Melody meets Gregio.
|Did I really believe all that crap about a birthday surprise? At the time, yes. Remember that I had never been to the movies, and didn’t know about shoot-ups and guns. I was sheltered in my little Italian community. Sure, the newspapers would have stories on criminals and activities of that nature that was happening further into the city, but I never thought something like that would happen to me. That was the kind of thing that happened to people who deservered it, other people, but not good people like me and Mama, the Rossi family. Not us. Nowadays there are drive-by shootings and wives kill their husbands and kids kill each other. You can get a gun at your grocery store. But like I said, things are different now. Much different.
I closed my door and went into the bathroom to fill the tub. I took off my dress and draped it on the chair. I sat on the edge of the tub and unbuckled my shoes. I remembered I still had the note tucked into my garter and I threw it onto my dress. I took off my stockings and garters and stood up. I turned to the mirror and looked at myself. I had never seen myself naked before. My hair was tousled and my skin was paler than usual. On one side of my face, a bright red handprint was visible. I turned back to the tub and slipped off the pink satin panties. Sliding into the tub, I heard my door open and close. “Who’s there?” I called, not daring to stand up, but afraid of who was in my room.
Vito removed his hat and threw it onto the chair where my dress lay. “Little bird.” He whispered. “How beautiful you look.” I tried to cover myself, but it was useless. There were no bubbles to hide behind this time. “You can’t just come in here like that! You didn’t even knock.” I cried my face turning red. “You can’t see me like this! Go away!” “Stand up, my Venus.” He looked into my eyes and a warmness drifted over my whole body. He took of his light grey jacket and hung it over the side of the chair. Coming towards me he held out his hand. Looking into his hungry eyes, I took his hand and slowly stood up. His eyes roamed over my body, watching the water drip off my skin. He pulled me towards him and by putting his hands on my waist, gently lifted me out of the tub. I quickly grabbed a towel lying by the tub and tried to wrap it around me. I stood before him, not knowing what to do. He slowly leaned down and kissed my neck, then my shoulder, pushing down the towel, to kiss my breasts. I ran my fingers through his dark hair and closed my eyes. He felt wonderful, the warmness of his mouth and the softness of his hands.
He stood up and I watched as he untied his black tie, dropping it on the floor. He slipped his suspenders off his shoulders. He kissed me again and led us towards the bed. I sat and looked at him. “I should put something on, I’m not decent.” He looked at me with his dark eyes and said, “You look decent to me Melody. I would like to see more of you”. He leaned forward and kissed my neck. A moan escaped my lips and he stopped, looking up at me. “Who hit you, Melody?” he asked, moving up so our faces were close together. “I don’t know.” I replied. “There were so many and they took Bella.” My voice caught in my throat as I added, “They wanted to take me.”
He pulled me closer to him and held me tightly, tighter than he ever had before. “To think I almost lost my little bird.” He held my face up to his. “Did they hurt you in any other way? Did they do anything else to you?” His voice was rough, menacing. “No, no Vito. I swear they didn’t.”
He stood up from the bed and straightened his shirt and pants. Pulling up his suspenders he looked toward the windows. “Was it really Bella’s family that took her?” I asked wrapping the towel tighter around me. “Was that what they told you?” he asked, turning to face me. “Well, I suppose then it must be true.” I wrapped my arms around his waist and buried my face in his chest. “What about Agostino? Was that a joke too?” “Maybe,” he replied, “I haven’t been to see him about what happened. But look at the time, you need to get ready to go to work.” He unwrapped my arms from around my waist and held me away from him at arms length. “Do I still have to go tonight, Vito? Please don’t make me…” He looked down at me sternly. “It is your first night. You have a job to do, remember? Everyone must do his or her job in this house. Including you.”
He walked into the bathroom and put his jacket on. He picked up his silk tie from the floor and stuffed it into a pocket. He put his hat on and walked to the door. “Vito, wait!” I cried running towards him. He stopped, his hand still on the doorknob. “You need to button your shirt up. People will wonder what went on in here.” I said with a smile as I buttoned up his shirt. The corners of his lips turned up, as if to smile. He leant down and kissed me on the forehead. “Behave tonight.” And with that he left the room.
I walked back into the bathroom and ran more hot water into the tub. I sank in slowly and dunked my head under the faucet. Coming up, I could hear Lana placing a tray of food outside my door. I quickly used the leaf-shaped soap to scrub myself. After rinsing and drying, I walked to the armoire. I opened the drawer with the undergarments and chose a silky black slip. It was mostly sheer except for satin that covered the breasts. I pulled on a pair of silky panties that matched.
I went over and opened the door to bring in the tray Lana had left. Placing it on the bed and lifting the cover, I noticed there wasn’t much food on it. On the plate sat a small piece of chicken alla marinara and risotto alla Milanese. A small bowl of frutta sat on one side of the tray and on the other was a bottle of vino bianco. I guess they don’t want us to be fat when we flirt, I thought as I picked up a fork.
There was a knock at the door. “It’s Adelina. Can I come in?” “Of course!” I called back, glad for company after Vito leaving. She entered the room with her hair in rollers and was wearing a red silk teddy and high heeled slippers with feathers covering the toes. Loosely draped over her shoulders was a red robe with a feather collar. “Buon appetito!” she exclaimed eyeing my plate. “Your meal looks much better than mine did. All I got was fish soup and raw asparagus.” She made a face of disgust. “I wish we could eat with the men every night. Nana only makes good food for them.” She lay back on the bed. “Are you still upset about this morning? At least we know Bella’s okay.”
My mouth was full, so I didn’t reply. Adelina went on. “And from what I heard, Agostino is fine too. He just needs to rest for a few days. It’s a good thing Carlo is driving tonight. I’m surprised Agostino even made it back to the house the way he was.” She sat up, eyes shining. “Hey, did you hear?” “Hear about what?” I asked opening the bottle of wine. I noticed there was no glass on the tray. “Nico asked Delfinia to marry him!” I looked at her, wide eyed, and asked, “What did she say?” “We don’t know yet. I don’t even think we’re supposed to know that much, what with him being Dante’s son and her a Mantenuta. What are you waiting for? Drink the vino already!”
“But there’s no glass.” Was my reply. “You don’t always need a glass sweetie. It tastes better from the bottle! Bottom’s up!” Laughing, I held the bottle to my lips and tilted it back. “Slowly!” Adelina cried, “It’s going to come out your nose!” I coughed as I tried not to laugh, the wine dripping down my chin. “Maybe it does taste better this way.” I giggled. “Is that what you’re wearing to the dance hall tonight?” “Of course, darling. This way I make more tips!” We giggled and I drank more wine. She stood up and pranced around the room, her robe floating out behind her. “Don’t you think I’ll get Carlo to be my guy this way?” She came over and took the wine bottle from me. “Does Carlo want you to be his?” I asked standing up to put on my garters. They were black with rhinestones all around. “I thought you were playing with Matteo last night.”
“Exactly,” she cried, taking another swig from the bottle, “playing. He wanted company and I give good company, if you know what I mean.” She sat back down on the bed. “I’d love to be with Carlo, but he doesn’t seem to want any one girl. Plus, he likes to take out girls from outside of the mansion.” I rummaged around in the stocking drawer until I found a black pair. I pulled them on and went into the bathroom to get the note from Vito. I tucked it into my garter, once again. As I walked back into the room, Adelina was rummaging through my dresses. “Hey, do you think I could wear this one tonight?” she asked holding up a dark red dress covered in fringe. “It matches my underwear!”
“Sure, but what am I gonna wear?” I stood in front of the armoire, arms folded across my chest. “I know just the thing!” Adelina cried. “Be right back!” with that she ran from the room, the red dress going with her. I grabbed the wine bottle and swallowed some more. It was really good wine. And I think it did taste better right out of the bottle. I took a couple more swallows.
By the time Adelina got back I had figured out how to put on enough makeup to cover the handprint, but not too much to look like a mask. I was just lining my eyes when she came back into the room. “The most beautiful woman in the world has arrived!” She was wearing the red fringe dress, and it did look spectacular. She had put on black stockings and black shoes. “Your stockings are falling down.” I said turning away from the mirror, “where are your garters?” “Ah, garters, phooey! You don’t always have to wear them. It’s the newest thing to roll your stockings. Where have you been, in New Jersey?” I laughed and stood up. Adelina held up a short silver chiffon dress with a dropped waist and rhinestone pins at the shoulders. “You will look fantastic in this!” She cried. “But look at your hair! Did you let it dry without brushing it?”
I looked into the mirror and saw that my hair was a scraggly mess. “Goodness, what am I going to do?” I asked turning to face Adelina. “I can’t go out looking like this!” Adelina put the dress on the bed and came over to the vanity. “Okay, first thing, brush it real gentle. That will at least straighten it and make it smooth. I’ll go see if I can get Marta to let us borrow a headpiece. With her hair so short, she always wears a headpiece.” She handed me a silver handled brush, turned and left the room. Brushing it did help. It became smoother, and it did become shinier. But it still didn’t look anything like when Lana had done it.
I finished putting on my makeup making my eyes dark and my lips red. I was just pulling the dress over my head when Adelina returned. Marta was with her, carrying a headpiece. Adelina was trying to unroll the curlers from her hair. “Marta’s better at putting them on so I thought I’d just bring her along to do it right.” I looked to see what Marta was carrying. It was a beautiful silver mesh cap that had strands of silver and black fringe hanging down. “Sit down and I’ll put it on you.” Marta said as she walked toward the bed. I sat down and Marta placed the masterpiece on my head. It was so heavy! “God, isn’t that just the bee’s knees!” exclaimed Adelina. I could feel the fringe dangling down my chin and onto the back of my neck. I stood up and went to the mirror. It did look fantastic. It covered most of my hair and the colors matched beautifully with the dress I had on. I loved it!
I turned to face the two girls. “So, do you think I’ll get a guy tonight?” I asked slyly, hands on hips. I laughed and we all took a drink from the wine bottle. I felt giddy and… sexy. Like the way I feel when I’m with Vito. Adelina had gotten the curlers out and was placing a red sequined headband over her forehead. It had the biggest black feather sticking out of it I had ever seen! Marta was carrying a small gold case that she clicked open, and pulled a cigarette from. “Want one, Melody?” She asked handing me the case. I had never smoked before. The only time I had seen a lady smoke was here in the house. “Isn’t that what trashy girls do?” I asked. “I thought only men smoked?” “Trashy girls! It’s what all the independent women are doing Melody! Don’t you want to be the cat’s meow?” Both girls giggled. “Well, you have to learn sometime, doll face!” Marta cried as she lit another cigarette. Handing it to me she said, “Watch me.” She placed the cigarette to her lips and breathed in slowly. Then she pulled the cigarette out and blew the smoke out over my shoulder. “Now you try.”
I put the cigarette to my lips, inhaled, and Damn, did it burn! I coughed and coughed, my eyes watering. Adelina had lit her own cigarette and both girls were laughing. Marta handed me the wine bottle and motioned for me to drink. I took a swallow and looked up at the girls. “At least you didn’t do that in front of the men!” Adelina laughed. “Try it again, it won’t hurt as much this time, I promise.” I held the cigarette to my lips and inhaled again. It still burned, but not so much this time. “See, practice makes perfect!” Sang Marta.
Out in the hallway we could hear the other girls scurrying about. We opened the door and watched as the girls ran by and down the stairs, all looking as glamorous as we three did. “Come on, we better go, or Luisa will murder us.” We closed the door and followed the girls down the stairs. At the bottom, Adelina opened a door to a closet and there hung the most beautiful wraps and furs I had ever seen! She handed me a black wrap with fur trimmings, and to Marta gave a white fur stole. She grabbed a metallic gold wrap with red sequins for herself and closed the door. “Let’s go!” She cried as we hurried out the front door.
Carlo was waiting for us outside. He had pulled the car up to the front steps and held the door open for us. We got in alongside Evelina and Perlita. The ride to the Honey Club was longer than the ride to the other sala da ballo. It was still slowly raining outside, but Carlo had the heat on and we didn’t really feel the cold. Besides, we were to busy gossiping about Nico and Delfinia.
We pulled up in front of the Honey Club, and once again Carlo opened the door for us. The Honey Club looked much nicer than the Angelico Amoroso, but maybe that was because it was night, and it was all lit up. There was an awning stretching all the way across the sidewalk to the curb, covering a red carpet. Two gentlemen in navy blue uniforms held open the door for us as we entered the club.
We dropped our wraps at the coat check and went further inside. It was beautiful. Fountains, sculptures of slick women and painted murals, everything was marble and glass. The tables were scattered around the dance floor with fresh flowers in a vase on each one. Most of the tables were filled with men in groups, but there were a few women scattered here and there. Adelina grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, we have to find Fat Tony.” We went to the bar and ordered drinks, then asked where we could find Fat Tony. The bartender raised his eyebrows and pointed to a door to the right of the bandstand.
We took our drinks and walked over to the door, occasionally being stopped by catcalls and men grabbing us to talk. Adelina just laughed it off and told the men to be patient. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Just smile. You look great. Enjoy the attention you’re getting, and thank the men in return.” We finally got behind the bandstand and knocked on the door. We heard a grunt and assumed that was a sign to enter. Apparently not. Fat Tony was sitting on a chair behind a desk and sitting on his desk was a very naked Maddalena.
As soon as the door opened, she jumped off the desk and tried to pull her dress on as quickly as possible, avoiding our eyes. “What?” yelled Fat Tony, zipping up his fly. “Don’t you know to knock before you come in! What do you sluts want anyway?” He stood up and waved for Maddalena to leave. “We were told to see you when we got here, you fat slob!” Adelina yelled. “And you know you’re not supposed to touch us. Wait until Vito finds out about this! You’ll be dead by morning!”
“Now wait a minute, girlie, you got it all wrong. She came on to me. She said she needed some extra money. It was all done fair. You don’t need to tell Vito, he doesn’t need to know about small things like that.” Adelina glared at him with clenched teeth. “You big slime ball. You’re so disgusting. Why she would want to flirt with you is beyond reason. You pig!” “Fat Tony, I have to do a favor for Vito. He said you’d know the guy and point him out. Just tell me who he is and we’ll be outta here.” I said calmly. I guess I was getting used to nakedness and swearing.
Fat Tony lit his cigar and looked at me. I noticed he did somewhat resemble a pig. “His name isn’t important. He always wears a yellow suit and he never takes off his hat. He’s usually at the bar. I’m sure you can’t miss him. He’ll be the one to ask you to dance. Now, beat it, you whores!” Adelina mumbled some other vulgarities at him under her breath as we turned to leave. “And send your friend back in!” We could hear him yell after we closed the door.
“Are we going to tell Vito about this?” I asked. “Nah,” she replied. “I’d rather tell Nico. Vito would just get mad and yell at us. Nico can keep calm. Then he can decide whether to tell Vito and Dante or not.” “Is Maddalena going to get in trouble? Are we going to get in trouble?” I was worried about what would happen to Maddalena. Would they make her leave the house? What would Marta do? “Stop worrying, silly girl. It’s not our problem. Now we better get to flirtin’ before someone sees us just standing around.” We walked back towards the bar and the tables. “Who would see us?” I whispered. Adelina whispered back, “They have ghosts everywhere.”
We stood at the edge of the dance floor. We watched as Evelina and Carmina some crazy dance with two sailors. Adelina explained the dress was called the Charleston and was all the rage right now. Marta was sitting at a table surrounded by several men, laughing and smoking. She looked over at us and waved. We walked over to her table. One of the men in a flashy suit poured us glasses of champagne. “Bottoms up, Ladies,” he said smiling at me. I smiled back and sat in an empty chair next to him. Adelina was leaning over Marta’s shoulder lighting a cigarette. She looked over at me and nodded her head smiling. “So, what’s your name, little girl?” the man in the flashy suit asked me. “Melania.” I replied, “but you can call me Melody.”
“Well, Melody, I wanna dance, care to join me?” He stood up and held out his hand. I quickly swallowed my champagne and took his hand. He led me to the dance floor as the band started a fox trot number. I looked around and noticed that Evelina and Carmina had switched sailors, and Perlita and Flora also now had partners. He danced well and I knew enough to keep up with him, and when the song ended he wanted another dance. We kept dancing.
The band finally switched to a slow blues number and he pulled me in close to him. He whispered a few things in my ear, trying to romance me. I just laughed. I found out his name was Germano, and he was a suit salesman down in Little Italy. Another slow song started and I pulled away. “I think I need another drink.” I said, coyly. “Well, the booze is on me tonight, so drink away little girl.” I lead the way back to the table where we had been sitting and found that all the girls had left, and I was surrounded by men. Germano poured me another glass of champagne and waved over a waiter to bring a round of whiskey for everyone.
From where we sat I could see Marta dancing with a short fat man. He had pulled her close to him, and was holding her butt. I tried not to smile. Poor Marta! Adelina was dancing with another man who had been at the table, and I could see that she was obviously enjoying his attention. The men at the table tried to pull me into conversation, and I played along, letting them flirt with me and laughing when I was supposed too. Germano kept refilling my glass and when the whiskey was gone, he ordered another round.
I looked at the bar and found the man I had been looking for. Just as Tony had said, he was wearing a yellow hat and a matching fedora. I caught his eye and smiled at him. He nodded and looked away. Germano now had his hand on my thigh, but I left it alone, thinking he wouldn’t dare go under the dress. His hand started creeping up until I couldn’t stand it any longer and leaned over to him and whispered in his ear, “Go any further and I’ll scream…sweetheart.” A frightened smile came over his face and he quickly pulled his hand away. I gulped down a glass of whiskey, repulsed by what had just happened. Oh well, I thought, it could be much worse.
At that moment, the yellow man came over to the table. “Excuse me, gentleman, but I believe this lady owes me a dance.” The men at the table just stared up at him, mostly too drunk to argue. But not Germano. He stood up and faced the yellow man. “Hey Bo, she’s my girl for the night. She ain’t dancing with no one but me.” The man in yellow raised his eyebrows and put his hands in his pants pockets, revealing a pistol strapped to his side. “I think you can let me borrow her for a minute, eh buddy?” Germano sat down.
The yellow man dragged me to the dance floor and the band started a fast jazz song. All the girls in the club grabbed a man and rushed to the dance floor. I didn’t know the steps to this dance, and clumsily tried to follow what other couples were doing. We danced, him swinging me around, me trying to smile the whole time. He was rough, but I pretended not to notice. He grabbed me and pulled me to him. “You have something for me?” He commanded more than asked. I bent down to get it, but he pulled me back up. “I’ll get it. No funny stuff.” I looked at him shocked and he pushed me away into a spin. Pulling me back, I whispered in his ear, “Garter. Left side.” The band switched songs and this time we danced further apart a few minutes before he pulled me close again. Once he got what he needed he walked off the dance floor. Just like that, leaving me stranded among other sweaty couples bouncing to the jazz beat. I slowly left the dance floor headed in the direction of Germano’s table. I hadn’t even felt him take the note. That was what surprised me the most.
Once at the table, I found the men had all left and Carlo was talking close to Marta. I walked to the bar, and turned to watch the dancers. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the door to Tony’s office open and Luca pushed out Maddalena. He dragged her through the crowded room, past all the tables and out the door. As they walked by I could see she was crying, and one eye was swollen and turning blue. They stopped briefly at the coat check and Luca threw Maddalena’s wrap at her. Then he shoved her out the front door.
Adelina came over to me, a young blonde man in a white suit following her. “Dixie, can you leave us alone for a minute?” she asked him, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. “Sure, babe, whateva’ you say.” He handed her a twenty-dollar bill and smacked her bottom before walking away. She stuffed the money down the front of her dress.
“What’s going on with Maddalena?” I asked her. “did you tell somebody?” “I didn’t tell anybody Melody. But I told you, they got ghosts everywhere here.” We turned to look at where Carlo and Marta were sitting. Carlo had his arm around her, and she was crying loudly into his handkerchief. He looked up and saw us staring. He gave us a dark look and nodded his head in the direction of the dance floor.
We swallowed our whiskey and walked slowly around the dance floor, looking for a respectable man to notice us. A man in a dark suit grabbed my arm as we passed by. “Ladies,” he said in a heavy Italian accent, “come join us tonight.” There were four other men sitting at this table and they all wore dark suits and hats. Some were wearing dark glasses. I didn’t feel comfortable, but Adelina just jumped right in. Climbing into the first guys lap she said, “Dove l’alcool gentlemen?” The man to the left of the first guy grabbed my waist and sat me on his lap. “What is your name sweetheart?” I turned to look at him. He wasn’t bad looking, with dark hair showing under his fedora, and his eyes were dark behind his glasses. He had a nice mouth, with a small mustache. “My name is Melody.” I said.
“And are you alone here tonight, Melody?” He squeezed my thigh and looked down his glasses at me. “I mean, do you belong to anyone?”
“I don’t belong to nobody.” I replied giving him a sly look. “Why, do you want to own me?”
“Only if I get everything.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a gold cigarette case. Opening it, he handed me one, and pulled one out for himself. “Oh, no thanks, I don’t really like smoking that much.” I said giving the cigarrete back. He looked at me over the top of his glasses, “Smoke.” He said it in such a menacing way I didn’t want to make him mad, so I bent over the match he held out and inhaled. “Why do you want to own little old me?” I blew smoke out my nose over his shoulder. The other two men were involved in their own conversation, not paying attention to Adelina and her man or me and mine.
“I don’t even know who you are. What’s your name?” His hand tightened on my thigh. “You don’t need to know my name, sweetheart.”
“Well, what can I call you then, give me a nickname or just make something up. I need to call you something.” I picked up an empty glass on the table and waved it in the air. “I need something to drink, boys” It came out coy, but slightly slurred. I looked at Adelina, but she was whispering things into the first guy’s ear.
“You can call me Grigio” He hit the guy sitting next to him “Hey goof, get us something to drink. What do I pay you for, you slug.” The guy stood up and walked over to the bar.
“You want me to call you Grey?” I asked, tracing his lips with my finger. “That seems like an odd name” “You wanted to call me something, you call me Grigio.” The guy he had called Slug came back to the table carrying two tall dark bottles. He placed the bottles on the table and sat down.
Grigio opened the two bottles and poured four glasses full. It was a clear liquid and I didn’t think much of it. Grigio, Adelina, her man, and I all took a glass. Raising them “Salute!” we sang and clinked glasses together. Unaware of what was in the glass, Adelina and I gasped after swallowing. My eyes watered and my throat burned. Adelina coughed, and I could see her eyes tear up as well. “Drink, girls, drink! Only the finest grappa for the ones we own.”
I tried to swallow more, but didn’t get much down. It was terrible, and I was instantly lightheaded, but pretended I was okay. I looked back at Grigio and he was smiling. The next thing I knew he was kissing me, hard. I tried to pull back, but he dug his fingers into my back pushing me closer to him. I tried to kick his legs with mine but it didn’t seem to hurt him. I could hear one of the guys at the table laughing.
Now he was being rough, pushing his hand up my dress, grabbing my breasts, and pushing me closer and closer to him until I could barely breathe. Where was help? Was no one seeing this, I thought? Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. He shot straight up, pushing me to the floor. “You bitch!” he yelled, holding his hand up to his mouth. “Filthy piece of trash, what are you doing? Do you know who I am? Huh!” The three other men stood up, guns being drawn. “Boss, what happened?” “What’d she do?” they asked coming around to circle me on the floor. “The little bitch bit me. She fucking bit me!” Grigio had pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and was wiping the blood from off his bottom lip. “Hey, leave her alone!” Adelina yelled pushing her man off of her and trying to stand up. The man that had been with Adelina smacked her hard across the face, knocking her out, and picked up an empty bottle from the table and threw it on the floor, inches from my head, glass shattering all over me.
Suddenly, Fat Tony was there, yelling over Grigio and the other men. “Please, Please, what’s going on!” he yelled. “Whatever she did, she didn’t know. She’s new. She doesn’t know nothing.” He helped me stand up, but I was so shaky and dizzy I had to grab onto the back of a chair for support. “Listen, boys, drinks on me tonight okay? No more problems, eh?” he turned to me and in a low voice said, “you drag yourself to another table eh? Haven’t you gotten into enough trouble tonight?”
He picked up Adelina who was slumped over a chair, passed out. I looked around for help. The dark men were still shouting and cursing. I knew I had to get away from there. I took a deep breath and turned to walk away from the table. Grigio grabbed my arm and stopped me. “You may be a bitch, but I always pay the ladies.” He handed me a twenty-dollar bill, “And give this to your friend there.” It was another twenty. I had never seen that much money before in my life.