Rating: Maybe R for language and not much of that
Setting: Season 7-ish
Disclaimer: Not ours, although we can keep hoping.
Dedication: For Audu2 and Penelope, window-shoppers extraordinaire, on their almost-joint birthdays. Without them, this story would not exist.
Authors' Thanks: To the IWTB list for providing shoe information to the footwear impaired.
Beta thanks: To Cindy, ever faithful, always ruthless. And to Paige, for allowing us to pick her shoe-loving brain.
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Mr. Richard's Footwear Emporium
Friendship Heights, MD
"If I never see another pair of shoes again..." The remainder of Mulder's grumble was drowned out by the jingle of curtain rings as he thrust the burgundy velvet door covering aside with one shoulder.
Scully removed her headphones and watched him trudge to the back corner of the stock room with seven boxes of shoes in his arms, then she returned her attention to the pair of security monitors on the table in front of her.
"Well, they're certainly keeping you on your toes," she observed.
He groaned as he bent to set the pile of boxes on the floor next to her. "Get me a tutu and sign me up for Swan Lake."
"It was only one group, Mulder."
He straightened, one hand pressing into his back. "It was the bridal party from Hell! I'm amazed six women actually agreed on one style of shoe in under two hours. Before that it was four teenaged girls who kept looking from my nose to my feet and giggling. It's been a constant stream of footwear fanatics since the store opened. I've barely had time to pee, let alone eat anything."
He tiredly scanned the shelves, obviously trying to find where the various shoes belonged. When she pointed at an aisle two down from her station, he glared at her. "You could help."
Scully checked the monitors. The owner, Mr. Richard, was clearing up after the bridal party invasion. He'd given his regular employee the day off, so it had been only him and Mulder assisting customers all day. There was no one else in the store at that moment. She set her headphones on the table and went to join her partner. She could spare some time to keep him happy. He really had been extraordinarily busy.
She couldn't blame Mulder for his pissy mood. This wasn't exactly their usual territory, staking out a shoe store. Skinner had assigned them as one of the surveillance teams since they weren't out on a case and every available body was needed to help.
There was a serial killer loose--a shoe fetishist. All of his victims were found naked, except for one high-heeled shoe. Very fancy, strappy, impractical shoes, designed by Jimmy Choo. Expensive shoes. That was the first clue: women who normally shopped at Payless were found wearing several-hundred-dollar Jimmy's when they died. Obvious conclusion? The killer was buying the shoes himself.
Once the shoes were traced back to the small, exclusive stores where they had been purchased, security videos provided fuzzy pictures of a generic-looking man who turned up within twenty-four hours after a disappearance. According to employee statements, he always paid in cash. Geographic mapping of the stores and dump sites helped to further narrow down the list of places they needed to watch. Good thing, too. A woman had been kidnapped the previous afternoon. Now the clock was ticking.
There was little time to get teams familiarized with the assignment and placed in stores around town, but they'd managed. Now all they could do was wait until their guy showed up to buy his preferred brand of shoe.
Scully took a couple boxes up the rolling ladder since Mulder was already crouched on the floor, searching the bottom shelf for the right tag. As much time as she'd spent shoe shopping over the years, Scully had never really given much thought to the actual mechanics of getting shoes onto shelves. She had a new respect for the people who worked in full-service stores; the ones like Mr. Richard who still personally assisted each customer. She vowed to patronize the smaller stores whenever she had a chance. Women's feet could not live by Payless alone.
Mulder stood and jammed a box onto the shelf right next to her elbow. "How did I end up selling shoes while you get to sit behind the desk?" he asked. "You know how hard it is to make Skinner believe my reports. I couldn't sell shoes to someone standing on hot coals. So why me?"
Scully pointed at the box in his hand and waggled her fingers. He passed it to her. "You should have called 'tails', Mulder."
He snorted. "Either Eisentrout used a double-headed coin or he likes you better. Flipping a coin is an idiot's way of making decisions."
"Well you didn't have to tell him that. Besides, if you'd quit calling him Agent Rainbowtrout, the SAC might be more inclined to play nice."
He shoved another box into an open slot. "When he stops calling me Alienboy, I'll consider it."
Scully heard the tinkle of bells at the front of the store, heralding the entrance of more customers. Mulder tilted his head back and groaned. "I quit. I'll fax my resignation to Skinner. Just don't make me--"
Mr. Richard's voice at the doorway interrupted. "Your assistance please, Mr. Fox."
Mulder leaned an elbow on the edge of a shelf and made sobbing noises into the crook of his arm. "I'm stuck in a demented Dr. Seuss book. Save me, Scully!"
She climbed down the ladder, patting his shoulder in passing. "You're the great observer of humanity, Mulder. Have fun with the customers. I'm stuck back here, staring at computer screens."
Scully returned to the security monitors and put her microphone headset on. She pointed to her ear. "Check your receiver. Am I clear?"
He pushed on the large piece of plastic hooked over his left ear and snuggled into the ear canal. It was the latest in wireless receivers and looked a lot like a hearing aid. With Mulder's short hair, they wouldn't have been able to conceal a regular receiver so he'd opted for one that hid in plain sight, then proceeded to complain about it all day.
He gave her a thumbs-up, but he still looked peeved. "How about we switch places? Isn't it my turn to be the voyeuristic security guard yet?"
She shrugged apologetically. "Not much longer, partner. The store closes at eight."
Mulder pointed a finger her way. "Undercover at Disneyland, Scully. Ride attendant for It's A Small World. Eight-hour shifts. Just you wait." He straightened his tie, checked to make sure his shoulder holster was secure and concealed, then stomped out again.
Scully held back her smile until she saw his image on a monitor. She was sure to regret baiting him later, but for now she was enjoying herself for a change.
She could see several people milling around out in the store. More than one group must have entered at the same time. Mr. Richard was talking to an elderly man and woman, probably a married couple. Mulder trailed after a pair of women as they ooh-ed and ahh-ed over a display of the most expensive shoes. Scully had to give him credit. His disgust with the assignment didn't bleed into his voice as he asked, "May I help you lovely ladies?"
The diminutive brunette smiled at her friend. "Did you hear that, Laverne? He called us lovely."
"A man of taste and perception, Lucy." The woman with the close-cropped, platinum hair inclined her head, waving a regal hand at a pair of strappy, black heels. "Indeed, you may help us, my dear sir. The Vera Wang in a size seven-and-a-half, if you please."
Mulder bent toward the smaller woman. "And for you, madam?"
She peeked at him from under her lashes. "Oh my, I'm such a shoe whore. They all look wonderful. Decisions, decisions..."
"May I suggest the same shoe your friend is trying, in whatever tiny size will fit your dainty feet comfortably?"
Scully covered her mouth and chuckled into her hand. Apparently Mulder was taking her advice to heart.
Lucy wrinkled her nose. "I'm a seven-and-a-half, too. Not very dainty, I'm afraid."
"Nonsense!" Mulder replied. "You have the feet of a pixie, I'm sure."
Laverne's "And it's time she gave them back" earned her a swat on the arm. "Try the Vera's," she insisted. "They're a nice, stacked shoe."
Lucy thoroughly perused each table's display while Mulder shifted from foot to foot. Scully could tell his admittedly-thin good humor was edging toward transparent. It looked like he could use some help.
"Get the Vera Wang while she's making up her mind," she said quietly into the mike. She saw Mulder's head dip slightly.
"This is an important decision," he said jovially. "Take your time while I get your friend's selection. I'll be right back, ladies."
He shoved aside the door curtain and strode straight to Scully's table. "What am I supposed to do with these two? What the hell is Vera Wang? I don't have a clue what they're talking about!"
Scully waved her hand to shush him. "Keep your voice down and don't panic. Did you get the style number of the shoe she was pointing to?"
She continued, "Vera Wang is the brand name of that shoe. You'll find those in the very last aisle."
"But why'd she call it by name? Everyone else just refers to the shape or color. It took a while, but I finally understand what 'sling-back' and 'strappy' mean."
Scully decided not to comment on the color issue, especially considering the earlier fiasco when a woman asked for oxblood pumps and he brought her brown ones. "I guess these two are only interested in certain designers."
Aggravation took the place of panic. "Well that's just great. Only I could end up with a couple of finicky shoe experts."
"Fashionistas," Scully corrected.
He squinted at her. "What?"
Scully sighed. "Never mind. Just get back out there with the shoes. I'll feed you any info as you need it. Okay?"
"Peachy," he muttered.
There were still other customers in the store so Scully couldn't leave her post to help him find the shoes but it didn't take him long. He waggled the box at her in passing, then she saw him appear on the monitor again.
"Here we are," he chirped. "Now, if you'll allow me..." Mulder pulled a pair of white, cotton gloves from his suit coat pocket. He turned toward the surveillance camera, grimacing for Scully's benefit as he worked them on over his hands. He'd done that ever since Mr. Richard had chewed him out for handling the shoes with his "soiled, oil-laden" fingers. Scully could empathize with Mulder's loathing: the gloves were a couple sizes too small, making his long, elegant fingers look like Mickey Mouse-hands.
Digits safely ensconced in cotton, Mulder dropped to one knee and reached for Laverne's bare foot. Lucy was still absorbed in eyeing the shelves. She pointed at a pair of strappy, peep-toe stilettos. "Are those by Mizrahi? I've always liked his look. Does he make boots? I love furry little boots."
Laverne huffed dismissively. "He's making a line for Target these days, dear. Not exactly what I'd call a top-of-the-line brand name anymore. I wouldn't be caught dead in Mizrahi."
Lucy gasped. "NO! Well, I never. We certainly can't have THAT, can we?"
Laverne looked over at the table for a moment, lips pursed. "What about that cute Dolce and Gabbana kitten-heel sandal? I'll bet that would be very comfy during the summer."
There was a short, awkward silence. The two customers looked from each other to Mulder, still laboring over Laverne's feet. Either he didn't realize the casual comment was a request to try on that shoe, or he was pretending not to hear them because he had no idea what they were talking about. Scully was just about to bail him out when Lucy tapped her friend's arm.
"Laverne," she hissed, gesturing with her head toward Mulder. "He's wearing a hearing aid! The poor man couldn't hear you."
Scully watched as Mulder froze. They had strict orders not to blow their cover under any circumstances. If Skinner found out he'd been made by a couple of fashion-conscious shoe fanatics, Mulder would be back on wiretap duty for a month.
Still, it was like a tailor-made excuse. Scully murmured into her mike. "Use it to your advantage. Pretend you really didn't hear what they said." She knew he understood her when his hands started moving again.
As he finished buckling the shoe on Laverne's other foot, she tapped him on the shoulder. When he raised his head, she leaned into his face, speaking slowly and loudly. "Dol-chay and Gah-bah-nah."
Scully was surprised the woman didn't use hand signals, too.
Mulder smiled, making an attempt to keep up appearances, but Scully recognized his panic face. He stood and moved over to the table, clearly waiting for rescue.
Scully wasted no time. "The white, almost-flat sandal with the really short heel sitting farther toward the toes." He reached for a sling-back. "No, three to your left, looks like a flip-flop with a heel."
He plucked it off the shelf and held out it, receiving a smile of approval. "I'll be right back." He returned it to the shelf before heading to the stock room.
Scully watched Laverne as she strutted around the little store in her Vera Wang's. The woman obviously knew a good pair of shoes. They fit her beautifully and did great things for her calves. Scully thought about coming back when she was off duty to try on some Vera's... and whatever else happened to catch her attention.
The curtain rings rattled as Mulder entered, stuffing the hated gloves into his pocket. "I feel like Al Bundy out there."
Scully frowned. "Selling shoes makes you feel like a serial killer?" She hoped he wasn't experiencing any murderous impulses toward the customers.
"Not Ted Bundy--Al."
She tried to place the name but had no idea what he was talking about.
"'Married With Children?'" he offered.
"Oh, you mean that new guy in Accounting?"
He rolled his eyes. "Never mind." He disappeared down a row of storage shelves. "What is it with women and shoes, anyway? Talk about a fetish."
"Must I remind you we're here looking for a *man*?"
He emerged with another box. "But at least the man knows what he's looking for. He won't come in and try on a dozen pairs before he decides." She raised her eyebrow at him but forgave the chauvinistic jab when his scowl comically mutated into a grin just before he turned to cross the threshold onto the sales floor. She wasn't sure how much longer he was going to last.
Lucy seemed to be watching Mulder very intently as he walked toward her. As soon as he'd donned his gloves and knelt down to remove the Vera Wang's from Laverne's feet, Lucy leaned toward her companion.
"Did you notice the size of his feet?" she stage-whispered.
Laverne tilted closer. "No!" She looked down. "Size twelve?"
"At least. And did you see his hands before he put the gloves on? VERY long fingers."
"So, you think..?"
"Oh, most definitely. As he was walking back here just now? Coat flapping open, the wash of air against the slacks-- Very impressive profile, if you take my meaning." Lucy nodded rapidly several times.
Laverne glanced sideways at Mulder. "You observant little hussy. I'll be watching for that."
Scully suddenly wished Mulder really was hard of hearing. From the set of his shoulders, she could tell that he'd understood the gist of their conversation.
He finished fastening the kitten-heel sandals on Lucy's feet and gave the two women a stiff smile. They smiled back innocently, apparently under the illusion that he hadn't heard a word they'd said.
The moment might have grown uncomfortable if Laverne hadn't hopped out of the chair in her stocking feet and trotted to a side table. "Lucy, look! They have Jimmy's!"
The blonde tsked. "Jimmy Choo shoes, silly. I've seen pictures before but I'd heard they were only sold in their own name brand stores. I didn't know they were branching out. You really *must* try a pair. Sinfully expensive but so wonderfully quirky."
"They look terribly impractical," Lucy replied. "Who wears them?"
"Who wears them?" Laverne exclaimed. "Who doesn't!"
Scully had seen those earlier and been sorely tempted. It was probably a good thing there'd been no time to shop. Her shoe budget would never stretch to cover three-hundred-dollar-plus Jimmy's. Besides, where would she wear them? It wasn't as if her social calendar was packed with formal events.
Lucy decided against the Jimmy's, but thought she might try the camel Betsey Johnson pump with the darling bow and the cone heel. Scully managed to feed the info to Mulder with only a couple of minor missteps. As soon as he'd turned away from the two women, he unobtrusively buttoned his suit jacket and then hastened to the back room.
On his way through the curtain, he expelled a deep breath but didn't meet Scully's eyes. Even though they'd had this conversation a couple of times on boring stakeouts, she had never quite convinced him that women engaged in such speculation about male body parts. After the giggling teenagers earlier in the day and these two, with their whispers loud enough to be heard without a mike, he couldn't help but believe. Not that *she'd* ever talked about her partner with other women, but back in college... Besides, after years of seeing Mulder's very fine ass bent over the file cabinet drawers, she'd developed a preference for his rear view.
The shoes Mulder needed were on the top shelf of an aisle right in Scully's line of sight. She took the opportunity to indulge herself as he climbed the ladder and stretched for the right box. Yep, a fine pair of gluteous maximus if she ever saw them. She made it a point to be staring at the monitor when he climbed back down again.
Mulder returned to the sales floor--jacket still buttoned--in time for Scully to catch Laverne's pronouncement.
"Life is too short. Buy the shoes."
Scully couldn't have agreed more, but apparently Lucy didn't.
"I just don't know," she dithered. "They're terribly pricey. How would I justify-- I'll think about it. Oooh!" She pointed at a dark-blue, impossibly high, stiletto pump. "Is that Manolo? I really *must* try it!"
"Very well, ma'am. I'll be right back. Again."
Mulder's voice was tired, flat, barely hanging onto the edge of courtesy, the flirting tone gone. He wasn't having fun anymore. It made Scully feel a bit guilty for checking out his ass when his good humor was obviously waning. But only a little bit.
The parade of shoes seemed to go on forever. Scully kept one eye on other customers as they entered and exited while Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, Cynthia Rowley and more Jimmy's were tried on and rejected. Every shoe color and style imaginable were represented, as well as some Scully had never seen before. Mulder no longer spoke to her during his trips into the stock room, simply scanning the shelves rapidly until he found what he needed, then yanking the box down and marching back out. He eventually stopped trying to return all the boxes to the storeroom and left them on the sales floor, to Mr. Richard's undisguised annoyance. The two men had already engaged in a minor sotto voce skirmish because "Mr. Fox" wasn't pushing his customers to buy more accessories. Mulder pointed out that he needed to actually sell some shoes first, and besides, pimping purses wasn't in his job description. Scully wasn't willing to bet on who would crack first if the killer didn't show up soon.
She was so focused on the monitors, she jumped when her cell phone rang. She pushed up one side of the headphones in order to answer.
"You and Mulder can stand down," Skinner said. "The perp was caught making a purchase at another store in Chevy Chase. Believe it or not, he actually had the missing shoes in his car trunk."
"Mulder will be pleased to hear it," she replied. Skinner went on to give her the location and time for the debriefing--six o'clock--which struck Scully as rather short notice. It was already a little past five.
She was just about to hang up when something occurred to her: Eisentrout should've been the one calling. Skinner wouldn't have made the call personally without a good reason. She had a feeling Mulder's earlier jabs at the SAC were about to bite them on the ass.
"Sir?" she asked, hesitantly. "What time was he caught?"
There was a long pause. Skinner cleared his throat, which was never a good sign. "Shortly before two o'clock."
Scully closed her eyes. That was over three hours ago--before the wedding party and the current fashionistas. After the day he'd had, Mulder would probably blow a blood vessel when she told him. She wanted to launch into her views on Eisentrout's professionalism, but that would only lead to questions about what provoked him in the first place. Sometimes you had to pick your battles. If only Mulder could get that through his head.
"Thanks for the call, Sir." She hoped Skinner couldn't hear her exasperation. "We'll be sure to attend the debriefing, even though we won't have anything to contribute."
After a gruff acknowledgement, Skinner hung up.
Scully took the headphones off and set them on the table. No need to keep tabs on the store anymore. She glanced at the monitors. Mulder was removing perhaps the tenth pair of heels from Laverne's feet. He'd be coming back for more shoes in a minute. Scully met him near the door and beckoned him farther into the stock room.
"Skinner just called," she murmured. "The perp was caught. We have to be at the debriefing in less than an hour."
Mulder leaned his head back, eyes closed. His whispered "Thank you" didn't appear to be directed at her. She waited for his mind to catch up with what she'd said. When it did, his eyes popped open again. He squinted at her.
"How long ago?"
Damn his intuition. She knew he wasn't asking when their boss had called. "Over three hours."
"Son of a bitch." Mulder scrubbed his palms over his face, but that was all he said. It was a milder reaction than she'd anticipated.
He took a deep breath, blew it out, then smacked his hands together, rubbing them briskly. "Right." He turned around and marched back into the store so fast, it took a moment for Scully to catch on and follow. By the time she pushed aside the curtain and peeked out, Mulder was approaching his erstwhile customers with a melancholy smile on his face.
"Ladies, to my everlasting regret, a family emergency has come to my attention and I must leave you in the much-more-capable hands of Mr. Richard--"
Laverne waved him to a halt. "Oh, there's no need to do that."
"She's right," Lucy agreed. "We should get going." She glanced at her watch. "We still have three more stores to hit and it's already after five."
Mulder scanned the assortment of heels and sandals still scattered around their feet as the women slipped back into their own shoes. "Which pairs would you like boxed up?"
Laverne smiled at his offer. "We were just looking. Thanks for your help, though."
"We'd never be able to afford *these* shoes," her friend concurred. "We just wanted to see what they were like."
Mulder's mouth dropped open.
Lucy gestured at the floor. "Wait. We should help clean up. I mean, all these shoes..."
Laverne clasped the brunette's arm in a firm grip and guided her toward the door. "No no, dear. That's why they pay him the big bucks. Let's stop by Louis Vuitton first. Maybe I can score a new handbag. This one is seriously last year."
"Aren't those bags rather dear?"
"Of course they are, but it never hurts to look."
Scully walked over to stand beside Mulder, resisting the urge to reach up and push his sagging jaw shut. They watched the two chattering women exit the store, passing by the window on their way to further shopping adventures.
She looked around at the sea of boxes on the floor, shoes spilling out everywhere; lying on their sides, perched one on top of another, kicked underneath the chairs. There were probably a dozen different styles scattered about, the most expensive shoes the store had to offer. Scully picked up a cute Cynthia Rowley burgundy pump with a strappy, looped cut-out all along the sides and across the toe, then tapped Mulder on the shoulder. He turned stunned eyes toward her. She held up the shoe.
"Do you have this in a size 5?"
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Footwear disclaimer: Since both of us are pretty much clueless about fashionable shoes (especially from the time period in question), and since both of our best experts were off-limits due to being the recipients of this story, we humbly apologize if we appear to have taken certain liberties with the timeline or the footwear. It probably wasn't intentional.
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