The Body Double

The Body Double

by Emily Beyda


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A dark, glittering debut novel echoing Hitchcock's Vertigo, The Body Double is the suspenseful story of a young woman who is recruited by a stranger to give up her old life and identity to impersonate a reclusive Hollywood star.

A strange man discovers our nameless narrator selling popcorn at a decrepit small-town movie theater and offers her an odd and lucrative position: she will forget her job, her acquaintances, even her name, and move to Los Angeles, where she will become the body double of the famous and troubled celebrity Rosanna Feld. A nervous breakdown has forced Rosanna out of the public eye, and she needs a look-alike to take her place in the tabloid media circus of Hollywood. Overseen by Max, who hired her for the job, our narrator spends her days locked up in a small apartment in the hills watching hidden camera footage of Rosanna, wearing Rosanna's clothes, eating the food Rosanna likes, practicing her mannerisms, learning to become Rosanna in every way. But as she makes her public debut as Rosanna, dining at elegant restaurants, shopping in stylish boutiques, and finally risking a dinner party with Rosanna's true inner circle, alarming questions begin to arise. What really caused Rosanna's mental collapse? Will she ever return? And is Max truly her ally, or something more sinister? The Body Double is a fabulously plotted noir about fame, beauty, and the darkness of Hollywood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385545273
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 180,534
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

EMILY BEYDA is a Los Angeles native who for the past three years has written the popular "Dear Glutton" advice column in The Austin Chronicle. A graduate of Texas State's M.F.A. program, she currently resides back in L.A. The Body Double is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


Someone speaks my name.

“Yes,” I say, “right.”

My hand, I notice, has stuck to the counter, where there is a slick of spilled soda, dark-colored, diet, I’m guessing—that’s all anyone orders here. A large popcorn, sour gummy worms from the case under the counter, diet soda. The sodas are all off-brand. Mr. Pibb and Mello Yello. Big Fizz, Dr. Smooth. Moon Mist. The man in front of me has just ordered something, but I’m too tired to remember what it was. Everything swims fuzzy in the fluorescent lights of the lobby. Behind the man’s head, I can see the faded velour nap of the curtains that hang on either side of the doorway, framing his face. At the painting class I’m taking at the community college, the instructor shows us how the old masters drape velvet and silk behind the profiles of their subjects, that noble swish of fabric a signifier of something my brain grasps toward but won’t let me remember through the thick scum of no sleep and caffeine, sugar and sugar substitutes. My hands shake. I spit sweet.

We’re on the third film of our triple feature, it’s something close to three a.m., and still thinking about those sallow-eyed women whose images the teacher projected on the wall of the classroom—nameless, immortal, gazing past us into eternity—I feel my body pivot, working without me, so used to the motions after all these years of taking candy from the dusty case, scooping popcorn into the narrow mouth of the waxed paper bag, filling a big gulp with soda. I had thought, when I started this job, years ago now, that it would be a chance to be closer in some way to the world on the theater’s screens, that smooth-surfaced place where everything is beautiful and poreless and clean. But it’s stickier than I thought it would be. Messy. Even the cash my manager, Scott, pays me is soft and gritty from overuse, the pressure of too many hands. “Seven fifty,” I say, and he, small, smooth-haired, limp-eyed, reaching forward to take his change back, brushes his fingers over my prone palm in a way that feels intentional. Too close. His sweat presses into my skin. I can feel it burrowing down through the lines of my palm, horrible. “Enjoy the show,” I say. I smile wide. Even my teeth feel tired. I wipe my hand, once, twice, on the slick polyester of my uniform pants. The man disappears into the theater. Outside, I can sense the summer air pressing against the thin glass of the doors, straining to get in, the pressure around us immense, like water at the bottom of the ocean. I wipe down the counter. I wipe down the case with the candy in it. I think again of the girl in the painting, the weight of her averted gaze, that long-ago light, so thick and heavy around her that it almost seems damp.

The sun is starting to rise when the last customer leaves. Normally we lock up the theater together, Scott and I, standing in gathering warmth, the cracked asphalt cold under our feet. Across the street the windows of the shuttered pet store shine like soap bubbles on dirty water. I like to look at them, waiting for him, noticing the way the sun shifts pink across their surface. This morning I will not have the chance.

“Wait,” says Scott as I start moving toward the door. “One second. I need to talk to you about something. There’s someone who wants to speak with you before you go home. He’s up in my office. Come on, it won’t take long.”

I’m tired. Too tired for whatever this is. It must be nearing sunrise, and I feel like something has crawled inside of me and died. Even now the light has begun worming its way in through the narrow window in the finished basement where I sleep. Between coming home and waking up I have, if I’m lucky, a good hour of solid semidarkness before the sunlight becomes impossible to escape, and now Scott has robbed me of even that. I consider my options. I could push past him and leave. Scott is a small guy, always wearing the same shirt, always trying to start conversations with the customers about obscure French films nobody has cared about for at least fifty years. Part of me feels sorry for him. Sorry enough to smile at him when I arrive at the theater, to put up with the ten minutes of requisite chat when he hands over my pay for the week, under the table, in cash. Neither of us wants anyone asking questions. In a way, we understand each other. Not sorry enough to want to listen to him talk, though, definitely not sorry enough to let him take me out for after-work drinks, even though he asks almost every week. Not sorry enough for whatever this is.

“Now?” I say. “You couldn’t have mentioned this earlier?”

I feel a tingle of annoyance pass through me, and something deeper under that. The nauseating stirrings of alarm. I trust Scott, I tell myself. I should trust Scott. I’ve worked here for so long. There have been so many late nights, the two of us alone. I should trust him. I trust him, I do. But I don’t want to go up to his office, that small space, impossible to escape without fighting. I’m afraid of what might be waiting for me there. He reaches past me to lock the door. I stand still, trying to ignore the nausea, the bright flash of fear that surges through me and wakes me up. Anyway, it’s too late to object now. I tell myself to trust Scott. That everything will be fine. I stand with my hands in the pockets of my sweat shirt and look past him, trying to peer through the mirrored glass to the world beyond the theater. But he pulls down the security gate, blocking the light, and all I can see is my reflection, hunched and fragile, my face obscured by the shadow of my hood. My body looks abandoned. Like an empty pile of clothes.

“Okay,” I say, “but I can’t stay long. They’re expecting me at home.”

We both know this isn’t true. He nods.

“Come on,” says Scott. “Let’s go.”

The room Scott calls his office is the projection booth, hidden up a narrow staircase at the back of the theater. Its walls are painted a dirty shade of Pepto-Bismol pink, plastered with faded posters of the films Scott wishes he could run. The air is dense with the human smell of a small and constantly occupied space: dirty socks, fast food, something heavy and yeasty and alive, cut through with the sour tang of old weed. The lights are off, all except a gooseneck desk lamp, its shade turned up toward the low ceiling to cast a pale beam of light, throwing dramatic shadows across the room. Someone has been working hard to create an atmosphere. And it almost works. The dingy corners of the room are hidden, the grease smears on the walls obscured by darkness, the posters’ tattered edges smoothed out by shadows, the bright walls dimmed to a pale pink. And there is a man sitting at Scott’s desk. He is turned away from us, his back straight. If he has heard the door open, noticed us come into the room, he gives no sign.

“This is Max,” Scott says.

I can feel Scott blocking the doorway behind me, shifting from foot to foot. Nervous.

“Hello,” I say to Max.

His back seems to stiffen when he hears my voice. He must be holding himself incredibly tightly to silence the squeaky springs of that old chair. A sympathetic muscle twinge passes through my shoulders. He doesn’t say anything back. There’s a moment where he seems to be steeling himself, gathering his nerve, and then he turns, and for one instant I see his face light up with surprise. Joy. It is as though he recognizes me. Just as quickly as it came, the expression disappears. He carefully arranges his face into something critical, appraising. I can feel the weight of his gaze, considering me carefully. The way it moves up and down the lines of my body. What is it that he’s looking for? I consider him from the corner of my eye, pretending to look at the posters, the old projector, anything else. My eyes linger on a vintage lobby card for Last Year at Marienbad that Scott had scoured the internet for obsessively, a year before, when he briefly got ambitious and decided to put on a monthly classic cinema series. Nobody came. He gave up after two or three films, his enthusiasm lapsing, as his enthusiasms often did, leaving behind nothing more substantial than a few pieces of battered and expensive trash. The whole room is a shrine to his failures, the overpriced posters, the unnecessary equipment. There was a part of me that had wondered from the beginning where he got all the money from. But a bigger part of me knows better than to ask.

How does this stranger know Scott? Scott’s friends are all old like he is, sagging quietly into middle age. This straight-backed stranger is young and handsome in an almost clinical way—his perfect suit, his hair combed flat, not a line out of place. It matters a great deal to him that he looks like he knows what he’s doing. He is no friend of Scott’s. Still, he says nothing. I look to Scott, but he avoids my eyes. I gather my courage and look down at the stranger instead, finally making eye contact, staring right into his face. In the half dark, the shapes his bones make under his skin are thrown into relief, forming something sharp and hard and real, the face of an animal, rather than a man. He is too still, too quiet. None of this is right. Slowly I start to edge away from him toward the door.

Behind me, I hear Scott clear his throat. His voice is anxious, eager to please. “Max came all the way from Los Angeles to see you,” he says. “Tell her. She’s perfect, isn’t she? Just like I said.”

Los Angeles. So far from here. I picture palm trees bobbing their shaggy cartoon heads, the beach. Some spark of curiosity starts to make itself known, a dull itch in the middle of my brain slowly throbbing itself into life, and I think of the way his face lit up when I first walked in, of the old movies I used to watch with my grandmother, before, where mousy brown-haired girls like me were swept off the streets of sad small towns like this one. Maybe it’s real. Maybe I’m being discovered. Maybe this is how it happens—a stage name, a new life, an open door. An escape from all this. I’m perfect, Scott says. I’ve never been called perfect before.

But the stranger still doesn’t speak. He looks over me, away from me, his eyes carefully scanning my face. I wait for him to say something, to tell me Scott’s right, I am perfect. I’m the perfect girl he’s been looking for.

“She’s close,” he says. “Not bad.”

At last he smiles, a sharp-edged little thing that flits across his face as fast as that joy did, gone. My name in lights, I think. As if. Ridiculous.

“High praise,” I say. “And close to what?”

I am trying not to sound upset. Not bad is nowhere close to perfect. I should have known that I was wrong, that this was just another one of Scott’s stupid schemes. I should never have come up here. I’m tired. I want to go home. Neither of the men answers my question.

“I’m off the clock,” I say. “Can I leave now?”

“No,” says Scott, cajoling, “wait. Just a few minutes. Come on, we have . . . he has a proposition for you. Can you listen? I’ll pay you overtime—just hear him out.”

He moves closer to me, tries to grab my arm. I wrench it from his grasp. I hate it when he touches me. I hate it when anyone does. The stranger keeps still, smiling, and it all clicks into place. Not a star, not escape. Nothing like that. Scott has offered me up to this man, this stranger. A proposition. So this is how he has been getting all that money. I notice my body has shifted again, hands clenched into fists, one foot back in case I have to run. My body is taking precautions. This thought comforts me. I don’t feel sorry for Scott anymore.

“A proposition?” I say. “So you’re some kind of procurer now? I’m not a whore. I don’t have to listen to this.”

But part of me wants to. He’s never offered me overtime before. This must be important. I must be worth something. How much? I think. I try to push the thought away, to tell myself I’m better than that, but I can feel it there, pressing, urgent, just below the surface. I think of all the things I could do with just a little money. The changes I could make. The bigger apartment, another semester of classes at the community college. Blackout curtains. A real bed frame.

“Come on,” says Scott, pulling out a chair for me. He is working hard to make his voice sound gentle, or as close to gentleness as he can manage. “You know it’s not like that. Don’t you trust me? Will you sit? Sit.”

If this is about money, fine. Money is something I understand. Maybe if it’s enough money, I can allow myself to say yes. Nobody could blame me, if it was enough money. How much would it take for me to buy a plane ticket? To leave town? To put down a deposit on an apartment, somewhere far away from here? Five hundred dollars? A thousand? I feel my heartbeat slow. I sit. I’m closer to the man’s eye level now, and his cold gaze settles onto mine. I flinch but don’t look away. If I have something he wants, fine. He has something I want, too. I am looking at him just as he is looking at me, considering his face, his straight nose, sharp bones, cold green eyes. He frowns at my not flinching and then issues a little smile—another one, private, just for me. The two of us are conspirators. Together against Scott. Still, Scott is the one to speak.

“Max is looking for someone like you,” he says. “Someone who looks like you, anyway. A few weeks ago, I was up late and I came across a post he had written. Or, I’m sorry, did you write it?”

Max still looks amused. He finally shifts forward in his chair,whose springs creak like screaming. I watch the tension leave his shoulders and shift through his body, moving somewhere hidden,lower down. He keeps looking straight into my eyes, not blinking. Like a crocodile. There is none of the nervousness of one person considering the presence and power of another. He looks at me the way you might look at a painting, dispassionately, appraisingly, yourmind somewhere far away. Considering me for whatever it is mybody has to offer.

“I fail to see how that information would be relevant,” he says. His voice is quieter than I expect, and I have to lean in close to hear, the arm of my chair pressing sharp against the soft side of my stomach. He smells warm and expensive, like soap and cigars, buttery shoe leather. For all this time, his eyes have stayed locked on mine, mine on his, a mysterious energy flowing between us. The men I know wear crumpled jeans, shirts stained with sweat under the armpits. Max is so careful, so purposefully dressed.

He really is handsome, I think. There is something compelling about him, somethingfond and strange. And then finally Max’s eyes snap away frommine. Part of me is relieved to have that pressure gone. But it is as though a light has gone out.

“Ah yes,” says Scott, trying to sound nice. For a moment, I had forgotten he was still here. That it wasn’t just the two of us, together alone in the world. “Of course,” he says, “I don’t want to pry.” Max sighs. He looks at me again. We understand each other, his look says. He seems almost apologetic for Scott, like he’s being indiscreet. We would never act that way. We know things Scott never could. It almost makes me feel resentful, how he is acting as though he is letting me in on a secret without telling me a thing.“It’s not an issue of prying,” he says, his voice measured and tight.

“This is a complex and difficult situation. The people I work for, naturally, value discretion. I will give you the information I am able to give you. Nothing more. But nothing less than that, either, I promise. I’m not an unreasonable man. I understand that this is a sensitive situation for you as well.”

“Well, I don’t understand,” I say. “I don’t understand at all. Can one of you please tell me what’s going on? If this is a porn thing, I’m leaving.” I think again of the money. I am no longer sure that this is true.

“No, no,” says Scott. “No, nothing like that. Max is a sort ofheadhunter. People come to him with impossible positions they need filled, and he travels the country looking for candidates. He posts about it, does demographic research, all kinds of stuff. Finding the right people for difficult- to- staff positions. And he has a job for you.” A job. Again that quick fluttering, hope. A dangerous feeling. I push it down.

“I already have a job,” I say. “I work here. I don’t need another job.”

“Yes,” says Max gently, reaching forward to take my hands in his. I want to wriggle away from him, but his palms are soft, his grasp gentle. I find that I don’t mind it as much as I normally would. “You do have a job. But this is something much more important. This is a calling.” His eyes are locked on mine again, liquid with sincerity. A calling, I think. Religious. Okay. Not porn. He turns to Scott, smiling.

“Scott,” he says, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to step out. What we have to discuss is extremely sensitive. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” says Scott, but he looks annoyed. I can sense him in my peripheral vision, trying to catch my eye,get me back on his side, but I won’t look away from Max. This is between us now. It’s been between us all along. The thin door shutswith a quiet click. We sit together in the dark for a moment, listeningto the silence as Scott stands outside, waiting to see if we’llstart talking, and then, after a few beats, to the clap of his descending footsteps. We smile at each other. I imagine Scott pacing in the lobby, back and forth before the dimmed lights of the candy display, wondering what is happening above his head. Max seems to be waiting for something else. Another sign. I want to reassure him, but I don’t know what he needs me to say. He folds and unfolds his hands. Are they shaking slightly, as mine are, or is it just a trick of the lowlight? He looks once, twice, at the door. He leans back in the chair. He looks away. He begins.

“Do you know of a woman named Rosanna Feld?” His voice has a forced lightness. He has folded his hands back together and seems to be fighting to keep himself from fidgeting. His energy has shifted palpably, the tension returned to his frame. There is a new slipperiness to the way he sits, as though if I say the wrong thing he will leap up out of his chair and flee. For some reason, this question is more important than he can say. I wait to see if he will keep talking. He doesn’t. He seems to be holding his breath.

“Yes,” I say carefully. “I think so.” I remember her face on the shiny plastic display panels of the makeup section of the drugstore near our school, where I would go, cutting class, to wander up and down the aisles until the coast was clear and I could hide out back home. I remember her slick wide lips, her head tossed back in a perpetual silent laugh, her eyes too wide, too many rows of thick black fur-like lashes, the eyes themselves hidden and dimmed. I remember sliding a tube of the mascara sheadvertised out of the narrow slot where it waited, the next tube clicking into place, the slippery feeling of the plastic, tender against tender skin when I slipped it into my sleeve, the ache of acquisition. But what she was famous for, what she has become since, I am unable to guess. I know her only for that one frozen image of her face. I hope that this will be enough. Max is still waiting for me to speak.

“There was a time in my life when she was very important to me,” I say. I have said the right thing. Max’s face smooths out. He sits still. He unclasps his tightly clenched hands.

“Good,” he says quietly, almost to himself.

“So is that what this is about? Does she need an assistant or something?” Not as good as a star, but still something. I can do that. I can be useful. I can assist.

“No,” Max says. “It’s a little more complex than that.” The mysterious weakness that was there before has fallen away. Somehow, I have given him whatever it was he wanted. He pulls out a stack of papers from a briefcase that I hadn’t noticed hidden beneath the desk.

“Before we discuss the job, I need you to sign this,” he says. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious. It just says that you can’t disclose anything we say in this meeting. That everything I’m about to tell you stays between us.” This seems reasonable. I sign.

“Rosanna,” Max says, “is looking for a double.”

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