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 ***

ANNOUNCER: And now it's time for The Captain America Adventure Program, brought to you by Stark Industries. When we last left our valiant hero, Captain America and the Howling Commandos were deep behind enemy lines and were preparing to storm the unstormable Hohenwerfen Castle, where beautiful Betty Carver and handsome Harold Spark were being held prisoner by nefarious Nazis.
SOUND: [door slamming]
NAZI: Nein, you are much too handsome to be the great scientist and inventor Harold Spark. Admit it, you are an impostor! A spy!
SPARK: Why, I oughta--
SOUND: [chains rattling]
CARVER: (breathless) Harold, no!

"For the love of--" Peggy reached out and turned off the wireless, perhaps wrenching the knob a bit harder than was strictly necessary.

"You like it?" Howard leaned back in his chair with a crooked grin, hands laced behind his head. "I kicked in a little extra sponsorship money if they agreed to give me script approval."

"Oh, yes. It's much improved. I do hope you're seriously considering selling your company in order to focus on writing radio dramas."

"My true passion," he said, his grin shifting into a real smile. He sat there beaming at her until she relented, rolling her eyes and quirking her lips. "That's better. So what brings you to New York?"

Peggy cleared her throat and squared her shoulders. "I need a favor."

"A favor! You wound me," he said, his hands over his heart. "There are plenty of women, you know, who've traveled much farther for the simple pleasure of my company."

"Forgive me, I hadn't realized the diminutive size of your ego. To be so shattered by--"

"Hey, there's nothing diminutive about my ego." The cheeky grin was back. "But really, what do you need?"

"Do you have an invitation to the annual ball at the Coventry on Saturday?"

He frowned. "Since when do you care about society functions?"

"Since we've received information that the ball is to act as a cover for an illegal auction."

"Sounds serious. What's being auctioned off?"

Peggy pulled a piece of paper out of her inside jacket pocket and read, "A device, approximately the size of a bread box, capable of emitting a series of short-duration pulses of energy that can trigger an electrostatic discharge in... Howard? What's wrong?" Much of the color had drained from his face. "Please tell me you had nothing to do with this."

"What? No, of course I didn't. I'm just pretty familiar with what a device like that could do." He frowned. "And now that you mention it, I'm a little hurt I wasn't invited to the auction. They're going to sell off secret high-tech weaponry and they didn't think I might be interested?"

"Truly, an affront."

"Well, pal, I guess you and me will just have to teach them a lesson."

 

*

ANNOUNCER: Events on The Captain America Adventure Program are heading toward a grim climax as Captain America and the Howling Commandos were pinned down in the forest outside Hohenwerfen castle, taking heavy enemy fire and unable to reach beautiful Betty Carver and handsome Harold Spark, both held prisoner inside.
SOUND: [smack]
SPARK: Blazing beacons, Fritz, watch the hair!
SOUND: [door slams]
CARVER: (breathless) Golly, there are ever so many Nazis, and Captain America isn't here to rescue us!
NAZI: (laughing) And he is never coming! Your Captain America kann nicht save you now!
CARVER: (breathless) Gee, I sure am sorry to hear that. I guess I'll just have to do it myself!
SOUND: [thumping]
SOUND: [men screaming in agony]
SOUND: [thumping]

Peggy pinched the bridge of her nose, not sure which was more painful: the radio drama, or the ridiculous gown she was trying to lock herself into. "Is this quite necessary?" She twisted, trying to get at the zipper. "And would you mind--"

"Of course," Howard said, stepping close and batting her hands out of the way, his fingers warm against the bare skin of her back. "And yes, it's necessary. We're going to a ball, we can't show up in dungarees and work boots."

"Obviously not," she said, moving to look at herself in the mirror. "But must I wear something so... sparkly?" She rustled her skirts, which looked like giant peacock feathers, a cascade of petals dripping with iridescent beads. "I could hide the entirety of the 107th in here."

"I"m hoping you'll settle for just me in there." He winked at her in the mirror, and Peggy rolled her eyes. She'd walked into that one. "This is the latest fall fashion from Paris. You'll be the envy of every woman there."

"I don't want to be the envy of every woman there. I need to slip in and out, unnoticed. I want to be... unremarkable."

She could see his raised eyebrow in the mirror as he looked her up and down. "No chance of that," he said. "Now, can you get to your gun, or do we need to have it altered again?"

Peggy sighed and slid her hand into the folds of her skirts, feeling around for the series of openings that let her access the pistol strapped to her thigh. She could reach it well enough, but it kept getting tangled in her skirts when she tried to pull it. "No, I think the alterations will do," she said. "I'll just need to practice moving."

Howard sank to the couch and propped his feet on the ottoman, a drink already in his hand. "Take as much time as you need."

 

*

ANNOUNCER: Last time on The Captain America Adventure Program, we learned that the battalion's beautiful triage nurse, Betty Carver, is really the alluring Agent Betty Carver, spy, saboteur, seductress--

"Seductress!" Peggy hissed under her breath.

SPARK: (breathless) Save me, Betty Carver!

Howard spread his hands, his eyes wide with innocence. "I'll remind you these are the transcribed adventures of Captain America. They're just telling it like it is."

"You are insufferable."

He smiled, cocking his elbow. "And yet."

"And yet," she said with a sigh, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow. She had to admit he was rather handsome in a tux. "Lead the way."

Security at the Coventry was heavy, large men in surprisingly well-fitting suits attempting to look inconspicuous despite the bulging of their jackets. Howard and Peggy walked in without attracting a second look, and he led them easily on several circuits of the party, handling most of the conversation while she kept an eye on the other attendees and tried to determine the likely location of the device. She'd rather find it before the auction -- disrupting the auction itself was likely a losing proposition, even with Howard's dubious assistance, and whoever won was likely to have his own arrangements already in place.

She thought she'd narrowed down a few possible locations, the most likely being a hallway that went seemingly nowhere but was getting an inordinate amount of attention from the security staff. She leaned to whisper in Howard's ear. "How's your waltzing?"

"Impeccable," he said, stepping away and offering her his hand. He very nearly looked like a gentleman. "If mademoiselle would do me the honor of this dance."

It was early enough in the evening that the dance floor was too full to allow for proper waltzing, leaving her and Howard near the center of the room, with the slower dancers, simply swaying in each others' arms. "Well," he whispered, directly into her ear. "Figured anything out?"

Two quarter-turns, and she said, "There's a hallway at your twelve o'clock. I assume the device is back there somewhere, but that hallway didn't have another entrance on the blueprints. Do you know of another way in?" Howard, she knew, had spent plenty of time sneaking around the servants' hall and backstairs of the Coventry.

"Of course," he said, his hand drifting lower on her back. "But let's mix a little business with pleasure, what do you say? Let's finish this dance. We wouldn't want to look rude."

"Heavens forfend," Peggy murmured, looking at the giant wall clock. They had plenty of time. She curled her fingers around his shoulder.

 

*

ANNOUNCER: Fortune -- good and bad -- was with our heroes last time on The Captain America Adventure Show, as the beautiful nurse Betty Carver revealed her secret identity and rescued the handsome scientist, inventor, philanthropist, and all-around swell guy Harold Spark from the clutches of the Nazis. But unbeknownst to them, trouble was brewing in the forest outside the castle.

"Quick, in here!" Howard waved her through a door and closed it behind her. "The closet." He pointed; they were in a guest bedroom of some kind, and Peggy rushed across the room with the box containing the device. She managed to stash it on the shelf behind several large hat boxes, though it was a bit too large to be fully concealed. She had to hope no one did too thorough a search. As a positive, if there were to be a search, it would likely only be one or two people at a time, and she was confident she could handle it. Escaping would be rather more difficult, but she could figure something out.

"All right," she said, turning to Howard, and then stopping short. He was standing by the door in his shirtsleeves, his jacket discarded and his bow tie undone. He was pulling at the buttons of his collar, and there were two glasses on the nightstand by the bed, into which he'd splashed some sherry. "What on earth-- this is really not the time, Howard."

"Tell me about it," he said, but the usual traces of amusement in his voice were nowhere to be found. He ran a hand through his hair, deliberately messing it up, and then went to sit on the edge of the bed. "Well," he said, his eyes on the door, not even looking at her. "Come on, you look way too well put together."

"I--" There was a knock at the door. "Bugger," she muttered, darting across the room to slide easily into Howard's embrace.

"Who's in there?" The man at the door sounded angry. "Open the door or I'm breaking it down."

"Come on, come on," Howard urged. Peggy kicked off her shoes and slipped her pistol under a pillow, and Howard's fingers made quick work of her careful coiffure. When the door crashed open, she was splayed in his arms, her head thrown back as he nuzzled her neck, his mustache surprisingly soft against her skin. Her skirts were pushed up and out of the way of his hand, slowly roaming higher on her thigh.

She clutched at his shoulders, tugging at his shirt to get it untucked. "Oh, Howard," she said, breathless, in her best impersonation of Betty Carver.

"What's going on in here? You're going to have to leave."

Howard finally stopped nuzzling her neck and looked at the two men who'd crashed into the room, pistols drawn. He blinked a few times, supremely unimpressed, and then heaved a heavy, long-suffering sigh. "Do you have any idea who I am?"

"No, and I don't care."

"Your boss might," Howard said, fingers still tracing lazy circles on her thigh, just under the lower strap of the holster. Peggy's hand crept closer to her gun. "Why don't you ask him?"

Sure enough, another man, shorter and well-mannered and unquestionably more authoritative, came to the door. "What's going on here? Did you find-- ah."

"Ah indeed," Howard said. "You look like a reasonable fellow. Tell your man here--" But Howard wasn't even allowed to finish.

"Mr. Stark," the newcomer said. "You have my most sincere apologies. I was told you'd be here tonight, but... ah. Well. Is there anything you need?"

"Sir," one of the henchmen hissed under his breath. "Shouldn't we at least search the room?"

The man reddened. "Mr. Stark--"

Howard heaved another of those sighs and stood up, extracting himself from Peggy's arms with a quick kiss to her forehead and a few light strokes of his fingers on the inside of her wrist. Wait, he meant; they'd worked that one out ahead of time. Just in case. "What is your name?"

"Jenkins, sir."

"Jenkins." He pulled out his pocket watch. "I can assure you, I have been in this room for at least 27 minutes. We were enjoying sherry"--he gestured at the glasses on the nightstand--"and conversation, and if you are implying that I, Howard Stark, has had something--"

"No!" Jenkins held up his hands in surrender. "No sir, of course not, sir. I was implying no such thing, of course you'd nothing to do with it."

"I don't even know what 'it' is. My interests here are fairly... singular." He shot a significant glance at Peggy, and she plastered what she hoped was a convincingly vacant expression on her face and smiled back.

"Of course. Can we get you anything?"

"Privacy."

"Very good, sir."

The door, which was broken, was slightly crooked on its hinges, but Howard put his shoulder into it and it popped back into place easily enough. "All right," Peggy said, grudgingly. "That was well done." She hadn't particularly wanted to kill anyone.

He leaned against the door, grinning, his arms crossed and his hair mussed and his clothes askew. "Thanks, pal. Now what? We have to stay here for at least another few hours. I've got a reputation, you know."

"Oh, I know."

"And anyway," he said, pushing away from the door, slowly moving closer. "We can't leave until things have calmed down."

Peggy rolled her eyes. "Get over here, then."

 

ANNOUNCER: Be sure to listen tomorrow for further transcribed adventures of Captain America!