Horns of Passion (Taboo Romance Erotica) - Dog Murphy - ebook
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Again Forster said nothing and his face was serious as he searched the depths of her eyes. "You're a beautiful goddam woman, Inger. Maybe even inside." A slow, glad smile started on his lips and lighted up his whole countenance. "I wish you'd hurry up with that coffee. You have one devil of a lot of packing to do, if we're going to catch that plane.""I'm finished," she said and rose quickly to her feet. "Kiss me, Jake.""I love you, Inger. I love you, I love you, I love you!"They left the Cantina of the Crying Bird and the old man's music rose rich and strong and bright with promise behind them.From the shelf Pasquale, with his mindless, mocking smile, looked past them, into empty space and lost centuries...*************************Warning: This ebook contains explicit and forbidden descriptions of taboo sexual activity. It may include themes or elements of taboo, forbidden, and adult topics. It is intended for open minded mature readers who will not be offended by graphic depictions of sex acts between consenting adults.XXX Adults Only 18+ Graphic Content

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Horns of Passion

Dog Murphy

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Copyright © 2016 Dog Murphy

Darque Taboo Press

[email protected]

Search For “Darque Taboo Press” to find more forbidden and taboo erotica.

All Rights Reserved: No part of this publication may be reproduced or retransmitted, electronic or mechanical, without the written permission of the publisher; with the exception of brief quotes used in connection with reviews written for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper.

Disclaimer: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic, adult language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable which might include: multiple sexual practices, heavy and strong BDSM themes and elements, erotic elements and fetish play. This e-book is for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please do not try any new sexual practice, especially those that might be found in our BDSM/Fetish titles without the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Neither the publisher nor its authors will be responsible for any loss, harm, injury, or death resulting from use of the information contained in any of its titles. All characters depicted at  least eighteen years of age or older.

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, businesses, and incidents are from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual places, people, or events is purely coincidental. Any trademarks mentioned herein are not authorized by the trademark owners and do not in any way mean the work is sponsored or associated with the trademark owners. Any trademarks used are specifically in a descriptive capacity.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER ONE

The purpose of the heart is to pump blood all the way to the toes and to the extremities of the fingers. Abuse it searching for love, chances are you'll be hurt. Yet in the whole spectrum of human emotions love's the one worth striving for. You don't love—you don't live.

Inger Thomes chased love as a crying need; she made a crusade of it. In Lake Forest she'd had a governess instead of a mother, and the real thing, from the heart, comes much higher than three-hundred a month plus found. So with Inger love was the missing element when she was young. And it was still missing through a succession of eastern college boys and the mostly arranged marriage with the sober young corporation lawyer who managed her father's lumber interest...

Perhaps if there had been children, she'd have had a place to go with her need. It would have been like a great dam bursting. She'd have floated her own baby right out of its crib with love.

But there were no children. After a few empty years she divorced the attorney and went on looking. She discovered that it never weighed out right, love. Dream stuff and always lopsided. Some undersold it—like her husband—others plain didn't know what it was. And some didn't have it to give. Others were afraid of it. It was one hell of an obstacle course. Only the most foolish, the bravest—which is to say, the best of us—would dare run it.

Inger did...

Today it was hot on the Mexican plateau, the sun a fierce orange ball hanging in a whitish sky halfway down from its zenith. The atmosphere was prickly with dust and dust moved in slow swirls over the parched earth at the smallest movement of air.

In a log corral a few miles from Lake Chapala, Julian Moreno practiced veronicas with a heifer. Dark, lean and supple, he spun about, moved this way and that, prancing on his toes, with the arrogant grace of a leopard. Enveloped in dust, he darted across the corral to an area where he could see better and went on playing the animal, sometimes with comic exaggeration.

A man in a shapeless blue suit, with spindly legs and narrow shoulders but a large paunch and behind, watched critically from outside the corral, his short arms leaning across the top log. The man's white shirt was edged with dirt at the collar, and he had an unlighted stogy stuck like a challenge straight in front of a round, jowly, froglike face. The whites of his black eyes had a liverish look.

"Better today?" the young man called out between two frisking charges by the heifer. He was using an ancient, bedraggled cape, long ago cast off by another bullfighter.

The older man's name was Daniel. He removed the cigar from his face reluctantly and called back, "Yes, much better, Julian."

"I am sure now, Daniel," Julian shouted. "The fear is gone. I am ready again for the bulls."

A winding trail of dust rising apathetically followed a white European sports car which jounced along the rutted dirt road leading to the corral. When the car drew up and stopped, a billow of dust settled over the two occupants. Adolph Zeck stepped out of the little car ponderously and blew dust from the lapels of his white linen jacket. He was a huge man and his pink, fleshly, overbarbered face was powdered with dust. In the village they said that Adolph had grown fat feeding on other peoples' misfortunes.

"My God, Inger, you drive this torpedo like a maniac!" he exclaimed grumpily. His voice was falsetto in irritation, strangely so in such a bulky man, and the movement of his pudgy white hands was fluttery and feminine. "Someday you're going to break your beautiful neck in this thing and when it happens I hope and pray I'm not with you."

"Oh, stop complaining, Adolph," said Inger without much concern. "It was your idea to come out here." She hopped out of the driver's seat, removing a saucy cowboy hat strapped under her chin and beating the dust out of it. Her light brown hair was worn in a wild Italian cut. Her hazel-colored eyes were large and deep-set in a well-formed oval face. She wore white capri pants which molded her long legs and buttocks and a striped orange and blue Mexican shirt open wide at the neck. "Come on, let's watch him." She climbed the corral and perched on the top log, while Adolph followed with the quick mincing steps of a fat man and stood looking over.

From the ring Julian Moreno threw a careless glance at the arrivals and went on playing the heifer with leisurely contempt.

Watching Julian, Inger's face lighted up with admiration. "Oh, look at him, Adolph! He's so—so graceful— like a ballet dancer."

"I told you, didn't I?"

"Really, he's beautiful to watch!"

"Inger darling, I forbid you to rape that boy," said Adolph with a twinkle of malice.

"Oh, hush up," said Inger without taking offense. "Why must you—"

"I see that hungry look in your eye." Cackling, Adolph turned to greet Daniel who had walked around to them. "Buenas tardes."

"Buenas tardes, senor—senora."

"What did Julian say?"

"He is ready to fight the bulls again."

"Then we can have the corrida?"

"For a corrida one must have a matador. Julian is only a novillero. Even if he has been gored."

"He was gored?" said Inger, surprised.

"Last season," said Daniel. "In Aguascalientes. He was almost ready to become a matador when it happened. Then he stopped fighting the bulls." Daniel paused, taking the chewed bit of dark rope from his teeth and inspecting it reflectively. A penniless impresario, he saw an opportunity to get back in the bullfight business on the American's money. "Old Herrera will come down from his ranch to earn money. He is a matador—retired. With old Herrera it becomes a corrida."

"You're sure you can get him?" Adolph asked.

Daniel—who already had the old bullfighter's guarantee—nodded. "It is certain."

"Then it's settled."

"Soon? I hope very soon," said Inger.

"Yes, it must be soon," Daniel replied. "The rains are coming. I think Sunday week would be good—eighteen days from now."

"That's fine by us," said Adolph.

Daniel thrust the shred of cigar back in his mouth and lighted it. After a couple of puffs it went out again. "It is understood about the finances?" he said abruptly.

"Yes, but do go easy. We're not bottomless wells, you know," said Adolph with a hint of querulousness. He was an extremely wealthy man, all of it inherited, but he made it a point to live within his income.

Daniel made a phlegmy sound in his throat and his brown neck moved like a frog's. "Tomorrow I go to Morelia to see about the bulls. Michoacan bulls. It is very short notice, but I have a friend who will sell me some good ones— full grown, with much courage. It is true, they cost money—" He paused, glancing sidelong at Inger. "And there will be expenses for Julian, his traje de luces, his suit of lights, to wear in the ring."

"I understand," said Inger unconcernedly. Her gaze was fixed on Julian in the ring.

"Now don't count on me too much, Inger darling," Adolph said. "You know how erratic the market's been this past year—"

"Why are you always talking poormouth? Of course, I'm counting on you."

"Now tow, you die!" Julian's laughing voice floated across to them from the corral. The three turned and watched him parody a kill with a crooked branch, poking it at the heifer below the neck. Tossing the stick aside, he bulldogged the animal for several steps, then vaulted over him by the horns. He started toward them with his soft, cocksure leopard's walk.

"I only hope Julian is ready for the bulls again," said Daniel.

"Nonsense, I've never seen a novillero who was readier," said Adolph.

Daniel looked at the fat man with melancholy disapproval. "He has been gored badly. There are many things you do not know about the bulls, senor."

Julian joined them, buttoning his shirt over his chest where sweat had mixed with dust to make streaks of mud. With an ironic sweeping gesture, he bowed low. "Senora Thomas—Senor Zeck. Julian Moreno at your service." As he straightened, his gleaming dark eyes traveled up Inger's body from the toes, stopping for a moment where the pants pulled in tight between her legs. Climbing, they went from one breast to another under the orange shirt, and so to her face.

Inger flushed briefly at his bold, insolent stare, but recovered and stared herself at his figure and then his face with a challenging expression. "Do I pass?" she asked.

Julian smiled. His teeth were small but regular and very white in a narrow, delicate yet strong face in which the cheek bones were prominent and the jaw cut sharp. "That is sure," he said.

"I am glad about the corrida," she said. "That you'll do it." Her gaze fell from the dark intensity of his finally. She half turned from him and hooked the strap of her cowboy hat under her chin. "It should be exciting."

"Yes, there will be blood," said Julian. "I hope not mine."

"I didn't mean that," said Inger quickly.

"In any event, we have the bullfight," said Adolph. "The smell of fresh money's in the air like baking bread and Daniel can barely wait. Isn't that right, amigo?"

A flash of hostility appeared in Daniel's weary, bulging eyes, but he shrugged and managed a short laugh. "A week from Sunday," he said to Julian. "We cannot delay, the rains come—"

"I will be ready."

"I hope you'll be a great matador someday," said Inger.

"And the senora wishes to own such a matador?" Julian asked, his features frozen in mockery to cover humiliation.

"No, I wouldn't like that," she said in a low voice. "Not to own—"

"Then why, senora?" Julian insisted. "Why all this? You have bought me."

"I told you, for the excitement." She paused a moment, frowning in momentary irritation at his stiff pride, and the bright challenge showed itself again in her features. "Maybe that's it. Maybe I do want to own you."

Again Julian bowed, again his eyes swept her body. "It will be a pleasure."

"I rather expected this development," said Adolph, chuckling. "Tonight I'm having a party to celebrate the corrida. You must come, Julian, our friends will want to meet you."

"I understand my duties," said Julian.

* * *

He was el doctor at the Cantina of the Crying Bird. Also el barracho, the drunk—and the Sad One, the Lonely One, the Unhappy One Who Hated the World. The Cantina of the Crying Bird stood at the foot of a barren, clawed hill on which the workers lived, and it was the workers who commented on the regular presence there of Dr. John Forster.

Outside the saloon was a faded pink and inside an electric blue. The blue was a chilly color, an unfortunate choice, and the paint was flaking away in many places, exposing a brown suppurating wall. This village nestled below the hills beside the lake had long been a resort for wealthy Mexicans. Now it also had a substantial American colony and a great number of workers who drank at the Cantina of the Crying Bird served the Americans one way or another. They were a tolerant, gracious, and sweet-natured lot, these peons. Except when they drank too much. Then occasionally in their bitterness at the Americans who provided work, but swamped their town and culture and, for the most part, lived like potentates, the workers scowled at the aliens and beat up on each other.

But el doctor, John (Jake) Forster, was a puzzle. He kept aloof from the other Americans. He did not patronize or treat them as happy, unspoiled children. Nor was he domineering or superior. He simply sat at the same round leathertopped table alone every afternoon and night, polite but distant, drinking tequila with a steady, grim purpose...

The purpose was obliteration. The workers did not know that. On this particular afternoon, while Inger and Adolph Zeck were arranging the corrida, Forster sipped on his fifth tequila. Or maybe it was his tenth. It didn't make much difference. He was a tall, thin, straight man, but now he sat slumped down in his chair. His shoulders were wide. He had sharp, direct eyes, intensely blue, and a sensitive mouth. Unconsciously he kept flexing his strong white hands and studying them, as if an inner necessity demanded that they be put to use. They were fine hands, a surgeon's hands. Jake Forster was a surgeon. By choice without employment. Beached. Sardonically he often thought of himself as a living cliche. The Anglo-Saxon medical man going to pot on booze in the tropics...

Outside the hot stinging light began to mellow and turn gold as the fierce sun fell below the big mountains across the lake. Filtered through a dirty window and heavy with sunbeams, the golden light made a column across the floor, angled up the bar, and struck a clay figure on the shelf above the liquor. It was pre-Columbian, a mono, with short squat legs and torso, and a large head on which rested a tall, peaked cap like a dunce cap. The eyes were blank and mindless, but the mouth was pulled wide in a smile of eternal savage derision, a wise smile which knew the awful futility of human affairs.

"Mud in your eye, Pasquale," Forster whispered to the statue, lifting his glass.

"Mud in your soul," said the clay figure's smile.

It was the soft time of day before the restless Mexican night. The streets, the houses, the thirsty earth around the village softly exhaled the day's heat. Forster had been alone with Chato the bartender in the cantina, but now workers began to drift in. They gave him a pleasant good evening. Behind Forster, in a dim corner, an ancient, bearded man began to strum his guitar. Quiet and intuitive, the old man's music stirred the heart. Between Pasquale's mocking smile and the tender echo of the old man's music lay the vast canyon of all human hope—and doubt...

Forster finished his tequila and rose to his feet carefully, holding onto the table. He wavered, but only a little. He knew he could get back to the hotel all right. From his pocket he drew some carelessly wadded paper money and handed a few bills to the old musician. "For being innocent," he said. As he walked past the workers standing at the bar, Chato the bartender—who now supported a habit of gambling on the cockfights on Forster's trade —said, "You'll return later tonight, Doctor?"

"Yes, I'll be back... What else is there?" Outside the cantina Forster slowly walked down a few blocks to the cobblestoned main street of the village and turned toward his hotel. The street paralleled the lake, still as glass and brushed over with the golden light. Save for an infrequent narrow store front, the street offered only high blank adobe walls to the pedestrian. It was hot and humid under the breathing walls. Life went on unseen behind them.

The hotel walls were like the others, but freshly whitewashed. Entering a heavy old colonial door of carved oak, he crossed an arcaded lobby looking onto a patio cool with ferns and thick-leaved tropical plants. Bright-colored flowers bordered the walks. It was a sudden change from the cantina and the broiling street. Charm and beauty were hoarded, kept secret and untrammeled here. Hence, in their privacy, they palled quickly. Forster hurried to his room. He felt quite drunk now and the tequila was spoiling in his stomach. He walked under the arcade again on the far side of the patio and went past the little bar crowded with modem paintings by American artists in residence, pre-Columbian statuary, and colonial knickknacks, such as war helmets and pistols. Forster never drank here. It was a place the tourists loved. The residents liked it too when they were bored with themselves and wanted to show off before the tourists...

In his room at last Forster threw himself on the bed. It was an airy, pleasant room, decorated fake Mexican for the American trade, but Forster hated it and hated the hotel. He had tried living in a more Mexican hotel— decorated Sears-Roebuck American—but the food made him sick. So here he was only half estranged when he wanted to cut himself off entirely. Lying on his back, the tequila rose sour in his throat. He perspired freely from nausea and for a time expected to vomit. But gradually, as he swallowed hard, the nausea subsided. He stared up at the pale yellow ceiling.

"What in the name of God am I doing here?" he whispered.

The purpose of tequila: Obliteration. But as he closed his eyes, the familiar corrosive visions seemed to rise behind a cloud of steam in his mind. He opened his eyes to the same visions in jerky playback on the ceiling. No, tequila wouldn't dissolve them. Nor did a frantic eighteen-hundred mile run of escape from California to this place lose them...

Even confession—immolation before the family of Juan Iglesias, the man he had as good as murdered, up there on that noisome hill above the cantina—even that had given him no peace...

The searing, vivid memory of the moment when his breakdown started—

Sue Campbell was her name and she lay in a hospital bed in St. Johns, Santa Monica, wasted, her features pinched and bluish... The indefinable smell of corrupted flesh about her, eyes upon him with a stare of pure terror, yet inquisitive, too, craftily picking the knowledge she wanted from his first failure to meet her gaze, from his wan attempt at a bedside smile.

"Tell me the truth, Dr. Forster, please tell me."

"We'll have to see, Mrs. Campbell—"

"No, you know."

"There's a new drug we're prescribing. It's had a remarkable effect in some cases like yours recently—"

"Tell me, Dr. Forster, tell me! Am I going to die?"

Twenty-nine years old, Mrs. Campbell. Divorced. Two sons, eight and six. Educated but poor. Employed as librarian at the University of Southern California. First symptoms, loss of appetite and weight, lassitude, vague pains in the abdominal region...

Then she'd been recommended to him for an exploratory operation. The nervous laugh. "It'd be funny if all I needed was some kind of tonic, wouldn't it, doctor?"

"Yes, it would."

So he'd cut and observed. That was it. Sew her back up. Stomach half gone from cancer, spreading to other organs.

Here it was, the dilemma he'd faced so frequently during that period. Which was right, to tell the patient the truth or soothe with false hope? To use false hope as a tranquilizer. But too often here was the greater cruelty. Hope seized with ferocity, nurtured, petted, cradled, loved—but then slowly poisoned by voices touched with mournfulness just out of earshot, by solemn looks having the taint of smugness which the living reserve for the doomed. But, most of all, poisoned by the lie which the patient's own devoured body gave to that hope... Yet the hope, the hope, the inchoate need to keep the spark alive. The irrational hope. Shifts from one doctor to the next in vain search for the right one who'd say, "You're getting better." And sometimes the quacks sought out who willingly provided comfort for cash on the line. "Of course you'll get well, no questions about it, with this device which captures epsilon rays from the sun. It has the same effect on cancer cells as insecticide on a cockroach..."

Irrational hope... The occasional good days, when the racked body fought back, taken all out of proportion, mistaken for the crisis successfully passed... Such, Forster knew, were the realities when false hope was given. Because, after all, who the hell wants to die?

In the case of Sue Campbell he had spoken the truth. "I'm afraid it's fatal."

The long heavy silence in that hospital room as dreams, plans, hopes, desires, values, experience—the whole accumulation of a lifetime blown away on the spot. "How soon?"

"It's hard to say. Months."

Surgeons, God, surgeons were expected to be stable. Heal where you can, but above all forget the losers. Understand that sooner or later everyone's for the grave or crematorium. When you'd reached the age of forty-one and cut as much flesh as the corner butcher, taken as many stitches as a downtown tailor, a surgeon should be case-hardened. Exactly that. Work with the averages...

But he, Jake Forster, let it get to him...

There had been so many last fall, an unending parade of the afflicted. Malignant, malignant, malignant. Chests, throats, breasts, bellies, rectums. And in every new patient he saw Sue Campbell's wasted face with its crumpled expression of fear and misery and incomprehensible lostness, as he pronounced her death sentence like a hanging judge.

Something went from him, during that period; an inner force drained away. He became afraid to operate, hesitant, unsure. He refused cases referred to him. His work lost meaning for him. So did his marriage and his big home in Brentwood and the security of a fat bank account.

It had been a pallid relationship, his and Diane's. He'd never given her much affection, nor she him. Maybe he didn't have love left to give after he'd lavished it on his patients. Dying, Sue Campbell got a piece of him, but not Diane. Or perhaps he instinctively realized that she wouldn't return it anyway... Those slacks which she wore eternally, her weepy circle of abused divorcees clannish in their dislike of drunken, harsh, uncommunicative men...

That desperate, brutal quarrel one rainy night last winter. There was another vision that wouldn't wash away with a barrel of tequila down here in Mexico. And in his mouth was the same dry acid taste as he had then... Sue Campbell, doped as far as dope could take her, but not far enough, was dying, while Diane—it seemed deliberate insolence—sat with feet tucked under her on the subdued custom-made sofa, telephone beside her as always, holding a big drink of scotch-on-the-rocks. He'd just come home, it was quite late, after ten, and Diane had intercepted him as he crossed from the living room to the library where he could sit by himself and stare at nothing.

"Jake, I want to talk."

"I'm not much in the mood tonight, Diane—"

"You never are. Jake this is important." He'd sighed and said okay and mixed himself a drink, a big one like hers, and sat down. "You've shut me out, Jake."

"I haven't meant to—"

"What is it? What's wrong? We're like two zombies walking around here, we don't even make the motions any more."

"You have your friends. I thought you were satisfied."

"Well, I'm not! It used to be your work," she'd said. "Now it isn't even that. You say you hate it."

"Yes, right now I do."

"What is it you're after, Jake?"

"I wish to hell I knew."

"Jake—" She'd paused to take a gulp of the drink and to light a new cigarette on the butt of the last. "Jake, do you know we haven't been to bed together in more than a month?"

"Diane, don't make a point of that," he'd said, annoyed. "You don't give a good goddamn whether I sleep with you or not."

"I don't? You're so sure?"

"Pretty sure, baby, pretty sure."

"You don't love me, do you?"

He'd hesitated. It was a hard thing to say. "No."

"Who is it, Jake?"

"Well—right now it's Sue Campbell."

"That woman who's dying?"

"Yes."

"But she's dying. What kind of a crazy, morbid love is that?"

"I don't know, the only kind I'm capable of right now."

"Ugh, it's so unhealthy!" Diane inhaled deeply, blew out the smoke slowly and drank again. "I think you're cracking up, Jake. I apologize for not dying. I apologize for not having cancer." She rose to her feet, swaying, and went to the bar to replenish her drink. Her figure was slender and boyish. After she had returned to the sofa, he'd made himself another drink and they sat for a time in sullen silence. "Can't you say anything?" she cried suddenly.

"What for? You're getting drunk and I don't want a drunken row."

"Well, maybe you're going to have one." He made a move to rise. "I'm going to bed."

"No you're not, you're going to listen to me!"

"Don't yell at me, Diane."

"You're so cold—all wrapped up in yourself!"

"I said, don't shout. What good is all this? I don't want to talk any more."

But he had talked a great deal more. Over many drinks—drawn into the vortex of her pathological resentment of him. He got drunk, smoky, hot, hateful drunk. Far into the night they sat there, faces flushed, mouths ugly, eyes hard and bitter, muscles drawn tense with the desire to flail and pound each other. Hideous words, insults, flying like grapeshot, ripping at the fabric of their marriage—all of it so out of place in that cool, remote, childless, professionally decorated house...

"Diane, that much hate isn't all for me. It couldn't be. It's for every man alive—"

"Just what do you mean by that, big doctor?"

"You know damned well what I mean!"

"So you're an analyst now, too. Sawbones—sawbones!"

"You and that asshole Little Theater and all those useless half-queer dames you run around with—"

"You leave my friends alone! At least they're interested in something—"

"I'll say!" And a moment later: "Each other!"

"God, what a rotten mind you have. Jake, I want a divorce."

"Good. And I hope to Christ you mean it this time."

"You son-of-a-bitch!"

"That's me."

Drink, tears, exhaustion. He'd gone to sleep, half passed out sitting there. Then later, with a wet gray dawn coming in at a sullen creep, and the sour, thick taste of too much liquor:

"Jake, I can't get through to you. You drive me away—"

"That's what I feel about you... I did love you, Diane—"

"Not love, Jake, that wasn't love. You're strong— all you wanted was to make me an extension of you."

"If we had children—"

"They never came. Why lean on that? I'm drunk, Jake."

"So am I. But I know we're done for, Diane. You know it, too. We've had it."

"I'm drunk, Jake. Take me to bed. Please take me to bed."

"It wouldn't mean anything."

The final words, edged with grief, yet defensive. "You're so right. It wouldn't mean a thing."

Diane's ambivalence about their marriage ceased at that exact moment. The ultimate rejection had been made by him. Hangover and all, she trotted out to see a lawyer that morning. Then she went to Las Vegas with a friend of hers named Phyllis and divorced him. It all happened very fast.

A few days later Sue Campbell died. He saw fewer and fewer patients, and any case which offered the possibility of his having to operate for cancer he passed along to his colleagues. He drank a lot and was lonely and felt himself cracking up.

Then occurred the tragedy which sent him reeling off to Mexico. Juan Iglesias. Juan the gardener at his house, gentle, apologetic, speaking almost no English, proud of his fresh-minted immigration papers which gave him a new start in life away from the poverty of the hill above the Cantina of the Crying Bird, in this village by Lake Chapala.

He'd been home late one Saturday afternoon, at loose ends and drinking, when Juan came to him timidly, complaining of a stomach disorder. He looked drawn and yellowish and had dark circles under his eyes from pain and sleeplessness.

"It's probably the vomiting virus, Juan. There's an awful lot of it around right now—"

"Si?" The language foul-up, the misunderstanding. Juan had pain, not nausea.

"You see I'm drinking... Going to a party, Juan. Can't do anything today, but you come in Monday before I leave for office, we look at you."

"Si, Monday I come."

He told Juan to give his stomach a rest, no chili peppers or hot sauce, and, to put his mind at ease, handed him a placebo.

Monday it came up peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. He rushed Juan to the hospital and botched the operation. Juan died on the operating table. The attending doctors were kind and tactful and said Juan would have died anyway.

"You did the best anybody could do, Jake."

"Sure, I was great."

"There are good days and bad days."

"It's a lucky damn thing for me we doctors hang together like a pack of thieves."

The Catholic church arranged Juan's interment. Juan's landlady, a bewildered Mexican woman who wasn't quite sure which of her tenants had died, and he saw Juan into the ground. They were the only ones. A timid man in a strange land, Juan apparently was acquainted with no one.

After that he didn't want to be a surgeon any more. So here he was in Mexico, in the village where Juan Iglesias had lived, making some kind of meaningless, farcical, self-pitying atonement...

Forster sighed deeply and turned his eyes away from the yellow ceiling where his failure played out, day after day, in brutal kaleidoscope. Forty-one years old and nowhere to go, no haven of escape. Obliteration of self was not easy.

At last he fell into scratchy sleep...

CHAPTER TWO

The sun was setting and Sandy Martin, impatient for this moment, poured her first drink of the day. It was from a big five liter tequila bottle which looked as if it should contain kerosene. About three inches remained in the bottom, but it had been full the night before. There had been another party, a wild and crazy one which lasted until dawn. A half dozen mariachi musicians had wandered in and played, two fairies from New Orleans beat bongo drums, and her record player blasted away full volume, often all three together. Her ears still ached from the noise.

The party had been a farewell binge for a television writer who'd been in town almost two months and written four pages of a novel. Frustrated and boozy, he'd made an abrupt decision to return to his wife and three children in San Fernando Valley, there to grind out more TV scripts...