Excerpt from "Part Two" (draft)

Part Two: The Difficult Education of a Lonely Soul.


For a few months he just drifted along, from odd job to blow job (frequently both under the same man) and rarer fuck. No one concerned for their safety put stock in a grossly myopic electrician; no one concerned for their reputation let themselves be mounted by a slightly overweight, badly dressed dweeb. Ironically, Enzo had indeed discovered that, contrary to expectations raised (and occasionally disappointed) by his self-presentation, he was exclusively a top. He’d happily give and receive in the mouth, but the other to him, until very recently, when everything he’d believed he knew of reality had been turned inside out, was even in his wildest fantasies (which weren’t very wild, truth be told) a one-way street.


 His luck suddenly changed, professionally speaking, when he’d found an utterly absorbing job, or maybe it had found him, with a legendary stage magician touring through Rome. Though his signature brand of illusion was past its prime in popularity — contemporary audiences had found other diversions, less taxing to both intellect and imagination — his productions were expensive and elaborate and involved more circuitry than Enzo had ever before seen in one location. Enzo had not yet set foot inside an actual theatre himself, before that evening. Before the wind gusting through the streets he’d been aimlessly wandering blew an unused ticket to some kind of a show against his cheek. Curious what had slapped him, he grabbed the thin, long card and managed to make out the name of the theatre, which happened to be around the corner. Bored anyway, and despite knowing he’d hardly be able to see anything that might be happening way down on stage, he changed direction and headed to the well-known venue.


Enzo immediately figured out that he’d come to see someone called „Lucian,“ which was the single large word, floating bright and sharp above him, that he had no trouble at all making out on the marquee, as if it had been especially intended for him alone. Which, knowing a certain tricky Dame, it might well have been. He went up to the box office and asked the lady behind the glass what kind of a show they were having, what the time and date printed on the ticket might be, whether anyone had mentioned they’d lost their ticket, and if not, where he’d be allowed to sit. 


„Magic act, seven minutes, no nobody, front row center.“ The cashier did a double-take, then went on, suddenly chatty, „Oooh, haven’t seen one of these before. That’s not just a ticket. That’s gotta be one of those VIP passes, see there, it’s signed by the Maestro himself. Wait, he’s scribbled something else underneath. Lemme see.“ She dug around the purse she’d stashed under the counter until she found her reading glasses. „‚Holder t.b. conduct. dressing rm. Luc. imm. after fin. curt.‘ Lucky bugger.“ Peering over the flat tops of her rimless specs she mustered Enzo, who blithely returned, as he usually did when anyone looked at him for longer than a second, his most adorable puppy-dog impression, which was further blown out of all proportion by his own enormous lenses. She rewarded him with a huge smile that even Enzo was able to make out plainly.


„Oh, go ahead, bello, the doors are closing soon anyway.“ She waved down a skinny guy in some kind of a bellhop uniform and muttered a couple of instructions at him, waving the ticket in front of him, punctuating her staccato flood with emphatic „V.I.P., capisci?“s. The youth bobbed his head up and down.


„Rocco’ll show you to your seat, and fetch you again if someone else claims the ticket on time. And only if they convince me personally that it really belongs to them. I doubt that’ll happen.“ She grinned conspiratorially. „Plus the Maestro insists on we not letting any latecomers into the auditorium till intermission. You’ll get to see … as much as you can, anyway, hmm? poor puppy … at least the whole first act. And if whoever doesn’t feel like waiting on the street for almost an hour, they’ll have gone home again by then. Or I’ll be on the loo the whole fifteen minutes.“ She cackled. „Stay in your seat after the house lights come up. Soon as he’s done letting people out, Rocco’ll take you to see Lucian, it’s a labyrinth back there.“ 


She sighed. „Signore Lucian is simply amazing. And sooo handsome. And mysterious. And funny, too, when he wants! Has them eating out of his hand most nights. Except the stodgy ones, some of them leave in a huff after the Village People number.“ Enzo didn’t know what that signified. What village? Like mine in Sicily? Some traditional Italian folk dance or something? What did that have to do with magic? So he just smiled at her, and she beamed right back in sly realization. „Oh, you’ll love those two, I’ll bet, sweetie.“ 


Huh? Enzo silently wondered.


The ticket lady was on a roll now. „I don’t actually go to the theatre, funny huh, and me in a job like this? But this show is a lot like all my favourite movies, with magic, and laughs, and danger, and unexpected surprises of course, and, would you believe it, romance. Every one says the Maestro’s a bit of a cold fish, but I believe he’s got a big ol’ romantic soul hidden away in there. Not my kind of romantic endings, mind you, hehe, but, hey, I’m open-minded, I can enjoy sexy guys having fun too, can’t I? Psst, between you’n’me, I do sometimes, you know, when my husband’s at work. Don’t tell him, ok? He’d feel so … inadequate. Our little secret, ok, carino.“ Enzo had no idea what she was nattering about, except she’d somehow figured out he was gay. 


This was just a magic show. Wasn’t it? Sexy guys ‚having fun‘? 


It had also dawned on him that the sweet, middle-aged donna liked watching gay porn videos when her husband was away, and that the unfortunate man was probably not as generously endowed as most of the actors in that specialized branch of the entertainment industry. He chuckled at the image in his head, of the lady watching her special TV show in slippers and a muumuu (one of the few items of women’s clothing Enzo could visualize, since his mamma had worn one around the house when he’d been very little), while sipping prosecco and eating a plateful of cannoli, and she giggled back at him some more. Then a couple in evening dress approached the ticket booth with a some printed online forms. She winked at Enzo (which he missed) and quickly composed herself.


„Ok, gotta work. In you go now! Have fun, you!“


****


Even though he had the best seat in the house, Enzo as expected didn’t catch much more than the gist of the evening’s entertainment, none of the subtle, baffling, charming sleights-of-hand that required the illusionist’s most finely-honed skills. But the big illusions he observed well enough to be duly impressed. They involved things like, for example, a huge motorcycle with two sexy (the lady had been right on) guys on it that together vanished in a huge puff of smoke right in the middle of being driven around the stage, and all three reappeared, maybe three seconds (a tense drum roll) later, when they burst through one of the two sets of double doors behind the audience. The two men then carefully maneuvered their ride down the shallow steps of the long aisle toward the front. Everybody craned their necks, following their return journey. At the bottom they’d taken a sharp turn left and had crossed over from the right to the left aisle, with amazing precision, considering the narrow gap between the front row and the raised stage, passing by Enzo who sat in the middle. He’d noticed before that the bike must be electric because he’d seen the power supply and the engine quite clearly —  though as usual he didn’t know how he could have, just like the lettering on the marquee before, or when he fixed an appliance —  when it had been up on the stage, so the noise it made must have been fake too, and he had even figured out, without thinking about it too much, exactly how the real engine, hidden inside the fake metal block, worked. 


So when the two hot guys on their customized machine (a Moto Guzzi Cali with sirens and all) now came within touching distance of Enzo, he smelled not gas fumes but grease paint and sweat. Oddly, though, these two smelled more like Enzo’s mom and sister after a few hours of working in the vineyard. They smelled like women. Which made no sense at all, since even Enzo had been able to make out their hazy, bare-chested silhouettes clearly enough, while they had been doing a sort of reverse striptease from one costume into another, less than two meters from him, between numbers. They’d changed rhythmically, helping each other, using big expressive arm moves, to some kind of old pop that Enzo didn’t recognise, either because he’d never heard it on the radio in Sicily, or because the live band was re-interpreting it as something vaguely classical. 


It was, by the way, a sweet irony of sorts that, while Lucian was probably one of the least campy gay men you were likely to encounter, he used camp to great effect, at least as far as his loyal core of fans were concerned, in his shows, while Sir Damien Thwaite, a.k.a. Damien the Magnificent, Enzo’s temporary current employer and for complicated reasons Lucian’s arch-rival, was a homophobic prick whose overblown spectaculars unintentionally dripped with campiness (well, unintentionally and obliviously as far as Thwaite was concerned, who took himself far too seriously to see the obvious, but some of his more flamboyant designers might beg to differ as far as their intentions went), which his fans either studiously ignored or were too dense to figure out. Thwaite’s many North-American fans were cut from the same cloth as those upstanding citizens who’d thought „In the Navy“ to have been a fine choice for that military organ’s television recruitment campaign of 1979. That majority of clueless citizens, that is, who hadn’t, unlike their equally patriotic but more humorously endowed and in-the-know brethren, thought it was a fine idea and absolutely hilarious. Someone must have tattled back then, because the campaign had been pulled off the air again rather too quickly.


Meanwhile, A bit weird, was Enzo’s equally clueless (but considering his age and background, he ought to be forgiven at once) take on the the subversive, if not necessarily musical, genius of the Village People, but kinda nice. Maybe that was the song she’d been talking about, but then where were all the dancers in their long bright red or green skirts, black pants and white shirts and huge hats? Even Enzo couldn’t have missed those familiar colours. There had been four other guys (from the way they moved, Enzo figured they were guys) on stage during the short dance interlude, and briefly all six of them had come to the very edge of the stage in front of Enzo, all stripped down to the waist and juggling items of clothing at each other, vests and hats and sunglasses he’d thought, but contemporary, not from centuries ago, and many different colours, though black and white and red among them, and trying them on, and taking them off again, shaking their heads, dancing and laughing, until eventually they seemed to think they were correctly coordinated. Two of the others, like the slim guy who’d end up on the back of the bike later, were also not Caucasians, of that much Enzo was pretty sure. A couple of older audience members had gasped during the fun, party-like interlude, which had been required, Enzo guessed, to bring out the bike and set up a couple of other things, while others, mostly men, had laughed and clapped appreciatively. 


So now for a split-second the two hunks were finally close enough to touch and the one on the back even winked at Enzo, but he had all of a sudden, because of the strange scent of their sweat, lost his playful urge to reach out and smack that one (he was particularly attracted to the kind of lithe, smaller young man who never gave him the time of day) on his tight, leather-clad little butt. He could just make out some details of their costumes, the one in front was dressed like a cop (as expected), with a huge mustache, mirrored sunglasses and white helmet (not like the carabinieri, who wore black ones, when they bothered to at all), but the one hugging him in back looked like the American Indian from a really old movie Enzo had seen in the cinema in Marsala when he’d been seven or eight (one of the last ones he’d bothered to go to after everything had turned fuzzy all the time), with his huge colourful headdress flowing down over his torso, hiding his bare chest. At the left edge of the stage, a ramp had been specially installed to allow them to drive back up to where they had disappeared from before, upstage center. There they stopped, got off the bike to continuing applause, and apparently tore off their costumes. Everybody except Enzo gasped and then uproariously laughed and clapped again, while the two did a couple more of their odd disco steps to a few bars of a reprise by the band, and then unusually lightly for such muscular guys ran off the stage. Lucian bowed center front, almost as if directly at Enzo, and then, as the magician focussed his attention on introducing the next illusion, the bike seemed to sink slowly away while other large props were brought on by several assistants.  


What the otherwise minutely attentive Enzo had missed of course is obvious. (Though he hadn’t missed it, not really. Let’s be fair to the clever young man. He merely hadn’t learned to hone and trust any of his senses, that were so industriously taking up the slack for his eyes, including the one truly astounding one of which he’d been intuitively using a mere fraction of its potential, without really understanding what he’d been doing, for years. He hadn’t yet been apprenticed to his destined master. He didn’t know that that individual had taken the opportunity of this evening’s performance to test him, having had his eye on Enzo for several days now, and that Enzo was passing, despite his present slip-up, with mostly flying colours.) 


He didn’t trust himself enough yet to agree with his sensitive but otherwise unexceptional nose that the two riders had indeed changed into women — the big fake mustache, mirror shades and thick layer of flowing feathers had hidden facial features and breasts, the padding in the cop’s costume had made her look bulkier, like the guy she had replaced, which had not been necessary for the slender young ‚Indian‘ man. In a clever use of reverse psychology, the change of crew hadn’t been hidden from the rest of the audience, who were duly distracted from thinking any further about the whole trick by the hilarity of the two hunks’ ‚instant sex change’. They would now more easily ‚believe‘ in the improbable teleportation of one big motorbike and two live men, because they wanted to be able to pretend to believe as well the gender transformation, which was plainly impossible, but required that they had flown across the entire building and through the walls along with the machine first, rather than, as everybody knew, but in the spirit of the game ignored, waiting somewhere back-, or more likely, below-stage. And it was the absence of having this fact in his possession, that forced Enzo to conclude that the motorcycle had been the exact same one as well. If Lucian could spirit two grown men from one end of the building to the other in seconds, he might as well send the bike along with them. Occam’s Razor. Sherlock Holmes’ preferred modus operandi. The simplest explanation must be true. Not so, of course, in this profession.


Enzo had already correctly interpreted the earlier business with the audience, which had resulted in a couple of people rushing up onto the stage and fiddling with the bike. When he’d briefly glimpsed the big scrawled markings on its tank as it passed right in front of his nose, he’d confirmed that the random audience members (no doubt at all about that, and he was right) had signed their names across the tank with huge markers, each a different colour they’d randomly picked from a big spinning drum filled with at least a hundred more. Also random. Also true. 


Then the bike disappears, and reappears … no, not the bike. Then he’d figured it out. Not the precise mechanics, those were hard for him, since they didn’t seem to involve any circuitry. But the swap itself. Easy.


Then the two guys had reappeared with the bike. Enzo shook his head in frustration. Forget the bike. How did two men travel such a distance so fast? 


That particular trick would have taken Lucian and his team about eleven and a half seconds instead of two and a half, and would have required a lot more modifications to the theatre than he’d already wheedled out of his anxious hosts. That would have been too long to seem quite so amazing, never mind way too expensive and physically dangerous for the assistants. Technically it would have been even more remarkable, but audience psychology doesn’t work that way. Out of the many lessons that Enzo would rapidly absorb over the next two years, the subject that continued to give him the most trouble was human psychology, a weakness that had played not a small role in steering him headlong into his present peril.


****. 

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