The Mexican Hat Dance sounded loudly from Chuck's pocket.
"Not Morgan again," sighed Ellie. "We've got a lot more shopping to do if I'm going to have everything ready for your birthday party tonight."
Chuck lifted his phone to his ear. "What, Morgan?"
"Yo, dude, I'm in your room."
"Didn't I tell you not to – okay, what is it?"
"You just got an e-mail from Bryce Larkin."
"Bryce? I never expected to hear from him again. In fact, I never wanted to hear from him again."
"Well, he must have heard it's your birthday, bro, you know, Auld Lang Syne and all that stuff?"
"Yeah, well, as you can imagine, I'm less than stellarly excited. I'll read it later."
"Do you mind if I take a boo? I mean, any guy that would treat you the way Bryce did and then send a birthday greeting must have major cojones."
"Suit yourself, Morgan. I have to go now. Ellie is giving me that look."
"Ah, yes, I know the look. You've just given me something to dream on."
Hanging up, Morgan wandered into the hallway towards the kitchen, whistling the theme from Hawaii Five-0. The off-tune whistling continued while he searched for a grape soda and ended with a flourish as he came back into Chuck's room and plopped himself into the desk chair in front of Chuck's computer.
"So let's see what old Mr. Larkin has to say for himself," Morgan declared as he hit the mouse.
The e-mail opened. Suddenly, thousands of images began pouring forth in rapid succession. Morgan's eyes rounded and glazed over. His eyelids started to flutter but his eyes never closed completely. Image superimposed image in a continuous stream. As though in a trance, Morgan watched without seeing, unconsciously taking it all in.
After slightly more than an hour, the images abruptly stopped. Morgan's hand had long ago released the half can of grape soda, spilling its contents onto the white shag rug. Still he sat, his eyes closed now, a gentle snore escaping his lips.
"Honey, I'm home!" cried Chuck, pushing the front door open, his arms full of store bags. "Morgan?"
"He'd better be in your room and not mine," said Ellie as she hauled the rest of the groceries to the kitchen.
Chuck put his bags on the kitchen counter and headed towards his room. "Morgan, what did Bryce want?" he asked as he entered. He paused for a moment when he saw his best friend asleep in the chair, and his expression softened.
"Buddy, hey, little buddy," Chuck said gently, shaking Morgan's shoulder. "Wake up. Don't you have a shift at the Buy More this afternoon?"
"Wha'? Huh? Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me."
"Hey, what was Bryce's message about?"
"What do you mean what – Morgan, I honestly don't know how you make it through a day."
"Gotta run, bro. See ya," said Morgan, waving over his shoulder as he exited through the window.
A couple of seconds later just his head popped back through the opening.
"Sorry for the mess, dude. Don't know my limit sometimes, I guess."
Before Chuck could reply, the head with the scruffy beard had disappeared again, leaving Chuck standing with his hands on his hips, an affectionate look on his face as he surveyed the large purple blot on his rug.
Deep in a bunker under the Moab heat, a man lifted off his headphones and swiveled his chair around, a look of concern and fatigue creasing his eyes.
"It's done," he said with a tone of finality.
"What's done, Dave? You don't mean it's downloaded already?"
"Yeah, and in a little over an hour. This guy Bartowski must have a supercomputer for a brain. Nobody could take that much information in that fast without going crazy."
"Nobody normal, you mean. Bryce guaranteed that this guy was special. Good work, Dave. You should probably get a message out to Bryce that it's a done deal."
"What do you mean 'can't'?"
"Bryce is dead. NSA got him. Casey."
"So what do we do now?"
"Wait and see, I guess. Let the new Intersect settle in."
Morgan did an electric glide, ending at a spot in front of the Buy More Nerd Herd counter closest to Anna.
"How can I help, ladies?" he said gallantly.
"I'm not sure you can, Morgan. You see, this customer is interested in a full home security setup and Chuck isn't on duty today," said Anna, a slight frown turning down the corners of her mouth.
"Never fear, Morgan is here," said Morgan, gently leading the plump, middle-aged woman away by the elbow.
"Now, ma'am, what are you looking for today? We have the EZ-See 401LA cameras with 360 degree capability, the Loud and Ready front door alarm system, and the Bolt-N-Go four-way door lock."
"I'm thinking you're not in the market for any handguns. I prefer the MP9, Brugger & Thomet, Swiss made, you know, fully automatic. The British SAS uses that baby."
Morgan suddenly realized what he was saying and reddened slightly as the woman began to back away, her eyes registering surprise and fear.
"No, no, sorry, just a little joke. You can't get those here anyway. Please come back," Morgan stuttered as the woman started jogging for the door.
"Wow, that's impressive, man," said Lester, his head bobbing slightly up and down in approval.
"Yeah, you must have been playing some first person shooters that we haven't heard about yet." Jeff too had a look on his face that Morgan had never seen before: admiration.
"Well, Morgan, you chased another customer away but that will give us some alone time in the Home Theater Room. You can tell me more about high tech hardware," breathed Anna.
Looking at Morgan from under lowered lashes, she grabbed him by the placket of his green Buy More polo and led him into the curtained room at the far end of the store.
"No, oh, God, no."
"What's happened, Dave?"
"The Intersect. It's in the wrong guy."
"I just got a report from the surveillance unit that Bryce set up to keep an eye on the Intersect, make sure it was in place and functioning correctly. Seems all the data got downloaded into some doofus named Morgan Grimes, best friend of Chuck Bartowski."
"We've got to get it out of there, Dave, pronto! All that intel could kill the poor schmuck."
"That's the funny thing. Our eyes and ears say he's handling it well; doesn't even need to flash to access the information like the lab coats predicted."
"Imagine finding two Stanford geniuses in the same Buy More, and friends at that. Your call, Dave. You're the project head now."
"This Grimes guy could be Einstein for all we know, but I don't think the Intersect is safe with him. We don't know enough about him. I think we should transfer it to Bartowski as originally planned. Bryce would have wanted it that way."
"We're going to have to replace the data with something else, otherwise the extraction could leave him disoriented. He's definitely built up tons of new synapses to handle it. Any ideas, Dave?"
"I just happen to have a database with World of Warcraft since its inception. Think it will be enough?"
"It'll have to be. Poor schmuck."
Anna wandered around the Buy More looking behind shelving and into corners. She couldn't find him.
"Where's Morgan?" she asked Lester. "He hasn't finished telling me about Communist sleeper cell organizations yet."
Lester thought for a moment. "I saw him out back a few minutes ago. There was a black van parked in the delivery bay. He's probably signing for something."
"Thanks, Lester," said Anna, marching purposefully to the back doors.
"Any time, babe," whispered Lester quietly so Anna couldn't hear him.
Coming out into the sunshine, Anna squinted a bit. Shading her eyes with her hand, she scanned the parking lot, finding no sign of Morgan. About to turn on her stiletto, she noticed rubber marks on the pavement that seemed to back out of the loading dock and turn sharply away. Shrugging her shoulders, she went back into the Buy More.
"I don't know, man, it must have been that double bean burrito I ate for lunch. I feel like toast," said Morgan, alternately rubbing his stomach and his head.
"Well, it certainly wasn't any of Ellie's food. It was nice of her to throw me the birthday party, even though I didn't really enjoy it."
"Yeah, all those doctors. You think those women would know a little bit about video games. They don't do surgery or whatever all the time, do they?"
"Well, they certainly learned something about World of Warcraft tonight, amigo. Didn't know you had logged so many hours."
"Yeah, well, I guess I'm just naturally talented that way."
"Okay, genius, if you're so smart, you're in Northrend, Azeroth. What kind of sandwich do you take?"
"Pedal safe!" said Chuck over his shoulder as Morgan left through the window.
Chuck turned back to his computer. Here's that message after all. I wonder what Bryce wants? he thought as he clicked on the e-mail icon.