

Still, I beat him. Miss X had a properly surprised expression.

I had better clear out now, in case the mother comes. He’s certain to tell her.

I have left the house. I am on the plaza. I brought along the journal and pen. I am drinking gin with the carbonated orange drink. Too sweet. And I’m afraid to go back to sweet vermouth and soda. Mixing is always a tricky business. I write a line or two, then hold my hand on the cold glass. It‘s swelling, I believe. Oh, I beat him. The insanity was there. I was uncontrollable. But I’m not satisfied. The urge to show contempt is even greater now. Crimes ot passion I will not commit. Crimes of contempt are for me.

A bastard of a boy his age should not be allowed to carry knives.

Perhaps I should hold back on the autobiography until I’ve done something more spectacular. But, as in the cases of Juan Soto and Black Bart, there may be a Harry Morse at my back right now, to end the spree before I have hit my stride.

They were on their way to Lake Tahoe one Saturday night. It was winter. The roads over the hill to Bakersfield were iced up. He, who had never received a single traffic ticket in forty years of driving, was traveling at sixty miles an hour! There can be only one reason: they were arguing. They had only one thing to argue about: their son.

I will dramatize the spat. I know exactly what I had done to enrage and disgust him. And her defense would have been the old one: “If Max is bad he got it from you.”This scene will be among the most brilliant in the book. It could be made into a movie, though I can’t think any American producer would have the guts to tackle it.

All of it is indeed fantastic. All I’ve written here are just chips of! the diamond. This can’t be expected to convey all the intricacies, squalor, contained violence, explosive emotions that have made up a great portion of my life.

And there’s wore to come! There’s reason to hold off awhile.

I sit here. The plaza is empty. I have a table to myself. It is quiet. But the lull is portentous. I feel as Ney might have felt, that afternoon when his few remaining troops were crossing the Dnieper at the iced-up bend. Kutuzov at his heels. The ice dangerous. The dreary prospect of continued retreat ahead—retreat with honor, of course.

But Ney could not freeze water: by himself he could not round up strays enough to assemble a force. He had exhausted himself getting where lie was. So he sat down on the frozen embankment. And he went to sleep.

I’m not a Ney—no—but there is much behind me and all of it fantastic, and it has been exhausting. I need rest, repose. What interests me most is what awaits me. Forces—my private Platov—assemble across the river. I will rest in N—, store

up for the attack. And when it is finished I will write these memoirs.

I’ve tried the gin again. Not so bad if you swallow quickly, and immediately take a drag from vour cigarette. A waitei with bad teeth stands about a yard off my right elbow. He watches me as i write in this journal. I wonder what he is thinking.

I wonder if I am like a figure out of a newspaper story or a moving picture to him. (They have movies here.) A thin, quiet figure, carefully dressed, drinking steadily, lighting and casting away cigarettes. My hue, unlike those of the other foreigners, is verv pale. I can’t swim; I refuse to sunbathe.

Odd, that man, the waiter must be thinking.