Balcony on the fifth floor

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A troubled advertising executive makes a life changing decision


In a few minutes they’ll be here.

Martin stood motionless on the busy office floor as his colleagues rushed around him. He cracked open the plastic lid of his bottle of sparkling water listening to the familiar fizz of the bubbles. He swallowed a couple of prescription strength ibuprofen tablets and silently cursed the newsagent for being out of San Pellegrino. He’d had to settle for a brand he’d never even heard of — It would probably be flat in no time. He stuck his hand into his pocket and played with the plastic seal around his new pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes. He didn't know if he would get a chance to open them before the meeting.

He was about to deliver the biggest pitch of his career and it could be the difference between a life changing bonus and cutting his losses and walking away from the company he had invested 14 years of his life in. The cocky little twerp in charge of tenders at PWC would be there soon with his team of stern HR consultants. The client was one of those slick haired hot-shots with an MBA and a few years of experience at an international recruitment firm. He spoke in acronyms and percentages. He wanted results and wasn't interested in how they were obtained; creative ideas would be a hard sell. Martin would have to play nice and flirt with him a bit. Who knows if he is gay, but it won’t hurt to boost his ego a bit. Everyone is gay in the glamorous world of advertising aren't they?

The gangly intern returned from the copy room on the ground floor with ten neatly bound pitch documents. Creative recruitment solutions for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He handed them over to Shelley, the wiry haired New Business Manager and silently withdrew to his corner desk. She flipped through one of the folders hoping to find an error she could highlight, a good reason to make a scene. She wanted someone else to feel small for once.

Martin pulled open the French window and walked out onto the fifth floor balcony. It was his favourite place in the building because it was close to the buzz of the office, yet it felt a million miles away. When he went out there, everyone knew not to bother him. He was able to shut the door on all of the bullshit and think, if only for a few minutes. He’d had some of his best ideas pacing up and down that two by five metre space. He’d spent hours out there imagining the river Thames beyond the grand old buildings blocking his view. That was the only thing he didn't like about it, the obscured view. He was only halfway to a good view, halfway to the top.

You weren’t supposed to smoke out there, but no one was going to tell a director off. He sparked the lighter and held the flame over the end for a longer than he needed to. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Nicotine wasn’t going to kill the headache, or settle the numb feeling in his stomach. He’d spent weeks working on these briefs with his team and had even come into the office on Saturday to make sure the work sparkled.

Down below an endless line of black cabs crawled along Sloan Street. A bike messenger carrying a poster tube on his shoulder weaved in and out of traffic on his fixed wheel bike. Why did people ride around on those death traps? Once you get going there’s no changing your mind. You can’t slow down quickly let alone stop in a hurry.

Why couldn't they be pitching to Lavazza or Rimmel London? Why couldn't they have at least semi-creative clients? Writing copy for Associated British Ports and Londis wasn't what he had dreamed of all those years ago as a student in Bournemouth. Were the clients even serious about switching their business? They better not just be doing this for a better deal with their current agency. The bastards.

Last night at the club Gavin had been whispering into a young guy’s ear. He must have been new there because nobody had seen him before. He couldn't have been more than 24 — Gavin probably fucked him. After nine years of late nights, drugs and promiscuity, the thought of growing old with him filled Martin with dread. What would happen when he got too old for his Sunday club residency at Hex? I mean, what are you supposed to do when you pass forty, move to the country and get a Labrador and a Land Rover discovery? Fuck that. Imagine all of the gossip at the Christmas drinks gathering. A couple of queers living in one of Buckinghamshire’s quaintest villages, that wouldn't do.

Martin felt his stomach tense, his head throbbing. The comedown from last night's designer MDMA pills was starting in earnest. He’d been a fool to pile onto the 07:20 train with all of the other commuters after only three hours of sleep. He turned and glanced at himself in the reflective window. He looked defeated. At six feet two he was well built, although his midriff was considerably looser than it once had been. He had thrown on an crumpled purple paisley shirt and some brown chords that still smelled of smoke. One of the arms of his trademark tortoiseshell thick framed glasses was patched up with black electrical tape. He hadn't shaved. His three day grey beard covered his weak chin and a small rosewood cross dangled from his right ear.

Martin suddenly felt lost. He held down the bile rising in his stomach and tried to take another cigarette out from the packet. Staggering, he steadied himself on the handrail and closed his eyes. His head was spinning with swirls of purple and green — not now. The sharp tinnitus acquired from years of DJing screamed in his right ear. There was a reason the Brixton community called them suicide Mondays.

“Are you OK Martin? . . .  Martin. The clients have arrived?”. Somebody was knocking on the French window. It didn't matter now. Martin ignored them and kept his eyes closed.

He didn't want to step back into reality, but he would have to go through the office, and past everyone to make it out of there. Martin braced himself, preparing for his escape.

Turning quickly he tore open the sliding door, pushed past the young art director standing in his way and hurried towards the lift. He hammered the elevator button repeatedly but the light remained steadfast — floor number two. He ran to the stairwell and leapt down them two at a time. It seemed like fifteen flights even though it was only five. He finally made it past the reception desk out into the fresh Knightsbridge air. Nobody paid particular attention to the tall figure resting his hands on his knees fighting to regain his breath.

After a short time Martin opened his eyes and straightened up. The Creative Director started to walk away from the building slowly and purposefully. He ignored the phone buzzing in his trouser pocket.
He kept walking. He had no idea where he was going.

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