Where Melody questions Vito and the activity of the Red Room.
|What a life I was about to be introduced to. You’ll have to remember things were done differently then. Laws were different, life was different. Rules were relaxed and even encouraged to be broken or at least ignored. Alchol was readily available at all times, and often was incouraged. women were becoming bolder and more comfortable with their place in society. We were still considered to be lower on the totem pole than men, but most of us were still used to the patriarchal way of life and accepted it.
We walked down the hallway where the Mantenuta had just come from. The door to the red room was open and cigar and cigarette smoke came drifting out with the sounds of laughter and music. As we entered we could see the other girls dancing and laughing and lounging with some of the men from dinner. Adelina had been laughing on the couch with Alfeo and Bella, but as soon as she saw Flora and I she jumped up and came over.
“So, how was dinner?” she asked, her eyes shining. “Did you have a good time?” “Well, it wasn’t as much fun as this obviously is.” I replied looking around the room. Flora had left us and was now dancing with Massimo. Perlita was talking to a girl I hadn’t been introduced to by the radio, with glasses of champagne in both their hands. “Who is Perlita talking too?” I asked Adelina as she led me to a table where there were crystal glasses and bottles of champagne chilling in ice. “Oh, I forgot, you don’t know everyone yet. Everyone in this room is a dancer.” She giggled as she handed me a glass of champagne. “Well, except the men! I think I’m a little tipsy!” She poured another glass of champagne for herself and turned to face the room. “Perlita is talking to Maddalena. Maddalena’s sister is Marta, who is dancing with Agostino. Evelina is the one stuck to Lodovico’s face, and you remember Bella. She’s with Alfeo on the couch. Carmina was here, but she drank too much and passed out. Matteo carried her up to her room, and he should be back in a minute. Come on, let’s go see what Bella and Alfeo are laughing about!” She took my arm and steered me towards the couch.
It seemed that Alfeo had spilt his glass of champagne on the front of Bella’s dress and was using his handkerchief to wipe it up. Letting a man touch your chest! I turned away quickly. Scandalous, I thought to myself. But then I remembered things were different in this house and it didn’t seem to make Bella dirty to let him touch her. I guess I have to lighten up if I’m going to fit in here. Adelina must have read my mind because she leaned closer to me and whispered in my ear, “Drink your champagne, you’ll loosen up and things won’t feel so strange. Nothing bad can happen here.”
I looked back at Bella and Alfeo and found him whispering things into her ear that made her giggle. “Aren’t you uncomfortable watching this?” I whispered to Adelina.
“These things are always going on here. You get used to seeing it… and doing it. Hey, here comes Matteo! Matteo,” she called to him, “come meet my new best friend!” Matteo sauntered over. I recognized him from dinner; he had drunk a lot of wine. His eyes were glassy and his hair was messed. He leaned over and kissed both my cheeks, then said somewhat slurred, “Welcome to the family, sweetheart.” Turning to Adelina he said, “Hey Doll face, I need some help in the closet, wanna come?” She giggled and took his hand. “Let me get one more drink then we can go. And look, Melody needs another drink too.”
“Oh, no, I don’t,” I replied, “I had some wine with dinner, I’m fine, thanks”
“All the better then,” said Matteo as he took my glass and walked to the table with Adelina. Looking over his shoulder he called to me, “By the way girlie, Vito wants to see you in his office.” I was stunned. Vito wanted to see me? Was this a good thing or a bad thing? Had I done something wrong? I didn’t have much time to think about it before Matteo and Adelina were back at my side. Matteo handed me my glass and said, “out this door, turn to the right and it’s the fourth door on the left.” With that they both walked toward some curtained off part of the room I didn’t remember seeing earlier.
I took another swallow of champagne and left the red room. Once in the hallway I turned to the right and noticed a long row of closed doors. Counting, I walked up to the fourth door on the left. I knocked quietly and whispered “Vito”. “Come in.” He called through the heavy wood of the door. I open the door and slinked inside. My heart was pounding as I closed the door behind me. His office was dark and the only light came from a table lamp on his desk. He sat behind the desk in a big leather chair. “Come in, I won’t bite.”
I walked up to the front of the desk and said, “You wanted to see me, sir.” The champagne in my glass was splashing to the floor, my hands were shaking so badly. “Sit down,” he ordered. “You’re spilling everywhere.” “I’m sorry sir, I’m just a little nervous….” I trailed off looking at my feet. I sat in the nearest chair. “Stop with the formalities, little bird. You are to call me Vito like everyone else. Do you know why I called you in here?” He turned his head to light a cigar. “No sir, I mean, no Vito.” I looked up at him, tears beginning to fill my eyes.
“Why is it that every time you look at me, you start to cry?” He asked. “Are you that homesick or are you afraid I’m going to hurt you?”
“Possibly a little of both.” I replied. “I’m still trying to get used to everything here, and I’m sure the alcohol isn’t helping things. I’m not used to drinking.”
“You will get used to the alcohol, and soon you will like it. Come over here, little bird.” He patted his lap. I stood up, the champagne glass still in my hand, and walked to the other side of the desk. He had taken his jacket and bow tie off, and his shirt was unbuttoned just a little. He pulled me closer to him, and placed me on his lap. “Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not the one who’ll hurt you.” He whispered, placing his arm around my waist.
“I’m not afraid.” I said unconvincingly. I swallowed what was left in my glass and placed it on the desk. I could feel all the wine and champagne start to cloud my mind. Suddenly, I felt extremely relaxed. He must have felt my body relax because he put the cigar down in a silver ashtray and looked right into my eyes.
“Do you like me?” He asked, his face very serious.
“I don’t know much about you to know if I like you or not.” I replied. Was this really me talking, I thought to myself? Well, who cares if it is? I’m not little Melania anymore, I’m Melody. And I think I’m starting to like to be Melody.
He pulled my closer to him and ran his fingers through my hair. “You know what I mean. I see the way you look at me, and I’ve heard the girls talking about how you ask about me. I think you like me.”
“I’m not allowed to like you.” I whispered placing my arm around his neck. “Remember the men choose you, you don’t choose the men.” He leaned closer to my face, so close I could feel the tip of his nose on mine and feel his breath on my face. “Melody, remember I said you do what I say?” I nodded, unable to breathe. “Well I say tonight you’re mine.”
I leaned in closer and our lips met. I had never been kissed before and it was delicious. His mustache tickled and yet was soft at the same time. He pulled me closer to him, and slid one hand up my thigh. I pulled back, away from him. I didn’t understand the feelings I was having, I only knew I was doing something that I shouldn’t be. “I can’t do this Vito, it’s not proper.” Roughly, he pushed me off his lap. Startled, I looked back at him, eyes wide, and mouth open. “you need to get out of that little schoolgirl mentality Melody. Things are different here. Things are better here.” I looked down at my shoes and retreated back to the chair in front of the desk.
“Melody.” He spoke my name as if it was a punishment. “I have a job for you tomorrow. You are to go to the dance hall and give this note to a certain man.” He stood and walked to the front of the desk where I sat. Roughly, he stuck a folded piece of paper under my garter. “Tony will point him out to you. You only have to dance with him once, give him the note, and that’s it. No conversation, no questions. Nothing. Do you understand?” I shook my head yes, but the harshness of his eyes and the abruptness of the way he had stopped treating me, once again brought tears to my eyes.
I stood up, and turned to walk to the door. The tears had escaped my eyelids and blurred my vision as they fell down my cheeks. “Little Bird,” he called quietly, “come back.” I turned to look at him. “I’ve decided I don’t like you.” I said, trying not to let my voice waver. “I’ll do what you say, but please don’t try to kiss me again. I’m not that kind of girl.” Vito stood up and walked towards me. He wiped my face with his handkerchief, and put his arm around me, steering me towards the door. “Come, follow me.” He said. I let him steer me down the hallway, opposite from the red room and his office. At the end of the hall was another staircase leading up. How this house could go on and on! He firmly pushed me up the staircase and down another, but shorter hallway. At the end of the hallway, he stopped and opened a gold painted door.
The room behind the door was a lavish as mine, but more masculine. The walls were dark stained wood, and gold-framed paintings of landscapes hung on the walls. There was a large bed with a gold headboard and a sofa covered in burgundy and gold velvet. A large armoire stood to one side with a large mirror next to it. One side of the room held French doors, leading out to a balcony. I didn’t have time to notice more than that as he lead me out the French doors and onto the balcony. A large wrought iron bench with gold cushions and two chairs faced the city skyline. A small table was placed next to the bench with two champagne flutes and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket.
“Oh, what a beautiful view!” I exclaimed as I leaned over the marble balustrade to watch the twinkling lights of the city. “Not as beautiful as you” Vito said, standing behind me. I turned around quickly. “Didn’t you hear what I said downstairs? I won’t have you play games with me. I won’t do it!”
“Melody, you will get hurt in this house if you don’t let me protect you. Now, why don’t we just sit down and enjoy a glass of champagne. I’d like to hear more about who you are.” He sat on the bench and began to pull the cork out of the bottle. I didn’t think I could take more liquor, but I knew saying no was useless. I walked over and sat next to him.
“Do you want to hear about the Melody you created, or Melania?” I asked taking the glass from his hand. I was slightly surprised at the strong tone in my voice. “I want to hear about Melania.” He replied turning to face me as he took a sip from his glass. Again, I told him the whole story, my father’s death, Mrs. Rossi and Anna, and mother dying.
“Where are your grandparents and other relatives?” Vito asked quietly, looking out at the night sky.
“In Sicily. My mother’s parents moved back after my mother got married. I haven’t heard from them in years. I don’t even know if they know Mama has passed.”
I slowly lifted my glass to my lips and drank the champagne as fast as I could. I had to numb the dull pain in my heart somehow. Vito lifted the bottle out of the ice and refilled my glass.
“And you know how the rest of the story goes. I meet a man at the bar, he gets me drunk, hauls me to New York, and suddenly I’m a prostitute.” Vito turned to face me quickly and slapped my cheek. Not hard, but enough to sting and let me know he meant business. “You will never say that again, do you understand me? You would have been a whore if I hadn’t saved you from that man there. It’s a damn good thing I was there that night doing business or you would be in a far worse place than you are now.”
I looked down, ashamed. I shouldn’t have said that, I knew it, but I was so confused. “I’m sorry.” I said. “I just don’t know what’s going on.” Once again I started to cry. “Was he really going to make me be a prostitute?” I asked, doubfounded, between sobs.
“Tears, tears tears! You are like a little fountain!” He smiled and pulled me closer to him. “Do you want to hear about who I am?” He asked. I nodded, wiping my face with the hem of my dress. “Well, my name is Valentino D’Archangelo. No one is allowed to call me that. I’m only called Vito. I work for Don Dante de Luca, who is the owner of this house. Carlo and Nico work under me. Nico is Don Dante’s son. We take care of the dance girls. There are other guys like Agostino and Matteo you will see around the house, and sometimes they work for me, but not always.” He stopped and sipped his champagne.
“And?” I asked, waiting for him to go on. “That’s all you need to know.” He replied. “There are other men who work for Don Dante, Luca, his other son, and under Luca are Gino and Fabrizio. They take care of the Mantenuta, the girls in black. You’ll see them occasionally, but you won’t have any contact with them. You met Delfinia tonight, and I’m sure you noticed she’s not very nice.” I nodded in agreement. “Well, mostly all the Mantenuta are like that.”
“Can I have some more champagne?” I asked, holding out my glass to him. “So, little bird has come to like the taste of alcohol?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I like the way it makes me feel.” I replied. He picked up the bottle and emptied the rest of it into my glass. “Well, you’ve drained the bottle it seems.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked, sipping from my glass. “No, not at all.” He replied. “It’s only bad when you drink too much.” He shifted his body to face me on the bench. “Now that you know about me, do you think you like me now?”
“I think I like you a little too much, Vito.” I replied honestly. It seemed my inner monologue was now to be heard by everyone. “I will do whatever you want me to…” I trailed off as he took my glass and placed it on the table next to his. He leaned forward and took my hands in his. “I want you to like me too much, Melody. That means you will stay away from the creeps.”
“Who are the creeps?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer. “The creeps are the ones that will treat you bad, make you do things you don’t want to do, and will put you in dangerous places.”
“But who are they? How do I know they are creeps?”
“Stay away from Luca, Gino and Fabrizio. Luca will take advantage of any girl he can and he usually physically hurts them. Ask the other dancers, I’m sure they can tell you stories. Cinzia is Gino’s girl, but I don’t think for much longer. Fabrizio is another violent one. He has claimed Nunzia, but he uses the other Mantenuta girls as well. If he tries to touch any of the girls, you tell me. He’s no good, just like Luca.”
“Why do you put up with them then?” I asked, still full of questions. “And what about the other men, the men that were at dinner tonight? Are they creeps?”
“Every man in this house is family. Somehow or other, we are all related. Luca thinks because he is Dante’s son he will be the next Don. Nico is also Dante’s son, but he doesn’t want to compete with Luca. The women are from here and there, but we still consider them family. You don’t get to choose your family sometimes, especially not in a place like this. As for the other goons, they are mostly harmless. They like to flirt and get attention, sometimes they claim girls for their own, and sometimes they see girls out of the mansion. I don’t care if you play with them, just be careful.” He looked at me with his dark eyes. “Can I kiss you again, little bird?” He asked. I nodded as he leaned in close to me.
Once again, his lips on mine, what a wonderful feeling! I let my hands run through his hair, down his back and chest feeling how muscular he was. He ran his hands down my back, towards my thighs, and unsnapped my garters. He rolled the stockings down and gently stroked my legs. Picking me up, he carried me back into the bedroom, still kissing and caressing me. Placing me on the bed, he stood looking over me. “My little bird… My Melody.” Then he lay next to me and continued to kiss my neck. Not really knowing what I was doing, I fumbled with the buttons on his shirt and ran my hands up and down his chest. I played with the gold chain and pendant that hung down. His hands behind my back had undone my dress, and slid the straps off of my shoulders. We pressed against each other and slowly the kisses became gentler, softer. He rested his head back on a pillow and I drowsily curled up next to him, laying my head on his shoulder. He placed his arm around me and continued to caress my back, and the silkiness of the dress I wore.
I don’t know how long we lay there, and I must have fallen asleep, because I sat bolt upright when a telephone rang. Vito slid out from under me and lifted the receiver of the phone on a table next to the bed. He spoke quietly and quickly, and I could not hear what he said. When he hung up, he turned to look at me. “Time for you to go, Melody. I have some business to attend to.” He stood from the bed and walked to the armoire. He pulled out a black shirt and jacket and then put on a long dark coat and bowler. He suddenly looked very menacing. While I was watching him get dressed, I had adjusted my dress and pulled up my stockings.
Vito turned to look at me. “You go get some rest now. You have a big day of dancing ahead of you.” His eyes narrowed as he said, “remember.” “I remember Vito, no talking, no questions.” I picked up the note from the bed where it must have fallen and tucked it back under my garter. “I promise.”
He opened the door and turned to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. “When will I see you again?” I asked. “I’ll call for you when I need you.” With that, he walked down the hallway towards the staircase, but turned and entered a room just to the left of the stairs. The door closed firmly behind him.
I didn’t know where I was in the house, but I was glad there was only one staircase in this hallway. I went down the stairs and past a couple of doors. The door to Vito’s office was open and I remembered how the red room would be four doors down and on the left. When I got there the party had died down. Alfeo and Bella were moving together on the couch and Matteo and Adelina were pressed together, dancing slowly. Everyone else was gone. I stood in the doorway, afraid to go in any further and disturb the couples, but I didn’t know how to get to my bedroom. “Bella… Adelina…?” I whispered trying to get their attention. They obviously didn’t hear me so I walked to the couch to get Bella, as she was closer to the door. “Bella,” I said more loudly, tapping her on the back. “ I don’t know where my room is.”
A startled Bella sat upright, her dress hanging around her waist, her breasts totally exposed. I jumped back in embarrassment. “I’m sorry…” I stammered, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Alfeo laughed and sat up. “What’s the matter girlie, never seen tits before?” He and Bella laughed as she pulled up her dress. “It’s okay Melody, it happens all the time around here. You’ll get used to it.” She kissed Alfeo and turned to me. “I guess it is time to get some sleep. I’ll show you where your room is.” She stood up and walked to the door linking my arm in hers. “Goodnight Alfeo!” she said over her shoulder. Closing the door we could hear him cursing. “Damn Doll face, you can’t leave a man just like that! We weren’t finished! Damn!” Bella laughed as we walked down the hallway to the staircase.
Once up the stairs she turned to me. “So where were you all night?” I blushed and looked away. “Vito wanted to let me know what was going on around here and what my job is at the dance club. That’s all.”
She looked at me skeptically. “Sure sweetie, whatever you say. Your room is number six. I’m in number 8. You can come over if you need anything.” I hadn’t noticed small silver numbers at the top of each door. Walking toward door 8, Bella called back, “Goodnight Melody. And don’t forget, the men choose you, you don’t choose the men. Don’t get too close to you know who.”
I walked to my room and closed the door. I opened the armoire and found dresses and skirts, blouses and other things neatly hanging and folded. I pulled open a drawer and found undergarments. In another drawer, nightgowns were neatly folded. I chose a light blue one and shut the doors. I undressed, putting the folded note on the table by my bed. I pulled the nightgown over my head and draped the things I had been wearing over the side of the sofa. I crawled into bed and turned out the bedside lamp.