It's a Wonderful Cover Life
A/N 2013: Welcome to the reread! Reading through the author's note below I see I'm quite the liar – A Common Spy Problem is on hold until this is done, I missed the 2011 deadline for this Christmas story, I didn't write much on my vacation, or at all this year for that matter. Here's to hoping that will change.
As I point out later in the story, the plot is from Borrowed Hearts, not Random Hearts. And I've seen It's a Wonderful Life, this fic is nothing like that movie. Speaking of movies, I've never mentioned that I don't own Monster's Inc. I don't, only the 3D blue ray I bought and watched on Saturday and I highly recommend it.
A few thank you's before we get started. To iAmBixie for designing this awesome cover, grazie mille. Also to Nervert who proofread the rewrite, thank you for working on this a second time. And to all you guys who are still reading and interested in the story, despite that it hasn't been updated in almost eight months. For those not in the know, you can follow comments and post questions on Twitter ('at'ItsAwCoverLife). If you follow this account I follow back, so DM's are welcome too.
Okay, let's get to it.
A/N: Wow, where do I start? At the beginning, I guess.
One, I'm still alive and so is A Common Spy Problem. Life had me stretched to the limit though, but two more working days and one wedding and I can call it a year. A Common Spy Problem has called it already and posting will resume early in January. For the first time in my career I have three weeks leave and two of those will be spent catching up on my writing.
Two, welcome to my Christmas story. This year it's a multi-chapter fic because I'm trying to catch the Christmas spirit early. The story is loosely based on one of my favorite holiday movies, Random Hearts, with random references of other stuff thrown in. Any parallels to It's a Wonderful Life aside from the title is a huge coincidence as I've never seen that movie. *Insert gasp here.*
Three, I could not have done this without the awesome support and assistance from two other amazing authors – Nervert and Quistie64. Speaking of our local ninja librarian, I just want to point out that, yes, that is a reference to one of her stories in scene 4.
I don't own Chuck, but I do own the DVD's, and I promise to educate the generations to come.
1. It's That Time of the Year
Big Mike scurried down the aisle as fast as his bulky frame would allow. Stopping short of the Nerd Herd desk he doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for breath as he tried to get his wheezing under control. When he no longer sounded like he'd swallowed a whistle he straightened and clapped twice to get everyone's attention.
Chuck looked up from the cellphone he was attempting to fix.
"Look alive, people!" Big Mike's voice practically bounced off the walls. "Mr. Walker will be here any minute!"
A stunned silence followed the command, punctuated by the pop of bubblegum.
"Anna! Get moving!"
The petite Korean girl, whose hair was highlighted with deep red and green tones in the spirit of Christmas, slipped down from her perch on a washer-dryer combo, still chewing. Chuck averted his eyes when she neglected to make any attempt to prevent her too short skirt from riding up.
Big Mike groaned when he spotted Jeff and Lester slithering out of the home theater room.
"Patel!" he yelled across the store, "take Barnes somewhere for a nap or something. Keep him out of sight!"
Jeff opened his mouth to protest, but before he could string a coherent sentence together, Lester dutifully steered him through the back door in the direction of the men's room.
Big Mike continued his visual search. "Grimes! Where the hell is Grimes?"
"Right here, sir." Morgan came jogging up from the DVD stands, his green sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor.
"Go clean up my office. It needs to be spotless."
"But sir – "
Chuck caught Morgan's eyes from behind Big Mike's back, but when the little bearded guy gave him a pleading look, Chuck could do more than shrug his shoulder. There was no arguing with Big Mike when he was in this mood. With a sigh Morgan turned to go do as he was told.
"And don't forget to dust Norman," Big Mike called after him, then spun around. "Bartowski!"
Chuck's head snapped to his boss.
"Sir?" he asked tentatively, mindful of the fact that no one had been assigned to diaper station duty yet.
"Why are the customers standing around like blind bachelors at a strip club?"
"I don't know sir," Chuck replied, barely masking his relief.
"Well, do something about it."
Chuck gave him a confused look. He was unofficially in charge of the Nerds, fixing computers and related electronics. It was the green-shirts' job to sell the merchandise and they fell under the supervision of Harry Tang, the current assistant manager. Not that Chuck minded helping out, but Harry was very territorial and if there was one thing Chuck tried to avoid at all cost, it was conflict.
"Oh, for heaven's sake." Big Mike grabbed the P.A. microphone and pressed the red button. "Attention. Attention customers. For the next twenty minutes everything in the store is marked down five percent."
It had the desired effect as people started to take more interest in the appliances on display. With a satisfied smirk Big Mike put the microphone back on the desk.
"These suckers don't even realize we've hiked the prices fifteen percent for the festive season."
Chuck didn't know how and if he should respond to that.
"Try to look busy, Bartowski," Big Mike barked a last order before heading to the front of the store.
"Actually I am busy – " Chuck started to say, but trailed of when he realized he was talking to himself.
Shaking his head, he picked up the phone he'd been working on. He was used to the situation by now, given that he'd worked at the Buy More for the past five years. Every time Mr. Walker stopped by for a visit Big Mike went all in a tizzy, putting up a show to convince the owner of the Buy More that the store was doing great.
As if the man couldn't read a sales report, he thought. Big Mike wasn't fooling anyone but himself.
Chuck gave the screw in the back of the Intel cell a couple of quick turns and was reaching for the battery cover when he heard the doors whoosh open. He looked up to see if Big Mike's moment of truth had arrived, but could only stare as a deadly silence fell on the store.
Then his jaw dropped.
2. Who's Your Momma?
Chuck had no idea when the Buy More had installed a wind machine, or why, but when his attention moved from the leggy redhead to her gorgeous blonde companion, he didn't really care. His eyes ran down her body, from her golden hair hanging in loose curls around her shoulders to the form fitting pink blouse tucked neatly into the slim waist of a gray pencil skirt that ended well above her knees, over her shapely calves and down to her six inch stilettos.
A clang snapped him from his stupor and he realized he'd dropped the screwdriver he'd been holding. Flustered, he stooped down to retrieve it and hit the back of his head under the desk on the way up. He cursed under his breath, partly because it hurt, but mostly because he was disgusted with himself for ogling the woman like he was Batman and she Vicky Vale.
Deciding to stay hidden to avoid making a fool of himself, he remained crouched, listening for when the duo passed. He heard Big Mike say something, only to be cut off with a curt "Not now, Mark."
Chuck was surprised, though he didn't know why. He'd been around enough pretty girls at Stanford to know how bitchy most of them acted. He wasn't the type to generalize, but some things were just proven to be true more often than not.
The store noises picked up again and Chuck reckoned the coast was clear. He crawled out from under the desk and pushed to his feet, only to be met by a pair of deep blue eyes. Startled, he let out a girlish scream, jumping backwards at the same time.
"I…uh…" He felt his ears turn red under the blonde's amused stare and in an effort to distract her from his odd behavior he raised the hand clutching the screwdriver for dear life, waving it in her direction. "Do you need something fixed?"
"Actually we just need some privacy for a meeting," the redhead answered. Chuck hadn't even noticed that she was standing beside the blonde the entire time.
"How about Big Mike's office?" He tilted his head in the direction of the manager's office.
"Plastic fish give me the creeps." She narrowed her eyes. "Is that a gnome wiping the desk?"
Chuck straightened his back, ready to defend his best friend, when the redhead suddenly grabbed his hand. He realized that he had the screwdriver pointed at them like a dangerous weapon and pulled out of her grasp. He quickly lowered his hand, aiming for his back pocket, but he misjudged the angle and nicked himself in the butt with the sharp end. He grimaced as a pair of green eyes glared at him for not immediately coming up with an alternative solution.
"Uh, you could use the cage," he said. "Nobody ever goes there." He gestured to the double green doors at the back of the store. "Through there, make a left after the break room and it's at the end of the hallway. You can't miss it."
Without further acknowledgement the redhead turned, but the blonde paused.
"Thank you – " She leaned forward to read his pocket protector. "Chuck."
She arched an eyebrow in amusement and Chuck frantically searched his brain for one of the witty comebacks that he used when someone found his name unusual, but drew a blank. The only thought running through his mind was a warning to not look down. He opened his mouth, figuring he should at least say something, but was spared from coming up with a reply when the redhead called from the door.
"Come on, Sarah, we don't have all day."
Sarah shot Chuck a smile, and he was pretty sure it stopped his heart from beating for a second, before joining her friend and disappearing through the double green doors.
"What did she say?"
Big Mike's anxious voice startled Chuck, making him jump for the second time in as many minutes. He tore his eyes away from the door and turned to face his boss.
"Who was that?" he asked, completely forgetting to answer Big Mike.
The big man scratched the spot just below his ear, looking perplexed. "It seems Mr. Walker has retired. That was his daughter." He shook his head in disbelief. "She's our new boss."
3. All is Fair in Love and Acquisitions
Sarah paced the small space that, much to her surprise, really was a cage. Outside the wired framework boxed appliances were stacked ceiling high. Inside was a desk and chair, surrounded by several dismantled computers and spare parts. She briefly wondered if the employees were actually locked inside when they were doing repairs and made a mental note to check with the manager, as that would certainly be in contravention of health and safety regulations. Then again, that was the least of her problems. She spun around, folding her arms over her chest and fixed her friend and corporate attorney with a deadly glare.
"Have you completely lost your mind?"
"It's a small price to pay to get rid of this place." Carina poked at a dusty microwave, her nose wrinkled in disgust. "What's the big deal anyway?"
"The big deal," Sarah said, "is that you told the buyer I have a husband and a child. And then you invited her to my house to meet my 'family'. Why would you do that?"
"I had to sell it," Carina countered, mimicking Sarah's stance. "Look, Beckman is eccentric. She's big on family and she will only do business with people who share the same values. I had no choice."
"That's absurd. Buying a business is about strategies and the bottom line, not my personal life."
"You want to get rid of this place, don't you? I don't see buyers lined up around the block. Face it, Sarah, the Buy More is a money pit. No sane businessman will touch it."
Sarah knew Carina had a point, but she was never one to give in so easy. One of the few characteristics she'd inherited from her father was his stubbornness.
"Which begs the question: Why is Beckman even interested?"
"It's a Christmas gift for her son, Emmett. I ran a background check on the guy. He's a total moron. Beckman Enterprises lost two major Japanese contracts because of him. Beckman probably figures that if she gives him something that's in the crapper to begin with, he can't screw it up any further."
"She could just fire him."
"Or we could just turn the Buy More into a parking lot and sell it off to Large Mart."
"That would take too long," Sarah replied.
Carina gave her a skeptical look. "It's a pity you can't put a price on sentiment. We'd make a killing."
Both of them were well aware of why Jack Walker had hung onto the store. It was where he'd met Sarah's mother. The college sophomore, selling stereos to make some extra money over the summer had fallen head over the heels for the Weinerlicious waitress. And even though Emma Walker had packed her bags and left her family behind fifteen years ago, Jack had been unable to let go. He'd thrown himself into his work, building the Walker empire as he waited in vain for his true love to return.
As if reading Sarah's mind Carina asked "Have you told him yet?"
Sarah didn't bother to respond. After her father had announced his sudden retirement, he'd taken the yacht and set sail to heaven knows where. There had been the odd phone call, but he left her no way to get in touch with him. Some days she felt guilty for systematically dismantling the company, selling the assets off piece by piece, but what did he expect? That she was going to pick up where he'd left off and let life pass her by while she ran a business she had no interest in? Besides, it wasn't as if there would be someone to pass the legacy onto. Though she was still figuring out her future, one thing was for certain – she had no desire for a white picket fence, which brought her back to her current predicament.
"Is there any way you can convince Beckman to change her mind about the visit?"
"I doubt it," Carina replied. "She sounded really excited."
"Well, that's great. So where am I supposed to dig up a husband and child by Thursday?"
Sarah still wasn't keen on the idea, but the Buy More was the only thing standing between her and getting on the first plane out of the country, and after everything that had happened lately, she needed some distance. Deep down she knew she couldn't run away from herself, but she was hell bent on trying.
Carina shrugged. "This is L.A. We'll hire a couple of out of work actors. Or you could rekindle things with Bryce – "
"Call an agency," Sarah cut her off, her tone leaving no room for argument.
4. The CanIndian Stare
Chuck rolled the name around in his head, a goofy smile on his face. Then it fell when he let out a resigned sigh. He didn't stand a chance with a woman like her. She was probably fighting off men with a light saber, or having the mean redhead do it for her. She wouldn't look twice at him.
Just great, he thought, it was the first time since Jill that he'd actually noticed a woman and he had better odds beating the Large Mart crew going solo against them in Call of Duty. Chuck was yanked from his thoughts when Lester dropped a box of invoices to be logged on the desk, inches away from crushing his elbow.
"Hey, watch it."
Lester turned to him, fuming. "Watch it?" His voice raised an octave. "Watch it? That's all I'm good for, isn't it? I have to watch Jefferson drool all over his office floor while the store is being taken over by supermodels. Supermodels, Charles. Don't you think I'd rather be watching that?"
"They're businesswomen, Lester," Chuck replied.
"Who look like supermodels," Lester pointed out. Then his eyes narrowed in contemplation.
Chuck recognized the expression. That look had led to the forming of Jeffster! And a weekend of scrubbing down every inch of the break room when a homemade beer concoction had exploded. And the careful reconstruction of Norman with crazy glue after the shark fishing expedition had gone south. Nothing good ever followed the CanIndian Stare, as Morgan had dubbed it. Chuck made a mental note to not let it slip that Sarah and her colleague were still in the store. If the Buy More stalker twins could figure out how to use their library cards for evil, interrupting a private meeting wouldn't be beneath them.
Lester folded an arm across his chest, and with his elbow propped in his hand, he tapped a finger on his chin. "You know," he said, "this could be the best of both worlds."
"What do you mean?" There was a hint of caution in Chuck's voice. He seriously doubted that Lester's next suggestion would include the words 'cover song' and 'Hannah Montana'.
Without answering Lester turned full circle, slowly surveying the store. When he faced Chuck again, he dropped both hands on the counter and leaned forward to look Chuck square in the eye.
"This is the ideal opportunity to get rid of one Harold Tobias Tang."
Chuck knew he was going to regret it but asked anyway. "How?"
"Simple, Charles, simple. I am going to sleep my way to middle management."
Chuck blinked. "Say what now?"
Seemingly pleased with himself, Lester straightened. "I am going to charm one of those ladies out of her panties and convince her to give me that vest." He lifted a hand and crooked his fingers in a small wave. "Say buh-bye, Tang."
Chuck wasn't sure if he should laugh or gag. Sure, he despised Harry Tang as much as the next Buymorian, but he preferred the devil he knew, and contrary to what his coworkers thought, he didn't hold it against Harry for getting the job over him. He hadn't made it in time for the interview due to circumstances beyond his control.
"So which one do you think I should go for?" Lester asked when Chuck didn't say anything. "Skip tells me I have a blonde and a redhead to work with. I prefer brunettes myself, but in this case I'm willing to make an exception."
And gag it is, Chuck decided. Just the thought of Lester making a move on a woman was nauseating, not to mention witnessing it.
"You know what, Lester," he said, "I think you should stay true to yourself. Hold out for that special girl. Work isn't everything."
Lester eyed him suspiciously. "Oh, I see how it is. You had the same idea. Afraid of a little competition, Charles?" Before Chuck had a chance to answer Lester was practically on top of him. "So which one have you decided on?"
Chuck kicked back in an effort to roll his desk chair as far away from his fellow Nerd Herder as he could to escape the overwhelming gefilte curry odor, but its back hit the counter behind him far too soon.
"The redhead," he said, desperate to end the conversation so he could take a walk to the Orange Orange as an excuse to get some fresh air.
Lester cocked his head to the side, studying Chuck from head to toe as if sizing up the opposition.
"The redhead then," he replied, confirming the challenge. "Bring it, Bartowski."
A/N: Well, that's it for chapter one. See you back here soon.