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In the Bleak Midwinter

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It’s Christmas Eve and there’s a power cut affecting the entire South Bank. The lifts aren’t working, offices are thrown into darkness and Scotland Yard’s security system – running on emergency power – has run into a catastrophic glitch, effectively putting the entire building into lockdown. Technically the Met is as impenetrable as ever and should be as safe as houses. Downside is that while nothing can get in, nothing can get out either. Another layer of irony is applied to the cake when they realise that the Met’s on-site engineers are unable to crack the system from within and so have to rely on “outside” help. 

‘So we’re calling them “hackers” in the press release, are we?’ asks Inglis as they hold an emergency meeting in his office. 

The atmosphere is unlike any other. Earlier, Tom had managed to find some candles, lending the place a nice, warm glow. That is, until they realised they were scented and the sickly sweet waft nearly knocked them out. 

With the candles now banished to the farthest end of the room, the harsh glow of smartphone and tablet screens provide the only source of illumination. The glare is appropriately unflattering on Finn’s scowl as he wheels round to face Liz.

‘What?’ he demands, shooting her a long, hard stare. She meets it unflinchingly.

‘What would you call them, Finn? Technical advisors? Santa’s little helpers? I prefer to call a spade a spade.’ 

‘Not when it’s currently shovelling shit into our faces at a rate of… fuck me, really?’

‘Well, that’s your area of expertise, isn’t it?’ He blinks. ‘The scatological aspect – not the fucking yourself part. Though you’re pretty good at that, too. Metaphorically speaking,’ she clarifies.

Inglis lets out an exasperated noise. He’d hoped that he would be spared details – literal or otherwise – of his squabbling PR duo’s relations on this day of all days. Finn takes no notice.

‘I had no idea that while our live feed was being hacked on the barge last year, you were busy playing Model United Nations. Tell me, Liz, do we have a red phone in the control room now, a Met-Sedito News Hotline, running straight between –’

Inglis cuts in. ‘Can we get back to the press release, please? You can argue all you like downstairs once we’re done here.’

Sighing at their blank expressions, he reminds them warily: ‘It’s Christmas Eve, remember? Haven’t you got a staff party to get to?’

‘Oh, shit.’

Arriving downstairs, the atmosphere isn’t much different. The music from someone’s phone sputters to an end just as they exit the stairwell. Mia rushes past with a pile of old power banks. 

‘I thought we kept those for emergencies!’ calls Finn after her.

‘This is an emergency, Finn!’ 

Liz glances at her phone. ‘She’s right, my battery’s nearly out.’ 

‘Well, don’t hold your breath, because I’m pretty sure those power banks are bone dry.’

At her questioning gaze, he admits: ‘I might have used one and maybe forgot to charge it. Maybe two.’

‘Or a dozen?’ offers Liz acidly.

He rolls his eyes, pulling her by the arm towards their assembled team. ‘Come on, let’s get this over and done with.’

Obligatory end-of-year speeches finally given, Liz steps aside to let everyone mingle as well as they can. After a few minutes of valiant effort, the chatter wears thin. The whole department, by this stage, is understandably drained. The sole blip of energy comes when Finn pulls out the drinks tray; an assortment of beer, wine and spirits. Everyone lunges for the latter. 

‘Bloody hell, it’s like a wildlife documentary,’ observes Finn once he reaches a safe distance. She doesn’t comment on how he slides into place beside her at the back of the room. He always seems to gravitate towards her, in spite of everything. 

‘Maybe,’ replies Liz, taking a sip of wine. ‘Still, it’s probably more exciting than anything you got planned for tonight.’ 

Finn’s eyebrows are in serious danger of disappearing into his hair. ‘How did you –’ He backpedals frantically – and physically, too. ‘I mean, you don’t know that.’

‘Don’t I?’

They share a fleeting look before Finn gulps and wanders off, ostensibly to check on Mia. Liz smirks. He’ll be back soon enough. 

Two hours in and the hackers still haven’t got through. Worse, there’s now also a pervasive cold and most of the team are now huddling together for warmth, including the two of them, despite Finn’s initial show of disgust. Everyone has stopped talking.

‘Feels more like a vigil than a Christmas party, to be honest,’ says Liz into the darkness.

‘It’s a fucking wake for my eroding sanity,’ grumbles Finn. ‘Especially with you squirming like a bag of eels.’ 

Someone nearby, in tipsy desperation, starts beatboxing. 

‘Oh, my fucking God,’ she whispers, rubbing her temples. ‘And I thought it couldn’t get any worse.’

‘It just did,’ says Finn unhelpfully, nursing his second can of tepid beer. He takes a long sip and grimaces. ‘Unbelievably, I reckon I might get a hangover from this.’

‘Tell me about it, I’m drinking wine out of a coffee mug.’

‘Oh, the ignominy.’ Despite the tone, she can tell his heart isn’t quite in it. ‘Finn?’


‘What did you have planned for Christmas Eve, anyway?’

His answer comes much too quickly. ‘Nothing.’

‘It didn’t sound like “nothing” two hours ago,’ she points out. ‘You were nearly tripping over yourself when I brought it up.’

‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Essentially, when you think about it, the main component was this.’ Finn gestures vaguely at the two of them now sitting on the floor, arms inexplicably linked.

‘Wow, that terrible, huh?’

‘Now, you’re just taking the piss,’ he snaps, and for a moment, Liz fears he’ll wrench his arm out of hers. ‘Tell you what, why don’t you give your mates at Sedito News a call then? They might make better company –’

‘Jesus, Finn, I was only teasing. I had no idea it meant that much to you.’

Finn decides he’s too drunk, too cold and too past the point of caring to continue pretending. ‘It wasn’t going to be crazy or anything. I just thought of us having a quiet night out at the theatre and then maybe dinner somewhere.’ He cringes. ‘God, this sounds like shit now that I say it out loud.’

For the first time this evening, Liz is glad that it’s dark as hell. Once she’s sufficiently blinked back her tears, she says, smiling: 

‘You know, all these years I’ve been in London, no one’s ever taken me to see a show.’

‘Really?’ Finn’s heart leaps up ridiculously, but he wills himself to calm the fuck down. ‘Huh. Maybe they were afraid you were gonna march onstage and steal the limelight.’

‘Oh, shut up.’