Instant recap: It's 1964. Marcus has turned his high-end Berkeley home into a commune ~ another couple has been living there with him and his wife Gail and their infant son. Now two more people are about to move in, and Gail has jealous trepidations because one of them is an attractive young woman named Venus.
Penelope and the Suitors ~ Edward Burne-Jones
2. Beset by the Suitors
Earlier that morning a flaxen-haired Berkeley coed was packing the last of her belongings in a townhouse she had shared with three girlfriends who were fellow students. Though her attention was necessarily focused on the details of the job at hand, there continually intruded thoughts of the man who was coming very shortly to take her away. She envisaged his steely features and Prussian-blue eyes, the well-muscled contours of his body, the crisp, decisive way he moved and talked and acted. She was still attired only in bra and panties, and her hands strayed from their task to ripple lightly over her arms and legs and breasts. She imagined the touch to be that of Marcus, and shivered in the earliest throes of sensual pleasure.
With an effort, she concentrated on the packing until the suitcase was full. Her larger possessions had already been moved to the house on Grizzly Peak, so nothing remained but to pull on her dress. It was a pink knit that clung nicely to her curves, and complemented the color of her perfectly tanned skin. The cleavage was just deep enough to be daring, accentuated by the firm tips of her bra, a style that was then in fashion. Here at the midpoint of the legendary decade the miniskirt had risen only to mid-thigh, but hers was in the avant-garde at two inches above that mark.
As she was taking the measure of her impact in the mirror, a woman's voice from downstairs shouted, “Avice! Oh, Avice!”
She put her head out the door and answered, “I'm just about ready, Deb. Are they here?”
“It's not who you were expecting, and you'd better get down here now.”
Alarmed, Avice stepped onto the landing and said, “What's going on?”
“All your ex-boyfriends are having a convention on the porch, and it looks like it could get ugly.”
“What?! That's crazy. Tell them to go away.”
“We did, and they refused to leave till they see you. Should I call the cops?”
“Wow, this is is awful! Hold off on the cops, I'm coming down.” She slipped on her pumps and descended the stairs, muttering under her breath: “Dammit, I don't want Marcus to see those guys!”
Avice paused for a moment at the front door to muster herself, then pulled it open and with a baleful glare confronted three men. Roger had the big-boned torso of an athlete and was wearing the team jersey of the Golden Bears Varsity. Dominic was almost frail by comparison, and his sensitive face melted into a look of worshipful awe at the sight of his former love. Unlike these two undergrads, Philip was middle-aged with handsome, well-groomed features and was dressed impeccably in a business suit of the latest style and highest quality. With a scornful look he said to Avice, “It's lucky I've got an M-kink. If you had deliberately planned some kind of ultimate humiliation, it couldn't top this.”
“You!” said Avice coldly. “As usual, that's all you can think of ~ as if I invited you! How do you think this makes me feel?” She softened and turned to the other two. “C'mon, guys, we had some great times, but I've gotta move on. I still have warm feelings for all of you, but you're ruining them with this ridiculous scene. If any of you still care the slightest tidbit for me, just please, please leave!”
Roger said grimly, “Can we have your forwarding address?” This deflated Avice, and she slumped back toward the doorway with a look of hopeless frustration.
Dominic said, “I hear you're calling yourself Venus now. Is that right?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“You'll always be my love-goddess! No one can ever take your place in my heart.”
The young goddess sighed and said, “You'll always have a place in my heart, Dommy, but you have to move on too. Sooner or later another lady will come along....”
“Not like you!” In spite of themselves, Roger and Philip grunted assent to this.
At that moment there pulled into the driveway a big crimson Range Rover, the early forerunner of the SUV. Three men got out, and the driver strode to the steps of the porch. He looked puzzled by the convocation. Venus herself was scarlet with embarrassment, but said bravely: “Hi, Marcus.”
3. Deadly Bloodless Conflict
Ulysses Conquers the Suitors
“Marcus!” Philip repeated the word with a sibilant hiss. “So that's your name. From the rumors I heard, I thought it might be Clark Kent.”
“Yeah, or Ulysses or something,” said Roger.
At these challenging remarks, Marcus stepped forthrightly onto the porch. Staring suspiciously at the three men, he said, “Are these friends of yours, Venus?”
“Well, um, sort of.”
“Are they welcome guests?”
Marcus squared his shoulders and said, “May I ask what is your business here, gentlemen?”
Roger crudely imitated Marcus' gesture, puffing out his chest. “I'd ask what's yours, except we already know it.”
Marcus arched an eyebrow. “Oh? And how does it happen that you're concerned with my affairs when I don't know any of you?”
Venus overcame her distress and spoke up: “They're my ex-boyfriends, Marcus. I guess they wanted to see me off.”
The other two men from the vehicle were watching the action intently at the foot of the steps. Suddenly Roger turned to one of them and said jovially, “Hey, Greg! How's it goin', buddy? Funny meeting you here.” “Hi, Roger,” said Greg warily.
“Man, I'll never forget that pass you caught in the Big Game. Stanford woulda whupped us otherwise. I bet you get drafted by the NFL, or the AFL at least.”
“More likely by the U.S. Army. But hey, you made some great tackles in the game yourself.”
This friendly repartee by the teammates broke the tension. Philip said to Marcus, “Nice truck.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “Is that your Fairlane out front?”
“As a matter of fact.”
“That's pretty nice too. Don't see many hardtop convertibles on the streets.”
“It's terrific ~ converts at the push of a button. So convenient!”
“And expensive,” added Roger.
Philip coughed haughtily at this faux pas, then said to Marcus, “Are you skilled technologically, by any chance?”
“He sure is!” said Venus. “He builds all kinds of electronic gizmos, and even has his own computer. It takes up half the attic.”
“I'm impressed,” said Philip with obvious sincerity.
“Why do you ask?” said Marcus.
“How would you like a six-figure job in the aerospace industry?”
For a heartbeat Marcus' face was blank ~ then it filled with rage. His body seemed to swell with a surge of fiery lava channeling into him through a fissure beneath his feet from the earth's core. He cocked a fist and stepped toward Philip, who suddenly fell back against the wall as if shoved violently by Marcus' erupting aura, his face contorted into a fool's-mask of ghastly terror. Marcus checked himself after that single menacing step; he hadn't laid a finger on the target of his ire, but Philip almost fell over the railing onto the neighboring porch.
Venus was agape at the spectacle, and the first thought that formed in her mind was: Wow, nobody buys off Marcus!
Philip clumsily recovered himself. When he saw that Marcus would not pursue the attack, his features became livid with simmering spite and impotent resentment. Knowing his character, Venus could see the wheels turning: his first urge was to threaten a lawsuit, but quickly grasped that since Marcus hadn't touched nor even verbally threatened him, he would have no case. So he was silent as Marcus said with infuriating coolness: “Now if you gentlemen would be kind enough to excuse us, I'm sure Venus would like to bid a peaceful farewell to her housemates before we leave.”
Roger was still agog at the tenor of events, but Dominic spoke up: “Okay, Marcus ~ I, for one, accept that I have no place in Avice's... er, Venus' life any more, and I sincerely hope she'll be happy in whatever kind of life she'll have with you. But because I still care about her, I can't help but worry about that. Some of the rumors I've heard about your group are pretty troubling.”
“What sort of rumors”” asked Marcus ingenuously.
“Well, to speak frankly, some people say that you're running a cult.”
“Ah,” said Marcus, in a tone of dismissive amusement, “I've gotten wind of that. It's true that some people don't like us, and badmouth us with projections from their own sour psyches.”
Greg had now come up onto the porch with the other man ~ who was Polaris ~ and he said, “Every new movement gets tagged as a cult when it's just starting out, especially if it's making any waves in the culture and doing something really creative. The Founding Fathers were called a cult by King George and his court, and of course we know what the Roman Empire thought of the early Christians.”
“Thanks, Theseus!” said Venus. “It's nice to have a history major in your corner.”
“Wait a minute,” said Roger, “Greg is now called Theseus? And Avice turned into Venus. What's that all about? Are you people reviving the pagan myths?”
“Or living in a fantasy-world,” said Philip. Marcus gave him a sidelong glare, and he bit his lip.
Dominic said, “People who join religious groups often take new names ~ for Christians it's usually Biblical figures, so I imagine other religions have similar practices with their own mythology. I don't really know why they do it, but I'd guess having a new identity helps them to break with the past and feel 'born again' or whatever.”
“You're on the right track,” said Marcus, “though naturally you sound skeptical. People who are aware of the reality of the spiritual world know that help and strength is available from the beings who reside there. Some Eastern religions have what they call “tutelary deities”; a neophyte will take the name of a god who then becomes his special guide and guardian. What’s your name, if I May ask?” Dominic told him. “If you had lived in the Middle Ages, your sacred patron would've been the Lord Jesus himself. Heroes and deities have a semi-autonomous existence in the collective unconscious of the race. If Greg's identification with Theseus becomes strong and real enough, he can slay any of the modern Minotaurs or conquer the Queen of the Amazons and win her love.”
“Sounds far-fetched,” said Roger.
“That's 'cause you haven't met Hyppolita!” said Polaris. “She's alive and well and living with Theseus in Marcus' house.”
Philip rolled his eyes, but Dominic continued, “All right, that helps me to understand it. But the worst thing I've heard about your group was from some people in the Free Speech Movement. They say it's racist.”
The word dropped like a ton of bricks in the middle of the porch. There was a silence. Marcus looked stolidly at Dominic, who added: “They say that your teaching about a secret war between 'Solarians' and 'Ophidians' is really just a code for the old rhetoric of Aryans vs. Jews.”
Philip audibly sucked in his breath; he looked thunderstruck. Finally Marcus said, “It isn't 'racist' to grant precedence in your heart to your own people over others, nor to seek their welfare and defend them from harm. This is our ideal, and it does not make us prejudiced against other peoples. At the same time, we recognize the reality of powerful secret cabals cemented by commonalities of kinship. These manipulators are our adversaries, not the common people of any race, religion, or culture.”
Dominic scowled, as if his fears had been confirmed. Roger looked confused. And for the first time since his comeuppance, Philip looked Marcus straight in the eye and said, “Ophidians, enh? Some of my best friends ~ and most powerful colleagues ~ are Jews.” Then he turned on his heel, strode to his car, and with a squeal of wheels drove away. For a moment Marcus followed the vehicle with his eyes. He knew that he had made a deadly enemy, and a potentially dangerous one.