Chuck was guardedly happy with the way Sarah took the news. Still, he felt more than a little déjà vu for the old days when she was just his cover girlfriend and everything about their relationship was fake. This felt more like the suburban stakeout in the creepy Ring cul-de-sac than the under-the-radar train caper where the Charleses made their debut. The only thing fake about them on that train had been the name and the accents. Oh, and the rings. They'd been so in love then. They'd spent so many days having all their meals in the sleeper car that honeymooning had been the only reasonable cover they could use.
At first, it sounded silly to use the Charleses as a cover here. Why would anyone honeymoon in Iowa? Chuck had never made up a backstory for Charlie Charles, but now he had to. What did Texans do, other than own oil fields? Cattle ranching... corn-fed beef. Corn! Yes! When they weren't using excessive PDA and cutesy endearments to keep people from getting too suspicious, they could say they were here scoping out cattle feed.
It was probably stretching credulity to think any self-respecting Texan would take his pretty little wife on a working honeymoon. It wasn't even likely cattle ranchers went out to the corn fields to shop for feed in the first place. He'd have to be crazy, eccentric, and obsessed, all at the same time, to have any chance at pulling this off.
But, since he didn't have any better ideas, he was content to stick with Sarah's. Maybe pretending to be the Charleses would jog a memory. Of all the ones he'd want her to remember, that train ride was pretty close to the top, right after their wedding and the real honeymoon.
Arm in arm, they traversed the airport, exchanging whispered information with pasted-on expressions completely mismatched to their words.
Sarah batted her lashes playfully. "I got word just before you landed that Rodriguez was spotted entering the Des Moines city limits. Do you have any idea why he'd go to a city?"
Chuck smiled and winked in return. "Not a clue. The Intersect just said Project Locust would initiate somewhere in Iowa. It didn't give GPS coordinates. Has anyone seen the suitcase yet?"
"No. The USDA did a routine border check on the pickup, and the CIA scanned it with x-rays while the agriculture guys acted all worried about fruit flies and boll weevils. No suitcase. Funny, if they had found an undeclared bag of apples, we could have detained him."
Chuck did a pretty fair lovey-dovey smile with accompanying googly eyes. "We could have arrested him for kidnapping too, but throwing him in the slammer does us no good if we don't find those nanobots."
"Right." Sarah sounded impressed Chuck figured that out. "So if I was the bio-terrorist, how would I do this?"
"Pick a field. Stop on a deserted road, open the case, and dump the nanobots out. That's it." Even considering Rodriguez didn't have the case at the moment, Chuck still had the feeling they were missing something.
"Then how do we know they haven't already done it?" Sarah stopped in her tracks, no doubt thinking the same thing as he was: Already too late. "No," she said firmly. "He would be leaving the country, not loitering around Des Moines."
"Which brings us back to why he'd be in a city when the corn is out on the farms."
"He knows we're on to him." Her voice evinced no doubt.
"How do you know?"
"Think about it. Why else would he ditch the suitcase? Why is he in the city?"
The clues were coalescing for him now. One truck out in the middle of nowhere would draw attention. "He knows we're watching all the corn fields." But the whole point to the superfungus was getting it to the corn.
A large electronic billboard in the terminal changed from an advertisement for rental cars to a touristy-looking outdoor festival, the 133rd Annual Husker Hoedown. Clean-cut folks who looked like they worked for Disney were enjoying hayrides, pumpkin carving, square dancing, lamb and piglet petting corrals, and fair-type food. A text ticker ran across the bottom to list events not in the picture, like the pie eating contest, giant corn maze, 101 scarecrows display, tractor pulls, jug band performances, and the crowning of this year's Corn Princess. Starting tomorrow. Outskirts of town, on a huge farm owned by a town benefactor of some sort. A corn farm.
Chuck and Sarah exchanged glances. He could see in her eyes she was thinking the same thing he was: what a perfect place to ditch any tails, hide in the crowd, and get right inside a cornfield without detection. "If I were a bio-terrorist,that's where I'd make my move," Chuck said.
Sarah batted her lashes again. "Hey, Tiger, I been hankerin' for a romantic hayride. Whatd'ya say?"
"Well, all right, Honeybunch, but we best keep you away from the Corn Princess pageant, or they'll be begging you to take the crown."
Sarah readied her phone to take a picture of the ad so they would have all the information. Morgan could look up the dedicated website and hopefully get maps of the grounds. The billboard morphed to a hotel ad before Sarah was ready. They would have to wait for the ad to cycle back. So, to hide the fact they were standing smack in the middle of the terminal, Sarah planted a long kiss on Chuck.
She whispered in his ear, "Tell me when the screen is back and help me turn around."
Chuck did a little fake pleasure moaning for some passers-by (not that he had to fake much), then he kissed her neck, still watching the billboard. Sarah faked some ditzy giggles in response to him touching places he knew she wasn't ticklish. He gently swerved her around just as the rental car ad was fading out.
The camera shutter whirred three times. Sarah whispered, "Perfect. Thanks."
He kissed the tip of her nose. "My pleasure, Mrs. Charles."
They chose their hotel by its proximity to the upcoming Hoedown and the fact it had a shuttle that would pick them up at the airport. No need to rent a car. They didn't trust the shuttle passengers or the driver, but they used the ride to update Morgan without speaking.
Sarah sent the pics while Chuck texted an abbreviated version of their speculation. Other spies were tracking Rodriguez and would let them know whether he was headed into the Hoedown. Chuck and Sarah could take over surveillance inside the festival and the terrorist would think he shook his tail. With any luck, that would make him drop his guard long enough to reveal the whereabouts of the nanobots.
Morgan liked it. Ten minutes later, he had run it by Beckman and had it approved. He was already in Castle, studying every inch of the festival grounds and running background checks on jug band members and Corn Princess judges.
Field operatives reported Rodriguez checked into a hotel not far from Chuck and Sarah's. Although it was tempting to go check him out personally, they resisted so they wouldn't look familiar at the Hoedown. Assuming their wild guess was even right and Rodriguez would show up there. If that suitcase surfaced anywhere else in the state, they could get a call at 2 AM and agents would pop out of the woodwork, like Buy More shoppers on Black Friday.
Evidently, Hoedown weekend was a big deal in Des Moines and the hotel was very full. The Charleses couldn't have the honeymoon suite, so they had to make-do with a room with two queen-sized beds. Their bed at home was the same size, yet after Chuck slipped under the covers, Sarah chose the untouched bed for herself.
Besides the fact it killed him inside to have her so close, yet not even want to cuddle, he didn't think it looked right. "What about our cover? Honeymoon, remember?"
"The door's locked, Chuck. Who would see?"
"I miss you, Sarah. Would it really be so bad share the bed with me?" Half an hour ago, they were making out in a public airport.
"I thought this would be easier for you. I don't want to send you mixed signals when we're not working."
"We slept in the same bed when I still lived with my sister and you were just my cover girlfriend. Nothing happened. I was a perfect gentleman." He held up two fingers in the 'scout's honor' pose.
She looked into his eyes. "Is that what you want? You want me to lie down next to you, so you can hear me breathe, forcing you to resist the urge to touch me because I hardly know you?"
Oh yeah. He'd forgotten how hard it had been, and that was before there had even been real love on her part, before he had any idea what he was missing. "No, I..." His mouth stopped working. He wanted to say, I wish you'd remember enough to feel safe. I wish you'd remember enough to let me hold you tight. But wishing was selfish. He'd sworn he was going to give her time and not push her. He let the sentence drop.
"I'm sorry, Chuck. I thought you knew all the honeymoon stuff was an act for our cover."
"I did. I guess I just thought you picked that cover because you were starting to remember me more. I thought I might not be so... repulsive any more."
"You're not repulsive!" She sighed. "I picked that cover because my ditzy drunk act is disarming. And Texas is close enough that it's not unreasonable for Texans to be here."
"I know. I know. And you shouldn't have to apologize for great acting. Just forget I said anything."
She came over, kissed his cheek and whispered, "Good night, Chuck."
"Good night, Sarah. I love you."
She didn't answer. The lights went out. He may have shed a few tears into hotel linens before sleep took over.