The Chief of Operations had scuttled out of sight, and I realised I didn’t know the way to the party. I walked through the maze of deserted yellow corridors, my carrot quivering in the musty air. I was thinking I’d give up and try and find my way back to the lift, when I caught a glimpse of him up ahead. I broke into a jog, the carrot bobbing in front of me, and turned a corner just in time to see him disappear through some swing doors. Panting, I fell after him.
I thought it was an underground car park to begin with, but as my eyes adjusted I realised I’d arrived at the party. There were 30-odd people in the middle of the vast room, all in festive jumpers, standing in a circle. They were looking down at something, but I couldn’t see what. Last Christmas by Wham was playing, very faintly, and it made me unbearably homesick.
Tinsel had been wrapped round the concrete pillars, but someone – it was Heather – was taking it down and stuffing it into a bin bag. There was a food and drink table, with three or four more people standing by it, one of whom was the Chief of Operations. I watched him pour something into a plastic cup, and then turn and look around, his buck teeth glinting. I waited until he’d scurried off into the shadows, and then approached the table, hoping for a knife to cut the carrot off.
No knife. Two foil platters of brown crunchy things, several plastic cups, a saucepan of what was presumably mulled wine.
“Allow me,” said Rhett, having appeared by my side. He ladled the wine into a plastic cup, and presented it with a flourish. I took the cup and sipped, and gasped, and spluttered.
“Yes, it’s pretty rough,” said Rhett, staring at the carrot. His jumper was rather nice: espresso brown, with tiny white snowflakes.
“What are they all looking at?” I nodded towards the festive circle.
“Oh, just Salome from Strategy. A collapse. Apparently she’s allergic to tinsel.”
“That’s terrible.” I noticed a corkscrew, the kind that has a little flick-out blade to cut through a wine bottle’s capsule. As I edged towards it, Ashley came shuffling up. His jumper was appalling, but didn’t have any protrusions. “Nice to see you, Tasmin,” he said to the carrot.
“But we’ve been together all day!” I pointed out.
Ashley looked ruffled. “Allow me to finish. Nice to see you, Tasmin, looking so festive.”
“I like the carrot,” said Rhett. “Can I touch it?”
The swing doors flew open, and a team of paramedics entered the room, carrying various pieces of equipment, including a stretcher. In the flurry of activity, I reached for the corkscrew and flicked out the blade. Faint with relief at the thought of life without the carrot, I withdrew behind a pillar to perform the operation. But there was a whiff of marzipan, a plump, bejewelled hand shot out, grabbed my wrist, and the corkscrew clattered on the floor.
“I know it’s awful, Tasmin, but it’s not as bad as all that!” It was Scarlett, resplendent in green silk. “Listen.” She drew me close and whispered in my ear. “Let’s get out of here. There’s a wonderful bar round the corner. They do Bellinis. I can tell you all about Heather.”