Kill your babies, that’s what they say. And it’s true, you have to be brutal when you’re editing a book. But this was one scene I agonised over. I had so much fun writing it, I didn’t want to let it go. And yet it still ended up on the cutting room floor.
It’s between Curtis Loewe, the film producer and political donor and all round national treasure, and Jonathan Clancy, the man who is trying to expose his crimes. I hope you get a sense of Clancy’s character in his brief appearance here. He turned out to be one of my favourites.
Curtis Loewe poses for the camera at the entrance to the hotel. His mouth is propped open by recently whitened teeth. His is a strange kind of smile, contained around the lips and prevented from spreading across his face by injections. He’s heard people say this is a disadvantage of Botox but not for Curtis. He has never been fond of smiling in the first place.
‘Curtis, tell us why the work of Kids First is so important?’ the reporter quizzes him.
He’s grateful for the prompt having forgotten the name of the charity he’s here to support. Not his fault really, they all sound the same, Kids this, Kids that. ‘As you know through my charitable foundation I have always supported the work of organisations with poor…’ he senses the heat of his PR’s glare. Wrong word, ‘….underprivileged children. At the Loewe Foundation we have a long standing partnership with Kids First, welcoming their children into our theatre schools and giving hundreds of them an opportunity to forge a career on the stage.’
‘How important is tonight…’
The question hangs in the air for a moment before Curtis pushes off through the crowds and allows it to fall to the carpet. One answer is enough for a sound bite. Bloody reporters.
He needs a drink but has a room full of people to negotiate first; ‘Christina, how lovely!’ ‘Marcus, it’s been too long.’ He’d rather write a blank cheque to the charity than come to one of these dos but a blank cheque doesn’t buy you good publicity, as Ruby, his gatekeeper is partial to telling him.
Still, he’s sitting next to Catherine Danier, an actress he used in his last film. If anyone can keep the evening upbeat it’s her.
Now that he thinks about it, it’s much better that Selena decided to stay at home. His wife is stuck under a permanent cloud at the moment. Must be the menopause. That word. Even the thought of it ages him although it’s not happening to him. But he fears he might grow old by association. He doesn’t ask her for much, not even sex anymore, in case her touch dries him out. She’s only fifty-two but my god, women age brutally. Like dropping off a cliff face. In Selena’s case the scaffolding of her face seemed to collapse within a matter of months, now it’s all cheeks and jowls hanging with no support. Mind you, if Selena made an effort she could still look good. A bit of make up, a dress. At the very least she could hide the grey hairs.
‘Why should I?’ She said last week in a particularly thunderous mood, ‘This is natural.’ And to spite him she walked around the bedroom with her saggy tits hanging out dressed only in knickers and tights. Tights! The most unattractive garment known to man. He had pretended to read a script.
In some ways he wishes she were here so she could sit across from Catherine and ask herself what the years had stolen from her, and how she might be able to claw it back. Then again, that might serve only to prove her argument that he isn’t interested in women over a certain age.
‘My darling, why we would still be together if that were true?’
Until recently she hasn’t attempted to answer that question. The lifestyle, the holidays, the jewellery had provided ample distraction. But now he senses a shift, her eyes pick away at his skin when he talks as if trying to discover the lies underneath. ‘I couldn’t give a stuff about all of this,’ she said only yesterday, waving her hand around the living room she spent six months and ten thousand pounds furnishing.
He needs to be careful, show less disdain, listen to her talk about midnight sweats, buy her something new, not too flashy. Be less crude with his affection. They’ve been together for so long. Every year and decade adds to his defence, his cover. A long stable marriage is such a rarity in showbiz. For all her faults, he’s not going to let her go easily.
The auctioneer rises to the stage and checks the mic. The table is full of faces he recognises, vaguely. Place settings boost recognition. No sign of Catherine. Women are always late. Charles (‘Telecoms. Great to meet you’) talks to him about how people are consuming media differently, ‘increasingly through mobile devices, you should give it some thought,’ he adds without saying what it is Curtis should give some thought to. He’s not an ad man for Christ’s sake. His attention skirts away from the conversation to find a man of a certain age, possibly Curtis’ hovering over Catherine’s chair. He fumbles in his pocket, pulls out a pair of reading glasses and stares at the name.
‘This is me,’ he says.
Like hell it is.
Curtis bats his anger down. ‘Fraid not old boy, this one is for Catherine Danier,’ he shouts across the table. That smile again, trapped on his upper lips.
‘That’ll be me then.’
‘She’s undergone something of a transformation since I last saw her.’
The man looks down at his clothes, ‘Oh yes, I see what you mean. I should have made more of an effort.’
‘You’re in the wrong seat, man.’ The intruder’s nonchalance has consumed his patience.
‘She was very understanding.’
‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to fifth annual Kid’s First gala evening. I trust you all have your chequebooks at the ready, if anyone uses chequebooks that is. We do take other forms of payment, rest assured.’
Curtis drains his glass and pours another. The man smiles and raises his own.
There are three lots that have caught Curtis’s eye or more accurately two that Ruby decided would be good for him and one that he really wants. It takes the auctioneer twenty minutes to reach the survival weekend with Bear Grylls by which time the champagne has heated his body through to the temperature of a greenhouse and the sweat streams off his forehead into his eyes with no lines or grooves to halt its path. He puts his blazer back on, no other remedy for his sweat logged armpits. He can’t show them to the room.
The extra layer cranks up his body heat. He feels himself broiling, nauseous to boot. He blames the heat for his schoolboy error. An elementary mistake to raise his hand too soon, expose his interest.
Turns out it’s a popular lot but Curtis’ pockets are deeper than most. By thirty thousand pounds his competition, a man a few tables away, is being slapped down by his wife. The lot is as good as his.
‘Competition on the same table, I see,’ says the auctioneer. ‘Thirty five thousand pounds.’
Curtis is taken by surprise, shoots his eyes around the table to see who it is.
The man who took Catherine Danier’s place is bidding against him. He raises his hand. Forty. That should see him off. The man winks at Curtis. Forty five. The bastard. Doesn’t look like he has a penny to his name. ‘Fifty thousand. ‘My goodness gentlemen, you really are desperate to eat slugs aren’t you.’
Curtis doesn’t take his eyes off him. Counts the seconds. The audience has caught on to the fight. The room electrifies.
Curtis closes his eyes to enjoy the victory.
‘One hundred.’ Curtis shouts.
The man opposite him laughs, drains his beer and sits back on his hands to signal his surrender.
‘Going, going, gone. A survival weekend with Bear Grylls for One Hundred thousand pounds ladies and gentleman to Curtis Loewe. I think that deserves a round of applause and it a good time to take a break.’ The room erupts.
The man pushes himself away from the table and makes his way around to Curtis who is in desperate need of fresh air before he liquefies.
‘Mr Loewe, we haven’t had the pleasure,’ he rubs his hand on his trouser leg before offering it to Curtis.
‘I don’t believe we have.’
‘Jonathan Clancy.’ He pulls a card out of his jacket pocket and lays it down on the table.
Jonathan Clancy, Chief Reporter, The Times
‘They must be paying journalists well these days.’
‘Hardly.’ He smiles. ‘I heard you were a man who gets what he wants no matter the cost. I wanted to see if it were true.’
Seventy five grand he’s cost him. Never had the money to buy it in the first place. The bastard.
‘I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.’
‘It’s going to make some story when it comes out. You and your friends, all those big names. Lucky you kept it under wraps for so long. Lucky for you, I should say. Not for them. You won’t be the charity poster boy for much longer.
‘Get away from me.’