This is a thing I’ve learned: Even with a gun to my head, I
am capable of being convulsed with laughter. I am not sure what
this extreme capacity for mirth says about me. You’ll have to
decide for yourself.
Beginning one night when I was six years old and for twenty-seven
years thereafter, good luck was my constant companion. The guardian
angel watching over me had done a superb job.
As a reward for his excellent stewardship of my life, perhaps my
angel—let’s call him Ralph—was granted a
sabbatical. Perhaps he was reassigned. Something sure happened to
him for a while during my thirty-fourth year, when darkness found
In the days when Ralph was diligently on the job, I met and courted
Penny Boom. I was twenty-four and she was twenty-three.
Women as beautiful as Penny previously looked through me. Oh,
occasionally they looked at me, but as though I reminded them of
something they had seen once in a book of exotic fungi, something
they had never expected—or wished—to see in real
She was also too smart and too witty and too graceful to waste her
time with a guy like me, so I can only assume that a supernatural
power coerced her into marrying me. In my mind’s eye, I see
Ralph kneeling beside Penny’s bed while she slept,
whispering, “He’s the one for you, he’s the one
for you, no matter how absurd that concept may seem at this moment,
he really is the one for you.”
We were married more than three years when she gave birth to Milo,
who is fortunate to have his mother’s blue eyes and black
Our preferred name for our son was Alexander. Penny’s mother,
Clotilda—who is named Nancy on her birth
certificate—threatened that if we did not call him Milo, she
would blow her brains out.
Penny’s father, Grimbald—whose parents named him
Larry—insisted that he would not clean up after such a
suicide, and neither Penny nor I had the stomach for the job. So
Alexander became Milo.
I am told that the family’s surname really is Boom and that
they come from a long line of Dutch merchants. When I ask what
commodity his ancestors sold, Grimbald becomes solemn and evasive,
and Clotilda pretends that she is deaf.
My name is Cullen Greenwich—pronounced gren-itch, like the
town in Connecticut. Since I was a little boy, most people have
called me Cubby.
When I first dated Penny, her mom tried calling me Hildebrand, but
I would have none of it.
Hildebrand is from the Old German, and means “battle
torch” or “battle sword.” Clotilda is fond of
power names, except in the case of our son, when she was prepared
to self-destruct if we didn’t give him a name that meant
“beloved and gentle.”
Our friend and internist, Dr. Jubal Frost, who delivered Milo,
swears that the boy never cried at birth, that he was born smiling.
In fact, Jubal says our infant softly hummed a tune, on and off, in
the delivery room.
Although I was present at the birth, I have no memory of
Milo’s musical performance because I fainted. Penny does not
remember it either, because, although conscious, she was distracted
by the postpartum hemorrhaging that had caused me to pass
I do not doubt Jubal Frost’s story. Milo has always been full
of surprises. For good reason, his nickname is Spooky.
On his third birthday, Milo declared, “We’re gonna
rescue a doggy.”
Penny and I assumed he was acting out something he had seen on TV,
but he was a preschooler on a mission. He climbed onto a kitchen
chair, plucked the car keys from the Peg–Board, and hurried
out to the garage as if to set off in search of an endangered
We took the keys away from him, but for more than an hour, he
followed us around chanting, “We’re gonna rescue a
doggy,” until to save our sanity, we decided to drive him to
a pet shop and redirect his canine enthusiasm toward a gerbil or a
turtle, or both.
En route, he said, “We’re almost to the doggy.”
Half a block later, he pointed to a sign—animal shelter. We
assumed wrongly that it was the silhouette of a German shepherd
that caught his attention, not the words on the sign. “In
Scores of forlorn dogs occupied cages, but Milo walked directly to
the middle of the center row in the kennel and said, “This
She was a fifty-pound two-year-old Australian shepherd mix with a
shaggy black-and-white coat, one eye blue and the other gray. She
had no collie in her, but Milo named her Lassie.
Penny and I loved her the moment we saw her. Somewhere a gerbil and
a turtle would remain in need of a home.
In the next three years, we never heard a single bark from the dog.
We wondered whether our Lassie, following the example of the
original, would at last bark if Milo fell down an abandoned well or
became trapped in a burning barn, or whether she would instead try
to alert us to our boy’s circumstances by employing urgent
Until Milo was six and Lassie was five, our lives were not only
free of calamity but also without much inconvenience. Our fortunes
changed with the publication of my sixth novel, One O’Clock
My first five had been bestsellers. Way to go, Angel Ralph.
Penny Boom, of course, is the Penny Boom, the acclaimed writer and
illustrator of children’s books. They are brilliant, funny
More than for her dazzling beauty, more than for her quick mind,
more than for her great good heart, I fell in love with her for her
sense of humor. If she ever lost her sense of humor, I would have
to dump her. Then I’d kill myself because I couldn’t
live without her.
The name on her birth certificate is Brunhild, which means someone
who is armored for the fight. By the time she was five, she
insisted on being called Penny.
At the start of World War Waxx, as we came to call it, Penny and
Milo and Lassie and I lived in a fine stone-and-stucco house, under
the benediction of graceful phoenix palms, in Southern California.
We didn’t have an ocean view, but didn’t need one, for
we were focused on one another and on our books.
Because we’d seen our share of Batman movies, we knew that
Evil with a capital E stalked the world, but we never expected that
it would suddenly, intently turn its attention to our happy
household or that this evil would be drawn to us by a book I had
Having done a twenty-city tour for each of my previous novels, I
persuaded my publisher to spare me that ordeal for One
Consequently, on publication day, a Tuesday in early November, I
got up at three o’clock in the morning to brew a pot of
coffee and to repair to my first-floor study. Unshaven, in pajamas,
I undertook a series of thirty radio interviews, conducted by
telephone, between 4:00 and 9:30 a.m., which began with morning
shows on the East Coast.
Radio hosts, both talk-jocks and traditional tune-spinners, do
better interviews than TV types. Rare is the TV interviewer who has
read your book, but eight of ten radio hosts will have read
Radio folks are brighter and funnier, too—and often quite
humble. I don’t know why this last should be true, except
perhaps the greater fame of facial recognition, which comes with
regular television exposure, encourages pridefulness that ripens
After five hours on radio, I felt as though I might vomit if I
heard myself say again the words One O’Clock Jump. I could
see the day coming when, if I was required to do much publicity for
a new book, I would write it but not allow its publication until I
If you have never been in the public eye, flogging your work like a
carnival barker pitching a freak show to the crowd, this
publish-only-after-death pledge may seem extreme. But protracted
self-promotion drains something essential from the soul, and after
one of these sessions, you need weeks to recover and to decide that
one day it might be all right to like yourself again.
The danger in writing but not publishing was that my agent, Hudson
“Hud” Jacklight, receiving no commissions, would wait
only until three unpublished works had been completed before having
me killed to free up the manuscripts for marketing.
And if I knew Hud as well as I thought I did, he would not arrange
for a clean shot to the back of the head. He would want me to be
tortured and dismembered in such a flamboyant fashion that he could
make a rich deal for one of his true-crime clients to write a book
about my murder.
If no publisher would pay a suitably immense advance for a book
about an unsolved killing, Hud would have someone framed for it.
Most likely Penny, Milo, and Lassie.
Anyway, after the thirtieth interview, I rose from my office chair
and, reeling in self-disgust, made my way to the kitchen. My
intention was to eat such an unhealthy breakfast that my guilt over
the cholesterol content would distract me from the embarrassment of
all the self-promotion.
Dependable Penny had delayed her breakfast so she could eat with me
and hear all of the incredibly witty things I wished I had said in
those thirty interviews. In contrast to my tousled hair, unshaven
face, and badly rumpled pajamas, she wore a crisp white blouse and
lemon-yellow slacks, and as usual her skin glowed as though it were
translucent and she were lit from inside.
As I entered the room, she was serving blueberry pancakes, and I
said, “You look scrumptious. I could pour maple syrup on you
and eat you alive.”
“Cannibalism,” Milo warned me, “is a
“It’s not a worldwide crime,” I told him.
“Some places it’s a culinary preference.”
“It’s a crime,” he insisted.
Between his fifth and sixth birthdays, Milo had decided on a career
in law enforcement. He said that too many people were lawless and
that the world was run by thugs. He was going to grow up and do
something about it.
Lots of kids want to be policemen. Milo intended to become the
director of the FBI and the secretary of defense, so that he would
be empowered to dispense justice to evildoers both at home and
Here on the brink of World War Waxx, Milo perched on a dinette
chair, elevated by a thick foam pillow because he was diminutive
for his age. Blue block letters on his white T-shirt spelled
Later, the word on his chest would seem like an omen.
Having finished his breakfast long ago, my bright-eyed son was
nursing a glass of chocolate milk and reading a comic book. He
could read at college level, though his interests were not those of
either a six-year-old or a frat boy.
Excerpted from RELENTLESS © Copyright 2011 by Dean Koontz.
Reprinted with permission by Bantam. All rights reserved.