SONGBIRD, Excerpt

 

Chapter One

 

The song ended. Desiree leaned forward on the high stool, bringing her lips close to the padded microphone. “That was Rita Coolidge’s ‘Be Mine Tonight.’”

She checked the pie-sized clock on the wall above the con­sole. “It’s twenty-five past three here on this hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon in June. You’re listening to KICK An­aheim, your home for Oldies, 102 on your FM dial. This is Desiree Germain keeping you com­pany for that long drive home.”

Right on cue, the first soft notes of the next song began to play. Desiree removed her headphones and lifted her toffee-colored curls off her shoulders, letting the cool air from the overhead vent flow freely around her neck. A fire-engine red bumper sticker affixed to the window above the console caught her eye: SPEND THE NIGHT WITH DESI­REE…KICK 102 FM!

Time for a new slogan, she thought, carefully peeling the length of vinyl off the glass and tossing it in the trash. Seven years of working evenings and nights, and she had finally made it: Prime time, daytime radio in Southern California. So what­ever you do, she told herself, don’t blow it.

She turned up the volume control, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes, hoping the mellow tune’s soothing rhythm would help calm her senses. It’s the same job as before, only the time has changed. Forget about Arbitron and shares and rating points. Forget about the hundreds of would-be deejays standing in the wings, chomping at the bit, just waiting for you to mess up. Put it out of your mind. You’re good—one of the best jocks this station has—or Sam wouldn’t have given you the afternoon drive. Just relax and enjoy your­self.

She heard the studio door open and straightened up. Tom, the station’s part-time gofer, rushed in, his forehead perspiring beneath a tangle of wiry red hair.

“Man, it’s hot out there,” he said. “The air conditioner can barely keep up. You’re lucky—your cubicle is nice and cool.”

“I know. I am lucky. And cubicle is right.” Desiree glanced about the studio with a smile. It was tiny, the equipment was very outdated, and so were the dog-eared posters of singers and musicians plastered across the dingy beige walls. But this was an Oldies station. She knew that some people got claustrophobic in elevators, yet she was stuck in this microscopic space for four straight hours every day—and she loved it.

“Here’s the latest.” Tom handed her a printout.

“Anything good?”

“What do you think this is, Sixty Min­utes?”

Desiree scanned the news briefs, reading one of the titles aloud. “‘Mil­lionaire owner of Laundromat chain taken to the cleaners in palimony suit.’” She shook her head. “Why do we do these? We’re not a news station.”

Tom shrugged as he turned to leave. “Sam likes this kind of stuff. And one must never argue with the P.D.” Be­fore shutting the door, he mimicked their program director’s gravelly voice. “Above all else—Be Entertaining.”

Desiree laughed as she slipped on her headphones. “I’ll give it my best shot. Today’s news can use all the help it can get.” A familiar refrain signaled the end of the song. She pushed the start button on the deck to the left of the console. A glance at the digital countdown timer told her she had fifteen sec­onds. Just then Tom pressed his face up against the glass of the window above the console, staring in at her.

She smothered another laugh, dropping her voice an octave as she said into the mike, “If you’re sitting in traffic, feeling that tension creeping up your spine, here’s the perfect way to get rid of all that stress. Just imagine that I’m sitting next to you, giving your shoulders a nice, long massage.” As soon as she said the words, she cringed inwardly. Good grief! Did I really just say that?

The commercial break began. Desiree again plucked off her headphones and glanced up at Tom, who was mouthing the word “outrageous” at her through the glass as he walked away.

Outrageous. That’s what the reporter from the Los Angeles Times had written about her in this morning’s review of her new afternoon show. “One outrageous, sexy woman, whose luscious, lusty voice could, with one well-placed sigh, bring half the male population of Southern California to its knees.”

She laughed softly to herself. Luscious? Lusty? Hardly. She believed she was reasonably attractive. Steve, her ex-husband, had once told her she had eyes like molten gold. Her hair seemed to match her per­sonality. It was unruly, brushing her shoulders in abundant waves. But somehow, she’d found, her deep voice led people to expect someone entirely different: a tall, volup­tuous blond bombshell who walked, talked, and breathed sex. No way on earth could she ever hope to fit that image.

She was petite in every sense of the word. She possessed curves in all the right places, but no matter how hard she tried, she didn’t quite reach the five-foot-one-inch mark. Thirty years old, she had endured a lifetime of jokes about the dis­crepancy between her voice and her looks. She’d seen the dis­appointment in people’s eyes too many times when they met her and discovered she wasn’t the sex symbol they’d imagined.

Still, her voice was her biggest asset. Sam insisted that teas­ing banter meant higher ratings. The listeners couldn’t see her, after all. What harm could there be in playing along?

She scanned the news brief she’d selected, waiting for the commercial break to end, then threw the mike switch to pro­gram and turned up the volume.

“Here’s an item of interest for all you soda-pop guzzlers out there. Looks like the new diet soft drink, Sparkle Light, is los­ing steam. In an unexpected move yesterday, the parent cor­poration, privately owned, multimillion dollar Harrison In­dustries, announced plans for Sparkle Light Bottling Company to go public.” She went on to read the experts’ analysis, which pointed a finger at a suspected drop in product sales, then laid the news bulletin up on the counter.

“If you’ve always wanted to own stock in a soft-drink company, this might be your big chance. But let’s hope Spar­kle Light picks up in a hurry, or you may find yourself making a big deposit, no-return investment on a warehouse full of pop without any fizz.”

She played a groaning sound-effects tape. Next, grabbing an index card from the board above her console, she announced it was time to play the Trivia Game. “The number to call is 555-KICK. I’ll take caller number twelve.”

All five lines on the multi-tap phone in her studio lit up with magical precision. Desiree smiled. The immediate response to contests on the afternoon drive never ceased to amaze her. This was the time of day to be on the air!

“The caller who can answer today’s trivia question cor­rectly will receive a complimentary dinner for two at Maximilian’s in Huntington Beach.” She read a blurb about the restaurant, then punched the buttons on the phone one at a time, counting out loud and disconnecting each line in se­quence.

“Hi, you’re on the air,” she said when she reached the twelfth caller. “Who’s this?”

“This is Kyle Harrison.” The voice, obscured slightly by faint background noise, sounded low, smooth, and deeply mascu­line. She found herself sitting up straight on the stool, listen­ing attentively.

“Hello, Kyle.”

Return to Songbird