Mona checked her phone for the seventh time.
Unlike the orderly numbered streets and avenues of midtown Manhattan, the wilds of Downtown Brooklyn quickly descended into a chaos of randomly named roads and dead ends, with the bookstore she sought nowhere in sight.
Only her smartphone’s GPS gave her any hope of finding her destination and with the lack of reception and inaccurate mapping of that area, she had gotten turned around and lost numerous times.
Plus it was cold. Far too cold and windy for the short skirt she was wearing, even if it was a thick wool. She tried to balance her phone and the coffee she had bought at a bodega, while holding the hem of her skirt down as the winds came, but often gusts blew the black fabric up, leaving her ass exposed to the barren streets of the Navy Yards.
She had worn the long socks she loved and they kept her legs warm enough, but they stopped a few inches from where her skirt started and her exposed skin was goosebumped and frozen.
Still, she persevered, because this was it. After all the hunting online and off, after all the dead ends and misdirections, she was actually going to meet someone from the Order.
She had started on the trail almost a decade before, back when she was far too young to even understand exactly what a secret society was. She had always loved mysteries, and it was her great aunt, her grandfather’s beautiful enigmatic sister, who, upon her death, left a tiny vital tidbit of information out that struck little Mona as a “clue.”
It was a pin. An ornate little thing, but certainly nothing valuable. Mona found it at the bottom of her great aunt’s jewelry box as everyone else picked over the pearls and diamonds.
She held the little triangle of brass with purple enamel grapes and green tendrils up to her mother and said “can I have this?”
Her mother looked it over quickly and seeing neither precious stone nor gold or silver said “fine.”
Upon closer inspection, there were two letters hidden in the design. An O and a D. Neither being her great aunt Mariam’s initials, Mona pondered what the letters could mean.
That very question led her on a decade long investigation and fueled studies that brought her a bachelor’s degree in Art History and almost a masters degree in Library Science, but until a few months before her fateful trip to Red Hook hadn’t gotten her any closer to the providence of the pin.
Turning a corner, still hopelessly lost, she literally bumped into the bookstore. It was on a corner with a huge picture window. On the glass were thick perfect letters in gold foil outlined in black paint.
“Burke & Belmonte, booksellers.”
Inside she saw dark wood shelves filled with what looked like vintage books and a long counter with a woman behind it, reading a huge tome.
Mona took a deep breath and opened the door to the place, wincing as the small bell above the door announced her.
The woman behind the counter had a beautiful, if severe, face, and her hair was in an equally severe bun. Mona guessed she was about fifty-five. The woman looked over the top of her book at Mona with a disapproving frown.
“May I help you?”
Opening her mouth, Mona found it dry and unable to form words.
She opened and closed her mouth for a moment, trying to swallow, before croaking out a cracked “um, Mr. Belmonte, please?”
The woman closed her book, which was an ancient volume on Jungian analysis in the original German, and straightened her glasses.
“And what might I ask is the nature of your business with Mr. Belmonte?”
Mona straightened her back, bit her lip for a moment then chided herself.
“It’s Order business,” she said as strongly as she could.
The woman’s frown melted into serious dissatisfaction.
“Order business?” The bookstore attendant repeated flatly, staring directly into Mona’s eyes.
The woman stood up very suddenly. She put her book down on the counter and walked around to where Mona stood.
The shop clerk picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed a single number.
As she waited, she looked Mona over, who squirmed under her gaze.
Mona was in her very early twenties, light brown skin, freckles, and eyes that made many think she was East Asian, though to most people’s confusion her heritage was mostly Egyptian. Her clothes were stylish, perhaps goth. Long thick black socks that came up past her mid-thighs, with a second pair of striped black and white socks that came up to her knees, a pleated black wool skirt, a leather biker jacket festooned with metal spikes and little patches, and heavy black leather boots. Her hair was a short bob, the fringe almost in her eyes. Her eyes completely circled with black makeup, the lids a dark purple, her lips matching. She wore thick black framed glasses.
“Someone is here about non-store business,” the shop clerk said into the receiver.
“She’s young,” she added and then hung up.
Mona fumed about the “young” comment a bit and then realized she was young and pouting about it probably made her look even more so.
The woman walked to the door of the store and flipped the sign to show the outside world a neat handwritten “closed.” She then locked the door with an old brass key.
“Mr. Belmonte will be with you in a few moments. While you wait, I’ll need your social security number,” the woman said curtly, returning to the counter and revealing a large black laptop from under a pile of newspapers. It looked perhaps a decade old.
Mona eyed the woman and her computer.
“I don’t-” she started, but the clerk silenced her with a raised palm.
“We are going to ask you a variety of questions. Refusal to answer any of them honestly will end the initial interview,” she said, with practiced cadence.
Mona looked around, unsure. She considered that she had done far worse thing, she had given stranger people more information, and this woman, this bookstore, seemed the most promising of any lead so far.
She told the strange woman the nine digits, regretting it immediately.
The woman tapped out a barrage of information into the old computer, as Mona stood in place wondering what was happening.
From the other side of the store came a low metal creaking sound. Mona’s eyes moved to the back of the room as the sound grew into a screeching yawn.
The dark of the back of the store, past rows of books, was suddenly lit by an open elevator car, holding a single man. As the elevator stopped, he opened the cross hatch gate and stepped out.
He was a tall, imposing, dark skinned Spaniard with a shaved and polished head. He wore a three piece gray windowpane suit, a crisp white shirt, a burgundy paisley tie with a fat Windsor knot, and a large gold and red pocket square.
He smoothed his lapel and walked to the counter, only glancing at Mona momentarily as he passed.
“And, Ms. Burke?” he said to the clerk, somewhat annoyed.
“Mona Nassar. She’s been at it for a while. Online and off. She hit at least three of our façades. Twenty-five, a failed masters student,” the clerk read, causing Mona to cut her eyes at her.
“Promiscuous, bad credit, strained relationship with her parents, on at least one form of psychopharmaceutical medication, occasional recreational drug use.”
Mona’s mouth opened and closed as she revved up to retort the pronouncements and was silenced by Mr. Belmonte’s imposing gaze.
Belmonte glanced over the clerk’s shoulder at the computer screen.
“Yes, yes, that’s all fine-” he said absentmindedly and then looked Mona over thoroughly.
“So, why are you here, Ms. Nassar?” he asked her pointedly, folding his arms and waiting.
The clerk similarly waited, her fingers poised on the keyboard.
“I-um-I want to be part of the,” she swallowed, realizing she had never actually said the name out loud.
“I want to be part of the Order of Dionysus,” she finished.
Belmonte’s eyes narrowed.
“And what exactly do you think that is?” he asked with a bit of annoyance in his voice.
Mona tried to think of how to sum up all the things she had gleaned from the internet and from books and all of the other evidence she had gathered over the years.
“It is a secret society. A-” she swallowed, she felt very young and very out of place suddenly, but she had searched for so long and done so many things for the information that finally got her there.
She thought, fuck it.
“It’s a sex cult, a society of hedonist, and a library of secrets,” she said.
Belmonte frowned, but Mona noticed the woman smiled slightly.
“And why do you want to be a part of this so called secret sex library?” he said with a small laugh.
His dismissive look made her embarrassed. She wondered why she thought this would be the turning point.
“I just, I want to know secrets. I don’t want to use them or retell them, I just want to know them. And I see things. Every clue and hidden note I’ve read about the Order has pulled me in deeper. I just want to know what it is all about,” she said, feeling her eyes wet with shame and embarrassment.
Belmonte’s gaze softened, but only minutely.
“And what secrets does a twenty-five year old woman who has never been out of America have to add to a library like this, if such a thing exists?” he said, his accent more acute as his voice raised in volume.
She flinched at his voice.
“Well?” he pressed.
“That’s-that’s not how it works-” she started.
“Oh, yes? Please tell me how this secret society works,” Belmonte interrupted.
He waited for an answer and when none came he closed the clerk’s laptop and let out another short laugh.
“I think we’re through here,” he said a bit more angrily.
“Ms. Burke, see this young lady out.”
He turned and started back to the elevator, but Mona stood in front of him before he could.
“Wait, I have this,” she said, taking a small box from her pocket and opening it to show a small pin.
Belmonte stopped and looked down.
The brass glinted in the light and the O and the D were just barely visible. He reached out for it, but Mona snatched it away.
“Where did you get that?” he asked, with caution in his voice.
“It was left to me by my great aunt,” she said quietly, holding the pin tightly to her chest.
He eyed her. The room was still and silent.
Belmonte’s cruelty was gone. His face was blank. He looked back at Ms. Burke, who typed out something on the computer again.
“Mariam van der Mars, neé Nassar,” Burke said soberly.
Mona shot her a look. The name of her great aunt surprising her.
They all paused for a beat.
“Well,” Belmonte said, clearing his throat.
“Perhaps we do have a bit more to talk about,” he said, gesturing towards the old gated elevator.
Mr. Belmonte’s suit was a beautiful thing to behold. The reality of his existence, of the bookstore, of a computer that would spit out her great aunt’s name and Mona’s medical history was all a validation of the hunt that had preoccupied her for most of her adult life.
Ms. Burke was dressed just as well as Mr. Belmonte. She wore a pantsuit, which was a charcoal herringbone wool. Her blouse was pearl white. At her neck was a gold necklace which held a large cameo. A woman with a high necked collar. As if defending against Mona’s gaze, the woman clutched the locket.
Mr. Belmonte looked at Burke for a long moment, the two seemed to communicate much with just a glance.
“I’ll take Ms. Nassar down, close up and join us as soon as you can,” he said to Ms. Burke.
“Follow me,” Belmonte said as he turned and led her to the elevator.
They came to a stop, two floors down, and the gate opened to a room filled with the smell of old books. Every wall of the single large room they entered was lined with filled bookshelves. In the center of the room was a single perhaps twenty-foot long table with four green glass shaded bank lamps on it. On the table, there were a few neat piles of books, some open notebooks, and two more ancient looking laptops, from an age when such things were blocky squares of black plastic.
Mr. Belmonte closed the gate of the elevator and then stood near the table, eying Mona.
Belmonte cleared his throat and licked his lips.
“Perhaps what you asked about is true or something like it. The Order is many different things to its varied members. It is a very unusual thing that you found this thread of our web. Usually people are drawn to the parties, the masks, the garish face of our little organization. We are the other side. The less glamourous, but far more interesting side. Those orgies and ceremonies are the playful decadences of the Order, but here, in the Gilded Library, we collect and revel in secrets,” he said dreamily, walking over to the bookshelf and letting his fingers trace the spines of books.
“You see, as much as we are a secret society, we are also a society of secrets.”
“The fact that you are a legacy, that you have family who was a member, can be a route to entry into the Order or at least a reason not to immediately dismiss you. The fact that you have so doggedly investigated us and found the crumbs of clues we very carefully left about is another positive. Still, as I said, you come to us with nothing but questions and we are an organization that collects answers,” he said, motioning to the books that surrounded them.
As he spoke, Mona heard the elevator ascend and then descend. She then felt Ms. Burke’s eyes on her.
“Such an able investigator though. Perhaps that makes her useful. To put that head full of questions to good use,’ Ms. Burke noted.
Mr. Belmonte nodded, considering.
“Is that something that might interest you, Ms. Nassar,” Mr. Belmonte asked her directly.
Mona nodded, though she wasn’t sure exactly what they were talking about.
Ms. Burke moved closer to the girl and Mr. Belmonte followed suit. Mona stood at the head of the long table as the two taller, older, members of the mysterious group stood on either side of her.
“You’ll understand this is not a professional, nor an academic assessment,” Mr. Belmonte said, moving slightly closer.
“You know what kind of organization we have here,” Ms. Burke said, closing the distance between them.
Mona stood still, leaning against the table. It was a very strange experience, the booksellers seeming so serious and businesslike when they were all upstairs and suddenly their dynamic changing so abruptly. Her heart, which was racing from fear and the curiosity of the hunt, now changed mid-beat.
She wasn’t exactly a prude, but somehow she didn’t expect something sexual to happen. If that was what they were implying.
“Our intellectual pursuits, our records and diaries, and secrets are all, in the end, steeped in rather base fascinations, you understand,” Mr. Belmonte explained.
They towered on each side of her, Ms. Burke somewhat insistently helping Mona off with her jacket. Mona was frozen, unsure what to do, overcome by the power of the two of them.
“Come now Ms. Nassar, from what I read you are no stranger to more illicit propositions,” Ms. Burke said with a low wolfish laugh.
“Of course as we said, if you’d rather end the interview process, we will certainly understand,” Mr. Belmonte explained, his hand gently resting on the base of her back.
“You can take aunty’s pin and go home to pine in the web forums and wonder what if,” he said with a chuckle.
Anger flashed in Mona’s eyes and then a squirming helplessness which sank down from her throat to her heart, and then down in between her legs. It wasn’t like a power game, her college girlfriend tying her down to the bed in the small hours of their junior year. This was two well-dressed members of a secret society, sandwiching her body between them in the subbasement of a hard to find bookstore in the middle of nowhere Brooklyn.
Ms. Burke’s warm strong leg pressed against Mona’s.
Mona took a deep breath. She’d waited a long time to find these people. She’d wanted it for so long. And who was she kidding, she would have happily fucked either one of them in other circumstances.
She pulled off her jacket and let it fall to the floor. Then she slipped out of her tight sweater. She more felt than saw the two of them smile.
Her breasts were large, pert, they seemed to pout out the same way her lips did. Her nipples thick, puffy, fat. Her waist was thinnish, but her hips were wide.
She put her hands on the table in front of her as Mr. Belmonte greedily grabbed one of her breasts. Ms. Burke leaned in and kissed Mona’s neck, rather tenderly, as her hands slipped up the girl’s back, to unlatch her bra expertly.
“Such a sharp mind, I’m sure you’ll figure out just what you need to do to get into our good graces,” Ms. Burke whispered into Mona’s ear.
With her bra off, Mona heard Belmonte groan loudly as he pawed at her naked breasts.
“As astute detectives ourselves I’m confident you are the kind of girl who enjoys being helpful, aren’t you?” He said, as his fingers closed around her nipple.
She looked at him over her thick glasses and nodded, bottom lip pouting as it always did when she was wet and wanting.
“Lose the skirt and underthings, but leave the socks,” Burke growled into her ear.
Belmonte’s hands hungrily pinched her slight belly, his fingers possessively exploring every inch of exposed flesh.
“Yes, the socks must stay on, they are perfect,” he purred.
Hours later, she lay naked on the long desk, her body sore from bites and smacks and rough touches. She felt raw, still wet, and brazenly naked and exposed.
The two booksellers had used her in a variety of ways. Fingers and mouths and cock and cunt. Mona had strained to please both of them, though she couldn’t remember having more demanding lovers in her somewhat sordid sex life.
Between Ms. Burke’s muscular legs she was directed and corrected numerous times on how and where to use her able tongue. There was no gentle lapping or soft touches. Failure to do as she was told precisely glamorous with a firm slap across her face.
Slaps like that made her body want to fight, but her pussy wet and desperate.
She noted Belmonte didn’t fuck her outright. He pushed fingers into her until she made a mess all over the floor and had her suck him off twice, choking her with his surprisingly thick cock until her eyes watered and drool dripped down her naked chest.
Burke and Belmonte never really touched each other, Mona recalled, they instead pulled and pushed her between them, sometimes bickering a little about who could use which hole.
Belmonte was obsessed with Mona’s breasts, his hands always finding their way back to them, leaving them sore and red. Burke, on the other hand, was obsessed with Mona’s pussy, hungrily licking at it or burying fingers into it and laughing at her whimpers and moans.
They had eventually left her to rest on the table, going back up to take care of what ever store or Order business they had.
Burke eventually came back down and greeted her with a tall glass of iced tea and a very precisely made turkey sandwich.
Mona felt very vulnerable, naked on the hardwood table. She had napped, though she wasn’t sure for how long.
She took a long sip of the tea.
“Let’s get you cleaned up and dressed. If you are free, I believe we have a full weekend planned for you,” Ms. Burke said very matter of factly.
Mona’s eyes lit up.
“Does that mean I’m in?”
Ms. Burke’s eyebrows furled.
“Oh, sweet girl, if we let in every pretty investigator we fucked it wouldn’t be much of a secret society. No, you just made it to round two of the interview,” Ms. Burke explained, while she gathered Mona’s clothes and deposited them next to her on the table.
She placed a white business card on the table as well, with some writing on it.
“We’ll be upstairs, please come up when you are ready,” Ms. Burke said kindly but with a touch of impatience.
She turned, then turned back suddenly. Mona watched as the older woman bit her lip and came forward.
“Do you want to kiss me again, Ms. Burke?” Mona said sweetly, enjoying the power she was suddenly given.
Ms. Burke cut her eyes at the girl but nodded.
Mona closed her eyes. The kiss was long and deep and passionate, far more tender than she expected, and full of longing for more.
“If you make it through, there are a variety of things I’d like to show you,” Ms. Burke said, with her first real smile.
Ms. Burke turned and Mona picked up the card. It was the store’s business card with an address written on it that was somewhere near the Navy Yards. It said “Saturday, 9 am.”
Mona took a deep breath and got dressed.
That Saturday, Ms. Burke looked far from the frumpy bookseller when she met Mona in front of the large industrial space. The older woman still wore her hair in a bun, but it was neat and slick and held up with a silvery spiral of some kind.
She wore a burgundy suit made up of a vest and wide legged slacks, both finely pinstriped with silver, a flowing black satin blouse. Her look was both soft and somehow masculine, making her nearly six-foot frame more imposing.
Her clothes looked expensive, as did her brooch, which was gold and in the shape of a rose. The ornate letters O and D were hidden in the design of the rose, but those who were looking could easily find them.
Looking around as she followed Ms. Burke, Mona wondered what the place might have been before it was purchased or rented or perhaps stolen by the Order. Maybe a sweat shop or factory? Entering through a huge loading dock, they were soon in an elevator and then ten stories up
The whole floor of the building was one giant room. There were concrete pillars here and there, a vast gray floor, and windows all around, letting in sunlight and the vast New York skyline. Manhattan to the west, Queens to the north, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s piers and factories all around.
The view was magnificent, but Mona hardly noticed because of the completely, things which occupied the center of the room. From the ceiling hung four huge brass birdcages, each identical, each perhaps five feet tall, four feet wide, and suspended three feet from the ground.
What a strange thing, Mona thought. What an odd art project or perhaps ceremonial display. What other sorts of fetishes went along with the secret society? What was the reasoning behind them? What did they have to do with secrets?
Ms. Burke seemed to read her mind as she led Mona past the cages.
“This particular aspect of the Order started when the library was moved from Spain during the Inquisition. There was a great schism in that time, with the members fleeing and murdering those in their ranks they thought would be captured and tortured into giving up our ways,” she said as they walked.
The older woman let her hand brush the polished brass of the cage.
“The cages were invented as a holding cell of sorts. They were thought necessary in those dangerous times, to make sure those who found us or whom we sought were not spies.
It was a darker time then, if someone learned of us and wasn’t accepted into our ranks, they were killed to protect our secrets. There were many deaths through our history.
One of the reasons we are so careful now, that we only take those who are legacies or highly vetted outsiders is because we are no longer that sort of institution. We do not kill, we only hide. It is only with money and influence that we protect ourselves.
In some ways that is why the old traditions are still adhered to. To remember the darkness of our past, our secrets if you will, and to make sure those who wish to enter our ranks are introduced with a method that shows the gravity of their undertaking,” she explained as they walked across the vast room.
On the opposite side of the floor, past the cages, there was a small kitchen, an area filled with what looked like medical equipment, and a large claw footed bathtub.
Mona had dressed as she thought was appropriate. A smart wool dress, white button up blouse, dark stockings, sharp black pumps. She felt ordinary next to Ms. Burke, but somehow she guessed at that point it didn’t matter.
“I’m going to be put in a cage?” Mona asked, her voice sounding very small in the huge room.
Ms. Burke turned and smiled.
“You’re going to take off all your clothes and I’m going to give you a bath. I’m going to feed you grapes and honey and wine and then you’ll be put in a cage, yes.”
Mona looked at the cage near them, it was very solid looking, old with the metal dull but spotlessly clean. On the inside of the cage, the floor was covered in red pillows and blankets.
She had many questions, but Ms. Burke only took Mona’s hand and led her to the other side of the room, to the bath.
The next hour or so was a blur. She hadn’t been bathed by someone since she was a child. Hell, she hadn’t had a proper bath in years, her little apartment only having a shower.
The water was steaming hot and scented with oils and salts and even handfuls of rose petals. Ms. Burke was very kind and quiet, washing Mona’s body thoroughly, ceremoniously. There was worship in her hands.
Then Mona was dried softly with thick white towels and put in a robe. She was sat at a little table and given a strong rose colored tea with honey. She was fed dark violet grapes that were ripe and almost too sweet. She sipped crimson wine that made her head feel fuzzy. All of these things Ms. Burke fed her by hand. The glasses were held by Ms. Burke and tipped carefully so Mona could sip.
Then, finally, Mona was led to the cage. Her robe was removed and she waited as Ms. Burke fetched a remote control that lowered the cage to the floor. Mona stepped in and settled herself into the thick nest of pillows. Ms. Burke put a large, very ornate looking clay jug in the cage with her, then she closed the door of the cage and locked it, putting the key in her pocket.
The remote control was pressed again and there was a little jerk before she felt herself smoothly lifted into the air. When she reached the proper height she stopped and the cage rocked slightly back and forth before righting itself and becoming still.
Ms. Burke smiled at Mona through the bars.
“For how long?” Mona asked.
Ms. Burke took from her pocketbook a leather bound notebook and passed it through the bars of the cage to set it on one of the pillows Mona knelt on. Atop the notebook she placed a fountain pen, that was the same bronze as the cage.
“You are to stay in the cage until you sing for us.”
Mona considered this. She felt like she should be frightened, but sitting cross legged on the pillows she felt only peace.
“What am I to sing about?” She asked.
Ms. Burke walked to the wall that Mona was facing, which had on it a large dark blue curtain. Ms. Burke reached up high on the wall and grabbed the edge of the curtain. She tugged hard and pulled it down. The thick soft fabric pooled on the ground and exposed a huge mirror, taller than Ms. Burke and as wide as it was tall.
“This. You write down the secret you see here and if you are honest enough and brave enough and smart enough, maybe we will give you a pin and a promise, and let you read the secrets in our Gilded Library and partake in the various celebrations of Dionysus.”
Mona saw the cage in the mirror and was struck by the space under the cage and how unnatural it looked to have this huge metal contraption suspended above the concrete floor.
She saw the deep red of the silk pillows that lined the cage and how the brass of the cage’s bars reflected that red. She saw herself, naked, in the nest of pillows, her hair a shining black, her lips a slightly lighter red than the pillows.
She saw her body in the mirror, her breasts, the curve of her waist, the shadow of the dark hair between her legs, barely seen.
She didn’t understand, not really, but she was sleepy and hazy from the bath and the wine and the kindness of Ms. Burke’s hands.
She had time. She would figure out the test. She would find the secret song they wanted.
Ms. Burke smiled and in an act that seemed very unlike her, she put her fingers to her mouth and blew Mona a kiss.
And in moments, Mona was alone in the cage looking into the eyes of her reflection.