ANONYMOUS ASSISTANT

WELCOME TO LEGAL LONDON………

Party Politics

Written By: anonymous - Dec• 20•10

The firm has reinstated the Christmas party.   I haven’t mentioned it before because I thought it was like the Coalition promising to retain universal Child Benefit: I never really thought it would happen.

But it has!  Albeit not on the wild, carefree scale of the early Noughties, but still, a party is a party and I am actually looking forward to it until I receive an e-mail from Carlton:

“Helen,

How marvellous of Alistair to invite me to the Christmas Party, even thought I am not, yet, a partner at CWS, I feel as if I am and I certainly look forward to seeing you there….

Kind regards

Philip”

“Dot, dot, dot!” Jane and Liz are reading over my shoulder.  “The dirty old pervert!”

“He has some nerve.” Liz agrees. “He doesn’t even work here yet but, already, he’s hassling you.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” I tell her. “I have seen how he operates.”

“Well, don’t worry,” she assures me.  “We shall protect you.”

Now, I don’t underestimate the sincerity of this promise but I fear that protecting me from Carlton will be like protecting the world from terrorism: he will always find a way through.   Still, in the meantime, we are focussed on the task in hand: containing him at the Christmas Party.  Jane calls a security meeting at lunchtime.

“Alex, did you speak to Jeannette?”

“Yes,” he nods. “I asked her to arrange the tables as we suggested.”

“Did she agree?”

“Astonishingly, she did.  She said she hated doing table plans because people always complained, so any help she got that regard was welcome.”

“If only we had known that years ago!” I exclaim, thinking of all the tortuous years I spent sitting next to securitisation lawyers and accounts clerks.

“Indeed.” Jane agrees. “But we don’t have time to dwell on that.”

She may not, but still get flashbacks of the year I sat next to the Tax Team.

“So,” she continues, “the table plans are halfway there, so that’s half the evening dealt with; we just have to agree a strategy for the rest.”

We agree that we shall make it our aim to stay as close to Carlton (collectively) as possible.

“Alex, you will have to do the Gents run, I’m afraid.”

“I’m not sharing toilet space with that man!” he protests.

“Well, we are certainly not doing it,” she counters.

Three pairs of feisty female eyes are upon him.

“All right, all right,” he grumbles, “But this is sexual discrimination in reverse.”

“Thank you.  Now we just have to deal with the question of taxis.  Does anyone know where Carlton lives?”

I shake my head.

“Hmm,” she muses. “Then that’s more difficult.  Alex, you will have to speak to Jeannette again.”

“Why me?!”

“Because you are the only one of us who is in her good books and, besides, you have already won her over.”

“Don’t make me do it again.  It felt like the Little Mermaid charming the Sea Witch!”

But despite Alex’s pleas for mercy, he is dispatched to seek out the taxi lists.   Meanwhile, the secretaries are consumed with the dilemma of what to wear.

“I hate black tie,” Lynnette moans. “Why can’t we just wear what we normally wear?”

“Because we’re going up West,” Melinda tells her. “We can’t pitch up in sweatshirts and  tracksuit bottoms.”

She gives Lynnette a swift look up and down to make her point.

“These are not tracksuit bottoms!”

“Are they not?  Oh, sorry, my mistake.  I guess elasticated waisted garments all look the same.”

I think Lynnette may squash her with her track-suited bottom, if she doesn’t shut up.

“Well, anyway, ” she dodges Lynnette’s furious gaze with a sidestep. “We should be grateful that the party has been reinstated.  I was getting well fed up with only having team celebrations.”

“Yeah, me too,” Danielle agrees. “But that was cos I was fed up with organising them.”

“You didn’t organise them,” Melinda sniffs. “We all did!”

“And what did you do?” Danielle gives her best Peggy Mitchell look.

“Lots of things.”

“Such as?”

That stumps her.

“I bought the Elf hats,” she says at last.  “And I chose the cocktails.”

“Ooooooh, well done!” Lynnette lets off a mock round of applause. “We booked the ice rink, hired the tour bus, sorted  Santa out, bought all the presents for his grotto, arranged the food, drink, hired the nightclub and generally arranged everything else!”

“Yeah,” Danielle nods, “My recollection is that you swanned around in a piece of oversized tinsel trying to give out ‘mistletoe kisses’.”

“I did not!”

“You did too.  Malcolm hasn’t been the same since.”

“Haven’t been the same since what?” Malcolm chooses this moment to emerge from his office cocoon.

“The Christmas party,” Danielle explains.

“Oh, yes,” he looks sheepish, “I can’t remember very much about that.”

“No?  Then it’s just as well that we have photographic evidence!”

The day pans into the familiar pattern of anticipation, speculation and discussions about ‘support” underwear.  (Lynnette has an all over body suit, Danielle, some industrial strength power pants and Melinda just a pair of support tights.)  By four o’clock the office is deserted as they sprint to bag the best mirror in the bathroom.

“Thanks god I’m not a girl,” Alex sighs, “I can still have a pee without the risk of seeing Lynnette in Spanx.”

I have to agree.  Jane and I have resorted to using the disabled lavs in the canteen, which seem to be the only ones still free from hair spray and glitter gel. It takes us ten minutes to get ready.   I squeeze myself into my least alluring outfit: black velvet, high necked, and impenetrable.   Then Jane calls a pre-party conference to agree tactics.

“Alex,” she demands. “How did you get on with Personnel?”

“All right,” he nods.  “I had to flirt with Veronica, but I got her to tell me that Carlton lives in Hertfordshire.”

“That’s good,” she nods. “We don’t have to worry about cab protection.  So, anyway, I have spoken to Jeannette.  She’s agreed to assign us all to his table.  When we arrive, I’ll slip into the dining room and switch table settings around as necessary.”

“Good thinking,” Liz agrees. “We don’t want him to be anywhere near to Helen.”

“No,” she nods. “I’m thinking that he should be between me and Alex, if anyone.”

“Agreed.”

“Good.  So we can keep a close eye on him throughout the meal.  Afterwards we’ll take it in turns to ensure that we keep him under watch – although Helen is not to be left alone with him.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You can’t even manage your cases without causing a political incident,” Jane points out.

“That was Malcolm, not me.”

“No matter, we’re not leaving you alone and that’s the end of it.”

The reception is in full swing when we arrive.  We help ourselves to Champagne and observe.  But it isn’t Champagne this year, it’s Cava.

“I hope they haven’t gone for cut price Turkey too,” Liz grumbles.

“Have you not heard about the disappearance of pigeons from Trafalgar Square?” Alex laughs.

Meanwhile, Jane has slipped out to reconnoitre the dining room.

“It’s ok,” she whispers, “As expected Carlton was placed  next to Helen, but I’ve swapped the name cards around so that he’s now between me and Alex.”

That being the case, I suspect he might never want to come to a Christmas Party again.

The gong goes for dinner and we take our places round the “Table of Death” (as Liz calls it.).  I find myself positioned between an office junior and The-Librarian-Who-Doesn’t-Speak.  I do my best to make conversation, but after we’ve exhausted Christmas, the weather and the X Factor, there’s  not much left to discuss.  We resort to pulling the crackers, which, also, appear to be the budget variety.

Meanwhile, Carlton is gazing at me from across the table.

“Why are you not sitting over here?” he mouths.

I pull faces and pretend I cannot understand what he is saying.  Jane distracts him with the bread rolls.

Between courses he asks if I want to pull his cracker.   Alex grabs it and yanks it apart before I can reply.

After dessert the office junior makes an unexpected break for the toilets.   Carlton springs up as if to take her place but Liz slides seamlessly into position blocking his move.

“What a pity we weren’t dinner companions,” he saunters over.

“Yes,” I lie. “But it’s nice to see that you’re getting to know the other members of the firm.”

“Indeed,” he winks. “But perhaps we can catch up later.”

“Perhaps.”  If you don’t mind dealing with my body guards.

“Good,” he smirks. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to meet some of my new Corporate colleagues.”

We watch as he makes his way to where some of the Corporate partners are propping up the bar.

“He makes my skin crawl,” Liz shivers. “And he’s so blatant in his lechery!”

“I know,” I frown. “That’s what I don’t understand.  He’s a public predator, but no one does anything to stop him.”

“He’s bringing an enormous number of clients,” she points out. “He could get away with murder so long as the fees keep rolling in.”

No crime is more heinous in a City law firm than a fall in billing figures.

The next forty five minutes is spent observing him from afar.  It’s easy whilst the lights are still on, but when the disco starts, it’s more difficult to tell one black suited villain from another.  We initiate Jane’s plan, rotating our observations as he oils his way around the room.

Jane’s blood pressure quickly shoots up: “He is standing way too close to that accountant!”

Ten minutes later: “He’s got his arm around that woman from HR!”

Five minutes after that: “His hand is almost on that assistant’s arse!”

And then: “Look at him with that secretary. If he got any closer to that cleavage he would be breast feeding!”

I fetch her a drink to calm her down.  But it doesn’t seem to work.

“Imagine if we went round ogling testicles!?” she mutters.

“I’d rather not.”

We lapse into silence and momentarily lose sight of Carlton.

“Hello ladies,” his voice echoes in my left ear.

“Hello Philip,” I turn around very slowly to face him.

“What is a pair of gorgeous girls like you doing over here?” He smirks. “Surely some eager young stud should have asked you to dance?”

“This is not Jane Austen,” Jane sniffs.  “We do not need ‘eager young studs’ to be able to dance.”

“No?” his eyebrow shoots up in amusement, “Then perhaps you willow an eager old stud to have the pleasure?”

He extends his arm in my direction.

“I’m really sorry,” I lie, “But I’m not feeling very well.  I think I’m developing a migraine.”

“You seemed all right two minutes ago, when you were at the bar.” Damn him! “If you can brave the scrum there, I think you can brave a little dance with me.”

He holds his arm out further.  His eyes fill with expectation and authority. I freeze.  But Jane leaps up and takes it, pulling me with her.

“He’s right,” she laughs, “We shouldn’t let a little headache get in the way of our duty.”

We circle onto the dance floor as the DJ begins to play Come on Eileen.  Jane begins save her arms and jump, manically, around. Carlton looks horrified but follows suit.  It’s followed by Don’t Stop Moving and then Spinning Around.  Carlton’s street cred is taking a battering.  When’I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ starts, he makes a polite exit.  Five minutes later, the mood slows, the tempo changes and the slow dances come on.  We scuttle off the floor to find Liz and Alex.

“Carlton is in the Gents,” Liz greets us.  “Alex is with him.”

Alex emerges a few seconds later, his face red with agitation.

“Helen!” he grabs me. “Have you seen the taxi lists?”

“No,” I shake my head. “Where are they?”

“Over there.”  He gestures to a giant white board covered in paper.

I venture over and take a look.  Then I see it:

CAB 6:

  • Helen Bailey
  • Chris Jones
  • Jenny Farnham
  • Philip Carlton

My heart sinks.

“What?”

“Carlton has a flat in Earl’s Court,” he winces. “I’m so sorry!”

“Ok,” I take a deep breath.  “But that’s ok, I’ve got Chris and Jenny for company.”

“Not really, Chris lives in Victoria, Jenny is off sick.”

Meaning there will be no one but me and him in the cab for at least fifteen minutes……

Jane’s face is filled with fury.

“The sneaky bugger!” she exclaims. “He had it all planned out.”

It appears so.

“Well,” she spits, “He is not going to win.  Stay there!”

She marches off towards the foyer.  As Carlton emerges from the bathroom.

“Are you as pleased with your cab allocation as I am?” he sees me and smiles.

“Absolutely,” I grit my teeth. “I gather you have a flat in Earls Court.”

“Indeed I do; what a co-incidence that you live in Fulham.”

“Yes.” Although, perhaps, not for very much longer!

Just then, the music ends inside the dining room.  “Well,” he smiles at me like a hungry shark, “Grab your coat and we’ll get going.”

“Just give me a minute.”

“Take your time……”

He disappears to make his goodbyes, leaving us in the queue for the cloak room.

“You must sit in the front,” Liz advises.

“Yes,” Alex agrees. “Tell the driver you get car sickness.”

I nod, mutely, feeling like Daniel about to enter the Lion’s den.    Outside there is a line of taxis.  Liz locates mine and marches stridently over to the cabbie.

“My friend must sit beside you in the front,” she tells him. “She suffers from an inner ear disorder.”

“All right,” he agrees, shifting the pile of detritus which is presently located on the front seat. “Slide in.”

With my coat buttoned to the neck I get in. “Make sure you get her home in one piece,” Alex tells him. “She must got straight to bed, don’t allow any other passengers to sway you.”

“Ok,” he nods.

Carlton appears behind them.

“What are you doing there?” he asks. “You must sit in the back with me.”

“I’m ok where I am,” I smile.

“No, really, I insist.   I haven’t seen you all evening.  Come and sit back here.”

“She has to sit in the front,” Liz tells him, “She isn’t feeling well.”

“She’ll feel much better if she sits back here with me.”  He gets in and leans forward over my shoulder. “Come on Helen. I’ll look after you.”

“I don’t need looking after,” I hiss.

“Oh, but I do…….”

“Dan will look after you,” Jane appears with Dan in tow.

With an apologetic glance at Liz (who he was supposed to be staying with) he slides into the back seat beside Carlton.

“What’s all this?” Carlton splutters.

“I live in Parson’s Green,” Dan explains. “Jeannette had me down in a cab going to Surbiton but when Jenny pulled out she swapped us around.  You don’t mind do you?”

“No!”  I laugh  “Not at all.”

I have never been so grateful for Jane’s meddling, in all my life!

NEXT AA WILL BE SOMETIME BETWEEN 5TH AND 10TH JAN – SO KEEP TUNING IN.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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