He stood in the airport with a view of the baggage claim area and the arriving passengers. The flight she was on had just switched from “on time” to “landed”. He silently cursed the person who decided he should meet his so-called wife in a public airport without even giving him a picture of what she looked like, not even a vague description. She could be anyone. He couldn’t believe they expected him to work like this.
Okay, so she couldn’t be anyone. She would be female, so that eliminated half the airport population, and she’d be in her twenties (he hoped), so that eliminated another big chunk. But it was spring break, and so the number of twenty something females passing through the airport was elevated above normal. She wouldn’t look like a spring-breaker. Hopefully.
Ethan looked over at the baggage carousel as it creaked to life. If her bag—blue, soft-sided—came out before she did, he could retrieve it and wait for her to find him from the bag. He kept his head down on his phone while he let his eyes roam. That way, if it wasn’t obvious who she was, he could always pretend he’d been distracted by the phone and hadn’t see her. It wasn’t ideal, but…
Maybe they weren’t being watched yet. That would be even more ideal, although Ethan knew he couldn’t count on it. The whole mission would be blown if they messed up this introduction.
What else could he surmise about his wife? He had requested—demanded—that she be an agent, not some actress or escort or something. Fortunately, this one time, they had agreed, a sign of the importance of the mission. Ethan felt the familiar pressure on him. Lives were at stake. It was important to make this work. So she was an agent. He had not encountered many female agents, but the ones he knew were severe. They always wore black, or if required, another dark color. Their hair was pulled tight behind their heads, and their eyes were constantly shifting. They never smiled, and they usually looked like they were ready to slit your throat. Of course, this wasn’t the type of mission where you were sneaking into a foreign warehouse and installing hidden cameras, so his previous experience may not apply.
The flow of new arrivals increased, and Ethan kept his eyes peeled. Was there any possibility that she knew what he looked like? If so, hopefully she’d make herself known quickly. Ethan didn’t like working with other people for exactly this reason. She could be an expert, but there was a greater chance that she wasn’t. He hated depending on other people to get a job done. Other people always made mistakes. Although he saw the logic in having a wife to solidify his cover, he didn’t like it.
The flow decreased and the bags were beginning to tumble onto the carousel when the girl (woman?) in a pink blouse stepped onto the top of the escalator and let it carry her down. At first he didn’t give her a second glance. She was not the agent type, with her loose brown curls and over-sized purse. She didn’t even carry herself like an agent. She was too normal. But the girl was searching the crowd and when her eyes stopped on Ethan, her whole face changed.
Ethan had been looked at by women before. They had looked at him with derision and repulsion. They had looked at him with fear and with pain. He had even seen desire and passion in their eyes. But Ethan had never had a woman look at him as the girl in pink did now. He had thought it was impossible to fake that look, and because of this, he almost turned to see who she was favoring with a look of complete, devoted love.
“Ethan!” she called waving her hand as she reached the bottom of the escalator and hurried his way. No doubt about it, this was her. He was disconcerted by the unexpected nature of his wife, and he hesitated before he pulled a smile onto his face and took a step forward. She was almost skipping toward him and he only had to take a few steps to meet her. She stopped in front of him, smiling up at him as if—well as if she really was his new wife. He knew what he had to do.
Ethan wrapped his arms around her waist, pulled her against him and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, but pulled away sooner than he was expecting.
“You know I don’t like to do that in public, Eth,” she said softly with a genuine blush on her cheeks. She left her hands around his neck and her smile had morphed into something both shy and mischievous.
“I missed you,” Ethan responded stiffly, still off balance. In response, she stood up on her toes and kissed him again, gently. Ethan had never been kissed like that.
“Is my bag here yet?” she asked when she pulled away, and before Ethan really knew what was happening, she had her hand laced in his and was pulling him over to the baggage claim. There were more than a couple eyes watching them go. Anyone of them could be a spy. The scene they’d just enacted had been noticeable and perfect.
“I haven’t yet,” he answered honestly. They reached the baggage claim just as the blue bag appeared at the top of the carrousel. There were people crowded around and he let go of her hand to push through them and grab the bag before it circled away. She was waiting with that same smile when he pushed his way back. “You added a ribbon,” he commented, eying the pink bow on the handle that had definitely not been in the picture he had been shown.”
“It makes it easier to spot,” she said in a voice that sounded like a laugh.
“There aren’t that many blue bags,” he mumbled.
The girl laughed out right and rolled her eyes, wrapping her hand into the crook of his elbow as if this was the most natural place for it to be. “Have you been to the hotel yet?” she asked lightly. It was the first thing she said that made Ethan think she might actually be an agent. But she said it so casually, he just didn’t know.
“I checked in,” he answered. “Only had time to drop my bags in the room.” They were walking out of the building now, and she let him guide her towards the taxi stop. The driver took her bag from him and tossed it in the trunk. Ethan kept an eye on him as they climbed into the back seat.
The girl sat right next to him, her leg pressed against his. The driver started the car and pulled away from the curb and Ethan noticed his shifty eyes appearing too often in the rear-view mirror. They were not safe from observation even now. But she kept up the act so convincingly even Ethan wondered if they were really married. He had been afraid that they would have to make-out the whole way to the hotel. Not that he was complaining. She’d been a great kisser, but he had also hoped for a small reprieve from the act while they drove. The girl didn’t go in for a kiss, however. Instead she leaned her head on his shoulder and rested her hand on his leg in a position that was both more comfortable and more intimate than even their kiss had been.
“How was the hotel?” she asked softly, turning her head so that she could look up into his eyes.
He didn’t know how to respond. “Better than our honeymoon,” he said, though it came out as more of a question.
She laughed without missing a beat. “Well that’s probably a good thing.”
“I didn’t mean—“ he started.
But she interrupted him. “Ethan, it’s okay. We agreed to save our money. I was joking. Our honeymoon was amazing.” He was pretty sure the correct response to this was to kiss her but when he leaned in, she turned away and looked shyly at the driver, who, Ethan noticed, was still watching them carefully. “We’re almost to the hotel,” she whispered. “And then…” Instead of finishing she smiled that mischievous smile again.
Ethan tried to looked pleased at her wordless suggestion, but he wondered how “real” this marriage was going to get. The last thing he needed was a distraction. The girl prattled on about her flight and what she had done while they were apart (talked to her mother on the phone a lot) for the rest of the drive. Ethan filed away the over-involved mother-in-law in his mind. That tidbit of backstory might come in handy at some point.
The hotel was nothing special. It hosted conferences and conventions like this one almost every week, and catered to the business crowd: people who were charging their expenses to a large corporation. But this week the place was going to be filled with military and intelligence personnel all pretending they were simply enjoying themselves, while they quietly fought to retrieve the life-or-death information hidden somewhere around them. Everyone was a suspect. They walked passed the front desk (arms around each other) to the conference check-in table, where they verified the pre-printed conference ID’s with their records.
“Major Ethan and Ms. Kathleen James,” Ethan told the man at the desk. He put his ID down on the table and waited for the girl—Kathleen—to dig through her purse until she found hers.
“Major James,” the man said. “Glad you could come. And it’s always nice to when wives can make it.”
Kathleen James smiled warmly at the man and Ethan could see him soften under that smile. He wondered if his reaction had been as obvious. “I wouldn’t miss this,” she said.
“The meet-and-greet starts in about a half hour in the conference room down the hall,” the man said pointing. “There is an itinerary in the bag. I hope you have a good week.”
She took the bag from the man. Ethan’s hands were full, one pulling her bag and the other around her waist, and he led her to the elevators. They were on the second floor, down the hall, not far from the stairs.
Ethan had to admit he was nervous. He’d asked for an agent and she was everything every agent he’d ever met was not. She was slight—not short, but thin enough to break, and soft. Her face and hair were open and vulnerable and left him with an almost irresistible urge to protect her. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good. She was great. This girl could win every award Hollywood had to offer, but he didn’t need someone that had to be protected. He needed someone he could trust.
His doubts faded considerably the minute the door to their room shut. Immediately her face changed into something sharp and intelligent. Her eyes became frighteningly alert, and Ethan saw the agent lying underneath the blushing bride. She was about to speak when he mouthed, “Bugs.”
She stood against him and whispered so softly in his ear he almost didn’t hear it. “Cameras?”
He shook his head, no, and she pulled away from him, moving gracefully but powerfully to survey the room. “Where?” she mouthed, but he shrugged and shook his head. He didn’t know there were bugs hidden yet. She mouthed something else but he couldn’t understand so she pulled out a phone and quickly typed something, then turned it for him to see.
We need to talk.
She turned toward the bathroom. “Where are you going?” Ethan asked out loud.
“Just to the bathroom,” she said in her newlywed voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll be just a minute.” Her tone was unmistakably flirtatious. Anyone listening in would know exactly what was supposed to happen next. She disappeared into the bathroom and Ethan waited awkwardly, not exactly sure what to do with her.
She returned a moment later, pointed to her phone, to him, and then to the bed. “I’ve missed you so much, Eth,” she said and hopped on the bed. It squeaked audibly. Then she giggled, but gave him a look that was not at all new wife and was completely, get over here. He sat down on the bed. She was already typing on her phone.
“We need to disable the bugs,” she wrote.
He shook his head and started typing on his phone. “Can’t. They’ll know.”
She looked annoyed, but didn’t protest. “We have to be able to talk,” She wrote back. She was a fast typer.
He answered, “Shouldn’t be hard. Can always add noise, like the TV or shower.” She nodded. “Weapons are stashed under the bed.” He added. This new agent-like woman would want to know.
“Have you found anything yet?” she asked, which surprised him. She wasn’t really supposed to be involved with the puzzle.
“Not enough time. But we’re off to a good start. No one will doubt our story.”
She raised an eyebrow, and typed, “I guess.”
Ethan was amazed she had the gall to be critical about his performance. He’d done just fine. “If there is something I need to improve, please let me know,” he typed, frustrated by the fact that his annoyed tone wasn’t more obvious in the written words.
She smiled wryly when she read it and without a pause wrote, “Your kissing could use some work.”
He practically fell off the bed with exasperation. “I think it was plenty convincing.”
She was laughing silently at him. “It was an illicit affair kiss, not a newly married couple kiss,” she wrote.
He rolled his eyes and decided to let that go. Maybe she was right, not that he was going to admit that. “What else is our back story?” he wrote.
“Newly married from Kansas.”
“Cheap honeymoon.” She shot back.
“To where?” he typed.
She thought for a moment. “Married two months, honeymoon to Denver for skiing.”
“Skiing is expensive.”
“That’s why we only went one day.”
This girl had an answer for everything. “You will actually have to say my name at some point.” She typed in the lull.
He rolled his eyes, and moved to climb off the bed. They shouldn’t be wasting time. She grabbed his arm and held him back with surprising strength. “A new husband would still be in the bed.” She wrote. “We need to work together.”
“So you’re not going to try to do this without me?” she asked arching her eyebrow sternly.
He didn’t know what to think of this. “What do you want?” he typed.
“I want you to trust me. We’re on the same side.” He gritted his teeth. Why couldn’t they just let him work alone. But she wasn’t done. “And pretend that we’re really married. Don’t be so stiff.”
“It’s almost time to go.” He typed back, not used to criticism in his work. It’s true, most of what he did was more clandestine, but they hadn’t picked him for this mission lightly. He knew what he was doing.
She stared at him for a moment, leaning back in the bed, fully clothed and not at all blushing bride. “Ethan. It’s almost time to go,” she cooed suddenly. “Wake up, hon.” Then she looked at him pointedly.
He shook his head but mumbled something incoherent while typing, “You want me to act like we’re married, you got it.”
He showed her the words just as she said, “Eth you don’t want to be late and I don’t—“ Ethan leaned over her and kissed her so forcefully it surprised her (finally, something did). Her words were muffled then lost. And when he pulled away, she was out of breath.
“Alright, I’m up,” he said with a smile. He wandered into the bathroom. When he got back, she had typed on his phone, “Better. I’ll give that kiss an A, but only because it was a bedroom scene.” She had opened the compartment that held the weapons and he noticed the only thing missing was the knife, and an ear bud. Kathleen James was standing with her cell phone up and a hand to her ear, waving the phone slowly around.
“Are you ready to go, Mrs. James?” he asked.
She looked back at him, her face all agent, and her words all bride. “You like that too much. Maybe I shouldn’t have changed my name.”
“It suits you better than your maiden name,” he responded. She was pointing to the lamp on the desk. “Bug.” She mouthed. He nodded, surprised she had already found them. He wasn’t sure what she was doing with her phone, but it was leading her to the bugs.
“Whatever you say, Mr. James,” she said. “Now let me get ready.” She stopped by the closet, and pointed to the outlet. Another bug. Kathleen disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door. Ethan picked out a gun, modest but effective if needed, and the necessary ammunition. She was back by the time he had closed the compartment up. She had pulled her hair into a loose bun that made her neck look thin and elegant. She pulled the earpiece out and dropped it in her purse on her way over to him.
“Another one behind the bathroom mirror,” she whispered in his ear, standing as close to him as possible without actually touching.
He nodded. “You ready?” he asked.
“Let’s go,” she said, and slipped an arm into his.