While waiting for the elevator to arrive, Danny sought to regain some degree of decency by trying to zip up his jacket, but without any success; a bit of the oil-soaked lining had torn loose from the interior, and several saturated clumps of fine silk thread were tangled up hopelessly in the zipper's teeth. There are few things in the world more infuriating than a recalcitrant zipper, and Danny was near to tears with frustration.
The elevator doors opened with a melodic chime, and Danny rushed in, mumbling and swearing, his attention still focused on getting the zip past the Gordian knot of oily silk... but halfway in, he perceived two pairs of feet directly in front of him, one pair in gold-embroidered scarlet and one pair in glossy black patent. He stopped dead in his tracks, looking up to gape at the unfortunate straight couple in furs who were pressed against the back wall, obviously startled by Danny's sudden and unorthodox appearance.
"Oh! Pardon me," Danny gasped out after a long moment of just staring like a deer caught in headlights, and started to back out of the elevator... only to bump up against the now-closed doors. To make matters worse, the elevator started moving upward, rather than down. Worse still, Danny recognized the couple immediately: it was the beautiful A-List pair he'd discussed with Parker Weintraub over lunch while perusing the society pages, the tall red-headed woman wearing a floor-length chinchilla cape and the slightly shorter brown-haired boy in a sable trench-coat.
Danny felt the blood mounting in his face and neck as he blushed furiously; mumbling an apology, he quickly spun around to face the button panel and started pushing on the Lobby button repeatedly. These people are going to recognize me any minute now, Danny thought miserably, and if not now, at the next Social function we attend. It will get around that I run loose in luxury apartment buildings half-naked and drenched in oil, and my reputation will be shot to Hell.
And as if he weren't miserably embarrassed enough, Danny soon realized that the wide button-panel was made of smooth, highly reflective brass, and stretched from the carpeted floor to the coffered ceiling of the elevator like a full-length mirror... and he still had an erection that simply would not go down, undisguisably huge and perfectly delineated by the thin oil-soaked denim of his jeans, with part of the head visible over the low razored waist. Attempting ineffectually to cover the thing with his hands, he glanced into the brass panel and confirmed that the couple behind him had (and were taking full advantage of) a clear view of this impressive but humiliating sight.
Wishing he could sink right through the floor, even if it meant falling to his death in an elevator shaft, Danny pushed harder and faster on the Lobby button, hoping to vent his humiliated confusion by taking it out on an inanimate object. The frosted glass button, however, was unable to withstand so much force and movement; it cracked in half and collapsed inward, catching Danny's finger in forward momentum, dragged a wildly painful cut from the nailbed to the second knuckle, and jammed it into a tangle of sharp broken wires that sent a few hundred volts of electricity running up the iron-rich veins of his arm.
"Fuck!" Danny screamed, jumping backward and falling to the floor, dazzled by the pain of the shock. The little oak-paneled elevator car came to a sudden jolting halt as the fuses controlling its mechanisms shorted out; the lights went out, too, but lit up again as the secondary power came on; this secondary electrical source, however, only powered the little crystal light-fixture and lights behind the floor-indicator, not the mechanism of the elevator. They were stuck between the tenth and eleventh floors.
"What a hideous cliche," drawled a deep baritone voice over Danny's head. Looking up in surprise, he realized that this masculine sound did not come out of the boy, but rather from the person he had thought was a woman, "two friends trapped in an elevator with a hot shirtless boy. How many porn films contain just such a scene? Cue the cheezy synthetic disco music."
"I've never seen such a film. You must lend one to me sometime," the boy responded in the same stagey drawl, though in a light tenor voice a full octave higher than his companions, as if it were a well-rehearsed cross-talk act; then he turned to look into Danny's face with sudden recognition, "Didn't we meet you at the Black & White Ball? And at the Player's Guild last week with Whatsisname the playwright?"
"We didn't meet, but I saw you there," Danny answered sheepishly, taking his injured finger out of his mouth to do so.
"Well, we're meeting now. I'm Baron Valerien de Seguemont, and this is Marquesa Willard-Wilkes," the boy put out his hand and helped Danny to his feet.
"Marcus Daniel Vandervere the Fourth," Danny blurted out, inspired by his confusion to arm himself with the richness of his name in full... something he seldom ever revealed to anyone, yet had just used twice in one hour, "but my friends call me Danny."
"Vandervere? Of the toilet-paper Vanderveres?" Marquesa asked, shaking Danny's hand gingerly, avoiding the oil and blood that dripped from his fingers, "How delightfully Jamesian! The vulgar article of domestic use!"
"What are you talking about?" Valerien cut in, confused by this remark.
"The Ambassadors, the conversation between Strether and Miss Gostrey about the Newsome fortune," Marquesa explained impatiently, "I know you've read it, Val, it was assigned in junior English."
Valerien shrugged eloquently and rolled his eyes a little. He hadn't liked Henry James and had expunged The Ambassadors from his memory immediately after final exams.
"Most of the people I meet wonder where they've seen the name Vandervere before," Danny enlarged on this, delighted to meet somebody else in the world who had read The Ambassadors, though slightly embarrassed, as Vanderveres tend to be, when talking about the real source of the family fortune, "and they seldom remember they've seen it embossed on the toilet-paper and seat-cover dispensers in public restrooms all across the country. Royal Vandervere is the West Coast's leading producer of commercial-grade bathroom tissues."
"A noble product, supplying an inescapable human need," Marquesa smiled, "My money comes mostly from the perfectly idiotic kitsch-camp beach movies my father produced in the 60s, and have been in constant syndication on late-night local television for three decades. Entirely useless. And though they like to think of themselves as great bankers and vintners, Val's people haven't done a lick of work in eight hundred years. So you be proud of your toilet paper, darling."
"You're bleeding," Valerien gasped when he noticed the blood dripping from Danny's injured finger, and whipped a white handkerchief out of an inside pocket to wrap around the cut.
"It's nothing," Danny answered in a whisper, stunned and excited by the sudden intimacy of holding hands, even if through the membrane of soft French linen, with this beautiful violet-eyed boy. Valerien's face was extremely appealing and pretty without seeming feminine, his squared oval face graced with subtle high cheekbones and a tiny cleft in his chin; his large eyes slanted up toward the center of his face, giving him a questioning expression, and were fringed with a thick brush of silvery brown lashes; he had broad, strongly arching and rather dramatic eyebrows, and his nose was quite long and large, but well-molded and aristocratic, his mouth a small and succulent but very boyish rosebud with adorable little dimples like parentheses at the corners; his pale golden-cream skin had a delicate strawberry blush and just a hint of freckles over the nose, and his light-brown hair was soft and wavy and gleaming with a silvery sheen, fluffing out around his small delicate ears and the nape of his long but sturdy neck. Danny had a quite vivid urge to pick the young Baron up and either kiss or tickle him.
"These little rooms get hot when they're not moving," Marquesa exclaimed, diverting Danny's attention while shrugging off the magnificent chinchilla cape and letting it drop carelessly to the floor, revealing a dramatic Belle-Époque-styled gown of ruched magenta satin and a dazzling parure of diamonds and rubies that could only be the work of Van Cleef & Arpel.
Danny was unable to quite decide on Marquesa's gender: though the deep baritone voice was distinctly masculine, the beautiful face was completely female, and not just due to clever makeup, being far too delicately-boned for a man, with none of the musculature around the mouth or brow that one expects in a male face. The eyes were enormous, almond-shaped, and a glittering delphinium blue, framed in vivid false eyelashes and subtle smoky eyeshadow; the fine-drawn eyebrows had a high perfect arch, the nose was elegantly sculpted and a little too small, the vermillion-glossed mouth was austere in shape but softened with plump lips; the lightly rouged cheekbones were dramatic and severe, but the jaw was so delicate it looked like one could easily crush it with one hand. The gorgeous curly copper-red hair, which was piled up high in a Regency coiffure held in place with long diamond-studded platinum pins, was too thick and abundant for a man's hair, and the hairline was too soft, with tiny feathery tendrils framing the face.
The other usual giveaways were also absent, no Adam's apple was visible in the long slender throat, the perfectly manicured and brilliantly jeweled hands were long and impossibly slender with narrow oval nails varnished to a high gloss, and no hint of incipient stubble marred the perfection of the translucent alabaster skin. The height was rare for a woman, but not impossible, as could be said of the defined musculature of the well-balanced shoulders and graceful arms... but the voice, it was simply too deep, low and rich and reverberant.
Danny was further inclined to think Marquesa male, based solely on the immediate and inescapable attraction he felt toward the glamorous creature; but then again, Danny had developed sex-tinged crushes on exquisitely elegant women before, so even this was no proof. It was a tantalizing mystery.
"Imagine a Vandervere of the noble toilet-paper Vanderveres coming out of Drayton Marshall's apartment covered in oil," Valerien observed, still holding the handkerchief to Danny's finger and looking up into his eyes with a strangely worshipful but also knowing expression, "You're not his usual type."
"Does he do this often?" Danny wondered which was worse: to be just one of a nameless multitude to get suckered into Marshall's playpen, or to be the only one foolish enough to fall for it.
"Oh, at least twice a week for the last three months, as far as I can tell," Valerien answered, shrugging off his own coat to reveal a beautifully tailored black shantung dinner suit, and producing a theatre-program from the pocket to fan himself, "You're the third I know of who's come out with the oil still on, one assumes the others are allowed to shower first. Before the oil, I'm told it was chocolate syrup; it must have been hell on his rugs. And before that it was mid-op transsexuals. He seems to pursue kink as a vocation."
"How such a troll got past your co-op board astounds me," Marquesa sighed, rummaging around in a jeweled handbag, "and while I enjoy a good gossip about Drayton Marshall's kinks as much as the next person, don't you think you ought to do something about getting us out of here, Val?"
"He was already here when I bought the penthouse," Valerien replied, heading over to the broken button-panel and carefully opening a little brass door concealing an old-fashioned black Bakelite telephone, which he picked up and held expectantly to his ear, "and since he's managed to keep within the letter of the building's by-laws, and pays his maintenance fees on time, there's nothing I can do to get rid of him, even with the controlling votes and the land deed. One could of course make a by-law about letting hustlers loose in the hallways — not you, dear, I know you're not a hustler, but Drayton's boys usually are — but then so many of the other residents might balk at the stricture. Where is that damned concierge? Oh, hello, Tuan, this is the Baron de Seguemont. What took you so long? Yes, I see... yes... never mind, Tuan. I'm stuck in the middle elevator with two friends, in between Ten and Eleven. Has Antonio gone home yet? Well then, perhaps you ought to try calling the Fire Department. Thank you, Tuan."
"How long are we going to be stuck in here?" Marquesa asked, flipping open a diamond-paved cigarette case and extracting a silver-tipped black cigarette, "You don't mind, do you? I'm a little claustrophobic, and smoking calms me."
"May I have one?" Danny asked, and pulled a cigarette from the offered case, "I don't really smoke, but I'm claustrophobic, too."
"This elevator doesn't have fire sprinklers, so be careful with your ash," Valerian laughed, lighting the two cigarettes with a platinum Dunhill lighter, though he didn't join them, "Unless Tuan lost his head and called 911, I expect it will take fifteen or twenty minutes for the firemen to arrive."
"Too long to just stand around on my heels," Marquesa remarked, kicking the exquisite little Manolo Blahnik sling-back pumps out from under the floor-dusting hem of the dress and blowing a huge cloud of smoke toward the ceiling, "yet not long enough to take this damned gown off and get really comfortable. Val, you should have banquettes installed in these elevators, like I have in my building."
"I'll bring it up at the next co-op meeting," Valerien promised off-handedly, loosening his midnight-blue Chinese silk bowtie and opening the collar of his white boiled shirt, "So tell us, Danny, how in the world did you get ensared in Drayton Marshall's unsavory toils?"
"You'll think I'm terribly stupid, but it started off with this idea I had today at the gym," Danny was surprised to find himself telling these two near-strangers everything that had happened that evening, in his usual vivid and charming narrative style, explaining his initial fantasy about hustlers and his visit to Aunt Tittie, his experience of The Brat and meeting Marshall, and finally a blow-by-blow account of how Marshall had tried clumsily to drug him, had skillfully maneuvered him into the oil, and had almost succeeded in handcuffing him to the playpen; he naturally downplayed his more venal motives in coming home with Marshall, but told the whole story with a delightful air of self-deprecation.
These were all things that he might have hesitated to tell his best friend (if he'd had such a thing as a best friend), but he found himself so at ease with Marquesa and Valerien that the story, with all its sordid and humiliating details, just came spilling out of him.
In fact, although he'd just met these two a few minutes ago, he felt as comfortable with them as if he'd known them all his life. They seemed to accept him as one of their own class, though he had considered himself at least one echelon beneath them, if not two; and despite his unfortunate appearance and the unhappy circumstances of their meeting, they seemed to like him immensely and enjoy his company, which made him feel simply wonderful. The facts that he was still half-naked and half-hard, still covered in oil with a handcuff dangling from his arm, and still stuck in a tiny box of an elevator car that he had himself broken, all faded away from his consciousness as he poured his heart out to a rapt and appreciative audience of two.
He had gotten near the end of his story and was considering how to explain his final encounter with Marshall, whether or not he could bear to relate how disturbingly violent he'd become, or how he'd furiously vandalized the man's living-room, when the bronze-grilled elevator doors were pried apart with a huge crowbar and a gust of cool air came rushing into the car.
Two firemen in full kit stood there, one very young and of apparent Italian descent holding the crowbar, and one a little older with a somewhat Slavic aspect carrying an axe, both dashingly handsome as such heroic lifesaving figures tend to be.
"Is anyone injured in there?" the axe-wielding fireman asked with a tone of impatient disbelief, peering up into the car that was suspended four feet from the floor; opening the elevator doors had been absurdly easy, two people of moderate strength could have done it without a crowbar, and he was a little disgusted that neither the hysterical concierge downstairs nor this oddly assorted trio of young people in the elevator had even tried to do it themselves.
"My friend here has a cut on his finger, but nothing serious," Valerien responded, seating himself on the edge of the doorsill and holding out his arms to the older fireman the way a small child would; the fireman, without even questioning the expectation of a grown, if young and smallish, man to be lifted down, put his hands under Valerien's arms and swung him around to the floor. Once the young Baron was standing upright in the hallway, he called back into the car, "Marquesa, would you throw me my coat?"
Marquesa and Danny both slid out of the elevator on their own power, and soon they were all standing idly in the hall. Danny held out his finger to be inspected by the younger fireman, who produced a small first-aid kit from one of the pockets of his coat and administered a dollop of salve and an adhesive bandage to the wound.
"You wouldn't happen to have a handcuff key, would you?" Danny asked the young man.
"Handcuffs aren't standard Fire Department equipment," the fireman responded, amused by the drawing-room-comedy situation and fairly well turned on by Danny's provocative appearance, and favored him with a lewd wink, "But I just happen to have a little experience with these things."
The young Italianate rescuer produced a little metal tool from under the big chrome buckle of the wide black leather strap on his right wrist, which had hitherto been concealed by the big coat-sleeve but which marked him as a well-prepared devotee of the Leather Scene, and he quickly sprung the lock on Danny's handcuffs.
"If you ever want these put back on," the hot fireman whispered to Danny as he pocketed the cuffs and gave Danny's basket a polite grope, "Call me at the firehouse, ask for Tony Franco."
"Thank you so much, gentlemen," Valerien took control of the situation, expertly placing neatly folded bills of large denomination to each of the firemen's hands, "No, I insist! It was silly of us to call you away from your important work to help us out of this ridiculous old box. You simply must allow me to buy you and your crew a nice dinner and a round of drinks, with my grateful compliments."
The firemen, with mumbled and confused thanks (who the hell tips a fireman?) left them in the hallway and boarded one of the operational elevators.
"And speaking of a drink," Valerien continued, taking Danny's bandaged hand between both his own, "I hope you will join Marquesa and me for a nightcap?"
Looking into Valerien's eyes, then into Marquesa's, and clearly reading the unspoken remainder of that invitation, he squared his shoulders and held out an escorting elbow to each of them, "I would be delighted. But do you mind if we take the stairs?"