Deadeye dick, p.7
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       Deadeye Dick, p.7

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  Everybody could feel safe for a while. Bad luck was caged. There was bad luck, cringing on the bench in there.

  See for yourself.

  *

  At midnight, all the civilians were shooed out of the basement. "That's it, folks," said the police, and "Show's over, folks," and so on. They were frank to call me a show. I was regional theater.

  But I wasn't let out of the cage. It would have been nice to take a bath, and to go to bed between clean sheets, and to sleep until I died.

  There was more to come. Six policemen were still in the basement with me--three in uniform and three in plain clothes, and all with pistols. I could name the manufacturers of the pistols, and their calibers. There wasn't a pistol there that I couldn't have taken apart and cleaned properly, and put together again. I knew where the drops of oil should go. If they had put their pistols in my hands, I could have made them this guarantee: The pistols would never jam.

  It can be a very frustrating thing if a pistol jams.

  The six remaining policemen were the producers of the Rudy Waltz Snow, and their poses in the basement indicated that we had reached an intermission, that there was more to come. They ignored me for the moment, as though a curtain had descended.

  They were electrified by a call from upstairs. "He's here!" was the call, as a door upstairs opened and shut. They echoed that. "He's here, he's here." They wouldn't say who it was, but it was somebody somehow marvelous. Now I heard his footsteps on the stairs.

  I thought it might be an executioner. I thought it might be Police Chief Francis X. Morissey, that old family friend, who had yet to show himself. I thought it might be my father.

  It was George Metzger, the thirty-five-year-old widower of the woman I had shot. He was fifteen years younger than I am now, a mere spring chicken--but, as children will, I saw him as an old man. He was bald on top. He was skinny, and his posture was bad, and he was dressed like almost no other man in Midland City--in gray flannel trousers and a tweed sport coat, what I would recognize much later at Ohio State as the uniform of an English professor. All he did was write and edit at the Bugle-Observer all day long.

  I did not know who he was. He had never been to our house. He had been in town only a year. He was a newspaper gypsy. He had been hired away from the Indianapolis Times. It would come out at legal proceedings later on that he was born to poor parents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and had put himself through Harvard, and that he had twice worked his way to Europe on cattle boats. The adverse information about him, which was brought out by our lawyer, was that he had once belonged to the Communist party, and had attempted to enlist in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

  He wore horn-rimmed spectacles, and his eyes were red from crying, or maybe from too much cigarette smoke. He was smoking when he came down the stairs, followed by the detective who had gone to get him. He behaved as though he himself were a criminal, puffing on the same cigarette he would be smoking when he was propped against the basement wall in front of a firing squad.

  I wouldn't have been surprised if the police had shot this unhappy stranger while I watched. I was beyond surprise. I am still beyond surprise. The consequences of my having shot a pregnant woman were bound to be complicated beyond belief.

  How can I bear to remember that first confrontation with George Metzger? I have this trick for dealing with all my worst memories. I insist that they are plays. The characters are actors. Their speeches and movements are stylized, arch. I am in the presence of art.

  So:

  The curtain rises on a basement at midnight. Six POLICEMEN stand around the walls. RUDY, a boy, covered with ink, is in a cage in the middle of the room. Down the stairs, smoking a cigarette, comes GEORGE METZGER, whose wife has just been shot by the boy. He is followed by a DETECTIVE, who has the air of a master of ceremonies. The POLICE are fascinated by what is about to happen. It is bound to be interesting.

  METZGER (appalled by RUDY'S appearance): Oh, my God. What is it?

  DETECTIVE: That's what shot your wife, Mr. Metzger.

  METZGER: What have you done to him?

  DETECTIVE: Don't worry about him. He's fine. You want him to sing and dance? We can make him sing and dance.

  METZGER: I'm sure. (Pause) All right. I've looked at him. Will you take me back home to my children now?

  DETECTIVE: We were hoping you'd have a few words to say to him.

  METZGER: Is that required?

  DETECTIVE: No, sir. But the boys and me here--we figured you should have this golden opportunity.

  METZGER: It sounded so official--that I was to come with you. (Catching on, troubled) This is not an official assembly. This is--(Pause) informal.

  DETECTIVE: Nobody's even here. I'm home in bed, you're home in bed. All the other boys are home in bed. Ain't that right, boys?

  (POLICEMEN assent variously, making snoring sounds and so on.)

  METZGER (morbidly curious): What would it please you gentlemen to have me do?

  DETECTIVE: If you was to grab a gun away from one of us, and it was to go off, and if the bullet was to hit young Mr. Rich Nazi Shitface there, I wouldn't blame you. But it would be hard for us to clean up the mess afterwards. A mess like that can go on and on.

  METZGER: SO I should limit my assault to words, you think?

  DETECTIVE: Some people talk with their hands and feet.

  METZGER: I should beat him up.

  DETECTIVE: Heavens to Betsy, no. How could you think such a thing?

  (POLICEMEN display mock horror at the thought of a beating.)

  METZGER: Just asking.

  DETECTIVE: Get him out here, boys.

  (Two POLICEMEN hasten to unlock the cage and drag RUDY out of it. RUDY struggles in terror.)

  RUDY: It was an accident! I'm sorry! I didn't know! (and so on)

  (The two POLICEMEN hold RUDY in front OF METZGER, so that METZGER can hit and kick him as much as he likes.)

  DETECTIVE (to both RUDY and METZGER): A lot of people fall down stairs. We have to take them to the hospital afterwards. It's a very common accident. Up to now, it's happened with mean drunks and to niggers who don't seem to understand their place. We never had a smart-ass kid murderer on our hands before.

  METZGER (uninterested in doing anything, giving up on life): What a day this has been.

  DETECTIVE: Don't want to hit him where it shows? Pull his pants down, boys, so this man can whap his ass. (POLICEMEN pull down RUDY'S pants, turn him around, and bend him over) Somebody get this man something to whap an ass with.

  (Unoccupied POLICEMEN search for a suitable whip. POLICEMAN ONE finds a piece of cable on the floor about two feet long, proudly brings it to METZGER, who accepts it listlessly.)

  METZGER: Many thanks.

  POLICEMAN ONE: Any time.

  RUDY: I'm sorry! It was an accident!

  (All wait in silence for the first blow. METZGER does not move, hut speaks to a higher power instead.)

  METZGER: God--there should not be animals like us. There should be no lives like ours.

  ("METZGER drops the whip, turns, walks to the stairs, clumps up them. Nobody moves. A door upstairs opens and closes. RUDY is still bent over. Twenty seconds pass.)

  POLICEMAN ONE (in a dream): Jesus--how's he gonna get home?

  DETECTIVE (in a dream): Walk. It's nice out.

  POLICEMAN ONE: How far away does he live?

  DETECTIVE: Six blocks from here.

  (Curtain.)

  *

  It wasn't exactly like that, of course. I don't have total recall. It was a lot like that.

  I was allowed to straighten up and pull up my pants. I had such a little pecker then. They still wouldn't let me wash, but Mr. Metzger had succeeded in warning these fundamentally innocent, hayseed policemen of how crazy they had become.

  So I wasn't bopped around much anymore, and pretty soon I would be taken home to my mother.

  Since it was Mr. Metzger's wife I had shot, he had the power not only to make the pol
ice take it easy with me, but to persuade the whole town to more or less forgive me. This he did--in a very short statement which appeared on the front page of the Bugle-Observer, bordered in black, a day and a half after my moment of fatal carelessness:

  "My wife has been killed by a machine which should never have come into the hands of any human being. It is called a firearm. It makes the blackest of all human wishes come true at once, at a distance: that something die.

  "There is evil for you.

  "We cannot get rid of mankind's fleetingly wicked wishes. We can get rid of the machines that make them come true.

  "I give you a holy word: DISARM."

  14

  WHILE I WAS in the cage, another bunch of policeman had been beating up Father in the police station across the street. He should never have refused the easy way out which Police Chief Morissey had offered him. But it was too late now.

  The police actually threw him down a flight of stairs. They didn't just pretend that was what had happened to him. There was a lot of confused racist talk, evidently. Father would later remember lying at the bottom of the stairs, with somebody standing over him and asking him, "Hey, Nazi--how does it feel to be a nigger now?"

  They brought me to see him after my confrontation with George Metzger. He was in a room in the basement, all bunged up, and entirely broken in spirit.

  "Look at your rotten father," he said. "What a worthless man I am." If he was curious about my condition, he gave no sign of it. He was so theatrically absorbed by his own helplessness and worthlessness that I don't think he even noticed that his own son was all covered with ink. Nor did he ever ask me what I had just been through.

  Nor did he consider the propriety of my hearing what he was determined to confess next, which was how his character had been corrupted at an early age by liquor and whores. I would never have known of the wild times he and old August Gunther used to have, when they were supposedly visiting museums and studios. Felix would never have known of them, if I hadn't told him. Mother never did know, I'm sure. I certainly never told her.

  And that might have been bearable information for a twelve-year-old, since it had all happened so long ago. But then Father went on to say that he still patronized prostitutes regularly, although he had the most wonderful wife in the world.

  He was all in pieces.

  *

  The police had become subdued by then. Some of them may have been wondering what on earth they thought they had been doing.

  Word may have come down from Chief Morissey that enough was enough. Father and I had no lawyer to secure our rights for us. Father refused to call a lawyer. But the district attorney or somebody must have said that I should be sent home without any further monkey business.

  Anyway--after being shown my father, I was told to sit on a hard bench in a corridor and wait. I was left all alone, still covered with ink. I could have walked out of there. Policemen would come by, and hardly give me a glance.

  And then a young one in uniform stopped in front of me, acting like somebody who had been told to carry the garbage out, and he said, "On your feet, killer. I've got orders to take you home."

  There was a clock on the wall. It was one o'clock in the morning. The law was through with me, except as a witness. Under the law, I was only a witness to my father's crime of criminal negligence. There would be a coroner's inquest. I would have to testify.

  *

  So this ordinary patrolman drove me home. He kept his eye on the road, but his thoughts were all of me. He said that I would have to think about Mrs. Metzger, lying cold in the ground, for the rest of my life, and that, if he were me, he would probably commit suicide. He said that he expected some relative of Mrs. Metzger would get me sooner or later, when I least expected it--maybe the very next day, or maybe when I was a man, full of hopes and good prospects, and with a family of my own. Whoever did it, he said, would probably want me to suffer some.

  I would have been too addled, too close to death, to get his name, if he hadn't insisted that I learn it. It was Anthony Squires, and he said it was important that I commit it to memory, since I would undoubtedly want to make a complaint about him, since policemen were expected to speak politely at all times, and that, before he got me home, he was going to call me a little Nazi cocksucker and a dab of catshit and he hadn't decided what all yet.

  He explained, too, why he wasn't in the armed forces, even though he was only twenty-four years old. Both his eardrums were broken, he said, because his father and mother used to beat him up all the time. "They held my hand over the fire of a gas range once," he said. "You ever had that done to you?"

  "No," I said.

  "High time," he said. "Or too late, maybe. That's locking the barn after the horse is stolen."

  And I of course reconstruct this conversation from a leaky old memory. It went something like that. I can give my word of honor that one thing was said, however: "You know what I'm going to call you from now on," he said, "and what I'm going to tell everybody else to call you?"

  "No," I said.

  And he said, "Deadeye Dick."

  *

  He did not accompany me to the door of our home, which was dark inside. There was no moon. His headlights picked out a strange broken form in the driveway. It hadn't been there on the previous morning. It was of course the Wreckage of the cupola and the famous weather vane. It had been pulled off the top of the police chief's car and left there in the driveway.

  The front door was locked, which wasn't unusual. It was always locked at night, since the neighborhood had deteriorated so, and since we had so many supposed art treasures inside. I had a key in my pocket, but it wasn't the right key.

  It was the key to the gun-room door.

  *

  Patrolman Anthony Squires, incidentally, would many years later become chief of detectives, and then suffer a nervous breakdown. He is dead now. He was working as a part-time bartender at the new Holiday Inn when he had his peephole closed by ye olde neutron bomb.

  *

  Mrs. Gino Maritimo's spuma di cioccolata: Break up six ounces of semisweet chocolate in a saucepan. Melt it in a 250-degree oven.

  Add two teaspoons of sugar to four egg yolks, and beat the mixture until it is pale yellow. Then mix in the melted chocolate, a quarter cup of strong coffee, and two tablespoons of rum.

  Whip two-thirds of a cup of cold, heavy whipping cream until it is stiff. Fold it into the mixture.

  Whip four egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold them into the mixture. Stir the mixture ever so gently, then spoon it into cups, each cup a serving. Refrigerate for twelve hours.

  Serves six.

  *

  So Mother's Day of 1944 was over. I was locked out of my own home as the wee hours of a new day began. I shuffled through the darkness to our back door, the only other door. That, too, was locked.

  No one had been told to expect me, and we had no servants who lived with us. So there was only my mother to awaken inside. I did not want to see her.

  I had not cried yet about what I had done, and about all that had been done to me. Now I cried, standing outside the back door.

  I grieved so noisily that dogs barked at me.

  Someone inside the fortress manipulated the brass jewelry of the back door's lock. The door opened for me. There stood my mother, Emma, who was herself a child. Outside of school, she had never had any responsibilities, any work to do. Her servants had raised her children. She was purely ornamental.

  Nothing bad was supposed to happen to her--ever. But here she was in a thin bathrobe now, without her husband or servants, or her basso profundo elder son. And there I was, her gangling, flute-voiced younger son, a murderer.

  She wasn't about to hug me, or cover my inky head with kisses. She was not what I would call demonstrative. When Felix went off to war, she shook his hand by way of encouragement--and then blew a kiss to him when his train was a half a mile away.

  And, oh, Lord, I don't mean to make a villain
of this woman, with whom I spent so many years. After Father died, I would be paired off with her, like a husband with a wife. We had each other, and that was about all we had. She wasn't wicked. She simply wasn't useful.

  "What is that all over you?" she said. She meant the ink. She was protecting herself. She didn't want to get it on her, too.

  She was so far from imagining what I might want that she did not even get out of the doorway so I could come inside. I wanted to get into my bed and pull the covers over my head. That was my plan. That is still pretty much my plan.

  So, keeping me outside, and not even sure whether she wanted to let me in or not, seemingly, she asked me when Father was coming home, and whether everything was going to be all right now, and so on.

  She needed good news, so I gave it to her. I said that I was fine, and that Father was fine. Father would be home soon, I said. He just had to explain some things. She let me in, and I went to bed as planned.

  Misinformation of that sort would continue to pacify her, day after day, year after year, until nearly the end of her life. At the end of her life, she would become combative and caustically witty, a sort of hick-town Voltaire, cynical and skeptical and so on. An autopsy would reveal several small tumors in her head, which doctors felt almost certainly accounted for this change in personality.

  *

  Father was sent to prison for two years, and he and Mother were sued successfully by George Metzger for everything they had--except for a few essential pieces of furniture and the crudely patched roof over their heads. All Mother's wealth, it turned out, was in Father's name.

  Father did nothing effective to defend himself. Against all advice, he was his own lawyer. He pled guilty right after he was arrested, and he pled guilty again at the coroner's inquest, where he made no comment on what was evident to everyone--that he had very recently been beaten black and blue. Nor, as his own lawyer and mine, did he put on the record that any number of laws had been violated when I, only twelve years old, had been smeared with ink and exposed to public scorn.

  The community was to be ashamed of nothing. Father was to be ashamed of everything. My father, the master of so many grand gestures and attitudes, turned out to be as collapsible as a paper cup. He had always known, evidently, that he wasn't worth a good God damn. He had only kept going, I think, because all that money, which could buy almost anything, kept coming in and coming in.

 
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