Christmas Eve at CI5
by Brenda K
George Cowley glanced at the tree, a little surprised. Not that it was the first time somebody had decided to put one at HQ, but it was a real fir rather than the artificial monstrosities he'd seen in the past.
Knowing his squad and a few of them in particular, somebody had been out in a forest somewhere with an axe. And if they'd been caught, he was equally convinced they'd have flashed their IDs and said it was a matter of national importance.
Absently, he tweaked a piece of tinsel and stared up at the angel. She was a bit battered: the white dress wasn't exactly pristine, and the gilt on her halo had faded a little. As for the wings, the thin netting had a few holes in it that had been patched up with Sellotape.
She looked like he felt - a little worse for wear. He rather liked her for it, though.
The angel also reminded him of something else, and more precisely of Ruth Pettifer leaving earlier in the evening amid a few ribald remarks about her 'making sure her halo didn't slip'.
What was all that about?
He could hardly ask.
Earlier, he remembered, he'd overheard Murphy and Bodie joking about how Jax's kid brother had stepped in and saved them having to co-opt Doyle. Murphy had muttered something about the youngster doing a better job than a limping elf, to which Bodie had grinned and said as long as he wasn't a limp elf....
Doyle had retorted that it was his ankle that was out of action, not other parts of his anatomy. And he wouldn't wear green tights for all the rice in China, ta.
Naturally, the conversation had stopped when they saw Cowley.
So what were they up to? He'd probably never know.
Green tights? Elves? Haloes?
Suddenly weary and feeling anything but festive, Cowley pushed open the door to his office and went in.
The voices from the briefing room next door surprised him at first, but then he realised what was going on. Bodie and Doyle were obviously sorting out old clothes donated by the squad for the "Christmas Nun" as Bodie had dubbed her. Sister Noel - that was right. She'd managed to persuade him to include CI5 in the whole scheme, or rather he'd agreed simply because she was extremely persistent. The epitome of the nagging woman, he sighed. Even worse than Kate Ross because somehow it was hard to tell a nun - and a black one to boot - to go away and stop pestering him without seeming more acerbic than was really necessary.
Mind, both women seemed equally unafraid of him although at least Ross was at least paid to do her job. Sister Noel... well, she obviously hadn't lost her ideals yet if she could work at a hospital, help with a shelter for tramps, and do it all for the love of humanity rather than a decent salary.
Perhaps Ross' ideals were probably still around somewhere too, although she kept them better hidden, like her legs these days. Shame.
Absently, Cowley allowed himself to think of Ross in a pair of green tights and a very, very short skirt. Or any colour tights, really.
He'd always been a leg man, he mused. In weak moments he'd still admire a good pair, too. Rather regrettable that trousers seemed to have more or less taken over among the women on his squad. Not that anybody would ever know his personal feelings about that.
Not much point in letting his thoughts drift, he chided himself. It was just because of the clothes, of course. Even he'd brought along an elderly sports coat and two Argyll sweaters and put the bag on the table with all the rest. A man had to show an example.
"You have to be joking." Bodie's voice came through the thin wall clearly, only inches from Cowley's desk. "I mean, can you really see some sort of down-and-out wearing that?"
"Down-outs aren't only seedy old men," Doyle said shortly. "Why shouldn't down-and-outs wear sweaters with sparkly bits on them? Eh?"
"Well, not if they're blokes, maybe," Bodie said. "Speaking of which, I still think you should be glad you didn't get to wear the green tights."
"I am, believe me. But I'm here, aren't I? Of me own free will. Helping you sort stuff into piles rather than doing the whole Christmas Eve thing?"
"Yeah. So what would you have been doing? If you're honest and now Judy's dumped you?"
"Me sister's, I suppose. Surrounded by screaming kids and Lego or whatever. Got out of it by saying I've bust me ankle and will be working late so can't make it up North. You?"
"Dunno. Question doesn't arise, does it? Third Christmas on the trot we're here. Almost be worth gettin' married just to remember what it's like to do the whole 'tree and carols' stuff. Newlyweds always get Christmas off, remember."
That, Cowley said to himself, was typical Bodie-logic.
"You'd really do the tree and carols stuff?"
"Might. Question of always wanting what you can't have, innit?"
"Suppose so. Now this" Doyle chuckled, "I never expected to see. Hurt, did it, to get rid of it? Or are shirts with little hearts on 'em out of fashion?"
"No more than plaid jackets with striped rugby shirts," Bodie sniffed. "Bet you didn't contribute those. Anyway, it's a bugger to iron."
"Iron?" Doyle sniggered. "Y'know somehow I never imagined you ironing. Suppose you had to, right? Uniform and stuff."
"Useful talent," Bodie agreed. "Although I still prefer to have some lovely lady do it for me."
"More fool them," Doyle told him. "I can think of better things for lovely ladies to do than slave over a hot ironing board. Besides..."
"You always went for 'rumpled is sexy', don't tell me."
"Or pay for the laundry to do it," Doyle said. "Hey, wonder if Cowley does his own ironing? Thrift, y'know. Ironing's expensive."
"Might do. He had uniforms, remember," Bodie said mildly. "You seen him tonight?"
"He was out - some meeting. Wonder what he does at Christmas?"
"No idea. Church, genteel lunch with some maiden aunt?"
"Followed by a brisk walk, an extra half-finger of malt and then back here," Bodie added.
Suddenly, Cowley felt uncomfortable. Not only was it true, from the ironing to his Christmas routine (although it was a cousin and not an aunt), but the faint tone of pity in Bodie's voice was embarrassing.
However, the conversation took another turn suddenly.
"These come from your bag?" Bodie said suddenly.
"'Ardly," Doyle said. "Despite the jokes about green tights, I've not started wearing knickers with cherries on yet, ta."
"Had a girlfriend who used to wear those. Or ones like 'em," Bodie said. "Y'know, the one when we had that foursome at the horse show. When you got and she got all chummy."
"Don't remember," Doyle said. "So what did you do at Christmas when you were a kid, then?"
"Don't change the subject," Bodie said. "Those did come from your bag. Right after that moth-eaten sweater that no self-respecting tramp would be seen dead in."
"Bags must've got mixed," Doyle said. "Suspicious bastard. I mean, if you'd got one of Judy's bras out of your bag, would I jump to conclusions?"
"Yes you bloody would. They're 'ers, aren't they?"
"Considering you can't even remember 'er name, Bodie, I don't think..."
"Not the point. Just what did you two get up to?"
"Drop it, Bodie."
The threat in Doyle's voice was clear. Cowley felt himself tense.
"You randy little..."
"Me randy? And it wasn't you who screwed that nurse I'd got all lined up?" Doyle protested.
"Like hell it was. I was lyin' there with bust ribs... enjoying some rather special bed baths..."
"Like I said. Randy little bugger. But she wasn't really much good, if it's any consolation. Or at least for anything more interesting than bed baths."
Silence. Cowley wondered if a fight was brewing. But no.
"Quits, then?" Doyle said hopefully.
"Suppose so," Bodie said. "Cost you, though. Because if I remember, the one with the cherry knickers was quite the little raver."
"Can't remember. And cost me? As in what?"
"Couple of drinks tomorrow when I get off work. Can't all be playing the injured prima donna on sick leave."
"Didn't exactly fall into the car on purpose. Who didn't wait until I was in it before he drove off? Eh?"
"It was a case of drive off and risk Sir breaking something, or wait until Sir had closed the door and fastened 'is safety belt, which could well have meant that Sir would probably now been sporting a couple of additional orifices."
"True," Doyle chuckled. "Right. That's about it, then for the clothes. And yeah, I'll buy you a drink. You can pick me up and we'll take this stuff over to Sister N's place. Stop off at that pub you like with the blonde barmaid as well, seeing as how it's Christmas."
"Now you're talking," Bodie said cheerfully. "So they're dishing all these clothes out tomorrow? Not as part of tonight's festivities?"
"Nah. Tonight's just some sort of party for the kids with Santa and an angel and an elf. Tomorrow they get Christmas dinner and old clothes as presents. Bit sad, really..."
"Yeah. I mean, me own folks weren't wealthy, but we did get presents. And new clothes when we needed 'em."
"So did we," Doyle said. "Used to like Christmas when I was a kid. Can't stand it now when I do get up there. Me mum moans about me sister's kids, me sister's cooking...me brother in law gets pissed..."
"Fun," Bodie chuckled. "Mind, better that than some crappy hotel in Benidorm. Can't understand what me mum and dad see in all that. They invited me once. Never again."
"What, no sexy senoritas?"
"No. Just a load of pensioners drinking sangria and getting nostalgic about Christmas in Liverpool," Bodie sighed. "Not that I remember it as being exactly memorable. Dry turkey and over-cooked sprouts."
"Sounds horrible. Must say I always think Christmas'll be special somehow and it never is. Remember the one we spent on that stakeout?"
"Could I forget it?" Bodie agreed. "By Boxing day evening I could have wrung the Cow's neck."
"Until he broke out the malt when we got back," Doyle agreed. "Hasn't been doin' much of that lately."
"I noticed. Mind, hasn't been much to celebrate. Can't think we're achieving much in the way of making England smell like roses right now."
"Look on the bright side," Doyle said casually. "You could've been stuck on obbo with Jax instead of pulling the night shift in the cosy, welcoming warmth of HQ."
"There is that."
"Who else's on?"
"Two teams on stakeout. That blonde in the computer room, but she's got a boyfriend. Murph here on standby. Two radio operators."
"Let's hope world war three doesn't start, then," Doyle said glumly. "Suppose I'd better get going though. What's the chances of getting a taxi at nine on Christmas Eve, eh?"
"Snowflake in hell?" Bodie said. "Get somebody to start ordering one. You might just be home by midnight."
"Or you could kip on the settee in the VIP room?"
"Lovely. The perfect Christmas eve," Doyle muttered.
"You'd have my delightful company. We could break out the scrabble board. Play poker..."
"Fantastic. I mean who'd want an evening of Christmas joy with a beautiful bird, log fires, music playing softly when they can have a game of scrabble with you and Murph?"
"Suit yourself. Murph said something about Ruth calling in on her way back - maybe she'll give you a lift home?"
"She might. Or more likely she an' Murph'll go for a snog or a cuddle, lucky buggers. You did notice the mistletoe in there? I'm sure that was 'im."
"Yeah," Bodie chuckled. "It was a dare. He got it and put it up. If he didn't - and give Ruthie a kiss with at least one witness, I said I'd tell 'er about him and that bird he was chatting up the other day."
Well well. Cowley felt his eyebrows rising. Murphy and Ruth Pettifer. That was one piece of gossip he hadn't heard.
"Charmin'. She'd 'ave 'is balls for that, I agree. Well, looks like it's either making a foursome with those two or hitch-hike home. Host of exciting opportunities. Or, of course, scrabble."
"As long as you don't cheat," Bodie said. "But if Ruthie brings a mince pie or two it could be quite cosy - she said something about that earlier. Don't think she'd be into group sex though. Or Murph."
"Definitely not. And even I have some principles..."
"Knickers with cherries on excepted?"
"But mince pies," Doyle said thoughtfully, not rising to the bait. "Now there's memories. Real ones, not the stuff from shops. Think Ruthie cooks? Irons?"
"Ask Murph. He should be here any minute."
"Yeah, right. Bet 'e'd love that - the whole 'little woman stuff', although I can't see 'er doing it. Think they'll tie the knot before next Christmas? And if so, will Cowley consider 'em as married when it comes to time off?"
"Nah, 'e'll re-write the small print to make sure of that," Bodie said. "Decide if they're going to be together over the festive season, they might as well be at work. Newlyweds or not."
"Sometimes think 'e doesn't have feelings."
"Yeah. Suppose he can't in this sort of job"
"Ever wonder if we'll turn out like 'im?"
Cowley stiffened, suddenly afraid to listen and desperate to get away. But he stayed, the old phrase 'listeners never hear good of themselves' playing through his head.
"Me? No way. Self-sacrifice like that? I want some nice little blonde who cooks and irons as well as being dynamite in bed.'"
"And one who doesn't mind the job? Or are you going to change career while you're at it?"
"Dunno. Not yet, anyway. Dammit, Doyle... it's Christmas. A man can dream."
"Dream away. Don't forget the mortgage..."
"There's always the downside," Bodie admitted. "And the kids. Don't like kids, or at least ones you can't give back. What about you, then?"
"Me as Cowley? Give me a break. I'm gonna be..." Doyle paused.
"What? Rich and famous?"
"Dunno. Head case, probably. Or dead."
Suddenly, Cowley noticed, Doyle's voice was deadly serious.
"C'mon, sunshine. No need for dramatics. You only busted your ankle..."
"You know what I mean. Of course I'd like a wife, settle down. Sometimes, anyway. Other times I think this is all I'm good at. And even then..."
"Stop it," Bodie said briskly. "No point in getting maudlin. That's the bloody trouble with Christmas, innit? Gets you thinking too much."
"Yeah. So you think a game of scrabble's going to solve everything?"
"Miracles can happen," Bodie said. "Shove me those tags over so's I can mark what's what. Don't want some poor geezer ending up with knickers with cherries on, do we?"
Cowley heard chairs scraping, and knew it was time to make himself scarce. Yes - that was it. Rapid move to the gents. He grabbed his overcoat and went out.
Only a few minutes later he strode briskly - and noisily - into his office again, wearing his coat. Bodie and Doyle were still in there, so he opened and closed a few desk drawers, pulled out the bottle and picked it up before opening the door to the next room.
"Drink," he said abruptly, waving it. "Murphy in yet?"
"Think somebody's on their way in now, " Doyle nodded. Indeed, Murphy appeared in the corridor, flanked by Ruth and Sister Noel.
"She made a delightful angel, Ruth did", the nun said cheerfully. "So did the little lad we just took home, even if he did complain about the tights."
"Tights?" Cowley said careful not to give away the fact he'd been eavesdropping, and noticing Murphy's brief smile at the 'angel'. Why had he never noticed anything between those two? He really must be getting old.
"Elf-wear," Sister Noel said. "These people have been helping with our party, Mr Cowley. Oh, and Kate's on her way in."
"Kate?" Doyle asked. "Kate... Ross? You're not tell me she was an elf as well..."
"Good gracious me no," the black face broke into a huge smile. "But she made wonderful egg sandwiches. Speaking of which..."
"Egg... sandwiches?" Bodie spluttered. "Dr... "
"And trifle. In fact I'd say it was a great success. And that nice Mr Anson playing Father Christmas. Even if he did have to wave those horrible cigars around."
"He wasn't bad," Murphy agreed. "Even as a nicotine-addicted Santa. And I discovered a new talent in playing referee for musical chairs. And mopping up orange juice. Was quite glad to come into work after all that."
"However", Sister Noel said sweetly, "Mr Anson's gone home to his family now but assured me he'd be quite happy to stand down in your favour next year, Mr Cowley."
Doyle made a strangled noise, but Kate Ross' arrival disguised that nicely, even before Cowley had thought up a good excuse twelve months in advance.
She did, Cowley decide, look decidedly festive in a red dress. And my goodness those legs weren't bad at all and the black tights were most... interesting as she sat down and the skirt rode up a little. Much better than green.
"Success," she said. "And the off-license even had these."
Cowley raised his eyebrows as Kate Ross fished a carton out of the holdall she was carrying.
"Crackers," Ruth chuckled.
Cowley started to worry about the ignominy of paper hats.
"For the lot on duty tomorrow. Hands off," Kate said, tossing them onto the table and reaching into the bag again. Cowley relaxed a little.
"But as promised," she added. "I also brought... this."
"Beer," Bodie said faintly. "You brought beer."
"I did indeed," the psychiatrist said cheerfully. "I need it - throat's dry from yelling at kids. Don't look so shocked, Bodie."
Bodie continued to stare at his archenemy, who picked up a bottle and proceeded to drink from it, smiling sweetly at him and obviously rather enjoying the effect she was producing.
"Mince pies," Doyle said, sniffing at a large box Ruth was carrying. "Home made?"
"You really do want it all, don't you?" Ruth rolled her eyes. "But yes. You're lucky - the kiddies didn't get these because somebody was a little generous with the brandy or whatever it was the kind cook put in them."
"Somebody? You didn't make them then?" Murphy asked, looking slightly disappointed.
"No. Couldn't quite fit in some baking last night, as well as...."
"As well as what?" Bodie teased. Ruth and Murphy both glared at him. Cowley pretended not to notice anything untoward.
"Making my angel costume and running around the shops to find green tights," she snapped.
"I made them," Sister Noel said cheerfully. "Can't have alcohol lying around the shelter. And I'm not supposed to drink it. But when it's used for cooking it's not alcoholic, and the flavour's lovely."
"I'm sure," Cowley said pleasantly, taking one fragrant pie and passing the box to Bodie and Doyle.
"Beer, sir?" Kate Ross held a bottle out. "Bodie, get some glasses."
Obediently, Bodie disappeared. The man's expression of amazement seemed to be stuck in place, Cowley noted with amusement. Not that he wasn't rather astonished by all this himself.
"So," Sister Noel said once everybody appeared to be holding a glass. "Thanks to all of you and a very Merry Christmas indeed."
"My thanks to all of you too," Cowley said quietly. "For the jobs you all do, and for making the sacrifices it means. Including you, Sister and you, Doctor. And no, I am not making a speech or Bodie will steal the last of these pies."
Doyle chuckled, handing a pen over to Kate Ross to sign his plaster.
"Oh my," Bodie said cheerfully. "Go on, put 'im a kiss under yer name. Or give 'im one."
"Prat," Doyle told him. "Ignore 'im, love. Although I wouldn't say no."
"Consider your next assessment brought forward a month, you two," Kate said mildly.
"Spoilsport," Bodie grumbled. "And I suppose any moment now you're going to tell us we're a load of hormone-ridden apes."
"You're a load of hormone-ridden..." she started and then actually blushed. "Well, not all of you. Sorry, sir. Sister. You too, Ruth. Anyway, I have to get going."
"Ray needs a lift," Bodie said airily. "And 'e'll try to keep 'is hands off all the way home, won't you sunshine?"
"Can't do. Sorry. I have a thing called a date, Bodie, hard as this may be for you to believe."
Looking at the woman's legs, Cowley for one didn't find it hard to believe at all.
"I'd take you but I've got to do the family thing," Ruth said, glancing at her watch. "And I promised to drop Sister Noel off."
"Indeed," the nun nodded. "So see you tomorrow with the clothes. Who's bringing it all?"
Doyle started to jerk a thumb in Bodie's direction, but Cowley interrupted.
"I am. As long as I am not required to arrive in any kind of costume. Bodie, you can come along as well as apparently you'd already volunteered?"
"No problem, sir," Bodie said, as though nothing much more could surprise him tonight. "Although Doyle's coming as well. Owes me a drink."
"Does he indeed?" Cowley feigned innocence. "Well he can buy me one as well. The first round, anyway. For now, however, take Doyle home, Bodie. Consider yourself replaced for tonight. And the second round will be on you, by the way."
"Replaced?" Bodie stared. "By?"
"Me. I have a bed here. Murphy can wake me up if anything untoward happens. I do think I can handle acting as the night manager once in a while, if that was what you were worrying about."
"I..." Bodie was lost for words.
"Oh, get off with ye. Just make sure you're here in decent time tomorrow, without hangovers."
"As if we would. And we're running all the way, sir," Bodie grinned. "So, Raymond. You coming?"
Cowley watched them all file out of the room, realising he was smiling. Then set off back to his office sparing a glance at the Christmas tree as he did so.
"Murphy? Bodie? Where did the tree come from?"
"You don't want to know, sir," Murphy said politely. "Does he, Bodie?"
Bodie, on his way out of the door, did his best to look innocent.
"Ask Murphy about the mistletoe," Doyle threw over his shoulder. "That wasn't Bodie."
"Piss off, Doyle," Ruth said calmly. "And if I remember correctly, broken ankle or not you had a hand in the tree as well."
"Not very angelic all of a sudden, Ruth," Bodie said frowning."
"It really is a very nice tree," Sister Noel said sweetly and diplomatically.
"Indeed it is," Cowley said gravely. "Definitely."
"Oh, and look under it, sir," Doyle said casually as the door closed.
Suddenly, he was alone again. Cowley picked up the mince pie that - miracles of miracles - Bodie had somehow overlooked, and bent under the branches.
The parcel simply said 'Mr Cowley, from the squad', and contained a bottle of extremely good malt.
He opened it and poured, raising his glass silently to them all. Including the angel, Sellotape and all. Battered she might be, a little like himself...
... but they both had a little life then them yet, he decided.
-- THE END -