Age of Bliss

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people, alive or dead, are coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Chapter 09

At Dr. Minz's request, made in a note which Martha found in her mail box at 10:00, Martha went to lunch with her department head the next day. She anticipated Lyla wanting to talk about Markus' acceptance of the internship. She was not thrilled with the topic, but, with Jordan gone, she was relieved by the invitation.

Minz was waiting when the last of Martha's students departed. "Your students always seem to want to extend the hour."

"Yes, there's always something I didn't make clear enough," Martha said somewhat apologetically.

"Having students stay past the hour is generally seen as an indicator of good teaching."

"Well, yes, I generally take it that way, but I'm afraid today it was more an indication of poor communication."

"We all have that to live with. Problems are built into our symbol system, not to mention the students' short-term memory. They often don't pay attention and then they can only process so much at a time. However, I wonder how much your perception of the situation is related to Jordan's leaving on tour."

"Jordan's being gone on tour? What's that got to do with my students not understanding?"

"Just your mood. It may cast a negative light on your perception. It's just a thought. You just seem a little down. This sunshine should help. That's also an attractive outfit. Is it new?"

The two went through the line while Martha told of her shopping adventure, omitting the dinner and the meeting with Markus. Minz again secured the table for two.

"I'm sure you know what I want to talk about," Minz began.

"I assume it has to do with Markus accepting the internship position."

"That's right."

"I understand that Markus is meeting with Ed Miller at this time."

"Oh, you know about that?"

"He had to miss my class because of it."

"I see. So you talked to him over the weekend. That's good. He's keeping you apprised. Did it seem like he's going to accept?"

"I don't know. ... Somewhat, I guess. He wants to be reasonable and respectable, but ... he's skeptical. He's afraid of the censorship."

"Did you reassure him?"

"Yes, I guess."

"Good. Things are going the way they should. We just need to keep them going that way. You need to encourage him to sign on, not to drag this decision out."

"I won't even see him until class Wednesday."

"You never know. He may well feel the need for your advice before then."

Minz's prediction proved wrong. Markus did not even come to class on Wednesday. Martha had felt lonely all week. Now, she hoped that her mood was affecting only her perception of her student interaction and not the interactions themselves. Her nine o'clock class, without Markus, had been flat and her eleven o'clock seemed worse. The feeling of loneliness was augmented with the dread of her, alone, having to pass Richard Astor on his way to lunch.

She was slightly relieved to find Russ Foster awaiting her as she left the classroom; however, the look on his face did not reassure her. "I need to talk with you." His voice sounded of distress. "Could we lunch together at the Wagon Wheel?"

Martha could hardly wait to clear the building to inquire as to the nature of the problem.

"I need to reach Mr. Mathews before he accepts that internship at The Beacon. I know that you've encouraged him to take it, thinking that it's the best thing for him. I got on the committee because I was leery from the beginning. These folks don't just suddenly give internships to people they don't like; and, being reasonable, forget that; they're not going to be."

"I don't understand. They aren't offering him the internship?"

"Oh, they are offering it to him all right. It's their little trap. Once he signs their contract, they've got him. They plan to run a plagiarized feature under his byline and use the plagiarism as a basis for expelling him."

"They're going to frame him?"

"That's the plan."

"That's hard to believe!"

"Yes, even for them, but I got the whole plot from Pete a little at a time. He was so proud of his contribution to it that he couldn't help but brag about it. I went along, as a fellow committee member, as if I were impressed by it until I got clear indications from Astor and Minz."

"Minz is in on this, too?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so. Wouldn't been possible without her connections in PR. Before we go into the cafe, do you know Mathew's number so that we can give him a call?"

"No I don't. I have no way to contact him at all."

"Shoot! Sure thought you would. ... I don't want to get it from the department. ... I know, I can call my friend in the registrar's office, after lunch. She can get it for me without anyone knowing. We don't want to tip our hand before we get him free."

Martha felt helpless that evening and all Thursday. She watched for both Markus and Russ Foster, but it was a futile vigil. Neither came by her office. She had no knowledge of either of their Thursday schedules to enable her to seek them.

She was anxious to see Markus in class on Friday, but he was not there. She found a copy of the Finder, along with Markus' written assignments, in her mailbox after class. There was no note.

Back in her office, she read the Finder. It presented a well-worded argument for equality in the dorm rules. It challenged the present system of curfews for women when men had no such curfews. In another section, Markus had made suggestions for changes which would improve the climate between female and male students. These suggestions included having their dorms closer together to permit shared recreational rooms, laundries and dining areas. Both articles achieved a tone of reasonableness. The content of this issue made it less like The Beacon than last week's. Martha wanted to accept its content as evidence that Markus had turned down the internship.

She lingered at the Wagon Wheel after lunch in hopes that Markus would appear; he did not. On her return, she checked her mail and found none. However, as she turned to go to her office, she was hailed by Lyla Minz. Martha braced herself against betraying her feeling of disdain as she turned like an enlightened Salome to face Herodias. Lyla would know of Markus' decision; however, Martha dared not broach the subject less she misspeak.

"Sorry I missed you at lunch," Lyla said. "Are you going to Carry Nation at 3:00?"

"Yes, I think I will."

"Good, let's walk over together."

If Minz wanted to go together, Martha thought as she walked down the hall, it indicated that, at least, Markus had not accepted the offer. He might have rejected it, but there was no urgency in Minz's voice. He probably had taken no action. Martha hoped that Russ had reached Markus.

Minz, on their walk to the Administration Building, took little time in asking about Markus. Martha maintained her composure in reporting his week's absence. Lyla seemed unusually surprised by this news as if she was questioning, for the first time, Martha's power over him.

"Huh," Minz repeated when Martha finished. "I wonder where he's getting council now. It's been four days since he had the grand tour. He put out his so-called paper this week; what else has he been doing that's prevented him from responding?"

"Perhaps he just wants time to think. He may not feel any rush. After all, this term's got, what -- six weeks to go."

"This term? He's thinking of not starting the internship until next quarter? We need for him to start now."

Martha breathed a silent sigh of relief at reaching the faculty lounge. Lyla's urgency in getting Markus into their little trap was more that Martha wanted to hear without blasting the shrew.

The women were talking about the Watergate hearings and Martha enjoyed several minutes of escape in the discussion. Most of her limited knowledge of the event came from brief items on the radio; so, the discussion was both informative and intellectually stimulating with the mystery of how much Nixon was actually involved.

Over time, the discussion drifted to corruption of authority in general. Martha considered saying that one need not look beyond Bliss to find such corruption. However, someone said it first. Martha was pleased that another perceived the iniquity, but as she continued to listen, Martha could not believe what she heard. The woman was indicting Markus.

"How can you put Mr. Mathews in that category?" Martha heard herself asking the question almost as if she were Jordan.

"Why, he poses as a student, but, obviously, he's an anarchist bent upon the corruption of our Bliss."

"Corruption? Why? Because he suggests change?"

The woman wrinkled her nose briefly, glaring at Martha, and then looked at Lyla.

Lyla looked sympathetically at Martha and said, "Dear, dear. There's really no need to get defensive. We all understand that he's your student, but we don't hold you responsible for his views."

"I'm not defensive!" Martha heard her voice echo in the near-empty lounge. She saw Lyla smile, but still she continued, "All I did was ask for an explanation. How does that make me defensive. I guess it make me defensive the same way Markus became an anarchists by making suggestions."

"Well," said the woman, turning her body away from Martha. "If we can't discuss this rationally, like mature adults, I don't think we should discuss it at all."

"I haven't heard any discussion yet!" Martha was now on the edge of her seat. "All that I've heard is labeling!"

"Well," said Lyla, "I can see this has deteriorated rapidly. Perhaps we had best call it a day and take the week to think it over. Perhaps there is something to be said for both positions. Given a week, Dr. Knight will probably be able to state her case more completely and more ... temperately."

Martha was flabbergasted. Not only had they been totally illogical, they had treated her as if she were the one being unreasonable. Now while the others left, Minz stood smiling at her as if the two of them were best of friends.

"You, like Markus, need to understand that, in academia, change, even reasonable change, takes time," Minz said walking beside her. Martha yearned to be among friends.

On leaving Minz, Martha drove straight to the Remember When lounge. She saw his Dodge while looking for a parking place. She felt her pulse quicken. Finally, she could be sure that he knew of the trap before it was sprung. She recalled his warning to her the evening of Jordan's recital; now he was the animal being hunted.

In the darkness of the lounge, it took her a few minutes to see him. He was in the middle of a group of students. Martha approached the group. He was standing next to Mary Cage. Martha thought nothing about his being with Mary; but, then she saw that he had his arm around Mary's shoulder. Martha stopped. She was within six feet of the couple, too close to change her direction.

"Hi, Dr. Knight, come on over," called Mary, "join the celebration."

The word "celebration" concerned Martha. What if Markus had accepted the internship? "Thanks, but .... I need to see Mr. Mathews alone for a few minutes, if I might."

"Well, if you fine folks'll excuse me, it sounds like my writing teacher has come all the way down to this bar just to give me a writing lesson."

Martha turned and walked back to an empty table and sat down. She welcomed the support of the chair. Markus pulled out the chair to her left and turned it half around, cradling his chin with his arms on its back as he faced her. "What's up, Doc?" he asked in a cartoon voice, but Martha heard the slurring. She also smelled the alcohol on his breath. She could not judge how drunk he was; she had little basis for comparison.

"This is important."

"Everything's important with you."

"No. This is different. I have to tell you that you were right about this being a den of wolves, but they set a trap for you and I'm afraid I helped them."

"You talking about that old Beacon job?"

"Yes, ... and how they plan to frame you .... Do you know about that already?"

"Yelp, Dr. Foster told me. Tuesday, I think it was. If he hadn't, I'd be working for The Beacon now. So, ... so, your little Paul Revere ride is a little too late."

"I knew that Foster was trying to reach you. You haven't been in class all week. I had no idea how to find you. I've been worried sick that you might take that job."

"Sure, sure, as if you weren't doing everything you could to get me to take it."

"Yes, but that was before I knew what they were up to."

"Yeah, yeah, as if you didn't know all along."

"I only found out on Tuesday when Foster told me."

"You expect me to believe that! You knew they were going to make the offer when we talked at the Wagon Wheel on that Monday about my need to work within the system, didn't you? But you acted real innocent like you didn't want to corrupt our 'teacher-student' relationship. You couldn't hold out any promise but we could cross that bridge later. Sure! As if it were all your own doing, as if there might just be some hope for us, as if you wanted it that way on your own, and all along you were just doing Dr. Minz's bidding. What did she send you down here with this little show? Well, it ain't gonna work!" With his last sentence, Markus turned over his chair in rising and walked away.

Martha watched as he went back to Mary's side. Everyone stood up and they drank a toast. Martha was afraid that she knew the nature of their salute.

Back at her apartment, Martha never remembered being as lonesome or alone. As hurt as she was that Markus thought she was part of the conspiracy, at least he had escaped. Perhaps his attack was even justified for her role in setting the trap.

These thoughts eased her pain somewhat but not her feeling of emptiness. Markus had offered friendship and now he felt betrayed. She expected an opportunity to explain when he calmed down and eventually to prove herself worthy of his friendship. But, now she was alone. She regretted that Jordan was on tour.

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