Here's quite a substantial chunk of the fiftieth chapter of What Fates Impose. I do ask that you limit yourself to commenting about it only this blog post and not give any spoilers away on Twitter or other places. Some people may want to wait to read the chapter in total. But I won't keep you any longer! ENJOY! And Happy Birthday, Fates Chuck!!!
4 FEBRUARY 2008
It took considerable skill to lean his desk chair back to the point of—but not over—tipping over, or worse, crashing to the ground in a jumble of lumbar support and nerd. Thankfully, Chuck had pretty much minored in this in college. He knew the exact angle to which any of the old chairs in Green Library could be tilted without disaster falling. He knew how to tip a lawn chair, the old recliner at his frat house, and even those lounge chairs campers preferred since they folded easily into a cloth bag and could be slung over one’s shoulder. In the four months Prometheus had been around, he’d also done extensive experiments on his own body mass versus gravity in the chairs they kept at Castle.
He tweaked the angle, sliding his socked foot against the leg of the his desk to adjust for the bag of magnetic darts currently balanced on his chest. Without looking—another skill mastered in college—he plucked one out and flung it at the dart board along the opposite wall.
It made a bit of a clang as it hit. Metal walls, metal darts. It figured.
“You know, Bartowski,” Casey said as he entered, rubbing his hair dry from his post-workout shower, “you’re a real paradox.”
Chuck tilted an eyebrow. “Big word for you, Casey.”
“You stick a pretty blonde in front of most men, they don’t do a lick of work. Take the pretty blonde away from you? I haven’t seen this little work out of anybody since the Air Force dropped by my base back in ’04 to run some tests.”
“I’m doing very important stuff,” Chuck said, and threw another dart. “And I’m glad you think Sarah’s pretty. I’ll be sure to tell her so when she gets back.”
Casey grunted. “You get the data dumps scanned?”
Chuck pointed at a stack of files on the side of the desk. “Los Angeles’s finest are already tracking down its requisite amount of scumbags, courtesy of yours truly.”
“Well, at least there’s that.” Casey’s mien shifted abruptly from exasperated to annoyed. It was a minute shift with most anybody else, but Casey’s anger had many flavors. Chuck, about to reach for another dart, paused. Unlike with Sarah, though, he didn’t have to wait long for the issue to come spilling out. “And did you really have to reprogram Castle again?”
“What’s the matter, Casey? Not a fan of Paul Simon?”
“I will be in no way, shape, or form referring to you as ‘Al’ and neither am I technically your bodyguard.” Casey glowered. “I am an agent of the National Security Agency, and I expect to be treated in the manner of such. Got me?”
“Change the song, got it.”
“Nix the song entirely.”
Casey paused and helped himself to the bag of pretzels on Chuck’s desk. “What’d you pick for Walker?”
“Does it matter?” Chuck tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. “She’s not here.”
“The hangdog expression is a real lady-killer, Bartowski. Keep it around for when Walker gets back, will you?”
“Why do you care?” Chuck picked up another dart, but didn’t throw it.
“Because my expansion pack’s late, and I have no other entertainment to keep me occupied.”
“You could go beat on Frank some more. I’m sure he’s lonely, with Sarah gone.”
“I’m sure he is.”
“‘Maneater,’” Chuck said. “That’s the song I picked for Sarah.” He’d actually selected it before, as he was calling it in his head now, BriefingGate. But it hardly seemed to matter, not when she’d left him alone—in her bed—with only a note for company.
“Fitting,” Casey said.
“Well, I don’t know. I’m not the one she ran off on.”
“She didn’t run off.” Chuck tilted the chair to dangerous angles and stared at the ceiling. “She went away for a couple of days to think.”
“Whatever helps you get through the day, Bartowski.” Casey dropped into the spare desk chair—Sarah’s chair—swung his legs up onto the desk, and helped himself to the pretzel bag again. “You talk to her at all?”
“The note said call her. I called.” Chuck remembered he was still holding the dart, and threw it. It hit the edge of the target, wobbled a little, but otherwise stayed fast. “For the record, she’s doing very well, staying at a little B&B, though she won’t tell me where, but she did enjoy a spinach omelet for breakfast and is getting ready for her drive back, and I’m sure she misses you, too, Casey.”
Casey grunted. For a long moment, silence fell between the men, as it had for most of the weekend. In fact, the entire Operation Prometheus just seemed to be quieter. Sarah was out of town, Ellie and Awesome had been working but had been ultimately supportive in that “if you need us, we’re here and please call” sort of way. Casey had taken the news of Beckman and Graham’s manipulations with a shrug and a “That’s the DNI for you.” But he hadn’t made many belittling comments in the meantime. It was almost like he was waiting.
It was like they were all waiting.
“Make any decisions yet, Bartowski?”
Chuck had spent all weekend thinking about it, ignoring the file that even now sat on his bedside table at home. Now he said the one conclusion he’d managed to come to on his own: “Get the Intersect out of my head.”
“You think you can do that?”
“The government put it in my head. They had to have some way to take it out.” Chuck thought about it for a second, and thought about the history of the man sitting next to him. “Without a bullet, that is.”
“You’re the first subject, it could be difficult.”
“Could be.” Chuck tossed a dart in the air, caught it. “Don’t care.”
“What’s your sister think?”
“She’s looking into it.”
“What’re you going to do when it’s gone?”
“Not work for the government anymore, that’s for damned sure.” Chuck tossed the dart again. “No offense.”
“None taken.” Casey brushed pretzel crumbs off of his front and rose to his feet. “Well, it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, Bartowski. It’s been good working with you.”
“You’re being uncharacteristically nice to me,” Chuck said.
“What of it?”
“Uncharacteristically. It means out of character.”
“I know what the hell it means.”
“Any particular reason why?”
“None I’m going to share. Have the song gone before I get back.”
“Back from where?”
“I have a date.”
Chuck blinked. “Wait, I thought Ilsa left. I mean, I seem to recall her little walk of shame when—okay, not walk of shame, definitely no shame in that walk, you can stop making that noise, Casey.” When the growling had subsided, Chuck cleared his throat. “What I meant to say was that I am pretty sure I saw her leaving for the airport when I came home the other day.”
“Date’s not with her.”
“I’m going to Simi Valley. You’re staying here. As in this office right here, within the space you see all around you right at this moment. You may leave to go to another room to collect more food, more Red Bull,” and Casey ticked points off of his fingers, “if you need to work out, or relieve yourself. Otherwise? You stay within these four walls. It’s my birthday and I’m not waiting around for Walker to come slinking home because I’ve got a date with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and you are not screwing it up by getting kidnapped, dangled off a building, or nearly blown to pieces, got it?”
He strolled out before Chuck could remember to close his mouth.
A second later, he strolled back in. “Unless, of course, I get to shoot somebody. And for me to miss out on my day at the library, Bartowski, it had better be a lot of damned somebodies in order to make it worth it.”
“Got it,” Chuck said. A second later, he added, “And uh, happy birthday.”
The only reply was the sound of the Scooby door—which needed oiling again—opening and closing behind Casey. Stunned, Chuck slowly turned back to the computer and stared, unseeing, at the monitor. Casey had a birthday. Which meant... “Dude, he didn’t come off of an assembly line. I have to tell Sarah.”
Chuck paused, halfway to his phone. “And now,” he said aloud to nobody, “I am talking to myself.”
It just figured. Chuck opened up a new text message and settled in to share his amusement with Sarah.
4 FEBRUARY 2008
When an old-fashioned ringtone blared through the office, Chuck looked up in surprise and then down at his cell phone, which had sat silent since his texting bout with Sarah had ended half an hour before. The viewscreen was empty: no incoming calls. As he was the only person there at the moment, that was a bit puzzling.
The ringtone sounded again. Chuck looked around in confusion, and finally spotted the old rotary-style telephone on the wall. He squinted. “When did...”
Oh, right. Castle had a front business, a Pacific Securities. The number must not have been routed through his cell phone like he’d thought it would be. Warily, Chuck rose, padding out of his office in his socks, and picked up the phone from the cradle. “Uh, Pacific Securities, Chuck speaking. Can I help you?”
Please, he thought, don’t be a test from Casey. After all, the phone was outside the four walls Casey had gestured to.
“Chuck Bartowski?” a female voice asked. Chuck nearly breathed a sigh of relief: not Casey, unless he had paid somebody to play a trick on Chuck.
“This is he, yes.”
“Please hold for Mr. Kohlmeier.”
“Mr—” Chuck said, but classical music poured through the receiver. Chuck was left staring in befuddlement at the wall above the phone cradle. Had he heard that right? Andy Kohlmeier, bigwig at Kanichen Enterprises, and one of the men Chuck and the rest of Prometheus were investigating? Calling him?
What the frak was going on?
“Chuck, hey!” Andy Kohlmeier’s voice wasn’t hard to recognize, as Chuck had heard it at the very memorable party less than two weeks before. “How’s it going?”
“Uh, great, Mr. Kohlmeier. And, uh, how are you?”
“Andy, please, please.”
“Right. Andy. I’m doing well. How are you?” Chuck repeated. He wiped a hand across his face and crinkled his brow when it came up wet. He should be better at dealing with strangers by now, possible Fulcrum ties aside.
“Doing great, doing great. Listen, I know it’s last minute, but I was wondering if you were free for lunch today?”
“What?” Chuck asked before he could stop himself.
“There have been some security issues and I could really use a private contractor,” Andy went on, as though Chuck hadn’t spoken. “And like I said, I know this is very last minute and not usually how we do things at Kanichen, but I checked your company’s website and was very impressed with what I saw, and thought you might like to meet me for lunch. On Kanichen, of course.”
“Oh. Right. Uh, I’m not sure what my schedule—”
“If you can’t make it, it’s totally understandable, and we can reschedule, but there’s...” Andy paused, and Chuck finally heard something in the pause that made him squint and straighten up. “Something’s going on at Kanichen, and I’m not sure who to trust, so I need an outside contractor, if you know what I mean.”
“Wow,” Chuck said, his eyes widening. Because they’d been investigating Kanichen for awhile, he knew there was something hinky with the company, but for Andy to pick up on it? It must be serious. And they might not get an opportunity to, as Casey or Sarah had once put it, turn an asset like this again. Even so, Casey was in Simi Valley and Sarah wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours from her mystery trip, and neither of them would ever want him to go to this kind of meeting alone. “I’m not sure today works, exactly, but is there maybe another day this week?”
“I’m on a plane to Austria the first thing tomorrow morning, and I’d like to get a head-start on sorting this out,” Andy said, sounding regretful. “You would be doing me such a solid, Chuck, you have no idea.”
If he stayed in public, maybe Casey and Sarah wouldn’t mind so much. After all, there wasn’t much Fulcrum or Kanichen could do to him in public, was there?
“Where did you have in mind?” Chuck asked.