The dance hall and losing Bella.
|I remember that in the darkened room than night, I thought about what had happened. It did feel good, what had gone on with Vito. I guess the girls were right, you did get used to it. But I was afraid. Mama and Mrs. Rossi would be ashamed at what had gone on today. But Anna, she would have laughed and asked if she could come too. My thoughts then turned to the events of last night and how they turned into today. It’s funny how days do that. One event leads to another to another ad infinium. Thoughts do that to. What do they call that now, “the seven degrees of seperation”, when you can trace something back to it’s original by connecting the pieces. I guess maybe that’s what I’m doing now. Going backwards and forwards through time. Little pieces of memories that cling to one another, unraveling the story.
The next morning I woke up to Luisa banging on my door. “Wake up Melody, its time for your lessons!” I stumbled out of bed and went to open the door. What lessons, I thought to myself? I opened the door to Luisa and turned to go into the bathroom. “Don’t you know you have dance lessons every morning?” She asked as I washed my face and brushed my hair. “Nobody said anything about it to me.” I answered. “Well, hurry up and get dressed, the car is waiting downstairs.”
I opened the armoire and pulled out a pair of panties and a navy blue jumper with a dropped waist and sailor’s collar. I pulled a pair of garters up my legs, followed by a pair of white stockings. As I was fastening the buckle of my shoes, I could hear Luisa yell from the stairs, “Melody, hurry up!” I was about to leave the room when I remembered the note from last night. I grabbed it and tucked it into my garter.
I ran down the stairs to see some other girls walking out the front door. I followed after them and Luisa closed the door behind us. There were two cars waiting for us and the nine of us piled in. We pulled away leaving Luisa standing on the granite front steps. This was the first time I had been out of the house and I was finally able to see my surroundings. It wasn’t as beautiful as I had imagined it to be, as it was made of brick and shoved up against other house that looked just as similar, if not as intimidating.
Inside the car, the girls were talking. “I hate how Luisa never wakes us up on time, but blames us for being late!” Adelina said. “And what do we need lessons for, anyways. We’re already professionals.” Grumbled Marta. It wasn’t too far to the dance club. The two cars pulled up out front and Agostino and Lodovico opened the doors to let us out.
The building was brick, with an awning covering a carpet leading to the front doors. Above the awning was a painted sign exclaiming “Amorous Angels- Elite Dance Club” I couldn’t help but giggle. Amorous Angels! Agostino held the door open for us as we straggled in. The inside was much nicer than the outside would lead you to believe, with wallpapered walls, a coat check, and tables scattered around the dance floor. The dance floor was slightly raised with the bandstand directly behind it.
The girls were lingering by the bar, asking for coffee and cigarettes. I found Adelina and we walked to a table. “What’s this all about?” I asked. She lit a cigarette and blew smoke out her nose. “This is when we practice routines and learn any new dance they put together. Sometimes the men will come in to watch, and the Mantenuta come and practice their stuff. I don’t know why they call them lessons, I sometimes think it’s just a reason to get us out of the house.”
As we were talking a big, fat bald man with a cigar came out from behind the bandstand and started yelling at us to start dancing. “I don’t pay you to sit around, get up and dance.” He yelled. “You don’t pay us at all Fat Tony.” Bella shouted back, stubbing out her cigarette and blowing smoke in his direction. “What number are we working on today?” she asked.
All the girls walked onto the dance floor. The band began to warm up, different instruments fighting to be heard over others. “Hey, new girl!” Fat Tony yelled. “You sit this one out and watch, but I expect you to do the next run through.” I pulled up a chair close to the dance floor where I had a good view. I was scared, seeing as how I had never danced before, and had barely even seen dancing except in the pictures. The band started playing a song and the girls all got into formation. Synchronized, they all began to dance. I tried to follow all their movements, but the song was so fast, and the girls knew it so well, that it was hard to concentrate.
About halfway through the number, the front doors were kicked open and a group of men in dark suits carrying large guns came storming in. We all screamed and ran to find some shelter. I was in shock; What was going on? The men started shooting at the ceiling and pieces of plaster fell to the floor. Others ran around smashing tables and chairs, and even one climbed over the bar to smash the alcohol bottles. “This is for Vito, a present from the Bianchi familia!” One of the men holding a gun yelled out. He started walking towards me, and I couldn’t move. I wanted to run, but I was so scared. “Pelligrino wants a present in return, so we’ll take this dirty girl.” He went to grab my arm, but Bella appeared from under a table and ran over to try and pull me away. “Oh, does this dirty girl want to go instead?” He said, and instead of pulling me up, he grabbed Bella. “No!” I cried out, and Bella was screaming. One of the other men came over and slapped me, hard, across the face. The first man was dragging Bella out the front door, her kicking and screaming. The man that had hit me walked up behind Bella and hit her over the head with the butt of his gun. Bella went limp. The doors closed behind them.
I jumped up, screaming Bella’s name, suddenly afraid of what would happen to her, but before I could reach the door, Fat Tony was pulling me away. “Shut up, shut up!” he cried. “Do you want them to come back for you? Go with the other girls, and leave. Now!” He ran to behind the bar and picked up a telephone. The other girls and some members of the band were huddled behind a curtain near the bandstand and were calling my name. “Hurry Melody, they may come back. We need to leave!” I ran across the dance floor as fast as I could and we all ran for the back door.
Pushing open the door, we saw Agostino and Lodovico with guns drawn, all the doors to the cars open. Agostino was bleeding through the sleeve of his jacket. “Get in, Get in!” They cried, eyes wildly looking in every direction. Once we were all in, they slammed the doors closed and peeled out of the back alley. We drove for a long time, I guess to make it harder for those bad guys to follow us. By now, most of us were crying, finally realizing what had happened. They took Bella! When we reached the mansion, we pulled into a garage in an alley behind the house. Lodovico, who had been driving the last car, jumped out and pulled the garage door closed. Then he opened the door for Agostino and pulled him out. “Are you okay? Hold on Agostino, just hold on.” By now, we had all piled out of the car and were standing watching Lodovico put his arm around Agostino to support him. Agostino was pale, and his sleeve was completely soaked through with blood. Blood dripped from his fingertips onto the gravel floor.
Nana opened a door leading into the house, and helped Lodovico drag Agostino up the stairs. Once all three were inside, they closed the door behind them. In the darkness, the eight of us huddled together, shaking not only from the cold, but also from the realization that anyone of us could be in Bella’s position, or worse. We looked at each other through our tears with wide eyes, but said nothing.
A few minutes later, Nico opened the door and called down to us, “come on in, girls. You must be freezing.” He had a smile on his face, but his eyes showed nervousness. “Come on in and go up to the red room. Carlo will be in to see you in a minute. I think he’s going to take you to the movies.” We silently climbed the stairs and walked down the hallway. I followed the other girls holding Adelina’s hand the whole way.
Once in the red room, we sat as close together as we could. Adelina, Perlita, Flora and myself sat on the couch, while Maddalena, Evelina, Marta, and Carmina pulled chairs up close. There was still nothing to say. Finally Marta stood up and walked to the radio. “It’s too quiet in here.” She said as she turned on the radio. The happy jazz that came out didn’t cheer us up, but it filled the silentness of the room.
In the hallway we could hear doors slamming and running footsteps. Nobody came in to see us. I don’t know how long we sat there, but it felt like days. Finally Lana came in with a tray of sandwiches. “You all must be hungry, sitting here for an hour with no breakfast. I’ll be back with hot tea. You all just relax now, ain’t nothing bad gonna happen.” She left the room and silently we each took a sandwich. When the door opened again, it was Nana carrying the silver tea tray. “You little frighten’ doves. Agostino gonna be fine. Just a little scratch is all it is. Boys like to shoot without looking where they’re shooting.” She placed the tea tray where last night there had been champagne. “You all forget about what happened. Ain’t nothing you need to worry about.” She went to the radio and changed the station to where a soap opera was just starting. “You all relax and listen to this now. Just don’t leave this room except to go to the W.C.” Then she left the room.
We ate silently, listening to the radio stars and their drama. It was much nicer than the drama we had just experienced. My thoughts turned to Bella. I had only known her for a day, but I still missed her. She was sweet and talkative. Maybe a little too talkative, but still. Then I realized that it could have been me the Bianchi’s had taken. Bella and I looked similar enough, maybe they really wanted me. I shivered as I thought about how they had knocked her out cold. I put my hand to my face where the man had slapped me. It still stung, but didn’t want anyone to worry about me. We needed to worry about Bella.
Evelina got up to pour the tea. As she handed me my cup, her eyes widened. “What happened to your face?” she cried. I tried to explain how Bella had tried to grab me and get me out of the way and one of the bad men had slapped me. Adelina went to the door and out in the hallway. She left the door open and we could see her enter the bathroom across the hall. She came back with a towel soaked in cold water. “Here, put this on your face. You don’t want a handprint there when you dance tonight.” Dance tonight! After what had just happened? “I’m not dancing tonight!” I cried. “What about Bella and Agostino? Do we just forget about them and go have a good time? I can’t go back there. I just can’t.”
“Of course you’ll go back. That’s what you’re here to do, to dance. That’s our job.” Marta said holding the towel to my cheek. “Well, I don’t want this job anymore! I want to back to New Jersey, I want to go back to Mama!” I was sobbing now, realizing that I couldn’t get out of here; I was going to have to go back to the club and pretend nothing was wrong. I put my head on Flora’s shoulder and cried some more. I told them of how mama had died, and how I didn’t even know I was in New York until last night.
Adelina handed me a handkerchief. “Vito brought me here too. He found me in Chicago. My mother and father brought my 3 sisters and me to America only a few years ago. They wanted to have their own vineyard like in Naples, so they moved to California. I hated California! My sisters all got married and moved away, but I was the youngest, there was nothing I could do. At 16 I finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran away. I was on my way to New York when Vito found me.”
“Do you miss your family?” I asked. “Oh, very much! But I also like it here. The glamour and the presents and being treated like a movie star!” She looked at me. “Sometimes accidents happen around here, but they don’t affect us much.” She stopped and we all turned to look at the open door. There was the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway. We held our breath, waiting to see who it was.
It was Luisa followed by Carlo. They closed the door behind them as they entered the room. Carlo pulled two chairs close to our circle. “I’m sure you are all worried about Bella, but she’s fine.” Luisa said to us. “It was all a practical joke. Her family wanted to surprise her for her birthday, but they didn’t want her to know about it. It’s rather silly if you think about it. She’ll be back in a few days.” She turned to Carlo. “What are you going to tell them?” “Well, I um, just wanted to let you know that Vito will have you at the Honey club tonight. It’s all set up with Fat Tony and you’re not going to be any doing any numbers, you just gotta be nice to the guys. You need to be there by seven. That’s all. I’ll be driving tonight.” With that he stood up and straightened his hat. “I’ll have the car ready after dinner.”
“There will be no formal dinner tonight, Ladies. Nana and Luisa will bring you up a plate. Now go get cleaned up. You need to look sharp for tonight. And Melody, make sure you put extra makeup on that cheek. You look terrible.” With that Luisa stood and followed Carlo out the door.
We stood slowly, absorbing what Luisa had said about Bella. It seemed awfully weird that the family would go to that much trouble, with guns and everything to surprise her for her birthday. And what about Agostino. Nothing had been said about him. Was he okay? We went up the stairs quietly and went separately into our own rooms.