Chuck vs the Lost Memories

Test Balloon

Casey made a few calls after he finished with Alex. An old Interpol buddy of his would accompany the Berlin police to check out the area near the bakery. Jeff and Lester were to be arrested and roughed up a bit, and then left in a holding cell or interrogation room until he could get there tomorrow morning. Everyone was to feign ignorance of English. He wanted the numbnuts to sweat it out.

His friend mentioned that their manager, Dieter Schmidt, had quite a reputation for cheating large sums of money from foreign talent. No doubt Jeffster made a very easy target in that respect. While Casey didn't think the musical morons really worked hard enough to deserve to be rich, they would need money to pay fines, mollify their assault victim, and buy plane tickets. So he asked his Interpol friend do a little leaning on this Schmidt guy to make him cough up whatever rightly belonged to the idiots.

When he'd done all he could do until morning, he plugged his phone into the charger. Gertrude had been trying to pile on the sex appeal all night, but he didn't like the way she'd been dodging his legitimate questions about her business clients all through dinner. Now he had a bad feeling about the missing texts. He didn't have enough facts to confront her yet, but he certainly didn't feel amorous. He returned to the living room where Gertrude waited.

"Everything all right?" she asked. As well she should. He hadn't ever made nighttime calls without her in the same room.

"Just a little trouble back home."

"Oh please don't tell me the Bartowskis are begging you to come back already and prop up their dying business."

And so what if they were? Chuck and Sarah would drop anything, fly anywhere, and do anything he needed if he asked them. They'd risked treason charges and death before on his account. Did she really have no concept of loyalty outside of this strange physical possessiveness thing she was calling a relationship? Possessiveness. That's when it hit him, hard. She was using him—for sex mostly, but also for her amusement. She enjoyed watching him squirm when she embarrassed him in public. She reveled in asserting herself over him for petty reasons because she found it entertaining.

The revelation stunned him so much, he didn't know what to do. He was supposed to be the predator, stalking his prey, dammit! Hell, Gertrude didn't even consider him prey. She had made him her pet. How had he let this go on? How had he not seen it before?

He knew he was taking too long to reply to her little jab. He would claim distraction over the "little trouble" to excuse his delay. He returned his gaze to her face, using all his training to hold back the flood of rage and confusion, at least until after his planned experiment yielded the evidence he suspected it would. "No, nothing like that, but I need to go to Berlin tomorrow. You didn't need me, did you?"

She arose from her chair, closed the gap between them, and pressed her entire body against his. Her breath warm against his neck, she spoke in a husky, seductive tone. "I always need you, John." Her hands slid down the small of his back to alight on his butt cheeks, where she applied gentle pressure, pulling him in.

Dammit, why did she still ignite his fire? He imagined her talking to him like a dog: Up, John. Good boy. It made him seethe that any part of him would respond to that. He wanted nothing more at that moment but to tranq her, run out to a bar, have a stiff drink or two, and give his man-parts a serious rebuke for betraying him like this. "G-Gertrude? I m-meant, did you need me for work? In the morning?"

Why was he even asking? He had every intention of going to Berlin no matter what she said. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit his job outside of the fact he was most likely breaking up with her in less than twelve hours. Truthfully, his brain wasn't working so well at the moment, while she was pressing her very hot lady parts against him.

"You may have tomorrow off, stallion. But feel free to show your appreciation now."

Could he do it? Could he just pretend none of it mattered and indulge himself to keep her from suspecting anything? He nearly had himself convinced he could until Alex's sweet voice popped into his head and asked whether he would want her to go ahead and sleep with some guy if he treated her like Gertrude treated him.

No. He wouldn't want Alex to do that and he'd be a hypocrite to say it made any difference because he was male or this was work. Gertrude wasn't a KGB agent he needed to seduce to maintain national security. This was a personal relationship and he had standards. He wasn't some freelove hippy with no self-control. He was a Marine and a highly trained NSA officer.

He kissed Gertrude on the cheek. "Sorry, sexy. Not tonight. I don't feel well." It wasn't even a lie. He felt like crap on a cracker.

Finally, she released him. "Was it something you ate? Can I get you something to settle your stomach?"

He had to admit that sounded caring. Maybe he was just imagining the sex object thing. He was so damned confused right now. He almost consented to taking some Alka-Seltzer or Pepto, but he suddenly didn't trust anything she might bring him. He needed to be awake at 0400, so he couldn't risk her slipping him a sleeper. Good god, what would she do to him asleep anyway?

"No. I've got some antacid. I'll be fine." He started unbuttoning his shirt as he turned back to the bedroom.

She sighed, following him. "All right. Do you need a company car tomorrow?"

"It's not company business. It's personal."

"Then how about I lend you my personal car?"

It was likely she would retract the offer after the dumping. But for now, there was no point in rejecting it. "Thanks."

She pulled a key from her purse and dangled it in front of him. Casey placed one hand over his upset stomach and accepted the key with the other hand. He kissed her on the lips this time, but made sure it was nothing more than a quick peck.

He dropped the key on the nightstand by his phone and fished out the Tums from his duffel. He knew the sick he felt wasn't heartburn, not the kind that responded to antacids, anyway. Still, for the sake of the ruse and because it couldn't make him feel any worse, he freed three tablets and chewed them up.

He hopped into the shower and let the water run cold over him before warming it up so it wouldn't be so obvious what he'd done. After showering, he excused himself to bed. Thankfully, Gertrude didn't join him right away. It sounded like she was making Verbanski Corp calls to the states. It was still business hours back home.

For a while, he tried to listen to Gertrude's side of the conversations while simultaneously sorting through the emotional cocktail agitating around in his head. Neither endeavor was working very well and it only made the knot in his gut bigger. He was relieved when she finally came to bed.

"You feeling any better?" she asked.

He grunted a response. If she had paid any attention to him at all, she would take that as a no.

He allowed himself to fall asleep before she did. He had enlisted Grimes to use Alex's phone to send a text at precisely 0400, his time. It was just supposed to say How do you feel about raisins in your oatmeal? Love, Alex. Innocuous. Completely non-urgent. The perfect test balloon for his theory.

It was 0348 when he opened his eyes. The rate of Gertrude's breathing indicated she was deeply asleep. He didn't move anything except his eyelids for twelve full minutes. At 0400, his phone did nothing, but on Gertrude's nightstand,her phone blinked a silent incoming text alert. The light wasn't bright. He wouldn't have seen it at all if the room had been lit or he hadn't been specifically looking for it. But there it was: Gertrude had hijacked his phone.

He slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to her nightstand. He wasn't particularly stealthy about it. Since he couldn't shoot her or blow up the apartment, he hoped she would wake up and make some lame excuse so he could verbally lambast her. Maybe that would help the knot in his gut.

He tilted her phone to look at the display. The text from Alex's number was right there, plain as day. Gertrude grabbed his wrist. "Let me explain."

"Let go of me, Gertrude." He kept his voice low and menacing, almost a whisper.

"You got everything important. I swear."

"Important? Who are you to decide what's important between me and my daughter?"

"I thought I was your girlfriend—your lover."

"You might have been if you hadn't pulled this stunt." There really was no point to discussing the fact she'd treated him like her pet. She'd probably be proud of it. Hijacking his calls trumped everything else and it was the deal-breaker.

"Just how many times a day does a grown woman need to interrupt her father from the other side of the globe to discuss stupid little trees?"

Alex had asked about bonsai? He hadn't seen a single mention of it. He gritted his teeth and answered her through the clench, "As many damn times as she wants, or until I stop her. You had no right."

"How do you think it made me feel to have to compete with a pretty young thing who can do no wrong in your eyes?"

"Compete? She's my daughter, dammit! You knew about her before we ever got together."

"Yes, and I thought you were putting some distance between yourself and her for a reason. I thought you wanted to be with me."

"I did. My mistake." He pulled the back panel off her phone, breaking the casing. She was lucky he wasn't using it for target practice. He found the chip that she had used to commandeer his signal and yanked it out. He dropped what remained of her phone on the bed. "Sorry about that," he lied. "Take it out of my final paycheck when you mail it to Burbank. I quit."

"Come on, John. I admit I was out of line. Can't we talk about this?"

He leaned over the bed, close to her face. "I'm done trying to talk to you. You don't listen to me. You don't respect me."

"I respect you!"

Sure, when he was telling her where to set up the sniper rifle. "You don't know the meaning of the word, sweetheart. Find someone else to be your boy toy. I'm out of here."

Luckily, almost everything was already packed in his duffel, because he always kept it ready to go at a moment's notice. He turned on the light in the bathroom to make sure he hadn't missed anything, because he damn well wasn't coming back.

He didn't touch the car key she'd given him the night before. He'd get a cab or take a bus. He dressed quickly, zipped up his duffel, shut off the lights, and walked out into the cold and dark of the Dresden pre-dawn. He had to hand it to Verbanski for one thing: she didn't cry or beg. She let him go without a single girly manipulation tactic.

It was over. He'd told her off and he got out with his dignity. Why then, did he still feel like crap?

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