The Losers | Chapter 5 of 15

Author: David Eddings | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1539 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

i

Mrs. Muriel Taylor was thirty-eight years old when she found that she was pregnant. Mrs. Taylor was a pale, almost transparent woman of Canadian background, who, until that startling discovery, had lived in a kind of dreamy reverie filled with semiclassical music and the endlessly reworked verses to which she devoted two hours every afternoon and never allowed anyone to read. The pregnancy ran its normal course, although Mrs. Taylor had miscarried twice before. She laid aside her poetry and devoted herself wholly to the life within her, seeming almost to wish at times that she might, like some exotic insect, be consumed from within by it and fall away like a dead husk at the moment of birth.

She labored with the selection of a suitable name for her unborn son (for he would surely be a boy) as she had never before struggled with the surly intransigencies of language, emerging finally with the one name that would lift her still-womb-drowsing infant above the commonplace, beyond that vast, ever-expanding mob of Joeys and Billies and Bobbies and Donnies. She would, she decided, call him Raphael, and having made that decision, she fell back into her drowse.

And in the usual course of time she was delivered of a son, and he was christened Raphael.

Mr. Edgar Taylor, Mrs. Taylor’s husband, was a man best described as gray—his hair, the suits he wore to the office, even his face. Mr. Taylor was an accountant, much more at home with columns of figures than with people, and the sudden appearance of an heir, the product of his somewhat tepid passion, seemed to stun him. He gave up all outside activities so that he might hurry home each night to watch his son, not to touch him or speak to him, but simply to watch in a kind of bemused astonishment this prodigy that he and his wife had somehow wrought.

The Taylors lived in Port Angeles, a small, damp city on the extreme northwest coast. The peninsula below it is given over in large part to a national park, roadless and pristine; and the city thus has an insular character, cut off from the sprawling bustle of Seattle, Tacoma, and the other population centers of the state by a deep, island-dotted sound. All significant travel to and from Port Angeles is by ferry. The nearest major city is Victoria in British Columbia, a curiously European metropolis where Mr. Taylor had traveled on business some years earlier and had met and intermittently courted Mrs. Taylor. In due time they had married and he had brought her back across the twenty-six miles of intervening water to the dank clamminess of Port Angeles with its rain and fog and its reek of green hemlock logs lying low in the salt waters of the bay.

From the beginning Raphael was one of those rare children, touched, it seemed, by a singular grace that gave everything he did a kind of special significance. As an infant he seldom cried, and he passed through the normal stages of early childhood with a minimum of fuss. His mother, of course, devoted her entire existence to him. Long after he had matured to the point where her constant attentions were no longer necessary—or even desired—she was forever touching him, her hand moving almost of its own will to lingeringly caress his face or his hair.

Perhaps because of that special grace or perhaps because of some long-forgotten gene in his makeup, Raphael avoided the pitfalls that almost inevitably turn the pampered child into a howling monster. He grew instead into a sturdy, self-reliant little boy, gracious to his playmates and polite to his elders. Even as a child, however, he was adept at keeping his feelings to himself. He was outgoing and friendly on the surface, but seemed to reserve a certain part of himself as a private sanctuary from which he could watch and say nothing. He did well in school and, as he matured, developed into that kind of young man his infancy had promised—tall, slimly muscular, with glowing, almost luminous eyes and pale blond hair that stubbornly curled in spite of all efforts to control it.

Raphael’s years at high school were a time of almost unbearable pride for Mr. Taylor as the young man developed into that boy athlete who comes along perhaps once in a generation. Opposing coaches wept on those golden autumn afternoons as Raphael, knees high, the ball carried almost negligently in one hand, ran at will through their best defenses. Important men in the lumber company where Mr. Taylor worked began stopping by his desk to talk about the games.

“Great game, Edgar,” they’d say jovially. “Really great.”

Mr. Taylor, his gray face actually taking on a certain color, would nod happily.

“Young Rafe really gave it to them,” they’d say. “He’s a cinch to make all-state this year.”

“We think he’s got a good chance,” Mr. Taylor would say. Mr. Taylor always said “we” when talking about Raphael’s accomplishments, as if, were he to say “I,” it might seem boastful.

For Mrs. Taylor, however, the whole period was a time of anguish. There was always the danger of injury, and with morbid fascination she collected gruesome stories of fatalities and lifelong maimings that occurred with hideous regularity on high-school football fields across the nation. And then there was the fact that all the sportswriters and the disgusting man who broadcast the games over the local radio station had immediately shortened her son’s name to Rafe—a name that smacked of hillbillies or subhuman degenerates slouching along in the shadows and slobbering over thoughts of unspeakable acts. Each time she heard the name, her soul withered a little within her. Most of all, however, she feared girls. As Raphael’s local celebrity increased so did her dread. In her mind

Mrs. Muriel Taylor saw hordes of vacant-minded little trollops lusting after her son, their piggish eyes aflame with adolescent desire and their bubble-gum-scented breath hot and panting as they conspired—each in her own grubby little soul—to capture this splendid young man. Mrs. Taylor had, in the dim reaches of her Canadian girlhood, secretly and tragically suffered such pangs for an oafish campus hero, so that she knew in her heart of hearts to what lengths the predatory adolescent female might go, given such a prize as this most perfect of young men, this—and she used the word only to herself in deepest privacy—this angel.

Young Raphael Taylor, however, avoided those girls his mother most feared as adroitly as he avoided opposing tacklers. This is not, of course, to say that he was celibate. It is merely to say that he devoted his attentions to certain local girls who, by reputation and practice, were in no position to make lasting demands on him. For the most part he avoided those girls who might, by the sacrifice of their virtue, have been able to make some kind of viable claim upon him. Once, though, in the summer of his sixteenth year, there was a girl whom he had deeply and desperately loved; but her family had moved away, and he had suffered, but had been safe.

During the fall of Raphael’s senior year in high school, Mr. Taylor developed a serious shortness of breath. Despite his wife’s urgings, however, he put off visiting the family doctor, maintaining that his condition was just a recurrence of an old bronchial complaint that had plagued him off and on for years.

On a splendid Friday afternoon in late September Port Angeles hosted their traditional rivals from across the sound. As had been the case since his sophomore year, Raphael dominated the game. Although it was obvious from the very beginning that he would carry the ball at least twice during every series of plays, the opposing players were unable to stop him. He scored three touchdowns during the first half, and when the visitors opened the second half with a booming kickoff, he scooped up the ball deep in his own end zone, reversed direction, and feinting, spinning, and dodging with the grace of a dancer, he started upfield. Every opponent on the

field, even the kicker, tried to stop him, but he was unstoppable. For the last thirty yards before he crossed the goal line, he was absolutely alone, running in solitary splendor with all tacklers hopelessly far back.

The home fans, of course, were screaming wildly. And that was the last thing that Mr. Taylor ever heard. He had risen excitedly to his feet to watch his glorious son run the full length of the field, and the sound of the cheers surrounded him. The massive heart attack was like a great blow to his chest, and he toppled forward, dying with those cheers fading like distant thunder in his ears.

The funeral was very sad, as funerals usually are. Mrs. Taylor bore up bravely, leaning on her golden-haired son. After all the ceremonies and condolences, life once again returned to near normal. Mr. Taylor was so close to being a nonentity that he was scarcely missed at the place where he had worked, and even his widow’s emotion at his passing might best be described as gentle melancholy rather than overwhelming grief.

Raphael, of course, missed his father, but he nonetheless played in every game that season. “He would have wanted it that way,” he explained. He was touched, even moved almost to tears by the moment of silence dedicated to his father just prior to the game the Friday after the funeral. Then he went out onto the field and destroyed the visiting team.

Mr. Taylor’s affairs, of course, were in absolute order. Certain wise investments and several insurance policies provided for the security of his family, and his elder brother, Harry, a Port Angeles realtor, had been named executor of his estate. Harry Taylor was a bluff, balding, florid-faced man with a good head for business and a great deal of sound, practical advice for his brother’s widow. He took his responsibilities as executor quite seriously and visited often.

That winter, when the question of college arose, Mrs. Taylor faced the issue with dread. Money was not a problem, since her husband had carried a special insurance policy with some very liberal provisions to guarantee his son’s education. There were also scholarship offers from as far away as southern California, since Raphael had twice been named to the all-state football team. In the end, however, the question was deferred by the young man’s rather surprising decision to attend the local junior college. He had many reasons for the choice, not the least of which was his full realization of what anguish an abrupt separation would cause his mother, coming as it must so soon after her bereavement.

And so it was that Raphael continued to play local football, his uncle Harry basked in reflected celebrity, and his mother enjoyed the reprieve the decision had granted her.

At the end of two years, however, the decision could no longer be put off. Raphael privately considered his options and independently made his choice.

“Reed?” his uncle said, stunned.

“It’s a good school, Uncle Harry,” Raphael pointed out, “the best school in this part of the country. They say it’s one of the top ten colleges in the United States.”

“But they don’t even have a football team, do they?”

“I don’t know,” Raphael replied. “I don’t think so.”

“You could go to Stanford. That’s a good school, too.”

Raphael nodded thoughtfully. “Yes,” he agreed, “but it’s too big.”

“They’ve got a good team. You might even get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl.”

“Maybe, but I think I’d rather go to Reed. I’ve had a lot of fun playing football, but I think it’s time I moved on to something else, don’t you?”

“Where is this college located?” Mrs. Taylor asked faintly. “Portland,” Raphael replied.

“In Oregon?” Mrs. Taylor asked even more faintly.

Raphael nodded.

Mrs. Taylor’s heart sank.

ii

Portland, the city of the roses, bestrides the banks of the Willamette River near where that stream joins the Columbia. It is a pleasant city, filled with trees and fine old Victorian houses. The campus of Reed College, where Raphael was enrolled, lies somewhat to the east of the river, and has about it a dreamy, timeless quality. The very buildings that rise from the broad lawns identify the place as a college, since such a random collection of Georgian manors, medieval cathedrals, and starkly modern structures of brick and glass could exist for no other reason.

In his car of recent vintage with its backseat filled with the new and expensive luggage his mother had bought and tearfully given him, Raphael Taylor pulled rather wearily into the student parking lot and stopped. The trip had been quite long, and he was unaccustomed to freeway driving. There was, however, an exhilaration about it all. He was on his own for the first time in his life, and that was something.

Thanks to his uncle’s careful correspondence with the registrar and the bursar, all arrangements had been made well in advance, and Raphael knew precisely where his dormitory was located. With his jacket under his arm and two suitcases rather self-consciously swinging at his sides, he walked across to the manselike solidity of the dorm, feeling a certain superiority to the small crowd of bewildered-looking freshmen milling uncertainly around in front of the administration building.

His room was on the third floor, and Raphael was puffing slightly as he reached the top of the stairs. The door at the end of the hall was open, and billowing clouds of smoke were rolling out. Raphael’s stomach turned cold. Everything had gone too well up until now. He went down the hall and into the smoke.

A young man with olive skin and sleek black hair brushed by him carrying a large vase filled with water. “Don’t just stand there, man,” he said to Raphael in a rich baritone voice. “Help me put this son of a bitch out.” He rushed into the room, bent slightly, and threw the water into a small fireplace that seemed to be the source of all the smoke. The fire hissed spitefully, and clouds of steam boiled out to mingle blindingly with the smoke.

“Damn!” the dark-haired man swore, and started back for more water.

Raphael saw the problem immediately. “Wait,” he said. He set down his suitcases, stepped across to the evilly fuming fireplace, and pulled the brass handle sticking out of the bricks just below the mantelpiece. The damper opened with a clank, and the fireplace immediately stopped belching smoke into the room. “It’s a good idea to open the chimney before you build the fire,” he suggested.

The other man stared at the fireplace for a moment, and then he threw back his head and began to laugh. “There’s a certain logic there, I guess,” he admitted. He collapsed on the bed near the door, still laughing.

Raphael crossed the room and opened the window. The smoke rushed out past him.

“It’s a good thing you came by when you did,” the dark-haired man said. “I was well on my way to being smoked like a Virginia ham.” He was somewhat shorter than Raphael, and more slender. His olive skin and black hair suggested a Mediterranean background, Italian perhaps or Spanish, but there was no Latin softness in his dark eyes. They were as hard as obsidian and watchful, even wary. His clothing was expensive—tailored, Raphael surmised, definitely tailored—and his wristwatch was not so much a timepiece as it was a statement.

Then the young man looked at Raphael as if seeing him for the first time, and something peculiar happened to his face. His eyes widened, and a strange pallor turned his olive complexion slightly green. His eyes narrowed, seeming almost to glitter. It was as if a shock of recognition had passed through him. “You must be Edwards, right?” His expression seemed tight somehow.

“Sorry,” Raphael replied. “The name’s Taylor.” “I thought you might be my roomie.” “No. I’m two doors up the hall.”

“Oh, well”—the stranger shrugged, making a wry face—“there goes my chance to keep the knowledge of my little blunder a secret. Edwards is bound to smell the smoke when he gets here.” He rose to his feet and extended his hand. “J. D. Flood,” he said by way of introducing himself.

“Rafe Taylor,” Raphael responded. They shook hands. “What were you burning, Flood?”

“Some pieces of a packing crate. I’ve never had a dormitory room with a fireplace before, so I had to try it. Hell, I was even going out to buy a pipe.” He raised one eyebrow. “Rafe—is that short for Raphael?”

“Afraid so. It was a romantic notion of my mother’s. You wouldn’t believe how many school-yard brawls it started.”

Flood’s face darkened noticeably. “Unreal,” he said. That strange, almost shocked expression that had appeared in his eyes when he had first looked at Raphael returned, and there was a distinct tightening in his face. Once again Raphael felt that momentary warning as if something were telling him to be very careful about this glib young man. In that private place within his mind from which he had always watched and made decisions, he began to erect some cautionary defenses. “And what does the J.D. stand for?” he asked, trying to make it sound casual.

“Jacob Damon Flood, Junior,” Flood said with distaste.

“Jake?” Raphael suggested.

“Not hardly.”

“J.D. then?”

“That’s worse. That’s what they call my father.” “How about Damon?”

Flood considered that. “Why not? How about a martini?” “Is it legal? In the dorm, I mean?”

“Who gives a shit? I’m not going to start paying any attention to the rules at this late date.”

Raphael shrugged. “Most of my drinking has been limited to beer, but I’ll give it a try.”

“That’s the spirit,” Flood said, opening one of his suitcases and taking out a couple of bottles. “I laid in some ice a bit earlier. I make a mean martini—it’s one of the few things I’ve actually learned.” He busied himself with a silver shaker. “Any cretin can swill liquor out of a bottle,” he went on with a certain brittle extravagance, “but a gentleman boozes it up with class.”

Flood’s language seemed to shift back and forth between an easy colloquialism Raphael found comfortable and a kind of stilted eastern usage. There was a forced quality about Flood that made him uncomfortable.

They had a couple of drinks, and Raphael feigned enjoyment, although the sharp taste of nearly raw gin was not particularly to his liking. He was not really accustomed to drinking, and Flood’s martinis were strong enough to make his ears hot and the tips of his fingers tingle. “Well,” he said finally, setting down his glass, “I guess I’d better go get moved in.”

“Taylor,” Flood said, an odd note in his voice. “I’ve got a sort of an idea. Is your roommate up the hall an old friend?”

“Never met the man, actually.”

“And I’ve never met Edwards either—obviously. Why don’t you room in here?” There was a kind of intensity about the way Flood said it, as if it were far, far more important than the casual nature of the suggestion called for.

“They don’t allow that, do they?” Raphael asked. “Switching rooms, I mean?”

“It’s easy to see you’ve never been in a boarding school before.” Flood laughed. “Switching rooms is standard practice. It goes on everywhere. Believe me, I know. I’ve been kicked out of some of the best schools in the east.”

“What if Edwards shows up and wants his bed?”

“We’ll give him yours. I’ll lie to him—tell him I’ve got something incurable and that you’re here to give me a shot in case I throw a fit.”

“Come on.” Raphael laughed.

“You can be the one with the fits if you’d rather,” Flood offered. “Can you do a convincing grand mal seizure?” “I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

“The whole point is that we get along fairly well together, and I don’t know diddly about Edwards. I know that you’re white, but I haven’t got any idea at all about what color he is.”

“Is that important?” Raphael said it carefully.

Flood’s face suddenly broke into a broad grin. “Gotcha!” he said gleefully. “God, I love to do that to people. Actually, it doesn’t mean jack-shit to me one way or another, but it sure as hell does to old J.D. Sooner or later somebody from back home is going to come by, and if words gets back to the old pirate that his son has a nigger roommate—his word, not mine—thee shit will hit thee fan. Old J.D.’s prejudiced against races that have been extinct for thousands of years—like the Hittites—or the Wends.”

“It won’t work out then, Damon,” Raphael told him with a perfectly straight face. “My mother’s Canadian.”

“That’s all right, Raphael. I’m liberal. We’ll let you come in through the back door. Have Canadians got rhythm? Do you have overpowering cravings for northern-fried moose?”

Raphael laughed. The young man from the east was outrageous. There was still something slightly out of tune though. Raphael was quite sure that he reminded Flood of someone else. Flood had seemed about to mention it a couple of times, but had apparently decided against it. “All right,” he decided. “If you think we can get away with it, we’ll try it.”

“Good enough. We’ll drop the Rafe and Jake bit so we don’t sound like a hillbilly band, and we’ll use Damon and Raphael—unless you’d like to change your name to Pythias?”

“No, I don’t think so. It sounds a little urinary.”

Flood laughed. “It does at that, doesn’t it? Have you got any more bags? Or do you travel light?”

“I’ve got a whole backseat full.”

“Let’s go get them then. Get you settled in.”

They clattered downstairs, brought up the rest of Raphael’s luggage, and then went to the commons for dinner.

Damon Flood talked almost continuously through the meal, his rich voice compelling, almost hypnotic. He saw nearly everything, and his sardonic wit made it all wryly humorous.

“And this,” he said, almost with a sneer as they walked back in the luminous twilight toward their dormitory, “is the ‘most intelligent group of undergraduates in the country’?” He quoted from a recent magazine article about the college. “It looks more like a hippie convention—or a soirée in a hobo jungle.”

“Appearances can be deceiving.”

“Indeed they can, Raphael, Angel of Light”—Flood laughed—“but appearance is the shadow at least of reality, don’t you think?”

Raphael shrugged. “We’re more casual out here on the coast.”

“Granted, but wouldn’t you say that the fact that a young lady doesn’t wear shoes to dinner says a great deal about her character?”

“Where’s your home?” Raphael asked as they started up the stairs.

“Grosse Pointe,” Flood said dryly, “the flower on the weed of Detroit.”

“What are you doing way out here?” Raphael opened the door to their room.

“Seeking my fortune,” Flood said, flinging himself down on his bed. Then he laughed. “Actually, I’m putting as much distance as possible between my father and me. The old bastard can’t stand the sight of me. The rest of the family wanted me to go to Princeton, but I preferred to avoid the continuous surveillance of all those cousins. A very large family, the Floods, and I have the distinction of being its major preoccupation. All those dumpy female cousins literally slather at the idea of being able to report my indiscretions back to old J.D. himself.”

Raphael began to unpack.

“J.D.’s the family patriarch,” Flood went on. “The whole damned bunch genuflects in his direction five times a day—except me, of course. I suppose I’ve never really forgiven him for tacking that ‘Junior’ on me, so I set out to be as unlike him as I could. He looks on that as a personal insult, so we don’t really get along. He started shipping me off to boarding schools as soon as I lost my baby teeth, though, so we only irritate each other on holidays. I tried a couple years at Pitt, but all that rah-rah bullshit got on my nerves. So I thought I’d saddle up old Paint and strike out for the wide wide west—What do you say to another drink?” He sprang up immediately and began mixing another batch of martinis.

Their conversation became general after that, and they both grew slightly drunk before they went to bed.

After Flood had turned out the light, he continued to talk, a steady flow of random, drowsy commentary on the day’s events. In time the pauses between his observations became longer as he hovered on the verge of sleep. Finally he turned over in bed. “Good night, Gabriel,” he murmured.

“Wrong archangel,” Raphael corrected. “Gabriel’s the other one—the trumpet player.”

“Did I call you Gabriel?” Flood’s voice had a strange, alert tension in it. “Stupid mistake. I must have had one martini too many.”

“It’s no big thing. Good night, Damon.” Once again, however, something in the very back of his mind seemed to be trying to warn Raphael. Flood’s inadvertent use of the name Gabriel seemed not to be just a slip of the tongue. There was a significance to it somehow—obscure, but important.

In the darkness, waiting for sleep and listening to Flood’s regular breathing from the other bed, Raphael considered his roommate. He had never before met anyone with that moneyed, eastern prep-school background, and so he had no real basis for judgment. The young men he had met before had all come from backgrounds similar to his own, and the open, easy camaraderie of the playing field and the locker room had not prepared him for the complexity of someone like Flood. On the whole, though, he found his roommate intriguing, and the surface sophistication of their first evening exhilirating. Perhaps in time Flood would relax, and they’d really get to know each other, but it was still much too early to know for sure.

iii

Raphael’s next few weeks were a revelation to him. Always before he had been at best a casual scholar. His mind was quick and retentive, and neither high school nor the community college he had attended had challenged him significantly. He had come to believe that, even as on the football field, what others found difficult would be easy for him. His performance in the classroom, like his performance on the field, had been more a reflection of natural talent than of hard work; everything had been very easy for Raphael. At Reed, however, it was not so. He quickly discovered that a cursory glance at assigned reading did not prepare him adequately for the often brutally cerebral exchanges of the classroom. Unlike his previous classmates, these students were not content merely to paraphrase the text or the remarks of the instructor, but rather applied to the material at hand techniques of reason and analysis Raphael had never encountered before. Amazingly, more often than not, the results of these reasonings were a direct challenge to the authority of the text or of the instructor. And, even more amazingly, these challenges were not viewed as the disruptions of troublemakers, but were actually encouraged. Disturbed and even embarrassed by his newfound inadequacy, Raphael began to apply himself to his studies.

“You’re turning into a grind,” Flood said one evening. Raphael pulled his eyes from the page he was reading. “Hmmm?”

“You study too much. I never see you without your face in some damned book.”

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”

“Not hardly.” Flood threw one leg over the arm of his chair. “A gentleman does not get straight A’s. It’s unseemly. Haven’t you ever heard the old formula? ‘Three C’s and a D and keep your name out of the newspapers’?”

“No. I hadn’t heard that one.” Raphael’s mind was yearning back toward the book. “Besides, how would you know here? They won’t let us see our grades.” That was one of the peculiarities of what was called the “Reed experience.”

“Barbarous,” Flood snorted. “How the hell can we be expected to maintain a proper balance if they don’t let us see our grades? Do you realize that a man could screw up? Stumble into so many high grades that his reputation’s ruined for life?”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Damon. I don’t think you’re in any danger.”

“Don’t get shitty.” Flood got up quickly. “Let’s go out and get drunk—see if we can get arrested or something.”

“I’ve got an early class tomorrow.” Raphael turned back to his book.

“Talk to me, goddammit!” Flood said irritably, snatching the book from Raphael’s hands. “What the hell are you reading, anyway?”

“Kierkegaard.” Raphael reached for his book.

“The Sickness unto Death,” Flood read. “Now there’s a cheery little tide. What class is this for?”

Raphael shrugged. “It came up in a discussion. I thought I ought to look into it.”

“You mean it’s not even required?” Flood demanded incredulously, tossing the book back. “That’s disgusting, Raphael, disgusting.”

“Different strokes,” Raphael said, finding his place again and settling back to his reading. Flood sat watching him, his black eyes as hard as agates.

And then there was the problem of the girl. She sat across the room from him in one of his afternoon classes, and Raphael found his eyes frequently drawn to her face. It was not that she was exceptionally beautiful, for she was not. Her face was slightly angular with strong bones, and she was quite tall with a coltish legginess that made her seem somehow very young. Her voice, however, was a deep, rich contralto with a vibrance, a quality, that stirred Raphael immeasurably each time she spoke. But she spoke infrequently. Sometimes a week would pass without a word from her. While others in the class talked endlessly, arguing, discussing, pushing themselves forward, she would sit quietly, taking occasional notes and now and then stirring restlessly as Raphael’s gaze became warmly obvious.

He began to try to challenge her—to force her to speak. He frequently said things he did not actually believe, hoping to lever her into discussion. He did not even care what she said, but merely yearned for the sound of that voice, that rich, vibrant sound that seemed somehow to plunge directly into the center of his being. She began, in time, to return his glances, but she still seldom spoke, and the infrequency of her speech left him frustrated—even angry with himself for his absurd fascination. Her name, he discovered, was Marilyn Hamilton, and she lived off campus. Beyond that, he was able to find out very little about her.

“You’re Taylor, aren’t you?” a large, bulky man with a huge black beard asked him one afternoon as he came out of the library.

“Right,” Raphael replied.

“Name’s Wallace Pierson.” The big man held out his hand. “I understand you’ve played a little football.”

“Some.” Raphael shifted his books so that he could shake the man’s hand.

“We’re—uh—trying to put together a team,” Pierson said, seeming almost apologetic. “Nothing very formal. Wondered if you might be interested.”

“Intramural?”

“No, not exactly.” Pierson laughed. “It’s just for the hell of it, really. You see, there’s a Quaker college across town—George Fox. They have a sort of a team—pretty low-key. They sent us an invitation. We thought it might be sort of interesting.” He fell in beside Raphael and they walked across the broad lawn toward the dormitories.

“I haven’t got the kind of time it takes for practice,” Raphael told him.

“Who has? We’re not really planning to make a big thing out of it-—just a few afternoons so that we can get familiar with each other—not embarrass ourselves too badly.”

“That’s not the way to win football games.”

“Win?” Pierson seemed startled. “Hell, Taylor, we weren’t planning to win—just play. Good God, man, you could get expelled for winning—overemphasis and all that jazz. We just thought it might be kind of interesting to play, that’s all.”

Raphael laughed. “That’s the Reed spirit.”

“Sure.” Pierson grinned. “If we can hold them to ten touchdowns, it’ll be a moral victory, won’t it?”

“I’ll think it over.”

“We’d appreciate it. We’re a little thin in the backfield. We thought we’d get together about four or so this afternoon—see if there are enough of us to make a team. Drop on down if you’d like.”

“When’s the game?”

“Friday.”

“Three days? You plan to put a team together in three days?” Pierson shrugged. “We’re not really very serious about it.” “I can see that. I’ll think it over.”

“Okay,” the bearded man said. “Maybe we’ll see you at four then.”

“Maybe.”

But of course he did play. The memory of so many afternoons was still strong, and he had, he finally admitted, missed the excitement, the challenge, the chance to hurl himself wholly into violent physical activity.

Pierson, despite his bulk, played quarterback, and the great black beard protruding from the face mask of his helmet made the whole affair seem ludicrous. On the day of the game their plays were at best rudimentary, and they lost ground quite steadily. The small cluster of students who had gathered to watch the game cheered ironically each time they were thrown for a loss.

“Hand it off to me,” Raphael suggested to Pierson in the huddle on their third series of plays when they were trailing 13-0. “If you try that keeper play one more time, that left tackle of theirs is going to scramble your brains for you.”

“Gladly,” Pierson agreed, puffing.

“Which way are you going?” one of the linemen asked Raphael.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Raphael said, and broke out of the huddle.

After the snap Pierson handed him the ball, and Raphael angled at the opposing line. He sidestepped a clumsy tackle, found a hole, and broke through. The afternoon sun was very bright, and his cleats dug satisfyingly into the turf. He reversed direction, outran two tacklers, and scored quite easily.

A thin cheer went up from the spectators.

In time his excellence even became embarrassing. He began to permit himself to be tackled simply to prevent the score from getting completely one-sided. More and more of the students drifted down to watch.

On the last play of the game, knowing that it was the last play and knowing that he would probably never play again, Raphael hurled himself up and intercepted an opponent’s pass deep in his own end zone. Then, simply for the joy of it, he ran directly into the clot of players massed at the goal line. Dodging, feinting, sidestepping with perfect coordination, he ran through the other team. Once past the line, he deliberately ran at each member of the backfield, giving all in turn a clear shot at him and evading them at the last instant.

The wind burned in his throat, and he felt the soaring exhilaration that came from the perfect functioning of his body. Then, after running the full length of the field and having offered himself to every member of the opposing team, he ran into the end zone, leaped high into the air, and slammed the ball down on the turf so violently that it bounced twenty feet straight up. When he came down, he fell onto his back, laughing for sheer joy.

iv

On the Saturday morning after the football game Raphael was stiff and sore. His body was out of condition, and his muscles reacted to the exertion and bruising contact of the game. He still felt good, though.

Flood was up early, which was unusual, since he normally slept late on weekends. “Come along, football hero,” he said to Raphael, “rise and shine.” His eyes glittered brightly.

Raphael groaned and rolled over in bed.

“Quickly, quickly,” Flood commanded, snapping his fingers.

“What’s got you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning?” Raphael demanded sourly.

“Today we go a-visiting,” Flood said exuberantly. “Today I carry the conquering hero to visit the queen.”

“Some other time.” Raphael laid one arm across his eyes. “I’m in no condition for queens today.”

“I wouldn’t touch that line with a ten-foot pole—or a nine-foot Hungarian either. You might as well get up. I’m not going to let you sleep away your day of triumph.”

“Shit!” Raphael threw off the covers.

“My God!” Flood recoiled from the sight of the huge bruises and welts on Raphael’s body. “You mean to tell me you let yourself get in that condition for fun?”

Raphael sat up and glanced at the bruises. “They’ll go away. What were you babbling about?”

“We go to visit the fair Isabel,” Flood declaimed, “whose hair is like the night, whose skin is like milk, and whose gazongas come way out to here.” He gestured exaggeratedly in front of his chest. “She’s an old schoolmate of my aunt’s, a fallen woman, cast out by her family, living in shame and obscurity by the shores of scenic Lake Oswego some miles to the south. She and I are kindred spirits, since both of us offend our families by our very existence. She’s invited us to spend the weekend, so up, my archangel. Put on your wings and halo, and I will deliver you into the hands of the temptress.”

“Isn’t it a little early for all the bullshit?” Raphael asked, climbing stiffly to his feet and picking up his towel. “I’m going to hit the showers.” He padded out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom.

After a hot shower his sore muscles felt better, and he was in a better humor as he dressed. There was no withstanding Flood when he set his mind to something, and finally Raphael gave in. Twenty minutes later they were packed and southbound on the freeway in Flood’s small, fast, red Triumph.

“Just exactly who is this lady we’re visiting?” Raphael asked.

“I told you,” Flood replied.

“This time why don’t you clear away all the underbrush and give me something coherent.”

“The lady’s name is Isabel Drake. She went to school with my aunt, which makes her practically a member of the family.”

“I don’t quite follow that, but let it pass.”

“We have very extended families in Grosse Pointe.”

“Okay.”

“Helps us avoid contact with the riffraff.” “All right.”

“Avoiding contact with the riffraff is a major concern in Grosse Pointe.”

“All right, I said.” “Do I digress?”

“Of course you do, but I’m used to that. All right. Miss—Mrs.—Drake is a distant friend of your family’s, a lady of middle years who happens to live in the area, and this is by way of a courtesy call, right?”

Flood laughed. “She’ll love that,” he hooted. “Mrs. Drake—definitely Mrs.—made, when she was quite young, an excellent marriage and an even better divorce. She’s a lady of means now. The aunt I referred to is my father’s youngest sister, so Isabel is maybe thirty at most—hardly what you’d call ‘of middle years.’ And as far as ‘courtesy calls’ go, you’ll soon discover that the term is wildly inappropriate. Isabel Drake is probably who they had in mind when they invented the word ‘fascinating.’ ”

“Why did you call her a fallen woman?”

“That’s a tale of dark passion and illicit lust, Raphael, hardly suitable for your tender ears.”

“Try me. If there are subjects I shouldn’t talk about, I’d like to know in advance.”

“Besides which, you’re panting to hear the details, right?” Flood smirked.

“Pant, pant,” Raphael said dryly. “Get on with it, Damon. You’re going to tell me about it anyway; nothing could stop you. I could have your mouth bricked up, and you’d still tell me.”

Flood laughed. “All right, Raphael. Shortly after her divorce, Isabel conceived a passion for the husband of one of her cousins, a vapid, colorless girl of no lasting significance. There was a flaming affair which quite rapidly approached the status of a public scandal. The man in question was also of no lasting significance—some semipresentable shithead the cousin’s family had bought for her. Anyhow, there were all the usual lurid developments—gossip, people falling over themselves to tell the poor cousin what Isabel was up to. She attempted suicide, of course.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not a bit of it. Sleeping pills, the tragic suicide note, all of it. Anyhow, there was a separation, and the poor klutz informed Isabel that he was ready to divorce the cousin and ‘make an honest woman’ of her. Isabel, who was getting bored with the whole thing at that point, laughed in his face. She was not about to give up that alimony for anybody, much less some cretin who couldn’t function outside the bedroom. He got huffy about it all and stormed out, but when he tried to go back to the cousin, she told him to buzz off. He took to drinking and made a special point of telling everyone in all the bars about Isabel’s bedroom habits—in great detail. In rime the rest of the family hinted around that they’d all be a lot happier if she’d take up residence a long, long way from Grosse Pointe, and finally she did.”

“Don’t the rich have anything better to do?”

“That’s the whole point of being rich,” Flood replied, turning off the freeway. “It leaves you free to pursue diversions other than money.”

“You know, I think you made all that up, Damon. I think you’re putting me on.”

“Would I put you on?” Flood laughed. “If you thought I’d swallow it, yes.”

The home of Isabel Drake was a chalet-style house set in a grove of fir trees near the shores of the lake. It was about ten-thirty when Flood’s small red sports car stopped on the curving gravel drive in front of the house, and morning sun filtered down through the trees with that overripe golden quality that, more than anything, speaks of autumn.

Flood bounced from the car with unusual energy, went up the wooden steps to the wide porch that stretched across the front of the house, and rang the bell. “Come along, Raphael,” he said over his shoulder.

Somewhat painfully, his muscles stiffened again from the ride, Raphael climbed from the car and started up the steps to the porch.

The docr opened, and a small woman looked out inquiringly. She was short, perhaps just over five feet tall, and she wore jeans and a loose-fitting cambric shirt of the kind Raphael had seen mill workers back home wear. Her hair was quite dark and caught at the back of her neck by a red bandanna. The skin of her face and throat was very white, and her figure under the loose shirt was full. She had a smudge of pale green paint on one cheek. “Junior,” she said in an exasperated tone. Her voice was rich and melodious. “You said noon.”

“Sorry, ‘Bel. We got away early.” He grinned down at her.

“I’m a mess,” she protested, glancing down at the front of her shirt. She was holding two long, pencillike paintbrushes in her right hand. “You always do this to me, Junior.”

“This way we get to see the real you, ‘Bel.” Flood’s grin was slightly malicious. “Let me present the Archangel Raphael,” he said, turning and beckoning.

Isabel Drake’s eyes widened, and she stared directly at Flood as if he had just said something totally unbelievable. Then she turned and looked at Raphael. Very clearly he could see a kind of stunned recognition cross her face. Her eyes seemed to cloud for a moment, and she looked as if she were about to say something. Then she shook her head slightly, and her face became a polite mask.

“Mrs. Drake,” Raphael said rather formally, inclining his head in a sort of incipient bow.

“Please,” she replied, “just ‘Bel.” She smiled up at him. Her eyes were large, and her lips sensual. “There’s no point in being formal, since Junior arranged for you to catch me in my work clothes. Is it really Raphael?”

Raphael made a face. “My mother’s idea of a joke. I’ll answer to Rafe if it’d make you more comfortable.”

“God no,” she said. “I love it. Raphael—it’s so musical.” She switched the paintbrushes and offered her hand. Raphael took it.

“Oh dear,” she said. “The paint. I completely forgot.”

Raphael looked at his hand and laughed at the smudges on his palm.

“It’s only watercolor, but I am sorry.” “It’s nothing.”

“Junior,” she said sharply, “I positively hate you for this.”

Flood, who had been watching the two of them intently, laughed sardonically.

“Come and see my little house,” she invited them. “Then I’ll get cleaned up and change.”

The interior of the chalet smelled faintly of the woman’s perfume. The walls of the living room were paneled with walnut, and there were dark, open beams at ceiling height, forming a heavy latticework overhead above which open space soared to the peaked roof. The furniture was of dark, waxed wood and leather, very masculine, which somehow seemed to accentuate Mrs. Drake’s femininity. The floor was also dark, waxed wood, and fur throw rugs lay here and there, highlighting major points in the room. The morning sun streamed through a window high in the wall above the beams, catching a heavy crystal service on a buffet in the dining area beyond the couch. The gleaming cut glass filled the room with a golden light that seemed somehow artificial, an unreal glow that left Raphael bemused, almost powerless. Here and there on the dark walls muted watercolors added that touch of something indefinable that spoke of class.

“Pretty fancy, ‘Bel.” Flood looked around approvingly.

“It’s comfortable.” She shrugged. “The kitchen’s through here.” She led them into a cheery kitchen with a round table near the broad window that faced a wooden deck that overlooked the sparkling waters of the lake. An easel was set up on the deck with a partially finished watercolor resting on it.

Raphael looked out at the painting and recognized its similarity to the ones hanging in the living room. “You do your own, I see,” he said, pointing.

“It passes the time.” She said it deprecatingly, but he could see that she was rather proud of her efforts.

“Say,” Flood said, stepping out onto the deck, “that’s really pretty good, ‘Bel. When did you get into this? I thought dance was your thing.”

Raphael and Isabel went out onto the deck and stood looking at the watercolor. She laughed, her voice rich. “That was a long time ago, Junior. I found out that I’m really too lazy for all the practice, and I’m getting a little hippy for it. Male dancers are quite small, and it got to be embarrassing the way their eyes bulged during the lifts.” She smiled at Raphael. “Good grief, Raphael,” she said, her eyes widening, “what on earth did you do to your arm?” She pointed at the large, dark bruise on his upper bicep, a bruise exposed by his short-sleeved shirt.

“The Angel here is our star athlete,” Flood told her. “Yesterday afternoon he single-handedly destroyed an opposing football team.”

“Really?” She sounded interested.

“He’s exaggerating.” Raphael was slightly embarrassed. “There were ten other people out there, too. I just got lucky a few times.”

“That looks dreadfully sore.” She touched the bruise lightly.

“You should see his chest and stomach.” Flood shuddered. “He’s a major disaster area.”

“They’ll fade.” Raphael tried to shrug it off. “I heal fairly fast.” He looked out over the lake.

“Come along now, you two,” Isabel ordered. “I’ll show you where the bar is, and then I have to get cleaned up and change.” She led them back through the kitchen into the dining room. She pointed out the small portable bar to Flood and then went upstairs. A few minutes later they heard a shower start running.

“Well,” Flood said, busily at work with the shaker, “what do you think of our ‘Bel?”

“She’s a lady,” Raphael said simply.

Flood laughed. “You’re naive, Raphael. ‘Bel has breeding; she’s got class; she’s got exquisite manners and taste; but she’s not a lady—as I’m sure you’ll soon discover.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Raphael asked, a little irritated by Flood’s flippancy.

“You’ll find out.” Flood began to rattle the shaker.

“Isn’t it a little early for that?” Raphael asked, sitting carefully in one of the large chairs in front of the fireplace in the living room.

“Never too early.” Flood’s tone was blithe. “It’ll anesthetize all your aches and pains. You’re gimping around like an arthritic camel.” He came into the living room, handed Raphael a glass, and then sprawled on the leather couch.

“Nice house,” Raphael noted, looking around, “but isn’t it sort of—well—masculine?”

“That’s ‘Bel for you.” Flood laughed. “It’s all part of her web. ‘Bel’s not like other women—that’s why I like her so much. She’s very predatory, and she usually gets exactly what she wants.”

“You’re a snide bastard, Flood.”

“Bight on.” Flood laughed easily. “It’s part of my charm.”

A half hour later Isabel came back down in a flowered print dress that was sleeveless and cut quite low in front. Raphael found that he had difficulty keeping his eyes where they belonged. The woman was full-figured, and her arms plumply rounded. There was about her a kind of ripeness, an opulence that the firm-figured but angular girls of his own age lacked. Her every move seemed somehow suggestive, and Raphael was troubled by his reactions to her.

They passed the afternoon quietly. They had lunch and a few more drinks afterward. Isabel and Raphael talked at some length about nothing in particular while Flood sat back watching, his hard, bright eyes moving from one to the other and an indecipherable expression on his face.

In Raphael’s private place he told himself that he really had no business being there. ‘Bel and Flood were aliens to him—bright, beautiful, and totally meaningless. With a kind of startled perception he saw that sophisticated people are sophisticated for that very reason. Meaningless people have to be sophisticated, because they have nothing else.

When it grew dark, they changed clothes and went over to a supper club in Oswego. Raphael rode with Isabel in her sedan, and Flood followed in his Triumph.

At dinner they laughed a great deal, and Raphael could see others in the restaurant glancing at them with eyebrows raised speculatively. Isabel was wearing a low-cut black cocktail dress that set off the satiny white sheen of her skin, and her hair, dark as night, was caught in a loose roll at the back of her neck. As Raphael continued to order more drinks he saw that there was about her an air of enormous sophistication that made him feel very proud just to be seen with her.

As the evening wore on and they lingered over cocktails, Raphael became increasingly convinced that everyone else in the room was covertly watching them, and he periodically forced his laughter and assumed an expression of supercilious boredom.

They had a couple more drinks, and then Raphael knocked over a water glass while he was attempting to light Isabel’s cigarette. He was filled with mortification and apologized profusely, noticing as he did that his words were beginning to slur. Isabel laughed and laid her white hand on his sleeve.

Then Flood was gone. Raphael could not remember when he had left. He forced his eyes to focus on Isabel, seeing the opulent rising mounds of creamy white flesh pressing out from the top of her dress and the enigmatic smile on her full lips.

“I’d better catch the check,” he slurred, fumbling for his wallet.

“It’s already been taken care of,” she assured him, still smiling and once again laying her hand lingeringly on his arm. “Shall we go?” She rose to her feet before he could clamber out of his seat to hold her chair.

He offered his arm, and laughing, she took it. They went outside. Once out in the cool night air, Raphael breathed deeply several times. “That’s better,” he said. “Stuffy in there.” He looked around. “Where the hell is Damon?”

“Junior?” She was unlocking her car. “He wanted to take a look around town. He’ll be along later.”

They climbed into the car and drove in silence back toward Isabel’s house. The night seemed very dark outside the car, and Raphael leaned his head back on the seat.

He awoke with a start when they pulled up in the drive.

They got out of the car and went into the house. He stumbled once on the steps, but caught himself in time.

Isabel turned on a dim light in one corner of the living room, then she stood looking at him, the strange smile still on her face. Quite deliberately she reached back and loosened her hair. It tumbled down her back, and she shook her head to free it. She looked at him, still smiling, and her eyes seemed to glow.

She extended her hand to him. “Shall we go up now?” she said.

v

The autumn proceeded. The leaves turned, the nights grew chill, and Raphael settled into the routine of his studies. The library became his sanctuary, a place to hide from the continuing distraction of Rood’s endless conversation.

It was not that he disliked Damon Flood, but rather that he found the lure of that sardonic flow of elaborate and rather stilted speech too great. It was too easy to lay aside his book and to allow himself to be swept along by the unending talk and the sheer force of Flood’s personality. And when he was not talking, Flood was singing. It was not the music itself that was so distracting, though Flood had an excellent singing voice. Rather it was the often obscene and always outrageous lyrics he composed, seemingly on the spur of the moment. Flood had a natural gift for parody, and his twisting of the content of the most familiar songs inevitably pulled Raphael’s attention from his book and usually prostrated him with helpless laughter. It was, in short, almost impossible to study while his roommate was around.

And so, more often than not, Raphael crossed the dark lawn in the evenings to the soaring cathedral that was the library; and there, in a pool of light from the study lamp, he bent to his books in the vast main hall beneath the high vault of the ceiling.

And sometimes he saw in another pool of light the intent face of the girl whose voice had so stirred him during his first few weeks on campus. They spoke once in a while, usually of material for the class they both attended, but it was all quite casual at first. The vibrant sound of her voice still struck him, but not as much as it had before he had met Isabel Drake.

If his weeks were consumed with study, his weekends were devoted to what he chose to feel was debauchery. Isabel Drake proved to be a woman of infinite variety and insatiable appetite. She seemed to delight in instructing and guiding him in what, a few months earlier, he would have considered perversion. He did not delude himself into believing that it was love. She was charmed by his innocence and took joy in his youthful vigor and stamina. It was so far from being love that sometimes on Sunday nights as he drove back to Portland, physically wrung out and even sore from his exertions, he felt that he had somehow been violated.

For the first few weekends Flood had accompanied him, delivering him, as it were, into Isabel’s hands. Then, almost as if he had assured himself that Raphael would continue the visits without him, he stopped going down to the lake. Without Flood’s presence, his knowing, sardonic eyes always watching, Isabel’s demeanor changed. She became more dominant, more demanding. Raphael sometimes had nightmares about her during the week, vivid, disconnected dreams of being suffocated by the warm, perfumed pillows of her breasts or crushed between the powerful white columns of her thighs. He began to dread the weekends, but the lure of her was too strong, and helplessly he delivered himself each Friday evening to her perfumed lair by the shores of the lake, where she waited—sometimes, he almost felt, lurked—in heavy-lidded anticipation.

“Have you read the Karpinsky book yet?” It was the girl, Marilyn Hamilton, and she spoke to him as they came out of the library one evening after it closed.

“I’m nearly finished with it,” he replied.

“I don’t know,” she said, falling into step beside him, “but it seemed to me that he evades the issue.”

“He does seem a little too pat,” Raphael agreed.

“Glib. Like someone who talks very fast so you don’t have time to spot the holes in his argument.”

They had stopped near the center of the broad lawn in front of Eliot Hall.

“Pardee seems to think a lot of him,” Raphael said.

“Oh yes,” the girl said, laughing slightly. The vibrance of her voice pierced him. “Mr. Pardee studied under Karpinsky at Columbia.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“My sister found out. She took the course a couple years ago. Mr. Pardee won’t mention it in class, of course, but it’s a good thing to know.” She suddenly mimicked their instructor’s gruff voice and deliberately antigrammatical usage. “Since he ain’t about to accept no disrespect.”

Raphael laughed, charmed by her.

She hesitated and then spoke without looking at him. “I saw you play in that game last month,” she told him quietly.

“Oh,” he said, “that. It wasn’t much of a game, really.”

“Not the way you played, it wasn’t. You destroyed them.”

“You think I overemphasized?” he asked, grinning.

“I’m trying to pay you a compliment, dammit.” Then she grinned back.

“Thank you.”

“I’m making a fool of myself, right?” “No, not really.”

“Anyway, I thought it was really spectacular—and I don’t like football very much.”

“It’s only a game.” He shrugged. “It’s more fun to play than it is to watch.”

“Doesn’t it hurt when you get tackled like that?”

“The idea is not to get tackled.”

“You’re a stubborn man, Raphael Taylor,” she accused. “It’s almost impossible to talk to you.” “Me?”

“And will you stop looking at me all the time. Every time I look up, there you are, watching me. You make me feel as if I don’t have any clothes on.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’ll start making faces at you if you don’t stop it,” she warned. “Then how would you feel?”

“The question is how are you going to feel when people start to think your gears aren’t meshing?”

“You’re impossible,” she said, but her voice was not really

angry. “I have to go home and study some more.” She turned abruptly and strode away with a curiously leggy gait that seemed at once awkward and almost childishly feminine.

“Marilyn,” he called after her.

She stopped and turned. “What?”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“No, you won’t. I’m going to hide under the table.” She stuck her tongue out at him, turned, and continued across the lawn. Raphael laughed.

Their growing friendship did not, of course, go unobserved. By the time it had progressed to the stage of going for coffee together at the Student Union Building, Flood became aware of it. “Raphael’s being unfaithful to you, ‘Bel,” he announced on one of his now-infrequent visits to the lake.

“Get serious,” Raphael told him, irritated and a little embarrassed.

“Don’t be a snitch, Junior,” Isabel said quite calmly. “Nobody likes a snitch.”

“I just thought you ought to know, ‘Bel.” Flood grinned maliciously. “Since I introduced you two, I feel a certain responsibility.” His eyes, however, were serious, even calculating.

“Our relationship isn’t that kind.” She still seemed unperturbed. “I don’t have any objections if Raphael has other diversions—any more than he’s upset by my little flings.”

Raphael looked at her quickly, startled and with a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Oh, my poor Angel,” she said, catching the look and laughing, “did you honestly think I was ‘saving myself for you? I have other friends, too, you know.”

Raphael was sick, and at the same time ashamed to realize that he was actually jealous.

In bed that night she brought it up again. She raised up on one elbow, her heavy breast touching his arm. “How is she?” she asked, “The other girl, I mean?”

“It’s not that kind of thing,” he answered sulkily. “We just

talk—have coffee together once in a while, that’s all.”

“Don’t be coy,” she said with a wicked little laugh, deliberately rubbing her still-erect nipple on his shoulder. “A young man who looks like you do could have the panties off half the girls in Portland inside a week.”

“I don’t go around taking people’s panties off.”

“You take mine off,” she disagreed archly.

“That’s different.” He moved his shoulder away.

“Why is it different?”

“She’s not that kind of a girl.”

“Every girl is that kind of a girl.” She laughed, leaning forward so that the ripe breast touched him again. “We’re all alike. Is she as good as I am?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, ‘Bel. Why don’t we just skip all this? Nothing’s going on. Flood’s got a dirty mind, that’s all.”

“Of course he has. Am I embarrassing you, sweet? We shouldn’t be embarrassed by anything—not here.”

“What about those other men?” he accused, trying to force her away from the subject.

“What about them?”

“I thought—well—” He broke off helplessly, not knowing how to pursue the subject.

“Are you really upset because I sleep with other men once in a while? Are you really jealous, Angel?”

“Well—no,” he lied, “not really.”

“We never made any promises, did we? Did you think we were ‘going steady’ or something?” The persistent nipple continued its stroking of his shoulder.

“I just didn’t think you were—well—promiscuous is all.”

“Of course I’m promiscuous.” She laughed, kissing him. “I had you in bed within twelve hours of the moment I met you. Is that the sort of thing you’d expect from a nice girl? I’m not exactly a bitch in heat, but a little variety never hurt anyone, did it?”

He couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Don’t sulk, Angel,” she said almost maternally as she pulled

him to her again. “You’ve got my full attention at the moment. That’s about the best I can promise you.”

His flesh responded to her almost against his will. He’d have liked to have been stubborn, but she was too skilled, too expert.

“You should try her, Raphael,” Isabel said almost conversationally a couple of minutes later. “A little variety might be good for you, too. And who knows? Maybe she’s better at it than I am.” She laughed, and then the laugh traded off into a series of little gasps and moans as she began to move feverishly under him.

vi

The idea had not been there before. In Raphael’s rather unsophisticated views on such matters, girls were divided into two distinct categories—those you took to bed and those you took to school dances. It was not that he was actually naive, it was just that such classification made his relations with girls simpler, and Raphael’s views on such things were simplistic. He had been raised in a small, remote city that had a strongly puritanical outlook; his Canadian mother had been quite firm about being “nice,” a firmness in part deriving from her lurking fear that some brainless sixteen-year-old tramp might unexpectedly present her with a squalling grandchild. Raphael’s football coach at high school, moreover, had taught Sunday school at the Congregational church, and his locker-room talks almost as frequently dealt with chastity as they did with the maiming of middle linebackers. Raphael’s entire young life had been filled with one long sermon that concentrated almost exclusively on one of the “thou shalt nots,” the only amendment having been the reluctant addition of”—with nice girls.” Raphael knew, of course, that other young men did not make a distinction between “nice” girls and the other kind, but it seemed somehow unsporting to him to seduce “nice” girls when the other sort was available—something on the order of poaching a protected species—and sportsmanship had been drilled into him for so long that its sanctions had the force of religious dictum. Isabel’s sly insinuations, however, had planted the idea, and in the weeks that followed he found himself frequently looking at Marilyn Hamilton in a way he would not have considered before.

His relationship with the girl passed through all the normal stages—coffee dates in the Student Union, a movie or two, the first kiss, and the first tentative gropings in the front seat of a car parked in a secluded spot. They walked together in the rain; they held hands and they talked together endlessly and very seriously about things that were not particularly significant. They studied together in the dim library, and they touched each other often. They also drove frequently to a special spot they had found outside town where they parked, and in the steamy interior of Raphael’s car with the radio playing softly and the misted windows curtaining them from the outside, they partially undressed each other and clung and groped and moaned in a frenzy of desire and frustration as they approached but never quite consummated the act that was becoming more and more inevitable.

Flood, of course, watched, one eyebrow cocked quizzically, gauging the progress of the affair by Raphael’s increasing irritability and the lateness of his return to their room. “No score yet, I see,” he’d observe dryly upon Raphael’s return on such nights.

“Why don’t you mind your own damned business?” Raphael would snap, and Flood would chuckle, roll over in his bed, and go back to sleep.

In those weeks Isabel became a virtual necessity to Raphael. With her he found a release for the tensions that had built up to an almost unbearable pitch during the course of the week. She gloated over the passion he brought to her, and sent him back to Portland on Sunday nights sufficiently exhausted to keep him short of the point of no return with the girl. The knowledge that Isabel was there served as a kind of safety valve for him, making it possible for him to draw back at that last crucial instant each time.

And so autumn ground drearily on with dripping skies and the

now-bare trees glistening wet and black in the rain. Isabel grew increasingly waspish, and finally announced that she was leaving for a few weeks. “I’ve got to get some sun,” she said. “This rain’s driving me up the wall.”

“Where are you going?” Raphael asked her.

“Phoenix maybe. Vegas—I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet. I’ve got to get away from the rain for a while.”

There was nothing he could say. He knew he had no real hold on her, and he even welcomed the idea in a way. His visits had become almost a duty, and he had begun to resent her unspoken demands upon him.

After he had seen her off at the airport outside Portland, he walked back to his car almost with the sense of having been liberated.

On his first weekend date with Marilyn he felt vaguely guilty—almost like an unfaithful husband. The weekends had always belonged to Isabel. He had not been entirely honest with Marilyn about those weekends. It was not that he had lied, exactly; rather, he had let her believe that Isabel was elderly, an old friend of his family, and that his weekly visits were in the nature of an obligation.

After the movie they drove to their special spot in the country and began the customary grappling. Perhaps because the weekends had always been denied to her and this evening was somehow stolen and therefore illicit, Marilyn responded to his caresses with unusual passion, shuddering and writhing under his hands. Finally she pulled free of him for an instant, looked at him, and spoke quite simply. “Let’s,” she said, her voice thick and vibrant.

And so they did.

It was awkward, since they were both quite tall, and the steering wheel was horribly in the way, but they managed.

And afterward she cried. He comforted her as best he could and later drove her home, feeling more than a little ashamed of himself. There had been some fairly convincing evidence that, until that night, Marilyn had been one of the girls one would normally take to a school dance.

The next time they used the backseat. It was more satisfactory, and this time she did not cry. Raphael, however, was still a bit ashamed and wished they had not done it. Something rather special seemed to have been lost, and he regretted it.

After several weeks Isabel returned, her fair skin slightly tanned and her temper improved.

Flood accompanied Raphael to the lake on the first weekend, his eyes bright and a knowing smile on his face.

Raphael was moody and stalked around the house, stopping now and then to stare out at the rain, and drinking more than was usual for him. It was time, he decided, to break off the affair with Isabel. She was too wise for him, too experienced, and in a way he blamed her for having planted that evil seed that had grown to its full flower that night in the front seat of his car. If it had not been for her insinuating suggestions, his relationship with Marilyn might still be relatively innocent. Beyond that, she repelled him now. Her overripe figure seemed to have taken on a faint tinge of rottenness, and the smooth sophistication that had attracted him at first seemed instead to be depravity now—even degeneracy. He continued to drink, hoping to incapacitate himself and thus avoid that inevitable and now-disgusting conclusion of the evening.

“Our Angel has fallen, I’m afraid,” Flood said after dinner when they were all sitting in front of the crackling fireplace.

“Why don’t you mind your own business, Damon?” Raphael said, his words slurring.

“Has he been naughty?” Isabel asked, amused.

“Repeatedly. He’s been coming in with claw marks on his back from shoulder to hip.”

“Why don’t you keep your goddamn mouth shut?” Raphael snapped.

“Be nice, dear,” Isabel chided him, “and don’t try to get muscular. My furniture’s too expensive for that sort of foolishness.”

“I just want him to keep his mouth shut, that’s all.” Raphael’s words sounded mushy even to him.

“All right then. You tell me. Was it that girl?”

He glared sulkily into the fireplace.

“This won’t be much of a conversation if you won’t talk to me. Did she really scratch you, Angel? Let me see.” She came across the room to him and tugged at his shirt.

“Lay off, ‘Bel,” he warned, pushing her hands away. “I’m not in the mood for any of that.”

“Oh”—she laughed—“it’s true then. I’ve never liked scratching. It’s unladylike.”

“How the hell would you know?”

Her eyes narrowed slightly, and her voice took on an edge. “All the usual things, I suppose? Parked car, clumsy little gropings in the dark, the steering wheel?”

Raphael’s face flamed. She saw the flush and laughed, a deep, throaty sound that made him flush even more. “You did!” she exulted. “In a car seat! My poor Angel, I thought I’d taught you better. Are motels so expensive now? Or couldn’t you wait? Was she a virgin?”

“Why don’t we just drop this?”

“I think the boy’s in love, Junior,” she said to Flood.

“Here’s to love.” Flood toasted, raising his glass. “And to steering wheels, of course.”

“Oh, that’s cute, Hood,” Raphael said sarcastically. It sounded silly even to him, but he didn’t care.

“Don’t be nasty, dear.” Isabel’s tone was motherly. “It doesn’t become you.”

It was that note in her voice more than anything—that tolerant, amused, superior tone that finally infuriated him. “Don’t patronize me, ‘Bel,” he told her, getting up clumsily. “I won’t take that—not from you.”

“I don’t think I Eke your tone, Raphael.”

“Good. At least I managed to insult you. I wasn’t really sure I could.”

“I’ve had about enough of this.”

“I had enough a long time ago.” He picked up his jacket. “Where are you going?”

“Someplace where the air’s a little cleaner.” “Don’t be stupid. You’re drunk.” “What if I am?” He started to lurch toward the door. “Stop him, Junior.”

Raphael stopped and turned toward Flood, his jaw thrust forward pugnaciously.

“Not me,” Flood said, raising both hands, palms out. “If you want to go, go ahead.” His eyes, however, were savage.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Raphael turned and stumbled out the door into the rain.

“Raphael!” Isabel called to him from the porch as he fumbled with his car keys. “Don’t be ridiculous. Come back into the house.”

“No thanks, ‘Bel,” he replied. “You cost too much for me. I can’t afford you anymore.” He got the door open and climbed into the car.

“Raphael,” she called again.

He started the car and spun away, the rear end fishtailing and wet gravel spraying out behind him.

Because he knew that Flood might try to follow him, he avoided the freeway, sticking instead to the narrow, two-lane country roads that paralleled it. He was still angry and more than a little drunk. He drove too fast on the unfamiliar roads and skidded often—heart-stopping little drifts as he rounded curves, and wrenching, side-to-side slides as he fought to bring the car back under control.

It had all been stupid, of course—overdramatic and even childish. Despite his anger he knew that his outburst had been obviously contrived. Inwardly he almost writhed with embarrassment. It was all too pat and far too easy to attach the worst motives to. Quite bluntly, he had found someone else and had deliberately dumped Isabel. He had been bad-mannered, ungrateful, and even a little bit contemptible. He knew he should go back, but he continued to roar down the wet, winding road, stubbornly resisting even his own best impulses.

He rounded a sharp right-hand curve, and the car went almost completely out of control. In a single, lucid flash he saw directly ahead of him the large white wooden “X” on a pole at the side of the road and the glaring light bearing down on him. As he drove his foot down on the brake, he heard the roaring noise. His tires howled as the car spun and skidded broadside toward the intersection.

The locomotive klaxon bellowed at him as he skidded, tail-first now, onto the tracks in front of the train.

The world was suddenly filled with noise and light and a great stunning shock. He was thrown helplessly around inside the car as it began to tumble, disintegrating, in front of the grinding mass of the locomotive.

He was hurled against a door, felt it give, and he was partially thrown out. Then the remains of the car rolled over on top of him, and he lost consciousness.

vii

At first there was only shattering, mind-destroying pain. Though he feared the unconsciousness as a kind of death, his mind, whimpering, crept back into it gratefully each time he awoke to find the pain still there.

Later—how much later he would never know—there were drugs that stunned him into insensibility. Vacant-eyed and uncaring, he would watch the slow progression of light outside the window of the room. It grew light, and it stayed light for a while, and then it grew dark again. And always, hiding somewhere below the smooth surface, the pain twisted and heaved like some enormous beast reaching up out of the depths to drag him down out of the billowy gray indifference of the drugs and feed upon his shrieking body again. Sometimes, when the drugs were wearing off and their thick, insulating cloud was growing thin, he would cry, knowing that the beast was almost upon him once more, feeling the first feathery touches of its claws. And then they would come and give him more of the drugs, and it would be all right.

There were many bandages. At times it was almost as if the whole bed was one enormous bandage, and there seemed to be a kind of wire cage over his hips. The cage bothered him because it tented the bedclothes up in front of him, so that he could not see the foot of the bed, but when he tried to move the cage, they came and gave him more drugs and strapped his hands down.

And then his mother was there, accompanied by his uncle Harry. Harry Taylor’s usually florid face blanched as he approached the bed, and Raphael vaguely wondered what could be so disturbing. It was, however, his mother’s shriek that half roused him. That animal cry of insupportable loss and the look of mindless horror on her face as she entered the room reached down into the gray fog where he hid from the pain and brought him up, partially sitting, staring beyond the tented cage over his hips at the unbelievable vacancy on the left side of the bed.

It was a mistake, of course, some trick of the eye. Quite plainly, he could feel his left leg—toes, foot, ankle, knee, and thigh. He half sat, feeling the leg in exquisite detail while his eyes, sluggish and uncomprehending, told him that it was no longer there.

viii

“Taylor,” the blocky, balding man in the wheelchair snapped, “get your weight off your armpits.”

“I was just resting, Mr. Quillian.” Raphael lifted his body with his hands.

“Don’t rest on your armpits. You remember what I told you about crutch paralysis?”

“All right. Don’t make a federal case out of it.” He went back to his slow, stumping shuffle back and forth across the small, gymlike therapy room. “This is bullshit,” he said finally, collapsing into his wheelchair near the door. “I told you people it was too early for this.” He sat massaging his aching hands. “They haven’t even taken the dressings off yet.”

“Taylor,” Quillian said coldly, “if you lie around for another two weeks, you won’t be strong enough to lift your own dead ass. Try it again.”

“Screw it. I’m tired.”

“Do you enjoy being an invalid, Taylor?”

“Come on,” Raphael objected. “This is hard work.”

“Sure it is. You afraid of hard work?”

“Where’s the difference? I mean, I’ve seen people on crutches before—sprained ankles, broken legs—stuff like that. They pick it up right away. What makes it so damned hard for me?”

“Balance, Taylor, balance. A broken leg is still there. You’re a one-legged man now. You’ve lost nearly a fifth of your body weight. Your center of gravity is in your chest instead of your hips. You’ve got to learn balance all over again.”

“Not all at once. I’m tired. I’m going back to my room.”

“Quitting, Taylor? I thought you were an athlete. Is this the way you used to win football games?”

“I’m hurting, man. I need a shot.”

“Sure you do.” Quillian’s voice was contemptuous. “But let’s not lie to each other. Let’s call it by its right name. You need a fix, don’t you? You’re a junkie, Taylor, and you need a fix.”

Raphael spun his chair around angrily and wheeled himself out of the therapy room.

Later, in the hazy euphoria the drug always brought, Raphael lay in his bed and tried to bring his mind to bear on the problem. “Junkie,” he said, trying the word out. It sounded funny to him, and he giggled. “Junkie,” he said again, and giggled some more.

A day or so later a starched nurse came into his room with a brightly professional smile on her face. “You have a visitor, Mr. Taylor,” she said.

Raphael, gritting his teeth at the pain that seemed to have settled in his phantom knee and knowing that it was still hours until they would give him another shot, turned irritably toward her. “Who is it?” he asked harshly. “A Miss Hamilton.”

“No! I don’t want to see her. Send her away.”

“Oh, come on,” she coaxed. “A visit might cheer you up.”

“No!” Raphael shouted. “Now get the hell out of here and leave me alone!” He turned his face toward the wall.

After the nurse had left and he was sure that he was alone, he cried.

Her name was Miss Joan Shimp, and Raphael hated her from almost the first moment he laid eyes on her. She was led into the room by the hospital chaplain, who said a few nice things about social workers and then left. Miss Shimp wore a businesslike suit. No starched white uniform for old Shimpsie. Nobody was going to ask her to empty a bedpan by mistake. She was a pear-shaped young woman with enormous hips, narrow shoulders, and no noticeable bosom. Her complexion was acne-ravaged, and she had dun-colored hair, an incipient mustache, a nasal voice, and what might best be described as an attitude problem. “Well now,” she started briskly, “how are we doing?” The nurses on the floor had all learned rather early not to say “we” to Raphael.

“I don’t know about you, lady,” Raphael replied in a flat, unfriendly tone, “but I’m doing lousy.”

“Self-pity, Mr. Taylor? We must avoid self-pity.”

“Why? It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

“This just won’t do,” she scolded.

“We’re not going to get along, lady. Why don’t you just go away?”

“We can play this either way, Taylor.” Her voice was sharp. “You’ve been assigned to me, and I am going to do my job. There are programs for people like you, and like it or not, you are going to participate.”

“Really? Don’t bet the farm on it.”

Things deteriorated rapidly from there.

Shimpsie talked about programs as if programs were holy things that could solve all the world’s problems. Raphael ignored her. His half-drugged mind was not particularly retentive, but he soon had a pile of books at his bedside, and every time Shimpsie entered his room, he would select a book at random and use it as a barrier. In one of his more outrageous moments Flood had once described social workers as representatives of a generation of bright young ladies who don’t know how to type. Raphael clung to that definition. It seemed to help for some reason.

Shimpsie asked probing questions about his background and family. She liked the phrase “dysfunctional family,” and she was desperately interested in his “feelings” and “relationships.” Shimpsie, he felt, was queer for feelings and relationships. On one occasion she even screamed at him, “Don’t think! Feel!”

“And abandon twenty-five thousand years of human development? Not very likely, Shimpsie.”

“Miss Shimp!” she snapped.

“Whatever.” He said it as insultingly as possible. “Angleworms feel, Shimpsie. So do oysters, I imagine. I don’t know about you, but I hope I’ve come further than that.”

Just for the sake of variety he would sometimes lie to her, inventing outrageous stories about a background as “dysfunctional” as he could concoct. She lapped it up, her eyes begging for more.

He hated her with a passion, but he began to long for her visits. In a strange sort of way Shimpsie was therapeutic.

“That’s better, Taylor,” Quillian said a week later. “You’re starting to get the rhythm now. Don’t stump. Make it smooth. Set the crutches down, don’t jab at the ground with them. Try to keep from jarring your arms and shoulders.”

Raphael, sweating profusely, grimly moved back and forth across the therapy room, gritting his teeth at the burning pain in his arms.

“Why are you picking on Miss Shimp?” Quillian said in a half-amused way.

“Shimpsie? I pick on her because she’s an asshole.” Quillian laughed. “Never heard a woman called an asshole before.”

“Would you prefer asshole-ess?”

“Asshole or not, you’d better at least try to get along with her, Taylor.”

“Why should I bother?”

“Because you can’t get out of here without her okay. She has to sign a release before they’ll discharge you. Okay, enough bullshit. Get back to work.”

A week or so later Uncle Harry made another trip to Portland, alone this time. “Good to see you again, Rafe,” he said, shaking Raphael’s hand. He glanced at the crutches leaning in the corner. “I see that you’re getting around now.”

Raphael looked at him through the haze of the shot he had just been given. “What brings you down here, Uncle Harry?”

“Oh …” his uncle replied a bit evasively, “this and that. I thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing.”

“I’m coming along.”

“Good for you. Have they given you any idea yet about when you’ll be getting out of here?”

Raphael shifted in the bed, wincing slightly. “I imagine that it’s going to be a while longer.”

“You going back to school when you get out?”

“I haven’t really thought about it yet.”

Uncle Harry gave him a speculative look. “I’m going to give this to you straight, Rafe. I think we know each other well enough for that.”

“Okay,” Raphael replied, “what is it?”

“It’s your mother, Rafe.”

“Mom?”

“She’s always been a delicate woman, you know, and I’m afraid all of this has been too much for her—your father’s death, your accident, all of it. She’s a little—well—disoriented. Her doctors say

that she’ll come out of it eventually, but it’s going to take time.”

“I’d better go home. I can get around now—a little. I’ll see if they’ll discharge me.”

“Uh—that’s going to be a problem, Rafe. You see, what’s happened is that your mother has—well, sort of retreated. I mean, she’s not catatonic or anything, but it’s just that in her mind none of this has really happened. As far as she’s concerned, your father’s away on a business trip, and you’re off at college. She’s perfectly happy—talks about you both all the time. The doctors think that it might be best to keep her that way for the time being. If you came back with your—on crutches, that is—she’d have to face things she’s just not ready to come to grips with yet.”

“I see.”

“I hate to have to be the one to tell you, but it’s better coming from me than from somebody else. Just give her a little time, that’s all. Write to her from time to time—that sort of thing. I’ll keep you posted on her progress.”

“Thanks for telling me, Uncle Harry.”

“That’s what family is for. If you’re not too tired, there are a couple of other things I need to discuss with you.” “I’m fine,” Raphael told him.

“Okay, Rafe.” Uncle Harry opened his briefcase. “Financially you’re pretty well off.” “Sir?”

“You’ll have a fairly comfortable income. Edgar—your father—had a number of insurance policies. Edgar was always very interested in insurance.”

“He was a careful man.”

“That he was, Rafe. That he was. The policies will cover all your medical expenses here and give you an income besides—not very big, actually. Walking-around money is about all. You’ll also be receiving Social Security disability benefits.”

“I’ve never had a job, Uncle Harry—not a real one. I’m not eligible for Social Security.”

“You worked for four summers at the mill back in Port Angeles.”

“That wasn’t a real job, Uncle Harry. The owner hired me because of my father—and because I was a football player.”

“They withheld Social Security from your check, didn’t they?” “Yes.”

“Then you’re entitled. Don’t rush out and make any down payments on any castles, though. What’s really got you set up is the settlement you got from the railroad.”

“Settlement? What settlement?”

“I told you about that the last time I was here. I had you sign some papers, remember?”

“To be honest with you, Uncle Harry, there are some big gaps in what I remember. The painkillers sort of erase things.”

“I suppose they do at that. Well, to cut it short, the railroad’s insurance company got in touch with me not long after your accident. They made an offer.”

“What for? It was my fault. I was drunk and driving too fast. It wasn’t the train’s fault.”

“You don’t necessarily have to make an issue of that, Rafe—not that it really matters now, I guess. The railroad didn’t want a messy court case. Jurors in this part of the country are a little unpredictable where railroads are concerned. It’s cheaper in the long run for the railroad to make an offer in any case where there are personal injuries. Those ten-million-dollar judgments really bite into company profits. Anyway, you’ll be getting a monthly check from them. I still wouldn’t get my heart set on any castles, though. If you don’t go hog-wild, you’ll get by okay. I’ll put the money—your settlement, your insurance, and your Social Security check all in the bank back home for you. You remember Anderson, don’t you?”

“The banker?”

“Right. He remembers you from the football field, and he’ll take care of everything for you. You’ll be getting a check every month. I put a few thousand in the hospital safe for you.”

“A few thousand?”

“You’re going to have unusual expenses when you leave the hospital, Raphael. I don’t want you to run short. I’m afraid you’ll find out just how little it is when you get out on the street. You’re set financially, so you can just relax until you get back on your feet again.” Harry stopped abruptly and looked away. “I’m sorry, but you know what I mean.”

“Sure.”

“I’ll need your signature on a few things,” his uncle went on. “Power of attorney for you and your mother—that kind ofthing. That way you can concentrate on getting well and just leave everything else up to me. Okay?”

“Why not?”

“Mr. Quillian,” Raphael said to his therapist a few days later while resting on his crutches.

“What is it, Taylor?” the balding man in the wheelchair asked him.

“Did you have any problems with all the drugs they give us?” “Jesus Christ, Taylor! I’ve got a broken back. Of course I had a problem with drugs. I fought drugs for five years.” “How did you beat it?”

“Beat it? Beat it, boy?” Quillian exploded. “You never beat it. Sometimes—even now—I’d give my soul for one of those shots you get every other hour.”

“All right, then. How did you stop?”

“How? You just stop, boy. You just stop. You just don’t take any more.”

“All right,” Raphael said. “I can do that if I have to. Now, when do I get my wooden leg?”

Quillian looked at him. “What?”

“My peg leg? Whatever the hell you call it?”

“Prosthesis, Taylor. The word is prosthesis. Haven’t you talked with your doctor yet?”

“He’s too busy. Is there something else I’m supposed to know?”

Quillian looked away for a moment, then looked back, his face angry. “Dammit,” he swore. “I’m not supposed to get mixed up in this.” He spun his wheelchair away and rolled across the room to a file cabinet. “Come over here, Taylor.” He jerked open a cabinet drawer and leafed through until he found a large brown envelope.

Raphael crutched across the room, his movements smoother now.

“Over to the viewer,” Quillian said harshly, wheeled, and snapped the switch on the fluorescent viewer. He stuck an X-ray picture on the plate.

“What’s that?” Raphael asked.

“That’s you, Taylor. That’s what’s left of you. Full front, lower segment. You don’t have a left hip socket. The left side of your pelvis is shattered. There’s no way that side of you could support your weight. There won’t be any prosthesis for you, Taylor. You’re on crutches for the rest of your life, boy. You might as well get that down in your mind.”

Raphael stood on his crutches, looking at the X ray. “All right. I can live with that if I have to.”

“You still want to try to get off the dope?”

“Yes.” Raphael was still looking at the X ray, a horrible suspicion growing as he looked at the savagely disrupted remains of his pelvis that the shadowy picture revealed. “I think it’s time I got my head back together again.”

ix

“There really wasn’t any alternative, Raphael,” the doctor told him. “The damage was so extensive that there just wasn’t anything left to salvage. We were lucky to be able to restore normal urinary function.”

“That’s the reason I’ve got this tube?” Raphael asked. “The catheter? Yes. That’s to allow the bladder time to heal. We should be able to remove it soon. There’ll be some discomfort at first, but that’ll pass and the function will be normal.”

“Then there was no damage to the—uh—”

“Some, but we were able to repair that—to a degree. That’s a pretty tricky area to work with. My guess is that even if we’d been able to save the scrotal area and one or both testes, normal sexual function probably couldn’t have been restored.”

“Then I’m a eunuch.”

“That’s a very old-fashioned term, Raphael,” the doctor said disapprovingly.

Raphael laughed bitterly. “It’s an old-fashioned kind of condition. Will my voice change—all that kind of thing?”

“That’s mythology. That kind of thing only happens if the removal takes place before puberty. Your voice won’t change, and your beard won’t fall out. You can check with an endocrinologist periodically if you like, but it won’t really be necessary.”

“All right,” Raphael said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He’d begun to sweat again, and there was an unpleasant little twitching in his left hip.

“Are you all right?” the doctor asked, looking at him with concern.

“I can live with it.” Raphael’s left foot felt terribly cold.

“Why don’t I have them increase your medication for a few days?” the doctor suggested.

“No,” Raphael said sharply. He lifted himself up and got his crutches squared away.

“In time it’ll begin to be less important, Raphael,” the doctor said sympathetically.

“Sure. Thanks for your time. I know you’re busy.”

“Can you make it back to your room okay?”

“I can manage it.” Raphael turned and left the doctor’s office.

Without the drugs he found that he slept very little. After nine, when the visitors left, the hospital became quiet, but never wholly silent. When he found his hand twitching, reaching almost of its own volition for the bell that would summon the nurse with the needle, he would get out of bed, take his crutches, and wander around in the halls. The effort and the concentration it required to walk helped to keep his mind off his body and its craving.

His arms and shoulders were stronger now, and Quillian had given him his permanent crutches. They were called Canadian crutches, a term that seemed very funny to Raphael for some reason. They had leather cuffs that fit over his forearms, and they angled slightly at the handgrips. Using them was much less awkward, and he began to develop the smooth, almost stately pace of the one-legged man.

He haunted the halls of the hospital during the long hours of the night, listening to the murmurs and the pain-filled moans of the sick and the dying. Although he realized that it might have been merely coincidence, a series of random occurrences of an event that could happen at any time, Raphael became persuaded that most people die at night. Usually they died quietly, but not always. Sometimes, in the exhaustion with which he sandbagged his craving body to sleep toward the morning of each interminable night, he wondered if it might not somehow be him. It seemed almost as if his ghosting passage down the dim halls, like the turbulence in the wake of a passing ship, reached in through the doors and walls to draw out those teetering souls. Sometimes in those last moments before sleep he almost saw himself as the Angel of Death.

Once, during his restless midnight wandering, he heard a man screaming in agony. He angrily crutched his way to the nurses’ station. “Why don’t you give him a shot?” he demanded.

“It wouldn’t do any good,” the starched young nurse replied sadly. “He’s an alcoholic. His liver’s failed. Nothing works with that. He’s dying, and there’s nothing we can give him to relieve the pain.”

“You didn’t give him enough,” Raphael told her, his voice very quiet, even deadly.

“We’ve given him the maximum dosage. Any more would kill him.”

“So?”

She was still quite young, so her ideals had not yet been eroded away. She stared at Raphael, her face deathly white. And then the tears began to run slowly down her cheeks.

Shimpsie noted from Raphael’s chart that he had been refusing the painkilling medication, and she disapproved. “You must take your medication, Raphael,” she chided. “Why?”

“Because the doctors know what’s best for you.”

He made an indelicate sound. “I’ve got the free run of the hospital, Shimpsie,” he told her. “I’ve been in the doctors’ lounge, and I’ve heard them talking. Don’t bullshit me about how much doctors know. They’re plumbers and pill pushers. I haven’t heard an original thought from one of them since I’ve been here.”

“Why do you go out of your way to be so difficult?”

“It’s an attention-getting device, Shimpsie.” He smiled at her sweetly. “I want you all to remember me. I quit taking the goddamn dope because I don’t want to get hooked. I’ve got enough problems already.”

“There are programs to help you break that habit,” she assured him. Her voice was actually earnest.

“You’ve got a program for everything, haven’t you, Shimpsie? You send a couple of orderlies to my room about nine times a week to drag me to meetings—meetings of the lame, the halt, and the blind—where we all sit around spilling our guts for you. If you want to fondle guts, go fondle somebody else’s. Mine are just fine the way they are.”

“Why can’t I get through to you? I’m only trying to help.”

“I don’t need help, Shimpsie. Not yours, anyway.”

“You want to do it ‘your way’? Every client starts out singing ‘My Way.’ You’ll come around eventually.”

“Don’t make any bets. As I recall, I warned you that you weren’t going to enjoy this. You’d save yourself a lot of grief if you just gave up on me.”

“Oh no, Taylor. I never give up. You’ll come around—because if you don’t, you’ll stay here until you rot. We’ll grow old together, Taylor, because you won’t get out of here until I sign you off. Think about it.” She turned to leave.

He couldn’t let her get in the last word like that. He absolutely couldn’t. “Oh, Shimpsie?” he said mildly.

“Yes?”

“You really shouldn’t get so close to my bed, you know. I haven’t gotten laid for a long time. Besides, you’ve got a nice big can, and I’m a compulsive fanny-patter.”

She fled.

Finally, when the craving for the drugs had almost gone and the last dressings had been removed to reveal the puckered, angry red new scars on his hip and groin, when the Christmas season was upon them, Flood finally came to visit.

Their meeting was awkward, since there was very little they could really talk about. Raphael could sense in Flood that stifling unease all hospital visitors have. They talked desultorily of school, which was out for the Christmas holiday; of the weather, which was foul; and of nearly anything else except those uncomfortable subjects that by unspoken mutual consent they avoided.

“I brought your luggage and books and your other stuff,” Flood said. “I decided to get an apartment off campus next semester, and I was pretty sure you wouldn’t want the college to store your things. They tend to be a little careless.”

“Thanks, Damon.”

“Are you going to be coming back to school when you get out of here?” Flood asked, a curiously intent look in his dark eyes.

“I haven’t decided yet. I think I’ll wait a semester or so—get things together first.”

“Probably not a bad idea. Tackle one thing at a time.” Flood walked to the window and stood looking out at the rain.

“How’s ‘Bel?” Raphael asked, crossing that unspoken boundary.

“Fine—as far as I know, anyway. I haven’t been going down

there much. ‘Bel gets a little tiresome after a while, and I’ve been studying pretty hard.”

“You?” Raphael laughed. “I didn’t think you knew how.”

Flood turned back from the window, grinning. “I’m not much of a scholar,” he admitted, “but I didn’t think it’d look good to flunk out altogether. Old J.D.’d like nothing better than to find an excuse to cut off my allowance.”

“Look,” Raphael said uncomfortably, “I really ran my mouth that night at ‘Bel’s place. If you happen to see her, tell her I apologize, okay?”

“What the hell? You were drunk. Nobody takes offense at anything you say when you’re drunk. Besides, you were probably right about her. I told you about that, didn’t I?”

“All the same,” Raphael insisted, “tell her I apologize.”

“Sure”—Flood shrugged—“if I see her. You need anything?”

“No. I’m fine.”

“I’d better get going then. I’ve got a plane to catch.” “Going home for Christmas?”

“It’s expected. Scenic Grosse Pointe for the holidays. Hot spit. At least it’ll pacify the old man—keep those checks coming.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to have to get cranked up. I’ll look you up when I get back, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Take care, Gabriel,” Flood said softly, and then he left. They did not shake hands, and the inadvertent slip passed almost unnoticed.

The hospital became intolerable now that his body was mending. Raphael wanted out—away—anyplace but in the hospital. He became even more irritable, and the nurses pampered him, mistakenly believing that he was disappointed because he could not go home for Christmas. It was not the holiday, however. He simply wanted out.

Shimpsie was going to be a problem, however. On several occasions she had held her power to withhold her approval for his discharge over his head. Raphael considered it in that private place in his mind and made a decision that cost him a great deal in sacrificed pride. The next day he got “saved.” He went through the entire revolting process. Once he even broke down and cried for her. Shimpsie, her eyes filled with compassion and with the thrill of victory, comforted him, taking him in her arms as he feigned racking sobs. Shimpsie’s deodorant had failed her sometime earlier that day, and being comforted by her was not a particularly pleasant experience.

She began to talk brightly about “preparation for independent living.” She was so happy about it that Raphael almost began to feel ashamed of himself. Almost.

He was fully ambulatory now, and so one day she drove him to one of those halfway houses. In the world of social workers, everything had a halfway house. Ex-convicts, ex-junkies, ex-sex offenders—all of them had a halfway house—a kind of purgatory midway between hell and freedom. Shimpsie really wanted the state of Oregon to pick up Raphael’s tab, but he firmly overrode that. He was running a scam—a subterfuge—and he wanted to pay for it himself, buying, as it were, his own freedom. He paid the deposit and the first month’s rent for a seedy, rather run-down room in an old house on a quiet back street, and Shimpsie drove him back to the hospital. She fervently promised to look in on him as soon as he got settled in. Then, just before she hurried off to one of her meetings, she hugged him, a little misty-eyed.

“It’s all right, Joanie,” he said consolingly. “We’ll be seeing each other again.” That had been one of the marks of his rehabilitation. He had stopped calling her “Shimpsie” and used “Joanie” instead. He cringed inwardly each time he did it.

She nodded and went off down the hall, exuding her smug sense of victory.

“So long, Shimpsie,” Raphael murmured under his breath. “I’m really going to miss you.” The funny thing was that he almost meant it. He turned and crutched his way toward the gym. He wanted to say good-bye to Quillian.

“I see you’re leaving,” Quillian said, his voice harsh as always. Raphael nodded. “I stopped by to say thanks.” “It’s all part of the job.”

“Don’t be a shithead. I’m not trying to embarrass you, and I’m not talking about showing me how to use these.” He waved one of his crutches.

“All right. Did you finally quit feeling sorry for yourself?” “No. Did you?”

Quillian laughed suddenly. “No, by God, I never did. You’re going to be okay, Taylor. Be honest with yourself, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, and you’ll be okay. Watch out for booze and drugs when you get out there, though,” he added seriously. “It’s an easy way out, and a lot of us slip into that. It’d be particularly easy for you. All you’d have to do is shamble into any doctor’s office in the country and walk out fifteen minutes later with a pocketful of prescriptions. You’ve got the perfect excuse, and Dr. Feelgood is just waiting for you.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Quillian looked at him for a moment. “Be careful out there, Taylor. The world isn’t set up for people like us. Don’t fall down—not in front of strangers.”

“We all fall down once in a while.”

“Sure,” Quillian admitted, “but those bastards out there’ll just walk around you, and you can’t get up again without help.”

“I’ll remember that, too. Take care, Quillian, and thanks again.”

“Get the hell out of here, Taylor. I’m busy. I’ve got people around here who still need me.” They shook hands, and Raphael left the therapy room for the last time.

He stored most of his things at the hospital, taking only two suitcases.

The pasty-faced man from the halfway house was waiting for him outside the main entrance, but Raphael had planned his escape very carefully. He already had his reservation at a good downtown hotel, and he had called a cab, telling the dispatcher very firmly that

he wanted to be picked up at the side door. As his cab drove him away from the hospital, he began to laugh.

“Something funny?” the driver asked him.

“Very, very funny, old buddy,” Raphael said, “but it’s one of those inside kind of jokes.”

He spent the first few nights in the hotel. It was a good one, and there were bellhops and elevators to make things easier. He began to refer to it in his mind as his own private halfway house. He had his meals sent up to his room, and he bathed fairly often, feeling a certain satisfaction at being able to manage getting in and out of the tub without help. After he had been in the hotel for two days, he bathed again and then lay on the bed to consider the future.

There was no reason to remain in Portland. He was not going back to Reed—not yet certainly—probably never. There were too many painful associations there. He also knew that if he stayed, sooner or later people would begin to come around—to look him up. In his mind he left it at that—“people”—even though what he really meant was Isabel and Marilyn. It was absolutely essential that he have no further contact with either of them.

He called the desk and made arrangements to have the hotel pick up the rest of his belongings from the hospital and ship them to his uncle in Port Angeles. He could send for them later, after he got settled. The sense of resolve, of having made a decision, was quite satisfying; and since it had been a big day, he slept well that night.

The next morning he called Greyhound. A plane would be faster certainly, but airlines keep records, and he could not really be sure just how far Shimpsie might go to track him down. Shimpsie had full access to the resources of the Portland Police Department, if she really wanted to push it, and Shimpsie would probably want to push it as far as it would go. Hell, as they say, hath no fury like a social worker scorned, and Raphael had not merely scorned Shimpsie, he had tricked her, deceived her, and generally made a fool of her. Right now Shimpsie would probably walk through fire to get him so that she could tear his heart out with her bare hands.

It was difficult to explain things over the phone to the man at Greyhound. It was really against policy for an interstate bus to make an unscheduled stop at a downtown street corner. Raphael waved the missing leg at him and finally got around that.

Then there was the question of destination. Raphael quickly calculated the amount of time it would take for a messenger to reach the depot with the money and return with a ticket. He concentrated more on that time than upon any given destination. He wanted to be gone from Portland. He wanted to go anyplace as long as it wasn’t Portland.

Finally the man on the phone, puzzled and more than a little suspicious, ventured the information that there were still seats available on the bus that would leave for Spokane in two hours, and that the bus would actually pass Raphael’s hotel. That was a good sign. Raphael had not had any good luck for so long that he had almost forgotten what it felt like. “Good,” he said. “Hold one of those seats for me. I’ll be outside the front door of the hotel.”

“Are you sure you want to go to Spokane?” the man at Greyhound asked dubiously.

“Spokane will do just fine,” Raphael said. “Everything I’ve always wanted is in Spokane.”

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for The Losers

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button