A/N Okay, time to get this show on the road.
"What the hell was that?"
"It's not me."
"I want them out, Ellie!"
"Nothing I'm going to tell you now ever happened."
"How are you feeling, Chuck?"
"Hmm. Let's find out." Chuck lay there in bed, eyes closed, finding out. "Toes work. Ankles and knees. Body and mind seem to be holding it all together. Heart and soul…?" He hugged her gently.
"A-okay," she said, laughing.
"Well, there you go, then." He opened his eyes and looked at her. "I am as A-okay as God and my sister could make me. Which sounds kind of grotesque now that I stop to think about it–"
"Well I think Ellie did a great job."
"No more skills, no more fighting, no more blackouts–"
She snuggled up closer and kissed him into silence. "Not at all what I meant."
"Oh, I know what you meant," he said, rolling her over.
"You guys know I can hear everything you're saying, right?" said Morgan from the other side of the wall.
Sarah sighed and dropped her head to the pillow. "Much as I love his breakfasts, he's got to get his own place."
"You got that right," said Chuck, flinging back the covers. "He's my friend, not a servant. He shouldn't have to pay rent in waffles."
She sat up. "I was thinking about our sex life."
"Oh, I know what you meant," he said again, giving her one of his famous eyebrow dances.
"Hey, be careful with that!" She raised her hands and turned her head away. "Don't go making promises your best friend won't allow you to keep."
Chuck looked at her, his features firming up remarkably. "Morgan?"
"Way ahead of you there, Chuck. You guys wanted waffles?"
Morgan put a plate down in front of Sarah. "Here you go, waffle number three. Any more for you, Chuck?"
Chuck sat back. "No thanks, buddy, two's my limit on waffles." Breakfast appreciation time over, he logged on to his newsfeeds.
"Cool. I'll go put the rest of the batter in the fridge, save it for another day."
Sarah said, "Morgan."
He turned back, hesitantly.
"Take this number." She held out a sheet of paper. "It's the number of a lady I know, she rents out lots of rooms to government trainees and stuff. Her name circulates among them but you probably wouldn't have heard of her. Tell her you situation and give her my name."
His eyes lit up. "Wow, thanks, Sarah!"
"Thank you! You're a good cook but I'm gonna get fat if this keeps up."
"Hey, you hear that, buddy?" Morgan whacked Chuck on the arm. "Now that's true praise!"
Chuck looked up. "Maybe you should call Benihana, see if they have any positions out here. You did get them a lot of good press."
"Yeah, and broken windows." Morgan sagged a bit at the thought, but then stood a bit taller. "No, you're right. Gotta live the dream."
Chuck nodded. "Can't be awesome without being awesome." He went back to reading his 'feeds as Morgan went off to be awesome somewhere else. "Hey, Burbank!"
Sarah looked up from her waffle. "What about it?"
Chuck shrugged. "Nothing. I have an old filter that looks for stories from there. It popped up a story, apparently some museum in Burbank is sending a new exhibit to DC, before it even opened there."
"That's weird. Why would they do that?"
"Break-ins. The insurance people wouldn't cover the exhibit anymore, even though the hellaciously good security in the museum prevented any actual loss. So they're sending the exhibit here, some kind of inter-museum back-scratchery going on." He looked up at her. "You want to go?"
"You didn't just…" She checked to make sure that Morgan wasn't in overhearing-range.
"Not that, Sarah. You know, normal people doing normal things type of stuff. It opens tomorrow night."
"Sure, why not? It'll be interesting to see one of these things from the front for a change. Which reminds me. I've got the wardrobe for it but we'll have to rent you a tux."
Daniel Shaw turned around to find a janitor standing behind him. "Chuck? Won't you get in trouble for being seen with me?"
Chuck ducked his, looked around. "Agent Walker told you to stay away from me. She didn't say I had to stay away from you."
Shaw smiled, admiring the hair-splitting while doubting it would deflect any of Agent Walker's wrath. He made no attempt to come closer, despite his curiosity. "I think this is probably close enough, Chuck. What's on your mind?"
Chuck pulled his hand from his pocket, holding some printed pages. "Is this you?"
Shaw reached out and took the pages, unfolding them to see a copy of the museum article Chuck read that morning. He'd already read it himself. "Why would you think I had anything to do with this?"
Chuck ducked his head, swept the floor some more. "Agent Carmichael was in Burbank. You were in Burbank."
Shaw stopped smiling. "How did you know I was in Burbank, Chuck?"
Chuck flinched, even though Shaw made no move to come near him. "I didn't say anything, Agent Shaw."
"I know you didn't, Chuck. You're a good boy." Shaw waited until the familiar phrase calmed the boy down. "I was just curious how you knew."
Chuck mumbled, "The trash told me."
Shaw nodded. "Thank you for telling me, Chuck," he said, smiling again. "If the trash tells you any more things about me I hope you'll tell me what they are."
"You don't have to call me 'sir', Chuck. 'Agent Shaw' is fine, or you can even call me Daniel if you want."
"Yes sir, Agent Shaw."
Shaw sighed, slightly. "But to answer your question, no, this wasn't me." He folded the papers and handed them back, but Chuck was already moving down the hall, sweeping up the dust. Shaw took the pages back to his office, where he read them carefully, looking for anything in the story that would explain how Chuck knew he'd been there. Nothing jumped out at him. Whatever clue had jumped out at Chuck was too subtle for him to notice. He folded the pages and went to put them in the circular file.
The trash told me.
He put them in his pocket instead.
"Sarah, hi! What brings you down to nerd central?"
"You stand up straight and tall when you say that! The few, the proud, the Nerds!"
Hannah grinned, and saluted. "Yes, ma'am!"
"Ready for lunch? You do remember we had a lunch date today?"
"Oh, yes, and believe me, after upgrading the encryption programs on all these watches I am ready for some sunshine and a friendly face. But I also don't want to have any more of these damn things to come back to after said lunch."
There were only a couple left. Sarah perched herself on a stool to wait. "Just the nagging certainty of getting stuck with some other miserable, low-man-on-the-totem-pole drudge work after that."
"Hey, I can't expect to just waltz into Digital Dave's batcave, and three times the work for twice the pay. I have to work at it!"
"Tell me that sound didn't just come out of your mouth," said Hannah. "You're a super-spy, so act like one."
Sarah grinned, and saluted. "Yes, ma'am!"
"Ah, done, finally! I can't wait until they let me work on the Geiger counters or something sexy like that." She hopped off her stool and put on her coat.
"You wanna know something?" asked Sarah. "I've never needed a Geiger counter or a band saw, but my encrypted watch has saved my life more often than I like to admit. You want to do these guys a favor, figure out a way to hide a razor blade where the bad guys won't immediately find it."
"A razor blade? That sounds so basic. I can't imagine they'd do much with it."
Sarah smiled. "You'd be surprised."
"Not knowing you, I wouldn't be. But we're going to lunch, and we've got much better things to talk about than work. How's the wedding planning going? Have you told your husband yet? And isn't that a strange question?"
Daniel Shaw put the phone down. All the work he'd done to get the Mask of Alexander exhibit sent to his carefully hand-picked museum, and they couldn't accept it. Now a cultural museum he had never heard of was rubbing its hands with glee over their good fortune, while he had to figure out ways to break into and out of the place.
At least their security wasn't likely to be as high-grade as the last place. If he hadn't been carrying an oxygen canister it would have killed him, and he still didn't manage to make the switch. All he could do was get hold of the building plans from the Hall of Records and find a bit of reconstruction that hadn't been carried out as carefully as it ought to have been.
Chuck's phone rang, and he moved into a janitor's closet to answer it. "Hey, what's up, Morgan?"
"Chuck, you and Sarah are lifesavers, man. I'd kiss your feet except that you're not here, and it's really kind of gross anyway. Well, your feet would be, and I guess you'd kill me if I tried to–"
"Cut to the chase, Morgan, I'm on the clock here."
"That lady Sarah sent me to, Mrs. Pendergast. It turns out she's got a B&B, and she said I could stay there for a reduced rent if I'd be her breakfast chef."
"So you're paying her in waffles?"
"Well, yeah, and money too, because I'm not a full-time guy. But I did what you said and called my old boss. He's got a friend here in DC, so I called and I have an interview tomorrow. Is that great or what?"
"I'm proud of you, buddy. Live that dream!"
"Anyway, I still have some money from that plane ticket I cashed in, I was wondering if maybe you and Sarah would like to go out to dinner with me, sort of semi-my treat-ish, you know?"
"Yeah, Morgan, I know. Let me talk to Sarah, see what plans she's got, if any."
"Cool. Uh, you know any good places to eat around here?"
Daniel Shaw slipped from shadow to shadow, approaching the museum. Once a house, it had been extensively modified and enlarged over the last hundred years, and now housed an extensive collection of Byzantine art, which is where the exhibit would almost certainly be. Fortunately the architects had been men of standing and had filed their designs appropriately, where he could access them and find a weak point. Unfortunately he found that weak point in the rear of the other wing, and would have to cross half the house to make the switch.
He had to do it tonight. The Ring wanted the display too, but they were far less likely to take a chance on the security than he was. They had gotten where they were by stealth, forcing their ambition to creep rather than soar. They would infiltrate the audience and scope out the display area before staging their own theft. That delay was his only hope.
He fired a piton into the brickwork of the chimney and quickly scaled the attached cable to reach the roof, where he pulled up the cable and attached a small charge to the piton. His goggles revealed no trace of lasers or other active sensors, as he expected, so he stowed them and allowed his eyes to get used to the dark. He was going to have to check for passive obstacles, tripwires and such. Slower going, but not too slow.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of creeping across the roof, he reached his goal. The small chimney flue was nowhere near large enough for a man of his size, but in houses like this, where there's a kitchen there's a dumbwaiter. If his research was correct, the shaft for the dumbwaiter was co-opted for the ventilation system, but the upper parts should be merely closed off.
"It's about time you got here, Agent Shaw."
Shaw lifted his head, flicked the light automatically in the direction of the voice.
"Don't do that," said the same voice from a different direction. "No need to blow both our covers."
Shaw turned to the new direction, his slightly light-blinded eyes making out a shape in the shadows of the air handler room. "Who are you?"
"My name is Carmichael, Agent Shaw. Charles Carmichael."
A/N2 There really is a museum and cultural center in the DC area for Byzantine and pre-Colombian art, called Dumbarton Oaks. That's all I know about it. Well, maybe not all, but all I'm going to say in this story. Comments welcome as always.