A/N 6/24/12 – Here is something AU for you, and this Chuck story is going to be a little different. What if Chuck wasn't a city boy? And what if he had a less than common job? How are the Intersect and his protectors going to deal with life on the farm? How are they going to cope with his real job? Read on to find out...
I don't own Chuck.
Sarah Versus the Farm
Chapter 1 – Things are Seldom What They Appear
Sarah Walker drove her Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet down a two-lane county road a mile west of Wasco, California. It was a typical spring afternoon early in the month of May. Such a gorgeous day to be driving with the top down. She was enjoying the sights and scents of the southern San Joaquin valley, the sun on her face, and the wind in her hair. As she drove she looked at the myriad of crops growing along the highway. Almond orchards, orange groves, grapes, cotton, and produce of every kind lined the sides of the road. Then her eye caught a very vivid splash of color off to her right and she pulled over to gawk at a large field filled with roses of every color imaginable.
So this is where they grow them, she thought, as she watched several workers tending the field and cutting the long stem buds from a section of particularly striking red roses not far from the road. One of the field workers wearing a white, large brimmed hat noticed her sitting there in her car as he was clipping buds from a bush. She watched him smile and wave at her, and then he looked back to the bush and appeared to be studying it carefully for a few seconds before he clipped a flower and started walking toward her as he trimmed some leaves and broke off the thorns from the stem.
The middle aged Hispanic man walked up to the passenger door and held the rose out to her as he smiled cordially, "Buenos dias, senorita. A beautiful flower for a beautiful young woman."
Slightly taken aback Sarah blushed a bit, "Gracias, amable señor," she said looking into his friendly eyes as she accepted the rose and put it to her nose to take in its heavenly aroma, "Oh, my, that smells wonderful!"
"If you say so," he grinned. "After a couple of hours in the field this doesn't smell them very well anymore," he said tapping the side of his nose with a laugh.
Sarah laughed back with him, "Yes, I'll bet this could overwhelm one's senses in a very short time." She looked at the large splash of color in front of her, "Those fields are very pretty. It must be nice working in such a picturesque setting every day."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps I've grown a bit too used to them, but I never tire of the pretty women they attract," he said with a toothy smile. "Please pardon me young lady, but I'm on the clock and I must get back to work, I hope you enjoy this fine spring day." He waved and started to turn to walk back into the field.
"Wait," said Sarah as she saw an opportunity to maybe get some information, "Maybe you can help me. I'm trying to find Flying B Aviation. It's run by a Charles Bartowski. Do you know him or where that is?"
The man turned back to her and fixed a curious gaze on her, "You mean Chuck? Yes, almost everyone around here knows, Chuck." And then he said almost under his breath, "Santa Madre de Dios. Chuck, eres un hombre muy afortunado." *
Sarah's grin grew very large and her eyes sparkled a bit as she bit her lower lip.
"So you speak Spanish?" The field worker inquired, obviously embarrassed. "I'm sorry, that was very rude of me. Please accept my apology."
"It's okay, I'm very flattered. Do you know Chuck well?"
"Yes, very well. My son works for him. Chuck has been very generous to Juan and our entire family." The man's eyes narrowed a bit as if he suddenly thought of something, "You don't work for the Ag Commissioner or the FAA do you?"
Sarah let out a short laugh, "No. No need to worry, I don't work for the government. I'm an acquaintance of his and the friend of a mutual friend of his from the Academy," she effortlessly lied.
"Ah," he said as he regarded her car, "I wasn't really that concerned about who you work for, it's just, well…it's nothing. Are you a fighter pilot?"
It's nothing? Hmm, "No, I used to work in public relations, but I'm out now. Chuck's office is up there a couple miles on the left at the county airport, isn't it?" She pointed up the road.
"Yes, but you won't find him there right now, because he's out working." He pointed down the road, "That is him right there." His finger followed a barely visible yellow airplane crossing very low over the road a few miles up ahead. "When you see him, tell him Jesus says hello, and that I'm a very jealous man. I'm sorry miss…?"
"Walker, Sarah Walker. It's nice to meet you Jesus…?"
"Terrazas, Jesus Terrazas. I'm sorry Ms. Walker, I really must be getting back to work, and I'm setting a bad example for my crew. Maybe I'll see you around?"
"Maybe, Jesus. It was nice to meet you. Enjoy your day."
"You too, Ms. Walker." Jesus waved and walked back into the field concluding that the stunningly attractive young woman must be single since she didn't correct the way he addressed her. Yes. Holy Mother of God. Chuck Bartowski, you are a very lucky man.*
Sarah waved back at Jesus with a smile as she pulled back onto the road and watched the airplane he had pointed out flying back and forth. She picked up the rose he had given her to smell it again and her smile became blissful. When she had been told where she was going when the Director gave her this assignment she had dreaded the idea of coming to the farming country of the southern San Joaquin Valley thinking this would be a very dreary place. But a very nice man working in a rose field had quickly dispelled that attitude. Mr. Terrazas' kind demeanor and statements about Charles 'Chuck' Bartowski were making her wonder about this person who was her mark.
As she drove up the road she watched the plane Jesus had pointed out make a graceful arcing turn about three hundred feet in the air and then dive back toward the ground crossing the road again ahead of her as it flew under some ten kilovolt high tension power lines on seventy foot metal poles along the edge of the field next to the road. Her eyes grew wide as she watched it go under the wires and the spray boom under the wing came on precisely right at the edge of the crop as the plane continued across the field, its wheels only a few feet over the rows, spraying some sort of green liquid as it went.
A long puff of smoke came from the plane as it reached the far end of the field and the spray stopped an instant before the large low winged yellow plane with a blue stripe down its side pulled up to about a hundred feet. It swiftly, and crisply made a forty-five degree turn to the left and rolled level as it crossed over the top of an orchard, and a couple of seconds later pulled up into another smooth arcing 225 degree turn to the right before diving once again onto the field.
She watched the plane cross the field again from the corner of her eye and realized she was going to cross his path only a few seconds before he crossed the road on which she was driving east bound and looking in her rear view mirror watched the airplane flash by a couple of hundred feet behind her as he again crossed under the power lines at the edge of the field. Sarah pulled her car over about a quarter of a mile down the road and watched as the process repeated itself several more times. Then she saw another identical plane taking off from a canal embankment road about a half mile away on the eastern edge of the field she was parked next to.
Picking up her Canon camera with a 600-millimeter L series lens like so many sports photographers used these days, she looked at what appeared to be a ground support vehicle parked along the embankment road. After taking a few pictures of the crop duster crossing under the power lines she put her camera down and drove toward the ground support truck after making a left turn onto an adjoining road. Just as she pulled her car to a stop along the side of the road across the canal from the truck she noticed the plane she had been watching earlier approaching from the north in a turn only a hundred feet or so over the ground and settle onto a low final approach to land on the canal bank road.
The airplane's wheels touched lightly on the narrow gravel road and Sarah could hear a low whining roar as the aircrafts propeller shifted into beta thrust and the plane quickly slowed as it approached a slightly wider spot where the support vehicle was parked and then pivoted around on one wheel with the wing tip only a couple of feet away from the truck as the turbine engine and propeller spun down to an idle. She watched as the pilot lowered the door on the cockpit, flipped up his helmet visor, grinned, and gave a thumbs up to a short bearded fellow wearing blue jeans, a long sleeved shirt, and a cowboy hat, who was standing next to the support truck. The pilot made a hand signal to one of the two other crew members and one of the young Hispanic men ran out to the plane with a hose and attached it to a coupling below the cockpit at the wing root. The other crew member was busy pouring green powder from bags into a stainless steel mixing tank on the side of the truck.
The pilot pulled his helmet off and hung it on a hook behind his seat on the cockpit wall, ran his hands through his brown curly locks, and then looked right at Sarah Walker and gave her a big toothy grin as he waved before he hauled his tall lanky frame from the airplane and jumped to the ground from the wing. Walking over to the bearded man, Sarah watched as the man she assumed was Chuck Bartowski exchanged comments with his colleague and them slapped him on the shoulder and laughed about something she could only guess at. Sarah hauled her camera back out and examined the man through the viewfinder. Yes, it was him. The face matched the picture Director Graham had given her. She snapped a photo, and then she watched as Chuck Bartowski walked up to one of his crewmembers and spoke to him with his arm around the young mans shoulder. And then the young man ran to the truck to attach another hose to the plane not far from where the first hose had been attached.
After taking a brief look at a clipboard lying on the hood of the truck Chuck Bartowski climbed back into the plane and took a long pull from a bottle of water before clasping the four-point restraint harness. Sarah watched through the long camera lens as he grabbed his helmet and pulled a bright yellow cloth skullcap from his helmet and slipped it onto his head. The image jiggled in the viewfinder as she laughed, realizing the skullcap was covered with the printed character of Jay Jay the Jet Plane. He pulled his helmet back on and looked down into the cockpit, made some keystrokes on one of the panel mounted keypads, then looked out at his ground crew and drew his hand across his throat with a slashing motion. The crewman disconnected the hoses and pulled them away as Chuck pulled the cockpit door up and latched it.
Chuck Bartowski then looked over at her again and smartly saluted Sarah as he tapped the smoker button on the stick sending billowing smoke from one of the exhaust stacks of the turbine engine as it spooled up to takeoff power and he released the brakes. Sarah watched the sprayplane gently lift off and climb out to spray yet another load of whatever that green stuff was. Looking across the canal she saw Morgan Grimes smiling at her as he tipped his hat.
Chuck looked straight at the beautiful blonde woman sitting in the Porsche across the canal from him and gave her a crisp salute along with the Bartowski smile as he advanced the throttle on the PT6-45 turbine engine and then toggled the smoker for a couple of seconds before releasing the brakes. As he lifted off the canal road he thought about how he had been tempted to talk to the woman, but how being able to do it would have required swimming across the canal. Damn, you fool, you should have done it. It would have been worth it.
He flipped the audio panel to the business band radio and keyed the push-to-talk switch on the stick, "One to base, Morgan?"
"Yeah, go ahead Chuck," replied Morgan after a few seconds had passed.
"Is Vicki Vale still there?"
Morgan laughed as he keyed the mic, "Nope, so sorry fearless leader, but Vicki has left the party."
"Damn, I should have swum the canal to talk to her. I hope she didn't think I sprayed her car or something."
"She didn't look pissed to me, Chuck. She mostly looked curious. You should have seen the look on her face when you put on that goofy Jay Jay skullcap. She almost dropped that expensive camera."
"Okay, so now she knows I have an immature juvenile side to me, I think I'll just spend the rest of this load trying to decide if that's a good thing, or a bad thing."
"Stay focused, buddy, lots of obstacles around that field," said Morgan with a warning tone to his voice.
"I hear ya, Morg," replied Chuck, "only one more load to finish this melon patch. Oh, I forgot to ask because of the huge distraction at the loading pad, how's Kyle doin' on the onions?"
Morgan took a brief look at the loading sheet, "He has one more load, too, Chuckles, so you guys will be racing back for the last few beers in the fridge."
"Sounds like the start of a horse race to me," quipped Chuck.
"I heard that, Chuck," said the voice of Kyle Pruitt over the radio, "I just finished my fourth pass, good luck catching up."
Chuck laughed to himself as he pulled the Air Tractor 502 onto his line on the GPS lightbar and dropped into the field to continue spraying the young melon field with copper sulfate fungicide. He pushed the 'money handle' forward as he crossed the point in the field where his last load had run dry and looked ahead to the wires he had been ducking under for the last hour checking for traffic again on the road as he approached them. And there was the Porsche again parked about two hundred feet from his line next to the road. He toggled the smoker again to check the wind as he flashed under the wires and gave his audience two more quick puffs as he pulled up into his turn for the next pass.
Part of him wished the pretty woman would just leave because he really didn't need the distraction working around these wires, but another part of him relished the opportunity to really show his stuff and it made him concentrate even more on the job. Yet another part of him wished he wasn't in this plane so he could have a chance to actually talk to her. He came around on his turn and the car was gone. He looked to his left and watched it drive west bound up the road before he realized he had a set of wires right in front of him and just barely ducked under them to continue his work. He suddenly heard his father's voice talking sternly to him, "Pay attention, Charles, this is serious business. Leave your emotions on the ground if you're going to do this work."
Sarah Walker pulled into the entrance of the Wasco airport and drove onto the ramp. She looked off to her right and saw a large yellow airplane like the one she had watched Chuck Bartowski flying parked in the tiedowns just beyond a double-wide manufactured home surrounded by mulberry trees shading a wooden deck around it. Two canvas and wood swingchairs and a porch swing hung from the branches of the trees overhead. A sign in front of the steps leading to the deck said 'Flying B Aviation'. The 'B' had stylized wings coming off the sides of it. Sarah parked her car by the side of the deck and walked up to the door of the offices. The office doors were locked and she peered into them from a sliding arcadia door off the deck looking at four desks and computer workstations arranged around a central office area with a couple of couches and recliner chairs. The office had a 'lived in' appearance and one of the desks was piled high with paperwork. The kitchen counter was covered with a fairly large collection of Red Bull cans.
Sarah casually looked around the quiet airport as she pulled out her lock pick set and had the office door open in a matter of seconds. Stepping into the office and closing the door behind her she moved quickly to one of the work stations, inserted a thumbdrive into the USB port, and executed a program to review the files on the hard drive. She repeated the process on the other two workstations and then started to search through the desk drawers searching for anything that would link Charles Bartowski to the theft of the Intersect files and the marks previous association with Bryce Larkin. After several minutes of searching, all she saw was various aerial application business paperwork, computer game disk cases and gaming notes, and two desk drawers filled with comic books.
As she searched the office a speaker on one of the desks burst to life and she jumped slightly, "Wasco traffic, Air Tractor two charlie bravo two miles east landing Wasco, Wasco traffic."
Sarah moved to one of the desks and checked her scanner app.
"Wasco traffic, Air Tractor niner romeo bravo two miles east landing Wasco. See the smoke, Chuck? Passing you off your right wing."
"Got you Kyle, the first beer is yours, I'll fall in behind you."
"Hey, Chuck, there's a Porsche parked out in front of the office," said Kyle as he turned a low base-to-final over the almond trees for runway 12.
Chuck quickly dipped a wing and looked at the Porsche 911 parked next to the end of the deck. "Well I'll be danged, our day just became even more interesting," he exclaimed over the radio.
Sarah smiled as she listened to the exchange over the radio and moved rapidly from desk to desk checking the status of her hard drive searches and then moved to the arcadia door to look out and see the two sprayplanes overhead and heading in to land. She quickly terminated the programs and removed her thumbdrives, then slipped out the office door onto the deck just in time to see the first plane touch down with a small puff of smoke from the tires on the asphalt runway. As she reached the end of the deck and leaned on the rail the second plane rolled onto the runway in a near perfect wheel landing not far behind the first one and the two aircraft taxied in together towards the tiedown area north of the office. She watched as they pulled into the tiedowns like choreographed dancers and the engines spooled down together to an idle as the props feathered and the pilots busied themselves with cockpit chores while they waited for the engine temperatures to stabilize before shutdown.
Then she noticed a very large and burly man walking from a large hangar to the south of the office toward the planes with a pair of longneck bottles in his hand. Damn, how did I miss him? She asked herself as the man walked past her and tipped one of the bottles at her and winked.
Both the engines shut down almost simultaneously as if on cue and the cockpit doors dropped. The burly gentleman waved the beer bottles at them as the pilots climbed from the planes. "Hey Mac," yelled Kyle from the wing of his plane. "The air conditioner on this sucker still doesn't work! I hope you get it fixed before it really gets hot around here!"
Mac McConnelly rolled his eyes and threw Kyle one of the beers as he walked up to the plane, "Quit yer yammerin'. You pampered kids and your creature comforts, maybe you should try spending your day in a cramped AgCat cockpit with no A/C for twelve hours," he retorted, "At least I brought you a beer you spoiled brat!"
Kyle chuckled and shot him a sideways glance, "Only because you knew the damn air conditioner wasn't going to work, you old coot." He tipped the bottle at Mac, "Thanks!"
"How'd it go for you guys today?" Mac asked Chuck as he stepped down from the wing of the Air Tractor 502, "Did anything important break?"
Chuck grinned back as he accepted the beer and took a long pull from it, "Ah, that's good," he said, holding the cold bottle briefly to his forehead. "Nothing wrong with my baby," he said patting the fuselage next to the cockpit, "She's running like a charm, Mac. We had a good day." Then Chuck looked over Mac's shoulder and watched awestruck as a slender absolutely stunningly gorgeous blond headed woman in tight blue jeans, brown leather jacket and boots sauntered up to them. He was completely transfixed on her piercing blue eyes. It was Vicki Vale, and Chucks tongue was uncharacteristically tied in a knot in his throat.
"Hello," said Sarah cordially to the men looking agape at her as she walked up, "Is one of you gentleman Charles Bartowski?"
Chuck and Mac exchanged brief wary looks and Chuck turned back still speechless, "meep….er, I'm Charles. Please call me Chuck…and this is my mechanic Mac McConnelly." Mac just stared glassy eyed at the woman.
Chuck was searching for something else to say and Sarah was opening her mouth to speak when Kyle Pruitt stepped around the tail of Chuck's plane and laughed looking at the expression on Chuck's face as he gaped at Sarah Walker, "C'mon, Chuck, get it together, it's only been three years, target rich environment, buddy," he teased as he walked toward the office waving his beer bottle. "And snap out of it Mac, you look like a dope!"
Chuck shot Kyle a look reserved for extremely smart-ass friends, "Thanks, butthead, some wingman you are."
"Hey dude," he retorted over his shoulder as he walked away, "Count your blessings I'm not hitting on her, I need to get to a restroom quick." He did a little two-step shuffle to make his point. "I'll see you in the morning, Chuck!"
Chuck stared at the back of his friend and chief pilot as he walked away and his attention shot back to Sarah as she cleared her throat with an amused look on her face. "I am so sorry, that was extremely rude of us," he said apologetically handing his beer to his mechanic, who stared at the bottle shoved unceremoniously against his chest, "Is there something I can help you with? I'm sorry I didn't get your name."
Sarah let out a short laugh, "That's because your wingman didn't give me chance to say it. It's Sarah Walker." She held out her hand, "Nice to meet you, Chuck."
Chuck shook her hand surprised by the firmness of her grip and a tingle went up his arm as his eyes shot to hers with mild surprise and he realized as they made contact that he saw surprise mildly written in her eyes as well. After a brief awkward moment they both released their grips of each other's hand.
"I'm going to go have a look at your wingman's air conditioner, although I really don't know why," said Mac, seeing the need to give his boss some room, "Nice to meet you Ms. Walker," he added with a casual tip of his company ball cap as he walked toward Kyle's plane.
After an awkward few seconds more Chuck spoke, "Sarah. That's a very pretty name," he said, fidgeting a bit as he drank in her beauty.
"Thank you, Chuck," she said, and then added playfully, "I didn't think people still named their kids Chuck." Sarah smiled and tilted her head a bit and quickly appraised the man in front of her. He was tall and lanky with captivating hazel brown eyes and wild curly brown locks from having just taken off his flight helmet. And he had a smile that was almost as bright as the sun; it was intensely disarming. His defined musculature showed well through the long sleeve t-shirt he was wearing, and his Wrangler blue jeans fit him like…well…they fit him very well. How did that saying go? Wrangler butts drive me nuts?
"Yeah, well my parents were sadists," he answered with a grin, as he looked shyly down at his feet. "So," said Chuck as he kicked a pebble with his cowboy boot before he looked back up and held her gaze, "What brings you to God's country, Sarah Walker?"
"I'm looking for work, Chuck. I have an interview with a large agricultural conglomerate tomorrow morning. I just thought I'd drive around a bit today and get the lay of the land beforehand."
"So you work in agriculture. What exactly do you do? It seems agribusiness grows a new facet every day, so I'm not going to venture to guess what your job is."
"Well, I don't really work in agriculture per say, I'm a corporate pilot. My interview tomorrow is for the left seat of a Gulfstream IV."
"Oh, is that so?" Chuck flashed the Bartowski smile at her, "Well that explains a lot. We've been trying to figure out why you found us so interesting today."
"We?" Wow. That smile is amazing.
"Yeah, the whole crew. You caused quite a stir on our little corner of the farm when you showed up next to the crew support rig today. So, are you interested in ag aviation?"
"Yes, it's a fascinating business. The flying certainly looks fun, real flying, not babysitting a flight management system and only doing a few hops a week."
"Well, we get to do more takeoffs and landings, that's for sure, and we get to fly low and enjoy the scenery," he said with that infectious grin, "However, we don't get to see the world the way you corporate drivers do. But, we don't have to spend too many nights in cheap hotels or sleep in an airport pilot lounge very often, either." Then he scowled a bit and rubbed the back of his neck, "Though, I have been spending the last few nights sleeping in the office bunkroom. It's been busier than fraking hell lately. Oops, sorry about that. Please pardon my language, that was uncalled for."
She snickered internally at his outmoded sense of propriety, but 'fraking?', that was a new one. "That's alright, Chuck. Busier than hell, huh, as in no rest for the wicked?" She grinned at him.
"Ha! You'll only find angels in my operation…fallen angels." He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "Why exactly were you looking for me by name anyway?"
"Well, I was told you might be looking for a pilot too. I didn't think it could hurt to check all the possibilities." She smiled as Chuck's eyebrows shot up and his eyes got big.
"Well that's a surprise. Do you know that out of the three thousand or so pilots in the United States doing this job only three or four of them are women? Don't get me wrong, it's not like we're trying to keep women out of the business. It's just that we're very top heavy with seriously type 'A' males. My chief pilot is an outstanding example, as you probably noticed," he added with a soft chuckle.
"Is there room for a seriously type 'A' female?" Sarah asked with a cryptic smile.
His head tilted a little to one side and a crooked tight-lipped smile grew on his face, but he didn't say anything. Instead he turned and yelled at his mechanic, "Hey, Mac! Will you make sure these birds are tied down and check the turbine oil levels for me?"
His mechanic pulled his head out of the front cowling of forty-nineR Bartowski where he had been looking at the planes air conditioning compressor and casually waved his hand, "Don't I always?" And his head disappeared back into the cowl.
Chuck turned back to Sarah and shrugged, "Yeah, he does," he said, with a snerk. He stood there looking at her very seriously for several seconds as she met his gaze unwaveringly. Then he reached out and took her hand, "C'mon I want to show you something," he said leading her around the two aircraft that he and Kyle had been flying that day. They walked to the third airplane on the tie down line, N402SB, and Chuck released her hand, the test now over once he was convinced what he felt when she had offered her hand a moment ago was indeed real.
"This is our Hotrod, a Cascade converted Walter powered Air Tractor 402," he said with admiration as he placed a hand on the leading edge of the wing and stroked it lovingly, "We use her for tight work when it gets really hot. Lots of excess power, very nimble, solid as a rock, but such a sweetheart, a real lady, just a joy to fly," he rambled, with a far away look in his eyes that seemed to say he was in her manipulating the controls and making her dance a Tango in the sky.
Sarah gazed at Chuck suddenly wide-eyed as she listened to his very gender specific description of an airplane as something so physically connected and sensual. The way he said it made the heat of the late afternoon May sun shining on her back feel instantly hotter as she watched his eyes caress the plane and then fall on her finally meeting her eyes with a slight blush. She opened her mouth searching for something, anything, to say either in acknowledgement or rebuttal, but before she could say anything he had nimbly jumped onto the wing using the tire and landing gear leg as steps and opened the cockpit access door and lowered it down to the side of the fuselage.
He patted the lower edge of the entry with his hand, "Hop in," he said, with his disarming smile and motioned for her to walk around the wing to the trailing edge below the cockpit. Sarah looked at Chuck appraisingly, wondering if he was coming on to her, but she saw innocent mirth dancing in his eyes, like he was a young boy offering to share his favorite toy with a new found friend. He pointed out the step below the wing and a handle on the side of the fuselage for her to grab and she climbed up onto the wing next to him. Then he showed her a recessed step in the side of the fuselage and pointed to the cross bars in the top of the cockpit roll cage.
"You saw Kyle and I getting out, right?"
"Yes," she nodded with enthusiasm, as she looked into the surprisingly roomy office space.
"Well, just sort of reverse the motion. Climbing into one of these things can be accomplished several different ways, but you'll find a way that works the best for you after you do it a few times. I like to swing a leg in then sit on the sill and use the overhead to hoist myself the rest of the way in."
Sarah thought about his description for a second or two, and then gracefully climbed into the cockpit like she was an old hand at it. She caught the look of surprise on Chuck's face and smiled at him with amusement.
"Have you done that before?" he asked curiously, "Or are you gymnast, or maybe an acrobat? Perhaps a dancer? Maybe a ninja?"
She placed her hand on top of his that was resting on the lower edge of the cockpit door and snickered, "Are you a mind reader?" She asked wryly with a wink.
"Well, okay then, all of the above," he said as the curious expression grew on his face. "So what do you think? Does it fit?"
"There's a lot more room in here than I thought there would be," she said looking around at the instruments and the spray controls.
"Well, you're sitting behind a four-hundred gallon hopper. Wait until you sit behind a five hundred or six hundred gallon one, those are downright spacious inside. This plane was my dad's first turbine sprayplane, his pride and joy. He just loved to work from her, so she gets pampered like a Hollywood starlet," he said with just a faint hint of wistfulness.
Sarah felt her hand tighten on Chuck's as she turned her attention from the instrument panel to look at him. He had just shared something personal with her and she was trying to decide whether to ask him why he referred to his father in the past tense when he spoke first.
"Dad passed away three years ago when I was in my senior year at the Naval Academy. He was an electrical and computer engineer by trade and a naval aviator, but our family has also been in farming for five generations. Grandpa was a crop duster and started this business in the late 1950's. Dad couldn't let it go…I guess neither could I. It sort of gets into your blood after a while." She watched him smile at her, but she could see loss swimming sadly in the back of his hauntingly attractive hazel eyes.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Chuck," Sarah answered sympathetically as she debated with herself whether she should ask more. She decided to pursue it further since he had opened up to her and she hoped he would fill some apparent gaps in his dossier, "Your father couldn't have been very old when he died, what happened to him?"
"A massive heart attack," he answered with a shake of his head and a far away expression on his face. "He was only fifty-three years old. It never made any sense to me; he was a fitness buff and stronger than an ox. He took his health very seriously being a military pilot and all." He looked at her with a hint of guilt in his eyes and then motioned to the plane she was sitting in and smiled crookedly, "Anyway, this was his sweetheart, and he could make her dance…Lordy, could he make her dance…he was good. One of the best."
Sarah watched the man in front of her wondering where that look of guilt she briefly saw was coming from. She needed answers. What she was seeing here in many ways didn't fit what she had been told about her mark in her briefings. "You said you were in the Naval Academy, Chuck. Shouldn't you be filling your commission obligations right now?" She watched his face suddenly darken so much she almost wished she hadn't asked the question as he turned away from her and looked unfocused across the airfield.
"Sometimes things don't go the way we plan or would like them to. I didn't graduate from the Academy," he said with a hard edge to his voice. "It's a long story. Probably better told around a campfire with a bottle of Crown Royal." He turned back to her and met her eyes as he smiled sheepishly, "Anyway, after dad died someone needed to run the business. I wasn't going to let the family legacy die on the vine. And in spite of what you see before you now at this minute, I'm at peace with the choices I've made. I love what I do. I get to fly almost every day, and I know that makes my dad very happy, wherever he is."
"It sounds like your father and you were very close," Sarah said suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable sitting in the same seat the man had himself once sat in.
"We weren't as close as you might think. When I was younger he was always away on deployments. Gramps and Ellie mostly raised me. Dad got back into the business after the Navy decided they weren't going to allow him to shoot carrier traps anymore, but he was always away doing government engineering contracts when we weren't spraying. He was a classic workaholic and the government owned him as much as this business did, clear up until the day he died." He slapped the side of airplane affectionately obviously making an effort to change the mood, and offered Sarah his hand, "Here, let me help you out of there," he said, and she hoisted herself from the cockpit and stepped down to the ground as he closed the cockpit and followed her.
He stepped down from the wing and the momentum of the step down brought him up very close to her. He looked down at her very appraisingly for a moment, wondering why he was getting ready to ask the question that was floating in his mind, and perhaps questioning his own motivations. "So, Sarah, do you have any tailwheel time? That's kind of important if you want to seriously consider doing a job like this."
She met his gaze and had to admit she was more than a little surprised he was asking the question. She really didn't think he would remotely consider giving her a job flying the plane she was sitting in, and she had assumed he was just humoring her. But, she had had a truthful response ready in case he asked it, and was oddly relieved that she didn't have to lie about it. "I have a few hundred taildragger hours. My grandfather was also a pilot and he taught me to fly in a Super Cub before I turned thirteen. I used to love flying that plane. I kind of miss it."
That snapped Chuck from his funk and he smiled broadly. It was so very infectious, and Sarah felt her own mood lighten when she saw it. "Then I have a treat for you! I have a Super Cub in the barn at the house. How would you like to fly it tomorrow?"
"Wow, Chuck, that would be a treat. I'd love to."
"Well great! Then it's a date." A date? "Although, I have to warn you; it probably isn't even remotely like your grandfather's Supercub, it's been modified a little bit."
"Now I'm really curious, Chuck Bartowski. I have to wait till tomorrow?"
Chuck rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at his watch. He briefly pondered the opportunity fate and the beautiful woman in front of him was presenting to him. It had been over three years since he'd asked a woman on a date, let alone one as pretty as the one in front of him. Now this gorgeous lady was suggesting coming to his home and they hadn't even been on a date yet. This was pushing the boundaries of his personal sense of propriety. But she just wanted to see the Cub, right? And it was at the house. He fidgeted, looking at his feet for a second before looking up at her and saying with a gulp of air, "Well, I suppose we could go out to the house and I could show it to you, but, bein' as I've already had a beer, any flying will have to wait till tomorrow. And I still have some paperwork to do here before I go. Plus I need to make sure we're going have some chemical we need delivered in time for a job we have in the morning. How would you like to come over for a glass of wine and a light meal after I'm done here? I have a tasty bottle of Zin I've been saving for a special occasion."
"Sure, I'd like that," she answered brightly, but marveled inside at the display of shy trepidation he was displaying to her, "I need to make a couple of phone calls, though, can I meet you inside your office in a few minutes?"
"Sure, c'mon in the office when you're done," Chuck replied, and he parted ways with her standing next to the sign at the edge of the deck.
Sarah looked over at the sign with the winged 'B' and smiled as she placed the call on her phone. And then the smile quickly faded.
As Chuck was filling out his paperwork for the county ag commissioner the door to the office flew open and Morgan Grimes threw his cowboy hat across the room like a Frisbee at a rather ornate wooden hat rack watching it land with a spin on one of the pegs. "Yes!" He pumped his fist and looked at his friend with excitement dancing in his eyes, "Vicki Vale is right outside our offices, Chuck," he exclaimed enthusiastically as he walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a Red Bull from the shelf, "What is she doing here?" He punctuated the question by opening the can and taking a drink from it.
Chuck gave his best friend a brief amused look and resumed his work on the pile of forms on his desk, "Turns out she's a pilot. She wanted to talk shop," he answered as casually as possible.
"Oh, really? So that's why she was watching you guys today, huh? Does Kyle have a new groupie now?"
Chuck dropped his pencil on the desk and peered at Morgan through narrowing eyes, then grinned realizing his friend was trying to get a rise out of him, "Actually, she said she was looking for me, buddy. She says she's looking for a job," he said, noting his friend's reaction with amusement.
"Oh, really? She wants to be an ag pilot, huh? That would sure cause a stir at the state convention now wouldn't it? She'd better be single; it would drive her poor husband crazy. Then again, if some of those wives found out she was single…watch out, they would go nuts too." he added, snickering, as he pondered the possibilities with a wry grin.
Chuck smiled at the vision of Sarah at a state ag aviation association cocktail party, "I think she's single," replied Chuck scratching his chin, "At least she's not wearing a ring. Although, I can't imagine a woman that beautiful not at least having a boyfriend," he thought out loud.
"Well, maybe she's in the middle of a breakup, judging by that phone conversation," said the bearded man with a jerk of his head as he looked out the arcadia door.
Chuck looked through the glass following his friend's eyes. Sarah Walker appeared to be in the middle of a very animated and heated discussion with someone on her cell phone. She actually looked rather upset about something, and he looked away, feeling like he was intruding on something private. She was definitely very mad about something.
"Hmm, that's illuminating," he said to his computer monitor, "Note to self: Don't get on Sarah Walker's bad side."
Morgan laughed as he turned to his boss and best friend, "I don't know, I think she looks kind of cute when she's mad. Not that I think I'd be trying to push her buttons just to see her use the dark side of the force," he added thoughtfully, "She looks like she could kill someone with just a look."
Chuck looked up from his monitor to his friend, "I invited her out to the house to see dad's Super Cub. She learned how to fly in one."
"Okaaay. Will you be wearing your smoking jacket when you show it to her?" He asked with a laugh, "Seriously, pal, I'll be your wingman if you want, but I doubt I'd be much help judging by that." Morgan winced when Sarah looked up at him through the window with surprise and quickly turned her back to him. "I guess this means we're off for game night tonight, then?"
"Yeah, we'll have to frag noobs on another night, buddy. At least, assuming I still have a date," he said glancing out the window.
Morgan placed his hands on his waist and grinned at his pal, "A date, huh? Wow, it is so good to finally hear you use that word again. I'll settle for a gaming rain check any day of the week if I get to hear you use the word 'date' more often. I can't believe one of the counties most eligible bachelors hasn't even been on a date in three years."
Chuck smiled sheepishly, fidgeting in his desk chair, "Yeah, I haven't used that word in a while, have I? Sure you're okay with me going out with Shanna the She-Devil after such a long spell?"
"Dude, at this point I'd be happy if you went out with a character from the Twilight Series," Morgan replied with a grin.
The door opened and Sarah Walker peeked into the room around it, "Chuck? Can I come in? I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"C'mon in, Sarah. No, you're not interrupting anything at all, except maybe a discussion about bad vampire novels. I'd like to introduce you to my partner in crime. This is my best friend, Call of Duty squad mate, and confidant through thick and thin, Morgan Grimes," he said with obvious pride.
Morgan looked quickly back and forth between the two, shifted his Red Bull to his other hand, and wiped his hand on his jeans before reaching out to shake Sarah's from a safe distance. "Nice to meet you, Sarah, welcome to our humble abode," he stammered, gesturing to the room, "Can I get you anything? A Red Bull maybe?" He said holding up his can, "Or a beer? Soda? Water? Blood?" He winced again, seeing her reaction, and the look of horror on his friends face, "Forget about the blood, we really don't have any of that."
Sarah quickly recovered and grinned at him. Then she did something that threw both Chuck and Morgan back on their heels – she licked her lips deliciously, "Oh, I'm sure there's plenty of warm blood available if a girl wanted some, but no thank you," she said with a faint chuckle. "Nice to meet you, Morgan, I'm really not as dangerous as I look," she lied, as she gave him a disarming smile and delighted in how much of the white of his eyes was showing.
Chuck stood from his chair and walked around his desk. He looked at his friend in a way that said, 'drop it', and furiously searched for something in his mind to change the subject, but Sarah saved him by speaking first.
"So, Chuck, I cleared my calendar for the evening," she said with a wry grin realizing they had seen her heated conversation with Langston Graham through the window and deciding to use the slip up to her advantage, "I hope I didn't scare you off with that little display out there, I'm sorry about that. I don't normally allow someone to get under my skin like that, but I'm going through a bit of a rough break-up right now."
Chuck looked over at Morgan and saw "I told you!" written in his eyes. Then he thought to himself, Dammit, she's on the rebound. "Whoa, Sarah, it's alright, don't worry about it. You really don't have to share your personal life with us, you hardly know us. But I'm sorry you're going through a rough spot," he added sincerely. Why anyone would do anything to let her get that mad at him like that and leave…just stupid, he thought.
"It's okay, Chuck. It's over. It was actually over a while ago. I don't mind talking about it." In fact, I wanted you to know, she thought, thinking of the mess that Bryce had put her in. Why?
"Chuck, buddy, I think I better be going," Morgan said tactfully, "The crew is outside waiting for an answer about work in the morning. What should I tell them?"
"Tell them the usual time; 4:30. We should be done by 10:00 though, so we can plan for an early weekend. Though it'll probably be the last free weekend we have for a while."
"Sounds good, Chuckles, I'll leave the driveway gate open for you; see you at zero-dark-thirty." Morgan walked over to the hat rack grabbing his hat and then looked at Sarah as he was going out the door, "Nice to meet you, Sarah Walker. Try not to keep my friend up too late," he said with a wink.
"Well," said Chuck a little awkwardly after Morgan had left, "We have a little logistical problem. Would you like to follow me out to the house in your Porsche? That way we won't have to come back here later and you'll have your car if you need it for anything," he suggested, realizing how it made him sound a little like he was worried he would bore her or run her off.
"That sounds fine, Chuck. At the very least I'll know how to get to your house on my own, won't I?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," he answered thinking of the implications of her statement with a little bit of surprise. "Okay, my truck's parked over by the hangar. It's the copper F250 Lariat. I guess I shouldn't worry too much about losing you."
"No, I think I'll be able to keep up," she answered with a smile.
As she drove east down the road following Chuck's Ford pickup truck towards the Bartowski family farm, Sarah thought about how she could have already found her way to Chuck's house as she already had their destination selected on her GPS. Langston Graham had given her an assignment she wasn't at all pleased to have, and she wondered just what Bryce Larkin and Chuck Bartowski were up to that could have embroiled them both in a situation where 'answers at any cost' and 'sanction approval with prejudice' would be so readily given on an NSA agent and active duty member of the military, and his American civilian friend, especially one who seemed so open, and friendly, and unassuming as Chuck Bartowski. Something just didn't add up, and she was going to get to the bottom of it. And for some reason she couldn't put her finger on, she was going to give Chuck the benefit of the doubt she was feeling about what was being said about him.
A/N I wrote this self-indulgent little ditty several weeks ago to work through some writers block and as an exercise to prepare for writing an original story with an agricultural aviation theme. So now I'm working on three stories at once. If you had told me I'd be doing this three months ago I'd have told you that you were crazy.