excerpts from Max Turns Yellow
page 22 to 29: Britz is Max's lover; Theo is Britz's brother. This is a post-publication party at Max's loft.
There was unexpected honking out on the street as a taxi disgorged four more people. There were rarely any cars let alone taxis on that street. The new arrivals trooped in along with a few other Vinegar Hill people who hadn't been at the Gotham Book Mart do. A printmaker, another painter, a young performance art hopeful. A furnace rumbled below as incomers admitted more January chill. Someone started up a stereo sending out soft piano music. Conversation definitely overwhelmed the music. Everyone was high on the excitement around Theo's book. An amazing surreal tale, with a percussive back beat. It was the holy grail of novelists, a genuinely avant-garde prose invention and a can't- put-it-down page-turner.
Britz, as tall, pale, and leggy as Theo, but less romantically featured, was bringing out bowls of hot-spiced beans, fresh veggies, hot tortillas, salsa. Her long brown hair was tied at the base of her neck with a thick twine cord. She had a butcher's apron over her t-shirt and well-worn jeans, and dangling crystal earrings that echoed the light in her hazel eyes. As Max dispensed wines and beer at the far end of the counter, people armed with food and drink began collapsing onto the several sagging sofas and easy chairs. There was a large kitchen table with chairs near the counter but at this point in the party, people wanted fluidity.
"I'll never get out of here," Rose Ann complained, struggling to rise. Thanks to her ample thighs her plump frame had been sucked down into a too-soft overstuffed chair.
Beth's tart reply was cut off by the growing volume of an altercation among Theo and two of the other guests. One had come in the taxi, the other was Burton MacIllerny, who lived on the other side of the street in Vinegar Hill. The exchange was clearly hostile.
"Quit lying, Theo. I know where that book came from!" MacIllerny was a cliché of fey belligerence with his hands on his hips and his head projecting forward.
"What are you saying?" Theo sucked his lower lip.
"You know damn well what I'm saying. I've got a fuckin' photographic memory."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Burton!" Theo protested.
"You better listen to him," said the second man. "He's consulted lawyers and everything. "
"Eddy!" Burton called out to a skinny redhead who was gobbling tacos by the kitchen counter. "Come on over here. It's time for a lil reckoning ya know."
"I, I, I want you to leave, both of you. Eddy too," Theo stammered. "Britz!"
Her arms were around a large wooden salad bowl full of multi-colored chips. "What's all this?" she asked. Other partygoers quieted and some stopped almost mid-motion, frankly gaping. Above the yelling voices Aretha Franklin now soared out of the stereo.
"Your brother fucking stole that manuscript from Jimmie. You know who I'm talking about. James Nexfield. The day he died. For all we know, this creep pushed poor Jimmie down the cellar steps," Burton told the crowd.
"Oh for godsake, Nexfield didn't die in a fall. He choked on food," Max interceded, taking the salad bowl from Britz. "What's all this about? Lawyers? I mean it Burton, what the hell do you think you're pulling?"
"I've seen lawyers. Trouble is--and the creep knows it--there's no paper trail, nothing at all. There's nothing but my word. But I know. I read the first half. Jimmie showed me. I read it and I remember every single word. And word for damn word, that's what this creep has published as his own. Lawyer says I can't do anything." Burton gulped. "No standing. Just my word. My worth not worth much with my drug history. Not worth much without a goddamn shred of something.... But I know..." He choked.
He'd meant to threaten social retaliation, he'd intended to be forceful, to maintain a steady thoughtful voice that would stir a crowd reaction, something to start some retribution for the travesty that had drained his dead friend. Emotion and a pre-party line of cocaine drove him up the hill. His voice broke into a ragged high register, his speech became babble, and it was hard for him to keep breathing. In frustration, Burton grabbed Theo's jacket lapels and shook him so hard his feet left the ground. Theo, in tears, sputtered, "no, NO!"
"Stop it," Britz screamed.
"It's not the end of this," Burton panted, spittle flying from the corners of his mouth. He hadn't loosened his hold on Theo's jacket, and the jacket back was splitting with a sound not unlike another cry. "This is a small world and I'm telling everybody. You stole that book, you filthy fucker! "
"Put him down," Max bellowed. "And leave my house. You too, Eddy."
"Everybody's fuckin' gonna know!" Burton promised. "Come my house,” he added incoherently, as the guy from the taxi retrieved his overcoat and the three made their way out the door, through the gate, and across the cobbles to the corner house that Burton and Eddy shared. Max's guests were still gaping as Britz led the weeping Theo into a back bedroom. Max offered everyone refills and someone brilliant put a quiet Mozart violin concerto on the stereo.
"So how much is true," Max asked. Theo, Britz, and he were at the table. There was a fresh pot of coffee Max had made as the last guest left. Theo's face was mottled from crying but his nose had stopped running.
"None," said Britz, "none!" Her delicate mouth was trembling.
"Theo?" Max pressed.
"Theo!" It was almost like a line of song from Britz.
"It was so good," Theo whispered after a long pause.
"Theo" she sang-said again.
"It was lying on the stairs, pages. I couldn't stop reading. I couldn't..."
"Good God," Max said at last.
"Now what do we do?" Britz asked Max.
Tears were rolling down Theo's cheeks again. Britz looked gut-shot.
The options are pretty stark, Max calculated. Confession, self-exposure? The publishing company would sue. They'd certainly have cause. Theo had surely signed more than a dozen documents attesting to his authorship. This was no mistake. It was criminal fraud. Theo could be looking at jail if he couldn't pay the publisher for damages. At the very minimum the advance would have to be returned and Theo has already spent most of it. Britz had mentioned that Theo had borrowed more, on the strength of his large advance and the reading tours and college lecture stints his publisher was contracting. Renovating the apartment he'd bought on the Lower East Side was drinking money. It would all crash around him. Max ran his hands through his hair, his mind machine-gunning through possibilities.
So who else knows? How bad is bad? Burton has nothing to support his claim. If anyone else recognized James's text, they were not very likely. . .well, Max assured himself . . . someone with hard evidence would have spoken up by now what with all the pre-publication coverage. An excerpt had run in The Atlantic, a profile with a photo in The Village Voice. The New Yorker was sending someone to interview him. Hell, even gossip columnists had written about the book. An image of Liz Smith rose in Max's mind like a bad moon in a dirty sky.
He leaned over to Britz, and stroked her hair.
from page186 to 192 --By this point, Britz is dead; her body has been found and identified. Effa is Britz's mother.
"You know Theo got a great deal from James Nexfield," Effa said over their supper. "It was symbiotic. They were meant to connect and did so intensely, after Nexfield's death."
Max raised his eyebrows and went on eating.
"I mean it, "Effa continued.
"You're telling me you know Theo had the missing manuscript aren't you?"
"Well, yes, " she said smiling. "He couldn't connect with the man himself after he was dead. He's no spiritualist. Neither am I." She grinned winningly.
"So you're saying he incorporated Nexfield's manuscript into his book?"
"It was deeper than that. He didn't copy words."
"I hope to hell not!" Max glared.
"The connection between them helped Theo break into parts of himself he hadn't had access to before. Nexfield was his guide."
Max was getting colder by the minute. "So from what you're saying it's obvious he lied to the police and everybody else, kept the man's property and incorporated it, 'symbiosis' as you put it. Sounds like any serious reader could see that. So he can be accused of publishing a book that isn't really his!"
"That's not what I'm saying." Effa was completely unruffled by his attack. "It happened during those weeks while he immersed himself in what Nexfield wrote. But Nexfield couldn't have written Theo's book. It's no more his than it's mine or yours. Something happened between the two of them."
"Did Theo tell you this?"
"In part," she admitted.
"What part? The part about taking Nexfield's pages and sneaking them out of his study? That he did tell me and Britz."
"Oh dear," Effa said with soft compassion. "Look, Max, if he hadn't taken what was given him he'd have been ignoring a great confluence. He would have deprived himself of a spirit-given opportunity to grow into the artist neither he or Nexfield could have been without this exchange. It may hurt you to think he skirted a public truth, the police and all that, but he kept faith with himself and with his teacher. It was brave and true of him."
She leaned over his chair and kissed him, softly at first, and then with growing heat and urgency as Max was responding. He stood, turned toward her, taking in her intoxicating Britzness. Soon he had winnowed his hands under her dress. Her back was incredibly warm and supple. He steered them both to the nearest big couch and as she moved her hands under his shirt, freeing it from his pants and she moved a soft hand into his groin. He heard himself murmur hoarsely, "Don't stop. Don't stop." He freed his belt. She scooped her lose dress up and over her head. Their tongues were twirling together in luxuriant exploration.
He came up for air on the floor among couch cushions and clothing in a tumbled mess. Effa's long bare body was lying full length on the couch just above him. It was actually morning. Grey light was streaming into the loft, brightening all the spaces. Insistent knocking at the door brought him to half-focus.
"Christ! The court order..." Max mumbled.
"Do you think?" Effa responded just as muddily.
"I'm too fucking old to sleep on the floor," he grumbled. He'd barely located and pulled on his work shirt when he realized it was Theo not process servers at his door. Theo was now loudly pleading, "Guys, it's cold out here!" while continuing to knock.
"Things do happen," Effa grinned, groping for her dress. "Better let him in." She gathered up her things and disappeared into the bathroom. Max pulled up his jeans and did.
Theo's all-important mission dissolved as he took in the scene. There was nothing to say. The muffled sound of the shower in Max's big bathroom ran as background while Max started coffee and began stacking a few of the deserted dinner dishes in the sink.
"Oh don't start washing up, Max!" Theo was struggling not to laugh at the sight of this large man fumbling with kitchen chores as if he could hang domestic respectability over the tumbled room. The smell of sex was everywhere.
"I've heard of this before, dear," Theo said.
"And so has she."
A hair dryer could now be heard from the bathroom.
"Well," Max rallied, "what's up with Wilson Weeks?"
"They've sent my manuscript and that little sample of James' to some specialist on plagiarism, but they don't seem worried. Not enough of James' work exists. Sadly enough. Everything's gone."
"Do you still have the pages you took?"
"I really wanted to keep all my early drafts. It's quite a trip, how the prose morphed. But after Burton and Eddy made that ugly fuss I just closed my eyes and put everything into the building incinerator. That was weeks ago."
"Who else has been in on this?"
Theo looked blank.
"You know nothing secret stays a secret. Every friend has a friend. I forgot the German for it, but my grandmother was a big one on the subject of gossip."
"You mean who's sharing in passing tales on me?" Theo fingered his hair. "I guess anybody. But what's the difference? If it makes me or the book a little notorious, what's to worry? There's already gossip about me making the rounds. Where did I come from? Am I gay or not? Who influenced Wilson Weeks to take me? Just wait, Max. They'll have me sleeping with the New Yorker woman as soon as her profile hits the streets."
A radiant Effa walked out of the shower, wrapped in a paisley shirt and a baggy pair of Max's shorts.
"Sleeping with who?" she asked Theo.
"You should talk!"
She ignored him.
Almost the end: from page 310 to 314
It was morning two days later. The loft was empty. Even the answering machine had quit blinking for the first time in weeks. Had he been sleeping or not? His head roared endlessly and every bone in his body ached as if he hadn't slept for a week.
If this is depression, Max thought, no wonder it leads to suicide.
I'll make myself eat something he decided even though the thought of food made him feel queasy.
The street was as empty as usual but the day was shockingly mild and the pungent smell of damp earth made Max look up over the empty lots to the east. Sure enough he could make out old man Balinski raking up winter debris in a small empty lot near Water Street. Guess he thinks it's really spring, Max thought. Come summer time most of the space between the scattered still-standing buildings would be divvied up into uneven plots, designated by impromptu fencing. They would host small crops of tomatoes, dill, sweet peppers, and other vegetables favored by the old time inhabitants and fiercely guarded by them.
Max pushed the door to the luncheonette open.
"You got a lotta nerve," Marty said, folding his arms over his apron. "Whatja wanna see? How I did? Ja think twenty-four hours in the slammer would turn my hair?"
Max's headache was worse than it had been out on the street.
Christ, I should have thought it through before coming up here, a thought Max knew he was having much too late.
"Yeah. 'Marty.'" His sarcasm pooled like syrup. "Suspicion they called it." "You better believe Joe the Engineer's got your fuckin' name on a list. Get outta here. NOW!"
"Hey, hey," Max said. "What's going on?"
Tall Tiny was standing just behind Marty, looking just as hostile.
"A bust," Tiny said. "As if you don't know nothing."
"I know about the murder of my girlfriend. I know you guys have nothing to do with it." Max was holding onto the doorframe as the world slowly swung around and around him.
"Big Vinnie is on it now, you fuckin' Judas, so you better watch your little h'art studio. Somethin' tells me you could have a sudden accident in there. Something could start burnin'." Marty's Sicilian eyes were radiating black fury.
Max managed to walk away back down the street without doubling over. He had an intense pain in his middle. Gotta call Conner, he was telling himself, gotta call Conner. He threw up in the gutter just outside his gate. Burton and his buddy Eddy stopped on the steps to their door to watch the spectacle.
"Guess you heard about the raid on Big Vinnie," Burton snarled.
"No, nothing," Max answered, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. 'I'm fuckin sick, man."
"No surprise that," Eddy crowed. "Seems our local mobsters have some sort card game scam and you've managed to totally fuck it up."
"That's what they told us. We enjoyed a personal visit from the big fat man's best buddies. Not our favorite thing." Burton had his hands on his hips broadcasting righteous indignation.
"Oh god," was all Max could muster.
"I don't know how you managed to upset them but we've always had the greatest respect for our locals. Don't like to think any one of us have caused them distress." Eddy's tone and posture was pure Burton.
"I think we made that clear," Burton concluded as Max unlocked his door and stumbled inside.