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His real name was Pasteur Semelweiss Murphy; so naturally he called himself Dr. Peter S. Murphy: rather, his patients and colleagues knew him by that name. In his own mind, he called himself names as hideous and hopeless as the agony of which they were born. You!--he would snarl savagely. You goofy-looking beanpole! You lanky, long-drawn son-of-a-bitch! You scrawny red-haired imbecile!
Doctor Murphy had always spoken to Doctor Murphy with disparagement and invective. But never with such frequence and intensity as since he had become the proprietor of El Healtho--Modern Treatment For Alcoholics. Not until then had he called himself dishonest; never before, in the endless annals of Murphy vs. Murphy, had the defendant been charged with gross incompetence. And yet--and this was odd--the knowledge that he was about to be divorced from El Healtho, no later, barring miracles, than the close of business today, did nothing to modify or mollify the prosecution. On the contrary, tonight he would shut down the sanitarium, and along with everything else, he would stand accused of failure, of bollixing a job, of screwing up the works. By God, out good!
El Healtho perches on a cliff overlooking the Pacific in the southerly limits of the city of Los Angeles. It is a rambling stucco and tile structure, styled in that school of architecture known as Spanish Mediterranean to its adherents and "California Gothic" to its detractors; originally the home of a silent motion-picture actor whose taste, whatever else may be said about it, proved considerably better than his voice.
As a matter of fact, it was not particularly unpleasing tothe eye--unless that eye were Doctor Murphy's.
His long scrawny shanks clad in a pair of faded-red swim trunks, the good doctor squatted on the beach and stared blindly at the Pacific; April sunlight in his eyes, Arctic ice in his heart. He had been swimming for three hours when a great breaker had caught him up in its arms and hurled him rolling and spinning and half-drowned onto the sand. It had cast him up and out--and it should have, by God; he was enough even to make the ocean puke!--simultaneously burying him beneath a hundred-odd pounds of slithery seaweed.
Lying there, breathless, in the dank tentacled mess, he had remembered those searing lines from--from Wells? Yes, the Outline of History: "To this stage has civilization progressed from the slime of the tidal beaches..." And there had been a masochistic satisfaction in remembering, in associating the words with his own sorry state.
A hundred million years of life ... and in what had it resulted? Well, it was obvious, wasn't it? A pile of crap. A will-less thing, floating on the tide, lacking the elementary grace to sink out of sight.