Feature

One story that won't appear in any client's brief

The list of ad executives who have enjoyed literary fame is not exactly extensive. Peter Mayle, Fay Weldon and, erm...

Durden...has turned his creative juices to novel writing
Durden...has turned his creative juices to novel writing

But now Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy's partner Jonathan Durden is giving it a go. His first novel, Essex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll, has just been published by Adelita (priced £7.99). Is it any good? Here is an extract so that you can make your own mind up.

Mark Cohen had parked the BMW in his customary fashion, driving up his driveway far too fast after an extravagant late-swing turn which made the tyres squeal bitterly.

He ended the ritual by halting two inches from the double garage door and revving the powerful engine in a final flourish, just in case neighbouring Chigwell had missed his arrival.

Hoping that someone, anyone, had witnessed this minor circus, he was gratified to see a small boy aged about ten on a BMX bike staring at him from the road. Even though it was dark, Mark kept his sunglasses on as he got out, knowing the gesture was pathetic, but powerless to his Essex roots.

"Nice car mate," the boy said, taking Mark by surprise, given how shy he had been even at twice this kid's age.

"Thanks son, it's a BMW."

"I know," said the oiky kid. "My granddad's got one like it, but his is the V8 Alpina version. Pisses on your one."

Crushed by a ten-year-old, Mark forced a weak smile as he turned to push the key into the front door, noting for the first time that no welcoming light shone through the stained-glass panel he'd fallen in love with all those years ago.

He opened the door to an icy silence. Not that he had exchanged an enthusiastic greeting with his partner in recent memory.

But part of him thought that, as he had been abroad for a couple of weeks, on business for the ad agency, maybe this time it would be different.

He dropped his bag on the floor with a thump, and headed for the kitchen in search of his wife, Grace.

Or their daughter Poppy perhaps, though he knew she often stayed with friends even during the week. Their twin sons were packed off to boarding school, as Poppy had been, and only came home during the holidays.

The kitchen was in darkness too. But something was moving in it. Mark could just make out a soft buzzing noise from somewhere nearby.

"Hello?" he said, breaking the silence. No-one replied. "Any chance of some movement?"

Still nothing. Muttering "Sod you too" less bravely under his breath, he set about finding the source of the buzzing.

He opened the larder and was immediately assaulted by bluebottles. Big, fat, juicy flies, with an unnaturally loud buzzing. He started to scream and two of them flew ?into his mouth, one disappearing straight down his throat, the other swimming under his tongue.

Bent double and retching, he spat the Olympic swimmer on to the floor and crushed it with his foot. The other was lost forever to his ?digestive system.

He felt sick, momentarily gripped by a boyhood fear of becoming the host for a ?colony of insects which would eventually break out of his body in gory Technicolor.
"Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhooooooooaahhh..."

He groped for the light switch and flicked it on. Suddenly the horror got worse. He could sense movement in the larder.

The vegetable baskets, normally home to potatoes, carrots and cabbage, were lined with what looked like tar with lumps in it. P

eering more closely, Mark saw hundreds of plump maggots wriggling and writhing, crawling up the walls and spilling out across the floor. The stench was incredible.

Mark was overwhelmed with repulsion. Screaming continuously without even realising it, he headed for the utility room.

"For God's sake," Mark said, frantically searching for the bottle of bleach. He wanted to find Domestos - the brand which Unilever had tattooed under the eyelids of an entire generation of impressionable youth in between Magpie and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

"It kills 99 per cent of all known germs, dead. Yes, D-E-A-D!" Mark shrieked in triumph, as he popped the spout of the blue bottle of ?salvation and sprayed everything in sight.

He was soon awash in it, as the poor, unsuspecting maggots dissolved into a slimy grey ooze. He then flung the windows open, chucking vegetable baskets, bins and crockery out on to the back lawn.

Mark had only been home 20 minutes and he was a gibbering wreck. His Boss suit looked as if it had been tie-dyed, thanks to the liberal application of bleach. His brogues were no longer shiny black, but encrusted with the grey sludge of melted maggots. A few escapees clung to his hair, but he was too wound up to notice.

He headed for the stairs and a showdown with the cause of this domestic version of the Somme.
Grace. Bloody Grace.

His hand on the wooden ball of the bannister, he performed one of his signature swing turns to catapult himself up the steps, as though back in the BMW.

He did not wait to see her before letting rip with the words he had been rehearsing somewhere in the depths of his brain since this horrible evening had started.

"You are a lazy, selfish disgrace to humanity. You don't care about me, or our kids, or anything except that bottle of Scotch and finding ever more ingenious ways to hurt me, you worthless piece of shite..."

By the time he reached the bedroom door, he was actually enjoying his own rhetoric. He was now Churchill, or Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings on the eve of battle. And he knew that Grace could not defend herself, fearing confrontation more than almost anything else.

He knew this but, fuelled by self-righteous indignation, he would let her have it. He barged the door open so hard that it bounced back off the wall, leaving a knob-shaped dent in the plaster.

What Mark saw stopped him dead in his tracks.

Grace was a beautiful black woman. Slim, with short-cropped hair and an elegant sense of style. She had full, expressive eyebrows above light hazel eyes and ?beautiful hands and feet with perfect short nails which were usually painted a deep aubergine colour. Her dimples were deep when ?she smiled, which used to be all ?the time.

Mark had thought she was the sexiest and most exotic creature he had ever seen. But things had changed, first gradually and then in recent years in a landslide.

She had not bothered with herself for so long, yet even at her worst, when most "ill",  Mark would be melted by that face.

A face he would never tire of, never stop desiring, no matter what. Until now.

Around the bed were dozens of cigarette butts. Full-flavoured Marlboro red tops, overflowing the ashtrays or left to burn out on the carpet in an I-dare-you-to-burn-the-house-down kind of Russian roulette.

Half bottles of whisky lay empty on the window sill and the filthy, ash-covered duvet, alongside cold toast.

The smell of vomit rose from a waste paper bin by the bed.

The small hump under the duvet might have been pillows, except for the foot hanging over the edge of the mattress from a skeletal leg.

Mark saw its frailty for the first time, as though previously blind to how tiny she had become.He was utterly terrified, the anger draining away from him as the thought that she might be dead seeped into its place.

He took the corner of the duvet nearest to where he assumed her head to be, and peeled it back ?slowly with a dread he had never felt before in his life. Until this ?moment, that life had been one ?of self-imposed numbness and blind optimism.

"Help me..." she said, a dry whisper crackling from an empty husk.