Saul Dawson admired himself in the reflection of the waitress’ sunglasses. Louis Vuitton Raymundos, just dark enough to accommodate the reflection of Dawson’s bulk. He looked fucking impressive. A deputy chief executive of a top-20 London advertising group, squeezed into a pair of too-small Orlebars.
The Cannes sunlight parted his buttery hair and spilled over his round, sunburnt breasts. Coquettishly, Dawson slowly rubbed Piz Buin into his puffy nipples, feeling them stiffen beneath his fingertips, holding the waitress’ gaze all the while. Oh yeah, that’s right baby, that’s what you want…
"Would Monsieur like another Bailey’s Irish Cream?" the waitress asked, too loudly. Dawson felt himself flush, almost a perfect Pantone match for the waitress’ Rouge Allure lipstick. Did she really have to ask quite so conspicuously? The rest of Eden Roc went silent and turned to look at him.
"Please," he muttered. "On the rocks."
"On the rocks." The waitress smiled. Perfect white teeth, faintly stained with that damnably biteable Chanel lipstick. "Tres hommes."
As she walked off, Dawson could swear that her insouciantly swaying buttocks were sneering at him. He peered over into the pool below, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun. The chlorinated waters of the pool were polluted with various ad-folk drawing attention to themselves. Ad soup.
The shallow end was taken up by the management team of Pudenda, the Shoreditch digital start-up. It was their first trip to Cannes, funded by the recent sell to the global group Omniscis for a sum that even they found faintly ridiculous. They had already spent most of their advance on a suite at the Carlton and matching yellow Speedos with "Pudenda" Swarovski’d on the crotch. The Speedos were worn low, gangsta-style. The managing partners were furiously Instagramming, vintage 80s sunglasses smeared with sun-oil and hipster self-aggrandisement.
Kitten Wilde promenaded at the other end of the pool, bellowing into her BlackBerry, ensuring that everyone was fully up to speed with her new agency idea. "It’s called Kitten’s Soul, dahling… no, not Hole, Soul, with an ‘S’… that’s right, dahling… shoe brands, mainly… it’s going to be enorm, absolutely e-fucking-norm…"
Dickie Hutchinson, the painfully thin chief strategic officer of Singer & Silverman, had peaked early. He held an empty bottle of D’Ott in one hand, and pumped the other hand limply in the air, hopping from foot to foot as he danced along to We Found Love. "Ri-Ri!" he shouted intermittently through cracked lips. "Tuuuuuune!"
Clark Cznek was playfully holding Larry Mace under the water, just for old times’ sake. Mace’s thrashing had begun to slow. It was hard to tell with the distorting effect of the water, but it appeared that Mace’s lips had begun to turn blue. Nobody chose to intervene, but, in a nod to decency, they didn’t join in either. Ad soup.
Dawson sighed and turned back to his book. Atlas Shrugged. He’d seen it on an episode of Mad Men. He believed that the weighty presence of the novel in his hand added the gravitas he lacked when stripped to his swimmers. Hidden in the drawer of the bedside table in his hotel room was a copy of Fifty Shades Freed. He’d nearly finished it, which was quite an achievement considering how many times he’d had to put it down to wipe himself off.
"FUCK DA PO-LICE, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK DA PO-LICE, FUCK, FUCK, FU" – Dawson scrambled to silence his iPhone, Piz Buin-slippy hands fumbling at the screen as, once again, Eden Roc stopped what it was doing to stare at him. He really did have to change that ringtone. It wasn’t the first time it had got him into trouble. The ghastly moment his wife had phoned him during the knife crime chemistry meeting still gave him the arse-sweats.
He looked at the caller ID. Rick Daniels. A creative from Dawson’s agency who had blagged a bed back at the villa. Dawson could barely remember what he looked like. Actually, he couldn’t remember what any of his creative teams looked like, just that they were all called Rob or Mark or Neil or Jay and had varying degrees of twattish hair.
Daniels. What the Christ Jesus did that little shit want with him?
As he queued to get into the Grand Auditorium, Daniels decided that he was a creative on a mission. A mission to win. He looked like a winner, didn’t he? His icy blue eyes and floppy white-blonde undercut hair perfectly partnered his full lips and his hairless, narrow chest. All he needed was a Lion in his hand, and the advertising world would prostrate itself at his Havaianas-clad feet. Women would turn and look at him when he walked into a room, wondering who this winner was and deciding that they simply must have him now. Men would resent him and want to be him and want to be within him, all at the same time. Champagne would dedicate pages of copy to his genius, declaring him an advertising hero. The advertising world needed a new winner to worship. And Daniels could be that winner.
He just needed to win himself one of those fucking Lions.
He was within touching distance of one. His campaign for S!B!T!N! (Stop! Bumming! Tigers! Now!) was shortlisted for the Titanium. There was a fair wind behind it. The Cannes entry film had been described by Jerry Malloy in his Champagne column as "…an awesome work of arse-shattering humanity…" The campaign had already picked up a bronze at Epica for Best Charity/Public Service In-Game Radio Commercial and been shortlisted at the DMAs for Best Data Strategy, so it had precedence. And, most promisingly of all, the chairman of the Titanium jury was his global chief creative officer, Dominick Brandenburg.
Daniels idolised Brandenburg. The charismatic CCO had transformed the output of the network to the point where it was now the 19th Most-Awarded Creative Network Globally, according to the Glumm Report. A tiny South African who apparently modelled himself on Jesus (always dressed in loose-fitting white linen and sandals whatever the weather, softly spoken, fond of parables), Brandenburg spent most of his time firing off encouraging e-mails from his Joburg office to the various creative departments across the globe. Every e-mail started with the words: "My Fellow Traveller On The Path Of Creative Genius." Daniels ached for one of those e-mails.
The queue inched forward, and Daniels felt excitement bubble in his chest. He briefly considered calling Dawson again to try to get him into the post-ceremony party on Jonny Fornby’s yacht tonight. Fuck it. His Lion – his Titanium Lion – would gain him entry.
"Party?" The voice was harsh, cracked. Daniels looked over his shoulder.
James Belton loomed behind him. The creative director held a yellow Bic disposable lighter. It looked impossibly tiny in his meaty grip. Belton flicked the lighter on and off, on and off, to a rhythm only he could hear. He was wearing a red trucker’s cap with "C&A Sale" written on it.
In fact, he was only wearing a red trucker’s cap with "C&A Sale" written on it. Apart from the cap and lighter, Belton was completely unclothed. Nude. Without a stitch on. In the buff. Stark-bollock, butt-ass, gonad-flauntingly naked.
Daniels frantically tried not to look at Belton’s sunburnt genitals.
"Party?" Belton asked again, a note of desperation creeping into that cracked and wasted voice.
Fornby surveyed his party with rolling eyes and decided that it would do just fine. True, the founding partner of Bellow Fornby Minge & Partners was finding it difficult to focus with absolute clarity right this moment. But from what he could blurrily make out, the decks of the yacht were awash with the very finest of advertising flotsam and jetsam. Robin Junior, the group CEO of Singer & Silverman, was trying to hold a conversation with an incandescently drunk Guy Malcolm. This was proving difficult, what with Malcolm holding Junior in an immoveable headlock while viciously ruffling his fine ginger hair, but still. Wilde had donned a voluminous white silk kaftan, and the breeze kept blowing the silk into the face of Dawson, wrapping around his head and making him visibly panic as he desperately tried to claw the suffocatingly perfumed fabric away from his mouth. From the bow came the sound of jeering as Mace and Cznek stripped to the waist and wrestled for cash. Hutchinson quietly vomited D’Ott over the side of the boat.
Fornby smiled and turned to the naked man in the red trucker’s hat who stood next to him.
"Hello, pal," he said.
"Party," the naked man replied. There was something familiar about him. Fornby wondered if perhaps the naked man worked for him. Probably. There were a few ghastly chavs kicking around the place these days, since his executive creative director had gone on a spending spree. Fornby frowned. What was his ECD’s name again? He couldn’t for the life of him remember. Something oikish, no doubt. He patently hadn’t gone to a university. And he had a dreadful glottal-stop accent, and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of the money Fornby reluctantly paid him on his teeth. He was over there, oiky toothy whatshisname, smoking and laughing and showing off. He had unaccountably brought his wife with him.
Fornby shook his head. He really didn’t understand these working-class people.
"Party," the naked man said again. His voice sounded sorrowful. He mimed flicking a lighter. "Party?"
"I’m sorry, pal, I don’t actually smo-" Fornby began, but was interrupted by a woman’s terrified scream coming from the stern of the yacht.
It wasn’t a woman screaming, and the sound wasn’t terror.
It was Daniels, and the piercing shriek emanating from the creative’s narrow chest was an outpouring of pure, primal rage.
"I’m a winner!" he screamed. "Just let me into your shitty party, can’t you see I’m a fucking winner?"
In one shaking hand, Daniels held his Shortlisted certificate; in the other, the yellow Bic lighter he had stolen from Belton. He’d taken the lighter when he realised that his S!B!T!N! campaign wasn’t going to pick up anything, no metal whatsoever. It had been beaten by a user-generated campaign from Australia for a new margarine aimed at urban under-25-year-olds. Daniels tried to light the Bic and hold it to the certificate to set light to it, but the breeze kept blowing it out.
"Let me in or I’ll burn you all down!" he shrieked.
A motion blur out of the corner of his eye and Daniels found himself pile-driven into the jetty, his face pressed hard into the sun-bleached wood. The sole of the foot pressed against the nape of his neck was calloused and bakingly hot. "Party," a reproachful voice said.
Daniels twisted his head round. From this angle, Belton’s testicles looked impossibly large and threatening. Belton reached down and with a surprising gentleness took the yellow Bic lighter from Daniels’ hand. He flicked it and the flame danced into life, reflected in his eyes. He smiled, bent down and picked Daniels off the jetty, cradling him in his arms like a baby.
"Party," he said, nodding towards La Croisette, illuminated against the horizon behind him. The faint thud of bass drifted from there, and happy laughter. To Daniels, it sounded like hope.
Fornby watched Belton’s broad back disappear into the twilight, following him with his eyes as the naked man carried Daniels away. The party on the boat had started up again, roaring back into life as if nothing had ever happened to throw it off-course.
Belton was now just a barely discernable pair of pale buttocks fading into the gathering gloom.
Fading… Fading… Gone.
Fornby quietly hiccuped a little D’Ott-flavoured sick into his mouth, and turned back to rejoin his people.
The Sunday Times bestselling executive creative director Jonathan Burley lives in North London with his wife and step-cat. Titanium is his first work of fiction, volume one of a projected sextet. The sequel, Titanium Wives, will be published by Ampersand Press next summer. Jonathan does not have a sister called Joan.