London's Burning. The Turkey Shout!

December 23rd, 6.00pm Blackwall fire station.

Geoff did the role call and briefed them, informing them that Station Officer Callaghan had been delayed. "Fire-fighters Fields, Mead and Mooney will be on pump, along with myself. Fire-fighters Green, Benjamin and Ross on pump ladder along with Station Officer Callaghan. Fire-fighter Green you're BA control." He kept his voice stern and full of authority as always.

The watch frowned a bit because Mick had already told them the night before that he was keeping things flexible over the two Christmas shifts - depending on how busy it would be. "Just as long as we've everything covered properly, we can relax," he had told them.

"As you know," Geoff's voice was still serious. "It will shortly be Christmas Eve and I ---"

"Christmas Eve! No kidding!" Adam looked amazed. "I didn't know that! Did you know that Fire-Fighter Mooney?"

Frank gave him a half smirk but said nothing. Charlie and Sally both bit their lips to keep from laughing out loud. Craig tried his best to disguise his laugh as a cough but failed and caught a frown from Geoff as a result.

"What about you Fire-fighter Green? Did you know that?" Adam wouldn't give in.

George grinned and took up the joke. "No. I didn't know that Fire-fighter Benjamin. Christmas Eve you say? Well, I'll be blowed."

Geoff scowled at them and they shut up.

"As I was saying, it's Christmas Eve and Fire-fighter Mead is cooking us our Christmas dinner tonight. Therefore ---"

"Let's all hear it for Charlie!" They began clapping and cheering. Charlie bowed and waved to his crowd.

Geoff waited for the applause to die down. " -- therefore Shadbrook will be taking our calls between the hours of two and four unless there happen to be calls of a serious nature that will necessitate numerous appliances attending. Hopefully it will be a quiet and peaceful night for us. Blue Watch. Blue Watch 'shun!"

They came to attention. Geoff glanced at each one in turn, briefly looking them up and down. "For your duties, fall out!"

"Christmas Eve! Who'd a thought it?" Adam called after Geoff who ignored him and walked on up the stairs. Adam shrugged his shoulders and began the task of checking the equipment though he still pretended to be amazed at Geoff's revelation.

George did the BA checks and shook his head in disgust at Geoff. "A 'quiet and peaceful night for us' my arse. You know what he's done? E's gone an' put the bloody scud on us! Wait 'til you see, it'll be crappy shouts all bloody night now!"

"Cheer up. Shadbrook'll be taking them." Charlie grinned.

"Yeah," George cheered up immediately and gave an evil laugh. "They will an' all."

*****

8.30pm.

"It's your deal George." Sally handed him the deck of cards. She wanted a smoke but it was too cold to go up on the roof. Charlie and Adam had finished decorating the little Christmas tree. Geoff had brought it in to replace the old one they'd been using for years and now they were beginning to prepare the turkey. From the noise they were making it could turn out to be a disaster.

Craig was teaching Frank to play cards on the computer and she'd watched them for a time before getting bored and preferring a real card game with George.

Frank seemed to have taken a shine to Craig who was still very much the new kid. Okay not a kid exactly, but still not quite old enough yet to be just the new bloke. Despite Frank's initial and very vocal mistrust of him they got on reasonably well now and spent a lot of time together. Sally was glad to see it. She was always a little uncomfortable when he hung around with her on duty. 'Keep it down at work' they'd both decided and that was best, but sometimes she couldn't help wonder if he was deliberately spending time with Craig because his dad was the D.O. and Frank was keeping in with him because of that, or to make her feel bad. 'Look how good I am with kids, Sal' he was almost saying to her. 'I would have made a great dad for our kid.' It hadn't helped a bit when, wanting to be as honest as possible with her, he admitted that there was a slight possibility Shauna's baby could be his. That had been a couple of months ago and though they were okay now - more or less - she'd wanted to kill him when he'd told her.

"Does Mick think so too?" she'd asked.

" I dunno," Frank had replied, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't think so."

"You bastard!" She'd slapped him across the face and they'd hardly spoken for about a week because of it.

*****

"Come on George. One more game."

"Nah. I'm too tired Sal."

"No you're bloody not! You just don't like being beaten three games in a row!"

"Make us a cup of tea then and I'll play one more."

"Make your own!" She glared at him, but she got up anyway and switched the kettle on. "Anyone else for tea?"

"I'll have one," Charlie said. "Ta."

"Me too Sal," Adam handed her his mug. "Cheers,"

"Just one sugar for me thanks, Sally." Geoff, with his nose stuck in a paperback, piped up.

Then Frank was standing there beside her with an empty mug in his hand. He often just seemed to appear from nowhere especially when she was thinking about him - which is most of the time now - she admitted to herself. He gave her one of his usual half-smiles that made her wonder sometimes if that was the best he could manage. But she knew he could do better for she'd seen him really smile.

"Make me one too Sal." Then under his breath he whispered in her ear. "Fancy a - um - a quickie - up on the roof in ten minutes?"

"Piss off!" She whispered back, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow. "It's bloody brass monkey weather out there! Too cold for sex."

"Is that all you ever think about girl? I was only talking about goin' up to have a fag."

She grinned at him. He'd caught her out again. "Oh, okay then. Ten minutes."

*****

Mick popped his head around the door. "Did I hear someone mentioning a cuppa?"

"Yeah Guv. Just coming up."

Frank stepped back. He leaned against the wall and sipped his tea and stared at Mick, a half-smirk on his face. "You made it in then, Guv? Shauna an' the baby keeping alright?"

"Great. Shauna's great and everything's going okay with the pregnancy so far."

"Glad to hear it, Guv."

Mick watched him carefully, looking for a hidden meaning in Frank's words but he couldn't find anything. "Thank you for asking, Frank."

"Ere Guv?" Adam glared at Geoff. "Poison 'ere has us briefed and all but I thought you said just to work it out ourselves tonight?"

"Yes," Mick replied, still looking at Frank who seemed to be concentrating on his mug of tea. The smirk was still there on his face. "Since it's Christmas and we're having our dinner just keep it flexible and work it out whatever way you want. Just as long as everything's covered, and make sure BA control is covered properly. Okay with that George?"

"Yes Guv," George nodded.

Geoff frowned and muttered something about the necessity for proper procedure under his breath, which resulted in both Charlie and Adam ribbing him until he got up and left.

Mick wrinkled his nose. Geoff was his sub-officer and he shouldn't undermine him in front of the watch. Then again, Mick figured, Geoff knew what he'd said last night about keeping things flexible. He'd speak to him later about it.

Sally had shaken her head in disgust at both Frank and Mick, grabbed her tea and headed for the rooftop garden. She stood there alone in the cold night blowing smoke into the air and shivering. It was cloudy now but the frost from earlier still glimmered under the streetlights. The weather forecast had said there might be a slight chance of snow. She heard a footstep behind her and looked around to see Frank in the doorway. She turned her back to him, trying not to be angry or hurt. Sometimes he could be the nicest bloke in the world, but just as often he could be so bloody hateful. She knew he'd mentioned Shauna's baby deliberately. It was obvious he did it to wind Mick up and to get a dig at her. He did it every now and again and sometimes she hated him for it.

"Shauna and the baby okay, Guv? Glad to hear it, Guv." She mocked his words. "Maybe they'll ask you to be godfather. That'd be a laugh, wouldn't it?"

"Come on Sal it wasn't - "

"No Frank. You shagged her the same time you were shagging me. Didn't you? You got both of us in the club an' now she's still pregnant and I had an abortion - an' you just have to keep reminding me about it, don't you?"

"No. That's not how it is. Sal, I was only being polite. Honest." Frank stood beside her. Dammit, he thought, what the hell do I have to do? He put his arm around her, hoping that would be enough.

"Not here," she shrugged him off. Then the bells went down and she didn't have time to say anything more. Probably for the best, she figured, annoyed at him and at herself for being annoyed at him! She promised herself that she wouldn't be any more. Well, she'd try not to be.

*****

"Nude male hanging off the bridge. Possible jumper." Adam read out the call and the address. "Ambulance in attendance but they need us!"

Frank had beaten everyone to the front seat in order to get the heating on so Sally sat in the back beside Charlie who'd handed control of the cooking over to Adam. "Just don't do anything to it," he'd told him.

George drove the pump carefully through the streets. The weather forecaster had been right for once and it was beginning to snow. Just a few flakes, big and dry and feathery but they hinted at more to come. He could see it lying on the pavements and could feel it on the road under the wheels, slushy already and he prayed the surfaces had been gritted properly.

"Ere, you do realise we've left Adam all alone with that turkey." George shouted over the noise of the engine.

"So? What harm can he do to it?" Sally frowned.

"Adam hasn't had a bit in months and you know he likes his birds." He started laughing. "Hey Sal, I'll bet you don't know how he checks to see if it's cooking on the inside?

"You're disgusting!" Sally grimaced at the image that sprung into her mind - Adam naked and holding a turkey. She didn't want to carry the thought any further and banished it immediately from her mind. "Thanks. There is just no way I am eating any dinner now!"

"Nah. Adam's more of a breast man. I am too. Well, I prefer fish meself but you know what I mean, don't you Sal?" Charlie leered and made a lunge at her.

"Gerroff me! You're a pervert, you are!" She punched him lightly on the shoulder, but she was glad of the banter.

"You two managing to keep warm enough back there?" Frank smiled at her and she smiled back at him and punched Charlie again.

*****

The man was drunk and naked, and had climbed down onto the bridge to tie a banner to the railings. He'd managed to tie it on - 'Happy Christmas!' it read, but he couldn't climb back up again. They tried not to laugh as he held on with one hand, hid what he could with the other and shouted for help at the top of his voice. Why he'd decided to do it with no clothes on was beyond them. Nevertheless he was in real danger of either falling in and drowning, or passing out from the cold - and then falling in and drowning. Frank sneaked up behind Sally and briefly covered her eyes with his gloveless, cold hands.

"Don't want you seeing any naughty bits then Sal," he joked.

She laughed and pulled his hands away. "Well, I'm hardly likely to in this weather, am I? Come on let's get him up before we all end up frozen." She lowered her voice suggestively. "Don't fancy having your naughty bits all iced up 'cause I'm the one that'll have to defrost 'em later, ain't I?"

It took them a little less than ten minutes to haul the man up, wrap him in a blanket and deliver him into the hands of the waiting ambulance crew. "Happy Christmas," he wished them and waved as he staggered drunkenly into the ambulance.

"And a happy bloody Christmas to you too mate. Bloody nutter!" George blew on his hands to warm them before starting up the engine. He could feel the wheels slipping a little, and his heart skipped a beat or two until they gained traction and settled down again.

"Whew. Close one!" He was glad to get back onto the well- gritted main road.

*****

They were less than a mile away from the station when the radio crackled into life. "Possible RTC. One vehicle on fire." Control gave the address.

"That's all we friggin' need," George muttered. "A tenner says we get hammered when we go in there."

"You can be sure of it," Frank agreed. They'd taken a shout to this estate a couple of nights ago and they'd been pelted by the usual barrage of bricks, bottles and a few bits of old furniture - including of all things an old TV set. He'd been lucky to escape with just a bruise on his shoulder.

"This is all Poison's fault, innit? Him and his 'quiet and peaceful night'. Bloody typical of him!"

Frank radioed them en route to the scene. "ETA one five to two zero minutes."

*****

It was a stolen car and the kids who'd taken it and raced about in it were long gone now. They'd crashed it and then set it alight in order to get rid of their fingerprints. Or they'd set it alight just for the hell of it. Not that anyone would be bothering to try and take any fingerprints from it. At some stage a recovery service would just lift it at the owner's expense, or at least his insurance company's expense, and return it to him or tow it away to a scrap yard. Stolen cars were a penny a dozen around this estate.

The police hadn't arrived yet and George got on the radio to check how long they'd be.

"Coppers ain't coming," he told Frank. "They're busy elsewhere."

Sally and Frank moved quickly. This was an in and out job. In, put out the fire and scarper out again as quickly as possible. There was little to do except extinguish the flames that were beginning to die down already. The car was up against a small wall that had been partially demolished by the impact of the crash but there was no danger of any surrounding property catching light. The petrol tank, probably almost empty, had already burst from the heat and it took no more than a few minutes for the hoses to reduce the fire, and the car, to a smoking shell.

Just as they were clearing up, a beer bottle smashed on the pavement close by. Sally yelped in surprise and jumped out of the way as another bottle burst into pieces only a few yards away from her. Then some bricks rained down, one narrowly missing Charlie, who quickly climbed into the front seat.

"Let's get out of here. The natives are gettin' restless." Frank said as he glanced up at the high rise nearby.

He couldn't see much, the snow had started now, but he could hear the shouts and laughter coming from a balcony somewhere up around the fifth or sixth floor and he was in no doubt that if they stayed they'd be heavily pelted by bricks, stones, bottles and whatever else the local youths had stashed up there for just this purpose. He shoved Sally inside the appliance and climbed in beside her.

George crunched the gears and reversed out as quickly as he could, ever mindful of the snow, now falling heavily - just like the beer bottles. Charlie got on the radio. "Tell the coppers we've been bottled an' stoned on the estate an' we're pulling out. There're no registration plates on the car an' we didn't get close 'nuff to get a chassis number. Tell 'em they'd be better off leaving it 'til daylight, or at least 'til these dickheads up here go to sleep."

"You okay, Sal?" George asked as they headed back to Blackwall. "You didn't half squeal back there."

"Yeah, they missed me. This time."

She looked at Frank. "I'm okay," she reassured him.

*****

The station was warm, and safe, and they were glad to get back. They packed away the appliance and the equipment, and headed back up to the mess where the smell of the turkey cooking in the oven was inviting.

"How's it going mate?" George asked, licking his lips. "I'm starving."

"Great!" Adam responded, all pleased with himself. "She's a fine looking bird an' she's warming up nicely."

Charlie and George dissolved into laughter. Even Frank started laughing.

"Wot?" Adam looked puzzled.

Sally tried her best to look disgusted but couldn't stop laughing either. "Nothing. I'll give you a hand with your sprouts."

This only increased the laughter and Adam still looked puzzled.

"Wot?" he asked again.

Still giggling, she shook her head and began washing and peeling the vegetables.

Frank watched her for a few minutes, enjoying her laughter and the way she messed about with the others. He'd never been jealous of that aspect of her, knowing that all her laughter and joking and flirting was just that, and it was him she came home to at the end of every shift. She was as tough and as brave as any fire-fighter he'd known - male or female. Not because, as a woman she had more to prove, she just was that way. It was her nature. She could hold her own against the rest of them too. She could always hit back with a smutty remark or a dirtier joke. Occasionally someone would go a bit too far, and her temper would flare and she'd yell and curse or huff for a while, but in a few minutes - maybe half an hour at the most - she'd be laughing and joking again. He enjoyed watching her, now and then joining in, but mostly just watching her. He'd catch her eye and she'd smile or wink at him and sometimes that was enough to make his day.

Because for the first time in his life he cared - about Sally, about their relationship and oddly enough, about himself too. And as a result he was more open, less of a loner, and more inclined to mix with the others. Up to a point anyway. He was still hesitant, still inclined to watch rather than participate and it was Sal who'd draw him into a joke or a wind-up and then later at home they'd laugh about it. She was good for him. But was he good for her?

She was happier now. She was well over Mick, at least he hoped she was - it seemed to him she was - and things were good between them. Most of the time. Shauna's pregnancy was the only cloud. Well that, and the constant worry that his past would catch up with him. Every time the phone rang, or a knock came to the door, she'd look up with a frown on her face, wondering if it was Jimmy Watts calling in some old favour or the coppers wanting him to - 'help them with their enquiries' or, worse still, with an arrest warrant.

But it scared the hell out of him because that was the one thing that kept nagging him and the nightmares about it kept coming back every now and then.

Nightmares about him in the dock charged with murder. He was standing alone and Sally was there in the public gallery, and Shauna too. She was holding a baby. His baby? He stood still, unmoving, as the judge spoke. "Frank Mooney, you stand before me charged with murder. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty," he'd reply, and Sally would get up and walk out.

Or he'd look at Sally and at Shauna and he'd reply - "Guilty." And Sally would still get up and walk out.

And he'd waken up from the nightmare shaking and covered in sweat because either way he could never win. He'd get up and pour a large glass of malt and have a smoke or two, and sit there until he'd calmed down and he'd go back to bed and she'd be there in his bed, fast asleep, and he'd climb in beside her and he'd hold her close to him and know in his heart that he could never win.

That, and Shauna's baby, and the fear that some day it would all come crashing down around him was always there. It would probably always be there, in the background, casting a shadow over their relationship.

But for now it was good to watch her and he did so for a few more minutes and then disappeared. He slipped down to the locker room and took a small box out of his coat pocket. He opened it and looked at the piece of jewellery inside - a gold heart necklace with an inscription on the back. He'd bought it yesterday and had it engraved there and then - the idea for the inscription coming to him immediately. But will she like it, he wondered. Is it enough? Or is it too much?

*****

"Frank?" Craig yelled from upstairs. "Fancy trying your hand at pinball since you're bloody crap at cards?"

"Yeah. Yeah, okay," he called back. He slipped the necklace back into its box and put it at the back of the locker. It would keep for later. He closed the door and headed back up to the office where Craig was already waiting for him.

"Give up now me old son. I'm goin' to win this time," he told the youngster.

"Yeah? That's what you think," Craig replied, flexing his fingers and grinning.

The battle raged between them for about half an hour. Frank was better than he thought, his reflexes quick and his eyes sharp. He let Craig win a few games until he got the hang of it then he really started playing and was soon scoring highly. The noises of the game and their curses and laughter soon attracted a crowd. Adam, George, Sally and Mick all stood behind them, quietly watching. Neither of them realised they had an audience as they concentrated on the small screen in front of them.

"My money's on the kid," George whispered and slipped Adam a fiver. Then Mick dug into his pockets and produced a couple of coins. "I'll go with Frank. He's a good safe bet. What do you think Sally?"

"Nah. Young blood an' all. I'll put my fiver on hotshot there," she indicated Craig.

Frank quickly became aware of them and heard that Mick had bet on him while Sally had deliberately gone with Craig. He didn't make it obvious but eased off a little, pretending to miss when he could easily have made the shot. The thought of Mick losing money on him really appealed to him and he started letting Craig win.

After five games each they were equal. "One more," Frank said under his breath. "The big final. The decider for the championship. Alright?"

Craig nodded and frowned at the screen in deep concentration. He took the first round with his highest score so far. Then Frank did the same, scoring almost as high but not enough to win. Craig fluffed the next round and cursed when he lost the ball. Frank scored slightly higher, and then it was all down to the last round. Craig played first, scoring a good run. Frank grinned, flexed his fingers and started. Nothing too fancy, scoring low but keeping the ball in play, he began to edge towards Craig's last score. Then he missed the ball completely and stared in disgust at the screen as 'GAME OVER' appeared in front of him.

"Bloody stupid game," he muttered, pretending annoyance. Craig punched the air in victory and everyone cheered. Sally smirked as she was handed her winnings and Mick just shrugged his shoulders, accepting defeat as graciously as he could.

"Dinner will be ready in exactly thirty-five minutes!" Geoff then shouted from the kitchen and one by one they filed out of the office, congratulating the new champ and commiserating with the loser, slapping them both on the shoulders.

*****

Christmas Eve

1.20am

The alarm sounded. Sally was setting the table and she groaned when she heard it. Mick read out the call. "Kitchen fire. Ground floor flat. No persons reported."

"Pump only," he yelled. "Adam, Geoff, George!"

They were kitted up in seconds and George was already revving up the engine.

Frank had a quick smoke outside before pulling the doors closed behind them and wandered back up into the mess. He sat down at the table, opened his newspaper and glanced through it. Sally had to almost reach across him to put cutlery on the table.

"So you don't think I'm a safe bet then?" he said.

"No. You are a safe bet," Sally smiled and touched his cheek gently then her smile became a cheeky grin. "I knew you was gonna let Craig win."

*****

Smoke was pouring out of the flat when they arrived, but there was very little flame. About half a dozen people, the occupants of the flat, were standing in the street and others were starting to gather to watch. George called them in attendance while Adam unwound the hose and connected it up. Geoff took over crowd control. "Stand well back now folks," he ordered. "Every one keep well back. There's nothing to see."

A few in the crowd began laughing and shouting. "Piss on it. That'll put it out!" Geoff frowned at them and, still laughing good- naturedly they backed down. The front door was open and Mick and Adam wearing BA went in.

"Lots of smoke, but unable to locate the fire." Mick radioed. "Adam. Check the front rooms. I'll do the rear."

"Roger that, Guv."

Mick made his way to the back of the flat. The electricity had gone off or been switched off and he had difficulty seeing anything. No one had been reported in the flat but he checked anyway.

"Living room clear." He heard Adam announce as he made his way to the kitchen. It was well ablaze. He switched on the hose. The fire had started around the cooker and was quickly spreading over the worktops and to the rest of the kitchen. He began spraying. The foam soon covered it and the flames died down. Adam joined him as he was dousing down the last few embers.

"Bedrooms clear too, Guv."

"Okay. That's it." He continued spraying, dampening down any surfaces. The smoke began to clear and it became obvious that the fire had started on the cooker and spread. The bottles of booze nearby had ignited, sending the flames all over the worktops.

"The party's over by the looks of it."

Outside, Geoff was speaking to the male occupant. Not arguing exactly but his tone was becoming heated. An argument would start quickly if someone didn't intervene.

"You should never pour water on burning oil," he informed the man. "You should always -"

"I bloody didn't!" the man cut in. "I'm not daft. I used vodka."

"What do you mean you used vodka?" his wife piped up. "Why the hell did you have to waste the bloody vodka?"

"Everything okay Geoff?" Mick asked.

"Erm - yes Guv. I was explaining that the best procedure to extinguish a cooking fire where hot oil is involved is to -"

"Okay Geoff. I'll take it from here."

*****

Once more everything was packed away and the team had cleaned up and changed and were now gathered in the mess where the table was set and ready. It was 2am and for the next two hours Shadbrook would take their shouts, as they had done for them the previous night. Only a serious fire, or something major would shift them and they knew they could relax for a while and enjoy their meal properly. Sally and Charlie had put the finishing touches to the table, setting it formally, and everyone looked impressed. She helped Charlie dish everything out.

"This looks good." Mick rubbed his hands and sat down. George started carving the turkey as the others sat down around the table.

"Almost forgot!" Charlie lifted a box of crackers out of a cupboard and placed one for each of them at the table.

"You'll pull mine, won't you Sal?"

"I'll pull it off if you don't shut up," she warned him and took the seat Frank had kept for her beside him.

Then all became silent and peaceful as everyone got stuck into the platefuls of turkey, potatoes and vegetables.

*****

"Ere? What about that prat putting vodka on his chips?" George laughed as they sat back with empty plates in front of them. "Daft git or what?"

"Vod? Instead of vinegar? Hmmm, interesting combination. Oi Charlie, you should try that down at your chippie. Or scotch. Or better yet, lager with a chip dip and fish on the side."

"Nah mate. Need a liquor licence then, wouldn't I? And then it'd be a pub not a chippie. 'Sides, you can dip anything you want in the lager over at the Twist."

"But seriously," George waited for the jokes to stop. "Seriously, some folk do the daftest things at Christmas time."

"Yeah, like getting drunk and setting their kitchens on fire, or blowing the tree lights and setting the living room on fire, or driving their car into the river." Sally rattled off about half a dozen typical shouts they'd attended over the last few nights.

"Or driving while drunk an' killing some other poor bugger, or getting themselves killed." Charlie nodded in agreement. "Or what about that geezer last week when he ---"

"Or getting drunk an' beating the living shit out of their wives, an' their kids, or -" Frank interrupted, then caught himself on as everyone stared, surprised and embarrassed by his outburst. What the hell was he on about? These weren't fire calls? Had something like this happened to him? He noticed the stares and the frowns. He shrugged his shoulders and tried to back track. " -- or pouring vodka on a burning chip pan as well."

"Oi," Sally nudged him with her elbow. "Lighten up you."

Frank glanced at her quickly. "Well, y' know wot I mean. Who has the perfect Christmas-card Christmas, eh? It's usually crap. Too much drinking, too much eating, stupid stuff no one wants - an' getting beaten until you ache all over - an' shit like that!"

He slid his chair back quickly and got up from the table. Before anyone could react he was out of the door.

"That's just typical of old moody Mooney. Bloody misery-guts sometimes, ain't he?"



Sally found him in the locker room. He was holding something in his hand and she could see that it was a small box of some sort. He was staring at it. She wondered what it contained.

"Oi?"

"What?" He looked at her and almost glared at her.

"Coming up for a fag?"

He nodded and quickly put the box into his pocket. He slammed the locker door closed and followed her up onto the roof.

"What was wrong with you down there?" she asked offering him a cigarette and a light from hers.

"Nothing."

"Oh, come on Frank. I know you better than that. You were talking about yerself. You know, nobody has the perfect Christmas every time. Nobody. You just have to make the most of it. Jesus, I know I've had some crap ones in my time. Everyone has."

"So why bother pretending then?"

"Mostly for the kids I suppose. Give them a good time an' all. Somethin' like that."

"Nah. Not for me." He took a deep drag and blew the smoke into the cold night. "Sal, it ain't never been like that for me - what with my old man the - uh - the way he was an' all."

"I know Frank. It's okay. I understand." She stamped out her cigarette and put her arms around him. "Maybe this Christmas will be better. Maybe I can make it better?"

He didn't reply, content for a few minutes just to stand there with her. He held on to her tightly, feeling her warmth against the cold night. He rested his forehead against hers and tried to see into her eyes but it was too dark. He closed his own eyes and imagined staying there forever.

"It's nearly four o'clock. Shadbrook'll be on their break soon and the next shout'll be ours. So come on and give us a kiss then, before we have to go?" She put her lips gently to his.

"Thought you said not here."

"Changed me mind then, didn't I."

Frank returned the kiss. Her lips were cold and she tasted of smoke and turkey. His arms tightened around her, and he kissed her again, feeling the intensity and the desire building. Give it to her now, he thought, remembering the necklace in his pocket.

"Sal?"

"Mmmm, what?"

"Nah. It's nothing. It'll keep 'til later." He kissed her again and held her for a few minutes before they went back downstairs.

*****

Sally noticed the drop in conversation as she entered the mess. They'd obviously been talking about Frank, and probably her too. She let it go. What was the point anyway? They all knew she was seeing him. It was no big deal. She was staying at his place and everyone knew that - although officially she was his flatmate and in the spare room.

Frank had gone for a leak or just didn't want to be seen walking into the mess with her. She shoved the handful of snow she was carrying down the back of George's collar.

"You cow! What the hell was that for?" George cursed and tried to grab as much as he could before it melted and ran down his back.

"Putting me off me dinner earlier, that's what for!" She jumped out of his way and took a seat beside Adam.

"So what's up with Mooney then?" George asked her quietly, but she just shrugged her shoulders. "Dunno. Some folks just don't like Christmas much."

"Me? I love it." George told her. "Andie has promised me a special treat this year."

"Wot? New glasses?"

"Piss off!"

"Well, Shauna and I are getting Liam a new bike. He's been yelling for one for ages. What're your plans Adam?"

"Haven't made any Guv. Mum's going to her sisters. She doesn't want to be here - y'know - too many memories of Recall an' all that."

"You're more than welcome to have dinner with Fiona and me, after we come home from church." Geoff offered.

Adam went pale at the thought of spending Christmas Day with Poison Pearce. Fiona was okay but Poison was a different matter. "Erm - thanks Geoff. Er - I'll think about it."

"Well, I'm spending my Christmas with Lisa. Play with the kids a bit and build up some brownie points." Charlie informed them.

"What about you Sal? Heading up North?"

"Dunno yet." She nudged Adam. "Hey, if you're not doing anything special we could meet up later and maybe take some flowers to Recall's grave. After dinner with Geoff and Fiona that is!"

"Yeah. I'd really like to go to the grave but," Adam lowered his voice, "won't you be with --?"

"Yeah probably, but he hasn't said anything definite yet."

"Oh."

Frank slipped quietly into the room. He glanced around quickly at each of them, and so typically of him he refused to make eye contact with any one but Sally, and even that was only a brief glance and a slight nod. She gave him an encouraging smile as he took a seat at the table - with them but apart from them, as usual. She wondered if he'd heard any of her conversation with Adam and will it make any bloody difference, she wondered? She was a little annoyed that he hadn't said anything about Christmas, or made any plans, leaving her to just assume they'd be spending Christmas together. He'd slipped out yesterday afternoon while she was still asleep and hadn't said a word about where he'd been or what he'd been doing. She was concerned that he might have been up to something dodgy again but she'd been too worried to ask him about it when he'd returned. Every now and then, when he went out, she'd caught herself glancing at his hands after he'd come in. Other women checked for lipstick on their bloke's collars. She checked his knuckles for bruises!

"So what's Santa bringing you then Craig?" George asked.

Craig looked embarrassed. "Erm - a motor bike. I think. I hope."

"Oh excuse me! A motor bike? Bloody rich kids getting a new motor bike for Christmas while the rest of us have to work hard just to make ends meet! Now when I was a lad, we had to ---"

Then the bells went and they disappeared with relief before George could finish his story.

*****

"Chimney fire. Station Street." Frank read out the call. "Nothing too exciting."

"Just Santa getting his nuts roasted," Adam replied as he climbed into the pump ladder along with Frank. "Well, if nothin' else, it gets us out of doing the washing-up."

"Don't worry, we'll keep it for you!" Someone yelled back.

*****

Not that far away the driver of a blue Ford Sierra wound down his window to let in some fresh air. Try and stay awake, he told himself. He took a few deep breaths and blinked a few times to try and clear his head. It was tough going. The snow was heavier now and he found himself watching it in the headlights. It was almost hypnotic and made him want to curl up and close his eyes, even just for a few minutes. The session of booze he'd had at his girlfriend's house had almost wrecked him. He was tired and hungry, and cold now, since the bloody car heater was on the blink, and he could hardly see straight. He should have stayed with her and slept it off, but if he'd done that the wife would have killed him when he got back. He was in enough trouble as it was coming home at this hour, but it was better to get it over with. Christmas was going to be hell on earth this year. Maybe he could sneak a few hours away to visit --- nah, probably not, he thought. 'Er Indoors would be keeping a close eye on him. He had a feeling she suspected he was up to something.

"Shit!" he said aloud as he felt the car skidding a bit. He corrected it and breathed a sigh of relief, easing his speed down a little. He was plastered and he knew it. For a moment he worried about driving, knowing he was so much over the limit, but at this time of the morning there was no one about. He'd be okay. He'd done it before with no problems.

But he still wished he'd stayed, and he wished he was still in her warm bed, fast asleep. "Everyone's tucked up in his or her warm comfy beds except me. I had to leave mine to go home! Even the coppers are probably dozing right now!" he figured and put his foot down a little bit more on the accelerator.

The traffic light looked amber in his headlights. He was sure of it. But the snow was heavier now and he just couldn't see properly. He took a chance anyway, not even aware of the police car behind him now or the jeep pulling out from the side road - the green light in it's favour. He drove through the red traffic light. The driver of the jeep swerved but couldn't avoid him and ploughed into the side of the car. He yelled in agony as the car folded in around him. Then the police car rammed into the rear of his car and he yelled again and passed out.

*****

Mick took the phone call from control. "We have a report of a RTC, believed fatal, at the junction of Link Road/East Road. Three vehicles involved, one a police patrol car." He hit the internal alarm to alert the crew, radioed Echo441 to assist when free of their chimney fire, and informed control to put Shadbrook on stand by. By the time he had done this they were ready to roll, and made their way out to this latest, possibly the worst shout of the night.

*****

Mick quickly surveyed the scene, taking in everything in a matter of seconds. The driver of the Sierra was obviously dead as the paramedics were ignoring him. The front seat passenger of the jeep - a woman - didn't look too good either and they were concentrating on the male driver. The two coppers were 'walking wounded' and had already been taken to hospital. He spoke briefly to the investigating policeman who confirmed that there were two fatalities. Mick nodded as the copper asked them to cut the driver from his vehicle. He shouted to George and Craig to bring cutting gear and briefly checked on Craig as he was still a bit squeamish when it came to bodies.

"Okay Fire-fighter Ross?" he asked.

Craig took a deep breath. "Yes Guv."

"Good lad."

Sally had already started spraying the area around the petrol tanks. All it took was one spark, and with so much cutting there was bound to be a lot of sparks.

"Get plenty of foam on that Sal. There's a lot of petrol pooling around underneath the cars."

"Right Guv."

He reached for the radio and informed control they were in attendance, and then called Adam for his arrival time.

"The Guv is calling for us. For an accy. Sounds like it's a fatal. Hurry it up!" Adam yelled to Frank who was speaking to the elderly residents of the house. He apologised and left the couple to clean up the mess of soot and water in their living room and climbed in beside Adam.

"Echo441 clear of chimney fire and now en route to RTC. ETA one zero minutes." Frank radioed back then pointed to a side road. "Go left down here it's quicker."

*****

"Guv! There're two kiddies in the back of this vehicle!"

"I know," Mick frowned. The kids were alive and relatively unhurt. He couldn't help but feel for them. Their mother was dead and their dad seriously injured. From the suitcases in the back of the jeep it looked as though they had been going on holiday abroad. Christmas somewhere in the sun, he figured. Not for them now. But he didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to think about what they'd all being talking about earlier in the mess - about crappy Christmases. He didn't want to think about Shauna and Liam at home waiting for him. If something happened to either of them - he couldn't - wouldn't - allow himself to imagine it.

"Guv?" Frank was standing beside him.

"Help with the cutting Frank. You too Adam. Let's get these kids out of there as soon as possible."

"Right Guv!" Frank and Adam spoke together and began to assist.

Metal against metal screeched until the last piece of the roof was cut back and the kids were crying as Frank and Geoff gently lifted them from the remains of the family car into the hands of the ambulance crew, who wrapped them up in warm blankets and whisked them off to join their dad in hospital. Adam watched one of the coppers radioing for a recovery service to lift the three cars, and the morgue van to lift the two bodies. There seemed to be coppers everywhere and he still felt uneasy around them and wondered if they knew his face. Wondered if they knew that one dark night ages ago Frank and him had torched their D/Insp's car.

Frank saw him tense at the sight of the coppers. He shook his head and pulled him away. He tensed himself at the sight of them. Always did. He was just better at not showing it. "Leave it Adam," he said.

Exhausted, Bluewatch stood for a moment or two before getting back into their vehicles. There was nothing more for them to do but they seemed in no hurry to leave just yet. There was always something about fatal accidents - any fatalities - that made them stop and think.

Sally stood beside Frank. "What were you saying earlier about Christmas?"

"Yeah. I know."

"I'll see you later," she gave him a smile and turned away.

*****

Frank ended up in the front seat of the pump ladder with Mick. Adam and Craig were in the back. He'd wanted to go with Sally but she'd gotten into the pump with the others. No one spoke. They'd only gone about a mile or so when they heard the crash.

"What the hell?" Mick looked quickly at Frank beside him and then checked his wing mirror. The pump should have been behind them.

Frank lifted the radio and called them. No response. He tried again. Still nothing. Mick swung the pump ladder around at the next side road. "Try them again," he said.

Frank tried to keep the concern out of his voice. "Echo 442 this is Echo 441. Come in."

"Again!" Mick ordered.

"Echo 442 this is Echo 441. Do you receive?"

He glanced at Mick. Something serious was up with them. He had this feeling. He tried again. "Echo 442 this is Echo 441 come in."

"Oh Christ!" Mick braked to a stopped as he saw it.

The pump was up against a wall, almost tipped over, and an articulated lorry - a petrol tanker - was embedded into the side of it, near the front. The lorry had come across the junction and had ploughed into the pump sending it across the road and up against the wall. Parts of the wall had come down on top of it.

Mick grabbed the radio and called for assistance. Adam and Craig were already out and running. Craig looked as if he was going to be sick.

Frank just stood there unable to move. Sally was somewhere inside all of that wreckage and there was not a thing he could do about it. He'd never felt so helpless in his life.

"This is Station Officer Callaghan, Blackwall. Pump involved in serious RTC. Pump ladder in attendance. Get an ambulance and get Shadbrook out asap!" Mick barked out the location and dropped the radio, ignoring Frank.

"Guv?"

"Go ahead Adam."

"The driver's trapped and his legs look bad. Sally's conscious and trapped in the back, along with Charlie. He don't look too good an' he's not speaking. George is okay and so's Poison. Thankfully the lorry struck the side of the pump, not the front, but half of it is planted inside the pump an' it's going to take a lot to cut them free. There might be petrol in the tanker. The driver's pretty groggy and I don't know if the tank was full or not."

"Treat it as being full then! Craig - get foam, as much as you can in and around it! Adam - you get ready to start on the cutting. Clear what you can away while we wait for the lifting gear! Frank - you'll assist him! Shadbrook'll be here in five."

Sally was in the back and there was no way they could reach her. Maybe it's better she's in the back, Frank thought. But the side of the vehicle's taken the brunt of the impact. What if it's her side? He tried to remember which side he'd seen her climb into. She'll be okay, he told himself. She'll be cushioned against the worst of it, he hoped.

"Frank?" Mick was calling his name. "Frank?"

Like the falling snow, everything seemed to be falling in around him. Leave me alone he thought, wishing he could turn around and punch Mick - one good punch in the mouth - and then get the hell out of there.

"Fire-fighter Mooney!" Mick's voice was harsh.

"Guv?"

"Go and speak to her. Keep her calm. Go on then!"

Frank turned to look at him.

"Sally? They can hear her, but they can't get to her. Go around to the other side and speak to her - reassure her."

"I - I can't Guv. I can't."

Mick's face hardened. "Oh, for God's sake man, just do your bloody job!" He grabbed Frank by the arm and pulled him around. "If you care about Sally at all - if she's anything more than just a quick shag to you, then go and help her!"

He shoved him forwards.

Frank snapped out of it and carefully climbed over the twisted metal towards what once had been the cab of the appliance. He called her name, and to his relief heard her reply.

"No," she managed to say.

"Sal? It's only me." He pulled off one of his gloves and reached in towards her.

"No. G'way," she told him. "Don't want you to see me like this."

"Sal, you're goin' to be okay. We'll have you outta here in no time."

"Yeah. Right. Where have I heard that before?"

She managed to grasp hold of his hand. His fingers were cold and she wanted to warm him but she was even colder. She could hear him talking to someone - someone who was asking about her. Frank sounds angry, she thought. Why is he angry?

"Do you hurt anywhere Sal?" he asked her. "They want to know if you're hurting." So do I, he thought. Don't be. Please Sal.

"Are you bloody joking or what? Of course I hurt. All over."

"Sal, I'm serious. Can you move your arms an' legs? Even just a bit?"

"Piss off Frank. I'm tired."

"Come on Sally!" His voice was sharp. "Talk to me! Move your feet an' then your legs, as much as you can. Tell me if it hurts -anywhere."

"No, but I can't move much. There's no room in here."

"It's okay. It won't be long now. We're gonna start cutting you out soon so you'll just have to keep your eyes closed girl an' sit tight. Okay?" He gave her hand another reassuring squeeze. He could hear George cursing his bad luck.

Mick pulled him back and spoke in his ear. "Talk to her a while. Her and the others. It'll take a few minutes to get all this lifted away. Keep them alert until we can get 'em out."

Frank nodded. Okay. He took a deep breath.

"Hey Sal?"

"Wot?"

"It'll be okay, you know. Just trust me." He struggled to think of something to say. Anything at all. "Um - it's gonna be okay Sal. We'll get you out of 'ere - and you an' me Sal - we'll - be okay too -- an' everything, an' we'll ---"

"Frank?"

"Wot?"

"You don't half talk shite sometimes."

"Yeah I know, but just trust me, please. You know how I feel an' I know you don't always feel the same - 'cause of Mick an' all, but I - I do love you Sal."

"I know that Frank. It's just that --"

"Yeah, I know Sal. It's everything that happened. Not just Mick - but - everything I've done. I could have just kept it from you but I wanted to be honest - wanted you to know you could trust me an' that I'd changed - for you. I had to tell you."

"I know that Frank. And I believe you. But Frank?"

"Wot?"

"George and Charlie and Poison want to know how much you love 'em too!"

Shite. He'd forgotten about the others. He felt such a prat.

"You soppy bastard Mooney! You never loved me like that!" George laughed and made kissing noises from somewhere inside the wreckage. "Ere what's Mick got to do with it? Did you love 'im too Frank?"

"Piss off George," he replied.

Sally was still holding his hand and she squeezed it in the darkness. "Ignore him an' keep talking to me."

"Yeah Frankie baby," Charlie piped up. "Keep talkin' to me. You sexy thing!" His laughter turned to pain when Sally elbowed him in the ribs.

Frank looked around to see Adam behind him. They were ready to begin cutting.

"She'll be okay mate. Let's get her out." Adam told him.

Frank eased back to give him room and winced at the noise of metal against metal.

*****

"Let me try it now," he yelled at Adam, who nodded and switched off the cutter. He gave a tug and the rest of the door came away. They pulled George and Geoff to safety. They were both unhurt, so they claimed, and they were but Mick was insisting they get into the ambulance and go to hospital for a check up.

Now for the seats, Frank thought. Between them they managed to get the front passenger's seat out. Then handed it back to the two guys from Shadbrook. Half the appliance now seemed to be lying in pieces on the road. They'd managed to disconnect the tank from the rig and it had been towed to a safe distance. Heavy lifting gear had been brought in to pull the engine block of the lorry out of the appliance first and now they were at the delicate stage - cutting the rest of it away from the bodies - no, not bodies - the people inside.

"Alwight Sal?" Adam climbed in through the hole he had made. "You don't half look warm an' cosy hiding in there. You'll do anything to get out of a shout, won't you?"

"Get that bloody torch out of my face!"

He looked back and grinned at Frank. "She's definitely okay!"

He pulled the twisted edges of metal carefully back and made the gap larger. Frank leaned in to help. Sally was lying up against Charlie in the back seat. She'd moved back away from the cutters. She was covered with glass and bits of metal but seemed to be unhurt. Charlie was holding his arm. Could be it was broken, but apart from that and a lot of bruises they were both okay.

Frank shone his torch over Sally and Charlie and breathed a sigh of relief. She grinned at him and snuggled closer to Charlie who grinned too, despite the pain he was in from his arm.

"You two managing to keep warm enough back there?" He asked.

"Yeah, lovely and snug!" Charlie replied.

Frank and Adam reached in and gently pulled them out.

*****

6.50am

"Can I see you in my office, Frank? Just as soon as you're finished here."

"Er - right Guv. Okay." Frank frowned wondering what he wanted. Probably a bollocking for freezing up earlier. He finished cleaning up and headed upstairs.

Mick was talking to Craig in the office and Frank listened to the conversation while he waited. "You did well son," Mick told him.

"I still felt sick," Craig replied. "In fact I was sick."

"Don't worry about that," he grinned. "At least you waited until you were back here before throwing up! Craig, you did good tonight. Very good and that's what counts."

"Thanks Guv." Craig stepped out of the office and nodded to Frank.

"Craig?" Frank kept his voice low.

"Wot?"

"You did do good tonight. Better'n me."

"Cheers Frank!" Craig looked delighted. Praise from Frank was rare.

Mick looked up as Frank walked into the office. He didn't take the seat that was offered but stood there, his hands in his pockets. He kept his eyes on Mick and waited for him to speak.

"I phoned the hospital and everyone's fine. Charlie has a broken arm, but he's okay. The rest have cuts and bruises and they'll be sore for a day or two but no serious damage done."

"Glad to hear it, Guv." Frank continued to wait.

"I know you'll want to get off to see Sally, but I can't let you away early. We're too short. Anyway, we've only a couple of hours to go."

Frank smiled, refusing to give an inch to the man. "Job comes first don't it Guv? Sal would agree."

The alarm sounded before Mick could say anything else.

Frank looked at him, a smirk on his face again. "See wot I mean, Guv." He turned and walked quickly out of the office.

*****

She looked as pale as the pillow, apart from the bruises on her left cheek. Her eyes were closed and Frank stood there for a minute, silently watching her.

"Sal?"

She opened her eyes. "Oh. Hi."

She looked at her watch. It was only eleven-thirty.

"You're up early then?"

"Couldn't sleep - worrying 'bout you. How're you feeling?"

"Stiff and sore. All over." She tried to sit up a bit as he sat on the edge of the bed beside her. Her hand found his. "They bloody well won't let me out of here."

"Yeah, I know. I spoke to the doctor an' he didn't want you on your own. So I told 'im you was staying with me an' they're letting you out later this afternoon."

"Thanks. This buggers up Christmas a bit, don't it?"

"Nah. Just as long as you're okay an' with me, Christmas'll be good."

Sally smiled. That was what she wanted to hear. "What about the others? They okay?"

Frank nodded. "George is blaming Poison for puttin' the scud on him. Poison's okay and so is Charlie. He's already up and about. He's prancing about with 'is arm in a sling, playing the big hero, an' getting all the nurses to sign his cast."

"Good. 'Cause no one would tell me anything."

He smiled. "Craig threw up a few times back at the station."

"Poor soul. He'll get used to it."

"Um - Sal? I have somethin' for you. It's sort of a Christmas present - but I brought it in with me 'cause I thought it might cheer you up." He handed her the box. "I only got it yesterday an' didn't get a chance to wrap it."

Sally opened the box and took out the necklace. So that's where he'd been all afternoon. "Oh Frank, it's gorgeous. It's really nice. I'm sorry I didn't get you anything. I was going to later today but -"

He shook his head. "Don't need you to buy me anythin' Sal. 'Ere, read the back of it."

She turned it over in her palm and gave a snort of laughter as she read the engraving - "Trust me, I'm a Firefighter!"

"You're such a plonker Frank Mooney! I love it! I do trust you, even though you're a git an' all - some of the time. C'mere an' give us a kiss then."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue.

Christmas Day.

Frank stood back and watched as Sally and Adam placed the bunch of carnations on Recall's grave. They stood close together, each of them remembering him in their own way.

"It's hard to believe he's been dead for nearly six months. I miss him." He heard Sally say.

"Yeah. That's what Mum said when she phoned this morning." Adam replied.

They stood in silence for another while.

"Adam?"

"Wot?"

"If he'd lived and he an' yer mum had got married, would you have called 'im dad?"

"Yeah," Adam grinned. "Bloody right I would have. It would've wound him up something awful!"

Sally and him began laughing at the thought of the very black Recall being called dad by the very white Adam. It would have wound him up but he'd have loved it too.

Frank watched them for a couple of minutes then turned up his collar against the rain and stepped forward beside them. He looked at the headstone - Fire-fighter Stuart McKenzie. Died July 7th 2002. Good old Recall. I didn't know you all that well mate, but I miss you too.

Just a few rows over he could see Colin Dougal's grave. He refused to think about the beating he'd given Colin the night before he'd died. The night he'd killed him. There were no flowers on his grave. His missus had met someone else and had moved on.

Frank took Sally's hand in his, holding it tightly as she leaned against him. She looked at him.

"Come on Sal," he told her. "It's time to move on."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mandi Sheridan. November 2002. Disclaimer : London's Burning and characters are the property of LWT. This is a fan fiction only and no profit shall be made from it. Feedback please, please, please to mls0055@aol.com