Sorry for the silence of the Frea lately. I will attempt to get more stuff going on with the blog, but Comic Con is coming (I don't think any of the CIA are going, but, you know, my Twitter feed seems to be nothing but the people who ARE going talking about how they won't get to make it to everything and meanwhile, my eye is twitching because I will be spending that entire weekend working or studying for my Java final. *eye twitch* Oh, and writing, too. I'll try to update everybody on the progress of Fates 80....once there's actually progress). Also, if anybody IS going to Comic Con and wishes to be a guest blogger for Castle Inanity, send me an email or hit me up on Twitter.
Anyway, it's the 18th! That's awesome news, as it means that it's time for another installment of that great story What Fates Im—wait, what? No Fates? Oh, fine. Have some Curtain Call instead. Sarah has an equal chance of shedding clothing in either.
Okay, maybe that's also a lie.
Anyway, my screen is doing that thing where it's beginning to move around in place, which means it's time for me to nosedive into the keyboard or get some sleep. Here's the plan: you read Curtain Call, leave a comment, and make mxpw's day since he has class. Ready? Okay, go!
— Frea (and mxpw)
PS — Fringe chat tonight on the blog!!! 7:30 CST!
Just like they had said it would at the Farm, it happened quickly. The man on the right swooped toward Chuck. The ex-football player on the left went the other way. Chuck temporarily forgot about him, as the knife seemed so much more pressing.
The fluorescent lights didn’t glint off of the knife. There was no fwoosh noise, no Michael Bay slow-mo effect. The man thrust at Chuck, intending to stab him in the gut.
Chuck had no intention of getting stabbed in the gut. He reacted instinctively. He stepped to the side, dropped the clothes in his left hand, and with his right hand attempted to shove his opponent’s arm away.
He forgot about the clothes in his right hand.
There was a weird sort of ripping noise as the man’s hand caught in a hanger, and the knife went through the clothes. Together, Chuck and the Knife-guy stared: the knife was stuck. Chuck looked at the clothes, back to the man’s face, and at the clothes again before it occurred to him that he might want to do something. He slammed his left hand down, dislodging the knife and yanking the other man’s hand down in the process. Before he really knew what he was doing, he pushed as hard as he could with both hands, like he was back on the playground and some bully was beating on Morgan and they needed to get away.
Knife-guy went tumbling backwards.
Even if he hadn’t sat through It Came from the Swamp six times in a week, he’d have recognized that noise. And his response was just as instinctive. Chuck turned, already in motion, ready to offer aid, ready to do anything. He got a glimpse of Linebacker Dude, Sarah slung over his shoulder like a classic damsel in distress—before the toe of his Converse sneaker caught on the same clothes he’d dropped a second before.
It was almost like flying. Chuck’s body went forward, sling-shotting him across the space between the dropped clothing and Sarah. He caught Linebacker Dude with his shoulder right into the small of his back, then fell to the ground at the man’s feet. Linebacker Dude—and Sarah—crashed forward into a display, got tangled up with Chuck, and then crumpled to his knees.
Right on top of Chuck.
He saw stars.
He heard the voice of an angel.
He felt something try to punch a hole through his ribcage, felt something sharp batter against his shoulder. Stars exploded into supernovas when something pummeled against his jaw.
And two seconds later, he realized that the angel was swearing hard enough to make a soldier blush.
“Let me GO, you dirty, perverted, motherfu—ack, dammit, I said let me go!”
Linebacker Dude was apparently pretty spry for a monolith. As Chuck lay on the ground, panting and wheezing from the pressure of being crushed by actress and thug alike, said thug rolled off him to his feet, scooped up a struggling Sarah Walker by the waist, and took off running.
His name, shouted, cleared the fog. Chuck twisted and made a grab for Sarah’s hand, as if he could somehow anchor her down. He got a handful of pant-leg instead.
Linebacker Dude flew forward, dropping Sarah onto her hands and knees in the process. As the ape-sized human hit the floor, there was a smack loud enough to make Chuck wince. Even as his brain chanted, Run, run, grab Sarah and run, run, run, idiot, run! he realized something: Linebacker Dude wasn’t moving. At all.
And Linebacker Dude hadn’t come alone. Chuck whirled and scrambled to his feet—ready to do what, he didn’t know—but Knife-guy didn’t pounce on him. Instead, the smaller, skinnier man shouted triumphantly and fished his knife from a pile of trousers. He straightened, knife out, and his eyes widened. They cut from Sarah (still swearing), to the unconscious Linebacker Dude, to Chuck, standing between him and Linebacker Dude.
And then he did the last thing Chuck expected: he said, “Screw this!” and ran for it.
What the hell?
“Oh, my God!” Sarah grabbed his arm and—also to his shock—began to pat him down. “Did he get you? Oh, God, he had a knife, did he cut you or—”
“No,” Chuck said, and his voice sounded distant in his head. “No, he got caught in the—are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sarah said. “Your nose is bleeding. You’re bleeding! Here, take this—I thought you said he didn’t get you!”
“He didn’t,” Chuck said, and blinked. The confusion didn’t lessen at all when Sarah dug tissues out of her bag with a shaking hand and shoved them at him. “He just...ran.”
“Yeah, no wonder. I’d have run, too.” Because Chuck was just staring at the tissues, baffled, Sarah actually grabbed his wrist and jerked his hand next to his face, holding the tissues against his nose herself. “That was incredibly brave of you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean, I know you told me you were a nerd, but I never expected...”
“Wait, wait, you think that I did this?” Chuck stared at Sarah in complete astonishment as his brain finally latched the pieces together; why Knife-guy must have run, why Sarah was even now looking at him with a mixture of concern and admiration. “No, no, this wasn’t me, this was—”
“Like I said, incredibly brave. But we need to get out of here. Now.” Sarah looked around, but oddly enough, their fight and shouting hadn’t drawn the attention of anybody nearby. Neither had the downed two-hundred-and-fifty-pound-man on the floor, apparently. It took all kinds to live in L.A. “If this sort of thing gets out, the tabs will have a field day.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right. Of course.” Chuck grabbed Sarah’s arm, intent on hustling her out of there and away from trouble as fast as he could. Three steps later, he abruptly stopped. “No, no, wait, I just have—here, use my camera, get a picture of his face so I can run it through the database later.” He shoved his iPhone at Sarah and glanced around to make sure the coast was clear before bending warily over Linebacker Dude and rifling through his pockets. Please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up.
He found a wallet, grabbed the phone back from Sarah, took a picture of the license, made a mental note of the contents. The man’s phone, he slipped into his own pocket. He didn’t consider it robbery. The police would end up taking it anyway.
“Wow,” Sarah said as Chuck continued to sift through pockets, hurrying and wiping his fingertips from various objects by rubbing them off with his pants. “They teach you that at...wherever you trained?”
“No, checking for loot’s an old D&D trick.” Chuck paused for a second. “And please forget I said that. C’mon, we’ve got to go.”
It was a bold move that he would wonder at later, but he grabbed Sarah’s hand and hauled her away. With his free hand, he dialed the home office, hoping that it wouldn’t be one of the agents that picked up. Please don’t be Kellerman, please don’t be Kellerman.
“Yo!” was probably not a government-appropriate greeting, but that was what he got. “Bullpen. Scotty at your service, what can I do you for?”
“Scotty, it’s Chuck. I need a containment.”
“I’m sorry, I thought you just said it’s Chu—”
“Not the time,” Chuck said, taking the steps of the escalator down two at a time to the ground level. All of his exhaustion was completely forgotten, though he’d probably crash like nothing else once the adrenaline wore off. Behind him, Sarah had no trouble keeping up. She also hadn’t dropped his hand. “I need a clean-up crew at Heidelman’s; track my phone to get the address, and put a rush on it, will you?”
“What, you kill somebody?”
“No. Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Make sure they grab all surveillance, and send it to a location I’ll text you in a minute. Use a secure line on this.”
“On whose authority?” He could hear Scotty typing in the background, and nearly sagged with relief. A containment team would soon be en-route. Scotty was the second-best tech in the office.
“What? Chuck, did you become a field agent and not tell us about it, man?”
“Not exactly. It’s...complicated. How soon can the team be here?”
“They’re rolling out now. ETA is twelve minutes.”
“I want deets, man. Real deets.”
“No can do.”
“Aw, no fair,” Scotty said, and hung up.
“Why does nobody bother to say good-bye anymore?” Chuck wondered at nothing as they headed toward the exit.
“Because modern society no longer believes it to be necessary.” Sarah let go of his hand to grab something from a shelf—a little white stuffed teddy bear holding a heart.
Chuck stopped in his tracks to goggle. “You cannot possibly be thinking of shopping at a time like this.”
“Trust me, even I’m not that shallow. But, look.” Sarah pointed at the exit, through which Chuck could barely see the dark street beyond. He did, however, see the two SUVs with tinted windows parked across the street. Immediately, he drew himself up with a curse.
“Dammit! More of them?”
“Worse,” Sarah said.
Chuck blinked. What on earth could be worse than thugs and muggers?
“Paparazzi,” Sarah said, answering his unspoken question. “And if we go out there in a rush, without buying anything, no amount of ‘containment’ is going to do a thing.”
“Do you have cash?”
“Uh, some, why?”
“Good, you can pay for this. All I have are credit cards, and it’s best if there’s no evidence we were here.” Sarah shoved the bear at him. “I’ll pay you back for it. C’mon, let’s go.”
Though the cashier gave them a funny look, possibly because Sarah was disheveled and Chuck was bleeding, there was no alert across the store and nobody shouted for security to stop them. “You want a bag?” the cashier asked.
“No, it’s fine, we’ll help save the environment.” Chuck picked up the bear from the counter and realized for the first time exactly how unmanly it was. “Um, maybe you should hold this,” he said, handing it to Sarah.
Hands now free, he quickly swiped his face to clear it of any last traces of blood. He didn’t know much about the tabloids, but he knew enough to know he couldn’t go outside still bleeding. Such a picture would probably be the top story of the day.
“I think you got it all,” Sarah said. “Ready?”
He nodded and took a deep breath. “I think so.”
They hit the doors together, hurrying a little faster than necessary. “You’re absolutely sure it’s paparazzi and not—”
A flashbulb exploded in his face, effectively answering that question.
“My God,” Chuck said, for the fourth or fifth time. He blinked heavily, but the afterimages didn’t go away. “I think I’m blind. No, really, I’m fairly sure I’ve lost the use of my entire right eye. How do you live like this?”
“You’d think the actress would be the melodramatic one of this duo,” Sarah muttered under her breath, though in the orange-yellow light of the streetlamp, she looked a little pale herself. She sat in the passenger seat of his rental car, half of her purse in her lap. A handful of crumpled up tissues sat on the seat between them, mostly covered in Chuck’s blood. Thankfully, the nosebleed had never been a gusher, but it’d started bleeding again near the end of their escape from the paparazzi. He definitely needed a new shirt now. There was a joke there somewhere, Chuck was sure, about clothes shopping causing one to need new clothes, but he just couldn’t think of it. “That was only a couple of photogs, you know. Just wait until you see what it’s like on the red carpet. Fans, photogs, reporters, all shouting your name, and meanwhile a thousand flashbulbs are going off. It’s kind of a nightmare.”
“I have no idea how you manage to stay classy, cool, or collected under those circumstances,” Chuck said before he really thought about it.
Sarah grinned. “You think I’m classy, huh?”
Chuck sighed and rested his forehead against the steering wheel. “And to think it’s been almost twenty minutes since I wanted to disappear through a hole in the ground,” he said in a deadpan voice.
“It’s okay. You can think I’m classy, I don’t mind.”
They’d made it back to the studio in one piece, and thanks to a little creative driving learned at the Farm, without their paparazzi ducklings in tow. Thanks to their abrupt exit of the department store, they were a little early for Sarah’s second call-time, and neither really wanted to go sit in her trailer and wait until it was time to report to the make-up trailer. So they were in his car, just...sitting. It was as ordinary as it was surreal.
When he felt something touch his jaw, Chuck nearly leaped out the window. At the last minute, he stopped himself (a good thing: the window was currently closed, and he hadn’t thought to get insurance on the rental). Part of it was that his entire jaw felt like it might burst into flame and the other part was that Sarah Walker—Sarah Walker—was touching him.
And he really, really needed to accept that this was his life now.
“Man, he got you pretty good. You’re going to have a bruise there.”
“I don’t think it was him,” Chuck said.
“Yeah, he wasn’t the one kicking and screaming.”
“I was not scream—oh, God, that was me?” Sarah’s eyes widened before she clapped a hand over her mouth. “I did that to you?”
“I’ll consider it a war wound won with honor, madam,” Chuck said gravely. When he tried to smile, he remembered exactly why that was a bad idea. “But you should know, I am now going to wince in sympathy for every single one of Sydney’s enemies when she lands a punch.”
“Hush, you. Oh, speaking of Sydney...” Sarah rolled her eyes when her cell phone went off. She sighed and showed him the view screen. “It’s Vanessa. Time to get back to the daily grind. If she asks, I was in your car the whole time, studying my lines.”
“Instead of playing hooky and getting attacked by men with knives? Check.”
“Yeah. Hooky. Heh.” They climbed out of the car and headed toward the soundstage doors together. “I’m going to have Neil’s assistant get you some clothes.”
Chuck nearly groaned. The one positive side of the whole attack had been that they’d left the mountain of clothing behind. “Doesn’t Neil’s assistant have better things to do than that? Since he or she is serving, you know, the all-powerful Neil?”
“Neil wants you tailing me—”
“With good reason, as we were both just jumped in a department store.”
“Then he’ll have to make some sacrifices, too. Besides, Amber’s had to do stranger things, I’m sure. I’ll text her your sizes, okay?”
“No, that’s really not—”
But Sarah had already climbed into the make-up trailer, leaving him, as usual, talking to himself. Chuck stood where he was for a moment, staring up at the square of light from the window, before he sighed and dragged both hands through his hair. Though it probably wasn’t smart, he took a seat right on the steps up to the door and unlocked his phone.
This time, Scotty’s answer was a lot more professional. “Department Fourteen.”
“Hey, it’s Chuck.”
“Calling for an update?”
“You know it.”
“Well, your containment crew was apparently top-notch. Did their work, got the place scrubbed, surveillance swiped, everything you wanted. I’ve also got some details on your perp.”
“Leonard Emerson, right?”
“Right. Couple of your prints were found on scene, sloppy, sloppy.”
“Give me a break. It was an open attack in the middle of a department store in the evening. What was I supposed to do? What’ve you got on Emerson?”
Chuck recognized the tone from his fellow nerd well. After all, Scotty had been the one to hack the CIA mainframe and get the results on his promotion, and had been the one to tell Chuck outright that his skills as a programmer and tech were too valuable to give him the field agent slot he’d earned. Now, Chuck sat up straight. “What is it?”
“I’m not authorized to give you that information.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Easy, man, easy. You know, my heartburn...”
“Just tell me, Scotty,” Chuck said. He wasn’t quite growling, but he was close, he knew. To say it had been a long day would be the equivalent of calling Samus only a little kickass.
“I’m only authorized to give this info to the AIC.” Scotty sounded apologetic.
“What? That’s bull. I’m the AIC.”
“As of twenty minutes ago, you’re not. Sorry, man.”
Chuck’s head snapped up. Twenty minutes? He’d been relieved of Agent-in-Charge duties? That could only mean that Bullworth had... “Gotta go,” he said suddenly into the phone. Since Sarah took nearly an hour in make-up anyway—a fact he’d learned the hard way far too early that morning—he took a risk and cut across the trailer village to her trailer. He didn’t bother to knock, but instead barged right in.
And there he was, suit perfectly pressed and tailored, sipping from a Starbucks latté as he calmly regarded Chuck. His eyes were cornflower blue, his hair perfectly coiffed. He had the best record in the Agency for field ops and managed to top the PT scores every year. Bosses loved him, coworkers adored him.
And Chuck hated every fiber of his being.
“Hello, Analyst Bartowski. About time you arrived,” Agent Brad Kellerman said. “Now let’s talk about Sarah Walker.”