"Jerry Jaffe makes an exciting entrance on the literary stage with his intriguing debut novel, One More Time, Jennie Darling, a story that pulls you in and doesn't let go, with a twist that's too good to give away."
-Stefan Schumacher, author of Death by Strip Mall
"In this ingenious take on 'Be careful what you wish for; you may get it,' Steve Dennis' big break comes with show biz's heaviest price tag. Shades and shadows lurk throughout Jerry Jaffe's debut novel as he explores the double-edged sword that is fame; in a world where sincerity is elusive, his hapless hero parades through venues of self-destruction, inhaling the most dangerous drug of all: illusion."
-Gary McLouth, author of Do No Harm and Natural Causes
"Characterization is Jaffe's calling card: he has 'cast' this Hollywood novel with credible, engaging people, from the 'names above the title' to the 'supporting players'. His narrative is rife with the plausible surprises that comprise the Holy Grail of fiction. The book is also cleverly and elegantly structured, with several chilling echoes and repetitions-for effect, a few well-timed point-of-view shifts, and an italicized set-piece at the novel's dead center that will take your breath away. This may be the story of a nightmare, but the craft of it, the writing itself? That's the stuff of dreams."
-Paul McComas, author of Unforgettable, Planet of the Dates, and Unplugged, from his Foreword
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)|
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One More Time, Jennie Darling
By Jerry Jaffe
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Jerry Jaffe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAbout halfway up the block, Stella waved to him from beside their five-year-old badly rusted Buick. Drifting snow settled about his shoulders as he stepped out from a nearby doorway. Steve got in the passenger's seat, slammed the door and gave a quick backward glance to the brightly lit sign that headlined The Club Chloe:
STEVEN DENNIS MASTER OF SONG
"How was it tonight?" she asked quietly.
He looked at his wife, now sitting beside him, edging her way into the street, studying the traffic pattern. That pert nose would forever remain tilted, he said to himself. As her scarf came down, he could see her usually flowing shoulder- length blonde hair drawn up into a tight bun on top, surrounded by bands of rhinestones. She held her lips tightly together. He smelled the faint odor of an animal and realized it was the collar on her coat, wet from the snow. The advertisement had said the pelt was supposed to be genuine silver fox. He suspected that it was an unfortunate canine that had wandered into the furrier's by mistake.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and repeated her question.
"Well, we had all of fifteen customers. Joe kept counting their heads, probably expecting them to multiply. I stayed at the bar in between sets watching Gus rearrange the glasses." He could visualize the pudgy, bald bartender in front of him, as sad-eyed as the rest of them, his eyebrows going up and down rapidly as he spoke of the club's ultimate closing.
"Janet going to be at the party?" she asked as a matter of fact.
"She's coming with Gus as soon as she finishes singing. The guys in the band are going together in a group." He looked at the few people on the street. Each time they exhaled, clouds of white shot out into the air. "Everyone from the club will be there, except Joe. He'll be too busy going over the receipts, trying to decide how he can make the place go for another few months."
"That isn't what he told me!" She looked at him and turned away to check the traffic.
He could feel a flush come to his face and was glad the inside of the car was dark. Couldn't anyone keep their mouth shut?
They pulled up in front of a white marble condominium where a slender black doorman in a dark brown and gold braided uniform greeted them. They told him they were guests of Jay Taggart. The doorman backed away swiftly to the intercom system and checked it out with Apartment 62A.
Steve turned to her. "If you think I like coming here for Jay's annual Thanksgiving bash, you've got it all wrong. I shouldn't have let you talk me into it." He was angry with Jay for not being the friend he always said he was. For all his big talk, Jay wasn't throwing any opportunities his way.
Stella was looking at him intently, her eyes narrowing. He guessed she was reading his thoughts. "Come on, don't be angry. Jay worked hard for his success. For twenty years he was at the bottom of the totem pole. He deserves everything he's got." She tightened the leather gloves about her hands by forcibly pulling them down.
"So I've got twelve more years to go," he gritted, shuffling about the wet sidewalk, waiting for the doorman to take their car.
She brought her face close to his. "But I don't know if I have." Then she drew herself up stiffly and moved the few wisps of hair that trailed about her face back into the bun.
The doorman handed them a claim ticket. As they walked through the oversized glass doors, their car was driven away.
"Thank God for the post office and the holiday mail rush," she whispered. "It's steady money, at least!"
"Yeah, but I was so goddamn tired from hauling mail sacks around, they practically had to haul me onto the stage. Of course those dozen people in the joint were really an incentive to get up there and perform. They didn't respond to the songs," he wiped an itch away from the bottom of his nose, "so I did some imitations. I ended up with Jennie Darling. That brought what was left of the house down!"
Her voice was determined: "You have no idea how grateful I am that my folks insisted I go to Business College for two years. I found out awfully fast that the stage was not for me. Even with ten years of dancing lessons holding me up. The only good thing that ever happened to me in show business was meeting you—"
"In the chorus of 'Two's A Crowd,'" he finished the sentence for her.
She grinned and her eyes brightened. The tightness usually around them disappeared.
The rosewood-paneled elevator doors opened, and they stepped inside. She still carried herself like a tall young girl. As they turned around, the highly polished brass mirrored them. He didn't look so bad. He still had the baby face he had been lugging around ever since he could remember. That had been his nickname once, and he'd licked every son-of-a-bitch in the orphanage who called him that until they stopped. Hell, he would probably die looking like he was twelve years old.
He ran his palm over his head. The shock of light brown hair first resisted his hand, then settled down.
"Is it so hard to tear yourself away from show business?" she asked, looking up at the lights flashing through numbered circles.
"My time has got to finally come up."
"Uh huh! How about the home and the kids we promised ourselves?" She swallowed and shifted her weight, looking at him almost wistfully. "I'm not as willing as I once was to do without. I'm sorry about that. Really, I am."
"Quiet!" He planted a soft kiss on her lips and inhaled what he knew was the last of that expensive perfume he'd bought her on her last birthday. He'd have to buy her a new bottle as soon as he got lucky over a game of spastic dominos during lunch hour.
"I guess I'm upset," she smiled weakly. "Today we got a notice that the rent on our apartment is going up."
"What?" The loudness of his voice startled him. "They should pay us for living there." He laughed because the whole damn thing was so funny. "How can they charge so much for so little?"
"But there's good news for a change," she interrupted his thinking. "Sam Sloan called me this evening. He said he would try to get you a spot on Craig Henderson's show soon."
"Nice," he smirked. "He told me I needed brand new arrangements just a few days ago. While we're at it, do you think we could also find a writer who gives a money-back guarantee on jokes?"
She broke into gentle laughter. The elevator was slowing down, and Floor 62 was coming up. The doors silently opened, and the couple stepped onto the heavy plush rug. Christ, Jay wasn't that much older than he, but had gotten into the business years earlier. Stella took his arm and they walked down the hall to the ten-foot- tall doors that led into apartment A.
The penthouse was already overcrowded at the door. Their host, well over six feet tall and towering over Stella, bent down to kiss her and wish her a happy holiday. Jay grabbed Steve around the shoulders and ushered them to the bar. That new goatee and moustache Jay was sporting didn't make him look any better, Steve thought—only more affected.
"Couldn't you get here earlier?" Jay moaned. "Wow, that com- bo's loud! I've got to get them to cut down the decibels." Then, to the young man tending bar, he said, "Give the good people what they want." The door opened. "Say, someone just came in who I've been trying to see for over a week. I'll be back in a minute. Excuse me." Jay kissed Stella and patted Steve on the shoulder lightly, then made his way for the door, where an elegant-looking middle-aged couple were waving.
Stella craned her neck. "A new crowd—there aren't many here that I recognize."
Someone behind Steve pinched his ear. "Did you come by mule train?" Janet came around to face him. "Gus and I have been here for hours. I didn't do my last set because Joe shut the place early." She looked around and pouted. "The action is getting faster. Definitely not better." She raised her half-empty glass. "Tis the season—"
"For unemployment," he finished the toast.
Her voluminous breasts were almost falling out of the low-cut black dress she was wearing and they moved from side to side as she breathed. She smiled. There was still something fresh about her, in contrast to her otherwise tawdry look, accentuated by a too-bright red dye job. "At least it's not a wake. Hot, isn't it?" she questioned, running her hand down the luminous black satin cape resting on her shoulders. "But I'll be damned if I'll get rid of this wrap for even five minutes. It cost me a week's pay."
A rush of people, led by a burly wrestler type, came to the bar to refill their glasses, and jostled them. Steve was about to start something but thought better of it.
"Steve Dennis—The Wonder Boy!" a voice rang out over the noise.
Stella turned to see a tall, pleasant, sandy-haired man standing behind her. "Nat!"
Steve grabbed Nat's outstretched hand and shook it firmly. "Where in hell have you been?"
"Not hell; Mexico. Sometimes, though, I couldn't tell the difference."
"She divorced me in California and took the kids to Canada to marry a stockbroker. But don't be unhappy about it. I'm not; I'm free and easy and this time I can afford it. The market has blessed me!" He gently patted his stomach, which was beginning to destroy the symmetry of his tailored tuxedo jacket.
"Janet, this is Nat Graham. Janet is our singer at the Chloe," Steve explained.
"The late Chloe, that is," she grimaced.
"Is that joint still standing?"
"Air pollution is doing its best to hold it up. Damn," she muttered as she was pushed into Nat by people hemming them in on all sides. "Jay should install traffic lights in here."
A drum roll signaled an event about to take place. Small chairs were set together, and the lights began blinking on and off.
"Jesus, we're going to have to sing for our supper." Steve pulled his mouth over to one side: "Well, at least they should be a more appreciative audience than the one I just left at the Chloe."
Jay strode into the center of the room. A wave of hand clapping started. Using volunteers from the audience, he did an impromptu off-color version of his question-and-answer show. His guests roared and stamped their feet as he played back and forth with sex-loaded one-liners.
A willowy white-haired blonde who'd been tailing Jay all evening was introduced next as a singer. She wasn't bad, but she was flat. She sang with everything she had, including her voice, but could not hold the crowd's attention. When she realized this, she stopped gyrating to the music and started to sing more loudly.
Several people in the audience began chanting, "Take it off, take it off." She held up the index finger of her right hand and kept on with her singing. Finally, in exasperation at her reception, she walked out of the performing area in a huff. The audience cheered loudly.
Jay leapt into the spotlight and called out, "Where the hell are you, Steve?"
The boisterous crowd began to chant, "We want Steve. We want Steve," and Nat shoved him forward. He caught reflections of rings and watches on the hands that moved him to the center of the room. When he got there, his tiredness receded and his senses snapped to attention.
"Why aren't you all at the Chloe?" he yelled. "We're so broke, we'll welcome anybody!" The remark drew a round of interested laughter.
"I've been there once," a voice called out.
"Once is enough," another answered.
"More than," Steve retorted, "but like it or not, you are going to be entertained by its star!" The small group behind him faked it, and he began to sing. He heard the beginnings of talk over his song and inwardly cringed. Damn it—he was losing them. But he would not sing more loudly to get their attention.
"And now for another fabulous entertainer. Here's Hip Reynolds, Singing Cowpoke Extraordinaire." He started to sing in the familiar twang of the current western folk hero, and the chatter stopped. Simultaneously he went into Hip's familiar lope as he continued with the tune. Great! He had them! When he finished the number, he smiled.
"I'll do Matt Dagger next—"
"Everybody does Matt Dagger," an icy voice called out.
"Everybody does him good, too," someone else added.
"Give them a load of Jennie Darling!" Janet's voice pierced the dark. He could barely see her standing off to one side. "Show them," she shouted. "Catch!" Her black cape sailed through the air and as it collapsed against him, he found her makeup bag in its pocket.
He turned away from his audience and quickly combed bangs across his forehead, pulling out a long lock of hair on each cheek. Bending to catch the light in the compact's mirror, he drew on lips and eyebrows. Then he wrapped the black cape around himself and turned around.
The room abruptly quieted. "Well?" He paused. "I'm here. What would you like me to sing?" He had them—again! The titles of Jennie's hit records came flying across the room at the same time, making it difficult for him to decide. He couldn't go wrong with any of them.
After he'd finished singing "Tip-Tap-Toe," in response to ear-splitting applause, he stepped forward and threw them an enthusiastic Jennie Darling kiss.
"'One More Time'," a voice called out as the noise died down. He vetoed the suggestion with a shake of his head. That song, written for Jennie years ago for her first starring picture, was as personal as her fingerprint. The crowd began chanting, "One More Time. One More Time." The combo segued into the familiar introduction. He wished they hadn't done that. Now, he'd end up looking like a horse's ass. The band played the introduction again. In resignation, he began the prayerful number. Everyone knew when to expect the cry in the lyrics, and they were not disappointed. He tenderly held onto each word and phrase.
Suddenly, he heard someone else singing on the other side of the room. Determined, he continued the duet. Damn! Some broad out there had her down better than he did. He heard a rush of whispers run through the crowd. He was losing them again. Someone was slowly walking toward him with a vaguely familiar shrug. She was touching shoulders and shaking hands as she came forward. Then it hit him like a wave slapping against his body. Nobody today had that kind of galvanizing charisma. Even in the dark, she was lighting up the room.
She slowly came into the lighted area. Her red-brown hair was cut short, falling carelessly about her head, the curl ends drawn onto her cheeks, giving her an elfin quality. Her large, child-like eyes were warm and friendly. She had performed the song times beyond counting, yet the words came out as sincerely as they had the first time she'd sung it. Steve could sense the audience anxiously waiting for his next move.
She came up to his side. Christ, she was almost as tall as he. She brought her hands up to her hair and extended her long fingers, each one crowned with a dark red nail. When it came to stage presence, anything she didn't know, she didn't have to.
Her eyes told him to follow her. Picking up the cue, he tried to anticipate her every move. A chuckle came from the crowd when he erred, but they did finish the song together. From behind, her hand pushed his upper body down in a bow, and when he straightened up, she kissed him.
The lights came on. The cheers were deafening.
"Thank you," she said humbly to the audience, then turned to him. "And, you, too—whoever you are."
A throng pulled her away, leaving Steve alone onthe improvised stage. He pulled off the cape as Stella and Janet joined him, and he returned it together with the makeup bag. Taking a tissue from Stella, he wiped his face, still feeling the tingle of Jennie's magic. "She's really something," he murmured to himself.
After several minutes with the group that had taken her away, Jennie came toward him and smiled.
"To coin an oft-used phrase, 'Where have you been all my life?'" Suddenly she tightened as a number of people descended upon her. "In here!" She grabbed his arm and pulled him away from Stella and Janet into a nearby bedroom. After locking the door, she kicked off her shoes and worked up her skirt to straighten her stockings.
"Are you a transvestite?" When he said no, she continued, "Are you queer?" Again, he said no. "Well. That's something! Who taught you to do me that well?"
"No one, but I've seen all your pictures many times." He told her he had done it first as a lark, then began to use her in his act every once in a while.
"We even look alike," she peered at him, "except for the obvious. Do you do a straight-out mimic act?"
"I sing," he answered, flattered by her interest. "And I tell jokes. The other stuff is what I do when I get desperate."
"You should get desperate all the time. You've got it, Baby, and nobody knows more about talent than little Jennie. Where do you work?"
"At the Club Chloe. Don't blink while you're there or you'll miss my act."
Excerpted from One More Time, Jennie Darling by Jerry Jaffe Copyright © 2012 by Jerry Jaffe. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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