1963-11-19 - Take It From The Top
Summary: At SHIELD HQ, Ed Sullivan goes over the events on his program one more time
Related: A Really Big Show
Theme Song: None
liv clint peggy 


Saturday morning in SHIELD HQ is usually fairly quiet, though many of the agents use the time to catch up on what work slipped past them during the week. You know the type, the ones without much to go back home to, without much of a home life. They're the ones that show up at work way before they're supposed to and sometimes don't leave. They're the ones there for whom the showers were put in place and the lockers become a home away from home. Clint Barton is just one such agent.

He's a fixture there in SHIELD, knows what's going on somewhat, knows the personnel. Will call people by name even though they might not have had two words with the man. It's hard to know where you stand with a guy like him, and to know what's going to happen next. Which might while it might be simultaneously surprising and not so when he steps through the side car park door walking with the famous television host known as Ed Sullivan.

Oh they'd used the subtle tunnel entrance to bring him in. His partner is already moving off to work the logs while Ed and Clint are moving towards the interrogation chamber. The famous voice of the television host is heard before they're seen, just as they're rounding the corner.

"Does Hoover know about you people? I can't imagine he does. He would not stand for this."

Clint's voice is that steady even tone of his, unflappable as he murmurs. "I appreciate yer cooperation, Mr. Sullivan. We just need to get a few things tidied up and then you're outta here. Scout's honor." He gestures into the room, which is actually their better equipped and furnished interrogation room. Meaning, mainly, it has coffee and the two-way mirror isn't so glaringly prominent.

"Have a seat if you would, coffee, cream, sugar's all there. I'll be right with you."

The door closes behind him as he steps down the hall, moving to the bull pen that oversees the chamber. Probably going to double check on the case file.

*

Ironically, the agency's only Asgardian has a home life. She has friends, she has roommates, an actual life outside the job. And yet, on this particular Saturday morning, Liv Sigrunsdottir is here.

Liv is on her way back to her desk with a cup of coffee in one hand, and she looks exhausted. Not like she needs sleep, that's a whole 'nother kind of exhaustion that she is nowhere near creeping up on. This is purely emotional exhaustion, but she's hoping that coffee will work on it, too.

"I should adopt a raven," Liv is muttering to herself, blue eyes narrowed in thought. "It could find Sif faster than I can. Yes. Where can I find a raven…"

She cranes her neck when she hears a familiar voice echoing down the hallway, blinking twice as she sees the tail end of Mr. Sullivan vanishing into the interrogation room. Well. This is a weird day.

*

Clint's partner, Eddie today, gives a nod to the elder SHIELD agent as he moves off to work on the paperwork. At this point in their relationship he knows better than to expect Hawkeye to take a bite out of it. But it frees up the archer to get down to brass tacks.

He enters the main room with all the desks around, moves over to the one he'd been using the last few days and picks up the manila folder with what information there is on the latest. He flips open the cover, pressing splayed fingertips to the first page, flicks through a few more. Then he glances over Liv's way.

A small grunt comes from him as he looks back down to the folder, then he lifts his voice. "Sigrunsdottir, you wanna sit in on this."

Not really a question, his voice doesn't lilt up at the end, but then again not really a command either since that's not really his way. He scoops up the folder and starts back towards the executive sweat box.

*

Not a question, no. But it's SHIELD, it's a senior agent, and 'not a question' under those circumstances carries a great deal of weight.

Doesn't mean Liv was expecting it, and the surprise is plainly written across her face. "Ah. Of course." Surely finishing off her report can wait a few minutes, Peggy will understand.

Her brow furrowed, Liv abandons the return to her desk and moves to join Clint instead. "Do you want me to actually say anything, or just keep my mouth shut?" She's genuinely asking, there's no malice or nervousness behind the words.

*

"Do what feels good," Clint says in that sort of lazy mid-west slur. He's got that way of looking straight ahead as he walks, folder in hand, that's like even though someone's walking beside him he's still walking by himself. It's only once they reach the interrogation room that he opens the door and holds it for her. Ever the gentleman.

Once they're inside he does take the lead however, "Pardon for the delay, Mr. Sullivan. We gotta take it from the top, figure you've had enough practice by now, should be second nature."

For his part, Ed looks annoyed but he's good natured and one thing he's always been is something of a patriot. Soe he gives them a nod, though the stone-faced talk show host still looks a little grumbly about it.

*

Before they can reach the interrogation room, Liv absently straightens her suit. It hadn't quite become full-on rumpled yet, but that didn't mean it was in a state she'd consider professional. There. That's much better.

When Clint holds the door for her, Liv cracks a wry smile and inclines her head in silent thanks, moving inside ahead of him. She has no issue letting him take point once they're inside, either. She is, after all, just here to sit in.

Ed gets a quick, almost apologetic grin from her as she moves towards one of the chairs on the agents' side of the table.

*

Mr. Sullivan looks between them, still that sort of sour lemon look on his stern features. But he breaks into the story again for the fifth or so time assuredly. "Well, how the show starts. I get on set. I come in, I talk to Gene, Gene LePage, he's a producer there for the last seven years. Good fellow. A little too fixated on the clock. We all have our crosses. I say to Gene, 'Gene. Good show tonight. Great shew. Kirk at the top, Nancy, Nancy at the desk, let the two flirt, music number music number, the oddball at the end time permitting."

Ed looks to Liv as if he were trying to convince her, "Gene looks to me, just as Tobey's bringing me my coffee. I take my coffee, it's wrong. But I don't mind. Tonight I'm feeling good." The rapid-fire words from the television host so familiar to America is almost hypnotizing as he relates his story in such a down to earth way. "But Gene, he comes back to me. No, no Ed. I'm thinking we take the oddball first."

He stops to let that hang there, looking around at them for a reaction.

*

On the other side of the mirror, dressed in her best-tailored-suit, Director Carter sternly, discerningly, narrows her eyes. Whether anyone knows she's there or not remains a giant question mark. Her posture shifts, her jaw tightens, and her arms fold over her chest while she eyes the trio in the room. While she could be sitting, today, Peggy prefers to stand. There's something calculating in her gaze and altogether unconvinced while she stares at Sullivan at length.

"It's not right," she murmurs to the quiet of the room. Even if no one is there to answer, something seems to niggle at her mind. Absently, her hand trails to there throat to find the fresh splay of bruising at its base. She frowns. It's been a trying week.

*

Poor Ed has gone through this story numerous times already, but it's Liv's first time really hearing it. It must be — how on Earth could she be paying such rapt attention to it if she already knew how the story was going to go? She folds her hands and listens quietly, oblivious to Peggy's position behind the mirrored glass.

Liv casts a brief look towards Clint, almost as if seeking permission, before she says anything. "The oddball," she echoes, turning her eyes back to Sullivan. "Gene told you to put King on first?"

*

Slapping his hand on the table, not hard, but enough to cause his cup of coffee to rattle a little, Ed nods to Liv. "Exactly. I look at him, and I say, 'You want this… this this King? Professor King to go on first, over Douglas? Over Spartacus? I tell him no, no no. This makes no sense at all."

Ed's eyes go to Liv and Clint each in turn plaintively as if seeking affirmation of his opinion. But then he goes on. "But he says to me, 'Ed, what this guy has here. It's dynamite. He's got something that'll knock your socks off. You, and Kirk, and Nancy, and Sinatra will be talking through it all through your sets. And he tells me this guy, the charisma on this guy. He could be the next Einstein, the poster boy for the scientific community."

Ed leans back, eyes widening a bit with incredulity, "But Gene, I've known him this time, known his family. His father worked with me back in radio. I tell him. Alright Gene. But on your head. On your head be it."

Ed shakes his head then, frowning to himself as he looks down a bit, as if condemning himself for that agreement. But then he looks up, "So before the curtain goes up I look in on the guy. Nothing formal. I go into the green room, greet the people there. Kirk's not there, neither is Nancy. They have their own rounds at hair and make up. This guy is there along with the other musical acts. He smiles at me, I smile wave, shake hands. He introduces himself. King, King. Great. I give him the usual polite hi and bye. Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you."

"I get out, head out. Janet Greene hands me my prep list. I go over it. I go up to the front. My mark's set. Music starts. Show time."

*

Slapping his hand on the table, not hard, but enough to cause his cup of coffee to rattle a little, Ed nods to Liv. "Exactly. I look at him, and I say, 'You want this… this this King? Professor King to go on first, over Douglas? Over Spartacus? I tell him no, no no. This makes no sense at all."

Ed's eyes go to Liv and Clint each in turn plaintively as if seeking affirmation of his opinion. But then he goes on. "But he says to me, 'Ed, what this guy has here. It's dynamite. He's got something that'll knock your socks off. You, and Kirk, and Nancy will be talking through it all through your sets. And he tells me this guy, the charisma on this guy. He could be the next Einstein, the poster boy for the scientific community."

Ed leans back, eyes widening a bit with incredulity, "But Gene, I've known him this time, known his family. His father worked with me back in radio. I tell him. Alright Gene. But on your head. On your head be it."

Ed shakes his head then, frowning to himself as he looks down a bit, as if condemning himself for that agreement. But then he looks up, "So before the curtain goes up I look in on the guy. Nothing formal. I go into the green room, greet the people there. Kirk's not there, neither is Nancy. They have their own rounds at hair and make up. This guy is there along with the other musical acts. He smiles at me, I smile wave, shake hands. He introduces himself. King, King. Great. I give him the usual polite hi and bye. Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you."

"I get out, head out. Janet Greene hands me my prep list. I go over it. I go up to the front. My mark's set. Music starts. Show time."

*

Peggy's lips twist to the side indecisively, and her weight rocks from one foot to the other. She steps closer to the mirror, silently assessing Sullivan as she does so. Somewhat unconvinced, she shakes her head. "I don't buy it…" her lips purse irritably "… Sullivan serves as Executive Producer on his show." her fingers pinch the bridge of her nose, and she slowly backs away from the mirror.

Her head turns towards the door of the room from which she watches. But, for now, she holds her position. Rhythm in interrogation is everything.

*

The thought of Professor King — of Loki — as the next Einstein actually makes Liv roll her eyes. She can't help it, and as soon as she's realized she's done so, she gives Ed an incredibly apologetic look. "Not you," she explains, quiet and fast. "Please. Continue."

She leans back in her chair and casts another brief look askance at Clint while she listens. He's being awfully quiet, and she's having to try and keep her mind from getting distracted wondering why.

Spies, man.

"Aside from Gene's insistence that King go on first, did anything else leading up to broadcast seem odd?" Liv asks, frowning thoughtfully at Ed. "You said your coffee was wrong. Does the same person always prepare it for you?"

*

Probably thinking along the same lines as Peggy, Clint leans forwards a bit and says, "But you've superceded his authority before, correct Mr. Sullivan?" Clint's tone is calm and level as he leans forward, interlacing his fingers together before him.

"Damn right I have. It's my show. Buck stops here. Then again you don't work with someone without some give and take." Yet at Liv's words he turns to look at her, "Janet, my page. She does, but I started this… this new routine. Hyper tension, don't you know." He smirks, as if they'd understand how he could be hyper tense, "Need it for my pills."

He shakes his head then looks between the two of them. "I don't know what sold me on Gene's story. I was set to tell him no. Hell no. But something in his eyes. He seemed determined, like it was natural. Whatever happened this guy sold himself to him. I looked in, and I cold sorta see it too."

He spreads his hands, "I sometimes get feelings about people. I had it with him. But if you asked me ten minutes before show time. I wouldn't have been able to tell the guy from Adam. Now. If you're saying Gene's a commie, or Janet drugged me. You'd need to make a damned hard case. A damned hard case, sir." He looks at Clint almost accusingly.

*

Peggy hums softly and her head shakes. "A damned hard case, indeed," she murmurs before casting a glance back towards the door. Interrupting the interrogation to put in her own two cents feels problematic, and Carter trusts her agents, yet she has her own questions. After a moment's hesitation, she raps lightly on the mirror — a clear indication that someone is watching — but also an obvious call to have one of the agents come speak to her, however briefly.

*

The note about hyper tension does indeed get an understanding smile from Liv. Even as Ed levels that hard look on Clint, she raises one of her hands, inclining her head. "We're just trying to figure this all out, Mr. Sullivan," she notes gently. "We have to keep our minds open to every possibility so that we don't overlook anything. No insult to your staff is intended," she promises.

When the tapping comes from the mirror, Liv casts a quick, questioning look towards Clint. You or me, boss?

*

Ed looks at Liv sternly, "I should hope not. Definitely not. After what that man did. After what he seemed capable of." He shakes his head again and actually shivers. Then he leans forwards, "What I want to know, and bear with me here. What I want to know is what you plan to do about it! My show is marred now. Forever. Marred. Yes my ratings have risen. But have you seen what they've been saying about it in the paper? Unacceptable."

But even as Mr. Sullivan is speaking, Clint looks towards her and nods silently. He starts to gain his feet and then pauses as he rests a splay-fingered hand upon the tabletop, "Can I get you anything, Mr. Sullivan?" He cocks an eyebrow, "Something to eat? Coffee's good?"

"It's fine. Fine. No. No, thank you." Ed frowns.

But then Clint makes his way out of the room, leaving him there alone with Liv. He goes on to tell her, "You know everything that happened after that point. It all happened so fast. And it seemed so normal. I still don't know what happened entirely."

Outside the sweat box, however, Clint steps into the room with Peggy and cocks an eyebrow at her as he asks in that calm manner of his, "Yeah boss?"

*

When Clint appears into the small room, he earns the vaguest smile, a simple upturn at the edges of Carter's mouth. "He needs to be more agitated. As it stands, he's too calm, and hasn't offered anything remotely helpful about how and why his show became such an attraction."

"Try to refocus the discussion on Sullivan and his motivations… right now I have a distinct feeling that he's correct. We can't make a case against either of his cohorts, but, as it stands, the decision to put Loki on the air was ultimately his…. And," perhaps more importantly, "he allowed that platform to be used to strike terror into the masses." She emits a heavy, nearly dejected sigh, "And, to be frank, he should be thankful we got to him before the FBI. We've already received calls from multiple offices attempting to claim jurisdiction."

The makings of a frown draw her lips downwards, "I need to know how the hell Loki got on that ticket in the first place. No one cares about a University Professor… who did 'King' convince, and who conspired with the Asgardians? Because it's clear to me someone did." She takes a single step backwards.

*

And now the junior agent from Asgard is alone in an interrogation room with a very high-profile human being. What could possibly go wrong?

"Let's just back up for a moment," Liv says thoughtfully, holding up both of her hands. "You said that Gene commented on King's charisma, as I recall. That there was something that stopped you from just…" She draws a finger across her throat, then shrugs. "…axing the idea of bumping Mr. Douglas and Miss Sinatra in favor of this guy."

Liv clasps her hands in front of herself, her brow furrowing. Trying to decide how explicit to be in her questioning is… new. Difficult. "Have you spoken with Gene since?" is what she finally decides on.

*

Inside the off-room, Clint looks to Peggy, "We got anyone following up the supernatural or powered angle? Someone like this guy doesn't seem like one to do too much ground work." But then again, he doesn't entirely know Loki nor had words with the man. He looks to the side towards Liv where she chats with Ed in the mirror, then back to Peggy. "These Asgardians, mebbe present company excepted, don't seem too much in the forethought department. More live in the now assholes."

But as the conversation carries on in the other room, Ed Sullivan is speaking with Liv Sigrunsdottir. "No, haven't had a word with him. We've run repeats since this occurred. You had him for a time, some other people talked to him I heard. But no. I've only talked to Sylvia, just to tell her I was alright." Sylvia being his wife.

Ed Sullivan shakes his head, "You saw him, this King. The man… he seemed trustworthy up until he wasn't." Which seems to really stick in Sullivan's craw, a man who takes pride in reading people.

*

"You've got eyes on her," Peggy clips in return as she ticks her head back to the mirror where Liv and Sullivan are chatting. "Sigrunsdottir is uniquely positioned to spearhead that part of our investigation." Her eyebrows lift expectantly. "And as far as Sullivan is considered, he should be able to tell us who allowed King a spot on the show in the first place…" she offers pointedly.

Her chin drops to her chest and she clamps her eyes shut, "Dammit. We need to draw lines in the sand on this, and unfortunately, Sullivan continues to be our best lead." Aside from the presumed Asgardian embassy.

But then, without missing a beat, she looks up at Clint again, "Put the pressure on and see if Sullivan cracks. If he doesn't… well, he probably has nothing more to offer. If he does?" They'll have succeeded.

*

That description of King, of seeming trustworthy right up until he didn't, has Liv casting a rather sour look down at her hands. It might just be the most accurate description of Loki she's ever heard.

"If it's any consolation at all, I sincerely doubt you are the only person that King had fooled," Liv says to Ed, looking up and offering him a rather wry smile. "He seems to have something of a knack for it."

*

Clint eyes Peggy and says, "Take him offa the kid glove celebrity status?" He asks her, but perhaps already knowing the answer he gives a nod and starts towards the door. He shoulders open the door lazily and starts to step out into the hall, hesitating for any chasing words that Peggy might offer him. But once that's done he makes the transition from one room to the next.

Meanwhile, inside the room, Ed shakes his head at her. "We sometimes have oddballs, the ladies from the zoo, inventors, topical stuff. I thought he was just… someone to play into the alien hysteria" His eyes widen, head shaking further as his stern stoneish features barely quaver with the movement. "We have teams of people to vet the guests. To find out what the story is. If something was wrong with his jacket, Gene would have picked it up."

*

"Precisely," Director Carter replies with a knowing nod of her own. She trusts her agents, but she also trusts her instincts. But just as Clint treads into the hallway, Sullivan says something that catches her attention. "Follow up with the alien hysteria bit. It seems he managed to be rather successful at pushing that further." Grimly, she closes the door and settles behind the mirror once again.

*

"His jacket," Liv echoes, a very slight crease coming to her brow. "Forgive me, that's — a file, I gather," she hazards, looking a bit hopeful. If there was a jacket in the first place, which she is not entirely expecting, then surely SHIELD had already confiscated it. "Do you review those yourself before a guest comes on?"

*

"I took a look at it," Sullivan says, "Or Janet showed to me when I was in the green room. I glanced at it. Looked fine. British fellow, Columbia University, professor from Cambridge. Clean, typical limey at a glance." Ed seems lost in the recollection as he shakes his head, as if he could wish the whole thing away. "I look at it usually the day before. But this King fellow, he was a late add. We usually like to have more on tap than we'll need. Bump the oddity if needs be when the devil drives."

But then the door opens and Clint steps back in, he gives a nod to Liv as if he were taking the reins back, which in a way he is. "Mr. Sullivan, I'm going to be honest with you. You're in a world of shit." The casual profanity is the first signal that the other SHIELD agents probably get that things have shifted. When Clint goes to a less than professional manner for a VIP the goal posts have shifted.

"We got all this he said and she said, procedure breaking down, people claiming that this guy was just too damn pretty to say no to. And then he goes off and freaks out the free world. And the guy that told him it was okay to do that is you."

An absent gesture is made, "I got my boss, he's telling me to put your ass in solitary and let you sweat because there's something shady going on here." It's then that he sits down in the chair and pulls the cup of coffee away from Ed to make sure the man pays attention to him.

"So help me out here, Ed. Convince me."

To which the man sputters, looking incredulous as he looks between them. "The hell is going on here? You think I /wanted/ this to happen?"

*

Liv looks up when the door opens and offers Clint a quick smile. She has no problem relinquishing the reins. Of the two of them, he's the one with experience here, and knows what they're doing.

He's also the one who answered the tapping on the window, so Liv assumes he has orders.

So apart from a very subtle tilt of her head, Liv doesn't react much to the profanity or change in tactics. Not genuinely. But she watches movies. She knows that for there to be an effective Bad Cop, there must also be a Good Cop.

"Now, hold on. I'm sure Mr. Sullivan is just as much of a victim here as his audience," Liv says, holding up her hands. "It sounds to me like King bamboozled his way onto the show in the first place, that's hardly his fault — "

*

"That's possible," Clint says as he settles into the seat and pulls it up closer to the edge of the table so he can peer at Ed with a bit of a sneer at the corner of his mouth. "Thing is some of this sits too pat. Guy who's a notorious control freak, who polices the lyrics of his guests and cuts out possible topics of conversation for his interviews. Yeah, a guy like that don't just bow so quick to 'hey let's push this guy in front of Kirk fucking Douglas.'"

"So what is it, Ed? You or your buddy Gene, here?"

Ed looks back and forth between them rapidly, frowning that severe glower and his voice gets that warble of confusion. "Now see here. See here. I said it was out of the ordinary, and I meant it. And you have no idea what goes into making a good show. You get into a rhythm, you know your people, you know what's best. Gene put himself out there for this guy. I knew it, in my years of knowing Gene I knew it. He has so much capital with me. He spent it on King. That tells me. It tells me he felt strongly about it."

There's a pause as he frowns, perhaps questioning whether or not Gene might have something to do with it. "If I could go back and kick that asshole off my show I would. But at the time. I felt Gene was really onto something. And turns out he was. Just turned out he had it from the wrong end."

*

Carter's stance changes as Sullivan speaks. Her hands settle across her chest once again, and her gaze steels. She assumes silence in the space alone and can feel her body stiffen as she does so. "We'll need to bring Gene in," she mutters to herself as a kind of mental note.^t

*

"See, it wasn't his fault," Liv says with a relieved smile, her eyes on Clint as she gestures across at Sullivan. "He trusted somebody and it was just the wrong moment to do it, that's all. It happens to everybody, it just isn't usually… you know. Televised."

Liv offers a quick, reassuring smile across at Ed. "Perhaps Gene just put his faith in the wrong person, too. We should be able to look into that and get this all cleared up."

*

"Uh huh," Clint says, clearly not buying it, that is if that scowl on his face has anything to do with it. He gets up and then shoves his chair back under the table, "Take a load off, Mr. Sullivan. I think you're gonna be here for a bit. We'll give Sylvia a call and let her know you'll be staying with us."

As he says that he turns and starts to move to the door, only for Ed to say, "Now now. See here. I said see here. You can't do this to me." He turns earnest somewhat watery eyes towards Liv as he frowns, "Miss, you have to tell them, this has nothing to do with me. Tell them."

But nothing more comes from the elder agent as he opens the door and then waves for Liv to join him. Most likely to move into the next room.

Once they're in there he'll meet Peggy's eyes and say, "Put him on ice a few hours. We'll wrangle up Gene LePage, take a run at him." He looks to the others to check if that meets their expectations.

*

A tight nod follows Clint's words. "Agreed, bring in LePage. And good work on that, Barton." Her gaze trails back to Liv, "We need to stay on top of this. We've already been given pressure to respond, but until we understand what the hell happened," her eyebrows lift as if to fill in the rest of the question. "Keep at the good work, but do not get sloppy in this investigation. The slightest misstep and we'll all have stepped in it."

Clearly the work is far from complete. "I doubt we'll be home for supper tonight," like that's different than any other night.

*

"I'll do everything I can, Mr. Sullivan," Liv assures him, holding up a placating hand as she rises to follow Clint. "Wait right there, alright? Let me see what I can do."

Once the door is closed behind her, Liv allows herself a quiet grunt and continues along into the observation room, absently reaching up to loosen her collar.

"If Gene is as baffled about King as Mr. Sullivan is, then it really wasn't their fault," Liv says to Peggy, making a bit of a face as she settles in. "One way or another, they were almost certainly manipulated into having him on in the first place. Magic, or… similar." She gives them both a rather apologetic frown. "I'm not as familiar with what Loki can do as I'd like to be, but… again. Strange might be. Sif certainly should be."

She rakes both hands back over her hair and exhales. "I'll… I'll go send that raven."

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