Ethan opened the hotel door and held it for her. She walked in and kicked off her shoes. He stared at her feet. “I’m exhausted,” she proclaimed loudly with an audible yawn at the end, but rather than looking exhausted she reached into her bag, pulled out a laptop, and put it on the bed.
It was Ethan’s turn to say something. “I’m still…antsy from that competition. I can’t believe I did that badly.”
“Oh, Eth, you did great. And everyone has off days,” she said sweetly and tossed him the TV remote with a pointed look.
“I don’t know. Listen, Kath, will it bug you too much if I watch a little TV before I go to sleep?” he asked, knowing just what she was thinking. These pretend conversations for the sake of whoever was on the other end of those bugs were annoying, but she was good at them.
“I think I could sleep through a tornado. Go ahead,” she exclaimed, and Ethan did not miss the Kansas appropriate reference. She disappeared into the bathroom and Ethan flipped the TV on and turned the sound up loudly. He glanced at the bathroom door before quickly slipping out of his military uniform and into his nightwear—black long sleeve t-shirt and black athletic pants. He was hanging up the uniform when she came back out. She studied him and he was more aware than usual of the snugness of his shirt. The girl—he just couldn’t think of her as Kathleen—also had chosen all black for the night hours. She wore a black tank top and yoga pants. Her hair was pulled into a sloppy ponytail. Ethan realized she was thinner than he had first thought, but not as weak. He was staring. She smiled just barely, only the right side of her mouth turned up, and climbed on the bed.
“Is the TV too loud?” he asked.
“Maybe just a little?” she murmured and he had to look over to make sure she wasn’t sleeping, but she was rapidly opening files. He pushed the volume down button exactly three times.
“Good night, Mrs. James,” he said.
“’Night,” she answered sleepily, and they were done with the act.
“What are you doing?” he whispered, leaning over to see the computer screen. She was pulling up an extraordinary number of photographs from the competition. He only remembered her taking three or four, but she had a couple dozen.
“I couldn’t get as many as I wanted without looking suspicious,” she responded with an equally quiet whisper. “But there is something going on with the targets.”
“We know they were rigged.”
She nodded. “I took as many pictures as possible, but I might need your memory to fill in some of the blanks.” She began creating an image of a blank target.
“You think there is some clue actually on the targets?” he asked, moving closer so they could stay as quiet as possible.
“Do you have any other ideas?”
He didn’t. Instead of responding he started making lists of the other conference attendees on his phone.
“What’s that?” she asked, leaning over to inspect his list.
“I watched everyone to see how they would react to the rigged targets,” Ethan explained. “I’m making a list of the people who seemed to notice, and who didn’t.”
“What are these?” she asked pointing to the numbers he had following a couple of the names.
“How many times they left the range and when,” Ethan said. He was afraid she might question why he was doing the lists, but she just nodded. He added a few more names, conscious of her watching him.
“Which list are we on?” she asked.
He looked up at her and pointed to the list of the people who had seemed clueless. “Hopefully this one.”
She turned back to her computer, but it had him thinking. Maybe he needed three lists. The two he already had would be the most obvious people, but there would be others in the middle, who didn’t over react, but did notice. The lists wouldn’t be perfect, but he realized that the most dangerous competitors were the ones he couldn’t easily categorize.
They worked mostly in silence, sitting up in the bed, so close their arms brushed each other. The basketball game Ethan had first turned on the TV ended, and a sports newscast started. After making his list from memory, and switching a few names, he pulled out the conference paperwork that they had been given that they had not had a chance to study yet. There could be clues hidden in its pages.
“Hey, I need your help,” she whispered as he studied the itinerary trying to deduce anything that could lead them to the information.
He looked up, bleary eyed. It was late. The newscast had ended and he was pretty sure the game on was a re-run from a previous year. Her computer screen looked like one of those terrible optical illusions that make you dizzy. “That’s a lot of targets.”
“There were seven targets at the range, and five rounds in the competition, so a total of 35 targets,” she explained, still whispering. “I have input the shots I picked up on my camera, and some from memory as well. I need to know if you remember any of these.” She pointed to the targets she had outlined in red. About two-thirds of the diagram was already full.
Ethan studied it for a moment to make sure he understood. He pointed to a target at the top, second from the right. “This is yours?” She nodded. He thought back. She didn’t have the three furthest targets from the first round filled in at all. These would have been hit before they realized the game was rigged. He pointed to the target on the top row, far left. “This one is a wife…Strauss. A contractor. She got really excited after a shot…second one I think. I watched her other shots and she had no technique. The last three hit around the edges of the target…” he thought about it, trying to bring the image back up in his mind. “Two on the bottom right, one on the far corner.”
Kathleen James input the shots he’d remembered. “Like this?”
He studied it. “Move that one over, right on the edge, halfway off.”
She moved it and he nodded, satisfied. “What about the good shot? Was it a bullseye?”
“Not quite. Right above the bullseye,” he answered.
“Do you remember where her first shot was?” she asked. It wasn’t coming to him. He shook his head. “It may have been off the target. There were a few of those. “What else to you remember?”
Ethan went through each of the rounds and filled in what he could. When he searched through his memory he added quite a few shots, and corrected one of the marks she had done. Considering his focus had been on the people and not the targets, he thought it was a pretty good effort. They had managed to reconstruct about 90% of the shots taken. When he had done all he could, she pushed the computer off her lap and stretched.
“You done for the night?” he asked.
She smiled wryly. “Just getting started. Now I have to figure out what it means. How are your lists?”
He showed her the names and notes. She bit her lip as she studied it in silence. “Where did you put the Durrants?”
“Over here.” He pointed to the “ignorant list”: the people who seemed clueless to the whole thing.
“I’d move them here,” she commented, pointing to the “dangerous list”, the one in the middle with the people he wasn’t sure about.
“You think they knew?” he asked in surprise. The Durrants had not seemed at all tense during the evening.
“I can’t be sure. If they knew, they figured it out quickly and they hid it well,” she answered. Ethan moved their names. “We should probably turn the TV off. It’s getting late.”
“We won’t be able to talk.”
She shrugged. “You should get some rest anyway. I’ll just work on this a little longer.”
Ethan felt like maybe he should offer to be the one who stayed up later, but he didn’t know what she was looking for, and he was exhausted, so he went to use the restroom. While brushing his teeth he wondered where exactly he should sleep. Ethan had never had someone to teach him what proper protocol in a situation like this would be, but he’d been working long enough to know that many (most?) agents would not hesitate to…consummate the fake marriage. But even if she wasn’t staying up later than him, he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Although the girl—whatever her name—had been flawless as his wife in public, once they entered the room, she was coolly professional. So much so, that Ethan was beginning to regret that kiss earlier in the day. Sure, it had mostly been for whoever was listening in on the bugs in their room, but after a day with her, he knew she would have faked it some other way. He put that out of his mind. There had never been a time in his life when he had the luxury of agonizing over past choices. And it hadn’t been a bad kiss.
Back in the main room, Ethan paused next to the bed. She was intently focused on the computer screen which was the only light left in the room. It made her face glow eerily. “I’ll wake you up if anything happens,” she whispered, without turning her head.
Ethan grabbed the TV remote. “I’ll sleep on the couch,” he whispered and flipped the TV to off. At his words she turned to look at him, surprise written on her face. He briefly wondered if he had misinterpreted his partner, but there was no disappointment mixed in. If anything, she looked grateful. She smiled slightly. Ethan grabbed a pillow from the bed and the extra blanket that was on the shelf of the closet and laid down on the couch.
It was just about the right length—for a twelve year old version of himself. But Ethan had slept in many places worse than this. When he closed his eyes on the bluish glow of the hotel room, he knew it would not take long to fall asleep.