A/N: Rather longer than average, but owing to lack of background, certainly still fits into the Snippets category. So there. :) Also, set after Ocean's 13 for those who like to keep track.
Linus stared at himself in the mirror gravely. Oh, this was bad. This was very, very bad. The guys had expected him to do some weird things in the past but this? This might just be the worst. Straight away it was obvious - the first casualty of this job was going to be his dignity.
Okay. Rather than leave the bathroom and face the music – and the laughter – he should check if he absolutely definitely had everything.
White pancake make-up? Check.
Floppy green and purple polka-dotted bow tie? Check.
Lime green curly wig? Check.
Large pink flower that squirts water? Check.
And a bright shiny red plastic nose to top it all off. Terrific.
God, he looked ridiculous. Of course he understood why it had to be him who did this. Everyone else had their own parts to play. Rusty was already in place as Randall's PI and Danny had to be on stage as the patron
.. in order to pass Randall the secret message.
Trouble was, he had a feeling that even if that wasn't the case, it would still have been good ol' Linus donning the clown shoes.
He sighed morosely. Who was he kidding? If it had been Danny or Rusty in this get-up, somehow they would have found a way to make even this look cool. Can't spell con without confidence, as Danny had told him, much to his puzzlement.
Trepidation well and truly settled in his stomach, he finally pushed the door open and stepped out of the bathroom, only to be greeted by catcalls and camera flashes. As he'd more than half-expected, there was a group gathered and waiting for him. Rusty, Basher, Livingston, Turk, Virgil, Reuben and Yen.
He glared. "Don't you have anything better to do?" he demanded half-heartedly.
"Nope," Basher declared cheerfully. "This is better than the X-Factor."
Reuben snorted. "What isn't?"
Yen was staring fixedly at the clown shoes and said something too fast for Linus to catch.
"Oh, that's just creepy," Livingston told him, shaking his head.
"It's not even true," Rusty agreed.
He didn't want to know, he didn't want to know, he didn't want to know...maybe if he just ignored them hard enough they'd disappear.
Instead the door opened and Frank walked in, which was kind of the opposite of what he'd been hoping for. "Rusty, you got to try these," he said, holding out a cardboard box. "My Mom just sent me these frosted banana chocolate chip cookies and they're amazing."
Linus sighed. "It's like you're some monster who can only be appeased with baked goods," he commented sarcastically.
Frank turned and caught sight of him. "Gah!" he yelled, jumping about a foot in the air, scattering cookies through the air.
Rather faster than could easily be believed, Rusty leapt to his feet and rescued one single, solitary cookie before settling back down onto the sofa and dropping it onto a paper napkin in one easy movement.
Yen gave him a round of applause.
Basher looked at the broken cookies scattered around the floor. "Someone's going to have to clean that up."
"What's with you?" Reuben asked Frank curiously.
Frank was still staring fixedly at Linus. "I don't like clowns," he said with difficulty. "No one else think they're creepy as fuck? Even when they're Linus."
He was pretty sure he'd been insulted. He just wasn't quite sure how.
"Coulrophobia," Turk declared confidently.
Everyone turned to look at him.
He shrugged. "Fear of clowns," he explained laconically.
"How the hell did you know that?" Virgil demanded.
"The real question," Turk said with a great deal of pleasure. "Is how don't you know that. Dumbass."
"You're the dumbass," Virgil snapped. "Bet you made it up."
"Did not," Turk frowned, actually looking hurt.
"You know," Livingston commented. "I used to date a clown in college."
"Did he taste funny?" Rusty asked with idle curiosity.
Livingston glared at him and blushed red.
Linus decided that he hated all of his friends with a deep burning hate.
"Did I miss it?" Danny asked brightly, walking in, and Linus decided to hate him twice as hard, just for good measure. "Huh." He stopped, lips pursed, looking Linus up and down and frowned. "Not bad, but shouldn't you look a bit jollier?"
"You're thinking of Santa," Rusty told him, looking round.
"Oh." Danny thought for a second. "How do clowns look then?"
"Homicidal?" Frank suggested with a shudder.
"Then Linus has it down just fine," Danny decided cheerfully, sitting down beside Rusty, grabbing the cookie from the paper napkin, and eating it in two bites. "What?"
The look Rusty shot him probably counted as homicidal in its own right.
The lobby of the Bellagio was filled with chaos and clowns and Linus felt just a little intimidated.
The sign over the front desk which read "Welcome to the Fifth Annual Clown School Conference and Awards' was already streaked with paint, confetti and custard, there were several spontaneous juggling routines breaking out, a couple of clowns on unicycles and two surprisingly serious looking clowns doing something with two planks of wood and a gallon of whitewash that looked positively dangerous. Terry's staff were looking decidedly on edge. Probably they were wondering just why their boss had agreed to this madness. If Linus didn't already know the answer, he'd be wondering the same thing. This surely couldn't be covered by normal damage insurance.
Eventually, he managed to push his way to the front of the crowd at the front desk and grin with hopefully-clown-like-cheer at the girl taking names and handing out welcome packs.
"Hi! I'm Dappo!" he announced gleefully, trying to ignore the way his stomach was turning back flips, and every fibre of his being was screaming that this, this was worse anything he'd ever imagined and he should really run, hide and most of all get out of this outfit.
She looked at him doubtfully and then looked down at the sheet in front of her. "The Original Dappo, the Wonderful Dappo, the Legendary Dappo, or the Inflatable Dappo."
Inflatable...He blinked. "Uh, the Wonderful Dappo. Thanks."
She nodded, crossed off the name neatly, and then handed him a badge on a lanyard and a small plastic folder. "Here you go, sir. Please enjoy the conference."
"It'll be a great laugh," he declared, honking the horn in his pocket and trying out a loud guffaw. She stared at him stone-faced before letting out a polite giggle, which he took as his cue to move along.
He turned away from the desk and another clown in a stringy-orange wig with bracers to match bounded up to him. "You look hungry!" he said happily, and without warning he produced a a custard cream pie from absolutely nowhere, and smashed it into Linus' face before skipping away merrily.
Oh, God. He was supposed to be getting close enough to Randall to plant the camera without being noticed. Being covered in custard was bound to be the opposite of unobtrusive, even here. Wiping his face off as best he could, he hurried away from the lobby, ducking into a storage closet just off the main corridor. With a grimace, he tried to scrub his buttons clean. There was a pointed cough behind him.
"Jesus!" He span round to be confronted with Terry Benedict, looking decidedly unimpressed. "You nearly gave me a heart attack."
Terry's lip curled seemingly automatically. "I see you've finally found a role that suits you, Mr Caldwell," he said, as Linus frantically tried to scrub the custard off his bowtie.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded.
Somehow, Terry managed to look even more smugly dismissive. "Only that it's a shame for you that the position of Ocean's dumb blond sidekick is already filled. You've never really quite fit in, have you?"
"Oooh." He pretended to be spooked. "Is that supposed to get to me? What, do you just hang around storage closets in case someone comes by you can play mind games with now?" He frowned. Actually... "What are you doing in here?"
Terry ignored him. "I'm sure it's very sweet, the way you hang on Ocean's every word," he said slowly. "I bet you never dare go against him."
"Of course I do," Linus protested with a bewildered laugh.
"Really," Terry asked with a raised eyebrow. "Tell me. When was the last time you went against what Ocean told you to do?"
He paused, thinking. And then thinking some more. And some more. Oh, this was ridiculous. "I do it all the time," he argued.
"Name one time," Terry instructed him.
This was seriously ridiculous. Well, there had been the time with the pinch...but that was ten years ago now and it hadn't ended well for him anyway.
"Alright," Terry went on mercilessly. "When was the last time you questioned Ocean? Or made fun of him? All those little jokes and japes you all indulge in. I bet you don't make fun of Ocean now, do you? You wouldn't dare."
Linus laughed. Okay. Now Terry was way off base. "Of course I do," he said easily.
"Really," Terry said disbelievingly. "Somehow, I don't think Ocean's ego could stand it."
"He's not you," Linus pointed out and winced slightly at the look Terry turned on him.
"I bet you can't do it," Terry said tersely.
"I bet I can," he declared.
"Alright then," Terry smiled coldly. "I bet that tonight, when you're both on stage, you won't squirt Ocean full in the face with that flower in front of everyone."
"What?" Linus stared.
"I'll be watching," Terry told him. "If you don't do it, I'll know you're secretly afraid of him." Triumphant, he opened the door and swept out into the hallway, leaving Linus blinking after him.
What the hell had just happened?
Camera planted, he retreated upstairs, con forgotten, only thinking about the bet. He couldn't really do that, could he? Not that it would really make a difference to anything. He'd be swapping the order of awards to put Randall ahead of him, so when he got on stage in front of Danny nothing he did would actually affect the job...but that wasn't the point, right? He couldn't.
Terry Benedict had said he couldn't.
Alright then, he wouldn't.
He remembered the sparkle in Danny's eye when they'd been discussing Randall's unexpected little hobby, and suggesting just how Linus could get close to him. He gritted his teeth.
When he got upstairs Rusty was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, surrounded by packs of store-bought cookies and bundles of files marked 'Private and Confidential'. He had a pad of foolscap paper open on his lap and was meticulously writing on it, and he didn't even look up when Linus entered the room.
Linus coughed politely, and when that didn't get a reaction, he said "Uh, I think I might have done something stupid."
"Uh huh." Rusty didn't look up. Linus would be feeling a lot happier right now if he at least pretended to be surprised. "What's happening?"
How to explain this... "Well, nothing's actually happened yet," he struggled. "Just that there was..." He bit his lip. "I mean, I..." He sighed. "You know, I don't even get why Benedict was in the closet in the first place," he said plaintively.
Rusty looked up slowly. "You trying to tell me you just outed Terry Benedict?"
"An actual closet," Linus explained politely. "With shelves and stuff."
"Huh." Rusty continued to look at him. "So what were you doing in an actual closet with Terry?" he asked.
Linus glared at him. "This whole clown conference thing is awful," he complained. "They were everywhere. Hundreds of them. One of them threw a pie at me and I went into the closet to try and get the custard off. Benedict was already in there."
"Huh," Rusty said again thoughtfully, and at least he was indisputably listening now, and Linus took the opportunity to tell him all about the bet.
When he was finished, Rusty just watched him steadily for a moment. Just long enough for Linus to get uncomfortable.
"You know," Rusty said at last. "Between this and you running naked through Salt Lake City, I'm beginning to think you have a gambling problem."
"Obviously I'm not going to do it," Linus said, rolling his eyes. "But I told Benedict I would, and I'm sort of worried that he'll do something when I don't."
Rusty pursed his lips and stared up at the ceiling pensively for a moment. "I think you should do it," he said surprisingly.
"What?" Linus spluttered. "Are you serious?"
"Definitely," Rusty said, glancing quickly at the nearest pack of cookies. "We were wanting to create a disturbance so Randall can get off stage. This is better than the sprinklers. Don't worry," he added, catching Linus' look. "I'll talk to Danny about it."
Right. That was a conversation he wouldn't want to have.
There was something surreal about seeing black-jacket clad waiters with trays of champagne flutes and canopes gliding peacefully through a sea of clowns.
Once again it was absolute chaos. Bright colours, lots of shouting, lots of laughing, horns, bells, whistles...seemed like everyone was competing to be the centre of attention. And that was awkward because it meant that drawing attention to himself became the only way of not drawing attention to himself.
He couldn't juggle. He couldn't dance. He couldn't whistle, mime or even fall over in an interesting and amusing manner. But he could do sleight of hand, and he planted a few ridiculous objects on nearby clowns – oversized handkerchiefs, a rubber chicken, a banana – and then drew them out moments later with a gleeful whoop which drew cursory admiration before everyone went back to trying to get their own share of the spotlight.
Here was a room desperately in need of an audience. Carefully, he walked his way around the edge of the room, briefly getting caught up in – and losing – a prat fall contest, nearly tripping over those stupid shoes a time or two, before making his way to the seating area at the end of the row. Looking round to make sure no one was watching, he quickly swapped around the name cards on the seats, putting himself and Randall at the end of the second row. "Danny, he's going to be nineteenth up," he said surreptitiously into his mic.
"Got it," Danny said, presumably from the sanity of the VIP area backstage. Of course, sanity was a relative term. Danny himself was still there, after all.
Now there was nothing to do but try and mingle unobtrusively until the awards began.
He turned round and narrowly avoided getting another hilarious pie in the face.
Oh, he couldn't wait for tonight to be over.
It took an excruciating three hours before the assembled mass of clowns were sitting in their seats, waiting for the awards. Linus had briefly kicked up a fuss that Randall was supposedly sitting in his seat, but he'd settled down when the Bellagio security moseyed over. Would be enough that later, after Danny had passed him the secret message, he'd remember and wonder.
A multi millionaire spy movie aficionado who took a correspondence course in clowning. Let it never be said that they didn't tailor cons precisely.
Surprisingly, the actual awards were pretty tame. The president of the school made a dull speech, Danny, as supposed patron, made a rather less dull speech that had the clowns rolling in the aisles. Then, row by row, the clowns filed onto stage to be handed a cheap paper scroll by the president and have their hand shook by Danny.
As he waited for Randall to go up the stairs, he glanced nervously across the room. Terry Benedict was standing off to one side, arms folded, exuding smug anticipation. Linus bit his tongue. He didn't like giving Benedict room to feel superior, let alone seeing Danny publically humiliated, even in a way that shouldn't matter so much. It just didn't sit well with him.
Finally, he watched as Randall crossed the stage and saw the flicker of uncertainty and bewilderment cross his face as Danny handed him the USB mid handshake. There was intrigue and excitement there too though...they had him.
He started to walk across the stage himself, feeling ridiculously self conscious – yes, everyone was looking at him, but he was surrounded by clowns, so there was no reason to feel like he was about to spontaneously combust from sheer embarrassment.
His hands were sweating as he took the scroll. Then, his other hand on the little button in his pocket, he turned to face Danny..
Calmly, he shook Danny by the hand, barely hearing the expected pleasantries. Then he squeezed the button and a powerful jet of water shot out, hitting Danny full in the face.
For a second there was stunned silence. Then the laughter started building through the hall, while the VIPs on the stage tried desperately to get everything calmed down and express their outrage.
Linus didn't hear a word of it. He was frozen, standing in front of Danny, because Danny was staring at him, water dripping off his face, absolute and perfect shock in his eyes.
Apparently Rusty had chosen not to have a little talk with Danny.
He might just have stood there transfixed for the rest of time, but there was suddenly a high pitched scream from the side of the hall and when he span round, Terry Benedict was being carried towards the stage at shoulder height by six burly clowns.
"Let me go this instant!" he demanded, struggling wildly, but no one was listening, and oddly his staff didn't seem to be doing anything.
What in the world was going on here?
"Ladies and gentlemen," the lead clown shouted cheerfully as they deposited Benedict on stage. "This is Mr Terry Benedict who owns the Bellagio and has been so hospitable to us today."
There was a loud cheer. Benedict smiled thinly and took a couple of steps towards the stairs before finding his way blocked by even more clowns. His eyes were rolling wildly.
"Now just to show he's a good sport," the clown went on. "Mr Benedict has agreed to be the centre attraction in our main tradition, with all the proceeds going to Camp to Belong – a worthy charity very close to Mr Benedict's heart."
With another tight smile, Benedict cleared his throat, apparently attempting to point out that he'd never agreed to anything.
"So, without any more fuss," the clown bellowed. "Bring in the custard pies!"
The doors opened and trolley after trolley of custard pies were wheeled in with several clowns producing water pistols, buckets of paint and God knows what.
Oh, it was time to get out of here. Fast.
He found Rusty leaning on the railing on the mezzanine level, staring serenely down at the chaos below. Benedict might have started out as the target – and certainly he'd got a lot of custard on his dignity – but it seemed as though there were a lot of old grudges in the room, and it had devolved into a good old fashioned food fight.
He joined Rusty at the edge and stood in impatient silence for at least two seconds. "Alright, why?" he burst out finally.
Rusty didn't look round. "Why what?" he asked vacantly.
"Just...why?" he demanded.
All he got in response was what he personally categorised as Rusty's third most annoying grin, the one that was amused and enigmatic in equal measure.
He sighed. "Benedict doesn't look very happy," he commented, looking down at the stage. Seemed as though Benedict had taken shelter behind a row of chairs and was considering making a break for it.
"Coulrophobia," Rusty said cheerfully.
"Huh?" He turned and stared. "How do you know?"
"Why else would he be hiding in the closet?" Rusty pointed out with a shrug.
"Oh." Linus blinked. "Oh. And then you set up this..." He shook his head. "You're a cruel, cruel man."
Rusty nodded cheerfully. "But I can be appeased with baked goods."
"That's good to know," Danny said brightly, and when they turned round, Danny lightly smashed a custard pie straight into Rusty's face.
Oh, he was glad Danny wasn't blaming him for this whole thing.
"Pineapple?" Rusty complained, wiping the custard off his mouth and licking his fingers pensively. "You couldn't have found a banana one?"
"You couldn't have had Linus shoot someone else with his flower gun thing?" Danny answered sharply.
Rusty pursed his lips. "You couldn't have not eaten my cookie?"
"You couldn't have given my jacket back?"
"You couldn't have - "
"Guys!" Linus interrupted quickly, slightly afraid that this was just going to go on until the beginning of time.
They stopped, and grinned at each other, and then Danny joined them, leaning against the railing and admiring the chaos below.
Linus stole a glance sideways. Danny was still soaking wet, Rusty was covered in custard and Linus...Linus was still dressed as a clown.
He sighed. "How about we all agree to never talk about this again?" he suggested hopefully.
He was met with two identical, annoying grins. "Where's the fun in that?"