The first time Justin saw him, Chris Kirkpatrick was standing on a desk in the middle of the Creative Department's chaotic open-plan office, gyrating his hips like a stripper and rapping out rhythmic abuse of one of the agency's biggest clients.
Melinda, who was taking Justin round to introduce him to everyone, just smiled. "Chris is one of our best creative execs," she explained. "See that one over there, the one who looks as if he's asleep? That's JC."
Justin was a little bit perturbed. When he'd worked at JWT, the Creative Department had been hushed and serious, with a mystique upheld by everyone who worked in there. This lot looked a right shower.
"Aha! Fresh meat! Come to me, boy, and bow down," bellowed the dancing Chris. Smiling weakly, Justin held up his arm for a handshake, and declined to join Chris on the desk. Chris shrugged, and lured one of the women up there instead, a tiny girl with unnaturally blonde hair. She was not, Justin thought, as good a dancer as he himself was. Not that he wanted to get up there and dance on a desk with a lunatic, of course not.
"That's how they work best," Melinda explained as she led him back upstairs to sanity. "Well, they're Creative, they have to be a bit manic."
Justin was slightly offended by that, though he didn't let it show. He had started out in Creative, but he had decided to move over to Account Management when he'd realised just how boring it was writing copy for margarine and refrigerators, about which there was nothing new to say. Being an Account Exec suited him much better. Clients loved him. He could sell them anything.
The only disadvantage to it was that the Big Names of London's advertising world were mostly the creative types, the ones who came up with campaigns of such brilliance and originality that clients would be clamouring for their own agencies to do something exactly like them... Clients were stupid. His last boss said that the worst part of working in advertising was always the client. His job, as Account Exec, was to make sure that the client decided he wanted what the agency had decided he needed. And Justin was good at that.
The first time Justin took Chris Kirkpatrick to a client meeting, he nearly had heart failure.
Justin was adjusting his Pierre Cardin blue silk tie, using the reflective glass in his mum's photo as a mirror, when Chris swaggered into his little office.
"You ready to go?"
"Oh, you have got to be kidding!" Justin said, before he could stop himself.
"What?" said Chris, smirking.
Chris was wearing a black T-shirt with a design of white skulls. And jeans which were ripped here and there, not by design but through actual wear.
Justin took a deep breath. Chris was a very senior Creative exec. "We are going," he said through gritted teeth, "to a very important meeting. With a Client."
"Uh huh. Sammie Sugar, right?"
"Holloways," Justin corrected him. Yes, okay, the product was those nauseating little dolls, but the company was perfectly respectable. "You can't—you can't show up looking like—" a rock musician, he was about to say, but he realised that that would probably just encourage Chris, "like everything else you own is at the launderette."
"Well," said Chris, not showing the slightest contrition, "I could go home and change, but even on the bike it's going to take me at least thirty minutes to get to Hammersmith and back. And I'm guessing you don't want to be late for this very, very important meeting?"
What was really, really annoying was that the clients thought Chris was wonderful. They seemed to be thoroughly impressed by his attitude of part boredom, part incredulity. Chris spent a lot of his time staring at the three Holloways reps as though they had egg on their ties. And he broke into an earnest conversation about market penetration and forecasting with a loud "Bollocks!" that froze everyone solid.
But, Justin thought, he knew his stuff. He convinced those clients that he, rock star Kirkpatrick, was going to produce the perfect campaign to sell those dolls to every seven-year-old girl in the country, and that all they needed to do was make sure they spent enough money on TV airtime to make sure all the little girls knew they wanted one. Justin followed that up smoothly—he was good, even when blindsided—with the suggestion that he have their Media Buyer present some revised figures, and the meeting ended very happily.
"Four kid sisters," Chris said, in the cab back to the office. He was just bored, now, sitting there jiggling one leg up and down, and staring out of the window.
Justin did not know what to make of Chris Kirkpatrick.
"Oh, he's a lunatic, but he's all right," said Lance after work that day. "The one who drives me insane is JC."
"But JC's amazing!" said Justin, startled. "I mean, he's the one who set up that Stillmans campaign, he's won three awards for it already."
"Oh, I'm not saying he isn't brilliant," said Lance. "But he—"
Joey arrived at that point, with three pints carefully triangled in his hands. He set them on the tiny table with minimal spillage, and sat down.
"He's just impossible to work with," Lance went on.
"Ah. JC," said Joey, wisely.
"It's all right for you, you're the Media Buyer, you just get taken out to lunch by all those hungry newspaper ad sales reps all the time. Practically like being a Client," Justin pointed out.
Joey grinned. "It's a good gig," he admitted.
"But JC," Lance persisted, "is just... I mean, seriously, you can't take him out in public. What if he's in one of his trances? I swear, he sat and stared at the ceiling for three fucking weeks while we were trying to develop that Kerocet campaign."
"Which won an award," Justin pointed out.
"Which is the only reason I didn't have him killed," said Lance, sounding disturbingly matter-of-fact. "He went from catatonic to manic in about eight hours, wrote the campaign, charmed everyone at the client meeting into approving it, then micro-managed Production until they were all screaming at me to take him out and shoot him. It's a good thing the ads were so fucking brilliant."
"And that JC can be a total sweetheart when he wants to," said Joey, grinning. "He smiles that pretty smile at the clients, they'll let him run the craziest stuff."
"Smiling at clients," said Lance, po-faced, "is my job."
Justin had considerable sympathy with this, after being wrong-footed by rock star Kirkpatrick, but he wasn't sure he ought to show weakness in front of a fellow Account Exec. "Production always make a fuss," he said instead. "JC's a perfectionist. I don't see anything wrong with that."
"It is when you practically have to break his fingers to get him to let go of the copy," Lance said. "He'd be taking out commas and putting them back, and shifting the colour bleed one microdot to the left, then back to the right again for ever if Anthony didn't bar the door and refuse to let him in."
"Yeah, thank God for Anthony," said Joey. "If we had anyone else for our Production Manager, they'd never get JC's copy out in time."
"So, really," said Lance, "you're much better off with Chris."
"Yeah," said Joey. "Like today. He convinced them to up their media spend, didn't he?"
But that was my job, Justin wanted to say. Damn.
"But," said Lance, "enough about work." He beamed at them both, wholesome and harmless, and talked them into sponsoring him to jump out of an aeroplane.
On the strength of that increased media spend, Justin invited Chris out for a drink after work on the following day. Because really, he did owe Chris for that.
Justin looked up. Chris sauntered into his office and flung himself into one of the armchairs, the armchairs used for those cosy moments chatting through the details with long-standing clients. Not for the use of scruffy Creative Directors.
Justin eyed Chris's obnoxiously scarlet T-shirt with disfavour. Why the guys in Creative insisted on dressing as badly as possible, he did not understand. There was JC in his weird pastel shit, last month he'd looked like a refugee from a hippie commune, this month it was all yuppie styles but in pink and yellow. Justin wasn't sure how JC managed to sit down in some of the trousers he'd been seen in lately. And here was Chris, who had the world's worst collection of ratty T-shirts, each of which proclaimed his allegiance to some band or other that nobody had ever heard of, and each of which assaulted the eyes by being outrageous in design, virulent in colour, or both. This one featured a double-headed snake. He hoped it was a snake. Really, Chris was just taking advantage. Justin did not believe it was impossible to do good creative work while wearing a suit. At least he was wearing different jeans today, black ones, with no holes in.
Justin stood up, preening a little. He looked good in his grey Italian suit, snowy shirt and silk tie, and he could very well stand the scrutiny Chris gave him.
Chris had very intense dark brown eyes. He cocked his head and looked Justin very carefully up, down, and up.
Justin was vaguely disappointed when the only reaction he got was a small, unimpressed noise in Chris's throat.
"C'mon, Timberlake. I'm thirsty."
Chris looked even less impressed when Justin led him into the pub-restaurant on the corner of the Market, but he seemed to have decided to play nicely, because he asked Justin, quite normally, about progress on the Sammie Sugar account, and told him about his ideas for the campaign. Somehow, the conversation hopped, skipped and jumped until they found themselves discussing music, and the particular subjects of Chris's T-shirt, and all the gigs he'd been to lately. Chris seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every tiny venue in London, and who'd be playing. Justin couldn't honestly say he liked the kind of music Chris was into, but his enthusiasm was endearing. His face lit up, and he lost that scowly look he sometimes had at the office, and he even smiled, and that was really nice.
Justin was quite sorry when Chris announced that he was off to a gig, and it was time for him to leave. But then, Justin had plans himself, so it was just as well. He needed to get changed for clubbing.
Justin had only been with LPA for three months when he scored a major, major triumph by luring away a blue chip client from ABM. It wasn't the entire account, that would have been too much to hope for (and in all honesty, too much for LPA to handle), but it would increase their billing by almost forty percent, and it made the front page of that week's Campaign, along with a small photo of a modestly smiling Justin Timberlake and a rather larger photo of a very smug Lou Pearlman.
Lance came in as soon as the news was announced, beaming hugely. "Well done, mate! Fantastic job." Lance was, Justin thought, a better person than he was, for there was nothing grudging about his congratulations. Joey came in, rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of all that lovely tv money to spend. JC was already dreamy-eyed at the thought of a car launch. LPA had never had a motor client before, and he had been filing ideas.
"Hey, golden boy!" Chris stuck his head round the door. "If you want an encore, get me a piece of the Distillers action, okay?"
It took Justin another two months, but he was eventually able to saunter into Creative and tell Chris he was pitching for a whisky brand next week, and Chris was coming with him.
Justin smiled at the PA who'd just handed him a large drink, and checked the room again. Chris didn't seem to have arrived yet, though practically everyone else in LPA was already getting stuck in to the Glen Fairloch whisky their shiny new client had sent round. Justin hoped Chris wasn't going to miss the party. Chris had, in his own inimitable way, been crucial in persuading the client to jump. He'd been honestly enthusiastic about the new brand, and more knowledgeable about whiskies than Justin would have imagined—he'd only ever seen Chris drinking beer. He'd chattered all the way back in the cab, a disjointed stream of thoughts about whisky and clients and creative strategies. It was nice.
Then Chris appeared in the doorway, to be promptly mobbed by his team from Creative. Justin was satisfied, and turned his attention back to Lance. "Have you done the parachute jump yet?"
"Next weekend," Lance replied. He had, Justin thought disapprovingly, a slightly manic gleam in his eyes as he went on to explain when, where and how he'd been training for the jump and how high it was going to be. Happily for Justin's patience, he spotted JC making his way towards them. Lance muttered something about killjoys and said he was going to have a word with Joey. Joey wouldn't appreciate it, Justin thought, for Joey was chatting up the caterer. But that was Lance's look-out.
And now here was JC, a radiant vision in pale blue, all curls and disapproval as he narrowed his eyes at Lance's retreating back. "I suppose," JC said, "he was telling you all about his parachute jump. Charity, my arse, he's a bloody lunatic with a death wish. He was in Creative this morning distracting half my team with his sponsor sheet. But, hey, congratulations! Again! Have I shown you the latest mock-ups for the wonder-car? I'm thinking we can get Paolo to shoot some really amazing angles, get people to see it in a whole new light."
Being trapped by an enthusiastic JC rambling about unexplored ways of shooting cars was just as bad as being trapped by an enthusiastic Lance. Justin endured it for a while, but it came as an enormous relief when the music trebled in volume and a shriek from Chris announced that the stars of the evening were going to dance now, and everyone must worship.
Justin wasn't going to let Chris have it all his own way. It was his triumph, too. So he loosened his tie, got right up on the table opposite, and let his hips take over.
Justin thought the agency was riding high, so it was quite a shock to be called in to a meeting with the MD three weeks later. There was a lot of guff about profitability and expansion, and Lou's sweaty arm around his shoulders, but what really got Justin's attention was the nebulous threat. Basically, Lou was upping their monthly targets. He wanted his Account Executives to go out and bring in more business. He was asking—telling—each of them to compile a list of clients they wanted to approach, and there was definitely a hint in there that any Account Exec who couldn't bring in a bunch more accounts was going to find himself no longer employed by Lou Pearlman Advertising.
Not that there was any risk of that happening to Justin, of course, he was good, he could sell the agency to anyone. He'd already proved he could do that. But it was a hell of an unsettling way to end the week, he thought.
He spent the rest of the day—the part where he wasn't doing his regular work—calling contacts and scouring Campaign and Marketing Week for any hints that someone worth having might not be completely satisfied with their current agency, and could be ripe for pitching. And took the magazines home, for good measure. Monday, he'd start making appointments.
The atmosphere at LPA felt very strange, from the moment Justin arrived on Monday morning. Tense. So, he concluded, everybody knew about the pressure to bring in more business, and everybody knew that somebody was probably going to get fired.
"I think it's a crap way to run a business," Joey said, joining Justin and Lance at lunchtime on Tuesday, as he had, unusually, no media sales people courting him for business today. "Everyone's miserable and suspicious, nobody wants to collaborate with anyone else in case the other bloke gets the credit."
"I think the agency's in trouble," Lance said quietly.
"But, how can that be right?" Justin was amazed. "We've got a great client roster, for our size, our billing's well above average..."
"Yeah, but how sure are we that the money's going into the agency, where it belongs? I think maybe someone's diverting the money from the company pot. Or possibly the billing's inflated for the sake of the share price, and we aren't really bringing in anywhere near that much."
"Seriously? So that's why Lou needs us to bring in more new business?"
"I think that's part of it," said Lance. "The other part is, with us all suddenly having to watch our own backs, nobody has the time to figure out that there's a bigger problem with the agency. But I've been wondering about it for a while now."
"Shit," said Joey. "And I liked it here."
Justin rubbed at his forehead. "Damn. I hate job hunting."
"Don't tell me you don't get calls from headhunters all the time, because I won't believe you," Lance said.
"Yeah, it's not that, it's trying to figure out if you'll like the place, whether the benefits mean what they say they mean, and if the boss is really a complete arse. I liked it at LPA. Well, until last Friday, anyway."
"I think we can do better than jobhunting," said Lance.
"Oh?" said Joey, with uncharacteristic caution.
"What do you mean?" Justin was confused.
"I think there's a really good core team at LPA," Lance began. "You and me in Accounts, Joey in Media, Chris and JC in Creative. And some of the admin people are very good, Melinda for one, and Anthony is brilliant at getting the production work scheduled. So I think..." he paused and looked up and beyond Justin with wide, wary eyes.
"Well, well, what have we here?" said a familiar voice. "Can this be an escape committee forming?" It was Chris, with JC behind him. "You'll have to do better than this if you want to keep a secret, boys." Chris slid into the booth next to Justin and shoved him along with his hip to make room for JC at the end. So much for hiding out in a scruffy little vegetarian restaurant. They should have guessed JC would know about this place.
"We were sort of getting to that," said Joey, looking unexpectedly guilty, Justin thought.
"When you say, 'escape committee'," Justin began.
"We've been thinking of forming our own partnership," said JC. "And now seems like a very good time to get things moving. We want Joe along as Media Director, obviously. And we'll be needing an Accounts team..."
"Basically we haven't been able to decide whether to call ourselves C & K Advertising, or K & C Creative," said Chris. His thigh was pressed right up against Justin's, and it was jiggling madly.
"I think there's a lot of merit in alphabetical order," said Lance. "The Bass, Chasez, Fatone and Kirkpatrick Partnership."
"Oh, really?" said Chris. "And what makes you think you're part of the team, fishboy?"
"You and JC, and apparently Joey, are going to need somebody who can actually make business decisions," Lance replied with perfect calm.
"Well, that's why we want you along," said JC. "Do you think a vegetable smoothie would taste as disgusting as it looks?"
"Yes," said Chris without hesitation. "Okay, then, you're in. BCFK Advertising...."
"Hey!" Justin spoke up, affronted. "What about me? You can't have an agency if you don't have any clients. You know I can bring in the business."
Chris sniffed. "I suppose," he said, "but only because you're at the end of the alphabet."
"Of course we want you," said JC. "Otherwise we wouldn't have said anything. So, let's get down to business. We can talk about what we call ourselves some other time. Have you ordered yet? I think I'll have a tofu burger."
"I'd rather eat a raw horse," Chris muttered under his breath.
It was exciting, being part of a clandestine plot. Not that there was a great deal for Justin to do, at this stage. They were going to have to keep things very quiet until their plans—particularly the financial side—were properly in place. No hints to clients, at least not yet, though they'd have to woo them hard and fast when the time came. No meetings anywhere near the office—the next time the five of them got together, it would be at JC's flat. Lance was checking into the legalities of setting up a company, and was on the lookout for suitable premises. He and—amazingly—JC seemed to be spending a lot of time working on forecasts and financial projections. Justin was impressed by Lance's undercover capabilities, as there wasn't a whisper of it anywhere within the agency, not so far as he could tell. And really, who would have thought that their spacy creative genius would be good at figures?
Justin had no doubt that their new agency would be a success. He'd always assumed that he'd have his own agency one day, Timberlake Advertising, or JRT Creative, something like that. But he wasn't ready for it right now, he was still young, that was years ahead. For now, he was going to be part of something that—well, that sounded really exciting. And much, much better than this. In six months, maybe less, he'd have a whole new existence as Account Director of ZEKES Advertising, and how cool was that? Too cool to keep entirely to himself, he'd just had to phone Mum and tell her all about it.
He did wonder, a bit, whether this was a crazy thing to do—especially when he thought about Lance's eagerness to take risks. Apparently he didn't just chuck himself out of planes, he did sub-aqua too, not snorkelling coral reefs, which would be understandable, but groping around in zero visibility and sub-zero temperatures at the bottom of gravel pits. Lance was—in JC's words—a lunatic. But a lunatic with an accountancy qualification, apparently. You could never really tell, with Lance. And JC seemed to trust him with the business stuff, which said a lot. So it probably wasn't too crazy.
And what the hell, there were plenty of agencies who'd scoop up Justin Timberlake, Wunderkind, if they got the chance. His career wasn't going far off the rails.
For the time being, though, the pressure was very much on at work. He was spending too much time trying to find new clients, and since it would suck to lose any of the ones he already had on his roster, he was working even longer hours than usual to make sure everything was running smoothly. So was everyone else on the staff, although there were also a lot of people sneaking out to interviews. Even the Creative Department was less fun to visit than usual. So Justin was a little bit surprised when he got a call from Chris one Friday morning, inviting him to go for a drink that evening.
"I thought we should get to know each other a bit better," Chris said, abruptly, when he showed up in Justin's office somewhat after six. He was in another black T-shirt today, with a red design suggesting a hungry panther, or possibly a serious accident at the dentist. And the ripped jeans. Justin was, of course, impeccable, wearing his Italian suit again—it was his favourite—a Paul Smith shirt and a pink and grey tie.
Inevitably, one of them was going to look out of place. Justin had assumed it would be Chris, but Chris steered him straight past the trendy pub on the corner of the Market, headed more or less towards the river, then east into Fleet Street, then plunged unexpectedly down a tiny alley.
As Chris went up a set of stone steps at the end of the alley, Justin had the opportunity to inspect the ripped jeans fairly closely. They looked soft and well-worn, and they clung very nicely to Chris's thighs and to his frankly fantastic rear. And there was a small hole, right there by the pocket seam, and he was fairly sure that what was showing through it was skin.
Justin was glad when they reached the top of the steps. Mostly.
The pub wasn't quite as bad as he'd feared, but he was the best-dressed person in there, by far. Still, it got him the barman's faintly astonished attention. Justin balanced pints and packets of crisps carefully and found Chris fidgeting at a tiny table in a corner.
"Do I make you nervous, Timberlake?"
"No!" Justin said, dropping the crisps onto the table.
"Um. Maybe a little bit."
"Good," Chris said, with a wicked little smirk on his face.
This did not make Justin feel noticeably less nervous, but he was damned if he was going to let it get to him, so he raised his pint and said, "Cheers."
"Bottoms up," said Chris. "So. Tell me, kid, what makes you think you belong in the new agency with JC and me?"
Ah, a challenge. Justin was good at those. He gave Chris his very best smile, and proceeded to convince him that a brand new ad agency without Justin Timberlake would be a sad and sorry thing, and doomed to failure.
Chris had a wicked sense of humour, and wasn't averse to using it against himself as well as everybody else in the world, and Justin had more charm at his disposal than any three other people, so it turned into a much better—and a much longer—evening than Justin had expected. It was nearly ten when the huge guy with the hair stumbled into their table on his way to the bog, snarled, "Filthy queer!" and tipped Justin's half-full pint of lager over so that it spilt onto his lap.
"Hey!" Justin said.
"Fuck off." Chris was rising to his feet, intense and angry, but still about a foot shorter than the hairy drunken guy. Who, nonetheless, peered at him and obviously decided not to push it, because with a final sneer of "Fucking pooftahs!" he staggered through the door marked Gents, leaving Chris bristling and Justin with a soggy crotch.
"Let's go," muttered Chris.
They were about half-way along the alley when Chris stopped abruptly and said, "Sorry."
"What? It's not your fault that bloke was a complete twat," Justin said, surprised.
"Shouldn't have taken you in there. Not..." Chris gestured at Justin. "Not dressed like that."
"You mean, he thought I was a—he thought I was gay because I'm wearing a suit? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"Yep," said Chris. "Personally, I'd say the hair's much more of a giveaway."
Justin yelped indignantly. "My hair is not gay!"
"If you say so. It must have been the suit. Smart, pretty boy in a suit, must be gay," said Chris. "Talk about moronic stereotypes. Good thing I didn't have to hit him, I'd probably have bent my fist."
"You mean, on his solid wooden head?" said Justin as lightly as he could, though his stomach churned at the thought of Chris getting into a fight with someone twice his size.
They emerged from the alley. "Look, I'll take you home," Chris offered. "You get on the Tube, everyone's going to think you wet yourself. Where do you live?"
"Chiswick. But you don't have to—I mean, if it's out of your way—uh, that's very kind of you."
Chris smirked. "Good boy. Come on, then."
Chris's transport turned out to be a motorbike, a sleek Italian one, and Justin's eyes lit up. He'd really wanted one of these when he was a teenager, but Mum had been adamant. Now, of course, he had a company car, and it seemed silly to get his own wheels. He mentioned this.
"Best way to get around in London," Chris assured him, and handed him a silver helmet from the top box. "Hop on."
Traffic wasn't too bad at this time on a Friday night. Too late for commuters, too early for pub chucking-out time. Justin enjoyed the ride. He was careful to keep his wet crotch away from the back of Chris's jeans, but allowed his hands to rest, for balance, on Chris's waist in its snug leather jacket. Chris was a pretty amazing guy.
He tapped Chris's thigh to indicate the right turn coming up, and again as they motored slowly along his street.
"Thanks a lot, man," he said, handing back the helmet. "Uh, look. You want a coffee?"
Chris stared at him from behind the visor, then shook his head. "Thanks," he said, "but not tonight. I might be able to catch a new band up Swiss Cottage way, if I can find the right pub. See you Monday." And he was gone.
Disconsolate, Justin went up to his flat to peel off his quite disgusting trousers and the rest of his besmirched outfit, and get into the shower. After that, it seemed like too much trouble to go out again, so he watched the telly without really noticing what was on, until he fell asleep. He woke at three in the morning with a crick in his neck and the memory of a startlingly erotic dream featuring a dancing Chris Kirkpatrick fading from his mind.
"So, is that everything? I'm supposed to be picking Kelly up, uh, now."
"You know, Joe, this is important stuff," JC said, reproachfully.
"It's your future we're talking about," Lance added.
"I know, I know! I'm here, I was paying attention. But we have finished now, haven't we?
JC and Lance looked at one another, and at their notes, but apparently couldn't find an actual reason to keep things going any longer.
"I mean," Joey went on, "we've seen the financial projections, Lance got the lease, we've worked out a timetable, and we're about ready to recruit Anthony and Melinda. Seriously, unless we're plotting to assassinate Lou as well, isn't the meeting over?"
"You know, that's not a bad—" Lance began.
"No," said JC, firmly. "We don't need to take over an agency that's already in trouble. We want a fresh start. Anyway, you don't know where to get an assassin."
Justin wasn't entirely sure that was true. He wouldn't put it past Lance to have a 'hired killers' section in his Filofax, he seemed to know everyone else in London. But Justin was ready to leave, too. JC's elegant blond wooden dining chairs were not meant to be sat on for more than twenty minutes at a time, he was sure. No wonder JC was so skinny. Besides, Justin was getting hungry, for JC had given up offering snacks three meetings ago, in the face of Chris's relentless sarcasm on the subject of 'healthy alternatives'.
"Okay, then," Chris said, and stood up. "Thanks, guys, seriously. Good work. I always said you were the best liar in the agency, Bass, I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off without word getting around."
Lance tried to glare, but grinned helplessly instead. "JC's been great," he said. "Seriously, I couldn't have done it on my own."
"Yeah, yeah," Chris interrupted, "you guys have it all worked out, we're going to make a fabulous team, we know, we know. Provided we can leave room in our busy schedules for Fatone's sex life, anyway."
"Just get out of my house, you peasants," said JC.
So a few minutes later Justin was standing on the pavement with Chris (Lance, apparently, was not a peasant), watching Joey hasten down the road towards St John's Wood tube station. "Which one was Kelly?" he asked. "Wasn't she the caterer, from that party we had when we picked up Glen Fairloch?"
Chris shrugged. "Could be. Did she have big tits?"
Justin frowned. Chris was not very respectful. Justin had been brought up not to refer to the size of a woman's tits. Not that he was that interested in—
"Joey likes them with big tits. You want a ride home?"
"Oh! Uh, please." It was a pain getting home by tube from here, particularly on a Friday evening when everybody in London was on the move. And the bike was so cool. "Look, um, you want something to eat when we get to Chiswick? There's a great pizza place just round the corner."
Chris looked cynical. "I take it you mean they do goat's cheese and artichokes or some such pretentious crap."
"No! Jesus, you're such a weirdo. Artichokes?"
"Well, okay then, if it's real pizza with authentic grease and stringy cheese. But I'll do the ordering. Here."
Justin accepted the silver helmet. "As long as you get double pepperoni."
"That, I can guarantee," said Chris, and straddled the motorbike.
While Chris went into Toni's, Justin hurtled into his flat, swept the debris of breakfast off the table, and collected the three pairs of trainers from the entrance and flung them into his bedroom. By the time the bell rang the place looked... well, probably respectable enough for Chris Kirkpatrick, anyway.
"You want a beer?" he offered, as Chris came up the stairs bearing cardboard boxes.
"I appreciate that it's a travesty to have pizza without beer, but I have to get the bike back home, and I know the filth usually set up along Hammersmith Road on Friday nights, they stopped me for a breathalyser last time and I'm not going to push it, so coffee, please."
"Oh. Um, well, I have a sofa bed. If you like."
Chris stared at him, then broke into a smile. "Beer it is." So beer it was, and pizza and wings and garlic bread and Toni's ace garlic dip, and mocking one another about their beloved football teams—for Justin had discovered Man U when he was nine, and Chris was a passionate fan of Sheffield United (the 'Blades'), and, Justin said, apart from both being football teams, they had sod all else in common.
Somewhere into the second bottle of beer, Chris grew suddenly serious. "You remember, um. That pillock in the pub, and what I said about moronic stereotypes? Well. I'm gay."
Justin looked at him in astonishment. Chris didn't appear to be drunk. Well, he couldn't be, not on one and a half Heinekens. "Seriously?" he managed at last.
"Yeah. So. I don't tell everyone, Lou doesn't know and I don't want him to, but if we're going to be working together, well."
"I... right. Yes." Justin thought he might have been doing a little moronic stereotyping himself.
"I hope it doesn't bother you," said Chris.
"Of course it doesn't bother me! I, I, I, it's fine." Here it was, the perfect moment to make his own statement, and Justin found he couldn't do it, not spontaneously, not to Chris, who was sprawled on the floor with his back to the couch and those jeans just clinging, and his eyes all dark and intense. Because if he did, if he said that he, then. Chris would think. Which he sort of did, actually. Except he might be a little bit drunk even if it was just two Heinekens and he didn't want to wake up tomorrow and find, no, really not, and he was going to be working with Chris, too. "I won't tell anyone at the office."
"Oh, JC knows, of course," Chris said, "and Joey, from back when we worked at Ogilvy's together, and I told Lance yesterday. Nobody else, though."
"Okay," said Justin, nodding wisely. "Um. You want to watch a film, or something?"
"It's been a long week, and my head's buzzing from that meeting. I think I need to crash, if that's okay."
Justin woke to a mild headache, which made a pleasant change on a Saturday morning. Normally he'd have had a night of vodka cocktails and very loud music and be comatose until noon and miserable for hours after that. Why the hell had he let Chris sleep in the spare room last night? Things could have been a great deal more interesting this morning. Silly drunken scruples.
He lay there for a while, warm and comfortable, masturbating lazily, until thoughts of Chris's face, grinning at him with that intense look in his eyes, filled his mind, and he stroked himself to a hell of a climax. God. Chris.
Damn it, his sheets were all sticky now. And, hell... he and Chris were going to be working together. He couldn't, they couldn't, could they? And it wasn't as if he could be sure that Chris even wanted to.
He couldn't think about this, not now. Justin leaped out of bed and made for the bathroom, where he found evidence (steam on the mirror and a wet footprint on the bathmat) that Chris was already up and about. There was also, he noted after his shower, a cheery aroma of coffee in the air.
"Is there anything to eat in this kitchen?" Chris demanded when Justin walked in.
"Sure." Justin reached up. He kept the breakfast cereal on top of the high cupboards. He'd never actually caught one, but there were mouse droppings, sometimes, in the bottom units, and no rodent was going to get into his sacred Sugar Puffs.
"Grrrrrrrreat," Chris remarked, sardonically. "Anything else to eat? Actual food?"
"Um. I don't know." A brief search rendered a quantity of condiments and sauces, some dried pasta, and a bag of granulated sugar, unopened. "You're the creative guy, can't you think of something?"
"Gimme Worcestershire Sauce and a packet of condoms and a rolling pin, you'll see how creative I can be," Chris said.
"Oh, come on! Why the hell would I have a rolling pin?"
Chris gaped at him, then started to laugh. "Come to that," he said, "why would I need Worcestershire Sauce?"
Justin blushed. Chris laughed harder. Which was actually a pity because if he'd just, if Justin had had a moment longer, he might have been able—but it was already too late. "Um," he said instead. "There's a great French patisserie in Turnham Green Lane."
So they went there for breakfast, Justin's treat. Chris's eyes rounded like saucers at the display of luscious pastries, and after he finished his slice of gateau, apparently in a state of post-orgasmic bliss, he threatened—Justin assumed it was supposed to be a threat—to move into Justin's flat so he could eat breakfast there every day.
Justin shook his head, and lowered his eyes so he didn't stare at Chris's tongue licking the cream out of his eclair.
Justin stuck his head round the meeting room door. "Lance, you got a minute?"
"Sure, come in. I was just running through the presentation for the Caldicotts meeting. Hey, love the new bins. Sexy."
Justin adjusted his new D & G specs. He was still a bit self-conscious about them, but the optician's assistant had given him an unmistakeable come-on when he'd tried them on, and it was nice to have Lance's confirmation that it was a good look for him. "Thanks," he said. "I just, I was just wondering, if I could ask you something. Private."
"Okay," said Lance. "Just turn the key in the lock. Is this about Our Little Project? We are supposed to save it for after hours."
"No, it's, er, personal. Do you—I mean, not that it's up to anyone else anyway, but I wanted to ask about, er, office relationships."
To his great surprise, Lance's cheeks turned pink. "I don't think that's anyone else's business," Lance said firmly.
"Well, no, of course, and as long as you're discreet—"
"Yes. You don't bring it to work, don't do anything stupid, and don't fucking say anything about it." He rolled his eyes. "Have you heard any—has JC been gossiping with the PAs again?"
"No, no! I wasn't talking about anyone in particular." Not true, of course, because what he would really have liked to know was, would he and Chris be in trouble if they—but Lance was right. Just keep it private. "I just wanted to be sure we were all on the same wavelength, now that we're," he lowered his voice, "setting up our own agency."
"I'm pretty sure most of us are on the same wavelength, yeah," said Lance. "Except Joey, of course."
"Well, that's good, then," said Justin, who hadn't realised Joey had been indiscreet with anyone at the office. He'd have to start taking more notice of the office gossip when they got the new place going.
Another Friday night, another meeting, but next time they did this would be on their own shiny new premises and during office hours. They had an office assistant and a receptionist ready to start work on Monday, shortlists of possible employees to poach from LPA and elsewhere, and long lists of clients to contact. Each of them had set up a lunch with someone important, to kick everything off. All they had to do now was open the escape hatch and... escape.
"So... do we all march in to see Lou with our resignations, one after the other, or what?" Justin asked.
"We should probably decide who goes when," Joey said, "so we don't all show up at once."
"If it's okay with you lot," said JC, "I'd like to go in first."
"Yeah, he'll be nice to you if you go first," Lance said, "all pally and, how about a rise, dear, darling JC."
"We won't all have to go and see Lou, though, surely?" Justin asked. "I mean, don't I give my resignation to Johnny? He is the Accounts Director."
"True, but he'll probably send you in to see Lou anyway. The agency won't want to lose you," JC told him. "You should go second, at half nine. Johnny won't have heard about me yet." Justin smiled to himself as he imagined it, he knew just how it would be. Lou would be slightly sweaty when he was shown in to the chairman's office, unsettled from JC's defection, but he'd put a heavy arm over Justin's shoulders and try to bribe him to stay with LPA. He'd be a bit cross by the time Justin escaped, but that would be nothing to how he'd be by the end of the morning.
"Bags I last," Chris chirped. "I wanna see him have the coronary."
"No, damn it! I want to go last," Lance said, annoyed.
"Too late, fishboy."
"Toss you for it?"
Grudgingly Chris agreed, and was unashamedly jubilant when he won the toss and Lance had to settle for fourth. Joey promised to be as infuriatingly casual as humanly possible when he delivered his own resignation, which should work up a good head of steam. Lance was welcome to it, Justin thought.
"At any rate," Joey said, "we'll all be out on our ears by midday, so we go and schmooze whoever we're schmoozing over lunch, then get straight over to our new office and start calling everybody we know."
"Yes, that. Exactly," JC said, and nodded emphatically as he rose from his uncomfortable wooden dining chair and disappeared into the kitchen.
"We should take bets," Lance suggested, "on when the fat creep's going to start screaming." He and Chris high-fived one another, and Joey joined in with the whooping. The atmosphere in JC's flat was getting a bit heady, now they'd determined that they were ready to go. There was a pop! and a bonk! and a hiss! and an eek! from the kitchen, and JC emerged bearing five effervescing champagne glasses on a wooden tray.
"To ZEKES," Joey said, raising his glass.
"ZEKES," came the chorus.
They were ready to go.
Monday was going to be awesome.
But before Monday was the weekend, and Justin had made up his mind that Saturday and Sunday were going to be awesome, too.
"Are you taking me home tonight, then?" Justin asked, as they watched Joey hurry towards the tube station.
"You realise you sound like a rentboy, don't you?" Chris's face screwed into an expression of great cynicism, but he couldn't hold it, and the two of them grinned at each other across the big bike. "Of course I'll take you home. Hop on."
"I thought we'd all be going out to celebrate. I mean, the champagne was nice, but I thought..." Justin felt a little bit wistful. "But I suppose—"
"No counting chickens," Chris said, firmly. "We don't celebrate properly until we're out of LPA and ZEKES is up and running. And we have our clients confirmed in writing—which is down to you, Wonder Boy. I can't write scintillatingly brilliant ad campaigns until I have clients. Also, I don't even want to think about how Joey intends to celebrate, and I have my suspicions about JC and Lance."
"Hmm." Justin had his suspicions, too, and they'd lent a whole new interpretation to yesterday's little conversation with Lance. "Think they bonded over revenue projections?"
"I'm not going to think about them at all," Chris said firmly. "They're way too pretty, and I don't want to get distracted. Might damage the bike. Get your helmet on." He turned forwards, and the engine gave a pleasing growl. Justin tugged his helmet into position, and put his arms decisively round Chris's waist.
"I suppose the—"
"It's closed," said Justin. "But I'll treat you to a celebration cake, in the morning."
"In that case, I'll get the pizza."
So Justin went inside and checked that he'd remembered to put beer in the fridge and tidy his shoes out of the hall. And make the bed. He had, of course. He grabbed a couple of plates and some kitchen roll for napkins, took them into the sitting room, and picked a film more or less randomly to feed into the machine.
Chris and the pizza arrived like a compact, voluble tornado, as usual, and they settled in, tearing the pizza and garlic bread apart and arguing over the garlic dip. It was nice.
"You should probably know," Justin said, after the last slice had been disposed of, "that I'm gay, too." Oh, great, now there was beer spray all over the table.
"Christ," said Chris, "you might try leading up to it!"
"Sorry. I thought you might be interested."
"I mean. We'll be working together, and we should be honest with each other, right?"
"Right," Chris said, and Justin was pretty sure he sounded just a little bit disappointed.
"Right." He got up and fetched another couple of beers.
When he came back, Chris was hunched almost defensively in his sloppy armchair, and looked up askance as Justin handed him a bottle. "Bloody giant," Chris muttered.
"You could stand on a box."
"Why would I want to stand on a box?"
"You'd be the same height as me."
Chris grunted. "You could kneel down."
"I could do that," said Justin, and did, right between Chris's knees. "Is this a good height?"
"It, uh, ah." Chris was staring at him, pupils black and wide, looking much hungrier than he'd looked before pizza, wings and garlic bread.
"I think," said Justin, "it's just about perfect," and he slid his hands up Chris's thighs.
The first time Justin took Chris Kirkpatrick to bed, he fell the rest of the way in love.
(several months later)
Campaign Magazine New Agency of the Year Award
Only nine months into what looks like being a long and healthy life, ZEKES Advertising emerged as the clear winner. The multi-award-winning creative team of JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick, accounts acquisition powerhouse Justin Timberlake, and the cream of the staff from the now-defunct Lou Pearlman Advertising, started off with a bang and have kept on climbing all year. While their former employer settles into his cell in Wormwood Scrubs (see News, page 2) with a conviction for fraud, ZEKES Advertising won four top creative awards, had an outstanding business year, and are already looking to expand. Expect to see them in our top ten again next year.