Broken Locks:  A Tale of Orpheus
-ONE-

 

    In an alley…far from the hustle and bustle of the steel-encrusted sentries protecting this city of humans…a hotel.  Mahogany doorways, granite floors, brass banisters and a tapestry ceiling of thick, glittering glass.  Ornate.  Ancient.  Shrouded in mystery, though everyone knew its purpose.  Thick black letters above a graceful arched entryway, proclaiming a single word:  Orpheus.  A gentlemen’s club, privy to only the very rich and the very famous.  The word was not spoken in public, its business not advertised.  The invitation came only as a breathy whisper, so soft one could not be sure the word was spoken, until cool trembling hands slipped into heated pockets and extracted a starched white card.  1521 Chestnut Terrace.  And the image of a broken lock.  The letters, in heavy gold, rose away from the paper, catching the light and capturing the imagination all in the same breath.  And always, always, the same set of words:  “what on earth?”

    But they came.  Under the cover of night, in clothes that would not attract attention, they came.  With expectations and piqued curiosity, they came.  With an unwarranted sense of superiority, of privilege, they came.  With desire coursing like plumes of smoke through engorged veins, they came…only to return, over and over again.

    The fee was extravagant, that was for certain.  It was paid in cash, placed in a parchment envelope that was dropped into an unmarked box at the end of the hallway.  The staff was never to see the money.  Currency was neither dared discussed or handled; to do so would be a death sentence and a blackball in the maroon ledger in which the clients so willingly scratched their names.  A blackball was death.  A blackball was eviction.  A blackball was to be barred from the kingdom of Eden.

    They were greeted, as always, by the same slight man, who neither forgot a face nor the tastes of his clients.  He would greet them like family, removing their coats and offering flawlessly prepared food and drink.  There were no bags to handle nor belongings to shuffle; such things were barred from the heavy doors.  Clients were only to bring their bodies and an insatiable appetite for excess, which was never in shortage in their respective positions.  Sometimes they would be made to wait for hours before the actual “business” began…before the key ring was passed around.  Before selections were made.

    Twenty-six keys…different shapes, different sizes, different textures and colors…burnished gold, shimmering pewter, aged rust and copper…dangling from a single ring.  Twenty-six rooms, hiding secrets of tormented lovers and shrouded infidelity.  Twenty-six women, the “treasures” of this very unique hotel.  One pop superstar, clad in cords and a faded gray t-shirt, Tonto’s demise pressed to his lips, tears seeping from his mournful brown eyes.

    Any one of them, any key, could be his, unlocking a sinful world of pleasure, holding him captive until his only option was sweet surrender.

    “A key, Mr. Fatone?  Would you care for a key?”

    It was the beginning of the ritual, one which the hotel’s patrons knew like a well-rehearsed dance.  The maitre d’, Mr. Ayuda, would ask, and they, his clients, would answer.  Ambiguity was not permitted.  Yes or no.  The words must be clear and concise before the ring was offered to them, and they must select a key quickly and without hesitation.  At first, they had tried to sort the keys out, to discuss their evenings, to figure out which sinful beauty belonged to which room and which room corresponded with each key, but they quickly learned that the keys, the locks, and yes, even the girls, were changed constantly.

    “You do not select a key,” Ayuda told them pointedly one evening, as the quintet looked up in guilt.  Had he heard?  But the man only smiled, and continued with, “A key selects you.  It knows your mood and senses your feelings.  It…will select…you.”

    They had scoffed behind his back at the time, but slowly had grown to believe the prophecy.  They had never been disappointed.  The keys had indeed selected them.

    “Mr. Fatone?”  The prompting continued, disturbing the young man from his reverie.  Mr. Ayuda smiled knowingly at the young man, his pristine charcoal business suit bristling as he proffered the polished ring of brass to his famous young charge.  A gracious smile was perched crookedly below a thin spidery mustache as he waited for a response.

    Joey closed his eyes, trying in vain to fight off the spell that the mysterious hotel had woven, and before realized what was happening, he had waved his hand in dismissal, wiping at his nose and steadying his shaky rate of breathing, biting his lip fiercely and repeating his mantra:

    No more tears.

    He could feel their looks of pity without even turning around.  From across the bar they watched him, his “brothers,” the precious few without bonds or obligations or commitments.  Without children.  They had come together, but an invisible chasm had divided them since the news had first arrived.

    Dear God, he had fucked up.

    After all, wasn’t it he who had spent hours awash in the bliss that this very hotel offered?  Wasn’t it he who extolled the pleasures of the flesh?  Wasn’t it he, more than any other, who had grown to crave the perks and delicacies of one in his position?  Wasn’t it he, then, who should have the ultimate price to pay?

    Pregnant.  One word.  Two syllables.  A lifetime of consequences.

    Given the choice to do it again, he would have run for the hills at the first sight of her.  He had demanded, time and again, that there be no commitment; nothing to stand in the way of his dreams and achievements, be damned what she thought.

    She had been willing to accept those terms, or so she had blithely stated time and time again.  When Marie Osmond had accused him teasingly of being a flirt, she had laughed right along with the perky hostess.  She had smiled when he had proclaimed the innocence of a little smile and a wink.  What harm could come of it?

    What harm, indeed?  It was preludes such as those which lead to guilty kisses and furtive nights spent bucking under the sheets, and the eventuality that even now made his blood chill in his veins:

    Pregnant.

    What would they say?  To see the guise of every man smashed to bits and see the pinched, drawn smiles on the faces of those same four brothers had been punishment enough, but the truth lie in far deeper waters:

    It was over for him.  He, at twenty-four, was about to become an old man.

    No more nights spent cavorting in clubs.  No more steamy, wicked kisses behind gleaming buses that hid the breathy moans of his latest conquest.  No careless glances, no sidelong smiles, no actions that would even hint at the unfaithful monster he kept carefully locked away.

    For all intents and purposes, he, Joseph Anthony Fatone, Junior, was about to become a MAN.

    If he should, in fact, choose to continue with the frivolous life of a rock star, he would do it in shadows, like a serpent, slinking in and out of rooms long enough to shed his clothes and allow his mouth to flicker like the forked-tongued snake he had been accused of becoming.

    She had enjoyed the last laugh.  It took one well-placed phone call and an off-the-cuff comment to Lance’s girlfriend, and the jig was up.  Meetings were called, statements were prepared, and the youthful flicker of mischief so prevalent in his eyes died in the span of twelve hours.  She.  Was.  Pregnant.

    Like Salome, she had been whirling under his eyes and dancing for Harrod, until it was too late for him to realize that it was his OWN head on the silver platter.  No matter how hard he begged, what untold riches he had offered in return, she would not budge.  She wanted one thing, and one thing only:

    Acknowledgement.

    The fanmail stopped coming.  The once adoring followers, still children themselves, continued to cry, but not tears of joy.  Rather, tears of betrayal, of anger, of disgust and disillusionment, until he began to walk with his eyes to the ground, in the haggard, hunched stance of an old man.

    His brothers continued to smile brightly, to twirl their girlfriends on the floor by day and accept the glittering keys at night, confident that what had happened to HIM, the stupid one, the happy-go-lucky village IDIOT, would never happen to them.  They would not be so careless.

    “It’s okay, Joe,” They’d smile sympathetically, “We’re here with you one hundred percent.”

    He knew better.  He could see the calculation in their eyes.  He was not immune to the fervent whispers behind locked doors, nor the backup plans they carefully crafted.  “Side projects,” indeed.  Another fancy term for “way out.”

    He watched as the youngest member of his gang of five slowly selected a sapphire-encrusted key from Mr. Ayuda’s ring, and placed it discreetly in his pocket.  Their eyes met for a moment, and Joey turned away at the look of pity he saw reflected in those endless blue orbs.

    “I’m sorry, man,” He mouthed, and discreetly took the elevator to the appropriate floor.

    Joey laughed, a bitter cackle that sounded hollow in his ears.  Sorry.  He knew that Justin would not waste a single breath worrying about him, not while he was pleasured by woman fourteen in room twenty-one.  He knew that the guise of sympathy was only until he could get his cards in a line.  Not that he blamed the younger man.  If the situations were reversed, if a mirror had flipped the images, he would have done the same thing.

    “A key, Mr. Fatone?”  Mr. Ayuda’s gentle voice returned him to reality.  He had appeared out of nowhere, once again dangling the golden ring like the apple in the garden, daring him to be tempted.  He had no choice but to surrender.

    Joey bit his lip and sighed, reluctantly accepting a plain-looking, silver key from the heavy metal ring before speaking his word of affirmation.  It would do, for tonight.  It would do, for now.  He simply had to face the fact that the chains he wore could not be unlocked by any key in this hotel.

    Pregnant.


PART II

alasavalon@yahoo.com

2001