Disclaimer: Characters from The Professionals are © Mark-1 Productions Ltd and are used without permission but with no intent to defraud.

Operation Christmas Party

Written for the 2006 Christmas Challenge

"Deck the halls with boughs of - good morning, sir - holly. Tra la la la,la," I trilled cheerfully, but Mr Cowley, my boss stomped past me with barely a grunt and shut the door to his office behind him, quite firmly.
         Unperturbed I prepared a tray of tea and biscuits and took them into him, humming quietly under my breath.
         "Betty, will ye stop that caterwauling."
         "Sorry sir. I had carol singers at my house last night. I've got the tunes stuck in my head," I apologised, slightly hurt. "
         So did I," he said. "Ridiculous. It's only the second of the month."
         "Oh but it was lovely," I protested. "I nearly put my coat on and joined them."
         "Hmmm," He favoured me with a look over the top of his glasses and reached for the phone. A clear dismissal and I took the hint.

A week later and his mood had not improved. Nevertheless I had an appeal to make on behalf of the workforce.
         "Some of the men were wondering...." I began.
         "Eh? Well, what is it?"
         "When you might be drawing up the rota, sir?"
         "What rota?"
         "For Christmas and the New Year. They'd like to start making some plans and they need to know who's working or not."
         He snatched off his glasses and glared at me. "What do they think this is, some nine to five pen pushing outfit? This is CI5 and no man is off duty until and unless I say so!" With a practiced flick of his hand his spectacle arm unfolded and he pushed his glasses back on and picked up his pen. "We'll see if these Christmas bombers feel inclined to grant us a holiday before we start making any plans."
         "Sir," I murmured and made my exit.

"And the Christmas party, sir?" Ten days further into the month of peace and goodwill and once more I was a one-woman deputation. "The men were thinking they would hold it in the gym again.
         "No, not this year." He didn't pause in his writing.
         "But sir...."
         With a sigh he pulled off his glasses and stared at me for a long moment. "Betty, you see the figures we get from the Ministry. You know the budget as well as I do. We cannot afford the repair bill we had after last year's party, let alone the cost of the food and drink itself. No, what they do in their own time is their own affair but they'll not be holding another party on CI5 premises." His glasses went back on and he reached for his pen. "Tell the men the rota will be posted before I leave tonight."

I left the room and only just refrained from slamming the door behind me. In the outer office with hopeful looks on their faces were two of our top agents. Agent 4.5 was leaning against a filing cabinet while his partner, 3.7 was perched on the corner of my desk. At my approach he calmly pushed back the file he was reading without the slightest trace of guilt and straightened up.
         "Any luck?" he asked.
         I shook my head, still angry, and sat down at my desk, pulling the file towards me and closing it with a flick of my finger. "We have no money in the kitty." I looked up at Bodie. "It might have helped if you hadn't broken the vaulting horse last year. He still hasn't forgotten the bill for that."
         Bodie smirked at the memory while Doyle snorted. "I doubt he'll ever forget that. Not sure I will either. I still have the bruises." He pushed himself upright. "C'mon Bodie. If there's nothing doing here we'd better get on and relieve Mac and co."
         Bodie gave an exaggerated sigh. "Bloody stakeout. I hate stakeouts." But he obediently followed his partner to the door.
         "The duty rota will be posted later," I called after them. Doyle gave a vague wave and pulled the door shut behind him.
         I shook my head. The offer of the rota was poor consolation to them. Unmarried agents were always low down on the list for time off over Christmas. Oh they all got some days off, Mr Cowley tried to be fair, but there was an unspoken agreement that those men who were married and especially those with children, should get the first chance at time off. The party though, that was a highlight of the festive season and I knew how much all the staff looked forward to it ancillary staff as well as active. Mr Cowley was well aware of it too and I couldn't understand his current Scrooge-like attitude.
         Unable to settle to work I wandered over to the noticeboard and studied the current assignment listing.
         Bodie and Doyle were, as they said, on their way to relieve McCabe and his partner Lucas at a stakeout now several days old. And if it was more tedious than dangerous, at least so far, there was no guarantee it would remain so.
         Murphy was doing bodyguard duty for a visiting dignitary. Jax, Farmer and Johnson were working in conjunction with the bomb squad...
         Everybody was working hard and at various dangerous occupations. Nothing unusual there, it was what the organisation did, but surely it wouldn't hurt for them to have the odd moment of pleasure as well.
         I suddenly felt a renewed sense of anger at all the Whitehall stuffed shirts. These men cheerfully risked their lives all year round and the odd drink at Christmas wasn't too much to ask in return. I made my mind up; an anonymous thank you would somehow be extended to all these anonymous heroes of CI5.
         Now all that remained was how.

"And two barrels of beer."
         "Better make that three, if you would, Jim."
         "Knowing your lot I reckon you're right." The landlord made a note.
         "And you'll make sure to bring it all to the back door on Thursday morning?" Mr Cowley would be safely away at a meeting then.
         "That will be all right, Miss Framley," Jim assured me.
         I took my leave of the landlord of the Red Lion and wandered back across the road to HQ. That was the drinks order taken care of, now I only had to arrange payment for it.

"Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh." Singing lustily I burst into Mr Cowley's room.
         "Betty, I'm on the phone!" My boss hastily covered the receiver and glared at me.
         "Sorry," I said, unrepentant, having carefully picked this exact moment. I pushed some papers under his nose. "Just sign these please."
         He gestured again to the phone in his hand. "Yes, Minister, yes, I'm still here."
         "Sorry," I whispered again. "I have to catch the post." I hummed another line of Jingle Bells under my breath.
         Exasperated he snatched the pen I proffered and scribbled his signature on the several sheets of paper and then flapped his hand to wave me away.
         Hiding my triumphant grin I swished round and got out of there quickly hoping he wouldn't think later to ask just what he had signed. I felt a little guilty at betraying his trust but after all the drinks had to be paid for somehow and the invoice from the Red Lion hidden amongst the other official documents was a minor subterfuge really.

With only a day to go I met with my co-opted fellow conspirators. "Sandwiches?"
         "Tomorrow morning we're getting the typing pool production line on making those," Julia assured me.
         I made a tick on my pad. "Cakes and mince pies?"
         "June Cook has organised a group of the wives to bake a bit extra each. She says she'll get Cook to bring them all over tomorrow afternoon."
         Another tick. "And I'm picking up the crisps and nuts tonight." I looked up at Ruth. "Decorations?"
         She nodded. "If you can guarantee to get Mr Cowley out of the way early tonight I've got a gang of volunteers with stepladders and a whole ream of paperchains. Oh and Susan says she's bringing plenty of mistletoe with her."
         "She is?" I raised my eyebrows. I didn't feel anybody needed encouraging in that direction and was rather surprised at Susan. Then I shrugged. It was the teams party and how wildly they celebrated was up to them and certainly none of my business.
         "Then we're all set. Operation Christmas Party is on!"

Timing is everything, so they say and the fates seemed to be on our side. Mr Cowley seemed very amenable to the idea that he should leave early, so Ruth and her team of helpers were able to get the gym beautifully festive. They even managed to put up a tree, artificial, but bedecked with tinsel and shiny balls and lights and looking lovely.
         The following day I watched the clock as the hands slowly counted off the hours. Mr Cowley had already said he would be again leaving early. He mentioned some social event he had to attend. Drinks at the ministry or some such. At four he called me into his office. His desk was quite clear and he appeared already packed up for the day.
         "You won't need those," he said, nodding to my pad and pencil I'd automatically brought in with me. "I'm away to my function in a minute." He paused and I wondered what was coming. Surely he hadn't got wind of all our preparations after all?
         "Betty, I'm aware that I've been...curmudgeonly of late," he surprised me by saying.
         "Oh no, sir," I began but he held his hand up.
         "Yes I have, no denying it." He smiled. "But the relentless sentimentality of the season wears even me down eventually." He reached beneath his desk and produced a beautiful floral arrangement in a basket, the white roses making a delightful contrast with the dark green foliage.
         "Oh! Thank you, sir. I don't know what to say." My mind was awash with guilt at all the harsh thoughts I had about him in the last weeks.
         "You're a good, hardworking girl, Betty, and you know when to ignore an old man's bad temper."
         He collected his hat and coat from the hatstand, popped the hat on his head and slung the coat over his arm. "Well, I must be off. Enjoy your evening." Again I looked sharply at him but there was nothing obvious in his glance. "Thank you, sir. I'll see you tomorrow."
         He shook his head. "It's Christmas Eve tomorrow, Betty. I'll not be needing you. Take the day off and I'll see you again after Christmas." Before I could thank him again he strode from the room.
         "Merry Christmas," I called after him.

I danced out to my outer office clutching my rose basket and put it carefully on my desk. Then I hurried downstairs to supervise the positioning of the trestle tables and the laying out of the food and drink.
         That done I went back to the office, pulled out my small overnight case containing my party dress and make up and hastened to lock the door so I could get changed. I had no wish to squeeze into the ladies toilets with the whole of the typing pool and listen to excited chatter about their aspirations for the evening.

I patted my hair into place and double checked my lipstick then unlocked the door and stepped out to head downstairs to the gym. As I did so I collided with somebody intent on coming in.
         "Sorry," I muttered and then gasped as I realised who it was. "Mr Cowley!" It was the boss back again but for what reason I couldn't imagine.
         "Ahh, Betty. Not too late then."
         "Too late? For what, sir?"
         "To escort you to this secret party of course." An amused smile spread across his face. "Did you really think you could arrange such a thing without me finding out?"
         "Well...I...er...." I fumbled for something to say.
         He chuckled. "When the typists make more mistakes than usual in the reports I know something has to be up. And Bodie has been out of the building too much just lately for me to suspect him."
         When I continued to stand there, mouth agape, he gestured to himself. "I have dressed for the occasion, it would be a shame to waste the journey home and back."
         He did indeed look very smart in a grey three-piece suit. He crooked his arm at me.
         "Well Betty, shall we go and show them the old man's not gaga quite yet?"
         Smiling, I took his arm and together we descended the stairs to the gym. As we drew nearer we could hear the music playing through an old sound system hooked up by Sparks. "I could maybe manage a waltz," Mr Cowley muttered wincing. I wasn't sure if it was at the choice of music or the volume.
         The double doors to the gym had been flung wide and we made an entrance, managing to bring the party to a standstill before it had really started. The music slid to a halt in a way that spoke of damage to the record and all conversation stopped.
         Mr Cowley looked round at them all in satisfaction at having successfully put one over on us when we had thought it was the other way around.
         Still keeping hold of my arm when I would have pulled away, he walked me up to the drinks table at the far end of the room, surveyed the choice and, predictably, demanded a whisky of Jax who was taking first turn at bartending. Jax hastily poured what looked like a triple and then a glass of wine for me. Mr Cowley then swung us around to face the crowd again.
         "Well," he said. "Have you no word of thanks for your hostess? After all, without her there'd be no party." He raised his glass. "To Betty."
         Slowly smiles spread around the room as they realised he was not here to shut the party down. Those with glasses in their hands matched his toast and whoops and applause followed until I felt quite embarrassed.
         "With your permission, sir?" Murphy appeared by my side.
         "Och yes, away with you, have your fun." Mr Cowley waved benevolently and took another sip of his drink.
         Murphy swept me away and the music started up again.
         "You're a witch, Betty. How did you get the old man to cheer up like that?"
         I shook my head. "It's not me, it's the season."
         "Hmmm, talking of the season..."
         I'd been glancing around the room, pleased to see everybody enjoying themselves, but at his words I turned back to look at Murphy just as he produced a sprig of mistletoe from behind his back.
         Not giving me time to hesitate or pull away, in fact, taking my agreement for granted, he bent down and kissed me very firmly. "Merry Christmas, Betty!"
         "Oi, don't hog her, Murph," I heard Bodie say and the next second he had swung me away into a deep dip and a longer kiss.
         I'd barely returned to the upright position when I felt an arm around my waist and was face to face with Ray Doyle, yet another sprig of mistletoe held above our heads. He winked and another kiss removed the last of my lipstick.
         "Come on, Doyle. Quit holding up the queue!"
         Ray let me go and I was quickly claimed by Lucas. Beyond him I caught sight of his partner, McCabe, and beyond him what appeared to be the majority of the male agents all waving pieces of mistletoe and grinning with anticipation. Just how much of the stuff had Susan brought in?
         On the other hand, there were worse ways to spend an evening....

© Sue Tier December 2006