‘What do you believe in, Toots?’
The question was a gift, the one I’d practiced all my life.
‘I believe in everything.’
‘Shirley MacLaine,’ Roddy smiled.
‘Yes, she’s an icon isn’t she? Sharp, beautiful, witty,’ I replied.
Up until now, every job interview I’d ever had had been the same: a grey, airless room, two spindly chairs, and a desk in between the boss and me. This was different. Delivering his first question, Roddy’s artful technique had already gleaned more about me than all the rest. Maybe it’s the location: there’s a mixture of intrigue and romance in the air, the beautiful decor is designed for furtive conversations not formality.
‘Have you seen that film from the sixties, The Apartment? She has that magic, lights up the screen. She’s a girl’s girl. My kind of star.’
‘It appears, Miss Silver, like you’re my kind of girl too.’ Roddy winked provocatively, clearly not caring how conspicuously slick he sounded.
That answer was one qualification that got me the job. Done deal.
The meet was at Kensington Park hotel bar. It was early afternoon, empty. I was early.
Sitting at the bar, I tried to look relaxed, but as the only woman in the place I felt daft, out of place. I drank a glass of water with ice to make it last longer. I didn’t have the money for a proper drink. I wondered how Rach was getting on. She was pissed off first thing, due to a shoe malfunction, followed closely by an phone call from her mum who had yet to send her the rest of the money she’d promised for our deposit. The result was a tear stained, puffy faced, less than immaculate Rach running late for a job where the stakes had just got higher. Still, at least she had sounded in better spirits on the phone. I imagined her singing Salt N Pepper in the stockroom again. We’d only been in London five minutes, already we were both of us a slave to the money, I didn’t even have a job yet.
I was about to call her again when Roddy arrived., I knew it was him. Like a smart version of Keith Moon, with a nineties version of a mop crop and one of those loud, proud Ozwald Boateng suits, which transformed his basic raw goods into something much more attractive. He was talking fanatically into a mobile phone.
‘Ange, Ange, just do what I told you to do and I’ll talk to you when I’m back in the office later. I need to go now.’ he shouted.
Roddy’s transformed in one motion to a charming grin when he set eyes on me sitting there. Without introduction he turned to the barman and ordered a bottle of Veuve with two glasses, turning swiftly back and planting a kiss on both my cheeks. He smelt good too, like figs and spice. Definitely not Lynx.
‘Miss Silver, thanks for coming. So, tell me, what’s happening in your world?’
‘Just hanging out, erm, you know, contact building.’ I said. Contact building? What did I know about networking, I only knew Rach and Saaed from the lettings shop?
Should I show him my portfolio now? Shit, only one thing for it. I took a massive slug of my drink: this would work better pissed. He looked me up and down, giving me the once-over, a bit of a virtual undress.
‘What do you believe in, Toots?’
‘I believe . . .’
Thank God he asked that question. Thank God for Shirley. The rest of the evening disappeared into a fog. Roddy was playing with me after that. He’d got his kill. The smile on his face as I’d answered told me I wouldn’t be needing to unzip my portfolio.
We drank more Veuve, and Roddy chatted hungrily about the new magazine he established. Told me I would his deputy, learning the ropes, then in six months or so, if I played my cards right, as the editor for a new, revamped version. All of this despite my having no experience of editing a magazine whatsofuckinever.
‘If you prove to me you can make this work, that you can do the shit, then we relaunch with you as editor, Toots. What about that, hey? Name in lights. Fancy it? Course you do. You see, I think you’re the girl with the golden touch, the one the celebrities want to talk to, an ear to the stars, am I right?’ He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘That’s what my hunch tells me, and guess what, I need that golden touch working for me.’
‘Yeah,’ I say.
‘You got six months to give it the magic it needs to take it from a good steady magazine to a market leader, to the hottest title on the market. Got it?’
‘Got it,’ I repeated back to him, like a disciple.
He talked like a presidential candidate and you had to buy into it, go with it, vote with your feet. ‘We are going to capture the new culture. Celebrity is the new politics. Our magazine will blaze a trail. Toots, this is a new dawn. And you can be the trailblazer. What do you think, Miss Silver? Are you on board for the big win?’
‘I am, for sure, this is the job I was made to do,’ I said, soaring in confidence and suspending all reasonable doubts thanks to the champagne.
The thing is, the way this guy was talking I couldn’t help but believe my own hype. I sounded Great. I wanted to be that Great-sounding person, and if I wasn’t her right now, I was going to make myself be her. I would be Great.
The bar was still quiet, so Roddy, sensing an opportunity, invited me into the men’s toilets for a line of coke as ‘a little mood enhancer’. Hell, it had all been going so perfectly, it would have been a shame to spoil things with a negative vibe: one line wouldn’t hurt, surely? We were getting on so well. ‘OK, sure, why not?’ I needed this job.
There was a moment after I’d snorted the line in the toilets that I realised it was probably a bad idea. Then, the coke kicked in, and it was good stuff, and a surge of gratification washed through me. I wanted more of this, I wanted it all. Roddy nodded at me – ‘another line?’ – and I couldn’t help thinking what a lovely boss he’d make.
On the way back in Roddy’s car, my head was spinning with the thrill of having nailed the job but also with a creeping feeling. I had conspired with him, which felt funny, or was it cool, was this the way things got done?
Roddy planted a kiss slap bang on my mouth as went to get out the car. I felt the lingering wetness on my lips.
‘See you soon, Miss Silver.’
‘Goodnight, Roddy, and thanks.’
I watched his car disappear and wiped my mouth off with the back of my hand, where the spit hung on. Then I called Rach.