Chapter 1: Casey's reunion
"Chuck! There you are! Come over here…pronto!"
Chuck Bartowski cringed every time Harry Tang called his name. Every word that spewed from his mouth dripped with pomposity and sheer malice. Ever since Harry become the new Assistant Store Manager, not a day went by that he didn't rub it in Chuck's face. Chuck sauntered from the Nerd Herd station to the Television section. He knew exactly what the problem was. His best friend Morgan Grimes caught his eye and smirked.
"Uhh, yeah Harry…what can I do for you this fine morning?"
Harry looked at him disgusted. "Don't give me that! Nothing around here is 'fine' until it has my approval. Are we clear, Bartowski?"
"As day Harry…as day."
Harry gave him the master remote. "I need you to fix this, it isn't working again. I know your boy Grimes had something to do with it, but he is holding back on me and keeping company secrets. I didn't think he had the guts."
Harry looked disgruntled at Morgan and the short, bearded sales clerk shrugged.
"Looks like I'm no longer pudding Harry." The scowl on Harry's face caused Morgan to shiver. "Umm, well…maybe Jello! You know…like the cubes…uhh, no, not even…the marshmallows in the Jello…that's it!…" Morgan stammered.
Chuck sighed and entered the code number to the remote and placed it back in Harry's hand. "All done Harry, now if you'll excuse me, I have a customer." He grinned and went back to his station.
Ever since becoming part of this spy business for the NSA and CIA, Chuck's confidence soared. However, there were others that he still cowered to. He looked to his left and saw Major John Casey. His muscles bulged from his Buy More green polo shirt and the tension in his neck expanded as he dealt with a befuddled and technologically inept consumer.
"He never had the patience to deal with the little people. Of all places…John, John, John. I cannot believe it."
Chuck looked up to see an attractive woman in her early forties standing in front of his desk with an Apple Laptop. Chuck gave her the once over. She had wavy and layered brown hair highlighted with blonde. She boasted large, catty blue eyes and a lithe figure with perfect posture. Her height was just about average, an inch shorter than his sister Ellie. This first impression also told him that she must have had nerves of steel if she was ever involved with Casey.
Chuck looked at Casey again, and then back to her, it was a definite match. They carried themselves with that same firmness and borderline arrogance in their expressions. They even shared like features, not uncommon in many couples. The scent of 'ex' was in the air. The woman had spoken to him, but she kept staring at Casey and shaking her head.
"Hi, my name's Chuck. Welcome to the Nerd Herd, what can I do for you today? I see you have a Mac…" He faltered.
She finally gave Chuck her attention and offered a large, toothy smile. She was definitely an elegant woman, right up Casey's alley.
"I'm sorry Chuck. I have a problem with this laptop, I was in the middle of typing and it just completely died on me. It also doesn't help that my kitten struts across it every chance she gets."
"Oh, death by cat…not good. Well, I'm mostly a PC guy, but I will take this to the Mac Techs ASAP and they will call you in the morning with their diagnosis."
He rifled through his papers and pulled out a customer release form. "If you can just fill this out, we'll have it taken care of real soon."
She finished quickly and handed him the paper.
"Okay, Julia Forsythe...I'll run this by them now. In fact…" He pulled out the microphone. "Lester, please come to the Nerd Herd, Lester, please come to the Nerd Herd."
Chuck sat back with an impish grin, putting his voice over the loudspeaker caught Casey's attention and he glanced his way. Chuck had never seen Casey more stunned. His blue eyes widened and his jaw hung slack. Casey patted the customer on the back and moved in closer. From the corner of his eye, Chuck saw Morgan doing the same.
'Oh man, not now, Morgan!' He thought. Morgan came quickly, and Casey decided to play spy games and hid behind the CD shelves.
"Hi, I'm Morgan Grimes, retailing associate here at the Buy More, if there is anything I can help you with today just say the word!" Morgan clasped his hands as if praying she would say any word.
"Actually, if Chuck doesn't need me anymore, I would like to check out some of the CDs."
"Well, say no more, we have a huge selection here at the Buy More. If you'll just follow me…please follow me. What's your speed? You look like an extremely classy gal, I'd says Jazz, easy listening…blues perhaps?"
"Well, what section is that over there, where that big guy is hiding? I mean standing."
Morgan looked at Casey, who pretended to straighten the merchandise.
"That's the gospel section."
"Perfect. If you don't mind, I'll take it from here. What was your name? Oh, Morgan, thanks, I'll make sure to say you helped complete my sale."
"Thank you, I would greatly appreciate it."
Morgan sprinted back to Chuck. "Man, I don't know what it is about the Buy More and women, but she is hot! Volcanic!"
"Okay…so a little ashy, but c'mon buddy! Look at her, I mean really…just look at her…eying…Casey…like she…knows him, dammit! Will my day ever come?"
Chuck laughed good-natured and clasped his hands behind his head. "What? Did you really think you had a chance? Besides, I wouldn't even try it. She's Casey's ex, has to be."
"And how did you decipher that?"
Chuck did not want to delve into details, especially considering John Casey would break his neck for revealing sensitive information. He tapped his forehead. "I just know these things buddy, I just know." Chuck was proud of himself for putting together clues without having a flash. He liked to think his instincts worked just as well.
"Okay, forget it, Criss Angel, especially if she's Casey's girl. I don't think I can take another knock out."
Chuck looked at his friend sympathetically. Whenever Morgan got in Casey's way, the agent's large hand would cover his face and shove him down. It happened on three occasions already.
"Yeah…Casey would definitely be the jealous type. Let's just stick to our own age group, okay, pal?"
"Right! Like Sarah! So, when are we gonna play Twister?"
Chuck sighed. "Morgan, we are not going to be playing Twister anytime soon."
"Oh man, c'mon! That is the ultimate game for scoring chicks, or at least getting to touch them."
Chuck's expression soured. "Morgan, number one, Sarah's my girl and if anyone's gonna touch her it will be me. Number two, Ellie's my sister and in case you didn't notice, she's really involved with Captain Awesome."
Morgan heaved a big sigh and motioned to leave. "Yeah, I got it, but a man can dream right? I better jet out of here, big brother is watching."
"You mean, Big Mike?" Chuck asked innocently. He was referring to their crude, blasé Store Manager. "I think he's on lunch…or did he say brunch?"
"I think Big Mike came up with another meal time, 'dunch.' It's after lunch, just before dinner. But, no, it's definitely brunch now. And I don't mean that big brother, I mean Harry Tang." Morgan jumped around and shook out his arms. "Man! Everywhere I go I can feel his beady little eyes just crawling through my skin. It drives me crazy!"
Morgan took off and Chuck picked up the laptop. Lester never answered his page; he was probably slacking off in the break room or actually doing some work around here. In this place, it was one or the other.
John Casey was foiled. He was not one to be caught off guard easily but when it came to Julie, he might as well have been wearing a neon sign. 'I already am with this horrible shirt.' He thought. He clicked his teeth frustrated when she came up behind him.
"Tell me, sir, which one of these CDs is your favorite? Is there anything here that particularly touched your soul?" She asked.
Casey turned to her with a sardonic grin. "Well, Julie Forsythe, it's been a long time. What brings you to Los Angeles, couldn't take the cold of Alberta?"
'Damn!' He thought. 'How could I have missed that she moved?' It had been a while since he looked at his 'Julia' file.
"I know Canada made you pasty John, but it's better than living in a smog. If I recall, the last time we were in Canada you didn't mind the cold at all. I think you're exact words going down the slope were, 'bring it on!' So, how come you thought I was still there? Did you forget to update my paperwork?"
Casey pulled her to a corner away from the customers. She was as sharp as ever. "I guess I did, Julie. Look, can you keep it down? For all intents and purposes I'm just a humble sales clerk, making eight-fifty an hour at the Buy More, okay?"
"Oh, you always looked so sexy when you snarled, John. Don't worry, I'm not going to interfere with your job, I don't think I ever did." Julia's tone softened with her gaze when she looked at her ex-husband. "Besides, you wouldn't let me even if I tried."
Casey tried hard to ignore it, but there was always a fire in her eyes that made him melt. "Good point. Now, back to you. What are you doing here, besides bringing in faulty laptops? I thought you were still running the dance shop?"
Julia was a trained dancer since the age of five, and a year before their divorce, she had made plans to open her own small academy.
"I'm doing fine with that, and I didn't move, I'm just…taking a vacation." She said. "Do you think I even had an inkling that you would be here? The last time I heard from you, you were headed back to Washington from Prague. You're the one with all the tracking technology, not me."
Julia noticed his cheeks blush when she mentioned Prague; it was a blush of embarrassment. She couldn't let it go.
"So, was it a redhead this time? Maybe one of those hip, rogue spies with a nasty attitude? You know, young enough to be your daughter? What was her name again, Karen?…Katrina?"
"Carina. And how did you know about her? That mission was top…"
"Secret? Yeah sure. Maybe Carina didn't get the memo because she called me to brag about how she had you handcuffed to the…"
Casey put a hand over her mouth. "Will you be quiet? She called you?"
Julie removed his hand and waved her fist. "Yes, she called me! I didn't even ask how she got the number, but that was really low, John! The little brat! If I ever see her face to face I'll give her something to brag about! She doesn't know who she's dealing with! Living with you for twelve years I've learned a thing or two."
Casey grabbed her arms to calm her down. "I'll have to have a word with her whenever I do see her again." He cursed to himself. "She had no right!"
"Forget it John, it was two years ago, and it's over with. I just thought you should know."
Julia couldn't bring herself to tell him how much she was hurt with that startling call. The little witch on the other line acted like it was a mercy call and she was only telling her John was alive and well. Then she went into certain details of the mission. After Julia slammed the phone she promptly changed her number.
John and Julia Casey had a gone through a year long separation before they finalized a divorce. It was now six years and counting. So many times they 'reconciled' during that trial separation. John would show up at her door, acting as though he needed to fix things around the house. Her favorite was when he burst in during the middle of the night, dressed all in black. He claimed he was on a mission and had to make sure she was safe. She wasn't completely naïve, and she had once called him to fly in from Washington because she felt she was being 'watched.' He fell for it every time. They both remained silent for a moment, as the memories crept over them.
Julia broke the ice again. "Well, you're buffer than the last time I saw you. I think I like the lean muscle better. And I'm not sure I dig that green on you John, it's too…Brady Bunch astro-turf for me, it washes you out. I think you look your best in browns and blues." She adjusted his collar and picked off some lint in her pure, attentive, fashion and smiled wide.
Casey chuckled and looked her over. She was still lovely in a simple pair of blue jeans and a turquoise tank top. Although small chested, she had long, shapely thighs. The fine age lines around her eyes and mouth only added to her natural grace and beauty. Although she covered it, he noticed silvery strands rising up from her temples. He forced a smile but it actually felt sincere.
"So Julie, since you're in town, maybe you wanna grab a bite to eat? Catch a movie?" He offered. He knew she'd refuse.
"No thanks, John, been there and done that, with you more than anyone else too."
"Wasn't I always your first?"
"Yes, but unfortunately, you won't be my last."
Julia suddenly became distracted; her eyes widened and she glanced around the store. Casey recognized it as her way of showing fear. He grabbed her arm tight and pulled her close to him.
"What is it? Is something wrong, Julie? No more tricks."
His touch was very soothing to her nerves, but she pulled away. "I'm all out of tricks. John, why do you always have to be suspicious? I just…I just remembered I have some other errands to run. I have to go now."
She made a beeline for the exit and Casey followed close behind. "Wait, where are you staying? At least tell me that."
"No…I can't." She said. John Casey was always her big hero, her teddy bear, and despite popular opinion, her best friend that she could divulge anything to. Casey saw the desire to talk in her eyes, but she was hesitant. Julia put a hand on his chest. "Please, don't ask any more questions."
"Never mind Julie, if I have to, I'll find you. Don't ever doubt that."
With those words, Casey strode back into the Buy More to resume his shift.