When my receptionist buzzed that my afternoon appointment was on the way up, I quickly scanned my schedule blotter. Representatives from the Mylitta Group. Something about franchise issues. I opened the door and ushered them into my office.
The woman was a strikingly lovely twenty-something, athletic, with a nubile buxom figure, blond hair, cobalt blue eyes. She radiated health and sexuality. She looked a little like me, only her hair looked natural, her perky jutting breasts appeared real, and her youthful appearance hadn't cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars in plastic surgery bills. I had no doubt that she would still look ravishing, without cosmetic intervention, in twenty-five years when she reached my age. I smiled when she introduced herself as Aphrodite.
The man stood at least six-foot-five and had the physique of a world-class bodybuilder: narrow flat waist, barrel chest, massive shoulders and back muscles, the arms of a lumberjack, thighs like tree trunks. He was older, his long, curly, raven hair and full beard streaked with gray, piercing gray eyes, and an aquiline nose. He carried a golden cane in the shape of a stalk topped with a pinecone. The workmanship was superb, but it looked like a giant phallus. He introduced himself as Adonis. They wore the latest in subdued, severe business attire, impeccably tailored, and yet they radiated sensuality. Despite the silly affectation of their names, they reeked of aristocratic old money.
When we were all seated, and they had refused refreshments, Adonis began. He had a deep bass voice with just a trace of exotic accent. "Ms. Rosehill. Thank you for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice. We were only recently made aware of your amazing victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. We read that your Temple of Aphrodite will officially and legally open for business tomorrow night."
I smiled the same smile I used for the innumerable press interviews I had given of late and went into the standard spiel. "Yes, it was a great vindication of the core values of our First Amendment. This is not a bordello--it is a legitimate Temple to the divine Aphrodite, a resurgence in modern times of a venerable ancient religious cult. I am not a madam or pimp--I am a priestess of the cult of Aphrodite. The girls who work in the temple are hierodules, sacred servants of the Goddess. Sex with the hierodules is an act of worship. It is not prostitution, because the girls do not accept payment for their services--they only accept contributions to the Temple. The Supreme Court recognizes that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects this Temple from interference by the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment extends those protections to the state and local levels. We must remain free to practice our religion as we see fit, as historically practiced in ancient Corinth, Sicily, Cypress, and later in Rome for Venus."
The woman who called herself Aphrodite spoke next. Her voice was a sweet contralto with a lazy drawl to it. She betrayed not a hint of identifiable accent. "We were particularly amused at how the majority opinion of the Court dealt with the possibility that you, your girls, and their male worshippers might not be legitimate true believers. Chief Justice Hendrix said that, if the presence of large numbers of hypocrites and self-interested, money-grubbing parasites within the leadership and practitioners of a spiritual community were grounds for refusing to take it seriously as genuinely religious, then virtually every sect in America would be in danger of losing their tax-exempt and First Amendment protected status."
"Amusing, yes, but I assure you, we are all quite sincere in our religious convictions, strange as they may appear to the man or woman in the street." I had to be convincing--who knew when some ambitious D.A. would attempt to record me in an unguarded moment.
Adonis sat forward in his chair, balancing his hands on the top of his cane. "Admirably put, Ms. Rosehill. It is with regard to your sincerity that we are here. Although you may not have been aware of it, you have trespassed on our franchise. We intend an amicable absorption of your operation into our own for the mutual benefit of all."
Ah, so that was it. Now the silly names made a sort of sense. They wanted to horn in on my success. I wondered if they might be actors hired by this Mylitta Group to play the Goddess and her legendary consort. I had to admit, it was perfect casting. Their faces would be as identifiable for my product as Colonel Sanders' likeness has been for the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. But no one was going to fold me into their operation. This was my baby from the get go.
I tried to keep anger out of my voice. "I am unaware of any prior claim to the Temple of Aphrodite business concept. My legal team found no established prior brand name precedents."
Aphrodite pulled a typed sheet of paper out of her tiny handbag and tossed it onto my desk. She said, "This is a complete list of your financial backers, secret or otherwise. The Mylitta Group has already bought out all of their shares. You retain your ten percent stake, but we have the controlling interest in this Temple. You may call whomever you wish to confirm what I say."
I grabbed the list with one hand and speed-dialed my accountant with the other. Five minutes later I sat back in my chair, stunned and devastated.
Adonis saw my distress. "Do not take it so hard, Ms. Rosehill. We acknowledge your inspired work in resurrecting the cult of Aphrodite and your tireless efforts to establish its secure legal status. We would be seriously disappointed if you did not stay on as High Priestess of this institution. We have no doubt that you will lead the Temple with wisdom, dedication, and creativity. Under your leadership we hope to spread the franchise once again across the world. And although your personal financial rewards will be much, much less than you had originally envisioned, I think that you will find the unexpected spiritual rewards more than make up for any secular losses."
Aphrodite smiled a cruel smile. Her beautiful cobalt eyes threw off angry sparks. "Really, Daphne. May I call you Daphne? Don't be too disappointed. When you opened this Temple, you committed an act of hubris so egregious that...well, let's just say that, back in the day, you would have earned a much worse fate than the one you will soon receive."