"You do find yourself some strange friends, don't you?" Greta chuckled, as she ran a playful hand over the back of Martin Thurber's neck and drew herself a little closer to him on the settee.  "Talking all the time about evolution and God and the superconscious, when we ought to have been enjoying ourselves over much lighter matters!  One would have thought we were at a college lecture rather than at a perfectly innocuous party!"

     Thurber smiled in agreement and cast her an apologetic glance.  "Yes, Keith Logan is a somewhat serious man," he conceded.  "Though I dare say that, had I known more about him before tonight, I'd never have invited him along to Hurst's party in the first place.  But it was more a good-will gesture on my part, a means of breaking the ice between us, of extending our acquaintanceship and acquainting him with one or two of my friends, including yourself."

     "Well, let's hope you don't live to regret it," Greta commented, becoming a shade more serious.

     "How d'you m-mean?" he stammered.

     "Oh, through Hurst's response to the perfectly gratuitous introduction you imposed upon him," Greta conjectured.  "After all, he didn't particularly want to meet the guy, and was far from happy at the tone of his conversation.  In fact, he was positively upset and clearly angered by a number of things, not least of all Logan's denial of the Afterlife.  I could see the wine glass shaking in his hand from time to time."

     "Yes, you needn't remind me!" exclaimed Thurber, who then sighed and rested his head on the back of the settee, eyes staring up imploringly, one would have thought, at the whitewashed ceiling.  "But what could Hurst seriously do to avenge himself on me for directly or indirectly spoiling his evening?"

     "That's not for me to say, is it?" Greta rejoined, removing her by-now inconvenienced hand from behind Thurber's neck and resting it on his nearest shoulder instead.  "Though the most likely response would be to leave you out of the guest list he draws up for any future party he may hold."

     "I could quite live with that!" averred the art critic with gusto.

     "Maybe, but that's only the most likely response," said Greta.  "There's always the possibility, on the other hand, that he might do something worse.... Like prohibiting you from contributing any further articles to his periodical out of fear they would reflect Logan's influence."

     Thurber suddenly swallowed hard and sharply turned his head in Greta's direction.  "You’re kidding!" he cried.

     "I wish I were," she responded.  "But where someone as temperamental as Eddie Hurst is concerned, one can never be sure."

     "It's a sobering thought," Thurber admitted, his head still somewhat tipsy from the combined effects of little over ten glasses of white wine.

     "Well, as yet it's only a thought, so let's hope it remains one," sighed Greta, before relapsing into silence.

     For the past six months Martin Thurber had regularly contributed to the arts magazine which Hurst edited, and throughout that time he hadn't given so much as a single thought to what would happen to him or where he would alternatively send his art reviews if the editor decided to dispense with them.  He had been so confident that they would continue to meet with Hurst's approval that the prospect of being left without a magazine to regularly contribute to ... seemed no less remote than the prospect of being left without regular material to contribute to it.  Yet what if Hurst were to drop him?  He mentally shuddered at the thought of it!  He wouldn't necessarily find another quality magazine so willing to publish him - at least not immediately.  Had it not been for the fact that he knew Hurst's son at school and been acquainted with one or two of the magazine's regular contributors, it's most unlikely that he would have got his reviews accepted in the first place.  Another time he might not have such luck.  But, of course, it was only supposition on Greta's part, and he knew from experience that her imagination tended to run off the rails - especially after she had imbibed a few too many drinks!

     "A curious thing actually, but I didn't see much of Hurst after he abandoned Keith Logan's impromptu lecture," Thurber at length remarked.  "I mean, he didn't have anything to say to me and tended to ignore me on the couple of occasions when I could have got drawn into conversation with him again.  At the time, I didn't think anything of it, preferring to believe that he may have been keener to talk to some of his other guests.  But now that you've mentioned it ..."

     "I shouldn't worry yourself," Greta advised him, patting his nearest shoulder.  "After all, it isn't fair on the others that we should expect him to be talking to us all the time, is it?"

     "No, but ... well, did you get an opportunity to talk with him again?" Thurber asked.

     Greta shook her head.  "As a matter of fact I spent most of the remaining time in conversation with Yvette Sanderson and Sheila Kells, plus a little time with you," she revealed.  "Frankly, I'd had enough of his conversation before Logan arrived on the scene, so was glad of a change.  In fact, I found even his conversation refreshing after that."  All of a sudden Greta burst into a spontaneous titter.  "To think that he writes novels which make no sense!" she exclaimed, reminded of what she had first heard and indeed read about him.  "Really, I don't know how he can force himself to do it!"

     "I expect it comes with practice," Thurber commented matter-of-factly.

     "Yes, but really!" Greta exclaimed.  "You might incline to believe he's an imbecile when, in reality, he seems to be one of the most intelligent and enlightened of men.  And not unhandsome either, if his large eyes, thin nose, and neat little mouth are anything to judge by!  I'm surprised he turned up alone.  Doesn't he have a wife or girlfriend, then?"

     With a gentle shrug of the shoulders, Thurber replied: "I don't honestly know, though I shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't, what with that air of saintliness about him.  As yet, I haven't inquired that deeply into his private affairs, partly from fear of giving offence and partly because he hasn't given me any encouragement to, but I'm under the impression that he's more accustomed to solitude than company, at any rate."  Indeed, had he been completely honest with his girlfriend, Thurber would also have admitted to being under the impression that she had taken a fancy to the novelist in spite of her surface objections to much of what he said that evening.  But because he didn't wish to offend her in any way, least of all now that he was in her flat and had it in mind to ravish her seductive body in due course, he contented himself with intimating, instead, that Logan had taken a fancy to her, if only to gauge her responses.

     "Oh, what makes you say that?" she asked, breaking into an intrigued smile.

     "Simply what he told me concerning the attractiveness of the young lady he'd been standing near prior to Hurst's departure."  In reality, Logan hadn't mentioned her at all.  But the temptation to assert the contrary was too much to resist.

     "How flattering!" Greta exclaimed.  "I wouldn't have expected him to say such a thing, especially as we didn't exactly see eye-to-eye during the greater part of our conversation."

     Thurber felt a trifle disconcerted by this all-too-evident admission, but he could tell, all the same, that Greta was secretly gratified.  "Well, the fact of your mental differences evidently didn't preclude him from appreciating your physical ones," he facetiously declared, lying through his teeth.

     "And when, exactly, did he reveal his impression of me to you, if that's not an impertinent question?" Greta wanted to know.

     Slightly disconcerted by the necessity of improvising yet another lie on the spur-of-the-moment, Thurber said: "Whilst you were having your glass refilled and I was about to introduce him to someone else."

     "Oh, I see."  Greta emitted a faint laugh and drew her legs up closer to him.  "Well, I suppose I am attractive, aren't I?" she remarked.

     "Naturally," he admitted, placing a deferential hand on her nearest knee.  "Even in dark-blue stockings and a light-grey skirt."

     "Perhaps more so where men like Logan are concerned?" she conjectured ironically.

     This time it was Thurber's turn to laugh.  "Yes, that could be true," he agreed.  "Such an appearance would doubtless appeal to his serious-mindedness."  He rubbed his hand gently backwards and forwards across that part of her thigh just above the knee, and then softly asked what she was wearing underneath her skirt?

     "See for yourself," she blandly advised him, smiling.

     He lifted up the rim of her skirt and shyly peered underneath.  "Hmm, a short pink slip and ..." he deliberated a moment, lifted up the slip and peered underneath that too, "... oh, complementary colours!  What taste!  What discernment!  A prim exterior and a naughty, seductive interior!  One of your favourite ploys!"

     "And one that you well-nigh insist on!" she reminded him.

     "Yes, prude and whore in one," Thurber confirmed.  "What could be more alluring?  Outside - the perfectly respectable, responsible, and admirable social lady.  Inside or, rather, underneath - the ... well ..."


     "Not exactly the converse of all that," he remarked, teetering on the brink of shame, "but certainly something approximating to it."

     "Martin!"  She playfully slapped his wandering hand.

     "The shameless seducer and arch-sensualist whose sexy undies make it perfectly clear that the lady in question has a private life and, at times, a rather active one, too!" he exclaimed smilingly.

     "Only because you make it so, you dirty brute!" she retorted, pouting sensuously.

     "I wish I could believe you," he laughed.  "But when you dress like this ..." again he lifted up the rim of her skirt "... well, who's to say to what extent I'm responsible for my behaviour?"

     "Anyone would think you were an old-fashioned behaviourist!" Greta objected.

     Thurber smiled and said: "Well, you're my stimulus, my motivation, as Schopenhauer would say, and when I tell you to sport an arse, I do so in response to the very obvious fact that you happen to have one, and that it happens, moreover, to be an exquisitely proportioned and admirably shaped arse - an arse in a million, if you'll permit me to flatter the panties off you in Logan's stead."

     Greta blushed faintly and giggled in apparent confirmation of her lover's estimation.  "And are you going to tell me to sport it this evening?" she joked.

     "Certainly not!" he replied.  "But the fact remains that I could do so if I really wanted to, couldn't I?  I could even avail myself of the clysters if I thought an old-fashioned enema would be of any sexual use to you?  I could spank or strap your behind until it was as red as an acutely embarrassed or even angered face, like Eddie Hurst's.  I could even stand you on your head and stare down at your rear-end from above."

     "You horrible bully!" Greta protested ironically.

     "Well, of course, I won't do any of those things," Thurber declared, lowering his voice a little.  "For they would only bore or depress me.  Yet the fact remains that I could get you to do more or less anything I wanted, couldn't I?"

     There was a modest silence on Greta's part.

     "Couldn't I?" he repeated, almost threateningly.

     "Hmm, I suppose so," she at last conceded.  "Provided, however, that it didn't unduly inconvenience me or cause me too much pain."

     Thurber smiled his satisfaction - the satisfaction, one might be forgiven for imagining, of a baby who had just received its dummy and was now perfectly content with life.  "Yes, quite," he confirmed, nodding.  "But the fact that you are prepared to obey most of my orders is one of the things I particularly admire about you.... If, on the other hand, you were as modest and prudish in private as you generally aspire to being in public, I should never be able to stand you.  But the contrast between your two selves - the public-spirited lady and the private-sensuous whore - is exquisitely endearing to me and rarely fails to arouse my desire.  To think that the well-educated and highly-cultured person who is discussing evolution and some kind of futuristic millennium with a fanatically progressive novelist like Keith Logan, one hour, also happens to be the highly seductive sensual creature who allows me to raise her skirt and, hopefully, stimulate her clitoris the next - well, it's always a source of amazement to me!  To say that we live in one world would indeed be a gross understatement!"

     Greta listened in half-humorous resignation to the sordid confessions which issued, in hyperbolic disarray, from the indiscreet mouth of the somewhat wine-intoxicated art critic beside her, while his hand continued to rove, as though by remote control, over her blue-stockinged thighs and even, she could barely fail to notice, over parts of the more ample flesh above the level where the stocking came to an abrupt end!  She had heard variations on this crazy theme before anyway, so they came as no great surprise or revelation to her.  Had it not been for the fact that she knew exactly how Thurber's paradoxical little mind worked, she wouldn't have taken the trouble to conform to his specifications of the split personality, the lady/whore, in the first place, but would have dressed in some other way - possibly with a more flamboyant or sexy external appearance than tonight.  But by now she was perfectly acquainted with his needs, and thus in no doubt as to the best ways of satisfying them.

     Not that she always made a point of dressing according to his ambiguous requirements.  For there were days, fortunately to say, when she didn't see him or he her, times when it was possible for her to return to a less formal appearance and even dispense with the antithetical complement of sexy undies.  On such days - less frequent, alas, than formerly - she would simply dress to please herself, whether that entailed a reversal of her customary role or, alternatively, a complete negation of it in either a totally prim or a totally seductive one-sidedness.  But as soon as it became known that Thurber would be visiting her or vice versa, back would come the dual images he particularly admired.  And, of course, he would take her out to dinner, sport her around town, revel in her ladylike appearance and conduct, her ennobling and educative turns of speech, the generally prim mien she was under obligation to maintain as much as possible, especially at the concert hall or theatre where, invariably, they would witness one of the more serious and spiritually edifying performances or productions - a Beethoven concerto or a Shakespeare tragedy, a Tchaikovsky symphony or an Ibsen indictment of bourgeois convention.  Finally, after a decorous return-journey to either his or her flat, he would deprive her of her outer garments, her ladylike persona, and, goaded-on by the tantalizing spectacle of what lay seductively beneath, proceed to revel in the very opposite qualities from those he had previously esteemed, dragging her through the most excruciatingly carnal of sensuous abandonments, whispering and sometimes fairly bellowing foul epithets or denigrating phrases into her tiny ears, and behaving, in short, with all the undisguised relish of a full-blooded satyr bent on completely dominating the object of its lust.

     Oh yes, there could be no doubt as to the kind of relationship Martin Thurber particularly liked, and, despite occasional lapses of conduct or appearance, Greta had done her best to make sure he damn well got it!  She had done her best tonight, at Hurst's party, to play up to her public image of decorous lady, and now she would do her best to let her hair down, as it were, and adopt the very opposite role.  It suited her to play along with Thurber's demands, since she also profited from them.  And even if, to a superficial eye, it might appear rather constricting to dress in a specific way, according to the aforementioned criteria, she knew from experience that there were numerous possibilities to be exploited - possibilities which encompassed anything from dark, tight-fitting knee-length skirts and dresses for the public image ... to brightly coloured slips, panties, suspender belts, G-strings, and brassieres for the private one.  Once one had mastered the basic rules of the game, in Koestlerian parlance, there was no shortage of viable strategies!  The very fact that Thurber had been agreeably surprised by her all-pink attire was sufficient proof of that!

     "So now I begin to understand why you specifically invited Keith Logan along to Hurst's party," Greta commented, after the confessions from her companion had run their predictable course.  "Simply because you knew him to be a sober, serious-minded individual who would provide me with ample opportunity to respond in an equally sober and serious-minded fashion.  Now I have it!"

     Thurber smiled defensively.  "That's only part of the truth," he conceded, continuing to stroke and fondle her thigh as though she were no more than a lump of dough to be kneaded into some sort of commercial shape prior to a pressing transaction.

     "And were you pleased by the performance we gave you?" she inquired of him.

     "Yes, in general," he replied.  "Though I was less than pleased by the fact that Hurst didn't take all that kindly to a number of the things Logan said, as you already know.  But as far as your performance was concerned - yes, I was indeed pleased!  I had a feeling he would bring the best out of you."

     "Unlike you, who can only bring out the beast," Greta quipped, simultaneously proffering him another of her playful slaps.  "But, really, you could have told him that I was your regular girlfriend or something.  Had you done so, he might not have said what he apparently revealed to you about me, when I was out of earshot."

     "What, that you were attractive?"  And all of a sudden Thurber began to blush, and to a degree quite untypical of the man.  "Well, I soon let him know who you were once he had said it," he lied.  "That shut him up!  But I didn't really have time to introduce him to you earlier, for Hurst took over the reins and introduced you to him instead.  And did so, moreover, in a manner which would have made it difficult if not impossible for me to add anything.  Once the conversation about abstract literature and then religious evolution got under way - well, I had no option but to bear with it and leave you to reveal or explain yourself to him as best you could.  Which, to some extent, you of course did."

     Greta smiled her acknowledgement of this rather cryptic statement and momentarily abandoned herself to picturing the novelist's face in her mind's eye - seeing once again the dark-brown hair, smooth brow (rather Nietzschean in its elevation, she thought, and obviously that of a highbrow), gently aquiline nose, firm lips, and angular chin.  She imagined him sitting next to her on the settee instead of Thurber, imagined his hand on her leg and his breath on her hair.  Would he be as good at loving her as at lecturing her about evolution and the coming post-human millennium, she wondered?  Curiously there was no reason to suppose the contrary, not if he really found her attractive and was as romantically disposed as his handsome appearance might have led one to suppose.  Yet if he didn't have a wife or even ... no, there was no point indulging in idle conjectures about him.  Better to concentrate on what lay to-hand than to imagine greater and probably illusory pleasures elsewhere.  At least Thurber could be depended upon to come to the point eventually, even if he did have a rather strange way of going about it.

     She abandoned her little erotic reverie and returned to the real world, to the face and hands of the art critic with whom she had shared most of her body and a good part of her mind in unbroken fidelity these past eight months.  She could tell that he was gradually coming to the point, gradually extending his caresses beyond the confines of her thigh and the sartorial barriers of her public modesty.  But not yet, alas, had he arrived at that point, preliminary to the ultimate one, where he was fully committed to her body and conscious of nothing else!  There was still something which made it necessary for him to draw out his petting as long as possible.  Perhaps all the wine he had drunk at Hurst's party had had a depressing rather than an uplifting effect on him, and thus reduced his desire for carnal pleasure?  Knowing him to be the possessor of a high metabolism, she needn't be surprised.  Yet, despite her slight impatience with the course of events, she was still somewhat intrigued about the novelist and curious, in her sly way, to find out more about him.

     "So who did you introduce Keith to after our little group broke up?" she nonchalantly inquired of her lover.

     Thurber looked surprised.  "Didn't you see?" he exclaimed.

     "I was too busy talking with Yvette," she confessed.

     "Oh, well, as a matter of fact I was on the point of introducing him to Colin Patmore when Paul Fleshman came wandering over and thrust himself upon us," the art critic explained.  "He wanted to talk, curiously, about his latest exhibition at the Fairborne Gallery, and hoped that, if I was intending to review it for Hurst, I would find something encouraging to say about it.  Naturally, I assured him that I'd do my best to comply with his wishes, since he's an old pal of mine.  But that doesn't mean to say I'll automatically turn a blind eye to anything I particularly dislike.  He knows from experience how I generally tend to respond to his work anyway."

     "And what, if anything, did Keith Logan have to say to him?" Greta asked.

     "For once, believe it or not, I did most of the talking," Thurber answered, "so he didn't overtax his voice.  Other than being keen to discover what kind of an artist Fleshman was, he contented himself with listening to what we had to say to each other and savouring the taste of his beer.  As it happened, he was rather relieved to learn that Fleshman's art is mostly abstract, and duly accepted an invitation to attend the exhibition with me next week, when it opens.  It should be interesting to hear what he has to say about it - assuming he'll turn up."

     "Hmm, so it should," Greta murmured and, with a sudden impatience for the subject of art, she nestled-up still closer to Thurber and ran her hand through his wiry hair, thereupon causing him to renew his assault upon her modesty with greater resolve than before.  It was now becoming increasingly apparent to her that he was approaching that point where parties, novelists, artists, exhibitions, and art criticisms counted as nothing, and only the lure of her flesh mattered.  In another minute she would find herself deprived of even the last rather flirtatious vestiges of her modesty, as he tore the remaining clothes from her and forcibly, almost brutally, thrust himself upon her in a frenzy of obsessive carnality.  She would have ceased to be the decorous lady and become, instead, the indecorous whore - to her considerable relief!



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