"Hannibal, I can't believe you're making me do this!"
The colonel raised his eyebrows, an innocent look on his face. "You lost the bet, kid. Pay up."
Face glared at him. "I said I'd buy you a drink! I never said you could drag me along to a karaoke bar! I can't even sing!"
"Well, neither can anyone else I've heard so far, so you'll fit right in." Hannibal drained his beer and grinned at the lieutenant. "You can't be any worse than her."
'Her' was a woman on the wrong side of forty who was under the unfortunate impression that dressing like she was seventeen would automatically made everyone believe that she was seventeen. She was currently singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a voice that was a semitone sharp on all but the high notes, when she somehow went flat and about half an octave too high. Face had always liked that song as a kid (although he'd never told anyone that) and listening to this woman butcher it was like rescuing a cute, big-eyed puppy from the pound and then standing back to watch someone else kick it to death.
Face shook his head. "No. Forget it. I'm not doing it. No way."
"Face, if you don't do it, I have nothing better to do than sit here all night and embarrass you in front of any sweet young things who might want to become better acquainted with you."
"That's better than me embarrassing myself in front of everyone!"
"If you say so, kid."
One of the sweet young things in question sashayed over to their table, smiling at Face. "Hi. D'you wanna dance?"
Before Face had a chance to reply, Hannibal took hold of his hand and said in a camp voice, "Oh, that's very kind of you, darling, but we're together."
"Hannibal!" Face attempted to yank his hand free. The colonel's grip was too strong, however, and so he settled for looking at the girl. "Look, he's just—"
Too late. The table was empty, and worse, they were now getting a few looks from the other nice young girls in the place.
Face groaned, glaring at Hannibal, who was now grinning broadly. "Oh, I am gonna kill you!"
"Ah. Well, in that case, I get a last request. And my last request is to hear you belting out a tune." Hannibal released the lieutenant's hand and patted it. "Hit it, kid!"
From the look on his face, Face was sorely tempted to hit Hannibal instead.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
"Because you lost the bet," Hannibal repeated in too-patient tones. It was the tenth time they'd had this conversation.
There was no obvious way out and Face groaned again. "I get to pick the song, right?"
Hannibal shrugged. "Sure." He waited until Face had got up from the table before adding, "So long as it's an ABBA number."
Face sat down again with a bump. "What? Hannibal, I think you're overreacting a little, I mean, c'mon—"
"Face, you said that if I could go twenty four hours without a cigar, you'd buy me a drink in any pub, restaurant or bar I chose. And you can't come to a karaoke bar and not sing."
"I never said anything about singing!" Face glanced around for an escape route and found none. "And I really never said you could pick the song!"
"I know. I'm saying it now. As Shakespeare once put it, if music be the food of love, sing on. Besides, women love a guy who can sing."
Face glared at him. "Correction, Hannibal, women love a guy who can sing in tune. The ones who can't – ie, me – just get laughed at!"
"You're too modest, Face. I've heard you sing before now. You have a pretty good voice." Hannibal grinned. "Whatever you think, we're not leaving here until you get up on that stage and do a number."
Face closed his eyes. "An ABBA number?"
"Can't I do Rolling Stones or Beatles or—"
"No, but you can pick one of the male songs."
Face opened his eyes again and glared at Hannibal. "Oh, great! Well, that narrows it down to about three!" His voice was a little too loud. Heads turned and the lieutenant cringed. "Anyway, they probably don't have any of them on the jukebox, and I am not singing anything without a) music and b) words! If I'm gonna humiliate myself like this, I'm gonna pick the song!"
"Alright, alright." Hannibal finished his drink. Like all good military commanders, he knew when to give ground. "You pick the song."
"Right..." Face got to his feet and walked over to the machine, trying not to look too conspicuous. Most of the numbers were love ballads, and while Face didn't mind crooning out one of those, he couldn't bring himself to do it now that the sweet young thing he'd had his eye on was firmly convinced he and Hannibal were an item...and that she'd told what looked like half the bar.
Yeah, if I sing a love song, they're just gonna think it's for him.
Taking out the heavy metal and rap numbers, that just left him with one choice. Face selected the song, swallowed hard and climbed up on the stage.
A bass line started throbbing out of the speaker and Face started to sing.
"Sweet dreams are made of this..."
It was probably the worst three minutes of his life, Face thought grimly as he stepped off the stage, worse even than the Canada Goose Incident. True, they were applauding, but most of the people were so drunk by now that they'd have applauded if he'd recited the Gettysburg Address to the tune of the Alphabet Song.
He did have the satisfaction of seeing Hannibal look a little taken aback, though, which went some way towards assuaging the embarrassment.
"Well, that...wasn't exactly what I was expecting, Face."
"Whatever. Can we just go?"
"Sure kid. Just let me finish my drink."
Face grabbed Hannibal's drink and drained it in a single gulp, then hauled the colonel to his feet. "Alright! You've finished it! Now let's get out of here before anyone we know sees us!" He seized Hannibal's wrist, realised how that would look to an outsider and dropped it as though he'd been burned.
"Okay. Okay." Hannibal held up his hands in surrender. "I was right though."
"About what?" Face's voice was strained. The sweet young thing and her friends were now employing that most diabolical of female tactics guaranteed to drive any man insane: namely looking, whispering and giggling, and the lieutenant just wanted to forget this night had ever happened.
The colonel grinned. "Well, you weren't any worse than Dorothy's grandmother back there."
He led the way out the bar and through the parking lot towards the van, followed by a seething Face, and it wasn't until they'd actually started up the engine that Hannibal realised something.
"Damn, I forgot my jacket!"
"What?" Face stared at him. Surely...no, not even Hannibal could expect him to go back in there and get it!
Hannibal chuckled. "Relax, kid, I'll go. You just stay here and keep an eye out."
"Right..." It says something for Face's state of mind that he was sorely tempted to accelerate away and leave Hannibal behind the instant the colonel shut the door.
Except since it's only a half hour's walk, that wouldn't be much of a revenge, would it? something inside him whispered.
Face looked around to make sure Hannibal wasn't coming back, then picked up the phone, dialled a number and spoke in a low voice.
"Murdock, this is Face."
"Faceman! How's it goin' with you an' Hannibal?"
"Oh, fine, fine. You know what he said to me?"
"'I love it when a plan comes together'?"
"Besides that." Face glanced over his shoulder to make sure Hannibal was still in the bar, then lowered his voice anyway. "He was telling me that he's been feeling a lot better since his last cigar. He wants to try and give up smoking altogether."
"Hey, that's great!"
Face felt a twinge of guilt at Murdock's delight, but ploughed on. "Yeah, but he told me that if he came back and saw any cigars lying around, it might weaken his resolve. So he asked me to ask you to take every cigar in the place and throw them out. You mind?"
"'Course not, buddy."
Face's grin broadened. "Oh, that's great. That's wonderful. Thanks Murdock. You're a real pal."
Of course, there were likely to be one or two problems when Hannibal tried to have his morning cigar, but that was tomorrow and at the moment – Face turned on the radio and hummed along – tomorrow was a long way off...
Okay. I'm hoping to update this once a week with all the Thursday challenges. Not sure if it's going to be possible, but that's the general plan :)