"I want everything you can find on former child stars." Nelson slapped a long list on Chloe's desk. "I want to know who's in rehab, who got fat, who went bald, who's gay, who's dead... I want pictures, but definitely interviews... I'll take anything."
Chloe stopped chewing on her pen cap long enough to look away from her computer screen at her boss. "You want interviews with the dead guys, too?"
Nelson raised his eyebrow and smirked. "If you can get that, I'll run it front page."
"If I can get that, I'll take it to the Enquirer—they pay more," Chloe snapped back, giving him a lopsided smile.
"Ooooo, you bitch!" Nelson picked up the paper and waved it at her. "Careful, or The Star won't be paying you at all. Now, research, missy... I wanna know what happened to that little freckled kid from Lost in Space and, more importantly, so do our readers."
Chloe snatched the paper from his hand. "Our readers also want to know who last saw Elvis and where the last alien abduction probe took place."
He grinned. "See... be thankful I didn't give you those."
"Riiiight." She rolled her eyes. "Thanks, boss."
"You're welcome," he winked, heading toward his office.
"Billy Mumy," Chloe called after him. "He did that weird song, 'Fish Heads.'"
Nelson stopped, turning to face her. "What?"
"The kid from Lost in Space," Chloe replied. "He did that song, you know, 'Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads...'"
"Really?" Nelson cocked his head at her. "See, I picked the right girl, didn't I?"
Chloe sighed. Probably, she agreed silently, picking up and scanning the list. Willie Aames—wasn't he the kid from Eight is Enough? Not the little one... one of the older brothers, the blonde one, the cute one... what was his name...? Tommy! She had such a crush on him as a kid, she remembered. She'd had crushes on half the people on the list, she realized with a smile.
She typed Danny Bonaduce into her search engine, pulling up a picture of the little smartass redhead from the Partridge Family. What the hell happened to him? she wondered. It wasn't long before she found out.
* * * *
Chloe would do pretty much anything for her job. That, apparently, included fucking Danny Bonaduce, former geeky redhead on The Partridge Family. Funny, she thought it was going to be some sort of sacrifice, a pity fuck, but he turned out to be a pretty good lover, considering how much they'd both had to drink that night.
Of course, the whole situation came with the usual first-time one-night-stand tension—does he like that...oh, that's good, but ouch, ouch, elbow on the hair... oh no, not the plunging tongue kiss! But that tension also proved to make it hotter, that newness in the moment, coupled with the fact that, while he might be a "washed up" child star, at one time this guy had women following him around like bitches in heat.
He was strong, well-muscled, and had a cocky sort of confidence in bed she associated with men who were unsure and a little soft underneath. She realized, as he slid inside her for the second time that night—condom firmly secured, that much she wasn't willing to risk—that this man would tell her anything she wanted to know when it was all said and done.
The second time took longer, thankfully, and she led him over to his back so she could finish herself, his hands cupping the full weight of her breasts, his cock busy up inside her, but it was her fingers rubbing her clit that would bring it all home, and that's where she focused, eyes closed, wondering for one brief, dizzy moment before she came what Danny Bonaduce would think if he knew she was fantasizing about some other, bigger star.
It didn't surprise her that he called out his wife's name when he came, grabbing her hips and pulling her pelvis in tight—it both amused and saddened her to know they'd both been thinking of someone else—but it opened the door and let out a flood as she slithered onto the bed beside him, resting her head on the other pillow.
She didn't have to ask him a thing. He talked about it all—the alcohol, the drug use, the prostitutes, the fighting—and underneath was the pain, pulsing like some festering, unhealable sore. The perpetual reporter in her thrilled at every detail. His devoted wife was finally divorcing him. His life was falling apart. He couldn't stop using, couldn't stop looking, believing that maybe the next thing would be the magic elixir, the pill that would fix it all.
Chloe propped herself on an elbow, tracing a finger through the center of the tight, red curls on his chest. "Do you hate David Cassidy?"
"Are you kidding me?" Danny barked a laugh and shook his head. "David Cassidy was the reason I got laid every night. I was the one who consoled the poor girls who didn't make it into his dressing room on the first try."
"So you think they weren't there for you?"
"I know they weren't." He shrugged. "And you aren't either."
"No?" She managed a tight smile.
"I know what I am." He said it with a certainty that surprised her. "I'm a sideshow attraction. A freak. But you gotta work with what God gives you, right?"
She couldn't help herself or her next question. "So why do you think I'm here?"
Danny reached over her and pulled open the motel night table drawer. Chloe didn't have time to react as he lifted the running microcassette player from its resting place on, of all things, the King James Bible.
"Because you're P.T. Barnum, baby." He dropped the recorder next to her on the bed with a smile. "And there's a sucker born every minute."
Chloe watched him as he dressed, feeling something thick and tight filling her chest as he pulled on his boots, tucked in his shirt. She dressed, too, more slowly, finding her panties hooked over the doorknob, a high heel tucked under the bed.
"So which rag are you from?" Danny finally asked as he pulled on his jacket, picking up the electronic key card. "No hard feelings, babe. I just want to know where my face is going to end up tomorrow, that's all."
She sighed, reaching across the bed for the recorder, half-hidden by the brightly bleachable but inevitably still stained motel sheets. "It doesn't matter."
His eyebrow went up when she pulled the cassette from the recorder, twisting the long strands of tape around her finger and pulling, breaking it off before dropping it into the empty blue plastic trash bin.
"You know, P.T. Barnum never said 'There's a sucker born every minute.'" Chloe slipped her jacket on, ignoring the sudden intensity of his gaze. "It was some rival of his who credited him with that particular phrase, trying to disgrace him."
"Yeah, I know." Danny held the door for her as they walked out into the cool night air. "But Barnum never denied saying it."
She frowned. "I wonder why?"
Danny laughed, taking her hand as they walked. "Because he knew the truth. Free publicity is gold."
Chloe glanced up at him, and something caught her attention, something she rarely saw anywhere near L.A.—the twinkle of a faint star in the sky. She let Danny Bonaduce, former child star, lead her toward his waiting car, and wondered which one of them, exactly, had played the role of the sucker that night.