We are delighted to be able to print one of the superb Genesis-themed short stories from Chris James’s excellent series of books: Stories Of Genesis here in the pages of TWR.
WARNING: This article contains strong language.
The Chat Show Host
(inspired by the song Duchess from the 1980 album Duke)
Friday 6th March 1987
Jason Jones - ‘JJ’ to his friends, enemies, and any nice piece of ass he could get after a show - looked back at himself in the mirror and smiled.
“Tonight’s the night.”
He finished washing his hands under the water, spun the tap off, and slicked the water along the sides of his cropped brown hair. At that moment, the urinals behind him flushed automatically and he listened as the water swirled away. He pulled a few sheets of green paper from the dispenser, dried his hands, and said to his reflection:
“Tonight, Duchess, is where you get the surprise of your life, and where I start my meteoric rise to fame.”
He threw the damp paper into the bin, and as he left the toilets, he stuck his hand in his jacket pocket to check that the photograph and piece of paper hadn’t vanished. JJ threw smiles at other people as he strode along the broad corridor and entered his dressing room. Closing the door behind him, he took out the photo and stared at it, then opened out the folded piece of paper and read the information written there.
There came a gentle knock on the other side of his dressing room door.
“Mr Jones? Two minutes on the floor, please, Mr Jones.”
JJ called back, “Sure,” folded the paper back, and returned it and the photo to his jacket pocket. He faced himself in his dressing room mirror, and inhaled deeply.
“Don’t fuck it up, whatever you do, JJ.”
He walked to the door, snatched at the handle and let it slam closed behind him. He paced along the corridor towards studio B3, catching sight of the ‘Southern TV’ logo splayed out along the wall in bland shades of plastic orange which reminded him of the 70s. It said ‘Southern TV’ but to JJ it should’ve said ‘Backwater TV’, a symbol of the limits of his audience. Even tonight, with the great Duchess as special guest to promote her comeback album, he could expect no more than a few hundred thousand viewers. And besides, the tabloids would only take notice when she went on Parkinson’s Saturday night shit-fest the next evening, and then on Wogan’s show the following Monday night.
JJ smiled as he thought that, in just a couple of hours, he’d have all the tabloids begging him for an interview. This Sunday, JJ would be in all the papers. Soon, his agent Mark would be fielding offers from the big boys, and JJ would have his pick of a national, primetime slot.
He reached the backstage area and peered through to the set and the empty seats beyond them, recalling that Duchess’s agent had insisted on no live studio audience for this first interview. JJ had wanted Duchess to perform - well, mime to - the new single promoting the comeback album, as she would do on the national shows in the next few days, but Duchess’s agent refused. When JJ pushed her on it, the agent took him into her confidence: Duchess worried the public might not take her back into their hearts as they first had when she exploded on the music scene three years earlier in 1984.
The agent had given JJ a straight choice about how to do the interview: either recorded in front of a studio audience, with Duchess approving the edited pre-transmission tape, or do a live interview but without a studio audience. JJ had to have a live interview to be sure he got the headlines that his future career needed. This had all been planned for the middle of next month, but then last week Duchess’s record company brought the release date forward to be ahead of Madonna’s new album.
JJ and the agent had agreed the questions he would ask Duchess, and JJ felt only a little guilt at the way he’d lied. He was going to ask her at least one question no one else knew about.
“Jesus H., JJ. You bypassed makeup again? What is it with you, I thought all the pretty boys loved the makeup?”
JJ choked back an expletive as the stunted yet thickset floor manager, Barney, lumbered towards him with a sarcastically confrontational smile. JJ answered:
“You can get one of the girls to touch my face up once I’m under the lights.”
“And what’s with the two-day stubble? You look like a-”
“Give it a rest, Barney,” JJ said as he sidestepped a camera operator pulling cables. “If it’s good enough for George Michael, it’s good enough for me. Right, we all ready to go, you wonderful people?” he called around the studio floor.
The half-a-dozen people glanced at him and most smiled.
Someone called out: “Duchess just left her dressing room.”
A floor technician came up to JJ and clipped a throat-mike on to JJ’s black shirt, while JJ took the offered earpiece and hooked it behind his right ear. The technician began feeding the cable around JJ’s back. He lifted his beige jacket to allow the technician to hook the battery pack to the back of his trouser belt. As this happened, the studio-floor chatter died and heads turned to where Duchess would make her entrance.
JJ nodded his thanks, mounted the low stage, and sat down in the cream-coloured executive chair from which he would interview Duchess. Opposite him rested her chair, the same colour and design, while between them sat a glass-topped coffee table offering a carafe of water and two glasses. Behind him, the set partition wall carried the show’s logo, Friday Night Freetalk, in slanting, disco-blue block capitals, while ‘with Jason JJ Jones’ was written in black italics across the front of them. JJ settled into the chair and felt the heat from the studio lights above. With growing confidence he relished how he would destroy Duchess’s comeback with this interview, to finally take his own career to the next level.
“Testing, testing. Give us a smile if you can hear me,” said a female voice in the earpiece.
JJ smiled; the floor manager called one minute.
A young make-up girl trotted up the three steps, leant in, and began dabbing a pink, cotton-wool pad on his forehead.
“Why didn’t you call me, you bastard?” she asked in a neutral tone.
JJ reacted on instinct. “Ah, I meant to, sweetheart. But I’ve been getting ready for this interview, you know?”
The dark eyes in her pretty, round face remained passive as she continued dabbing and then brushing. JJ strained to recall her name.
“You don’t even remember me, do you?”
He did remember her. He’d ended up at her tiny Brighton flat a couple of weeks earlier. And the reason he hadn’t called was because he never called any woman who couldn’t reach orgasm after ten minutes of being licked. JJ didn’t care whether the orgasm was real or faked, but he didn’t like being kept waiting.
“Of course I remember. That was such a great night.”
Her expression didn’t change; he still couldn’t remember her name.
Then Barney called out: “Quiet everyone, please. Intro’s running. Leave him now, Rachel,” and JJ exhaled.
“Thanks, Rachel,” he said. “We must do it again soon.”
She huffed, turned, and walked away without hiding her femininity. JJ wondered if maybe she was worth another go.
“Okay, JJ,” said the female voice in his earpiece. “You’re live in ten, nine, eight, seven…”
JJ stared at camera one in front of him and waited for the red light.
Presently, it illuminated and JJ spoke: “Good evening everyone and welcome to this week’s edition of Friday Night Freetalk with me, Jason Jones, your host.” He paused and gave the lens what his mother always called his ‘winning smile’ before continuing: “And tonight we have a very special guest indeed. Duchess took the music world by storm three years ago with her multi-platinum selling debut album, Crying For More. It yielded a massive six hit singles, including two number ones, and has sold over five million copies worldwide.”
He paused again and heard the female voice in his earpiece say: “Okay, promo vid cued and ready to go when you lead in.”
“Well, despite having become a little publicity-shy after her sell-out world tour in 85, Duchess is back with a new album, called Starting To Roar, to be released in just a couple of weeks. In a few moments I’ll be speaking to Duchess, but first here’s a look at the video for the first single from the new album, The Grassier Verge.” JJ held his stare at the camera until he heard, “Okay, vid running.”
He turned, stood up, and walked to the screen from which Duchess would emerge. He stopped in shock when he rounded the screen to be confronted by a large, black thug of a man regarding him with a stony expression.
JJ caught his breath and said: “And where is Duchess?”
The thug’s face didn’t flicker, then a light voice from behind him spoke: “That’s Kimi, my bodyguard. He’s from Fiji. And you must be Jason Jones.” The svelte form of Duchess stepped out from behind Kimi and looked at JJ. He’d never met her, but as with all famous people she appeared smaller in real life. JJ’s eyes scanned her and took in the blond hair bunched up behind her head; the long, pointed jaw; and the contrast between the pale flesh of her arms and shoulders, and the crimson cocktail dress that hugged her graceful body. JJ silently wondered how long it took Duchess, otherwise known as plain Tracy Denton, to reach orgasm.
“Don’t worry about Kimi,” she said, appearing pleased to see that JJ had been startled.
“He looks after me,” she smiled as she stroked the arm of the Fijian’s suit. The bullet-headed man continued to stare at JJ.
JJ ignored him and spoke to Duchess, his interviewer’s professionalism almost making him forget how far he would shortly plunge the knife into her career.
“Sure, right. If you’d like to come and sit down now, we’ll begin when the video ends. The questions have been agreed with your agent, so you know what to expect.”
Duchess let out a sigh: “I know. I’ve got Parkinson tomorrow and Wogan coming up next week, and I’m hoping our little chat will help me get back up to speed. I’d hate to be made to look a fool in front of a national audience.”
JJ maintained his smile, but inside he seethed at her confirming she’d only come to this backwater as a lousy dry-run for doing the national interviews.
“What do you think of the new single?” she asked him.
“What? Oh, yeah, it’s good,” he fumbled, only faintly aware of the keyboard-driven ballad in the background. He saw Duchess glance up at Kimi, then he turned to return to his seat. Duchess followed.
As he sat, JJ heard, “Thirty seconds to end of vid,” in his earpiece, and he checked that Duchess had a mike poking up above her modest cleavage. He watched her compose herself, smoothing down creases and clearing her throat. At length, JJ cast his gaze towards camera one.
When the red light above it flashed on, he spoke: “That’s The Grassier Verge, the new single from Duchess released ahead of the new album, which will be in the shops on March 20. And here with me on Friday Night Freetalk is none other than Duchess herself. Welcome to the show, Duchess.”
“Thank you, JJ. It’s great to be here.”
“We’ve just heard the first single. Can you tell us a little more about the new album?”
“Yes. It’s a collection of twelve songs, some of them I wrote a few years ago, and some I’ve written over the last year…”
As the interview progressed, JJ noted Duchess make slight body movements which showed her relaxing: she began to smile more naturally, her head tilted to the left and right, and her slender arms came away from the chair and moved when she spoke. He asked her about other famous musicians who guested on the new album, semi-technical questions regarding the arrangements and production, then a few lightly personal questions on the period after the world tour, when the gutter press had been full of lurid stories of drugs and rehab.
Soon JJ began to feel the faintest trace of regret at what he’d planned. He didn’t doubt her slender figure held a determined personality, but he could more clearly detect fragility in places. The gig in Hamburg, when she’d been booed from the stage after forgetting the words to the first song she’d tried to sing, had clearly affected her.
The minutes passed. Towards the end of the interview, just as JJ began to reconsider his strategy, in a flash he recalled her next interviews, and how he’d have to wait years for his break. Unless he did something radical. Neither Parkinson nor Wogan were likely to retire or die anytime soon. He heard, “Five minutes,” in his earpiece and resolved on his course of action.
Duchess was answering a question about her 85 world tour, “… it’s such a wonderful feeling when the audience start crying for more. Honestly, the most important part of this is the fans, because without their support, I’m not sure I would’ve made the new album.”
“Yes, but your fans don’t know quite everything about you, do they, Duchess?”
At that moment, the voice in JJ’s earpiece spoke: “Wrap it up, JJ, we’re out of time.”
JJ knew he still had several minutes. He had to thank Duchess and name-check the new single and album before the end credits. His professionalism stopped him from trying to talk directly to the earpiece, but the warning came again, more urgent: “I said wrap it now, JJ. We’re out of time.”
For a second he panicked that someone in the studio might have found out what he planned to do, but instantly he realised that could not be possible. He glanced back at Duchess and her chin had jutted. “Excuse me?” she said in defiance tinged with a trace of fear.
JJ grabbed the earpiece and yanked hard. The cable under his jacket stretched and he tossed the earpiece over his shoulder, where it hung limp down the back of his jacket. “How do you think your fans would react if they knew the real you, Duchess? Or should I call you, Tracy Denton?”
To maintain pressure, JJ wanted to keep staring at Duchess as he carefully withdrew the photo and paper from his pocket, but a movement close to camera one caught his eye. He glanced and saw Barney standing and making frantic throat-cutting gestures with his hand.
Duchess stuttered and her face became defensive, “W-What are you talking about?”
JJ committed himself: “I’m talking about your daughter, Alice Denton. The seven-year-old daughter you’ve kept locked up in an institution because she has Cerebral Palsy. This is her, isn’t it?” He showed her the photo, angling it carefully so the camera would get it without reflection from the studio lights overhead. The image showed a child’s face; a deformed, brown-haired girl with her head lolling over and eyes turned in towards her nose. “And here is a copy of her birth certificate, stating you as her mother.”
JJ allowed a few seconds’ pause, before, he assumed, Duchess’s shock turned to anger, then he said: “And you’ve been hiding her from the whole world these last seven years. So, would you say that your fans mean more to you than your own daughter?”
Duchess began shaking her head and looking around at the other floor staff. “No, this isn’t right… No one knows. What’s going-”
“You dickhead!” Barney roared as he strode towards the pair of them. Barney may have been small, but when he kicked JJ’s chair, JJ felt as though it would tip over with him in it.
JJ quickly stood up and looked at Barney. “What are you doing, you arsehole?” he shouted.
“We told you to wrap it early for a reason, you pretty-boy prick. The Herald of Free Enterprise has capsized.”
Barney turned his head and shouted through the corner of his mouth: “Run the VT.”
JJ stepped carefully away from the set towards the rows of seats in which the live audience would usually sit, until he could see the TV monitors slung from the overhead gantry. Through his shock, from the corner of his eye he noted Duchess get up and disappear behind the screen.
Abruptly the TV screens came to life with Duchess’s relaxed smile, which disappeared on JJ’s challenging question. She repeated: “Excuse me?” and then the screens went blank for a second before the words ‘NEWS FLASH’ appeared, followed by the stern-looking face of a middle-aged news anchor. He said: “Reports are coming in that a cross-channel ferry has capsized in the English Channel. The Herald of Free Enterprise is reported to have radioed in a distress call shortly after leaving the Belgium port of Zeebrugge. For the latest developments, we can go live to our reporter Lisa Hingham in Dover.”
“Shit,” JJ shouted. “Shit, Jesus, shit.”
The shot cut to a windswept young woman holding a microphone in front of her face. “The latest we have is that The Herald of Free Enterprise is reported to be carrying over four hundred passengers. She turned on her side when just a few minutes outside the Belgium port. So far we’ve seen one helicopter come in but as yet we have no news of casualties…”
Barney’s snarl cut through JJ’s shock. “Looks like your little stunt didn’t work, pretty boy. But thanks for letting me know that you were planning to fuck Duchess on our television station. Our sponsors would’ve loved that, dickhead.”
“Fuck you,” JJ replied as he made for the backstage exit, ignoring the stares and looks of contempt from the other floor staff.
JJ left the studio the way he’d come in, walked along the corridor, and entered the same toilets. He threw the door shut and turned on the tap at the nearest basin. The reflection in the mirror still looked to be in shock, so he splashed warm water on his face. He spoke to himself: “How the hell did that happen? I had the bitch, right there. She was going down and I was going up and…” he shook his head. “What the hell happened?”
Suddenly, the door to the toilets swung open. JJ’s mouth also opened with an appropriate, anger-filled rebuke, which died on his tongue when he saw Kimi, Duchess’s bodyguard. The Fijian looked even larger as he stepped through the doorway, carrying one of the backstage chairs. The huge man said nothing, but closed the door and wedged the chair under the handle. He turned to face JJ, stuck out a thick, black hand with his pink palm turned upwards, and instructed: “Give.”
JJ may have just had the worst interview of his career, but he still also had the evidence. He said: “Duchess can’t hide this forever. Sooner or later a reporter’s going to get wind of Alice.”
Kimi said nothing, bunched his right fist, and in one deft step closed enough distance to punch JJ in his shoulder. The speed shocked JJ. The force in the punch made him lose his balance and fall to the tiled floor. The battery pack connected to the mike pushed into the base of his spine painfully.
The hard look on Kimi’s face convinced JJ that the beating would be too high a price to pay for any revenge he might get afterwards by pressing charges. He extracted the photo and birth certificate, and threw them at Kimi. Each piece fluttered onto the floor.
Kimi bent down, scooped them into his hands, and put them in his pocket. He pulled the chair from the door, then turned back to JJ and said: “Duchess win. She the one they waitin’ for. Duchess get her dream. You not get yours.” The suited hulk exited the bathroom, taking the chair with him, and the door swung closed.
Lying on the tiled floor, his nostrils assailed by stale urine and some hint of bleach, JJ tried to move, but the confrontation had left him in pain and shocked once again. Next to him, the urinals flushed automatically. Water coursed around the porcelain bowls, rushing to and fro. JJ stayed crumpled on the floor while the liquid swished and dripped away.
This story originally appeared in Volume 1 of Stories Of Genesis. For more information check out Chris’ web site: www.chrisjamesauthor.com
We shall be serialising others over our next few editions.