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"Don’t Mention His Name, And His Name Will Pass On
- Part 4"
Title: Don’t Mention His Name, and His Name Will Pass On—Part 4 of 8
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (TV, but I did cheat and slip in one real-life guy)
Rating: overall NC-17 (this part PG-13)
Warnings: slash, language, angst, sleaze
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me), and not at all any claim to ownership of these TV characters or their real-life counterparts.
Summary: This chapter—the world is rocked, and a new bond begins to form.
Author's Note: Yes, the legal drinking age in New York in the Sixties was 18, not 21. I have no explanation for why this kind of trivia fascinates me.
~FEBRUARY 1964 ~
“Just sit tight,” a transistor radio blared. “The fun begins in only forty-five Beatle minutes!”
A collective squeal erupted from the several hundred girls and some boys jammed outside CBS-TV Studio 50 on Broadway. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” They pressed closer to the barriers blocking their path to the theater door. One of the mounted policemen’s horses gave a warning whinny.
Beatle minutes, God help us. Mike, standing at the far edges of the crowd, rolled his eyes. The local DJs had been pulling this kind of dumb shit for the last few days— the weather in Beatle degrees, the news updates in Beatle time… most of those updates having to do with said Beatles. Nor was it only the radio stations. Just about every window he walked past now was filled with items plastered with four most unusual grinning English faces topped by dead squirrels on their heads.
“So stick with us on WMCA, your all-Beatle station, as we count down to tonight’s big show at 8 PM Beatle time! Like the boys sing, it won’t be long…” The voice on the radio, which Mike now saw was in the fierce grip of a girl with mouse-brown hair and enormous horn-rimmed glasses, yielded to song. Without even any instrumental opening, those strange English voices dived straight into a simultaneously rough and harmonious call and response: “It won’t be long! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah…”
Mike winced at the ear-piercing shrieks, but he didn’t leave. He brushed some raindrops from his threadbare jacket. Good thing it wasn’t freezing cold tonight, though it was still pretty ugly with the thunder and lightning. Still, he’d take a storm over frozen pipes—which, thankfully, had thawed a couple weeks ago. So maybe he should just go on home. Why was he here, anyway?
He didn’t know what to think, really. The hype, he flat-out hated. It was just plain ridiculous and—he could tell—stoked by cynical adults. But the Beatles themselves… he didn’t know how to take them.
“This is worse than when Khrushchev was in town,” he heard one of the cops say behind him on the outer ring of the mob.
“Nah, it’ll be easy to kill a riot with this bunch,” another replied. “We’ll just call a barber.”
On the face of it, Mike had every reason to despise these Beatles. It wasn’t fair that some foreign guys were succeeding in music on these shores when he, a homegrown American playing homegrown American songs, couldn’t even get arrested (despite the fact that he broke the law every day just by trying to earn a living). And they were succeeding with rock and roll, a genre that hadn’t impressed him since Elvis went into the army and came out tamed, while the other early giants died or went to jail or found Jesus. Rock and roll hadn’t been worth getting excited about in ages, and the Beatles reigniting an obsession with it would just make it even harder for a country singer to claw out a place for himself.
Then there was that weird, long, brushed-forward hair. Although plagued by the top bits that fell into his eyes without his hat, Mike’s hair was as short as the next man’s. While he didn’t subscribe to some of the wilder theories that it was biologically impossible for male hair to grow any longer (unless something was “wrong” with said male), the Beatles’ abundant locks were a shock to this Texas boy’s system. Critics maintained that the hysteria was largely hair-based, that nobody would be talking about Beatles if they had regular short-back-and-sides, and that their sudden reign over America’s teenagers would crash to an end as soon as one of the four came down with a severe case of dandruff.
“Hey, mister?” A tiny hand tugged at Mike’s sleeve. He looked down to see a short, plump girl clutching that now ubiquitous LP, Meet the Beatles. “Am I too late? Did they come yet? Did you see them?” Her eyes glazed over. “Did you see Paul? What was he wearing? Are his eyes really as dreamy as—”
Oh, for fuck’s sake! Mike was saved the trouble of answering when the theater door opened. The crowd rushed forward again, including McCartney’s devoted follower. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Thirty seconds later, police were escorting to safety a confused, balding, portly, middle-aged guy in a suit past the disappointed masses.
The thing was, Mike grudgingly doubted it was all down to the hair or the hype. The Beatles did have something. Based on the songs he’d heard on other people’s radios, they couldn’t be pinned down as rock and roll. Even when they played a Chuck Berry song, it didn’t sound like it used to. They took it over, made it into something new. And they didn’t worry about being nice and harmless. The American press had tried to stick it to them when they landed at the airport a few days ago, but the Beatles gave as good as they’d got. Especially that Lennon guy. Now there was an uncompromising sort Mike could relate to. Lennon was proof that you could stick to your guns and still make it. Yeah, but he’s got the other three to cover for him, smooth his edges and sweeten his medicine. What have you got?
Anyway, there was at least one thing he had to be grateful to the Beatles for: finally someone had broken the folk and jazz and Broadway stranglehold over New York!
“Mr. Sullivan has asked us to inform you that the Beatles will not be using this entrance!” a cop bellowed through a megaphone. “They’re already inside the theater, so please go home and enjoy the show with your families, where you should be!”
Nobody made a move to leave, including Mike. But it wasn’t defiance of authority or wishful hope of somehow catching a glimpse of the foursome that kept him glued to his spot. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he had spotted something… He squinted, not sure if he was seeing correctly. There, on the other side of the edge of the mob… yes, there it was: a familiar head of short, sandy hair. Peter? What the hell are you doing here?
Peter, interested in the Beatles? Mike had heard that the folkie contingent was closing ranks even tighter against this new threat, sneeringly referring to it as “pimple music.” Then again, it shouldn’t surprise him that Peter would be open to something new or different. He still remained the only breathing, functioning human in Manhattan who had ever wanted to listen to Mike sing a song.
And I paid him back by walking out on him. Mike scowled to himself, recalling how he’d stormed out of Peter’s cozy garret at Christmas. It made sense at the time. He’d felt he was connecting, that Peter was making a promise… then he’d felt like he’d been left high and dry when Peter casually announced that he was going away for the holiday. That Mike usually told himself he preferred to be alone was beside the point: he’d felt cheated. Better to leave before he got left, so that was exactly what he’d done.
He didn’t feel that way anymore. Peter was just young and confused; he didn’t really know what he wanted or what he was saying or doing, and he couldn’t be blamed for Mike reading too much into things. So, it was all blown over as far as Mike was concerned, and now all he wanted to do was find out why Peter was scoping out the Beatles.
He started making his way over to the other side—then paused, stuck. How to let Peter know he was here? He had grown so used to waiting for somebody else to make the first move that he’d forgotten how to approach another person. Hello there? Howdy-do? Hey, you! After several minutes of useless pondering, he decided on a simple and direct tactic.
“Peter!” He waited. And waited. “Peter, it’s me. It’s… Tex.”
He waited… and saw Peter’s head turn a degree or so in his direction before quickly snapping back to the theater doors.
Mike felt a surge of anger. He’s deliberately ignoring me! Who does he think he is? He marched straight through the pack of frenzied girls over to Peter and roughly jabbed at his shoulder. “Am I supposed to believe all these screaming chicks made you go deaf?” he demanded.
Peter glanced up at him with dull eyes. “Hi.”
“Hi? That’s it? You’re not gonna start jabbering a mile a minute about how great New York is, or ask me to see some Disney movie that’ll keep kids on the analyst’s couch the rest of their lives?”
And I’m not gonna hem and haw and try, but not too hard, to get out of it, before I give in yet again?
Peter gave a limp shrug. Mike felt a concern he didn’t like to admit to. “You okay?”
“Me? Sure…” Peter turned back to watch the theater doors.
“What are you doing here?” Mike tried again. “Didn’t think an English rock and roll group would be your scene.”
What was that supposed to mean? Was it an agreement or a non sequitur… or a rebuke? Mike cursed himself. Just because he had forgiven himself for his blowup at Christmas didn’t mean that Peter had.
If saying hello to another person was getting to be a lost art for him, making an apology was and always had been a complete mystery. “I—” The words just wouldn’t come. “So what do you think of these Beatles, then? Seem like a flash in the pan to me.” It was a lie, but he thought it would please a Greenwich Village folkie. It was at least a start toward making amends—
“I like them,” Peter replied quietly, almost too quiet to be heard over the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees.
Mike felt like a heel all over again. “You got a ticket to the show?” he tried to keep the halting conversation going. “I heard they were tough to come by.”
“More like impossible.” A flash of the old Peter surfaced when he gave a low, tiny laugh. “Forget tickets. I don’t even have a television.”
Yeah, well, I don’t even have electricity. But he did at least still have his home, which was something of a miracle. The tenement he was squatting in should have been knocked down months ago, yet it was still standing. Maybe the city had just forgotten about it in the midst of all the hullabaloo over the Kennedy assassination and these Beatles. Something else to thank ‘em for, he thought with grim amusement.
No, he suddenly realized—he had something else to thank the Beatles for. Without their even knowing it, they had handed him on a plate the perfect way to make it up to Peter.
He tapped Peter’s shoulder again. “You wanna see this show?”
“Well, sure. The whole city wants to. But it’s impossible—”
“All right, then. Come with me. But don’t say or do nothin’ unless I tell you. Just follow my lead.”
“Because until 9 PM tonight,” he said with a conspiratorial wink, “you, young sir, are eighteen.”
The Old Fuss and Feathers Inn was an out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall dive—and that was its chief virtue. Its appeal certainly wasn’t in its drinks, which were basically watered-down gasoline, or in its décor, which was just this side of upscale from the barracks of a World War II POW camp. No, the best thing about it was that most respectable people avoided it… allowing its less than respectable clientele a measure of freedom to be themselves.
Mike didn’t make a habit of coming here, but it was useful during the winter cold spells. Better to try scoring a trick in its relative warmth than freezing his ass off on 42nd Street. He knew from his previous visits that there were no ID checks, so Peter was in the clear. Even better, he knew there was no live entertainment. Union rules required that an establishment’s television set go dead for the duration of a live act. So, no live acts meant a live television—and a clear path to watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
Now, if only the cops didn’t decide it would be fun to raid the place tonight…
Peter was looking around, sipping at the glass of milk that Mike had bought for him. Mike tried to tell himself that he was not corrupting a minor if he kept them both away from alcohol. New York drinking age was eighteen, so Mike could have ordered a shot himself—and Lord, did he want one—but he didn’t think it fair. He reasoned that if this were Texas he’d still have to wait a year, so he could do without tonight. Some of the other patrons watched the two teetotalers curiously, but Mike just glared at them all. A few clearly recognized ol’ Wool Hat and knew to keep their distance.
“Tex?” Peter’s usual puzzled expression was still tinged with his subdued mood. “Tex… I think I just saw a lady with… you know, with a… thingy.”
“Hallelujah, it’s a medical miracle.”
Peter didn’t laugh.
Mike wasn’t laughing either as he forked over more cash for another round of milks. He wasn’t as flush as he’d been over the holidays. The boost the Beatles were giving the mood of the nation and the city meant that fewer people were wallowing in grief and guilt over Kennedy now. Mike wasn’t as much in demand to mete out punishment… although, realistically, he knew he couldn’t blame the Beatles for his recent dry patch. Things just came in cycles. People eventually moved on from a tragedy. Besides, his usual type of john hardly fit the profile of those who gave a damn about a silly pop group.
A group who were proving to be awfully elusive. When Mike and Peter had arrived at the Fuss and Feathers, Mike had handed over to the bartender the majority of his limited funds as a bribe to change the TV channel to CBS. But they tuned in only to hear Mr. Sullivan promising that the Beatles would return in the second half of the show—they had missed the performance in the first half, and now there was no choice but to sit through the other acts that ranged from boring to lame. Unfunny comedians, the inevitable Broadway crap… In spite of his ambivalence, Mike grew as impatient as any teenage girl. Why torture the audience with all this stupid stuff? Let’s get to the main event here!
Peter paid little attention. He now sat hunched over his milk, eyes closed. Something was obviously weighing him down.
Maybe it was dawning on him just what kind of place good old “Tex” had dragged him to. He might be starting to put names to the acts being committed in the shadowy booths and other corners of the bar by gentlemen and gentlemen, and by ladies with thingies and ladies with tits. And it may even be occurring to him that before the evening was through they could all end up in jail, with suspicion of underage drinking the least of the charges. He could be coming to the wholly correct decision that a guy who hung out in a place like this might not be fit company for a nice kid like him.
“You wanna split?” Mike asked.
“No.” At last Peter looked directly at him. “Tex, why did you leave that last time?”
Oh. That. Here comes the reckoning, and you know you deserve every bit of it.
“I mean,” Peter mumbled, “you always leave, but it was different that time. You were really mad. Did I say something wrong? Was it because I—when I kind of, you know, gave you a kiss and all… I just didn’t want you to look sad, so I thought it would help you feel better. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry.”
I’d rather you meant it. And I’m the one who’s sorry. I hurt you, and I wish I hadn’t. What any normal person would have said, what Mike never said in his professional life, refused to come out. “Peter, you don’t get it,” he lied instead. “It’s nothing, just that people get down at the holidays. I’ve heard more folks top themselves at Christmas than any other time, and I have no trouble believing it.”
“Please don’t do that, Tex. If you ever—please, come to my place or talk to someone. But not that.”
“I ain’t gonna do that,” Mike quickly assured him. The depth of Peter’s concern startled him. He was used to being a caretaker for others, not to having anyone else care. “Maybe I already earned my place in hell, but I’m in no hurry to get there. I’m just saying, if I was cranky or rude at Christmas… it wasn’t anything to do with you.”
It’s everything to do with you. Everything I wanna do with you but can’t…
“Is that indeed Mr. Wool Hat? How’d you swing it, man? I thought this place banned you for life.”
Mike ground his teeth at the familiar peevish voice. “Thought that was you.”
Ginger Snaps glided in between Mike and Peter, forcing a seat for himself. “No way, I always behave.” He smirked at Peter. “Still wasting your time with this jerk, sweetie? You’re tougher than I thought.”
“He’s not a jerk…” Peter started but trailed off as Ginger’s smirk broadened.
“Ginger,” Mike warned, “in case it’s escaped your notice, we’re trying to watch the TV.”
“Don’t know why.” Ginger reached for a bowl of pretzels, the movement sending the scent of pomade wafting into the close, smoky air. “They have it tuned to Ed Sullivan, of all things. Total squaresville.”
“Now, in introducing the Beatles again, may I point out that they’ll be on our show, as I told our audience, for the next two Sundays…”
Mike and Peter both jumped to attention as the voice of the man himself rumbled out from the television. Any minute now!
“Such a drip,” Ginger sneered. “If any guy needed to get the stick out of his—”
“Will you shut the hell up?” Mike growled.
“So, ladies and gentleman, once again—”
“One, two, three, fuck!”
Mike eye’s bulged. Did they really just say “fuck” on TV? No, of course not. It was a regular count in to a song, had to be. He was just hearing things, or trying to, over the shrieking studio audience…
…but damn if the sudden pounding beat and whiplash guitar chords didn’t sound near orgasmic. Then the camera finally cut to the source of all this energy: the Beatles in dark suits with ties, and the dead squirrels on their heads, all four of them bouncing in place like they either needed to pee or had so much inside to share that they just couldn’t contain themselves.
“I don’t see what the big deal—oh!” Ginger almost choked on a pretzel. “Those boys are gorgeous!”
The camera moved in on Paul McCartney, who belted: “She was just seventeen, you know what I mean!”
Those boys are psychic, Mike thought as he glanced at Peter.
Peter was riveted, the same way he’d given his total attention to Mike playing “Streets of Laredo.” A frown of concentration creased Peter’s forehead; he was clearly trying to study the three guitarists’ techniques as best he could on the fuzzy, jiggling screen of the bar’s small television set. There was a key difference, though: the Beatles all used electric guitars. The chiming, clean, sparkling tone wasn’t unfamiliar, but Mike had never heard it used like this in country songs, and he knew damn well Peter would never have heard it at all in a folkie coffeehouse.
The hurricane of sound blasted through the Fuss and Feathers. Most of the denizens, who had been far more absorbed in each other than in the evening’s broadcast, began to gather closer to the TV. At first a few, then more, then nearly all were bopping their heads and stamping their feet. During the instrumental break, when the drummer appeared to be possessed by some frenzied demon, Ginger started pounding his fists on the bar top in time to the beat. Others joined in.
They barely had a chance to take in that the song was over when the next one charged up. There was no other way to describe it, a building of excitement that promised an out-of-this-world release.
“Oh, yeah, I’ll tell you something, I think you’ll understand—”
The singing was like nothing Mike could identify either. Lennon took the lead this time, and he had an undeniably powerful voice that could carry a tune on its own. But the way McCartney’s harmony shadowed him throughout took it beyond good, propelling it to incredible. Mike had never considered singing with another person before. Solo or nothing had always been his mindset…
“I want to hold your HAAAAAAND!!!!”
The sudden leap of an octave on the last word made him jump in his seat. His hat went flying off his head, and he didn’t even care. His whole world was being rearranged, his every notion of music and its performance stood on end. And its composition, too—for the radio DJs always pointed out that the Beatles, specifically Lennon and McCartney, wrote their own songs. Them two wrote this? Man, what’s in the water over there in England? And can I have a drink? He’d never once thought of writing a song…
He was still lost in a daze when he finally noticed that the throng around the television was starting to thin. He rubbed at his eyes and looked at the screen: there were the four Beatles standing with Sullivan, waving their unseen audience goodnight. It was over.
“Hey,” Ginger said. “That last song—it didn’t even have to be sung to a girl. They just said ‘you’ all the time. It could fit for anyone.”
Now fully out his trance, Mike glared at Ginger. He wasn’t about to admit that he had noticed the same thing. “That all you got out of this?”
“Excuse me for living,” Ginger hissed. “And, no, that’s not all I got out of it—those boys are gorgeous.” He waltzed away to one of the tables and helped himself to another guy’s drink. The guy didn’t object.
Mike felt a hand on his arm. About to tell whoever it was to get lost because he was off duty right now, he caught himself when he saw that it was Peter holding out his rather crumpled hat to him.
“I think somebody stepped on it,” Peter said. “I tried to smooth it out, sorry.”
“Oh.” It didn’t look too bad. No stains, and the little pom-pom was still attached on top. He slapped it back onto his head, giving a few firm tugs to keep it in place. “Thanks.”
“No… thank you. I thought I’d never get to see the show. See, the thing with the Beatles… a lot of my friends hate them. They give me a hard time about it, but I know what I hear.”
“What do you hear?” Mike asked, genuinely interested.
“Funny chords. They do stuff you’re not supposed to do, technically. They almost make me wish I didn’t have so much training. They break the rules because it sounds good, and they’re right.”
Mike recalled that full-octave leap on the vocals. “Maybe you got a point there.”
“Really, Tex, I can’t thank you enough. This meant a lot to me.”
Mike swallowed his impulse to downplay it, along with the lump in his throat. “The least I could do for you, Peter.” Feeling suddenly hot, he dropped the last of his money on the bar top and pointed to the door. “Come on, you need to get home. And you’re not walking. It’s too damn far, this ain’t the best of neighborhoods, and it’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock.”
For the first time all night, he heard Peter’s real laugh. By the time they reached the nearest subway, Mike felt even hotter despite the cool rain. Peter lingered by the stairs down to the tunnel entrance.
“Um, Tex… if you don’t want to, I wouldn’t… but, um, there’s this movie…” He stuffed his hands in his pockets when Mike didn’t respond. “You don’t want to. Okay, I just thought I’d—”
“I’m just thinking,” Mike said, “that in the time I’ve known you I’ve seen dead dogs, orphaned elephants, and dead deer, and you now got me convinced that dear old Uncle Walt is just a big old sadist in the secret pay of the facial tissue companies.”
“Actually I don’t think The Yearling was a Disney movie…”
“Oh, well,” Mike surrendered in the face of Peter’s literal-mindedness that in anyone else would have driven him up the wall, “that makes all the difference.”
“You’ll come? You really will?”
“Yeah, I guess I will. Why not.”
“You won’t regret it! See, it’s not a movie on my list. There’s nothing—I guess you could say parts of it are a little scary, but not all that much. It’s just really one of my favorite movies. I’m treating myself, and I’m glad you’ll let me treat you, too.”
“Usual time and place tomorrow?”
The last remnants of Peter’s subdued manner vanished. There was a twinkle in his eye, the spark of some innocent bit of mischief. “No, not tomorrow. Thursday.”
“Thursday? But that’s… four days from now.” Whoa, now you’re sounding like you can’t get enough of him. All of Mike’s defenses, along with his stubborn pride, clamored to kick in and deny it. Instead, he found himself adding: “Why so long?”
“Because.” Peter’s impish smile was at once exasperating and endearing.
“Well… okay, then. You know the drill—”
“—don’t wait for you,” Peter finished.
Mike felt warm, full lips brush against his cheek.
By the time he recovered enough to speak, Peter was disappearing down the subway stairs… whistling a tune that, after a moment’s thought, Mike identified as “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Shit. What am I gonna do for the next four days?