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Authors: Evelyn Piper

The Stand-In

BOOK: The Stand-In
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The Stand-In

Evelyn Piper


To W. M.


The naked man stood in front of the dressing table mirror bent forward staring at himself. He was extremely handsome, with pale blond hair and a beautifully shaped head, but the young man was not admiring himself. He stared with loathing at the pale blond hair, the wide eyes widely spaced, the straight short nose, and at his mouth, particularly at his mouth.

If one of the bottles in the row of cosmetics on the dressing table ranged neatly in front of the mirror had contained acid now, after what had just happened, he might have thrown it at his face, and what he did was, symbolically, the same thing. What he did was a substitute for destroying his face.

The small flat on Elder Street in London belonged to a woman he slept with; the dressing table was hers. The young man picked up a lipstick in a lavender case, removed the top, swiveled it up, and bending closer to the mirror, colored his lips. He put his palms down on the dressing table top and punishing himself, despising himself, made his tongue lick coquettishly at his long upper lip, flick invitingly out, across, flick in. Then he slightly protruded his full lower lip and put a bedroom look into his eyes and then, very slowly, stripteasing, blanketed the invitation with his lids, with his thick, dark lashes.

This was not enough. Methodically, expertly—he was an actor—he went through good old Daphne's Cyclax collection. (Daphne, he said, being from the States wouldn't know, but the Queen herself used Cyclax preparations and Daph, poor old cow, had bought all this stuff to make herself more attractive to him.) He put on Daphne's eye shadow, her mascara, her black eyeliner, and over her powder base patted on her powder, which completely hid any shadow of blond beard. He snapped his thumb against his third finger and went to the wardrobe and took old Daph's light brown Dylan wig from its stand and put that on, too. Then he went back to the mirror for more punishment.

Now an extremely pretty girl's head topped a man's naked body. When he had let himself into the empty flat with the key good old Daph had given him, he had pulled off all his clothes feeling that the shame had contaminated them. He had flung his dishonored trousers on the floor and his jacket after it, his tie, his shirt and underwear, and finally on the top, dirtying the shirt, his shoes.

Not enough yet.

He yanked open the dresser drawer and rooted until he found one of Daph's padded brassieres and, stretching the elastic, managed to fasten it, then pulled up a pair of her terrible lacy panties (knickers she called them). Old Daph was so broad across that, as he knew they would, they fitted. Then in the bra and knickers and wig he circled the small bedroom with a model's walk, forcing himself to look each time he passed the damned mirror, feeling how his buttocks worked like a model's. Only camping a little, he said, pitching his new voice the way the doctor had taught him so it came out deep, “How about a bash, baby?”

He set his right hand on his right hip and using the high voice he was cursed with, answered, “Why the hell not, luv?”

Then he began to sweat badly, could feel it on his cheeks under the make-up, and cold in his armpits. He wanted to shove Coral Reid into the mud he lived in. He wanted her open eyes covered with mud, mud on her breasts and her nipples. He wanted her mouth open, screaming, full of mud, choking with mud so that she would never laugh at him again.

He had the newspaper clippings with her pictures in his wallet and, taking the wallet out of his trousers, saw the keys on the floor. He swung them from his forefinger. Ten feet tall he'd been this morning when he'd gotten them from Cyril, for whom he worked part-time.

“Dear boy, could I presume on your good nature and ask you, during your lunchtime today, to deliver these to Mr. Ossian? They start filming in that Stoke Newington Victorian monstrosity on Thursday and since we've finished, he might as well have the keys.”

“Okay,” he said, “I'll bring them.” Ten feet tall. Opportunity day!

“Thank you, dear boy. Today they're in St. Andrews. It's an old hospital in Ladbrook Grove. The firm will stand you a taxi, even a born Londoner would have trouble finding St. Andrews.”

“Okay,” he said. When he first came to London he would have said “Delighted,” something English like that, but not any more. “Okay,” he said.
Opportunity day
, he thought.

Now he tossed the keys on the dressing table and then laid out the clippings. First the one saying that the American film star, Coral Reid, was to have the starring role in
The Peepshow
, to be produced and directed by Nubar Ossian and filmed in and around London; the three clippings which changed the dates for the shooting, each clipping with a big photo of Coral. Even the one where the headline was FAMILY AFFAIR and announced that Miss Reid's husband, the actor Branton Collier, and their five-year-old daughter were also in the movie only had
picture, not the kid and not Bran. Bran didn't rate any more. All the pictures, Coral Reid, Coral Reid, Coral Reid. He picked up the one that showed her small smile, which barely lifted one corner of her lips, and imitated it. He could imitate it perfectly.

Yeah, opportunity day! Not to
her, what the hell did he want to see her for? Someday, yes, when he was set, yes. When she could come to him and he could show her what real love was because no one knew better than he what hell that bastard Bran must be giving her. It was opportunity day to put Bran down at last. When Cyril got the job to decorate the Stoke Newington house for the movie which meant he, Desmond, would get a chance to talk to Bran, he got this idea of how to put him down. Boy, he felt good when he hopped in the cab. Not that he couldn't find St. Andrews blindfolded. Maybe, as Cyril said, Londoners didn't know where Ladbrook Grove was, but because of old Daph, he did. This flat was only a few minutes' walk from the hospital where she was a head nurse. And the only reason her flat was empty now was that they were shooting where old Daph worked. So Daph had got a couple of days off and had gone to see her folks in Sussex or Essex or what-the-hell-ex.

When the cab had pulled up in front of the old iron gates of the hospital and he stepped out, the gawkers turned to give him the old once-over. It was lunchtime so there was a big crowd, but you could always count on some gawkers, day or night, whenever you shot on location. In the old days in Hollywood when he was Bran's double, his look-alike, one or two might have asked for his autograph by mistake, but who knew what Branton Collier looked like any more? Them days were gone forever. The gawkers gave him the once-over and turned away with that “Hell, he's nobody” expression. He wondered how often Bran got the “Hell, he's nobody” treatment when he was with his wife and autograph-hunters stopped her. It must drive Bran up the wall. It must kill Bran.

He told the guard he had some keys for Mr. Ossian and was passed in. Inside the old wing another guard said they were all having lunch and directed him to the third floor, pointing to the wooden stairs. God, what a dump! Daph insisted that almost half the hospitals in England had been built before 1891 and, half of them, before 1861. Daph could have used a soapbox when she started on that bit.

He could see that the ground floor was where they had been shooting; equipment all over the place. On his way to the wooden stairs, he stepped over miles of wires and cables, noticing how they were patched with black tape. That figured; it wasn't only hospitals, all England was stuck together with chewing gum these days.

The commissary was on the empty top floor no longer used for patients. He had to wait on the narrow third flight because of the line in front of the steam tables set up at the top. As people filed by, they got thick white plates of food shoved at them. They shoved one at him, but he shook his head and walked by into the big wooden room with the Victorian lancet windows.

He should have grabbed that plate, he thought. He should have taken it to a table with the extras in Victorian costumes and the grips and gaffers and stuffed his damn mouth too full to talk! Instead he had gone past them through the big dusty room knowing—who better?—that the V.I.P.s wouldn't be feeding with the scum. He noticed a waiter in a white jacket heading for a double door, then the door opened and Bran came out, so he did what he had come to do. Opportunity day! Marched up to him, “Hi Bran!”

Bran had been frowning but the good old P.R. smile came right up on cue. “Hello there!”

“Long time no see. How you been, Bran?”

“Great, great. You, Des?”

“Great, thanks.” Then he said just the way he had planned. “Bran, I wanted to ask you about a job as stand-in, double.” He had put it that way so that Bran would naturally think he wanted the job for himself again, the way it used to be.

Then when the misunderstanding was cleared up, he was going to inform Bran that the days when he had been Hollywood's only stunt
were gone forever; that he was through with pictures. He intended to quote James Mason. “Some people come over on the screen with great ease—there's something special about their personality. I wouldn't know how to describe it, except that it's recognizable when it happens.” “Like your wife, Bran,” he was going to say. That would get Bran, because Branton Collier used to have it.

Desmond was going to say that he never had had this special thing himself but that he could act, which was a different thing entirely. He was going to tell him that he was starting in the Liverpool Repertory Theatre soon. He even wanted to tell Bran maybe he should get out of pictures, too. When you came down to it, what did Bran have now, except he was married to a star? In Desmond's wildest moments he had even thought that Bran might see his point, but these were his wildest moments. Today Bran was supposed to say, sorry the job as double or stand-in was filled. (Even if Bran didn't rate a stand-in any more, he'd make out he did.) Then Desmond was going to put Bran down.

He intended to do a double-take and explain that the job was for a bird he knew who was a real look-alike for Coral Reid, how she was a model on the way up but the idea of “going on the films,” as they said here, sent her. So when this bird heard he knew Bran, she had begged him to ask about the stand-in job for his wife. (It happened to be true. There was such a bird.) Bran, he was going to say, could understand (man to man, here) that a guy would be nuts to turn down a chance to do a big favor for a bird who could double for Coral Reid, so he'd promised to mention it. Sure, he could have told her the job would have been filled long ago, but why should he? This way she'd owe him something.

But all he'd got out was about the job as double because Bran immediately pulled out a notebook and a ball-point pen.

“We're not casting my picture yet, Des, but if you let me know where I can reach you, I'll get in touch.”

Then Desmond had realized because of another P.R. smile, because of the pen over the notebook how things were. Bran still wasn't licked:
“We're not casting my picture yet.”

BOOK: The Stand-In
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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