Odette Ch. 01byshaunreagh©
Part 1 – The set-up
"What happens now?"
"I kiss him."
"On the lips."
"No. I mean where does this ... this thing ... take place?"
"In the bedroom."
"You mean ..." I motioned with my head, "... in there?"
"But you don't even know the guy!"
"It's acting, Uncle Merv."
"Yes," she said, and started to take off her dress.
We were in the bathroom, the two of us, Odette and I. The bedroom was next door. It had a circular bed. A huge one. The carpet was cream, the drapes coral. The framed prints on the walls were pen and ink studies of couples in positions of ... let's say, affection. There was a mirror on the ceiling over the bed that was as big as the bed itself. Around the room were lights, on stands, three movie cameras, on tripods, two fluffy microphones, on rods, and a tall gaunt guy, called Lens. Lens, last time I looked, was flitting busily from one piece of equipment to another like a moth around a yard lamp: adjusting this, fiddling with that, moving the next thing.
"Why must the room have a bed?" I asked, as Odette unselfconsciously ran the zipper of her bright yellow dress to her waist then carelessly let gravity take it the rest of the way to the bathroom's marble floor. I'd seen her undressed a thousand times, usually in a bikini, most times round our pool, so should have been used to how good she looked. But I wasn't. Beneath the dress she wore a white half bra and matching thong. Standard practice: I closed my mouth.
I turned away.
"The room has a bed because the story requires it," she said, as I sensed she was reaching behind her to unhook her bra.
I opened the door, and got the hell out of the bathroom.
It had all started off, mid-afternoon, with a telephone call.
"It's Odette," said Liz, my secretary, passing me the phone. "She says it's a matter of life or death."
I am a partner in an accountancy firm. I was in a meeting with clients.
"Hi Odette," I said to the phone. "I'm in a meeting. Can I call you back?"
"Mom's being unreasonable. She'll ruin my life. You have to help me." The words came tumbling from the phone. "There's a casting agency. A good one. In town. They want to see me. It's my big chance, Uncle Merv. Maybe the only one I'll ever get. In my whole life! And Mom wants to stop me." Her voice climbed an octave, "Can you believe that?" Dropped back. "I've interviewed. Now they want to see me. Tonight. But she won't ..."
"Sweetie ..." I tried to interrupt.
"... let me go," she drove right through my attempted interruption. "They want me to audition. Take a screen test. Maybe a demo reel. It's my big chance Uncle Merv. They leave tomorrow. Miss this and my life will be nothing."
I sign-languaged clients that this could take a moment, and that they might like some coffee, and that Liz, who was standing at my elbow, would happily arrange it.
"Can you believe that?" the phone demanded.
As Liz headed out to get coffee.
Odette's mother wouldn't let her go unless she went too.
And that was so NOT going to happen!
What about Dad? came next.
Okay, so ... Uncle Merv?
The 'Uncle' part was on account of my being a neighbour, and having a swimming pool in our yard that Odette had used since she was ten. (They'd just moved in, our house had a pool, theirs didn't; we didn't have children of our own, still don't, and Laura my wife doesn't swim; besides, she seemed a nice kid.)
Odette said she could live with me as her chaperone, so would I?
To satisfy Mom.
"Okay," I said, then extricated myself, with difficulty, from an extravagant stream of lavish, and very Odettish, gratitude – just as coffee arrived.
I put the phone down.
I had, after all, nothing planned for the evening. My wife, Laura, was overseas. (She is a buyer for a clothing chain, away a lot. The importance of careers, hers in particular, is what guided our decision not to have children.) Besides, I rationalised, it would be a harmless diversion. We got on pretty well, Odette and I, and always had.
I closed the bathroom door behind me.
I nodded at Lens, who was still doing his impersonation of a moth – around spotlights, flood lights, microphones, and cameras. I was still watching him when Odette came out the bathroom. She had changed into a brief shirt dress she'd been given for the part.
So who was I looking at?
Odette first turned up at our pool, long legged and coltish, with a towel tossed casually over her shoulder and a careful smile on a pretty freckled face. She was accepting the invitation, given the previous week-end at a get-to-know-the-neighbours barbecue, that she should use our pool whenever she wished. That first day she was wearing a yellow bikini with 'sweetie' written in large pink letters across her butt. She'd filled out since then. Now she was approaching twenty, tanned and toned and healthy – and shapely as all heck! – from the thousands of hours she had spent in our pool.
GW entered the bedroom from the other door.
Odette looked at him, awaiting instructions.
Lens and I looked too. And yes, I confess, I was nervous.
I was nervous ... because as we drove over Odette had explained, with the hem of her dress so high on her legs I was having difficulty focussing on driving, that the casting agency were auditioning for a part in a series of erotic classics. (This had not been mentioned on the phone.) After dropping this particular bomb-shell, she had gone on to suggest, "You could drop me off, pick me up later, Mom would never know."
"You know I can't do that," I said.
"It's an adult part. Could be raunchy." She stuck a playful elbow in my ribs. "You might be shocked."
"I won't be shocked," I said.
What would I have to be shocked about?
"Besides," I went on, "your Mom made me promise I'd be there throughout."
That was true, she had.
Should I say more?
I decided I'd better.
"She is also concerned, as any mother would be, that these people may not be bona fide casting agents, but rather peddlers of porn, out to trap innocent girls."
"What a lie. Mum doesn't know it's erotic. You think I'm so dumb as to tell her?"
I let that go, hoping she would too.
After a couple of blocks, she asked, "Do you still think of me as a girl?"
Deep breath. She'd caught me in one lie, let's not make it two.
"No, Odette, I don't."
"What about innocent?"
I ducked that, making as if I hadn't heard her; changed lanes, focussed on driving. The length of her leg above her knees reflected the lights from outside the car. I caught a red one, just in time. We came to an enthusiastic stop.
"Mom doesn't think so," she said, caught by the seat belt. "Nice stop," she purred. Some years ago I might have told her her legs were a distraction, but since they'd become so I'd stopped saying that.
"Okay," she sighed, resignedly, as we moved off from the lights. "Seeing you insist on being there, we need to agree some ground rules." Okay, I thought, saying nothing. "I am in my second year at college, right?" I nodded. "A fully grown woman." I nodded again. "I chose the college I'm at not because of its teaching faculty, but because of its drama program. I want to be an actor." Fine. She took a deep breath. "You and me, we're buddies, Merv." I could feel her eyes on me. "I love you to death. You're part of me. Part of my life. You've watched me growing up." I had – we both knew that. "I want you to help me as an adult tonight, not the girl you once knew. Whatever happens, there are no 'oughts' or 'shoulds', understand? It is an adult part in an adult production, I want you to be okay with that."
I kept my mouth shut, and my eyes on the road.
"Okay?" she pressed.
"Okay," I agreed.
She leaned across and squeezed my leg.
I wish she wouldn't do that.
... Which is when the sack of shit came into the bedroom.
The male lead.
I think it was his arrogance that offended me the most. The impression he gave that he was the one doing the favours. Of course I was hardly going to like him, having some sketchy idea of what he was about to do, and who he was about to do it to, but even allowing for that, it was difficult to like the guy ... the way he swaggered towards Odette, nasty calculating eyes running over her like a dog's tongue over cream, as Odette stood still, and let him!
"Who am I supposed to be?" I asked Odette, on the way to the hotel, figuring she'd have some idea. (Or did they let anyone in?)
"You could be my agent," she suggested.
I had no idea how an agent behaved. Besides, weren't they the agents?
"They are casting agents, you could be my personal agent," said Odette.
"Would you have one?"
Shit ... I didn't know.
So I would be her personal agent. Fair enough.
Play it by ear.
When we entered the hotel, at seven p.m. precisely, (accountants don't like to be late,) heads turned, to watch. Reception were expecting us, which was reassuring, I'd half expected a dodgy peddler of porn, dressed in black silk, with his shirt open to his waist, sporting chest hair and the glimmer of gold medallions and chains, sunk low in a high backed chair. Peering out from behind a newspaper. Going 'psssssst' to attract our attention as we walked by. But that hadn't happened.
Just a lot of turned heads.
"The Honeymoon Suite," announced the smartly-suited man at Reception, glancing approvingly at Odette, binging a bell, hailing a bell boy, and airily instructing him to take us to, 'The Honeymoon Suite'. This got me a bunch of questioning looks from those within earshot: gorgeous chick in vibrant yellow, drab accountant in faded jeans.
Eat your fucking hearts out!
Luxurious elevator, thick pile carpet, smart double door to the suite.
Thrown open. Dramatically.
"Will you look at this! Princess, babe, hon. Wow! Stunning, sumptuous. Simply divine. Lens, get out here! Will you look at this. Love the dress ... and the legs ... those legs ... Jee-zus, will you look at those legs ... and ... and you ... you ... you must be ..."
"Merv, Merv Kyle." I held out my hand.
He didn't take it.
"Have we met?" he asked.
I wasn't sure. I didn't think so. Why was he asking?
I dropped my hand.
The small, squat, balding, rotund guy at the door was wearing a black silk shirt, open to a chest bedecked with hair, three medals on chains, matching black silk pants, no socks, wine coloured silk slippers with a gold embroidered G on the toe of one, W on the other.
"Oh, I see," said GW, as if a penny had dropped, "You're the driver?"
"No," I started to say, but he was already pulling her into the suite, threatening to close the door on me.
"We'll see she gets home," he said, his eyes all over Odette. "Come in, princess, let me introduce ..."
"Er ..." Odette, half turned. "My agent."
But I had my foot in the door.
"I will be present throughout the shoot," I announced, firmly, in my best accountant voice. Odette's Mom may not have known about the 'erotic' aspects of the audition, but she had threatened that if I didn't stay with her daughter for 'every second' of her time here then she would never speak to me again, and her husband – a mountain of a guy – would probably kill me.
In we trooped. Classy day room. Pale leather, white walls, shag wool, modern art, baby grand piano finished in white Chinese lacquer, matching bench with a zebra skin seat. Two guys: GW, ten years my senior. Another guy, younger, thin as a rail, gaunt, hefting an impressive looking movie cam, introduced simply as 'Lens'. Two more cameras, one a Nikon SLR – same model I'd promised myself – sat on the bench by the baby grand.
GW held out a business card.
"Where's yours?" he barked, as I accepted a cream textured card with a silver deckle edge on which was embossed, 'G.W. Ginman'. There were two addresses, also black, also embossed, one in New York, the other Hollywood, followed by a flock of telephone numbers and web addresses.
"Didn't bring mine," I said, head down, reading his card. Could I tell the difference between a porn peddler and a serious casting agent just by looking at the business card, or were the gold medals the giveaway? "Impressive card," I said, looking up, tapping his card with my finger, finding a smile. "So what do I call you?"
"GW." But he'd already swung towards Odette. "What's happening here, princess? An agent without a business card? No way. Who is this guy?"
Odette, looking stumped.
"Left it in my suit," I improvised. "Didn't want to be late."
But he wasn't looking at me. "This guy could be anyone." He was speaking to Odette. "You think there aren't spies in this business? You think they don't want our ideas? Wouldn't pay good money to know what we're working on? Who we're working for? What Studios have us on their books ..."
"Hey ... Look ... I'm sorry," I said, interrupting, feeling I had to do something.
But he was paying no attention to me. He was interested only in Odette. "Could be government. An Agent. Inland Revenue. Undercover cop. Holy shit, could be your Dad, ever thought of that?" I wasn't sure I saw that as a threat, but what did I know? The balding head above the black silk shirt was starting to resemble the colour of his slippers. "Jeezus, baby," shaking his head. "This is not right. This is ... this is ... tell her what it is, Lens."
"It's not right, GW."
"Damn right. My oath. Not right. Not right. Boy, did you get that one right."
At which point I summarised the situation, to myself, in the following terms:
No business card, I didn't stay.
I didn't stay, Odette had to leave.
Odette had to leave, she'd never speak to me again!
(And I really didn't want that to happen.)
So ... from the wallet in my hip pocket I extracted my accountant's card, gave him that, confessed I was a friend looking out for her interests because hell, as I told him, "We don't know you guys from Adam, do we? You could be peddlers of porn!" Raised eyebrow from Lens, nothing from GW. "I'm not a spy, nor a cop, nor her dad. I'm just a friend, being prudent, that's all. No offense."
GW looked at Odette as if asking if that was true. Odette wasn't sure what to say, looked at me, looked at him, finally nodded, looked at the floor. GW looked at my card, passed it to Lens, who looked at it too. More assurances from Odette. Agreement from me: I would keep out the way, say nothing. ('Shut the fuck up at all times', as GW put it.) After which GW produced a 'release document' five pages long.
"Can I glance at that?" I asked, glancing at it.
"Standard Audition agreement, no comeback as a result of anything done in furtherance of the Auditioning process, rights to all film remain ours, blah blah blah ... you needn't worry. We're professionals, Mr Lyle."
"Kyle," I corrected him.
I was shunted off behind the baby grand.
There followed a bunch of stuff I needn't bore you with: Odette's hopes and aspirations as an actor, film-makers she admired, actors she aspired to be like, why she acted, stuff like that. Background on the series followed this, emphasis on mainstream, realism, erotic nature. Requirement of mainstream: no genitalia, which made it more difficult than porn – pointed glance in my direction – the focus was on facial expression, and bodily movement. Realism counted. Authenticity mattered. Had to look convincing. "That's the hard part," said GW, earnestly, eyes boring into Odette. "That's what we need in a Demo Reel. It's one thing to look hot, it's another to act hot, but it's a whole different ball game when some strange man has his tongue half way down your throat, and his hand in your pants."
"Can he touch her there?"
I didn't mean to say it, it just came out.
"I thought it was mainstream?" I added, defensively, as Odette shot me a 'please Uncle Merv' look – me in my bunker behind the piano, she in the line of fire, dead centre of the room.
"Mainstream means no genitalia," GW said to Odette, as if it was she who had asked the question. "A hand in your pants is well within bounds, but for you, regardless of what the viewing audience see, it is still a hand in your pants, possibly moving, probably trying to excite you." He turned to me. "Could you do that?"
"Probably not," I said, though was not entirely sure of the question.
"Exactly." He turned away. "Now can you ask your accountant to shut the fuck up?"
Odette looked at me apologetically. Mouthed the word 'Please'.
Which is when the sack of shit appeared. The star, the Audition facilitator; the slightly aging male lead to Odette's female following; the seasoned professional to Odette's fumbling amateur; the enabler of the erotic reaction.
In other words ... the sack of shit.
He made his entry from the bedroom to the day room as if he thought he was the prow of some millionaire's cruising yacht entering a working fish harbour. As he approached Odette, ignoring everything else in the room, his eyes were all over her like glaze on a bagel. Odette stood still, like a lamb at a stake. Predator circling, licking his lips. Pacing around her, fuelling his probably filthy imaginings, juices pumping, starting to drool ... while Odette simply stood there, letting him undress her with his eyes.
"You are one hot babe," he simpered, reaching for her hand, lifting it to his lips, about to kiss it when he noticed me, behind the piano.
"Who the fuck's that?" he yelped, dropping the hand, staring at me.
"He's fine. It's nothing. Her accountant," said GW, reaching for her hand and trying to give it back.
"Accountant! What the fuck for?"
"You'll hardly know I'm here," I said, trying an inoffensive smile.
"That's right," Odette agreed, nodding at me hard.
"GW, we need to talk. NOW," said the sack of shit, turning on his heels and thundering back to his lair in the bedroom, like a coal tug with an overheated engine.
GW rolled his eyes, and followed.
Odette shook her head.
Lens scratched his.
I said nothing.
"So here's the deal," said GW, to me, three minutes later, over the top of the baby grand. "For the readings and voice work we do in here, you stay behind the piano. Say nothing, don't even twitch." I started to nod, thought better of it. "For the bed work, you stay in the corner behind the lights, so he can't see you when he's working. He won't do it otherwise. Slightest interruption, he walks."
"Walks?" I repeated, but my mind was on 'bed work', what the hell was that?
"He leaves. He's gone. He's history."
I nodded. I understood.
"And we don't want that."
I nodded again.
But he wasn't finished. "YOU don't want that. I don't want that. HE doesn't want that. And your little princess CERTAINLY doesn't want that, because if that happens, she will never get another audition, ever, anywhere, with anyone in the industry that matters, as long as I draw breath. Caprice?"
I nodded – said nothing – sat back – watched.
The part Odette was to play was Margot, to the aging Albinus (aka sack of shit). The young teen mistress to the older man – who would eventually, according to the story, go blind. (Couldn't happen to a nicer sack of shit!).
"It was written in Russian, published in Paris as Kamera Obscura, 1933."
"We want you to Audition for Margot. Have you done love scenes?"
Odette said she had. At college.
I thought about that.
GW spun around as Lens, camera in hand, light meter hanging from a loop around his wrist, produced a book, from somewhere or other, handed it to GW with a flourish, together with a pair of gold framed half spectacles that had been hooked to the front of his collarless shirt.