Audrey Hepworth straightened her Little Black Dress and rang the doorbell. The excitement was mounting inside her, curling and coiling like a snake in a basket. All it needed was the right tune and it would emerge, taking all her inhibitions with it…
Her first real job. She patted her French-pleated hair and adjusted her pose, wondering if her sunglasses should sit on her head or remain in her hand, dwarfing her tiny clutch-purse. A sudden flutter of paranoia made her look down at her white heeled pumps, looking for imperfections, and as she did so, the studded oak door swung inwards.
Oh, God. There he was. Answering his own door. She had expected a maid, if not a butler. Failing either of the above, a PA.
"Audrey, my dear," the Bohemian movie director greeted her, as if an acquaintance, not a stranger. "Come in. Welcome to my humble palace. A little drink, to begin with? I hear this is your first?"
She nodded and her ‘thank you’ came out as a husky whisper, followed by a blush of humiliation at her lack of confident tone. She stepped into the atrium, noting twin marble staircases either side of the ostentatious entrance hall, and a huge dome of skylight overhead.
"I rarely have company," he confided. "I think I shall enjoy this afternoon."
She followed him to the first living room. Marble hallway floors leading onto deep shag pile carpet, as silent as a panther to walk on after the echoing solid tiles. Vast sofa beds in a Moroccan style, strewn with silk and tasseled cushions in jewel colours. She had heard he was decadent, and his early films hinted at a personality steeped in debauchery. She could almost see the aftershow parties, smell the hookah pipes and hear the hypnotic Eastern music. In the night-time, with those sconce lights down low and candelabras lit… she startled herself with a visible shiver at the thought of what must already have passed here, into the pages of Hollywood history.
"Watch him," Marguerite at the office had warned. "They’re all the same. Play the sweet little elderly man role until you go upstairs, and suddenly it’s closets full of black latex gimp-wear and shackles on the four-poster beds. Those supermodel wives never live there full time. They’ve always got a secret apartment in the City where they can be normal and not have to look at the trophy husband’s collection of pornographic Greek urns and dildo statues…"
"I have already agreed a fee with your employer," he began, interrupting her thoughts from where he stood at the groaning drinks cabinet, rendered immovable on the property by the weight of crystal glasses, decanters and bottles. "I was wondering if there was room to negotiate for one or two extras?"
"Hmmm?" Audrey croaked, accepting a large glass of what she was sure was neat gin, but was too embarrassed to point this out as his hand tinkled in what she was sure was genuine frailty as he replaced the bottle’s crystal stopper. "What did you, er, have in mind?"
"Rather than just exploit my surroundings," he smiled, rather conspiratorially. "I was hoping to have my love of art indulged also."
"I heard you frequently paint yourself," Audrey agreed, bravely taking a sip, feeling her throat constrict in protest at the undiluted spirit, and wondering if that phrase could have come out better.
"A hobby. I painted nudes. Many girls willingly posed for me. Not all of them as lovely as you," he said, indulging her with another smile. "I would like to show you my private gallery of collected works. Some of them deserve special interpretation."
He led the way to a door hidden behind a voile and velvet curtain, and unlocked it with a keypad.
"Not even my wife knows about this room," he said. "At least, I hope she doesn’t…"
Audrey followed him into the gallery. Marguerite did have a point.
"I often wonder how these were posed for," he mused. "And if they were intended as instruction manuals. How do you think these would be reproduced, in practise?"
Audrey took a gulp of her gin, and gestured broadly at the room. At nothing specific, she hoped.
"Well, I can tell you," she began. Pausing for effect, she could swear she heard a goat bleat in the background, and the cluck of a hen who knew that its future was uncertain. She tried to stop a completely inappropriate squeal of laughter emerging. "The animals were usually dead. That’s how they stayed still for sketching and painting. Very few artists of this era painted anything living from the animal kingdom."
"Is that true?" His disappointment was louder even than the very definite sound of goat in the background now.
Audrey swigged again to try and cork her laughter.
"And the models - it was sort of a game for them. Who could get the most bizarre job, or appear in the freakiest painting. Like Jackass and Youtube."
"A kind of artist’s life model X-Factor?" The Bohemian’s face sagged another three centimetres.
"My Masters was in Art History." At least this was true. Her stories of sordid life model tales were what had wowed the interview panel at the magazine, after all. What with all the applicants for the post wanting to stalk celebrities, case up their homes, or marry a footballer, Audrey’s application stood out, they told her afterwards, as Someone Who Could Tell A Great Story - not a nobody who was trying to become one.
Audrey stepped back into the living room, with the director following with a sigh. She decided to turn up the charm, raise his mood a little.
"I’ll mention you’re an avid collector." She opened her purse, taking out a personal recorder before commencing the interview. "The photographer would certainly find them interesting. What do you think of Vallejo and Giger? Now there are some stories of fantasy poses that would boggle your mind…"