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Magic Fingers

Disclaimer: I don’t own them and didn’t create them.

Rating: PG-13?

Warnings: Mild (so very mild) language, and some slashy feelings and situations (though it’s a love story.)

Comments: ok, sure. :

Description: Face a.k.a. Ashley Hemmings is throwing a big charity event but his plans for social success are interrupted by the arrival of Murdock and the discovery of jewel thieves. Face and Murdock get to have some exciting, and hopefully funny, adventures as they try to figure out exactly who is doing the stealing and why, and find out some other interesting things about themselves as well.

 

Magic Fingers

By Wendy

 

 

The ballroom of the Regency Wilshire Hotel had truly never looked lovelier than it did right now. Everything from the walls beyond the dance floor and behind the slightly raised platform for the band to the elegant centerpieces on the long banquet tables was done in the same subtle, tasteful pale gold and white colors. Bouquets of tall, graceful lilies had been placed in odd, seemingly random places to give the room a hint of their delicate fragrance and the undoubtedly delicious food he’d ordered from the caterers was just now being set out decoratively on one side of the room. The band was setting up and the light strains of some waltz were gently floating across the room to him. It was, in other words, perfect. Just as he’d planned it to be.

Face took a deep, satisfied breath before taking another long look around the room. He saw a room large enough for two hundred or so people to move around comfortably, with one main entrance with two wide doors on one side of the huge empty room, one smaller door toward the back in the corner that led to a back staircase for more discreet exits, and the almost hidden doors for the kitchen staff to use, and no windows. It would have not have been a good room for any sort of maneuvering. Sure, the doors were easy to watch from the inside, but they were also easily controlled from without and there were no other outs that he could see.

Catching himself, Face shook his head irritably. He didn’t need escape routes and neither did the guests who should be arriving here at any moment. This wasn’t a siege or one of Hannibal’s plans; in fact, the team wasn’t even here. It was just him, and tonight would be his moment, no team, no getting shot at, no danger.

Tonight was special. This night meant that he was finally accepted. Well, he corrected himself, it meant that Ashley Hemmings was accepted, but it was practically the same thing, whatever Murdock might mumble about schizoid personalities. Tonight Ashley Hemmings was throwing the charity event of the year to benefit St. Mary’s Orphanage and not one member of the cream of Beverly Hills society who had been invited had regretfully declined. Not one. And it wasn’t even a scam. Face smiled widely to himself until a crash from the kitchens distracted him.

He headed in that direction anxiously just as one of the caterers stumbled out with a tray that had probably just been full of the light crab puffs that were now covering the front of the shorter man’s jacket.

"Everything is all right in there, isn’t it?" Face demanded as he approached. The man looked up at him with a dark scowl that he quickly covered. The look seemed to match the man’s dark, heavy-browed features.

"Yeah sure, Mr. Hemmings. Just a little accident." The hairy little man tried a smile but it faded when Face didn’t smile back. Ordinarily Face would have, but it was important to him that nothing go wrong tonight. "Won’t happen again," the other man mumbled finally and headed back toward the kitchens. He said something under his breath that sounded like ‘rich jackass’ but Face ignored it for now. With a loud echo, the great doors leading in from the hotel lobby opened and the first of his guests strolled in.

"Mrs. Devereaux," Face came forward to greet the older woman with his most charming smile. When he got to her he took her hand and kissed it, rather enjoying the way he felt her pulse beat faster in her slightly flabby wrist as he did even though the older woman kept her face as impassive as ever. He looked up into her haughty face with another grin as she wished him a grave good evening before turning to greet the large party she’d brought in with her. "You’re the first to arrive," he told them all, carefully hiding any fears he’d had that no one at all would show up despite the numbers of acceptances.

Conversation paused for a moment as the check girl gathered up furs and expensive jackets before she slipped discreetly away again. As she did, Face noticed how she glanced in her hand and grimaced. He barely had time to wonder what that was about before Mrs. Devereaux turned to her skinny, twitchy little grandson and instructed him to make a donation to the cause of the evening.

The price of the tickets for the evening was really the main source of revenue, but several tiny baskets had also been placed near the doors in case the very wealthy people who would be in this room tonight had an urge to give anything else–an urge Face knew he would help them answer to the best of his abilities; it was what he did best. Mrs. Devereaux’s grandson, David, Face thought his name was, hurried over to one of the baskets and dropped in a fifty.

Considering the value of the jewels around his grandmother’s neck, which Face had quickly appraised out of habit the moment he’d seen her, the Devereauxs could afford to give much more than that, much more. Face wondered how much the check girl had gotten for her troubles, a dime? He had a brief urge to scream and tell her what a cheap bitch she was. But he smiled gratefully at the older woman since she happened to be on the acceptance committee of the Beverly Bay Country Club and he knew she was expecting his gratitude, then took her arm to lead her further into the ballroom.

"St. Mary’s appreciates your generosity, Mrs. Devereaux." Face patted her hand and glanced back the baskets by the door. "We…" he paused as he remembered that Ashley Hemmings’ parents were alive and well, "Those orphans often need anything they can get. Though volunteers can sometimes be more useful than money."

"This is Los Angeles, Mr. Hemmings. Don’t be overly dramatic. This is hardly Oliver Twist," she scoffed as they stopped in front of the tables. Face handed her a glass of champagne and watched her taste it cautiously before she apparently decided that it was acceptable. Then she drank it so fast that he briefly wondered if she’d prefer something stronger. It was excellent champagne; Face knew because he had chosen it personally, but managed to keep the irritation from his expression. "I’m sure the children aren’t lacking in anything."

"They do have the necessities," he agreed. "But children need more than that."

"Nonsense. My children certainly didn’t."

"Ah." Face glanced back at David and the older, nervous looking man with him who was probably his father. "Ah," he said again for lack of anything else to say. He noticed more guests arriving and hurriedly excused himself.

Almost an hour later, the room was rapidly filling up and Face paused for a moment to enjoy a glass of champagne as he observed his success. Unlike most of the other people in the room, he actually tasted the sparkling wine as he drank it, and reveled in that slight tickle in his nose, even though his mind was working on who would be best to approach next. He had just decided on the famous romance novelist on the other side of the room and was just setting down his empty glass when he saw of one of the hotel’s discreetly dressed security men heading over to him.

"Mr. Hemmings." The large, square-headed man reminded Face of a marine. No sense of style and no sense of humor that he’d ever seen. Probably because of that, Face’s smile was twice as bright as usual when the man spoke to him. There was no reaction at all on that blank, stony face, but Face knew that the flippant smile had probably pissed the other man off. "There’s a man at the front desk asking for you."

"No press." Face was firm about that. His picture in the paper was last thing he needed, as flattering as it would have been.

"I don’t think he’s with the press. He’s been acting sort of crazy and refuses to leave."

Crazy? Face thought with a sigh. He knew who it was from that word even without a physical description from the humorless guard next to him. For a very brief moment, Face debated letting security have Murdock arrested and sent back to the V.A. But even if Face hadn’t wanted a public scene like that, he knew he wouldn’t do that to his friend.

"I’ll take care of it," he told the other man finally with another sigh and headed out of the ballroom. He decided to act like the larger man wasn’t doing an imitation of his shadow and smiled winningly at several of his guests as he passed them.

Out in the lobby, several people, some of them people on Face’s guest list, were standing around in amazement as a tall, slim man in a dirty, faded leather jacket climbed up on top of the reservation desk and banged his fists on his chest like Tarzan, only instead of yodeling or whatever it was that the Tarzan yell was called, the man was howling at the top of his lungs. The lone cry sent shivers down Face’s spine.

Face straightened the bow tie of his tux nervously and stepped forward. He ignored the little flutter in his stomach. He usually got a little flutter in his stomach when he saw Murdock, especially whenever he hadn’t seen him for a long time; Face took it as nervousness, since whenever he did see Murdock, his friend was usually doing something to embarrass him.

"Murdock," Face muttered through clenched teeth when he got close enough to the desk. Murdock stopped howling abruptly and hopped off the desk.

"Cousin Ashley!" the pilot exclaimed with wide arms and shining brown eyes before hugging him tightly. "I was so worried I wouldn’t be on time for your party. After the mix up with the invitations…I’m sure you meant to invite me," Murdock practically shouted that part before winking at him. "Little kidder." He poked Face in the nose with one finger.

"Murdock," Face said again in a furious whisper before turning his smile on his guests. He caught the raised eyebrows of the security guard and realized that Murdock still had his arms around him. Face shoved him off as gently as he could. "What are you doing here?"

"I’m here to support your charity, of course." Murdock pulled out some linty quarters from his pocket. "It’s my entire fortune but it’s worth it," he declared and then leaned over a little bald-headed man. "It’s worth it, right?" Murdock asked him and the little man hastily agreed before leading his family to the ballroom.

"Murdock!" Face nearly shouted and winced when the entire room seemed to turn to look at him. He closed his eyes briefly before opening them to glare at the man that at any other time he would have called his best friend. "Let’s go somewhere a little more private and talk, hmm?"

"That’s fine with me, Ashley." Murdock pronounced him name with a stuffy, almost British accent and a lopsided grin. Face grabbed him by the back of his jacket and dragged him off to a side hallway.

"Murdock, what…?" Face began the moment they were alone.

"Hiya, Facey." Murdock was giggling so much that for a second Face felt his lips twitch with the urge to laugh too. He controlled it though and did his best to frown sternly at his friend.

"Murdock if you ruin this… Wait, what are you doing here anyway? I didn’t tell the team about this."

Murdock had stopped laughing to stare at him with an odd look and Face wondered why until he realized that somewhere in that little speech he’d put his hands on his hips. That was probably what was responsible for the strange expression on the pilot’s face. Face lowered his arms quickly and Murdock snorted, but held in his laughter.

"I came to meet the little woman." Murdock rolled his eyes as if that were obvious and peeked around Face as if he were looking for someone.

"What are you talking about?"

"It sounds like a nice party in there, Faceman. I don’t suppose you’d let me…" Murdock ignored his question, if he’d even heard it. Who knew what Murdock really heard? Though Face decided that most of the time Murdock heard only what he wanted to anyway.

"No!" Face jumped in quickly. "Not unless you promise to behave yourself, and I seriously doubt you can." At his words, Murdock looked insulted.

"Says you. I can mingle with these snobs like I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth." Before Face could even begin to comment on that, Murdock continued. "’Sides, I’ll bet you need extra security. Beefy over there don’t look like he could see much beyond the end of his nose."

"I don’t need security, Murdock. There won’t be a problem tonight."

"Huh." That could have meant anything. Murdock shoved both hands in his pockets and looked at the ground. Then he sighed. He looked like a kicked puppy. Face crossed his arms and stared back at him for a full two minutes.

"All right, fine," he agreed at last with a sigh. Murdock perked up immediately. "But you behave yourself, you hear me? And you’re out if you cause any trouble."

"What trouble would I cause, Facey, uh, Cousin Ashley?" Murdock blinked at him innocently.

"Ah," Face said again and shook his head. "I have a room here. Let’s get you out of those clothes and into a tuxedo."

"I’ll bet you say that to all your cousins," Murdock teased as they headed for an elevator.

"Just remember, no trouble," Face warned him again as the doors closed. It would still be all right, Face told himself comfortingly. Even Murdock couldn’t ruin this evening.

*****

Face was even more confident of that after Murdock and he were both back downstairs again, both properly dressed and ready for action. It had taken a while to straighten Murdock up and Face could tell from the looks they got when they came back in that his absence at least had been noticed. He turned to Murdock, noting vaguely that the borrowed tux looked better on him than Face had thought it would have even though it was a little short. Then he tried to think of something to get rid of him but Murdock beat him to it.

"Don’t you worry, Facey, I’ll cover this side of the room. I’ve been reading my detective stories and I know what to do. I’ll be great security."

Refusing to let that statement scare him, Face nodded and waited, watching for a moment as Murdock stepped smoothly towards a couple nearby and began to chat to them about the weather. It was in a voice that was something like James Mason, but it would do. At least Billy wasn’t here too.

Sighing in relief, Face turned away to restart his quest for donations and came face to face with Mrs. Hamilton and her daughter, Charlotte. Mrs. Hamilton was a very friendly woman; in fact she was one of the people who had encouraged him to organize this little gathering. Face recognized that this was probably only so she would have another chance to try to shove him and Charlotte together, but he sort of liked her anyway.

Mrs. Hamilton wasn’t the wealthiest person in the room, judging from her jewelry, which, he noticed quickly, was fake. But then that helped explain her matchmaking attempts between Ashley Hemmings and her daughter, since Ashley was an up and coming lawyer with a rich family.

He expressed his delight at seeing her there and kissed her hand just as he had several of the other women guests. The gesture still made her cheeks turn pink. Charlotte just rolled her eyes at her mother’s giggles and sighs and extended her own hand. She was actually very lovely in a cool, unruffled way, but Face knew better than to even fool around with such a dangerous situation. He just smiled at her smoothly and dropped her hand as soon as he could without seeming rude. He hoped his efforts at avoiding any close contact with the lovely Charlotte hadn’t been too obvious.

He’d just asked if they were enjoying themselves when he heard James Mason inquire from behind him if he’d tried the cream puffs and chocolate sauce. He winced and turned around to see Murdock smiling at him, his face and hands covered in dark chocolate sauce and half a cream puff sticking out of his mouth.

"Ashley!" Despite his teasing words of a second before, Murdock whispered to him urgently before looking up and apparently seeing whom Face was standing with. "Oh," he said sheepishly and swallowed the cream puff whole.

"Ladies," Face said with a sigh. "My…cousin…H.M. Murdock."

"Pleased to meet you," Murdock smiled at them warmly, still speaking as James Mason. "Forgive me if I don’t shake hands." He waved his sticky hands around in a careless, debonair gesture. "I don’t seem to have a handkerchief." He stared licking his fingers eagerly then seemed to notice Face’s stare. "Sorry, uh, Ashley. Care to join me?" He held out one hand playfully, probably as a joke, but Face saw the ladies turn to look at each other significantly for a moment anyway and pushed Murdock’s hand away.

"Murdock," Face bit out. "This is Mrs. Hamilton and her daughter, Charlotte." Murdock froze with his pinky still in his mouth.

"Charlotte Hamilton?" he repeated and then looked at Face wide eyes. He lowered his hand. "Pleased to meet you," he said again suddenly with a smile that should have alerted Face, and took Charlotte’s hand in one of his chocolate and spit covered hands. Murdock shook it energetically while she gasped in shock. Though she was wearing gloves, so it shouldn’t have affected her so much.

Face grabbed him by the collar again and mumbled an apology before pulling Murdock through the ballroom to the little door in the back. He could hear the women whispering as they walked away.

"I said no trouble, Murdock. What the hell was that?"

"Sorry, Facey. I just got carried away when I met the new member of the team."

"What?" Face just knew he wouldn’t like the explanation.

"Charlotte, she’s the little woman, ain’t she?" Murdock looked at him sideways. "Said so in the paper. Charlotte Hamilton and Ashley Hemmings, hot new couple. Wink wink. Nudge nudge." Murdock explained seriously.

"WHAT?" Face knew he’d jumped several feet in the air. Murdock just nodded.

"Yup, I read it the society pages and just had to come and meet her. Hints of matrimony it said, and then mentioned your shindig, which is nice by the way."

"Mat...mat…matri…" Face struggled to say the word.

"Matrimony, Face," Murdock grabbed his face with his hands and moved his jaw up and down in a move a la Harpo Marx. "Mat-ri-mon-y. It ain’t hard to say."

"Mat…mat…" Face tried again and took a deep breath. "Not true." He got that out clearly.

"Really?" Murdock grinned and let go of his face. To be honest, Face had forgotten Murdock was holding him and nearly fell. "She didn’t seem like your type, truthfully."

"I don’t know how that got started…" Face stopped and thought of the ambitious Mrs. Hamilton. "But I can guess. Wait, why were you reading the society pages?" he looked at Murdock curiously. His friend shrugged.

"Just do sometimes."

Face thought about that then shook it off. It wasn’t important for now. He tried to stay focused.

"Well, I’ll have to put an end to that rumor somehow." He moved to the door to go back into the ballroom.

"Wait, Facey! I forgot to tell you what I came over to tell you in the first place." Murdock was jumping up and down anxiously. "I saw a lady and…"

"There are lots of those here, Murdock."

"Facey!" Murdock practically howled. "I saw her over by the food tables. And one second she had her necklace, the next second she didn’t, then it was back again when I blinked!"

"It disappeared and then came back?" Face nodded slowly. "Are you sure you didn’t imagine this, Murdock? Have you been taking those pills the doctor gave you?"

"I’m not making this up! At least, I don’t think I am. It’s hard to tell sometimes." He scratched his head, getting chocolate in his hair.

"Uh huh. Could this have anything to do with those detective novels you’ve been reading? Did Phillip Marlow and Sam Spade happen to find some jewel thieves recently?"

"Aw, Face, I ain’t been reading those." Murdock was smiling about something. "I’ve been readin’ better stuff."

"Such as?"

"Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys." Murdock laughed. Face took one long look at him before rolling his eyes and heading through the doors. He shook his head dismissively and told Murdock to try to stay out of trouble–and the chocolate sauce–this time.

A few minutes later Face was talking with that romance novelist and wondering why she kept giving him odd, amused looks when he saw something flash out of the corner of his eye. He turned just as a diamond necklace seemed to settle itself magically around the neck of the fat matron next to him.

Confused, he looked closer and saw that the diamonds weren’t real. They were cubic zirconium at best, and if someone was going to wear a large piece of jewelry to help demonstrate their wealth, and their generous endowments, the jewels should be real. Since he knew for a fact that this woman could afford the large elaborate piece she’d been wearing before, and that it had looked real to Face when he’d seen it earlier, he peered blankly down at the necklace as if it would somehow change back into real diamonds.

He looked up in surprise at the woman’s gasp of shock. But when she smiled invitingly he realized what his stare must have looked like.

"Ah, Mrs. Winningham," he began desperately and felt someone tugging at his jacket. He turned around knowing it was Murdock and actually grateful this time.

"Murdock, I think I just saw…"

Murdock jerked his head to the side.

"Someone’s in an awful hurry to leave the ballroom," he said in a remarkably businesslike tone. Without a word, Face left the matron and the novelist standing there with the same stunned expressions on their faces, and followed Murdock out of the room through the little back entrance.

*****

"Believe me now?" Murdock asked as they trailed a tall, thin man hurrying down a hallway lined with closed room doors.

"I can’t believe people would steal at my benefit!" Face muttered angrily. "And it’s not even me! I’m legit this time!"

"Really, Ashley?" Murdock turned around for a moment with raised eyebrows. "By the way, Facey, I think you look adorable, but you might want to clean your face."

Curiously, Face glanced at his reflection in a mirror hanging up in a little alcove as they passed and saw eight chocolate fingerprints on his face around his mouth where Murdock had grabbed him. No wonder people had been staring at him, he thought furiously as he scrubbed his face with the handkerchief from his tux pocket. They must have thought that he and Murdock had been….

"Hold on," Murdock whispered suddenly and froze. He flattened himself against the wall and Face immediately did the same thing. "He’s going into a room." They both waited breathlessly for a moment and then Murdock nodded. "He’s come out again and he’s heading in the opposite direction. Do you have a gun?"

"No!" Face scowled at him. As if he would wear a gun to his event. "Of course not." He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his kit of lock picks. "However…"

"You brought those to your benefit?" Murdock was grinning again. Face held them close to his chest for a moment defensively.

"Habit," Face said, then crossed his arms. "Though why I have to explain myself to the Nancy Drew reader I have no idea. And in the meantime…" he moved to the door and set to work. A few minutes later the door swung open. "Voila!"

Murdock jumped into the room ahead of him without the least sign of fear. But he paused in the doorway to glance around before letting Face follow him in. The thin man had left the lights on but there wasn’t much to see. A rumpled bed, some money and a comb on the nightstand, and an opened bathroom door that upon closer inspection revealed that the thin man either had a lady with him or liked to shampoo his hair to smell like roses. Either way, their search was over in seconds.

Frustrated, Face sat down on the bed and crossed his arms. Murdock went back into the bathroom; he seemed fascinated by the amount of towels for whatever reason.

"I’m not imagining things, am I? I did see something. And her jewels were definitely real before."

"Five big towels for one skinny guy. VA I only get one…" Murdock whined as he came out of the bathroom and continued searching through drawers for any sign of the jewels.

"I could have made a mistake…" Face muttered doubtfully, though he was rarely mistaken about jewels.

"It ain’t no mistake. Somebody’s stealin’ all the sparklies." Murdock sat down next to him and commented thoughtfully. "And replacing them with copies."

"They’re very good, whoever they are." Face had to admit it. If Murdock hadn’t made him jumpy, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. Those jewels had been removed as if by magic. And they had apparently disappeared right into the crowd. "But stealing from my guests at my party!" his voice rose. "The nerve of some people!" He chose to ignore how Murdock looked amused. "They must have been planning this."

"But I don’t see how they would know what to copy," Murdock said with a frown. "But I betcha Nancy Drew would know."

"Nancy Drew…Murdock," Face said disgustedly. "And as for knowing what to copy, most of the people here have favorite, distinctive pieces of jewelry. Anyone moving in these circles could guess…" he paused as Murdock looked up at him. They shared a look before Murdock actually said what Face wouldn’t.

"It’s one of your fancy pant guests, Facey."

"Great. That’s just great!" Face stood up and paced furiously in front of the bed. "I’ve got a benefit to throw. I’ve got a matchmaking mother and daughter chasing me. I’ve got a lunatic to babysit. And now I’ve got jewel thieves as well!"

"Babysit?" Murdock stood up too, sounding offended at the word, though not at being called a lunatic. "If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t even know you had thieves!"

Face raised his hands apologetically and without a word, Murdock accepted his apology. He could tell by the sudden light in the pilot’s eyes.

"So now what do we do about it? Call the rest of the team?"

"No!" Face hopped over to stand in front of Murdock. "Hannibal and B.A. here?" He shuddered. "No. We can handle this."

"Sho’ nuff!" Murdock saluted him. "Sounds like a case for the Hardy Boys."

He’d barely uttered the words when they both heard the sound of a key being placed in the lock. For a second they just stared at each other.

"Bathroom!" Murdock whispered quickly before dashing in that direction.

"Closet!" Face whispered back frantically, "It’s closer!" before grabbing Murdock and pushing him toward the closet. It was a long, narrow closet with two sliding doors. Face pushed Murdock in first and barely noticed when Murdock tripped on some shoes and fell forward, cursing quietly. Face turned around to look at the door just as it opened before throwing himself into the closet and pulled the sliding door shut behind him.

Murdock was facedown and almost flat on the ground except for his lower legs, which due to the limited space were up in the air. His hands were waving around behind him furiously. Face barely noticed as he tripped over Murdock’s legs and fell awkwardly onto the pilot in a way that had to have at least knocked the wind out of the other man. It was the only explanation for his sudden silence. Face scrambled to move off Murdock and Murdock started to move out from under him but they both froze when the outer room door hit the wall, and someone, probably the thin man, sighed to himself before slamming the outer door closed again. There was the sound of footsteps and then the creak of the mattress being depressed.

"Goddamn snotty bastards and their boring goddamn party," the thin man grumbled to himself. Boring? Face frowned and looked at Murdock before remembering that it was too dark in the closet for them to see each other. People had been having a damn good time at his event.

"Elbow," Murdock whispered suddenly in a pained voice and Face realized that he’d propped his head up on his hand as he’d listened and had used Murdock’s back for support. He moved carefully but there was no room for him to put his hands anywhere but on Murdock or on the floor. And Face realized suddenly that just about every inch of him would be resting on just about every inch of Murdock unless he kept both hands flat on the ground on either side of Murdock and held himself up like he was about to do a push up.

He tried, but there was no way he could hold himself up that long. After several minutes of hushed waiting as the thin man settled himself down on his bed with a drink from his minibar; Face had to give up. With a sigh, he tried to settle himself on his friend as gently as he could.

"Sorry," he said quietly into the hair at the back of Murdock’s neck. Murdock shivered.

"You gained some weight?" Murdock answered him softly with a hint of a smile in his voice.

"I have not!" Face answered, insulted and Murdock began to laugh silently. Face could feel him shaking. It was almost like being on one of those Magic Fingers beds, and after a moment, Face had to fight to keep his own laughter from erupting. It was ridiculous. He was stuck in a closet on top of Murdock while a hundred of his guests were a few yards away getting their jewelry stolen.

Their laughter faded away after a while and Face waited impatiently, but the thin man made no hints that he would go to sleep, or leave his room or even take a shower anytime soon. Face was getting impatient and Murdock was getting antsy; Face could tell from how Murdock was starting to hum the theme to Perry Mason softly to himself. And to make it worse, it was getting hot in the little space. He pulled at his collar, sure he couldn’t take it a moment longer, but looked up sharply when there was a knock at the thin man’s door.

Murdock tensed underneath him and Face couldn’t blame him. Maybe there was something up with their suspect after all. But this theory was shot to pieces when Thin Man answered his door and Face heard Mrs. Hamilton’s nervous little giggle.

"I’m sorry to bother you, sir. But my daughter and I thought we saw Mr. Hemmings and his…cousin head down this way and wondered if you’d seen them?" she asked politely. Face briefly noted that she’d paused before mentioning Murdock.

"Mother…" Charlotte sighed impatiently.

"I haven’t seen anything," the thin man told them. Then his voice deepened. "But if you are looking for some company…"

"Let’s go, Mother. I told you that Mr. Hemmings and his guest probably wanted to be alone for a few minutes."

"Charlotte." Mrs. Hamilton admonished gently. Face shook his head in disbelief. Great. That was just great. One more thing to deal with. He noticed how Murdock froze at the words too. "Well," she sighed finally, "Let’s just go back to the ballroom."

"Uh, yeah. I was just heading back there. Allow me to escort you," Thin Man sleazed on. Face heard Charlotte’s irritated snort but her mother seemed only too delighted at the idea as the door closed behind them all. Face let out a long, slow sigh then stifled a surprised yell when Murdock suddenly rolled over onto his side, dropping Face to the carpet beside him abruptly.

"Ow!" Face complained loudly and glared into Murdock’s face. He could just make it out.

"What do you mean, ‘ow’? I’m the one that’s been supportin’ you for the past quarter hour!" Murdock snapped and stared back stubbornly. He shook his head and they were so close that their noses almost bumped.

"I don’t weigh that much," Face insisted, just knowing that Murdock’s eyes were twinkling somewhere in the shadows Then he remembered where they were and what was going on. "Why are we still in the closet?" he asked suddenly and shook his head.

"That’s a good question," Murdock agreed seriously and moved to get up. Face twisted and reached for the door handle just as the outer door opened again.

"Forgot my good jacket," they heard the thin man say. Face looked up at the jacket hanging above them. A second later he winced as the closet door slid open and the light came in.

*****

"Ah, yes," Face commented calmly and jumped up to stare into the thin man’s surprised face. "The carpeting looks fine in this unit. Wouldn’t you agree, H.M.?" He asked Murdock as he helped him to stand.

"Not too shabby," Murdock answered with a nod as he smoothed his hair back. Face turned back to the thin man with a smile.

"We’re with the hotel and we like to make sure that every aspect of our guests’ stays are pleasant, and that includes carpeting. Can never be too diligent, that’s our motto." Face smiled wider and gently pushed the stunned man aside to step out of the closet.

"Mr. Hemmings?"

He heard the shocked question as he did and turned to see Charlotte Hamilton and her mother standing in the doorway and staring at him with wide eyes. Then he saw their eyes move past him and winced again.

"Mr. Murdock?" Mrs. Hamilton asked. Her eyes darted to the closet then back to him. He could see ideas forming in her eyes that he just knew he wouldn’t like.

"Checking the carpet," the thin man said faintly and peered into the darkness. Charlotte snorted as if that were funny. For some reason, Face felt his cheeks get warm. He was pretty sure he hadn’t blushed since he’d been at the orphanage. To cover it now he cleared his throat and decided to brave it out.

"Yes. As I said, can never be too diligent. Murdock?" He turned to Murdock, who smiled and stuck his hands in his pockets.

"Very comfortable carpet. I wouldn’t mind bein’ facedown on it again." He let out a long whistle and grinned evilly at Face. Charlotte snorted again. Face turned to him with narrowed eyes before remembering their audience.

"Anyway," he paused and shook his head. "We should all get back to ballroom. I have several things to check on. Ladies…" he gestured them forward and sighed in relief when they turned around without saying anything else. Then he glared at Murdock again.

Several very awkward minutes later, after an extremely long walk back to the ballroom which hadn’t been made any shorter by Murdock’s discussion with the thin man about how many towels his room had, they were back in the ballroom and the Hamiltons, with the thin man, had left them alone. Probably to go tell others what they’d seen. Face allowed himself one moment of fantasy in which none of that had just happened, before turning to an unrepentant Murdock.

"Sorry, Facey. But they were so stuffy." Murdock beat him to it, apologizing first so he couldn’t yell. It was so frustrating.

"Don’t even talk about it now. I just want to catch those thieves before this night is a total disaster."

"Don’t you worry. We just gotta figure out what Nancy Drew would do."

"I thought we were the Hardy Boys," Face pointed out as he straightened his tux. It had gotten all twisted in the closet. So had Murdock’s, so he ended up fixing that too, smiling reassuringly at his guests as they walked by them.

"So, they’d still need a place to stash the jewels." Murdock was actually being serious. He was even frowning, though it looked almost out of place on his face.

"Lots of the guests have rooms in the hotel for tonight. Or they could have an accomplice to hide them for him. Security is a possibility. Or even the caterers, though I doubt that." Face considered the situation thoughtfully.

"Guess we just have to keep our eyes open." Face tilted an imaginary hat forward and grinned eagerly.

"Discreetly, Murdock. Please!" Face said through a smile at an elderly gentleman with bushy eyebrows who passed them.

"Might I suggest starting with the caterers?"

"Fine. But no more chocolate sauce!" Face waved a finger at his friend and ignored Murdock’s pout. They headed over to the tables and then decided to split up since they couldn’t just stake out the table so openly. Face ended up at the dessert end, right next to the bowl of chocolate sauce and dish of fresh fruit.

He kept his eyes on the guests but after all a while, the chocolate smell got to him. Which was why he was trying to quickly finish his chocolate dipped strawberry so Murdock wouldn’t see when he saw Mrs. Devereaux a few feet away. He was about to look away so he wouldn’t meet her eye but stopped to watch as one of the caterers, the hairy little man in fact, helped her to stand when she partially tripped over the draping tablecloth.

Her jewelry winked in and out of Face’s vision. He choked out the strawberry before nodding significantly to Murdock at the other end of the table and following the hairy man through the kitchen doors. Murdock was behind him in moments.

There was no sign of the hairy men in the kitchen. In fact, there was no sign of anyone. The little kitchen was for ballroom entertaining only but since these caterers had done their cooking off the premises, Face supposed that most of the food had been brought in from a van or truck outside. A van or truck would also be a good place to temporarily stash some stolen jewelry.

It didn’t look like a man could hide behind the steel counters, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. Face gestured to the back doors that probably led into the alley behind the hotel then signaled for caution. Murdock nodded and they moved forward slowly.

Face went through the doors first this time; peeking out into the chilly night air at what he had correctly guessed was an alley. He waved Murdock out too and then stood there staring into the shadows and inhaling the stench of old garbage. He wrinkled his nose.

"Where did he go? There weren’t any other ways outta there that I saw."

"Maybe he went out for a smoke?" Face suggested. He looked down the alley, seeing only a dilapidated wooden fence with graffiti on it and piles of plastic garbage bags that shifted in the occasional breeze. The only light came from the hotel rooms above them. There was no sign of a catering van or truck.

"Long walk," was all Murdock said, but Face knew that Murdock suspected something with the caterer too.

"We should go in before he comes back." And he needed to get back to his guests.

"After you," Murdock said graciously, but ruined it by hopping around the kitchen once they were back inside. He started looking through the cabinets and around what had been left half-opened on the countertops, using the excuse that the jewels might be there. They could have been, but Face doubted it. But Murdock seemed to be enjoying himself, especially when he suddenly went quiet and stared down at something in a big silver dish on one of the counters. His silence was so unnerving that Face couldn’t help heading over there for a peek.

Murdock was staring down at the bowl with rapt concentration. Face raised an eyebrow before looking down cautiously. Then he rolled his eyes.

"Good Lord, Murdock. Not more chocolate sauce."

"I’m jonesin’ for it, Facey. I’m jonesin’ bad. And someone was nice enough to leave some out for me." He looked very pleased.

"No!" Face tried to be firm. "You’ll get it everywhere."

"Will not!" Murdock picked up the bowl and held it close to him before dipping a finger in. Face grabbed one side of the bowl to pull it away but Murdock was holding on.

"Murdock! Can’t you have it later?" Face sighed in exasperation before making one final grab for the bowl. Murdock let go with a startled look and Face watched as if in slow motion as the chocolate spilled over the edge of the bowl onto the front of his formerly pristine tuxedo.

"Oops," Murdock said quietly before bursting into giggles.

"Great! That’s great, Murdock! What I am supposed to do now?" Face looked down at his Armani in horror.

"Lay yourself out on the table and tell people you’re a cream puff?" Murdock suggested. Face stared at him furiously for a full minute before swinging the bowl back in order to give it a nice trajectory when he threw it at his best friend.

"Mr. Hemmings?" A deep voice inquired. Face turned around to see the security guard he’d spoken to earlier staring at the two of them with raised eyebrows. He would show up now, Face thought with a sigh. The bulldog still hadn’t cracked a smile, but Face would bet that the man wanted to.

Face looked down at his clothing, then over to Murdock, who was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. He hastily set down the bowl of chocolate, then straightened his sticky bow tie and stepped forward.

"Ah, yes? Is it important? I have to go change." He had a glare for Murdock as he said that, but did his best to grin at Beefy, as Murdock had called him earlier.

"No, sir," the security man responded. "Just sweeping the rooms as usual."

"Well, then, carry on." Face waved a hand dismissively. It was hard to do with Murdock gasping for air behind him. But, if he could do that, he could make through the ballroom to the back staircase without strangling his best friend. He tried not to sigh as Murdock reached out and swiped a finger down his shirt to scoop up some more chocolate.

*****

Ah, that was much better, Face thought with a happy sigh as he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror in his hotel room. After his quick shower there was no trace of chocolate on him anywhere. Now he just had to get dressed in a new tux and head back downstairs.

He combed his wet hair back carefully, glad that his hair at least could be set to rights, and dashed on some of his favorite cologne. He didn’t spend much time actually looking at his face; he knew exactly what he looked like by now, and knew that even without combing his hair that he would have been able to set most pulses racing. Of course, that wasn’t likely to do him much good with the current mess going on downstairs, but a well-timed smile had certainly never hurt a bad situation.

On that thought, he reached for a towel so he could go find Murdock and get his other tuxedo back, only there weren’t any. Since there had been plenty of towels in his room before Murdock had used it a few minutes ago, he was pretty sure that Murdock had taken them. Truthfully, Face wouldn’t have minded the petty larceny, if it hadn’t meant that he was temporarily stranded. He muttered angrily under his breath for a few minutes before easing the bathroom door open a few inches to call Murdock and make him bring back a towel.

Face didn’t see Murdock in the outer room, but he might be back in the bedroom. For a brief moment Face was annoyed with his decision to scam the larger room but he forgot all about it when he heard quiet footsteps coming from the direction of the bedroom. His first thought was that it was Murdock but, whoever it was, was obviously trying to be sneaky. The footsteps were slow and light, and there was none of the usual singing, whistling, humming, or continuous talking that characterized Murdock’s presence. His second thought–that it was the hotel cleaning service–he also dismissed; it was too quiet and the staff would have heard him in the shower and left. That meant it was an intruder.

He tensed and eased the door open a little wider. Could be anyone, military, police, or even the thieves from downstairs getting a little more ambitious. He almost wished it were one of the thieves so he could catch them red-handed. Well, they wouldn’t find anything in Face’s room except for a whole lot of trouble, especially if they’d hurt Murdock.

Listening carefully in case they should come out of the bedroom, Face slipped out of the bathroom and crept up to the open doorway to the bedroom, then paused to listen again and determine their exact position. Behind the bed most likely, by his nightstand, the far side of the room. He’d have to wait until he or she came a little closer.

A few seconds later the person moved around from the bed, probably heading in Face’s direction; just how he wanted it. He waited until the sound of footsteps meant that his uninvited guest was right about to turn the corner and find him before jumping out and throwing them to the floor in one quick move. Then he threw himself on top of them to keep them pinned to the ground.

"Ha!" he yelled triumphantly before getting a good look at the thief he’d caught. Then he winced. "Mrs. Hamilton?" he asked though he knew damn well who it was.

Mrs. Hamilton stared back up at him with wide, alarmed eyes.

"Mr. Hemmings?" she asked him in a shaky voice, then went very still. He was just wondering why when she grinned at him welcomingly. "Well, this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I came in here, but…"

Face abruptly remembered that he was naked and wet and was pinning down one of his guests on the floor.

"Ah," he said around a sigh and stood up. Then he reached over to grab a pillow from the bed for cover before helping her to her feet. To her credit, she’d been trying to keep her gaze on his face, but Face felt the need for the pillow anyway. "Mrs. Hamilton, I’m so sorry. I thought some stranger had wandered into my room…" he began.

"Oh, don’t worry." She waved it away as she straightened her dress. "Besides, believe me, it was more than worth it."

For the second time that evening, Face felt his cheeks, and a lot more of him, blush hotly.

"Mother!" Charlotte burst out from the doorway.

"Ashley!" Murdock parroted her from behind her. Face turned to stare at both of them with a wide, nervous smile. He tried to ignore Murdock’s obvious amusement and how his friend’s eyes kept darting to the pillow.

"Just great," he said, mostly to himself.

"What is going on here?" Charlotte demanded coolly. She didn’t look too upset to find her mother in the bedroom of a naked man half her age. For a second he wondered what would upset her.

"I’m not sure." Face rubbed his face with his one free hand.

"I let Mrs. Hamilton into the room for a second when she said she needed to see you, but then I went to ask for some more towels for the room and Charlotte came with me," Murdock threw in. Face ignored him for the moment.

"Mrs. Hamilton, what are you doing in my room anyway?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I came up to tell you! Just now, in the ladies’ powder room, I thought I felt someone try to take my jewelry."

"What?" Face nearly shouted about the same time Murdock did. "Someone tried to take your jewelry?" There was just the right amount of surprise in his voice.

"Why didn’t you go to security instead of coming here?" Murdock wondered seriously. Face frowned thoughtfully and nodded. That was a good question.

"Oh." She looked flustered. "I’m not sure. I could have been imagining things, after all. It was crowded in there and I could barely move, but I thought I felt a tug at my neck. So I grabbed my jewelry tightly and the tugging stopped. But it could have been caught in someone’s hair or something. It was crowded in there." She smiled apologetically. "Should I go to security?"

"No," Face was quick to assure her. "You did the right thing coming to me. I’ll try to get to the bottom of this. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding."

"That’s so comforting," she beamed at him. "Isn’t he reliable, Charlotte?" She turned to her daughter. Charlotte rolled her eyes again.

"I think so," Murdock answered for her. His smile faded at Face’s furious look.

"Now, you ladies just go downstairs and try to have fun and I’ll be down in a minute after I…ah…get dressed." Face gestured to the pillow.

"Oh of course, Mr. Hemmings. Mr. Murdock." Mrs. Hamilton nodded to Murdock and headed past him to the outer door. Charlotte looked them both over for a moment before smiling to herself and following her mother. Face managed to keep still until the door had closed behind them. Then he turned to Murdock.

"Where are the towels?" was the first thing he said. "Take off your pants," was the second.

"What?" Murdock jumped and stared at him in apparent amazement. Any other time Face would have enjoyed shocking the almost unshockable pilot, but he was not in the mood now.

"You are wearing my only other tux and I want it back. You can wear a suit from the closet. Now take off your pants."

"Boy, you’re bossy," Murdock scolded with crossed arms. "I like this tux."

"Murdock…" Face warned and his friend put up his hands.

"All right," he agreed and then just stood there. After a second his cheeks turned pink. "Well go on!" he waved his hands in the direction of the bathroom. Face smirked at the expression of sudden, shy embarrassment on Murdock’s face. It was what he deserved. The whole thing was Murdock’s fault for messing with that chocolate sauce and then taking the towels. "And the towels are under the bed," Murdock admitted reluctantly, as if he’d read Face’s mind.

Face bent down carefully to get one and then skipped past Murdock with his back to the wall to go back into the bathroom. He dried off while he waited for his clothes and didn’t pay any attention when he heard Murdock’s mumbles through the door; Murdock was always talking to himself.

When Face came out again, wrapped in a towel, Murdock was frowning thoughtfully to himself with half of an expensive suit on. The top half. Murdock’s bottom half was bare, except for a pair of white underwear with little frogs all over it. Face’s tux was spread out on the floor. Muttering to himself, Face grabbed some underwear from his dresser and slipped them on under his towel. Then he put on the pants before he decided to ask what Murdock’s frown was about.

"You know what this means, right? At least one of our suspects is a woman. I was thinking about what Nancy Drew would do about this," Murdock answered moments later. Face noticed his hands fumbling with the buttons of his jacket and stalked across the room to finish it and adjust how the suit rested on Murdock’s shoulders.

"Murdock…" Face was getting a little tired of Nancy Drew, even if she had made Murdock notice the missing jewelry in the first place.

"No, really, Facey. Do you know what Nancy Drew would do if she heard someone had tried to steal some jewels in the ladies’ room? She’d go in there and stake it out," Murdock continued before Face could say anything. He finally put his pants on.

"And how are we going to stake out a ladies’ room without getting noticed?" Face wondered sarcastically. He turned away to finish getting himself dressed as he asked and almost didn’t catch the insane light that entered Murdock’s eyes. Face turned back around and shook his head. "Murdock…" he began.

"It’ll be great!" Murdock said brightly. "They’ll never suspect!"

"Murdock! I have a party to get back to. And I’m sure my guests will notice if you go running around in drag! They already seem to think that we’re-"

"Facey!" Murdock whined, interrupting him. "Nancy Drew would do it!"

"Nancy Drew is a woman!" Face argued back, forgetting for a moment that she wasn’t real.

"Exactly!" Murdock finished with a crooked grin. "All we need is for a woman to volunteer her dress for a while…" he trailed off and looked at Face. He tapped one finger against the side of his face. "Who do we know that would be good at requisitioning a dress?"

"Insulting my ability to con is not going to get me to do this, Murdock." Face crossed his arms firmly, even if it was what he did best.

"And try to get it in my size." Murdock just kept right on going. He seemed to think that Face was going to do it.

*****

"The dress really is beautiful, Face. I have to commend you." Murdock sighed in satisfaction and held up the black evening gown that Face had borrowed from the beautiful woman he’d left unconscious in her hotel room. Thinking of Bambi, and how he’d slipped a mickey into her glass after she’d invited him back up to her room instead of taking her up on her more than obvious offer, Face let out a sigh of his own, though his was more one of disappointment.

"I thought she was tall enough that you could wear it," Face tried to keep the pride from his voice, but he was pleased that he’d found something that he thought would not only fit Murdock, but be at least somewhat stylish. Whenever Murdock ended up in dresses, they tended to be perfectly awful looking things he’d had to grab out of desperation. This dress was different.

Givenchy, if Face was not mistaken, it was sleek and sexy, with a low back, a long slit up one leg, and an off the shoulder neckline. It’s only flaw was that it had these large bunches of material on both of the tiny sleeves, but that should help hide Murdock’s less than delicately slender arms nicely. Murdock nodded thoughtfully as he looked it over.

"Yup, it sure is nice. Only one problem though Facey," he paused.

"What? I’ve even got her shoes…" Face held up the high heels significantly.

"It’s too low cut." Murdock patted his chest.

"What, are you shy now?" Face snorted.

"No, Faceman. But I think people might notice that I haven’t been keeping up on my waxin’."

"Wax…? Murdock." Face realized what Murdock was talking about. "Well, that’s it then. I told you that this was a stupid idea. We’ll have to think of something else."

"No, no, Facey, it’s a great idea. It just won’t work with me…" Murdock grinned at him before reaching over to poke him in the nose. "C’mon, Face. Think of what the Colonel would do."

Face knew he was gaping but couldn’t help it.

"Murdock! What are you trying to do? It’s been nothing but disasters since you got here. You really think I could do this and not get noticed?" He ignored the hurt that briefly entered Murdock’s eyes.

"You’ll be great!" Murdock had apparently stopped listening. "I’ve always thought that it should have been you in the dresses most of the time anyway. You’re just smaller."

"Murdock…" Face tried to sound fierce. Murdock helped up the dress and widened his eyes pleadingly.

"C’mon, Facey. Just try it on and we’ll see how you look," he said coaxingly. That kicked puppy look was back again. "Think of your guests downstairs. Sooner or later one of them is bound to notice something’s up with their sparklies." He stared at Face expectantly.

"I can’t believe everyone thinks I’m the manipulative one on the team," Face sighed finally after a long moment and snatched the dress from Murdock. He smiled sourly at Murdock’s enthusiastic clapping and stalked into the bathroom.

"Guess I get to wear the tux after all," Murdock called out gleefully just as Face closed the door and began muttering to himself what sounded like, "Murdock, H.M. Murdock."

"Why do I let him do it?" Face asked himself as he struggled to fit the dress over his head several minutes later, noticing as he did that there were falsies sewn into the front of the dress. Bambi apparently wasn’t as well-endowed as she’d like to be.

He got the damn thing on, though it was a bit tight, and stared at himself critically in the mirror for a few seconds. Actually, black was one of his best colors, so that wasn’t a problem. It even emphasized his eyes. And the cut was nice, even if his back didn’t curve as gracefully as Bambi’s had. Combined with the falsies, he was almost pretty enough to buy himself a drink. Catching himself, he scowled. But none of that meant anything. His face still didn’t look very feminine and the pantyhose were just uncomfortable, even if they were sort of flattering.

He walked out of the bathroom as casually as he could, feeling a little flutter in his stomach again as Murdock looked up from going through Bambi’s purse and caught sight of him. For some reason, when Murdock didn’t say anything, Face felt the urge to look down and play with his skirt. The soft material swished gently around his legs.

"Well?" He did his best to snarl. "Will I do?" That made Murdock smile.

"I reckon so, as soon as we put on your face, uh, Face." His smile got impossibly wide.

"Cut it out, Murdock. I just want to get this over with." Face snatched the purse away. He was pretty sure after all the makeup the team had done over the years he could figure this out.

"Come here and sit down!" Murdock ordered and pointed to a chair. Then he pulled the purse back while Face sat down. "I have much more experience with this sort of thing. Now…" he cleared his throat and raised his voice. "Would you prefer to be more of a Marilyn Monroe, or a Marlene Dietrich?" He snapped his fingers when Face frowned at him. "Grace Kelly, of course. To Catch a Thief, very classic."

He rummaged around in the purse until he found some foundation. He tossed that back in with a sneer and dove in again. Face watched him anxiously and knew he’d found something when Murdock smiled. He pulled out some blush, mascara, and eyeliner.

"Just hold still, Facey. This shouldn’t hurt a bit."

"I know, I know. You won’t feel a thing," Face finished the joke with an impatient, angry sigh.

"Pretty eyes, pretty boy," Murdock commented playfully when he was done with Face’s eyes. He swept the brush with the blusher on it swiftly across each of Face’s cheekbones just once and then paused to admire his work. "Nice. But it needs…" He pulled out a tube of lipstick and popped off the top dramatically. "Now, be a good Face and open your mouth like this." He leaned down until their faces were almost touching and formed a little ‘O’ with his lips.

Face obediently opened his mouth and stilled as Murdock drew the lipstick slowly across his upper lip, and then his lower. Murdock moved so carefully that Face wondered vaguely if he was scared of making a mistake. He held his breath as Murdock swept the lipstick across his bottom lip for the third time. Then, finally, Murdock straightened up and smiled.

"Perfect. Now let’s get you downstairs," Murdock announced with a lopsided grin. He picked up the sapphire necklace and bracelet that Bambi had been wearing and handed them carefully to Face. Face slipped them on and fastened the necklace impatiently. It was getting late and time was running out. "Your shoes, Cinderella." Murdock dangled the strappy things from his long fingers.

Face tried to bend down and realized that the dress was just too tight for that. He turned to Murdock reluctantly.

"Would you mind?" he asked on another sigh. This was not how he’d planned his evening. Murdock rolled his eyes.

"Whatever happened to women’s lib, Face?" He teased before going down to his knees. He moved the soft material of the dress aside impatiently and got a firm grip on Face’s ankle to keep his foot steady while he fumbled with the straps. Face nearly fell anyway and glared down at Murdock since this was still his fault. When he’d finished, Murdock let the dress fall back down gracefully and stood up with sparkling eyes. "Ready to go down the ball, Cinders?"

"Just shut up, Murdock," Face stared at him with narrowed eyes before grabbing his purse and stepping past him. He tripped on the heels almost immediately. For once, Murdock didn’t laugh. He just stuck out his arm in that same debonair manner he’d had earlier.

"Shall we go?" he asked, James Mason again. Or maybe it was Sean Connery. "It does take some getting used to," Murdock added comfortingly. Face realized that he must have looked worried. Or maybe he hadn’t looked worried, but Murdock had read his mind again. Murdock knew what he was thinking most of the time anyway.

"They won’t know it’s me, will they?" Face had to ask. He’d been planning this evening for months now and had been looking forward to his social success almost his whole life. This was not the kind of thing that got you into the Beverly Bay Country Club.

"Don’t worry. You don’t look like Facey to anybody but me." Murdock was close to bouncing excitedly. "Just smile, talk softly, and, if some guy tries to hit on ya, tell him you’re with me."

The words were hardly reassuring, but Face nodded anyway and tried not to look too worried.

*****

"You look great. Nancy Drew would be proud," Murdock told him reassuringly one last time as they stood outside the ladies’ room. "Just go in, keep your eyes open, and try not to attract too much attention. I’ll be right out here waiting for you."

"You’d better be." Face fixed his friend with a glare. But it was half-hearted at best since Murdock had offered nothing but support, physically and emotionally, as they’d walked slowly through the ballroom to the restrooms neatly tucked away in that back hallway. He was just lucky that no one had spotted him; otherwise there definitely would have been a fight coming.

Face lingered on Murdock’s arm for a second longer and then eased away and merged into the large group of women heading into the bathroom. For once he was grateful that women never went to the bathroom alone. He drifted to the center of the pack and paused with them once they were inside the doors.

It was a large old-fashioned restroom. More of a lounge actually, with mirrors and couches in the outer room and some stalls hidden behind a wall. Most of the women were lingering here, adjusting their makeup or just openly gossiping on the couches. Face settled himself as unobtrusively as possible on the end of one of the sofas. Then he went through Bambi’s purse until he found her powder compact and pretended to check his makeup, all the while darting glances around the room.

He didn’t see anything after several minutes, so he slipped off his heels since some of the other women had–they were incredibly painful, even if they did make his legs look good–and actually examined the makeup job Murdock had done on him. It really wasn’t bad. He didn’t look like a model or anything, but his eyes and his mouth really did look nice. Then he heard someone whisper his name, well, Ashley’s name, and raised his head.

"…looks good tonight, doesn’t he?" a woman behind him confessed to another and then added something that made Face smile smugly.

"Did you see who was with him?"

Face tensed at the mention of Murdock.

"Much more my type. I saw him by the tables. He seemed to be enjoying the desserts. His tux looked borrowed, but I don’t care." Whoever was speaking let out a low whistle and whispered something about those desserts that almost made Face turn around to get a good look at her. He would have angled the mirror, but she probably would have noticed that too.

"It’s a shame, isn’t it?" The other woman sighed.

"What is?" Murdock’s admirer seemed confused. There was some whispering Face couldn’t quite make out and then a gasped, "No!"

"Oh, it’s so obvious when you seem them together," the other one continued. "Almost makes me want to spend a night trying to change their minds, but, well…" She sighed. "I heard someone say how nice it was that they were so open with their affection. All I can say is I’m glad he’s only a social climber and not anybody important so he doesn’t have to be invited to everything."

"Alexis!" the other woman said in a polite scold and then began verbally tearing apart the dress a woman across the room was wearing. Face put his shoes back on, stood up stiffly and turned around to glare briefly at each of them before making a point of separating himself from them. For a moment he didn’t care if anybody would recognize him. He heard them both gasp as he slipped away and repositioned himself in the corner near the door.

But he still wasn’t seeing anything. Maybe Mrs. Hamilton had been mistaken. It was possible. He sighed and took one last look at himself in one of the mirrors along the wall to make sure his disguise was well in place. It was crowded, but he pushed his way forward and reapplied his lipstick, remembering the careful way Murdock had smoothed it on before. Satisfied, he turned away just as a pearl necklace slid from around someone’s neck in the reflection.

Face froze and waited carefully until the copy had been replaced before lifting his gaze to see who was attached to the black-gloved hand grasping the choker. But the room was too crowded. He saw only the briefest glimpse of dark hair that quickly became lost in the group of women leaving the ladies’ room. He hurried after the women and looked around frantically for Murdock. He was right where he’d said he’d be and sidled up to Face seconds after he came out.

"See something?" he asked seriously and nodded when Face jerked his head at the group of women.

"Someone in that group. I didn’t see her face." Face reported succinctly as they stayed a few paces behind the group.

"That complicates things, doesn’t it?" Murdock seemed to be enjoying himself; he was bouncing and humming. But his humming stopped when the women headed en masse to the food tables.

"Oh, this just keeps getting better and better," Face moaned as they spilt up into several smaller groups. Some getting more champagne, others canapés and a few more heading towards the desserts. "Keep your eyes open."

"I’ll try, but sometimes they wanna shut on their own…"

Face gave Murdock a quick look to let him know that his joke was not funny before focusing on the hairy little caterer, who’d come out of the kitchens and was talking with a few ladies at the other end of the room.

"The caterer," Face whispered, almost to himself, but Murdock heard him anyway.

"Kitchen?" he asked with wide, excited eyes and dashed on ahead. He came back when Face had problems keeping up in his heels. They made it to the kitchen just as the little man disappeared out the back door. There was another caterer in the kitchen who stared at the both of them in amazement as they ran through but didn’t try to stop them, which was good since Face hadn’t quite figured out a way to explain this yet.

The alley was as dark as before and the hairy man was not in sight. But the catering van was parked just outside the doors, the back doors opened invitingly. Face stood back as look out while Murdock climbed in and started banging around pots and pans and spatulas. After several tense, long, and incredibly loud minutes, Murdock jumped out of the van with a sigh.

"What, nothing?" Face asked in disbelief.

"Maybe we’re wrong about this guy?" Murdock suggested half-heartedly and glanced around the alley. "Or maybe it’s just not the van." He pointed to alley. "Maybe he takes the jewels somewhere else."

"Whoever this person is, plans well, but they can’t be doing this often," Face said thoughtfully. "This is a big score. It will definitely be noticed by tomorrow. Nice of them to pick my party." He made a face as he added that.

"Cheer up, Facey. At least we know that you’re a size eight if you don’t mind not breathin’," Murdock poked his nose again. "And it’s a nice night. Relatively clear air even. You can almost make out the stars."

"A nice night for a social disaster?" Face wondered sarcastically. For a moment, his words were the only sound in the air; then they both heard the footsteps echoing from the other end of the alley.

"The caterer?" Murdock asked in a voice that was almost hopeful. "I want to see what he does." Face glanced around quickly at his words, agreeing with him, but not seeing a place to hide.

"Yeah, but where? There’s no place to go. We could stay out in plain sight, but what would two people be doing out in an alley like this?" The question was rhetorical but that didn’t prevent the insane light from entering Murdock’s eyes. It was clearly visible despite the general darkness. "Murdock…" Face began warningly just before Murdock leaned himself back against the wall of the hotel. Then he grabbed Face by the sleeves of his dress and pulled him all the way up against his body. A moment later, before Face could even think to do anything, one of Murdock’s hands slipped under the dress and found his leg; his other went behind Face’s neck. "What?" Face managed to ask, pulling away slightly and not keeping the alarm from his voice. Murdock bent his head down to whisper in Face’s ear.

"What would two people be doing in an alley like this?" Murdock repeated his earlier question directly into his ear and grinned. Face shivered but otherwise kept still. It did make sense, he told himself, even considering the source.

The man neared them, his footsteps getting louder, and Murdock brought Face’s leg up against his hip and held it there. The action moved Face even closer to Murdock, but it also made him nearly lose his balance with only one toe on the ground. He had to lean against Murdock to keep from falling. He didn’t like it, but knew Murdock wouldn’t let him fall.

"Murdock!" Face complained breathlessly anyway but Murdock shushed him, just as the hairy little man must have come into sight. Trapped against Murdock, Face couldn’t see much of anything aside from Murdock’s bowtie. He swallowed what he’d been about to say and concentrated on listening to whatever the caterer, or possible accomplice jewel thief, might do. The man came closer and Face jumped slightly as Murdock’s hand started to gently stroke his upper thigh.

"Sh," Murdock told him softly. "We’re bein’ watched. Try to act like you’re enjoyin’ yourself." Nodding, Face decided to do his best. He brought his arms up to wrap around Murdock and buried his face in the side of his neck. He noted distantly that Murdock had borrowed some of his cologne and that Murdock’s pulse was beating furiously as if he were afraid. Face realized his heart rate wasn’t exactly normal either. Murdock’s hand on his leg was surprisingly warm.

"Heh heh." The laugh must have come from the hairy little caterer, since Face was close enough to hear every intake of Murdock’s breath and the laugh did not come from him. He did feel Murdock’s muscles tense up at the leering tone in the man’s voice and tried to calm him by sending him calming thoughts. Murdock read his mind often enough anyway, why should now be any different? "Why don’t you kiss her, man? Girl gets like that, she’s only askin’ for one thing."

Face went still and realized distantly that Murdock had frozen in place too. Then Murdock’s breath rushed over Face’s ear as he sighed.

"Whattadya say, Facey?" Murdock whispered before using the hand on the back of his neck to lift his head. His words had been playful but his tone, and the look in his brown eyes, was deadly serious. Face only had moment to register that before Murdock took his face in his hands and kissed him.

*****

For the briefest moment, Face had a vivid memory of stealing a kiss from Mary Beth Tyler at the age of twelve. It had been so horribly awkward, lips and noses in the wrong places, forgetting to breath, the fear of getting caught. Then the memory was gone and the thought came to Face suddenly that this was Murdock. Murdock. That the two of them were kissing, their lips tightly closed and pressed against each other’s like a nun’s hands clasped in prayer, a chaste, earnest contact.

It was nothing compared to the hot, eager kisses Bambi had pressed all over him earlier before the drug had taken effect. Nothing to worry about, he told himself, and felt, as if on its own, his body relax in one long released breath. He felt Murdock relax too, loosening his grip and lowering one hand to rest on Face’s side. It was just his friend, Face’s mind told him soothingly, and he nodded to himself and sighed again. Opening his mouth seemed so natural, just as natural as he felt Murdock’s lips soften and the hand on his side began to circle slowly lower.

After a moment it seemed too gentle, too innocent, like that unsatisfying kiss at the age of twelve. Face lowered his hands to pull roughly at the lapels of Murdock’s tuxedo, distantly aware that he was wrinkling the material but not caring. He just wanted to be closer to Murdock and the expensive suit was in his way. Murdock seemed to agree; his hands were roaming everywhere, creating a shivery warmth on Face’s bare arms and neck as they skipped down his body and under his skirt through the slit over his leg. It still wasn’t enough.

"Hey, you two, get a room. This is a hotel you know," the hairy caterer commented with an earthy laugh and disappeared back into the kitchen. The roughly spoken words jerked them apart.

Face stumbled backwards and this time it wasn’t from the high heels. He felt the folds of the skirt fall back down around his ankles and realized just how far his dress had been lifted up by Murdock’s hands. He looked down at the swirling material and tried to catch his breath. He could hear Murdock’s heavy breathing a few feet away and for a moment it was the only sound in the alley. He tried to wipe the memory away, but he could still hear Murdock’s sighs as he’d deepened the kiss, still feel his hot breath on his face, his hands...

"Never done that before…" Murdock said jokingly into the silence, almost in his old manner, but his words lacked their normal buoyancy. Face looked up at him sharply. He tried to see his old friend, but all he saw was the wrinkled tux, the flushed cheeks, and the lipstick smeared all over Murdock’s mouth.

"Don’t!" Face shouted at him, surprising himself at the intensity. "Just don’t joke about it, Murdock!"

"I…I wasn’t jokin’, Facey." Murdock was strangely hesitant. "I’ve never…"

"Well neither have I!" Face knew he shouldn’t be yelling but couldn’t help it. From somewhere drifted the sounds of the party going on inside. His party. The social event of the year if everything went off smoothly. Problem was, nothing had.

Face ran his hands through his hair, for once uncaring of how untidy that would look. Then he looked over at Murdock and saw a look in Murdock’s eyes that a thousand times worse than the kicked puppy look.

"Facey, I’m sorry," the other man began, then stopped. "No…no I’m not." Murdock suddenly frowned. "I know I’m crazy and unreliable and all those things B.A. says I am, but I just know I don’t feel sorry about this, Facey. For whatever reason I...enjoyed it. More than that…I…"

"I don’t want to hear it now, Murdock!" Face cut off him ruthlessly and turned away from Murdock and his eyes. "I just…I just don’t want to hear it now." His words echoed around the alley just as the kitchen doors opened again. Face flung himself breathlessly into Murdock’s arms and held himself stiffly as Murdock’s arms closed around him again.

"Mr. Murdock?" The deep-voiced security man seemed surprised. "I thought…ahem… Have you seen Mr. Hemmings?"

Without looking up, Face felt Murdock shake his head.

"Ain’t no Mr. Hemmings out here," Murdock told the other man. Face wondered if he was grinning that lopsided grin he did whenever he used the truth to mislead people.

"Well…" the guard still seemed unsure. "Sorry to have bothered you." The door closed behind him a second later and Face jumped out of Murdock’s embrace.

"We got a case to solve, right?" Murdock said instantly, even if it was without his old enthusiasm. He stuck his hands in his pockets.

"Right," Face agreed with a little surprise. "We have a case to solve."

"Right." Murdock cleared his throat. For a while neither of them moved. Then Face made himself step closer to Murdock in order to enter the kitchen.

They walked back through the kitchens in silence and Face chose to ignore the lack of a spring in Murdock’s step. It was not something to think about now. Now he just had to find the thieves before the party ended so he wouldn’t look foolish. That was what was important.

He distanced himself from Murdock the moment they were back in the hotel ballroom.

"Just keep your eyes open, Murdock," he ordered, nervously adjusting his dress. He reached over to straighten Murdock’s bowtie, then remembered how it had gotten twisted in the first place and snatched his hands back. "You can even go by the dessert table. I think I see Mrs. Hamilton. You like her, don’t you? I’ll be over there." Face waved in the direction of the opposite side of the room, aware that he sounded like he was speaking to a child, but he just needed to get away from Murdock for a while. Murdock nodded.

"Sure thing, Facey," Murdock saluted him as he had earlier and then just stood there with his hands in his pockets while Face walked away.

*****

Face determinedly pushed thoughts of Murdock to the back of his mind as he slipped into the ladies’ room to repair his makeup and ignored the knowing looks of the women around him. He tried to ignore their gossip too, but that seemed impossible.

"Where is Mr. Hemmings? I haven’t seen him since I arrived," was only one of many questions about his whereabouts. And there were just as many answers, but a large number of them seemed to involve him and Murdock.

Face shook his head irritably. His makeup was fine. In fact, this disguise was ridiculous now. He should go upstairs and change into a suit, then return Bambi’s dress before she woke up in the morning.

Decided, he picked up the contents of her purse and spun away from the mirror. Then he turned back around abruptly, startling the woman who’d been waiting for her turn. He ignored her mutters and stared blankly at his reflection, seeing instead a hand in a long black glove clasping a pearl choker.

The ladies’ room earlier. His and Murdock agreement that it had to be a woman. That it had to be one of his guests. Someone quick, intelligent, and desperate enough for money to do this. All of it played out again in his mind and then he remembered something else that had been bothering him.

Why would someone as smart as this thief try to steal Mrs. Hamilton’s jewels? They were obviously fake; he knew it, and probably so did most of the women here. And, he tapped his purse thoughtfully, why would such an accomplished thief not succeed at taking Mrs. Hamilton’s necklace if they wanted it? Either Mrs. Hamilton was lying, or it was a set up. Face knew a lot about set ups, and a set up like this was the type to divert suspicion. Which meant that either Mrs. Hamilton was the thief or one of the thieves, or that someone close to her was, and had used her to shift the blame.

He had to talk to Murdock.

Face dashed out of the restroom as fast as his heels would allow and stopped short at the edge of the ballroom, searching for a sign of his friend. He wasn’t where Face had told him to go and he wasn’t on the dance floor. It wasn’t like him to wander off in a situation like this. Except that he had pretty much told him to disappear for a while, Face realized painfully and looked over the ballroom one final time.

Then he remembered. He’d sent Murdock over to talk with Mrs. Hamilton. Face glanced around quickly but there was no sign of her either. That left Charlotte. Face felt the air leave his lungs as he pictured her; her cool, emotionless face, her poise despite her mother’s often silly behavior, and the long, black gloves she’d worn tonight that had prevented him from measuring her pulse when he’d taken her hand.

Charlotte was the thief! It made perfect sense! He smiled for a moment but it faded away. He wanted Murdock to be there so Murdock could tell him how proud Nancy Drew would be of him and poke him in the nose.

"Dammit," Face uttered a rare curse and caught the surprised look of an elderly gentlemen next to him. He smiled apologetically and stepped away, heading toward where he had last seen Murdock. Face reached the dessert table but the new bowl of chocolate sauce looked untouched. "Murdock," he whispered and felt something inside of his stomach flip over as he caught sight of his friend coming in from the kitchen.

"Murdock," he said again, or tried to say, but the words got stuck in his throat when he saw who came into the room closely behind him. Charlotte Hamilton and the hairy caterer were much too close to Murdock for Face to like it. And neither did Murdock apparently. He was smiling and talking playfully, but he wasn’t bouncing around or making any sudden moves of any kind.

He was acting as if someone had a gun to his back, Face thought, which was very possible. He’d just known from the way he’d spilled the crab puffs earlier that the hairy little man was no caterer.

Face ducked behind a large man as the trio passed. They looked to be heading straight for the doors that would lead out of the ballroom, and then out of the hotel. He barely noticed the man’s pleased expression at getting such close attention from a woman; Face was focusing completely on the two people who were threatening Murdock.

He had to stop them. If they got out of the building it would all be over for Murdock. But Face could hardly challenge them as he was. He had no weapons and it would only endanger Murdock. The pilot was the one who usually thought up the crazy plans at a time like this. But Murdock couldn’t help now.

What did you do, Murdock, confront them alone? Face thought as he followed behind them, cursing; this was not a Hardy Boys novel and Murdock ought to have known better. The three of them were getting close to the doors and he still hadn’t thought of a plan.

Focus, Face, he told himself. His eyes drifted to Murdock like they always seemed to and he remembered Murdock at the reservation desk and realized what Murdock would have done. A diversion. Of course.

The trio stopped ahead of him as Mrs. Hamilton came over to talk with her daughter. Charlotte was starting to look irritated and anxious, which, though it probably meant that Mrs. Hamilton was innocent, wasn’t good for Murdock. Face watched them carefully as he maneuvered himself into a position where he would be in Murdock’s line of vision.

Murdock must have been looking for him. The other man met his gaze almost immediately and raised his eyebrows. Oops, Murdock’s eyes said, Guess what? Face nodded to let him know he understood and then nodded again once, slowly.

Be patient, Murdock. I’m thinking, Face tried to tell him silently before breaking their eye contact to look around them for a way to get closer to the group. His eyes searched around the room full of Beverly Hills elite but couldn’t see an opening. He looked back at Charlotte and tried to get a fix on how close she was to blowing her cover. For a girl that had always looked sure of herself before, she appeared to be close to losing her temper now. Face supposed it had something to do with whatever her mother was saying. She had always had seemed a little impatient with her mother.

That was it. Face snapped his fingers and moved forward, not exactly sure what he was going to do, but knowing he had to do something soon. He passed Mrs. Devereux and her family and thought he saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes for a moment before she shook her head and turned away. Face closed his eyes briefly to pray that she wouldn’t figure it out before hurrying the rest of the way until he was right behind Mrs. Hamilton and a few feet away from her daughter and her friend. Then he tapped Mrs. Hamilton’s shoulder.

She turned around instantly and smiled at him, though she couldn’t know who he was. Face saw the two thieves and Murdock focus on him as well and pushed himself forward.

"Ah, Mrs. Hamilton…" he started to say and saw Charlotte shove Murdock forward a few inches. There was nothing else for it. Face grabbed Mrs. Hamilton and pulled her forward for a passionate kiss. It was what he did best, after all.

He was pretty sure that the entire room went suddenly quiet at what must have looked like two women kissing in the middle of the Regency Wilshire Hotel Ballroom. The music screech to a stop, and from somewhere, just as Mrs. Hamilton’s eyes widened in recognition, he heard Charlotte Hamilton shrieking.

"Mother!" Her voice got even shriller as Mrs. Hamilton–Face realized suddenly that he didn’t know her first name–reached up to twine her arms around his neck.

"Well, really," Mrs. Devereaux sniffed loudly. Her sentiments were echoed by a few others around her.

"Facey!" Murdock said wonderingly and Face finally broke the kiss. He set Mrs. Hamilton back on her feet just as Charlotte took a step away from Murdock. It was the opportunity that Murdock had probably been waiting for. He spun around and punched the hairy little caterer in the jaw, sending him crashing to the floor. Then he bent down to pick up his gun before turning back to Face with a little grin. Face grinned back.

"Mr. Hemmings!" Mrs. Hamilton exclaimed in amazement, not paying the least attention to the brief fight between the two men. Face winced as her words focused the crowd’s attention on him. Charlotte turned to face him with wide eyes.

"Mr. Hemmings?" she asked as if in shock.

"What is going on?" Mrs. Hamilton seemed very confused.

"Your daughter has been stealing jewels from the people here and replacing them with fakes!" Murdock announced loudly before waving the gun at the caterer, who was struggling to sit up. "With the help of this little guy here." The shocked cries of women in the crowd as they looked over their jewelry was enough to confirm the story.

Charlotte lost all pretense of looking cool and collected. She screamed at Murdock in outrage and reached for something in her purse. Face swung Bambi’s purse at her hand quickly, and the gun Charlotte had been reaching for skidded across the dance floor. Face dashed over to grab it. He barely stumbled at all in the heels this time. Maybe he was getting used to them.

"Why, Charlotte?" Mrs. Hamilton separated herself from her daughter with a confused and hurt expression. Face came up behind Charlotte and expertly twisted her arms behind her back with one hand, keeping the gun trained on her with the other.

"Why?" Charlotte repeated irritably, struggling feebly. She jerked her head back at Face. "Because you’re always trying to marry me off to stiffs like this for their money. I just wanted to be left alone so I could marry Claudio." Face tried his best to feel insulted instead of relieved.

"Claudio?" Face turned to Murdock to ask and they both glanced down at the man on the floor. Murdock shrugged before turning back to Charlotte with an offended look.

"And to think I almost welcomed you to the team," he told her in his most upper crust voice. Then he ruined it by waving a hand at Face. "Most people would be happy to marry Facey…uh…Ashley."

"Murdock…" Face said warningly but not before he heard Mrs. Devereaux utter "distasteful display" in a condemning tone. Her words carried clearly around the room. Face turned to her furiously. "You cheap old harpy." He rolled his eyes at her shocked look. "I can’t believe I spent all my time tonight worrying about you and your jewelry. Murdock was being held at gun point and all you can think of is how inappropriately we were acting?"

Face turned to Murdock and saw that his eyes were shining for some reason.

"You should be thanking him and telling him how sorry you are," Face said quietly. And he saw that Murdock accepted his apology from that special light in his eyes. A moment later Mrs. Hamilton sighed and Face briefly wondered why.

"I told you they were gay," someone in the crowd said archly.

"So where’s our real jewelry?" Someone else in the crowd asked. Face abruptly realized that they hadn’t figured that part out yet. But he didn’t have time to think about it when he heard the police sirens in the distance. He looked over at Murdock, who nodded. Without another word Face released Charlotte, kicked off his heels, and began running for the door before the police arrived. He tried not to think about how that would look to his guests. It didn’t really matter now anyway.

*****

Face seriously doubted that the ballroom of the Regency Wilshire Hotel had ever looked worse than it did right now. The frantic attempt of his guests to leave before they were associated with a criminal investigation had left broken glass, spilled champagne, and turned-over chairs everywhere. The food on display had not been cleaned up either, since all the employees of the catering company had been taken in for questioning, and to make it seem all the more horrific, there were bright yellow strips of plastic with "Police Line, Do Not Cross" written on them draped all over the room. And all of that was in addition to the normal mess left behind by a good party.

At least they’d enjoyed themselves for a while, Face told himself with a sigh and crossed over to the tables to pick up one of the half-empty bottles of champagne. It was probably flat, but that didn’t bother him. He sipped it absently from the bottle as he walked back across the room to little dais where the band had been positioned the night before. And at least the orphanage still got some money, he consoled himself as he plopped down on the step with very little grace and looked over what had briefly been the social event of the year one more time. He supposed that it could still be considered the social event of the year; it certainly wouldn’t fade from peoples’ memories anytime soon.

It definitely wouldn’t fade from his mind. In one night, he’d hosted a large event, searched for and caught some jewel thieves, thrown away all his hard work on getting Ashley Hemmings accepted, and possibly lost his best friend. He ran his hands through his hair and sighed.

He didn’t regret tossing away his hard-earned reputation to save Murdock though getting invited and accepted into the Beverly Bay Club been his dream for as long as he could remember; with a lot more hard work he could probably turn the situation around anyway. He didn’t even regret kissing Mrs. Hamilton; she certainly hadn’t regretted it either, judging from her response. He just wished things had ended differently. He’d gotten away clean, even if he’d had to take a cab to his apartment while still in drag. (Which reminded him that he had to make sure Bambi got her dress and jewelry back.) But Murdock had probably had to answer a lot of questions before the police had realized who he was. They’d probably sent him back the hospital.

As soon as he collected himself he would have to go over there and see Murdock and talk to him, about everything. Face took a long drink of flat champagne and set the bottle down on the floor. Then he ran his hands through his hair one last time and let out another long, sad sigh.

"You don’t sound too happy for a junior investigator," he heard Murdock say, and looked up sharply in disbelief. Murdock was slowly coming across the room to him. He was wearing his usual khakis and leather jacket and was holding a silver bowl he must have picked up off the table on his way over. Face had a horrible feeling he knew what was in it.

"Not the chocolate sauce," Face heard himself whining. That was not what he’d meant to say, but it made Murdock smile, so he didn’t add anything right away. He just smiled tentatively back as Murdock sat down cross-legged on the floor a few feet away from him. Face momentarily wondered why he hadn’t sat down next to him as he usually did.

"But I have to have my chocolate, Facey. You have no idea how good it is. Even a day old." Murdock ran his finger along the edge of the bowl before popping it in his mouth. Face watched him carefully.

"What are you doing here?" He had to ask. Murdock grinned playfully and shrugged.

"Figured you’d come back to the scene of the crime."

"Is that something Nancy Drew would know? And what do you mean junior investigator? I figured the whole thing out." He was mildly insulted at the title, though he knew it wasn’t important. His comment made Murdock laugh and dribble chocolate down his chin. He licked it off.

"Nah. You’re the moony type. Figured you’d come back here to see the damage." Murdock looked up from the bowl of chocolate to grin at him lopsidedly. "It was a great party, Facey."

"Yes, my favorite part was the end," Face answered sarcastically.

"At least it wasn’t boring," Murdock said cheerfully. "And the marriage rumors are over now."

"Definitely over." Face had to agree on that one. Then he remembered his original question. "And you never did explain what you were doing here? Why aren’t you back at the V.A.?"

"Ah," Murdock said in voice that seemed strangely similar. "Well, I was never at the V.A. At least, not last night. I spent the night in your hotel room, waiting for you."

"Oh. I thought you’d get sent back. So you handled everything ok?" Face changed the subject but knew that Murdock noticed because he started to whistle knowingly.

"Sure thing. Claudio spilled everything when the police got there. The jewels were in a garbage bag in the alley, by the way. I just let everyone else do the talkin’ and played it cool like my friend Facey woulda done."

Face looked up at Murdock again and saw that Murdock had painted chocolate around his mouth in the way a child would apply lipstick. It had to be deliberate; Murdock’s attempt to diffuse a tense situation. It was what he did best.

"Are we friends, Murdock?" Face asked softly. Murdock’s smile grew wider.

"’Course we are, silly," he leaned over and poked Face in the nose with a chocolate-covered finger. Face left the dot where it was. "Face always is, and always will be my friend. Ashley however…" he trailed off significantly. Face shook his head.

"Not that spilt personality stuff again, ok, Murdock?"

Murdock just hummed to himself and scooped up some more chocolate.

"You know, B.A.’s right. How can you eat all that weird stuff?" Face asked in tones of disgust. Murdock scooted closer to him and then set the bowl carefully between them.

"Cuz it tastes good to me," Murdock answered seriously before holding out one hand in that same old debonair gesture he must have picked up from one of his old movies. It was the way that Cary Grant might have casually offered a cigarette. Face glanced down at the hand–and all the chocolate sauce dripping from it–for a long time before he slowly leaned down to lick just the tiniest bit of sauce from the tip of Murdock’s finger. Then he sat up again and carefully considered the taste of the chocolate on his tongue.

It really was as good as it had been yesterday. He could see why Murdock had wanted more. Face realized that Murdock was watching him anxiously and smiled.

"You know, I actually tried some last night," he confessed and Murdock gave an insulted gasp that even Face knew he didn’t mean.

"And what did you think?" Murdock’s eyes were dark, letting him know that the conversation was no longer about chocolate, if it ever had been. Face stared at him and saw that kicked puppy look creeping into Murdock’s expression as he waited for Face to reply. The hurt he saw there made something flutter inside of Face. He smiled again and leaned down for another taste of chocolate.

"Mr. Hemmings?" someone called out from the main entrance doorway and Face jumped nervously at the interruption. He cleared his throat and tried to hide his embarrassment when he saw that it was the security from last night, looking as humorless as ever. Murdock sat very still, as if he was scared or worried about something.

"Yes?" Face asked, politely distant, hoping Beefy would go away. The security guard looked him over carefully and then shook his head. A smile came and went on his face so fast that Face wasn’t quite sure he hadn’t imagined it.

"Never mind. Sorry to bother you," the guard said curtly and turned around. Face had just sighed in relief when the man turned back around. "I wanted to say I’m sorry I failed to notice the thefts last night and wasn’t there when you confronted them,"
he said quickly. Then he hesitated with one hand on the door. "You two make a cute couple." A light blush stole across the man’s stony features at his words and he hurried out the door.

Face turned back to Murdock. He knew that he looked amazed. Murdock had a similar expression on his face, but after a few seconds a slow grin crept from his eyes to his mouth and Face knew there was an answering smile on his own face. Then, to his amusement, Murdock threw back his head and howled happily. The sound echoed around the empty room but Face didn’t tell him to be quiet. Instead, he enjoyed the look of surprise on Murdock’s face when he let out a howl of his own. Personally, he kind of liked how they sounded together.

The End


Magic Fingers by Wendybyrd

 

 


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