Don Juan told me to drive into Nogales, Mexico. He asked me to stop in front of a one-story, light-beige house in a well to do neighborhood. To all appearances it was a typical suburban dwelling.
We got out of the car. Don Juan led the way. He didn't knock or open the door with a key, but when we go to it, the door opened silently on oiled hinges-- all by itself, as far as I could detect.
Don Juan quickly entered. He didn't invite me in. I just followed him. I was curious to see who had opened the door from inside, but there was no one there.
We were in a narrow hall that opened into a spacious living room. Half the room was empty, but next to the fireplace was a semicircle of expensive furniture.
Two men, perhaps in their mid-fifties, stood when we entered. One of them was Indian, the other Latin American. Don Juan introduced me first to the Indian.
'This is Silvio Manuel,' don Juan said to me. 'He's the most powerful and dangerous sorcerer of my party, and the most mysterious too.'
I smiled and extended my hand to Silvio Manuel, but he didn't take it. He nodded perfunctorily.
'And this is Vicente Madrano,' don Juan said, turning to the other man. 'He is the most knowledgeable and the oldest of my companions.' Vicente nodded just as perfunctorily as Silvio Manuel had, and also didn't say a word.
'I think that you already know that Carlos is the biggest indulger that I have ever met,' don Juan told them with a serious expression. 'Bigger even than our benefactor. I assure you that if there is someone who takes indulging seriously, this is the man.'
I laughed, but no one else did. The two men observed me with a strange glint in their eyes. Then Vicente broke the silence.
'I don't know why you brought him inside the house,' he said in a dry, cutting tone. 'He's of little use to us. Put him out in the backyard.'
'And tie him,' Silvio Manuel added.
Don Juan turned to me. 'Come on,' he said in a soft voice, and pointed with a quick sideways movement of the head to the back of the house.
We walked into the back yard. Don Juan casually picked up a leather rope and twirled it around my neck with tremendous speed. His movements were so fast and so nimble that an instant later, before I could realize what was happening, I was tied at the neck, like a dog, to one of the two cinder-block columns supporting the heavy roof over the back porch.
Don Juan shook his head from side to side in a gesture of resignation or disbelief and went back into the house as I began to yell at him to untie me. The rope was so tight around me neck it prevented me from screaming as loud as I would have liked.
I could not believe what was taking place. Containing my anger, I tried to undo the knot at my neck. It was so compact that the leather strands seemed glued together. I hurt my nails trying to pull them apart.
I had an attack of uncontrollable wrath and growled like an impotent animal. Then I grabbed the rope, twisted it around my forearms, and bracing my feet against the cinder-block column, pulled. But the leather was too tough for the strength of my muscles. I felt humiliated and scared. Fear brought me a moment of sobriety. I knew I had let don Juan's false aura of reasonableness deceive me.
I assessed my situation as objectively as I could and saw no way to escape except by cutting the leather rope. I frantically began to rub it against the sharp corner of the cinder-block column. I thought that if I could rip the rope before any of the men came to the back, I had a chance to run to my car and take off, never to return.
I puffed and sweated and rubbed the rope until I had nearly worn it through. Then I braced one foot against the column, wrapped the rope around my forearms again, and pulled it desperately until it snapped, throwing me back into the house.
As I crashed backward through the open door, don Juan, Vicente and Silvio Manuel were standing in the middle of the room, applauding.
'What a dramatic re-entry,' Vicente said, helping me up. 'You fooled me. I didn't think you were capable of such explosions.'
Don Juan came to me and snapped the know open, freeing my neck from the piece of rope around it.
I was shaking with fear, exertion and anger. In a faltering voice, I asked don Juan why he was tormenting me like this. The three of them laughed and at that moment seemed the farthest thing from threatening.
'We wanted to test you and find out what sort of man you really are,' don Juan said.
He led me to one of the couches and politely offered me a seat. Vicente and Silvio Manuel sat in the armchairs, and don Juan sat on the other couch.
I laughed nervously but was no longer apprehensive about my situation, nor about don Juan and his friends. All three regarded me with frank curiosity. Vicente could not stop smiling, although he seemed to be trying desperately to appear serious. Silvio Manuel shook his head rhythmically as he stared at me. His eyes were unfocused, but fixed on me.
'We tied you down,' don Juan went on, 'because we wanted to know whether you are sweet or patient or ruthless or cunning. We found out you are none of those things. Rather you're a king-sized indulger, just as I had said.
'If you hadn't indulged in being violent, you would certainly have noticed that the formidable know in the rope around your neck was false. It snaps. Vicente designed that knot to fool his friends.'
'You tore the rope violently,' said Silvio Manuel. 'You're certainly not sweet.'
They were all quiet for a moment, and then began to laugh.
'You're neither ruthless nor cunning,' don Juan went on. 'If you were, you would have easily snapped open both knots and run away with a valuable leather rope. You're not patient either. If you were, you would have whined and cried until you realized that there was a pair of clippers by the wall with which you could have cut the rope in two seconds and saved yourself all the agony and exertion.
'You can't be taught, then, to be violent or obtuse. You already are that. But you can learn to be ruthless, cunning, patient and sweet.'
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