Who was marooned all alone in a City office during the first great LOCKDOWN

‘Crusoe! What the hell are you doing here?’ With that exclamation, Xanthe, our managing partner, emerged from the express lift. It was the first time it had pinged at the 48th floor in the four long months I had been stranded in the silent offices of Pep Leverage LLP.

Relieved, I lowered the shotgun.

‘Is that my Purdey?,’ Xanthe asked. ‘I’ll take that, if you don’t mind – I dropped by to pick it up for the field season. But more important, why haven’t you answered any of my calls or messages?’

I related the long story: how at the start of the year I had been engaged on the Tstikifingerz litigation. The client, assuming he was under surveillance by the FSB and the CIA, had insisted that the discovery work be handled from an electromagnetically screened room air-gapped from all outside communications. Thus, leaving my mobile and tablet at home, I had locked myself in the senior partners’ suite early in March with a supply of frozen pizzas and pot noodles to get the job done.

And how, emerging after a week or so, I found the office dark and locked up, terminals and phones dead. When I broke out onto the 50th floor terrace, I saw that the City streets were deserted, with not a plane in the sky. Assuming that some crisis, perhaps this virus that everyone had been joking about, had wiped out London, I began to comfort myself as well as I could. Fortunately the hospitality cupboard contained plentiful victuals: a stash of nachos, salsa and tequila from Mexico night and of course unlimited jars of caviar and stuffed olives. These I resolved to supplement with whatever wildfowl I could bag with the 12-bore from the managing partner’s locked cupboard.

Slated impartially, a balance sheet of my condition showed: debit – I am marooned alone above a city emptied by plague or other disaster – credit – I am still billing in six-minute increments and there is plenty of tequila left.  

One Thursday evening I perceived two signs that, absolute as my solitude appeared, I was not alone. First, at sunset, came a wanton clamour of pans and wild cheering around the distant horizon. Clearly, civil society had broken down and the City took over by savage hooligans. Then I observed… a footprint.

It was just outside the washroom on the 47th floor. The print was clearly a Doctor Martens, and therefore no member of the firm, leastways not one obeying the managing partner’s fearsome 12-page dress code. 

Stealthily, 12-bore at the ready, I set out to investigate.

It did not take me long to find the perpetrator bedding down for the night on the 47th floor. He was a comely, handsome fellow, with straight, strong limbs; tall, and well-shaped; and, as I reckon, about 26 years of age. By his overalls I recognised him as one of our cleaners, a service outsourced at great advantage to the firm. Knowing that the contractor hires from some far-distant continent, I resorted to sign language to assure Thursday – I called him so for the memory of the time – that he would come to no harm.

Royston Obiter cartoon 2020

And so we settled into our routine. I shared with my man Thursday the provisions of the hospitality suite while often times the brave soul would venture down the emergency stairs to forage, judging by the labels, from a neighbouring and no doubt abandoned Sainsbury’s Local.

One evening I brought down a migrating goose and we feasted on the terrace. Thursday resisted my inclination to make a fire of the Pep Leverage library – but instead found several thousand spare copies of the firm’s Climate Crisis Action Plan. As this is printed on organic bamboo-fibre paper, hand-woven in the Orinoco, it burned excellently.

To my surprise, as I polished off the last of the rice wine (a relic from the Shanghai opening celebration) I saw Thursday thumbing through a copy of All England Law Reports: Commercial Cases as if he understood every word.

And so to the end of my ordeal, and how the managing partner found us on that July day. Of course I sought to assure Xanthe that I still had the Tstikifingerz files ready, along with my billing.

‘—- Tstikifingerz,’ she retorted, using a word that does not appear in the firm’s 96-page guide to etiquette. ‘It turned out that his sources of funds didn’t bear examination. He’s about to be hit with an unexplained wealth order and Magnitsky sanctions.’

‘Mag-what sanctions?’ I asked.

To my astonishment, the answer came from Thursday. ‘Regulations under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018,’ he said. ‘As a measure it’s long overdue, though of course it raises questions about due process and presumption of innocence.’

‘Thursday! You never let on that you spoke English!’

‘You never asked,’ he shrugged. ‘I did a module in English law back home. If I can keep up these overtime hours I’m starting at law school here next autumn. Oh, by the way, I answer to anything – but my name is Yusuf.’

Looking Yusuf up and down, Xanthe fished a business card from her purse. ‘We may be able to help you with all that - you sound very promising. Ping me your resumé and I’ll set up a Zoom with our Allyship Programme. Now’ – turning to me – ‘I think it’s time we shredded those Tstikifingerz papers – and perhaps went home for a shave and a change of clothes?’

With that she stormed out, the lift indicator swiftly descending to car park level.

An awkward silence ensued.

‘Well, Thurs – er, Yusuf,’ I said: ‘Allyship… Zoom? This must be a new normal. I suppose we shall have to get used to it.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I rather think you shall.’