A visit to the bank was a little less hard on the nerves for Casey than most other errands he had to do in the non-spy world. At least one could go in with the presumption that the banks were designed with security in mind. Hard to be sure, though, as they seemed to get knocked over on a pretty regular basis. But since most robberies were attempted by amateurs, they tended to be unsuccessful, and any fiascos – the kind of robbery where people got hurt – were generally the result of bad planning or no planning or just plain bad luck.

Still, it was always a good idea to keep the old eyes and ears open, and Casey had given this bank a good once-over, even after the NSA assured him that their people had checked it out thoroughly.

So when he walked in through the ornate brass-framed front doors and saw the line-ups, it only put him on half-alert. Not a sleeper cell coup that would precipitate a worldwide overthrow of all that Casey held dear (mom, apple pie, the American flag, the right to bear arms, his Crown Vic), just a bunch of civilians in the same place running an everyday, mundane errand. With any luck, they'd all be intent on getting their banking done and getting out of there as quickly as possible, and Casey could do the same.

Even though he had been in the building many times in the recent past, Casey still, from long force of habit, swung his head around and checked all corners of the room – including the ceiling – after he had entered. No shadowy figures lurking on the mezzanine, check. Nobody wearing a face mask hiding behind the pillar in the far corner that partially obscured the doorway to the downstairs vault area, check. No deranged, drugged-out hippie holding that cute teller around the waist with a gun to her head while he ordered her to put all the money in a bag, check.

In fact, the cute teller had glanced up and smiled when she saw Casey's head looming above the rest of the bank's clients, but he pretended he hadn't noticed so he could look all nonchalant, studly G-man in his cool shades. Not that she knew he was a G-man, of course. Best damn card he had ever been dealt to play with the ladies and he wasn't even allowed to use it. Oh, well.

Pulling his full attention once again to what was happening inside the floridly decorated building, other than the long line-ups, Casey was only able to discern the rhythms of the usual business of a bank in the city. People were depositing their money, withdrawing their money, asking for loans and mortgages, and trying to build up savings so their kids could go to a decent school and wouldn't have to count their pennies quite as often as their forebears had had to. It was the same business that banks and bankers had been in for a few thousand years. Still, something seemed a little off.

Casey squinted his eyes behind the dark glasses and peered around himself even more carefully as he walked to one of the standing desks in the center of the high-ceilinged hall. He needed a better vantage point from where he could take a minute or so to look around and try to quell his tingling Spidey senses. Even when he finally directed his face towards the surface of the desk, his eyes darted first to the left of his position, then to the right, always vigilant. Just in case. Just in case of what was yet to be determined.

When his active brain had stilled long enough to register that there were no deposit slips in any of the slots on the long desk, Casey turned his head to look over his shoulder while he decided what he should do about it. Well, nothing else he could do, really, except join one of those four lines of people slowly shuffling now and then like sad and defeated chain gangs up to the four wickets that were currently open.

Casey moved over to the end of the lineup for the first teller. As he went, he casually scanned the people waiting ahead of him. It didn't look as though anybody was holding a large amount of papers or intended to do any weekly deposits for a business. Yes, he decided, this line would move up the fastest.

He positioned himself behind a woman who appeared to be a little bit agitated. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, first swaying a bit to the right, then the left, craning her neck and trying to look to the head of the line at the person who was transacting his bank business. It took all of two minutes before her jumping around like a disjointed Jack-In-The-Box got on Casey's nerves and he turned abruptly to move to the next line.

This one was a little less promising, as it held a couple of customers with big wads of paper clutched in one hand as they did giraffe imitations, extending their necks to the fullest length as though, by telegraphing their anxiety, they could make the busy teller do his work faster.

Expelling air sharply through his nostrils and making a low grumping noise in his throat, Casey tried the third lineup. This one was the longest of the four lines but, much to Casey's surprise, he began to move up quickly as each transaction only seemed to take about two minutes. Finally, it was Casey's turn.

He stepped up to the counter when the old woman working there looked up and scowled mightily at him. Since Casey figured this was all he was going to receive in the way of a friendly and personable greeting, he gave as good as he was getting and glared back at her. Suddenly remembering that he still wore his sunglasses, he removed them and placed them on the countertop in front of him so he could be sure she would see that he wasn't going away just because she seemed to be willing him to.

"What may I do for you, sir?" she asked in a dry monotone, obviously only reciting the line that some customer relations psychologist had cooked up in a head office somewhere.

"You may," Casey began, laying heavy stress on the word "may" and pausing for a fraction before continuing, "deposit this check for me."

He pulled his paycheck out of his jacket pocket, slapped it onto the countertop, and showed it to the teller briefly before pulling it back towards himself. Flipping the document over and reaching for the pen to his right, he turned his attention to the check as he wrote down his account number and endorsed it. When he had replaced the pen and slid the check back towards the teller, Casey was more than a little surprised to see the woman sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed tightly over her ample breasts and glaring at him even more intently than before.

"You need to fill out a deposit slip," she ground out, "sir."

Casey was very aware of the deliberate pause before "sir" was added at the end of this information and it immediately put him in Mr. Intimidating Man mode. Even though there was no discernable change to his facial expression, he seemed to expand while simply standing there and appeared to get a bit taller and a bit wider, which made him look quite a bit more scary than he had a moment before.

"There were none at the desk. Perhaps you can fill one out for me," he responded through drawn lips and a clenched jaw. After a pause that was exactly the same length as the one the teller had used, he ended with a carefully enunciated, "ma'am."

The only reaction this elicited from the woman was one blink. Apparently, she was not going to be intimidated, and for some reason, thoughts of Casey's mother sprang to his mind. Sure enough, when she spoke again, it was evident that she had not backed down one iota.

"When you have filled out a deposit slip – sir – I will be pleased to serve you," she said with the same icy tone she had used before, making it sound as though nothing would please her less. She unlatched her arms and produced a deposit slip from some secret hiding place at her wicket and pushed it towards Casey.

He very deliberately gave her his best greenshirt-terrifying glare as he pulled the slip towards himself and picked the pen up again to begin to fill it out. As the tip of the ballpoint lightly brushed the paper, Casey was aware of an index finger waving just inside his field of vision. He raised his head sharply to discover his face was an inch away from a long, very sharp-edged scarlet nail attached to the teller's finger that was pointing towards the desk in the middle of the room that Casey had already visited when he had first come into the bank.

"Over there," the woman instructed firmly. Her eyes had narrowed, and the look she now gave the agent was even more venomous than before. Casey knew when he had met his match, and he revised his opinion in that instant, deciding that this woman could probably intimidate even his mother.

Without responding, he picked up his check, the deposit slip and his sunglasses and turned to leave the counter. He was only narrowly able to resist the urge to flinch as he heard from behind him one final insolent-sounding word from the woman: "Sir."

He made his way back to the center table feeling a little warm under the collar, and once there, walked all the way around to the other side so he could face the wicket counter and maybe have the chance to launch a few mental daggers at Mrs. Congeniality.

Just before Casey put his sunglasses back on, he noticed the cute teller's eyes were on him as she bowed her head slightly and tapped something into her keyboard for the customer she was serving. There was an amused smile on her face, and Casey got the impression she was laughing at the situation rather than at him, so he relaxed his expression into a sexy grin and winked at her before turning his face again towards the old bat in the adjacent wicket. Then he slowly slipped the earpieces of his glasses into place and let the lens portion rest near the tip of his nose for a moment before sliding them up and into place by pushing on the nosepiece with his middle finger, which was extended straight upward. By the way the corners of her mouth turned up a bit more and she dipped her head slightly, Casey could tell the cute teller was having a hard time suppressing her laughter at his predicament and the obscene gesture so obviously directed at her unpleasant co-worker.

Deposit slip. Oh, yeah.

Casey fixed as much attention as he needed to on the scrap of paper on the desk in front of him and laid his paycheck beside it. The check showed the payer as "Ultranational Energy Consultants" with a faked head office address in Washington, D.C. The NSA, of course, had set the whole thing up to the tiniest detail with a bogus website, 1-800 number, and even authentic-looking office space in a building in just the right section of the capital city. Anyone who mistook the premises for the real article could even come in and have their request for consultancy services heard by genuine engineers who were on the payroll of the NSA to run a portion of the company as what it appeared to be, but its underlying and primary function was as an administrative hub for the agency's field agents living undercover, as Casey now was.

Ready to complete his small clerical duty, Casey reached over to his right, plucking one of the bank's pens from its holder and bringing it towards himself. Stupid pen. The wire that tethered it to the desk wasn't long enough to reach all the way over to the spot where Casey was holding down the deposit slip. He tugged at it a couple of times like a moron before deciding that he was going to have to slide over a step so he could fill the thing out in a normal fashion. Just as he began to move his feet, the tether wire snapped away from its anchor and Casey now had hold of the liberated pen, which he stared at for a moment with a blank expression before shifting his eyes guiltily left and right to check and see if anybody had noticed.

When the bank's alarms didn't go off and after Casey was pretty sure nobody was aware that he had damaged bank property, albeit accidentally, he shrugged his shoulders a tiny bit and began to write out the deposit slip.

No ink. Of course.

Casey flipped the deposit slip over so the blank side was facing up. Scribbling furiously in one small spot in an effort to get some ink to begin flowing, the only thing he managed to do was make a small hole in the paper and work himself up again to a low level of impatience. Finally, remembering that he was carrying his own pen, Casey dropped the cheap bank implement onto the desktop and used his left hand to draw back one side of his suit jacket a bit so he could get at the inside pocket. Just as he was about to plunge his hand inside in search of his pen, he felt the strange sensation on the back of his neck that he had felt earlier, the one that usually meant the approach of a hostile.

Before he could remove his hand from under his lapel, Casey felt a tight grip on his right elbow. Checking out of the corner of his eye, he was just able to see a uniformed bank guard, hand resting on the butt of his gun and looking warily at Casey from about ten feet away. The one up close and personal was the partner.

Well, whatever it was they thought Casey had done or was doing, at least they weren't going for the high drama. Some rent-a-cops watched too much television instead of going to actual training seminars, and the evidence of their enthusiasm was regularly shown on the nightly news, usually in the form of innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.

Casey let Grabby Cop talk first, and the man spoke in a barely audible and slightly wavering tone, saying, "All right, mister, come with me, and I'll just take that gun of yours."

Realizing that these guys had probably been watching him from the minute he stepped into the bank, Casey quickly reviewed what he had done that might have gotten them nervous. Oh, yeah. He was big and stood out in most crowds. He had moved around to several places in the bank as though he hadn't known where he should be, which could be interpreted as stalling for time. And he had kept his sunglasses on for most of his visit. Even Casey had to admit to himself that he would have been suspicious.

The icing on the cake was probably the glimpse of his gun these guys had gotten when he had reached for his pen after he had finished "writing" on the deposit slip. They most likely thought he had been preparing a demand note and getting up his nerve to go over to the only wicket he hadn't yet stood in line for. So, yeah, time to go easy on these two.

Casey made no move at all and remained frozen in place, hissing to the guard, "NSA. ID card is in this front pocket. I'll take my hand away and turn to face you. Let me know when."

The pressure on Casey's elbow eased up and the guard took a pace back as Casey turned around slowly to face him and removed his sunglasses, placing them on the desk surface beside his paperwork. Reaching into his pocket gingerly, this time in search of his ID, Casey held the guard's eyes with his own until he had extracted the small wallet and flipped it open so the guard could have a look. As he did so, the agent added, "Appreciate it if you keep it quiet," and the guard nodded once before relaxing and stepping back yet again.

He made a small signal to his partner, who also stood down but remained where he was, and the guard said to Casey, "Sorry, sir, just doing our job. You were acting a little strangely, if you'll excuse me for saying so."

Casey grunted in a friendly way to show there were no hard feelings and turned back to his deposit slip as the guards moved away. As he did so, he noticed the cute teller was looking directly at him this time but with a dark scowl on her face. Seems she had seen the little confrontation and was taking sides not in favor of Casey. Oh, well, he'd have this slip filled out in a minute now that he was using his own pen and would be able to smooth things over with her after he waited in yet another line and got back to the counter.

He figured he could get a date for dinner, at the very least, even if it was just for some company during a meal. Overnight company with a civilian was a little more complicated, but Casey was more than happy just to spend some time with a pretty girl, wine her, dine her and engage in some good conversation. If she were really special and worth the paperwork, well, that was another matter altogether, but first things first. And it seemed to Casey, from her previous behavior, as though this woman was going to agree to a date.

But much to Casey's dismay, he never had the chance to work his charm up close. As the customer in front of him finally finished the transaction and gathered up his papers to leave, the cute teller threw one seriously nasty glare in Casey's direction before giving her chair up to another teller and hurrying away behind the counter and out of the transaction area. And as luck would have it, the person who now sat at the final wicket was the old woman, whose disposition had, if anything, deteriorated from the first time Casey had dealt with her, the only advantage being that she was in no way inclined to draw out their second meeting, and she deposited Casey's check after scowling suspiciously at the deposit slip and counting out his cash quickly and accurately.

The whole encounter, which occurred in absolute silence, probably took all of a minute and a half before Casey was free to leave, and as he did so, he looked over to the office into which the cute teller had disappeared, not so cute now because of a severe frown still distorting her face while she watched his progress to the bank's door through the panel of bulletproof glass.

Casey gave an inward sigh as he put his sunglasses back on and left the bank, dateless. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the building for a moment before deciding where he needed to go next, he smiled wryly as the last line of the poem by Ernest Thayer ran quickly through his head:

But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.