A Teaspoon of Fame

“John Gage.”

I froze at the keyboard. I knew that charcoal voice, smooth and masculine. It slid around me every night, stroked my ear, sent warm swells of wishful thinking down my thighs. Don Desjardins was the seductive, erudite host of an all-night jazz program, who kept me entertained and aroused from midnight to six.

But he’d never said my name before.

I got up from my desk and took a few steps toward the corner of my study, where the radio glowed in the darkness. Yesterdays was rambling softly, the sultry horn of Jimmy Forrest. It was 3:06 a.m. in November. Moments passed. The sax crooned on.

You’re tired. You’re hallucinating. You’re profoundly fucking egotistical.

Yet I tingled with strange hope. I’d done radio interviews, and there were snippets now and then about me in the newspaper. It wasn’t impossible that Don Desjardins had mentioned me.

In the middle of a song?

I sat down again with a sigh. I was writing a screenplay—or that’s what I was supposed to be doing. Every night I stared at the blue and white glow of my computer screen, and hammered out dialogue that had all the resonance of a tin cup. Panic. I hammered harder, and the words clanked louder.

I was working under a handicap: I’d already written one screenplay, and sold it. Never mind that production had been delayed three times, it was a potent teaspoonful of fame that had seared all the way down my throat. It gilded me in every gathering, from the carefully impromptu parties of my friends to the thumping, throbbing clubs, crowded with cocky studs who’d never noticed me. Until now.

“A movie! That’s so cool. Hey, if you’re looking for extras…”

I tried not to be an asshole. It was hard. I wasn’t forty, but I was standing on the tracks, the whistle of time already shrieking in the distance. The gloss of celebrity made me taller, younger, wittier. Wanted.

I grabbed every opportunity with both hands, grappled with it in hallways, thrust eagerly against it in parking lots. I wasn’t inclined to take no for an answer. The smallest encouragement released something in me, ravenous, relentless, wolfish.

At one elegant afternoon lunch, the host’s boyfriend blew me in the stylish upstairs bathroom, that glowed in yellow and two shades of Martha Stewart blue. He kneeled on the fluffy mat and gripped my thighs; I braced myself with one foot on the top of the toilet seat and drove into his mouth. I watched us in the full-length mirror: my hands clenched in his beach-golden hair, the long white splash of my formal shirt, the startling rawness of my naked legs.

His back twitched with the force of my thrusts and he grunted helplessly in his throat, overwhelmed. Downstairs the host called our names in singsong alarm, summoned us like errant dogs. And as I rode his mouth, sweetness stoked by guilt that blazed into more greedy, defiant pleasure, I thought, Stop, John. It has to stop.

Suck me, bitch.

Shooting. Wrenched by white wallops, smacks of joy that made me twitch, electrocuted, suspended for long, exquisite moments before I fell back to earth.

I woke up with sex hangovers, half giddy, half sick, the night a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

You’ve got to shut up, I told myself. Go to the parties, but don’t mention the script. Then if somebody’s interested, you’ll know it’s real.

And I had to write another screenplay. I couldn’t bear the thought of myself limping along as a one-hit wonder. I began locking myself up in my study, in the haunted, quiet hours after midnight. Coffee and cold sweat, galloping insecurity. I wrote dreck night after night, spurred by dread. What if I’d already said the only thing I had to say?

In that raw darkness I found Don Desjardins and his program, the Blue Stretch. I liked jazz and blues well enough, but he was what held me. The Bluesmaster, the Velvet Rogue. What would have been ridiculous epithets on other announcers clung to him like wet silk. He was wry and wicked, and I was certain he was gay.

“Willis ‘Gator Tail’ Jackson, Blowin’ like Hell.” Pause. “Well, some dates are memorable.”

I fantasized about his face, his body, searched the web and grilled my contacts—nothing. Everyone knew of him but no one had met him. He was simply a famous mystery.

And influential. Maybe that called to me, too. There were five million people in the city. How many tuned into his show every night—a hundred thousand, or two? All of it made Don Desjardins a very alluring man. Was it any wonder I’d hallucinate, wishing he had said my name on air?

The music sailed on that bleak November night, lulled to a murmur at the edge of my thoughts. I pounded away at my script, trying to batter my characters into life. Bang it out, I told myself. Get something down, anything, anything…

“Congratulations, John Gage. I’m sure you’ll find someone to share those tickets with. Call me within the next fifteen minutes at—”

The words went through me in a brilliant flash, a dagger. I got to my feet, heart thumping. This was real. Don Desjardins was telling me to call. But I knew I hadn’t entered anything. How could I have won a contest I didn’t enter? I’d feel like a fool trying to claim someone else’s prize.

But I’d have an excuse to talk to him.

I punched in the number with a trembling hand. It only rang once, and then the rich, virile voice was against my ear.

“QR FM.”

I cleared my throat and lowered my pitch, into my casual-celebrity-business range. “Yes. This is John Gage.”

“Is it?” There was an odd flip in those two words. Laughter?

“I…I thought I heard you mention my name. For something.”

“I’m sure a famous screenwriter like you hears his name a lot.”

I was thunderstruck by flattery. What the hell was going on? I coughed a nervous laugh. “Do I know you?”

“Not as well as we’d both like.”

I should have been startled by this abrupt come-on, but the Velvet Rogue’s voice was magical, almost three-dimensional. It caressed my ear and shoulder, trailed along my thigh. Every blood vessel opened to the sound of it; my cock began to thicken. For long seconds I listened to him, mesmerized.

“I’d like to interview you, about music as inspiration, specifically how it inspires you and your writing. Why, for example, you might listen to a particular radio program, night after night…”

I woke, and caught on. “Such as the Blue Stretch?”

“Well, none of us are immune to flattery, John.”

We made arrangements for me to visit the studio the next night at ten p.m. I hung up, puffed with pride and amazement, my half-hard cock nudging a tent in my sweat pants.

Sliding sax. I seemed to notice the background music in the room once more, and it struck me as oddly familiar. Jimmy Forrest. Yesterdays again? I glanced at the clock. It was still 3:06 a.m.

A fitful night edged into a fitful day. I slept and dreamed and worried and exulted in repeating circles, like ripples in a pond.

Had I met Don Desjardins somewhere and not known it? Why hadn’t he just called my agent if he wanted an interview? Then there was the uneasy tangle I couldn’t explain: hearing my name, the prize tickets, the frozen clock. I fingered those strange loose threads but didn’t pull them, afraid to unravel my hopes. All that mattered was that I was going to be interviewed by the hottest all-night host. There was no bad publicity.

That night I dressed with care in a black sweater, jeans and leather sport jacket, grappling for a woodsman-turned-hot-intellectual look. I’d always been on the short side, and big shouldered; at thirty-seven I was starting to look bearish. I played to it. My sandy hair was still thick, and I had a short beard running to auburn. I put mints in my pocket, condoms in my wallet, and grinned at the mirror.

“Give it your best shot, Bluesmaster.”

The night was clear and brisk, each breath like a draught of cold water. I stood in the doorway of the QRFM building and stared up at my reflection in the security camera. I was only a street or two off the main drag, yet I felt keenly alone. Uneasy. No one knew about this appointment but me.

So what’s he going to do—murder you? The man’s famous, for Pete’s sake.

“Hi, John. Come in. I’ll be right down.” The door buzzed me in at last.

I entered, grateful for the sudden warmth, even though it brought water to my eyes. Wiping it away, I heard someone on the staircase, and turned. I had a strange flash of deja vu, yet I knew I’d never met him. I wouldn’t have forgotten that face.

Bayonet beauty. Don Desjardins was a cutlass of a man. He might have been forty—or thirty, or fifty. Time didn’t attach itself to him. He was wearing a steely blue sweater and black jeans, and his body beneath was long and angular; I had the dizzying illusion of him soaring over me.

Yet he had a poet’s face: oval, not exactly delicate but…refined. His dark hair was streaked gunmetal, and an occasional strand of silver caught the light. He wore it pulled back in a short, dapper ponytail, and the effect was both masculine and elegant. I felt like a shaggy animal next to him. A brute.

He was already at the bottom of the stairs before I realized he had his jacket on.

“Aren’t we…?” I started.

He smiled. “I thought we’d go somewhere else. I see enough of this place in a week.” He pulled a slender tape recorder out of his pocket, no bigger than his palm. “There’s a place near here, pretty quiet on a Wednesday. Maybe you know it—The Bee’s Knees?”

Of course I did. It was a gay pub. The revelation went through me in a ray of heat and triumph—I’d guessed right about the Velvet Rogue. And obviously he knew more than a little about me.

“The Bee’s Knees is perfect,” I said smoothly, and I followed him out.

His legs were longer than mine and I had to hurry to keep up, the wind flapping my jacket open.

“Thanks for putting up with my timetable,” Don said. “After all these years working nights, I’m not exactly… amiable during the day.”

“That’s all right. I’m something of a night owl myself.”

He caught me in a sideways glance and smiled. “I know.”

The Bee’s Knees was a 1920s-flavored pub, a campy ode to flappers and the silent screen. Betty Boop reigned but the biggest nod to the era was in the enlarged photos of the stars. The standards were there, of course—Chaplin, Swanson, Valentino—but the walls were filled with dozens of nameless stock characters: vamps, scoundrels, lily-white heroines and dashing gallants.

It was also a gay bar: when the door opened, every head turned with a hunter’s instinct. What surprised me is that they kept looking, surreptitious glances over the shoulder or bare-wire stares that made the air sizzle.

“I believe your fans have recognized you.” Don’s luxuriant voice was suddenly close to my ear and I shivered with the pleasure of it. But I was sure the attention was for the Velvet Rogue, not me, and I told him so.

“Oh, no, radio is invisible, John. And besides, Marilyn Monroe got it right. She said, ‘They don’t see me unless I want them to see me.'”

The odd words echoed in me all the way to our table.

We settled into a quiet corner. I had beer and he had coffee, the tape recorder running patiently beside us, and I fell into a silver dream of praise and lust.

With the microphone on, he was the Bluesmaster, a genial, articulate host. His knowledge of film history was amazing, yet somehow he made it seem as if I led the conversation down fascinating paths. His attention utterly embraced me. He listened like an archangel, savored every word as the Original Truth, his exquisite face lighting up at the smallest flutter of wit. Never mind the tin-plated script I hammered on every night. Across the table from Don Desjardins I was the brightest light in the room, the city. A star.

And all the while, another silent conversation hummed between us, wicked, hungry, reckless. When his knee brushed mine under the table, it was as bold as if he’d cupped my swelling crotch. I had searing flashes of memory: the pretty waiter I’d fucked in the alley behind a restaurant’s kitchen, his face pressed against greasy brick; the car salesman who’d sucked me while I test-drove the Audi. And all because of…

“Fame,” Don was saying. “We don’t even understand what that is anymore.”

I blinked, awake. “Are you kidding? Everybody’s famous. What does it take to get on a talk show, a reality series? All you have to do is wave a little dirty laundry, kill somebody, do something revolting…”

“I’m not talking about fifteen seconds of notoriety. I’m talking about real fame.” He gestured at the picture on the wall beside us, a dark-haired vamp with a helmet bob and metallic lips. “They were true icons. Think about it: movies were still new. Magic. These weren’t actors, they were gods, larger, brighter than mere humans. And they weren’t afraid to live the legend. They made fortunes when admission was a dime. No income tax and cocaine was practically legal. They had the press in one pocket, the police in the other.”

His blue gaze was a shimmering lake and I’d slipped into it. The words caressed me in satin waves. “It was a life without rules and there was only one currency, one vice, one nourishment. Life was compressed into a single…potent…drink.”


I started, and turned. A saucy tart of a young man was hovering beside our table, grinning down at me. Punky, pretty, with a dimple in his chin and a bulge that jutted forward as if he meant to rest it on the table. Hors d’oeuvres.

“Hi,” I said. With a twisted smile, Don pressed ‘stop’ on the tape recorder.

Pretty/punky was swaying nervously. “Umm, you’re somebody, aren’t you?”

“Everybody’s somebody,” I said.

The young man laughed as if it was the funniest remark in the world. “Well, I mean, are you somebody I can buy a drink?”

The rush of flattery made me dizzy, but I said, “I’m in the middle of an interview right now.”

He looked at Don Desjardins. “Holy shit, you’re right. I didn’t even notice.”

I was dumbfounded. He hadn’t noticed the smooth, stunning god across the table from me?

Pretty/punky backed away, still grinning, flushed with embarrassment and interest. “Well, remember me when you’re finished and you’re thirsty.”

“I told you—they only have eyes for you.”

Inexplicable tingles were washing over me. I turned back to him. “Explain what you meant, about Marilyn Monroe.”

Don got to his feet then, and tucked the tape recorder into his pocket. “I’m afraid I have to run, John. I’ll see you soon.”

The abrupt change alarmed me. No phone number, no date? We’d practically been licking each other across the table a minute ago.

“Uh…when will the tape air?”

He smiled. “Soon. Oh—I almost forgot. The tickets you won.”

He dropped them carelessly on the table, like payment for a two dollar tab.— Keep the change.

It skewered my ego, pinned me to the bench seat. I watched him walk out of the bar, his black leather shoulders and insolent pony-tail burning into my retinas.

I recovered enough to drink a beer. Fuck. I drank another, my wound festering into fury. Who the hell did he think he was? Fuck!

Anger and hunger wound together into a tight cord. I couldn’t stop thinking of how it had been, embraced by his gaze, blazing like a star, burning with the memory of guilty, greedy, succulent sex. I thought I’d locked up that dangerous part of myself, but Don Desjardins had reached between the bars and stroked the wolf. Woken him.

I put down my glass and got up. I walked across the room, swaying only once. Pretty/punky was turned away, talking to his friends. I laid a heavy hand on his shoulder, let it slide down and cup the abrupt curve of his ass.

“I’m thirsty now,” I said.

His name was Garret. We took a cab to his apartment. Inside the front door I pushed him against the wall and trapped him with my big leg between both of his. He giggled, surprised and aroused. Good. I wasn’t in a romantic mood.

I covered his mouth with mine, entered him with my tongue, such force that he murmured a startled little sound in his throat. It stoked me. I kissed him harder, pinned the back of his head against the wall while I ground my hard-on against his hip, a rising club. He was breathless, trying to keep up with my desire, but the wolf was running.

We made it to the bedroom. Alcohol and desire rippled the moments, made them waver; the room seemed to breathe with lust. When I peeled off my black sweater, Garret moaned and leaned into my chest, rubbed one cheek then the other against the bristly brown hair. Worship. For long seconds I let him, enjoying the sensation of his sleek, lightly muscled body against me. Then I reached down and opened his jeans with a decisive snap.

“Lube,” I muttered against his ear.

The night city glowed through the window and painted the room in silver and shades of grey, the colors of a dream, or an old movie. I felt stoned on the sight of the young man laid out like an offering: hips elevated by a pillow, the dark, downy crack of his ass, the curve of his rib cage that rose rapidly with excitement and trepidation. His head was thrown back, eyes closed, his neck a pale arch of corded muscle and hollows. His hard-on trembled against his flat belly with every breath. Willing and vulnerable, a tribute.

I knelt on the bed. His legs were drawn up and I rested a hand on one of his knees to steady myself, and positioned my cock with the other, stroking the engorged head against his greased, puckered anus. Savoring it.

You’re going to feel this tomorrow, bitch.

Movement, a long, pale flutter. I saw Don Desjardins step out of the shadow in the corner, naked.

“Take him,” he said.

I was drunk. I was crazy. I’d been horribly set up. A dozen possibilities flared and burnt out, sparks dying against the dirt. The only reality was the entrancing marble landscape of his body. His thighs were splendid, racehorse lean; the tight, sleek muscles of his abdomen were a swimmer’s perfection. He’d pulled the band out of his hair and it brushed his shoulders in a soft sweep. His cock swayed as he walked toward me, a swollen shock of hunger against his slender elegance.

“You deserve him, John. Take him hard.”

Seconds slid in a narcotic mirage. I felt caught, my hand in the till, or down my pants. Don seemed to see beyond my skin into my selfish darkness, the part that would devour this young man, then spit him out like a bone.

Don knelt on the bed, stroked my face with one hand and slid the other down my back, his touch the silky smoothness of talc. I felt pressure, his strong palm urging me forward. When his lips touched mine, an electric current surged through me and I plunged in, deep and rough.

The young man moaned at my brutal entrance, but I was twisted by sweetness, the hot embrace around my cock and the cool, astonishing power of Don’s kiss. A benediction. I began to buck.

When Don broke from my mouth I was gasping, low, guttural sounds that came from below my belly. I tried to slow my pace, relish this, but my body had been seized by instinct, or greed. Pleasure cascaded down my shaft with every push, swirled and churned in my balls. I couldn’t stop.

Garret was tossing his head from side to side, on the verge of thrashing. Don slipped away from me and held the pretty head between two hands, calming him or simply restraining him. What did the little bar stud think of that? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I only knew that the sight was luscious, his beauty stretched out between the two of us, like a meal we were sharing.

Close. I was getting so close. My eyes squeezed shut as the first tremors gripped me. Then the fragile surface of pleasure tore open and I was caught by a molten flow. Rapture. My whole body was liquid yet I pulsed, one hot jet after another, shooting into the very thing I was. One. From an ethereal distance I felt Garret’s tight anus ring grip me, a clutch of alarm, the body’s cry. It only sent me sailing on another exquisite wave.

Ebb tide. I coasted to earth again, sweet aftershocks wringing me, wresting me one more turn. I opened my eyes at last, panting lightly.

How beautiful Don’s back was, I thought dreamily. The long whiteness amazed me, the remarkable curve of the two halves, cleaved by the serpentine trail of the spine, the rhythmic shudder of the muscles… Revelation. I pulled out of the hot flesh and staggered back, off the bed.

Don Desjardins, the Velvet Rogue, the famous radio Bluesmaster was bent over the young man, mouth locked on his neck, feeding. Garret’s hand clutched feebly at the air, at help, and finally fell back limply on the bed.

Waves of heat and stinging cold flashed over my skin. This couldn’t be. I couldn’t be seeing this. But the last twenty-four hours had been rife with the impossible. Loose threads that I’d let dangle, intent on my own trail.

There is no bad publicity.

At last Don released the man, and sat back on his haunches, panting. His mouth gleamed wet and dark; his breath seemed to gust vapor, as if the room was very, very cold. I saw the curve of tiny scimitars, just a flash, but unmistakable. My stomach seized.

“Oh, God.” The rich tapestry of his voice was frayed with relief. “My God. It’s as good as sex!” And he laughed, a high, ringing note.

“Will he die?” I blurted.

Don looked at me over his shoulder. “Why? Do you want him to?”

“No. Jesus—no!”

“Funny, earlier tonight I could have sworn you wouldn’t have cared what happened to him after you shot your load.”

I cringed. He was probably right.

The Bluesmaster plucked tissues from a box, and wiped his mouth. “He’ll wake up tomorrow feeling like hell—maybe he’ll call it the flu, or a hangover. Or a bad date. But he’ll recover. Look, the wound is already closing.”

The ease, the normalcy and grace of his movements exerted a strange fascination. Part of me was horrified I was even having this discussion, that I was still in the room. The other part was helplessly enthralled.

“What are you?” I whispered.

His glance plucked ancient strings in my human psyche, a deep vibration of inbred fear. I needed no answer. Every culture had a name for vampire.

He got his feet and started toward the other room, a languid, sovereign stride. “I thought you wanted to know about Marilyn Monroe.”

“I do!”

His clothes were laid neatly over the arm of the Garret’s ratty couch. How had he come in, undressed without us noticing him?

“Marilyn was the best at it—for a human. She could put on a scarf and walk down Beverly Hills Boulevard and no one would have even asked her for directions. She wasn’t incognito. She just knew that if she could turn it on, she could also turn it off.

“Fame,” I said softly.

Don smiled. “She never got to the next step, though: reflecting. How to bend the light away from you, and beam it on someone else.”

As he had for me in the bar. I remembered that sensation—blazing like a nova, the intoxicating power of holding every eye in the room. Even now I clutched at the memory of it.

Don had known it, too, first hand. He’d been a star, before talkies, when the screen was fifty feet high and the people on it even taller.

“Then why radio?” I snapped. “With modern movies and distribution—videos, downloads!—you could be a superstar, someone the world knows by a single name.”

His smile was patient, as if I was a slow student. “Nothing’s as powerful as the unseen, John. You should know that by now. And besides, radio is immediate. Intimate. I can slip into hundreds of thousands of homes in an evening, maybe even reach out and touch a life.”

The words rattled me. I remembered the sound of my own name, how it had reverberated through my study, how hard I’d wished for it to be true. I was naked and I felt it, my pathetic hopes laid open.

“I’m getting out of here.” My clothes were in the bedroom and I started toward it with force, even determination, but stopped in the doorway. Garret had turned over on his side, tangled himself in the sheets, ruddy flesh an arousing jolt against the white cotton. I felt a thin spike of desire pierce me like a needle, even now.

“You made it sublime, John.” The Velvet Rogue was behind me, his suede voice lapping at my ear, a panther’s tongue. “You’re a splendid bully, especially when you’re pissed. I drank all of it, his excitement, his fear. You created…a complete experience for me. What a team we are.”

My insides leapt in disgust. “No, we’re not. You can’t use me.”

“And you didn’t use him? Look, it doesn’t really matter—he won’t even remember tomorrow.”

I’ll remember,” I said boldly.

“Oh, that’s what you always say.”

Alarm pulsed painfully in my fingertips. I turned. Don was gazing at me with soft, luminous eyes, even affection.

“Do you think this is the first night we’ve ever shared, John? Our first date?”

Oh, no. Please, no. But memory was tolling like a distant bell in me, the same haunting note sounding over and over. Could it be that I simply didn’t remember? Had we done this night after night? Would I go to sleep and wake up as the same ravenous, needy man, only to be lured in again with the same pitiful bait, a…

“Teaspoon of fame?” Don said. He stroked my cheek with a cool hand, and smiled faintly. “See you soon, darling. Don’t touch that dial.”

I heard the door to the apartment close with a soft click. The world was swirling, a sickening spiral that suddenly seemed as familiar to me as my own bones. I leaned against the door jamb and closed my eyes, digital numbers blazing against the lids, tears scalding a slow path down my face. I didn’t have to look, I knew what time it was.

© 2003 Tulsa Brown. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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