A/N: Welcome to the mildly anticipated sequel to Chuck vs. the Sound of Music. If you haven't read the first story, I would strongly suggest that you do so before you read this one. It'll make a lot more sense. Otherwise, you'll spend a good amount of time mumbling to yourself, "Who are all these kids!"
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each and every one of you who read, reviewed and/or voted for Chuck vs. the Sound of Music for the Awesome Awards. In case you didn't know, I'm both excited and humbled to let you know that it won three awards: the Chuck, the Sarah and the Ellie. I'm still pretty amazed that it won. So, thank you all.
I'd also like to thank AgentInWaiting, beta extraordinaire, for working his magic, as always, on this chapter.
A little information for you before we launch off on this adventure together. Unlike the first story, there won't be any song lyric mutila… er, changes. However, each chapter will have a reference to music of some sort, so keep your eyes peeled.
Finally, I don't own Chuck or The Sound of Music (I have the DVDs, but you know what I mean).
Chapter 1 – It's a Small Spy World
Sarah Walker Bartowski waited patiently at the counter of Mack's Knife Shop in the Beaver Creek village. Mack Jones, the store's owner, had his back to her as he meticulously polished each knife in turn. He clearly adored working with Sarah's blades and reveled in the theatrics of presenting them to her when she came to pick them up.
The bell on the shop door jingled, announcing the arrival of a new customer. Cold air rushed in as the door opened. Without turning, Sarah knew the customer was a woman as the frigid air that had blown in was infused with perfume. It was a vaguely familiar scent, she realized.
With a flourish, Mr. Jones presented Sarah's knives to her on a tray lined with purple velvet. "Here you are, Mrs. Bartowski. Your knives sharpened and honed to your exact specifications."
Light flashed off each blade. "Mr. Jones, I think you've outdone yourself this time," Sarah said appreciatively. She picked up one of the blades and examined it. With her highly trained eye, she could see that it was wickedly sharp.
The customer behind her turned sharply toward her when she spoke. Feeling the movement, Sarah's whole body tensed and her grip on the knife tightened.
"Sarah? Sarah Walker?" a woman's voice said in surprise.
Her breath caught and her eyes grew round with shock. "Carina?" she said as she whirled around.
Carina raised her hands as if surrendering, eyeing the knife pointed at her. "Hey, there, Sarah. I really don't want a impromptu appendectomy."
Sarah glanced down at the knife in her hand, grinned sheepishly and placed it back on the tray. Now that she was ostensibly weapon-free, she gave her friend a quick hug. "Carina, what are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing. Did I just hear him call you 'Mrs.'? What the hell, Walker?" Carina hissed. "Are you on a —"
"We have a lot to catch up on," Sarah said, cutting her off and giving her a "stop talking" glare. "Let me pay Mr. Jones. Then we can go somewhere and chat."
Sarah turned back to Mr. Jones who stood staring slack jawed at the two gorgeous women gracing his little knife shop. Sarah had to smirk when she saw the look on the man's face. He looked like he had died and gone to heaven.
"Here you go, Mr. Jones," Sarah said, laying down several crisp twenty dollar bills on the counter. "Keep the change."
He nodded slowly, his mouth still agape and his eyes never leaving the auburn haired Drug Enforcement Agency agent. Some things never change, Sarah thought to herself with amusement. Mr. Jones began to absently place the knives in the holster, but he was clearly distracted. Sarah didn't want the poor man to accidently slice off a finger, so she took over and carefully put them away.
"Thank you, Mr. Jones," Sarah said as she grabbed Carina's arm and hustled her out the door. The cold smacked her in the face as small flakes of snow flurried around them. "Come on," Sarah said, clamping her hand over Carina's wrist and pulling her through the outdoor shopping area. "There's a coffee place right over here."
Neither spoke until they sat across from each other at a small table, both warming their hands on the outsides of the hot coffee mugs. "Walker, what the hell — "
Sarah put up a finger, asking her friend to wait. She took out her phone, quickly typed a text with her thumbs and hit "send." Before Carina could speak again, Sarah's phone buzzed. As she read the response text, her face softened and she smiled slightly. Her smile widened as she typed and sent another short message. Laying the phone on the table, she returned her hands to the outside of the mug and said calmly, "So, what brings you to Beaver Creek?"
"Me?" Carina shout whispered, her eyes flashing. "Cut the crap, Sarah. What the hell is going on? What are you doing here? Spill!"
Sarah said nothing as she lifted her coffee mug to take a sip. She merely watched Carina's eyes grow wide as they had traveled from Sarah's face to the ring finger of her left hand and then back to her face. The blue fire that had blazed in her friend's eyes a moment before dimmed. They grew round with shock and her mouth dropped open. She leaned back in her chair and stared at Sarah.
"Carina, blink," she said with a snicker.
"Those aren't real," the other woman stated firmly, eyeing the diamond engagement ring and the gold wedding band. "You're undercover, just pretending to be married. This is all a mission."
Sarah's only response was a crooked eyebrow.
"So this is a mission! You're pretending to be married? That's spicy! Is he a hunk? Come on, Walker. I want details." She leaned forward and whispered, "I won't tell anyone."
Sarah felt kind of bad for her friend. This was going to be a pretty big shock. She shook her head slowly. "No, I'm not on a mission. There's no pretending."
Carina looked like she could have fallen out of her chair. "You're really married?" her voice sounding a bit horrified.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, Carina. It's not a death sentence." Her left thumb absently fiddled with the rings. "It was a mission that brought me here, though. I was tasked to protect an important asset who lives here in Beaver Creek." She looked directly into Carina's eyes. "I fell in love with him," she said simply. She shrugged and continued, "He's the most wonderful man I've ever met and he loves me. And I love him," she repeated. "I knew I could never leave him or his family, no matter what, so I said yes when he asked me to marry him."
Carina seemed unconvinced. "There's got to be more to it than that. " She lurched forward and asked, "Is he rich?"
"Yes, but that's not why –"
"Is he handsome?"
"Yes, but that's –"
"Is he good in –"
"Carina!" Sarah hissed as she frantically looked around, checking for eavesdroppers.
"Answer the question, Walker. You know I won't let up until you tell me."
"Yes, he is. Very, very good in fact," Sarah finally replied, a blush staining her cheeks. "But that's not why I married him."
Carina gave her friend a puzzled glance. "You didn't marry him because rich, handsome, and great in the sack? What else is there?"
"I married him because he's… He's Chuck."
"He's… Chuck," the Carina repeated, an air of incredulousness settling around her. "Boy Walker, you do have it bad." She stared at Sarah for a moment and then something occurred to her. "Wait!" she said in a fierce whisper. "You said he has a family. Did you bust up his marriage? Were you like those nannies who hook up with the married dads?"
"What? No!" she cried with a frown. "Ew! No! I would never do that! He wasn't married."
"But you just said he has a — "
Sarah held up a hand, stopping her friend. "Let me start from the beginning. Chuck is a — "
"Chuck. Who would name their kid that?" Carina snarked.
"Yes, his name is Chuck and I think it's a wonderful name. Do you want to hear the story or not?"
"Chuck is a software programmer and designer for the government. He was working on an incredibly important project. Because of that project, he was targeted by a rogue organization that wanted to turn him to work for them. To do that, they inserted a mole into his personal life. The mole was a direct threat him and his family, so the Agency sent me in undercover to protect them and terminate the threat."
"So, you were undercover as his girlfriend?"
Sarah shook her head. "No, his nanny."
"You were sent in as a nanny?" Carina laughed. "How many kids does he have? Two? Three?" She took a sip of her coffee and set the mug back on the table.
Sarah paused for full effect. She knew this was a doozy. Giving her friend a sly look, she answered in a matter-of-fact tone, "Seven."
And there it is, she thought as Carina's face registered a humorous succession of emotions: shock, confusion, repulsion and finally disbelief. Carina crossed her arms and squinted, "I don't believe you. You're making this up."
Sarah chuckled and shook her head. "I promise you, I'm not." She sobered. "The threat to Chuck and the kids was real. We exposed the mole." Her eyes dropped and she stared into her coffee mug. "He kidnapped Chuck and was about to blow him up with a bomb if we didn't give him the software he was after." She hesitated. "I put a bullet in his head," she finished quietly.
Carina sat back, her arms hanging limply at her side. "Wow. But the mission was over. Time to move on. So you had a fling. Why get married? To a guy with seven kids." Carina's brow furrowed. "How old is this guy if he has seven kids? Did you marry a geezer?" she asked accusingly.
"Carina!" Sarah said, exasperated. "He's not a geezer. He's my age. When his sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident, he took custody of the kids. And I told you before why I got married. I love him and our kids. I can't imagine my life without any of them." Carina goggled when Sarah used the word "our".
Sarah watched her friend's face while she digested all of this information. She knew Carina had to be flabbergasted. The last time they'd seen each other was before Sarah went undercover as a nun at the abbey in California. Marriage had definitely not been on either one of their radars.
"So, that's it? You quit the Agency and you're a mom to seven kids."
"No, I didn't quit the Agency. I'm just taking a little time off. We've only been married three months. And I'm the kids' aunt, not their mom."
Carina waved a hand dismissively. "Please. It's like the difference between Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks. You'll still go on missions?"
Sarah shrugged. "We haven't worked out all the details yet, but Director Graham has promised me that I won't have to go on any long term undercover missions. And the threat to my husband from Ful—," she stopped herself from giving Carina more information then she needed, "the rogue faction is still ongoing, so in some ways, I'm still protecting him. We took out the immediate threat, but the group hasn't been eliminated. Plus, Chuck's project was a huge success, so the Agency has him working on other things. His security detail is still in place."
"He sounds important," Carina said, obviously impressed.
Sarah nodded. "He is." More than you could possibly know.
The initial shock seemed to have worn off. Carina's next words came out dripping with sarcasm, but her eyes were filled with amusement. "Thanks for the invite to the wedding, by the way."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Give me a break, Carina. You were deep undercover and I had no idea where you were. I had no way of contacting you."
Carina shrugged. "Fine. I'll give you that." Dipping her head, she said, "Nice charm bracelet. You must really be in love to wear that."
"It's a family heirloom." The steely tone of Sarah's voice let her friend know that the bracelet was off limits.
Carina squinted at her, shrugged and took another sip of coffee.
"Enough about me. What are you doing in Colorado?" Sarah asked.
"I'm about to go on a long term undercover mission in Europe, so I'm here on vacation to do some skiing."
"Can you come by and meet Chuck and the kids?"
"I wish. I would really love to see you around seven children. I think that would make my life. But I'm leaving today. I ran into town to get a few things before I take off."
Sarah laughed. "Like a new knife?"
Carina's eyes gleamed. "Exactly." She glanced at her watch and said, "Speaking of which, I should get going. I do want to stop by the knife shop and then I need to get to the airport." They both stood.
Sarah felt a wave of sadness crash over her. She hadn't realized how much she enjoyed seeing her friend again. "Come back and visit? You can stay with us. We have lots of room."
"Even with seven kids in the house?" Carina teased.
Sarah hugged her friend. "Even with seven kids."
~ O ~
Two months later…
The string ensemble in the corner of the room played the opening strains of "Spring" from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with gusto. Sarah had to appreciate their enthusiasm. Having attended many of these kinds of swanky parties, she had heard the piece numerous times. She was sure these musicians had played it many, many times as well. Along with another fete favorite, Pachelbel's Canon, she thought with a smile.
Her smile faded. She felt out of sorts and a bit lost. Sighing, she realized just how much she missed Chuck and wished he was by her side. She had grown used to him always being near: his gentle hand on the small of her back, a teasing comment, the brush of his lips on hers, the way his face lit up whenever she walked in a room, his scent… She sighed again and admitted to herself that she was still a hopelessly in love newlywed.
She snagged a flute of champagne off the tray from a passing waiter and pretended to take a sip, all the while scanning the room, hoping her contact would make himself known. The room was filled with well-heeled partygoers: men dressed in tuxedos and women swathed in colorful evening gowns. She thought of her fashionista niece, Bridget. All these beautiful dresses would make her head spin. She knew her youngest niece, Megan, would loved to have been be at this party, too. Only Megan would be there for the spy part of it. The recently turned six-year-old, Sarah was convinced, would one day be an agent in her own right. I'll tell her what I can about it when I get home.
Thoughts of her family back home in Colorado were interrupted by a voice calmly speaking to her through her earwig. "Agent Walker, could you position yourself so I can get a view of the left side of the room, please?" Following the voice's direction, she turned. There was a tiny camera hidden in the diamond brooch attached at the nadir of the sweetheart neckline of her evening gown. The slit up the ice blue floor length dress was thigh high, so she made sure to wear her holster of throwing knives on her other leg as not to allow them to show.
"Your host is incoming," the voice said.
"Copy," she whispered, her lips barely moving.
A distinguished looking silver haired man in his early sixties approached her. He took her hand and kissed the top of it. "Good evening. I am Henri Benoit," he said in French. "Welcome to my humble abode. I'm sorry, but I don't believe I've made your acquaintance. I'm sure I would remember meeting someone as lovely as you."
Sarah smiled graciously and replied in her host's language, "Monsieur Benoit, so nice to meet you. My name is Sarah Irving." She looked around the graciously appointed room, complete with plush rugs, tapestries hanging on the walls and huge floral arrangements gracing the top of each surface. "I would hardly call your beautiful home 'humble.'"
He waved his hand as if swatting away the compliment. "It's fine for when I'm here in the city. I have a much larger estate in the country." Stating a fact rather than asking the question, he said, "You are American."
She smiled. "Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No, not at all," he chuckled and switched to English. "Your French is excellent, by the way. I barely hear an accent."
"Thank you," she replied to his compliment.
"I was asking if you were American since my companion for this evening is as well."
Sarah smiled and started to reply when he held up his hand. "I know America is a very large place with millions and millions of people. I do not expect you to know her. I thought perhaps you might enjoy meeting a compatriot while you are visiting here in Paris. I think she would like to meet a fellow American as well."
"I'd be happy to meet her. You're very kind," she said graciously.
"Wonderful!" He smiled, obviously pleased. "She should be joining us at any moment." He cocked his head and asked, "Now, to what do I owe the honor of you gracing my little party?"
"I'm an independent international business consultant," she started smoothly. "One of my clients is Global Energy Innovations. We're hoping your corporation would be interested in investing in alternative energy sources. When I contacted your company, I was given the name of your man in charge of venture capital, Monsieur Gauthier. He invited me here tonight so I could meet you and he and I could speak in person."
Benoit put on a faux frown, then laughed and said, "Gautier knows I don't like to mix business with pleasure, but for someone as lovely and charming as you, I will make an exception this time."
Sarah felt relief suffuse through her. Gautier was her contact and if Benoit saw them speaking at length, he wouldn't think twice about it now. Sarah gave him her megawatt smile. "Thank you so much."
He smiled in return and then his eyes were caught by something behind her. "Ah, here comes my lovely companion now." A woman's hand with a very expensive looking diamond bracelet encircling the wrist took Benoit's outstretched hand. "Caryn, my dear. This is Sarah Irving. Ms. Irving, may I introduce you to Caryn Mitchell." Turning to the young woman, he said, "Ms. Irving is American, too. I thought the two of you might enjoy meeting." He kissed her hand and added, "I know how you miss America sometimes."
Sarah worked to keep her face from registering the genuine surprise she felt. Caryn Mitchell my ass. For standing before her was none other than her friend Carina. She knew she really shouldn't be surprised though. Carina seemed to have a gift for popping up unexpectedly in her life. It's a small spy world, she thought.
As they shook hands, Sarah could see the amusement flashing in her friend's eyes. She could tell it was taking everything Carina had to keep from either bursting out laughing, giving Sarah a hug, or both.
"Ms. Irving, it's a pleasure to meet a fellow American," Carina said.
"It's a pleasure for me as well. And please, call me Sarah."
One of Benoit's men came up to him and whispered in his ear. Benoit listened, nodded and then said to his aide, "I'll be right there." He returned his attention to the two striking women before him. "I'm sorry, but there is something that needs my attention. Please, enjoy getting to know each other."
Carina gave Benoit a coy look. "Take your time, Henri. I'm sure Sarah and I will find something to talk about."
Sarah suppressed both a snort and an eye roll.
Benoit kissed Carina's cheek and left with his aide.
Sarah kept her body language as formal as possible, even if what she really wanted to do was to grab Carina by the wrist, drag her to a sofa, sit down and talk to her friend for two hours. Instead, she retained the same smile on her face.
The buzz of voices and the rise and fall of laughter in the room was the perfect white noise to cover their conversation. In a low voice, Sarah said, "So, Caryn. We keep running into each other. Is this the undercover mission you were about to go on right after skiing in Beaver Creek?"
Carina gave her a pointed look. "Not important, Walker. I want to hear about you." She glanced at Sarah's left hand and gave her a devilish look. "Trouble in paradise already? I see you're not wearing your wedding rings and you're not using your married name. I thought you took his." She put a finger to her chin. "What was it again? Pertrowski? Blutarsky?"
"Chuck and I are very happy. Plus, I'm trying to keep my marriage and the Bartowski," she whispered, "name out of work to keep him and the kids safer."
Sipping her champagne, Carina said, "'Irving,' though? You haven't used that before. Where'd the name come from?"
"It's my husband's middle name."
Carina sighed and rolled her eyes. "Of course it is." Shaking her head, she looked at Sarah. "I still can't believe you're married and taking care of seven kids. That's…I'm speechless. You, Sarah Walker, living in suburbia, have left me speechless."
Sarah's eyebrow rose wickedly. "Well, if that's all it took, I would have done it a long time ago."
"Very funny," Carina said, and took a sip from her champagne flute.
Sarah needed to stay sharp, but the lure of the bubbly in her hand finally overwhelmed her. She lifted the glass to her lips and allowed herself a small sip. It was wonderful.
Carina changed the subject. "So, you're here on a mission. And without your husband, I assume?"
Sarah smirked when the word "husband" seemed to stick in Carina's throat. "No, he's not here. This is my first mission since we got married."
Carina shivered. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to you saying words like, 'husband,' 'married,' or 'kids.'
"It took me a little while, too," she confessed. "Now I don't even notice."
Carina didn't look convinced.
"Getting back to the topic, one of Benoit's executives, Robert Gautier, contacted the American embassy here in Paris and said that he had proof that his boss was laundering money for terrorist groups specifically targeting the United States. That's why he contacted us. Apparently, Benoit is making boatloads of cash in 'processing fees.' Gautier has a conscience and doesn't approve of his boss helping terrorists in any way. I'm supposed to meet up with him here."
Carina's eyes darted about the room. "You have backup, don't you?"
"Yes. Agent Cole's in the van running comms and surveillance. Agent Barker is here at the party with me. Right over there," she indicated with a small tip of her head. "His cover is as my administrative assistant."
Carina glanced to her left and then turned back toward Sarah. "He's cute. You should — " she started and then stopped suddenly when she saw Sarah's face. "Oh, right. I forgot. So you're taking this whole marriage thing seriously, huh?"
Sarah shook her head and chuckled. She knew Carina was only messing with her. "Yes, Carina, I'm taking this whole marriage thing very seriously. You should try it some day."
The redhead made a face like she had just sucked on a lemon. "I don't think so."
Sarah shrugged. "If not marriage, you could always look into becoming a nun."
Carina shot her a glare. "What do you know —"
"Anyway," she continued before Carina could finish her question, "Gautier told us that Benoit keeps two sets of books: one for public consumption and one that keeps track of his money laundering business. He backs up the books on thumb drives and locks them up in a safe here at his house. I'm supposed to get into the safe and switch out the drives with ones in my purse. My cover is as an international business consultant here to persuade Benoit's company to invest in alternative energy technologies and Gautier is the guy I need to talk to about it. That gives us the perfect opportunity for him to give me the combination to the safe."
Carina thought for a moment and scowled. "Why doesn't Gautier just make the switch himself and just hand the drives over? Why do you have to do it?"
"He said he isn't at this house other than during parties like this one. If he disappears from the main room at any time during the party, he's afraid he might fall under suspicion if Benoit ever figures out the drives were switched. We'd like to keep Gautier on the inside as long as we can, so it's up to me to do it."
Carina nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense. I've only met Gautier a couple of times and never here at the house." Her eyes flashed as she remembering something. "I overheard the other day that Benoit changes the combination once a week. Hopefully this Gautier guy has the right combination."
I hope so, too. Even though she had two crack agents backing her up, it was nice to have an old friend like Carina watching her back. As she glanced around the room, a number of men who had been staring at them quickly looked away. "You're obviously here undercover, Carina. What are you up to?"
"Our boy Henri is up to all kinds of no good. He's a major drug trafficker as well. His syndicate supplies heroin, among other drugs, to a fairly large chunk of Europe. My job is to get the names of as many of his distributors as I can before we take him down."
"Why not use French agents?"
"Henri knows everyone and has spies everywhere, including the French intelligence agencies. The French authorities asked for help from the U.S. Plus, we're pretty confident that one of his major distributors is American. Benoit doesn't know me as anything other than," she made a show of brushing her hair back, and saying dramatically, "'Caryn Mitchell, bored American dilettante.'"
Sarah laughed. "Hanging around the Louvre all day? Nice work if you can get it."
Carina grinned and sipped her champagne. "If you see anything in the safe that might help with my mission, grab it, would you?"
"I really want to meet this boy-toy of yours. Chip, wasn't it?" Carina asked, smirking as she stepped back and took another sip of champagne.
"And he's not my boy-toy," Sarah sighed patiently, although just saying his name made her suddenly miss him so very much. Her eyes lost focus as she pictured his devastating smile. She could almost feel his arms wrapped around her…
"Earth to Walker."
Sarah blushed when she snapped back to reality and saw the smug smile on Carina's face. "Not your boy-toy, huh?"
Sarah's retort remained unspoken, as Carina stood up straighter. A tall, thin and rather nervous looking man approached them. "Gautier," she whispered to Sarah.
"Mademoiselle Caryn, so nice to see you again," he said, shaking her hand.
"Monsieur Gautier, always a pleasure. I'd like you to meet my new acquaintance, Sarah Irving. She was telling me that she's hoping to speak with you tonight about some business opportunities. Is that correct?"
"Yes, that is correct," he said, uneasily.
"Well, I'll let you two talk business. I hope we get a chance to speak again before you leave tonight, Ms. Irving."
"I hope so, too, Ms. Mitchell." Carina gave Sarah a wink and a smile, then turned and sauntered away.
Sarah took a deep breath and turned to Gautier. "Monsieur Gautier, thank you for inviting me to this wonderful party. I hope we both find our time here to be productive."
"I hope so, too. I am very eager to hear more about your investment opportunities." He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a card. "Here is my business card. I have also written an important number on the back."
She took the card and looked at it. The front was blank. She flipped it over. On the back there was a string of numbers she assumed to be the combination to the safe. "Thank you. You're sure this works?" she asked pointedly, her eyes boring into him. "I would hate for it to be a wrong number."
With a finger, he nervously pulled at his collar. "Yes, that would be regrettable. I believe it does work. Do you have all the information you need?"
"Yes." She hesitated and then added, "Well, I hope you can answer one question for me. I need to use the toilettes. I assume it's here on the first floor. Is it the door to the left just before you get to Monsieur Benoit's office?"
"Yes, his office is at the end of the hall. If you reach it, you have gone too far." A relieved smile crossed his face. "But if you do stumble into it by accident, be sure to take in the Renoir. It is exquisite."
"Merci. You have been very helpful and I look forward to speaking with you soon. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
He startled her when he grabbed both of her arms and pulled her to him, kissing one of her cheeks. When he kissed the other, he whispered in her ear, "The data on the drives is highly encrypted. I hope you can crack the code."
"We will. I know someone who's pretty good at that," she whispered back.
He stepped away from her and smiled. She could see he was still nervous, but also relieved that his part was over.
When he walked away, she moved immediately. In her many experiences with these kinds of parties, she found that if she was alone, someone, usually a man, would approach her. "Barker, I'm going in. Keep an eye out while I'm in the office. You might need to run interference."
She walked down the hallway toward Benoit's office, turning her head to the left and right, seemingly looking for the bathroom. When she reached the end of the hall, she turned as if to enter it. She glanced to her left. The hallway behind her was empty. Time to do this.
The double doors leading into Benoit's office were closed. She pressed her ear against one, listening for any sound that might indicate it was occupied. One could never be too careful. Who knew when a couple might want to slip off from the rest of the party for a secret rendezvous?
Her mind went immediately to Chuck. She wished he was there with her now and they were sneaking off to… Focus, she thought, mentally kicking herself. She blew out a breath and tried to put her thoughts of what Chuck and she might do in Benoit's office out of her mind…
Focus, she ordered again and turned the doorknob. Surprisingly, it was unlocked. It pleased her just the same as now she didn't have to take the time to pick the lock.
She opened the door, slipped into the room and closed it behind her. The room was dark, save for the moonlight streaming through the windows. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. Scanning the area, she saw a large desk and chair in the center. A leather sofa sat along one of the walls under a set of windows. A wet bar took up most of the wall opposite the sofa. She rolled her eyes at the painting on the wall behind the desk. It was a large portrait of Benoit. Turning, she saw the Renoir on the wall at her four o'clock.
"Bingo," she said quietly.
"Hallway still clear, Agent Walker," Agent Barker informed her.
"Copy," she replied, as she swung the painting away from the wall revealing the safe. Chuck would love this. It's all so "Thomas Crown Affair." The smile came unbidden. Nine months ago, she didn't know anything about movies. Now she could make movie references that would make her husband beam with pride. The image of Chuck and her snuggled together on the couch watching movies in the TV room after the kids had gone upstairs filled her mind. It usually took them several nights to watch one movie since they usually ended up doing other things… Focus! her mind shouted at her again.
She blinked hard a couple of times and bounced her shoulders to regain her composure. The small blinking red light on the front of the safe indicated that it was armed. She pulled a small penlight from her clutch purse and shined it on the keypad. Thankfully, this safe didn't have any biometric security measures. Shuddering, she thought about what it might take to get Benoit's eye or hand in there, especially if the rest of the man didn't come along.
With the penlight clamped between her teeth, she held the card with the combination in one hand and punched in the numbers with the other. In the quiet of the room, the small beeps the safe emitted each time she pushed a button seemed incredibly loud.
Her finger hovered in front of the last button. If it was wrong, there was a good chance an alarm would sound. She would have to take a flyer out one of the windows and take off down the street in an evening gown and silver strappy backed heels. That was not the optimal scenario.
The deep breath she took filled her lungs, but did nothing to stop the roiling in her middle. Holding her breath, she grimaced and punched the button. There were three short beeps. The red light turned off and the green one lit up. There were no sirens, no flashing lights. She let out her breath and the tension in her shoulders relaxed. She grabbed the handle on the door and opened it.
Sitting on the top shelf were stacks of bundled cash, jewelry boxes and passports from several different countries. Flipping through each passport, she saw Benoit's picture plastered in every one. "Cole, write these names down." She proceeded to read off the names on each passport and the country from which it was supposedly issued. The Agency could certainly use this information on Benoit, she thought.
On the lower shelf there were papers: deeds, stock certificates and bonds notes. The penlight illuminated the thumb drives lined up along the right side of the safe. She was relieved to see that Gautier's intel about the kind and color of drives was accurate as she had he exact duplicates in her purse. What she surprised to find was three drives rather than the expected two.
She grinned to herself. Amongst the many things she had already learned during the four months of being the kids' nanny and the five months of being their aunt, was that it was always necessary to be prepared when going anywhere. That meant redundancy was a good thing. Objects almost always got lost or broken. If you need one of something, you'd better take two. With that life lesson in mind, she'd prepared for this mission by putting four drives in her purse even though she was told there were two in the safe. Since she was so well prepared, she was able to take all three.
With the purloined hardware safely tucked away in her purse and the dummy ones in the safe, she shut it and swung the painting back in place. "Barker, how's it looking out there?"
"You're clear, but you should hurry."
She swiftly went to the door, opened it and slipped through in one quick motion. Barker stood in the hallway with his back against the wall, and hands in his pockets, as if he were waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom.
Two of Benoit's men came around the corner and into the hallway just as Sarah reached Barker.
"Hey," the bigger of Benoit's men growled in French, "you shouldn't be hanging out here."
Barker ignored them and stood away from the wall his face filled with concern as he looked at Sarah. "Ms. Irving," he said in English, "are you okay? You were gone from the party and I came looking for you."
Sarah immediately slowed her steps and sagged as if she was taken ill. Giving Barker a doleful look, she said, "I'm sorry, but I'm suddenly not feeling well." She giggled and fell into Barker's arms. Fanning herself with a hand, she said, "I think that champagne went straight to my head."
Agent Barker slipped an arm around her waist. "Do you want to sit down for awhile or should we head back to the hotel."
Benoit's men apparently spoke little English, but it seemed clear to them that one of their boss' guests wasn't feeling well. Sarah and Barker's acting was apparently believable since the two men were no longer concerned that they both had been in the hallway. They had a quick conversation where Sarah heard one tell the other to fetch Benoit.
"I think it would be best if we say good night to our host and head back to the hotel."
"Yes, Ms. Irving. Of course," Barker replied.
Still leaning on Barker for support, she staggered her way down the hall and toward the front door. They arrived in the foyer just as Benoit hurried toward them, having been informed by his aide that the beautiful blonde American wasn't feeling well.
"Mademoiselle Irving, I am so sorry to hear that you are unwell," he said, taking her hand in both of his. A valet approached and handed her coat to Barker, who settled it on her shoulders to ward off the chilly March air.
"I'm so sorry to have to leave your wonderful party in such an abrupt way, but I'm afraid it's best if we return to our hotel." Smiling wanly, she said, "Thank you so much for your hospitality. It was wonderful meeting you."
"Ms. Irving! I'm so sorry to see you're ill." Carina's face was the picture of concern as she joined the group. "But I'm sure it's for the best that you go and rest."
"Thank you, I will. If you're ever back in the States…" Sarah's eyes conveyed to Carina that she meant what she offered.
Without a hint of guile, Carina answered, "I will. I'd like that."
Sarah gave her friend a small nod. Putting her hand to her forehead, she said to Agent Barker, "We'd better go."
"Your car has already been brought around," Benoit said opening the door for her. A valet stood next to the large, black Citroen and opened the passenger door as they made their way down the steps. She slid into the seat, the door closing behind her. Barker sped around to the driver's side, climbed in and started to pull away.
When Benoit dashed up to the car, Barker was forced to stop. Sarah breathed a quiet epithet and lowered the window. Uh oh. Could he know? "Yes, Monsieur Benoit?" She tried to look ill without looking nervous.
"May I have one of your business cards? I would like to meet with the company you represent. Of course, I hope you will be at all meetings as well."
"Of course." She found her cardholder in her purse, being careful to keep the stolen thumb drives out of sight. Handing a card to Benoit, she said, "I look forward to your call."
Benoit grinned and gave her a little bow. "Au revoir."
She waved her goodbye as Barker drove the car down the driveway. Sarah put the window up and leaned her head back against the seat's headrest. With a huge sigh of relief, she said, "Let's get out of here."
~ O ~
The drone of the airplane engines nearly lulled Sarah to sleep. Every part of her cried out for her to close her eyes. She wouldn't allow herself to do that, though, not until she was home. Home with Chuck and the kids. Then she could relax. Then she could sleep. Until then, she would keep going.
From the time Sarah and Barker had left the party, with Cole following them in the surveillance van, things hadn't stopped. They'd gone straight back to their hotel, packed up their belongings and checked out. An agency airplane had been gassed up and waited to fly them directly to Washington, D.C. The jet had jumped off the runway at nearly exactly twelve o'clock midnight and landed in Washington seven hours later. Unfortunately, with the time change, it was one a.m. local time when they touched down. She had napped on the plane, so Sarah felt alert. An awaiting van had whisked the three off to Langley, where they had a mission debriefing with Director Graham scheduled for the morning.
An agent working the night shift found a computer Sarah could use, so she spent the hours before the meeting writing up her mission report. By the time the meeting with Graham finally rolled around, she was ready for the fresh donuts and strong coffee.
The Director had been pleased with the success of the mission and commended all three agents for a job well done. Upon learning of the encryption on the thumb drives, the director assumed the software Chuck wrote for Project Sun Ray would break the code. If it didn't, Chuck would need to be involved in the decryption. Unfortunately, there were still some codes that Project Sun Ray couldn't break. So, the original drives from Benoit's safe, after being copied by the Agency's computer guys, were to travel with home with her.
And that was what she was doing now, traveling home. She sat on a commercial airplane, wedged between a businessman reading financial statements and a college student with multiple face piercings. His music was playing so loudly through his earbuds, she could hear the profanity ridden songs as clearly as if the buds were tucked in her own ears.
Sighing, she glanced at her watch and noted that it would be another hour before they landed. Doing some quick mental math, she figured out that she had gotten about three hours of sleep in the last forty. No wonder the exhaustion was beginning to overtake her.
Dragging her purse from under the seat in front of her, she decided to dig out her iPhone and read the novel she had downloaded at the airport in D.C. What she really wanted to do was to call and talk to Chuck, or at least text him, but that was impossible, so she would just have to wait.
As she rummaged around in her purse looking for her phone, she saw a small red jewelry box. Her heart fluttered. Now it was safe for her to return her rings to her finger. She was simply Sarah Bartowski, flying home from Washington and not Sarah Walker, agent for the CIA. She opened the box, slipped first the wedding band and then the diamond engagement ring onto her finger. Holding her hand out, a small smile of admiration curled her lips. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the college kid next to her smirk. She figured he was thinking up all kinds of scenarios in which a married woman would take off and hide away her rings. Her smile grew bigger when she thought what his reaction would be if he knew the truth.
With her rings back on her finger, she missed Chuck even more. She found her phone and turned it on, making sure it was in "airplane mode". Rather than reading her book, she opened her text messages and re-read the ones they had traded while she waited at Dulles to board her flight home. The kids were fine but missed her. He missed her. She missed him more. He would be waiting for her.
That was the trouble. Once she landed and deplaned, she still had a two-and-a-half hour drive from Denver International Airport to Beaver Creek. It was nice that it wasn't going to be terribly late when they landed, only around five o'clock in the afternoon. The real problem was her body had no idea it was the afternoon. The rumbling noise and the emptiness of her stomach reminded her that it had been awhile since she had eaten. The tiny bag of chips the flight attendants passed out on the plane did nothing to stop the growling.
Time seemed to drag, but the plane finally landed and the flight attendants announced that it was permissible to turn on cell phones now that they were on the ground. Sarah turned off airplane mode and immediately texted Chuck, letting him know she had landed safely and would be home in a couple of hours. Her stomach flipped when his return text simply said, "I'll be waiting."
The idea of getting something to eat in the terminal while letting traffic die down had rattled around in her mind before the plane had landed, but Chuck's text reminded her just how badly she wanted to get home to him. If her growling stomach insisted on her eating something before she made it home, there were plenty of drive thrus along the way. She was positive she would need to get some coffee for the drive home, however.
She grabbed her bag and a large flat rectangular box she brought back with her from Paris and deplaned. Agents Cole and Barker, who were on the same flight, walked up the jetway behind her, none of them acknowledging each other.
After the train ride to and the walk through the terminal, she finally made it to the parking garage. A gust of cold dry air blasted her as she walked through the sliding door and toward her car. Her small suitcase rattled and bounced over the asphalt as it rolled behind her. She found the correct aisle and strode toward her Porsche parked two-thirds of the way down.
As she neared her car, she could tell something was off. Slowing her steps, she approached cautiously. There was a large SUV parked next to it, so she couldn't see her car from her vantage point. Through the windows of the SUV she could see someone standing next to the Porsche. Before she had a chance to get her gun from her purse, the figure stepped out from behind the larger vehicle.
She froze. "Chuck," she whispered.
He gave her one of those smiles that turned her insides to goo. "I told you I'd be waiting."