I like Christmas. It's a good excuse for writing ridiculous fics that are only tenuously linked to the festive season and have plots that exist purely to facilitate dancing and gin. S9 team, not to be taken seriously in any way. Stender and Jones is not a real bank and Mike Sherborne is not a real MP. Hope you enjoy :)
As is tradition on Spooks, we start with some overly lengthy exposition…
"What are you doing tonight?"
Ruth startled slightly at Harry's abrupt question. What was she doing tonight? Why was he asking? Usually he only asked about her evening plans when he needed her to work late, but the look on his face was slightly sheepish, as though he were embarrassed to be asking, which suggested it might not be about work – or he might have done something and needed her help to dig him out of some professional hole pronto, which certainly wasn't out of the question.
Then again, it was only a few days until Christmas. Maybe he was planning to ask her to do something festive. She had a vague recollection that there was some sort of event later… Not that he had much reason to ask her to anything, of course, since their relationship was officially 'strictly professional' these days – mostly because of her – but it wasn't out of the realm of possibility. She didn't think she'd mind that much if that was his plan, which annoyed her a bit. She was finding the whole 'stick to work' thing harder than ever now that the personal stuff was off limits following the Great Proposal Debacle.
She realised he was waiting for her to answer. "Um, I'm not sure." That was a slight lie. She had big and important plans that night; plans that mainly revolved around wine and her sofa, as most of the best plans did. But she thought it might sound a bit sad if she were to voice that to Harry, so sticking to vagueness seemed wise, at least until she knew what he wanted. "Why?"
He opened his mouth as though going to reply, but right at that moment, Dimitri burst onto the Grid, waving a short stack of papers. "Later," Harry said. "Now, we need to have a meeting."
And so it was that two minutes later, Ruth found herself in her customary briefing room seat with the sneaking suspicion her plans were about to be spectacularly ruined. Dimitri, Beth and Tariq sat clustered towards one end of the table. Lucas, as was so often the case these days, was conspicuous by his absence.
"I realise this is short notice, but we need to pull off an operation tonight," Harry announced from his position at the head of the table.
Ruth felt her spirits sink as her quiet dream of an evening spent with a large glass of chilled white and a blanket on the sofa seemed further and further away by the second.
"Dimitri," Harry went on. "Explain."
Dimitri tapped a few keys on the laptop in front of him and an image of a man appeared on the projector screen. "This is Steven Glass. Banker – in all senses of the word. Especially the rude ones. He's head of Stender and Jones, an investment bank in the City."
The name rang a bell with Ruth. "The one that made a killing from the property crash?"
"The one and the same. Like I said – banker. Anyway, latest intelligence suggests that the bank is involved in some dodgier dealings than simply making money off other people's misfortune."
"This intelligence comes from where?"
"Whistleblower in the firm. Codename Charlatan." Dimitri clicked a few buttons a picture of a young woman appeared on the screen. "She has the job of auditing some of the bank's major accounts, although according to her, it's often more like cooking the books to suit the picture the partners want to portray. She got suspicious about one account that had no information attached to it – just an account number and unexplained deposits and withdrawals. She raised it with the management and was told it was a contingency fund before getting taken off the account. Anyway, she was suspicious so she did a bit of quiet digging. The staff all get Stender bank accounts as a 'perk' of the job and she audits those too. Charlatan found some suspicious payments entering Mr Glass's account, which link up with some of the withdrawals from the anonymous account. He'd allegedly tried to cover his tracks, but he's not very technically-minded. Charlatan said he'd might a right hash of it."
"So is he diddling the bank or is someone paying him hush money?" Beth asked.
"Definitely the latter, quite possibly both." Dimitri paused to push some folders to everyone around the table. "After she found the payments, Charlatan went to the police and they passed her on to us. I've been running her as an asset for a couple of months. A bit of investigation suggests that the anonymous account is linked to one of the groups on our permanent watch-list." He clicked another button and the profile of a known terrorist organisation popped up on the screen.
"Paid by terrorists? Steven Glass is properly in the shit." Beth almost sounded quite impressed.
"Yeah. He's also inconveniently well-respected in the City and in Whitehall. And Charlatan's had a look at his diary for me. He's got a meeting with the anonymous account holders tonight. Something's going on and I want to know what."
"So what's the plan? We bug the meeting?"
"Can't. Don't know where it's going to be. We're bugging him."
Ruth was suddenly aware of Harry watching her. She turned to look at him to find him with a rather odd expression on his face. He looked… not quite guilty, but definitely in the vicinity. A sense of unease took up residence in her stomach.
"Luckily we know where Glass is going to be earlier in the evening," Harry said.
Her brain racing seven steps ahead as always, Ruth was already pretty sure she knew where this was going.
"Right," Dimitri went on, clearly enjoying his little session in the limelight. "Tonight is the Home Office Christmas party. Harry's going, and so is Steven Glass. He went to school with a junior Home Office minister, Mike Sherborne. That's how he got invited."
Beth did love a scandal. "That's brilliant."
"A brilliant mess, I think, Miss Bailey," Harry said. "Glass's relationship with Sherborne is the reason this needs to be done on the quiet – and done fast, so we can resolve whatever needs to be resolved." He turned to Ruth.
The last little bit of hope of an early night she'd been holding onto vanished completely.
"Ruth, I need you to come with me to the Christmas party."
She didn't want to ask, but she couldn't stop herself. "Why?"
"We need to bug Mr Glass and in order to do that we need to get close to him. I don't think he'd be especially willing to dance with me, do you?"
Kill me. "Couldn't you take Beth?"
Beth was looking torn between going out on a mission and the distaste of attending an event as Harry's plus one.
Harry put paid to that idea. "No. It will look more believable if you're my guest."
There was a moment's heavy pause as their colleagues hid knowing smirks and pretended they didn't know precisely why Ruth would be believed as Harry's date.
Arguing would only make it worse. "Right."
"Don't worry, Ruth," Dimitri said. "All you have to do is get the bug onto him and you're done. You can just enjoy the party. Beth and I will sort out watching the meeting later."
"We need to leave at seven," Harry told Ruth. Then he turned to their colleagues. "We're done. Make this happen."
As the others filed out of the room, Harry stopped Ruth with a hand on her arm.
"Well, now I know why you wanted to know what I was doing this evening."
"It'll be fine," he said, ignoring her acerbic tone. "Easy as anything. We're just the messengers tonight. The kids are doing the hard bit." He leaned closer. "Plus there's a free bar. We'll dress smartly, go to the party, mingle for a bit, plant the bug and then make liberal use of the complimentary gin, yes?"
"If we must."
Ruth wandered back onto the Grid wondering where she was going to find time to locate an outfit for this evening, and half-heartedly reading the briefing folder Dimitri had given her.
"Looking forward to it, Evershed?"
She stopped by Dimitri's desk and gave him a glare in response.
"At least there'll be booze."
"Do you have the bug?"
"It'll be sorted before you go."
She nodded and turned to go back to her desk, returning her attention to the briefing notes. "Wait." She stopped and held up the papers. "Is this man really six foot seven?"
Dimitri laughed. "Yeah. At least you won't be able to miss him."
"So he's a… massive banker."
"Rich, too. They say that, don't they? Tall people tend to be more successful than short people."
Not being the tallest of people, that wasn't the news Ruth wanted to hear, although if it turned out to be true it might explain a couple of things. "Oh God, don't depress me even more. It's Christmas."
"Just think of the gin."
Cheers for reading! Two more chapters to go, I think (if you want them, that is!). Next time: alcohol, dancing, and a very tall banker.