Winds of Change

Part 13

It was long past dark as Dar piloted the boat back into the harbor, the engines rumbling softly as she made her way between the lines of yachts to either side. 

There were a few people still out on the piers, some coiling up hoses, others moving boxes of supplies from the land onto the boats, and there was a cascade of light but curiously musical clanking of the riggings as the boats moved slightly on the tide.

Their slip was one of the outer ones, and Dar had no problem maneuvering the boat into it, cutting the engines and sliding in a little sideways as they eased against the bumpers and Kerry hopped off to tie them up.

It was quiet once she shut power down,  the soft creak of the wooden pilings and the scuff of Kerry’s footsteps sounding loud and distinct.    Dar relaxed a moment, flexing her hands out and letting them rest on her thighs before she got up from the console and turned to head down the ladder.

At the top of it she paused, hearing her pocketed cell phone start to ring. She pulled it out and answered it. “Hello?”

“Hello, Dar?”

She hesitated. “Yes… Jacques?”

There was a faint sigh on the other end. “Yes, it is me.  May we speak for a moment?”

Dar went back over to the console and sat down. “Sure.”  She said. “So long as you’re not calling me to threaten me with a lawsuit, in which case I”ll give you my lawer’s number or call me an asshole.”

Jacques chuckled briefly.  “No, it is neither.  Though I am sure you know my colleagues wish nothing better than to try and throw some legal trouble your way.”

“Nice thanks for a job well done.” Dar remarked dryly. “Hope they all step off a cliff and croak.”

He sighed again. “Let us put that aside for a time as at this moment there are other things occupying their attention. I suppose you know what is going on?”

Dar leaned back and considered.  “Yes.” She said, briefly. “I know what’s going on. But if you’re wondering if I had anything to do with it the answer is no.”

“No, we know that.” Jacques responded, surprisingly.  “If that was the case, so much as I respect you there would already be legal filings in process. You understand?”

“Sure.” 

“So there has been an investigation, yes?  In no way was it found out that you had any part in this massive failure.”  He said. “In that, you did not participate,  that is what is understood. “

Kerry climbed up onto the flying bridge and paused, looking questioningly at her. “Trouble?”

Dar shrugged.  “Jacques.” She mouthed silently.

Kerry rolled her eyes. “Going to take the dogs in and get dinner.”   She patted Dar’s leg and retreated down the steps again.

“Okay, so why the phone call then?” Dar asked. “Jacques, honestly, I’m sorry someone screwed things up so colossally,  no one wanted that.”

“Yes, I knew you would think so.” Jacques said. “The mistake that was made, was underestimating your influence.  So let me ask you a few questions if I may do so?”

“Sure.”

Jacques paused to compose himself. “This thing that went wrong, do you think it was a thing done on purpose?”

Dar’s brows contracted a little. “Not sure what you mean.” She said. “If someone went in and made changes, sure that was on purpose. It’s very hard to accidentally log yourself into a device and type things into it. “

“No, no, yes I understand that the action was purposeful.” Jacques said. “But do you think that the intent, the changes being made, were done on purpose to cause us harm?”

Oh. Completely different question. “Ah. You mean, was the change done to screw things up on  purpose?”

“Yes.”

“Have no clue.” Dar said, honestly. “From what I heard, it was done to put someone’s mark up. You know what that means?”

“Not so much.”

Dar considered. “There’s a lot of me in those systems.” She clarified. “Seemed to me like someone wanted to take that out and put their own stamp on it.”

“Ah.”

“So, was it done on purpose? Sure. But was it done maliciously?” Dar shrugged. “I don’t know the guy and I don’t want to guess at his motives.  Seems like a stupid, and very public screw up though.”

Jacques considered that in silence for a moment. “The investigation, it was just finished earlier and the report I was given said there was bad intent in the action.”

Dar folded her arms and leaned back against the console. “Making the change I could believe was honest desire to take my rep down.” She said. “But making it impossible to go back? Either that was ego way larger than mine, Jacques, or.. yeah, maybe there was something behind it.”

Jacques grunted softly.

He was one of the few board members Dar liked.  She had developed a respect for his practicality, and what she’d felt was an honest desire to simply attend to business, caring more about share value and making money than any politics behind it.

“What are you going to do, Jacques?” Dar asked, after a long silence.

“I have taken the chairman’s slot, yes?”  He said. “After some contention.”

Dar could only imagine that. Jacques had been one of Alastair’s biggest allies on the board.  “Would have liked to have seen that dogfight.”

He chuckled dryly again.  “I believe you can fix this problem, yes? “

“Probably. But I’m not going to.” Dar responded, a little surprised to hear herself say the words. “That would be bad for both of us.”

“Yes, exactly so.” He agreed in a mild tone. “I had no intention of asking you to do so. Which I would think maybe surprises you?”

“Depends on how desperate I think you are.” Now it was Dar’s turn to chuckle a little. “C’mon, Jacques. You didn’t call me just to pass the time of day.”

He cleared his throat. “To be sure, I did call just to advise you of my new position.” He said, in a careful tone. “And also, to see if you would speak with me and not just hang up the telephone.”

“I would never do that Jacques. You were always fair with me.” Dar said. “I’m glad you took charge. You’ve got an even hand and you’ve been in the mix a long time.” She pushed off the console and went to the rail, looking out over the harbor.

“You were very close with Alastair.” Jacques said. “He continually defended you, and that’s what was the reason for his leaving. “

“And Hamilton’s I’m guessing.” Dar said.

“Now that is an interesting story. Hamilton was let go yes, because he refused to follow the board’s directions.  But… “ Jacques paused. “He is also a large stockholder, and threatened to bring suit against the board if they brought suit against you.”

Dar was charmed. “Good for him.”

“So this brings me to the real reason for this conversation.”  Jacques said. “I would like to ask you for your opinion.  I would like you tell me, Dar, what you would do if you were in my position, to resolve all these difficulties.”

“Huh.”

“We have many people who have left. We have systems that are not doing well. We have customers who are very upset at is, and contracts at risk.  What would you do to resolve that?”

Dar was silent for a few minutes, thinking.  “You need those people who left more than you need anyone’s egos, or to save face.” She said, finally.  “You’ll never get them back if you keep your new guys. Get rid of them, and call the people who walked out and ask them to come back. Including Hamilton.”

“It would be very difficult for me to get the backing enough to do that.” Jacques sounded regretful. “There is quite a lot of pride involved.”

“Money trumps pride.” Dar said, bluntly. “They want to lose money?  They keep going down this route you’ll lose everything.  One of your customers has already called me and said they were thinking of terminating your contracts.”

“Do they want to offer them to you?”

“Yes, but I don’t want them. It’s not the direction I want my new company to go.” Dar told him honestly. “I would rather you repair that relationship and keep them.”

Jacques sighed. “Your opinion in fact walks side by side with mine.  I just do not know that I can make this collection of people on the board go along with it. “ He said. “Dar, I thank you for taking your time on this Saturday night to speak with me.  I wish you good luck with your new enterprise, though it seems to me you don’t need it as you are doing quite well.”

“We are.” Dar said. “At the rate we’re going, we’re going to be able to hire all the people who walked out on you so if you’re smart, get those board asses turned around before you lose the chance to make things right.”

He chuckled softly. “Do you need an investor?”

“When we’re ready for that, I know who to call.” Dar replied,. “Gotta go. I just parked my boat and it’s getting nippy out here. “

“Thank you, Dar. I can’t say I will be able to follow your advice, but it’s good to have it. “ Jacques said. “Good night to you, and please give my regards to your housemate.”

Housemate.  Dar pinched the bridge of her nose. “Well, I”ve heard her called worse. I will.” She said. “Good night, Jacques.  Good luck.”

She hung up the phone and stuck it in her pocket, before she closed the weather proofing around the console and retreated back down onto the main deck.   She checked the door to make sure it was locked, then she hopped off the boat and onto the dock, walking along the wooden pier past the rows of gently bobbing yachts.

As she came up onto the marina side, she detoured past the path leading back to the condo and went into the little island store instead.

“Good evening, ma’am.” The cashier greeted her as she entered. ‘We have fresh stone crabs, and hand churned chocolate ice cream today.”

Dar paused, and eyed her. “You sure have us pegged.” She remarked, with a smile.   “Give me a pound of each.”

“Yes’m.” The cashier smiled back, a fresh faced young girl with dark streaked blond hair pulled back into a neat pony tail. “We like to keep track of our nicer residents.”

Dar brought the box of dog biscuits up to the counter and put it down, waiting as the cashier put together  a goodie bag for her. “Are there residents who aren’t nice?”

“Oh sure.” The girl put the bag on the counter and took Dar’s resident’s card, sliding it into her system. “I mean, there are all kinds of people everywhere, you know what I mean?”

“Sure.” Dar took her card back.  “I’ve run into some idiots here.  But most everyone minds their own business.”

“Most people do, but some people act like because they live here, it gives them carte blanche to treat everyone who works on the island like servants. We’re not.”

Dar blinked. “Do they?”

“They do. A man was in here about twenty minutes ago.” The girl said, obviously remembering with irritation.  “He got all ticked off at me because we didn’t have fresh goats milk.” She handed over Dar’s package.   “He actually took a bottle of the stuff we had and threw it against the wall. Can you believe it?”

Dar took her items and shook her head. “There are jerks in the world.” She said. “That seems like a crazy thing to get mad about though.”

The girl shrugged. “He’s rich.” She said. “His family owns like ten properties, and they go from one to the other. He’s got a big sailboat, and a personal assistant.  His name’s Grossner – do you  know him?”

“Nope.” Dar said. “I don’t’ think we travel in the same circles.” She smiled. “I actually work for a living.”

“Right?”  The girl waved. “Good night ma’am.  Have a nice weekend.”

“Thanks.” Dar pushed the door open and started down the path, with a thoughtful expression.  The gravel crunched under her sandals, and she hooked the bag by one finger and slung it over her shoulder. 

How narrow a life did you need to have to worry about goats milk?  She pondered that as she passed between the ring of trees and started to cut across the golf course towards their home.  Or was that a different perspective you got when you had so much that worrying about the basics of life never happened, and so you focused on the sharp points of tiny details.

Was that part of what was wrong with the board members?  Dar began to whistle softly under her breath. Had they become so used to constant success and plenty that being faced with what amounted to corporate mutiny left them unable to figure out what to do, so what they did was flail around and fire bullets in a circle hoping to hit something that would make them feel better?

Hm.

She heard the soft chatter of the sprinklers on the course and glanced ahead to see if they were going to douse her.    The path ahead was clear of water, but there were two tall figures moving in her direction and she shifted to one side of the gravel to make space for them to pass.

“I’m telling you, Tom, that kid was asking for it.” One of the men was saying as they came even with her. He glanced briefly up at Dar, then lifted a hand. “Evening.”

“Evening.” Dar responded cordially, moving past.

“Yeah, she might have been, but you should keep in check, Billy.” The man said as they moved away.  “This is a small place. Word gets around.”

“Like I could care? We’ll just pay whoever’s in charge off. I’m going to go get what was coming to me.” The  voices echoed softly, trickling back to Dar’s ears from where she’d come to a halt on the path.

Coincidence?  Or was that goat’s milk boy on his way to bring more trouble to the kid in the store.

Dar regarded the sky overhead with a somber look, then she smiled a little, acknowledging that old crusader label maybe wasn’t so far off after all.   With a sigh, she turned around and started after the men, pulling out her Handspring and typing in a brief message as she walked.

**

She got to the door and pushed through it just as the shorter man was reaching across the counter and grabbing the cashier’s blouse, twisting his fingers into the fabric and yanking her close to him.

“Hey!”  She barked, as both men turned at the sound of the door and a moment later the man released the girl and stepped back. “What the hell are you doing, buddy?”

The taller man stepped back uncertainly, looking at the door and edging towards it. “Just a misunderstanding.” He said. “No problem here, lady.”

“Fuck that.” The shorter man came at her. “None of your fucking business, you bitch. Get the fuck out of my way.” He reached to shove her and Dar reacted instinctively, swinging her arm around to block him and forgetting what she had in her grasp.

The ice cream and crab smacked him in the side of the head and he reeled backwards, stumbling to one side and crashing into the counter.

The other man took off, bolting out the door. 

Dar dropped the bag and got over her center of balance, bringing her hands up into a defensive position as the other man shoved off from the counter, sending bags of potato chips flying all over the floor.  

He pulled his hand back and curled it into a fist and then paused, taking in the still, balanced posture, and unafraid expression of the woman opposite him.

“I’m calling security, Ms. Roberts.” The cashier called out.

“Get out of my way.” The man came at her, and swung, and Dar ducked out of his way and let him go past.   He walked rapidly away and yanked the door open, nearly smashing full into Kerry who was coming it with some speed.

Dar felt every hair on her arms lift up as he reached out to push Kerry and then  next thing she knew she was hauling him down from behind  and turning with his arm in her grasp, yanking him backwards and pulling him over to the ground. “Don’t you touch her.”

He twisted in her grasp but Dar felt her temper snap and she got a knee hard into his groin, then slammed her elbow into his chin and knocked his head backwards.

He stumbled and went down and she almost went after him, but then she backed off, as Kerry got in next to her, breathing hard. 

“What in the hell is going on here?” Kerry asked.

“Security’s coming” The cashier came out from behind the counter. “Thanks a bunch, Ms. Roberts.  This dumbass said he was going to take me into the cooler and teach me a lesson.”

The door opened and two uniformed security guards came in. “Whats the deal here?” The nearer one asked, giving Dar and Kerry a glance. “Ladies.”

“Hello, Charles.”  Kerry responded. “It seems this guy was causing a problem in here.”

The man got to his knees. “Everyone here is gonna pay out the ass for this.” He said. “I’ll sue every single one of you” He glared at the cashier. “Especially you, little cunt. I didn’t do anything to you. I was just talking to you.”

Kerry looked at him, then at Dar. “I don’t think you hit him hard enough, hon.” She remarked mildly. “I don’t know who you are, mister, but my partner doesn’t smack around people for no reason.”

He stared at both of them. “Oh, that’s righ. You’re the queers my brother was talking about.  That’ll make an even better lawsuit.”

“Okay.” The security supervisor said. “Let’s just settle down and we’ll do a report.”

“Screw that. ” The man got up and shoved past them. “You can’t hold me here you rentacops.  You want anything from me call my office.”  He walked out the door, still a little hunched. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer in the morning.”

Charles sighed. “Can I get some info from you ladies?”

“Sure.” Dar sat down on one of the stools near the small lunch counter, pausing the pick up the bag and putting it down on the counter surface. “Wasn’t the way I was looking for this night to go.”

“I”ll put these in the cooler”  The counter girl said.  “And, thanks, Ms. Roberts. I mean that really.  That guy was scaring the crap out of me and I didn’t even have a chance to grab a radio.”

Kerry leaned her elbow on her partner’s shoulder. “Crusader Dar.”

“I knew you were going to say that.” Dar muttered.  “Listen, Charles – if he’s going to call a lawyer, we probably better get Metro-Dade over here.”

Charles sighed. “Do we have to?” He asked. “Listen, Ms. Roberts,  That guy’s nothing but a jerk. He’s already sued Mrs. Christoff for her dog barking, and Doctor Ed for washing his car too early in the morning.   He’s a pain in the ass, but it’s usually a bullshit pain in the ass if you know what I mean.”

“You saying he’s just a spoiled white rich boy?”  Kerry asked, with a  wry twinkle in her eyes. “As in, someone my father would have wanted me to marry?”

Charles shrugged sheepishly.

“He’s a jerk.” Christie said, having put the bag in the freezer.   “He was in here before, making trouble about some milk. I was telling Ms. Roberts about it.”

The security guard nodded, making some notes.  “So then he left?”

“He did.”

“He and his buddy were coming across the golf course path.” Dar said.  “I heard him saying to his buddy he was going to come here and make trouble and so I followed him.”

Charles eyed her. “You coulda called us.”

“I could have.” Dar agreed. “In fact, I should have. But I didn’t, and when I came in here he had Kristie by the neck and was about to pull her over the counter.”

Both security guards looked over at the cashier, who nodded in confirmation.

“Wasn’t going to stand there and let them.” Dar said. “I yelled and told them to stop, and then that jackass came at me.”

“Was he drunk?”  Charles wondered.  “Guy gets caught doing something like that, he should just beat it.”

“Well, he didn’t. He swung at me and I went to block him and smacked him in the head with the bag I was carrying” Dar said. “So he got clocked with a pound of stone crabs and a lump of chocolate ice cream.”

Kerry eyed her. “Was that dinner, Dardar?”

“Ouch.” Charles commiserated. “I’ve been hit with lobster tails.  Hurts.” He scribbled a note. “So then?”

“Then I let him past me and he hit the door.”

“And hit me.” Kerry said. “And Dar hauled him back like he was a sack of wheat and kicked him in the nuts for that.”  She gave her spouse an affectionate look.  

“Ah.” Charles said. “Well, Ms Roberts, chances are that guy’s gonna file charges against you, and Kristie, and probably me, because he’s got more money than sense.  But Kristie here.. you’ll step up and testify?”

“Sure.” Kristie agreed at once. “Listen, my dad’s not going to like hearing about this guy, and if he knows what’s good for him he’ll just keep out of here. He doesn’t want to mess with my father.” She glanced at Dar and Kerry.  “He owns this place.”

“The store?”  Kerry asked.

“The island.” Kristie smiled. “He owns the development company.  We live here.  He just never believed in raising us kids to be rich feckless brats.”

Revelation.  Kerry smiled at her. “You going to college?”

Kristie shook her head. “Not my thing.  I like to do graphic artistry. Dad says he’ll maybe hire me to design our ad copy.”

“You like computers?”

“Want a job?” Dar and Kerry  said at the same time, and then exchanged looks.

“Okay folks, can I just finish here before we start something else?” Charles begged.  “So that’s all that happened?  Then we came in?”

“Yes.” Dar said. “Sorry to ruin your night, fellas.”

The other security guard grinned briefly at her. “I’ve seen you in the gym, Ms. Roberts. Sorry we missed the dust up.   Kristie’s right. That guy’s nothing but stupid bad news.”

“So are we going to call the police?” Kerry asked. “We have a lawyer, but I’d rather not have to use him for this.”

“Let me have my boss go talk to that guy.” Charles said. “I’m thinking, he’s pretty new around here. Been here only three months. He probably doesn’t know who Kristie is.” He gave the girl a smile. “She’s right. He don’t want her daddy to get involved. He’s got a temper.”

“Okay by me.” Dar said. “You guys handle it.  I’ve got stone crab and ice cream to get home.”

The guards left, talking in low tones together and looking at the pad of notes.  The door closed behind them and the three women were momentarily silent.

“Okay, so.” Kerry finally cleared her throat. “Sorry that had to go down.  It was a really cool Saturday before that.” She said. “Want to get home and get the salt water out of your hair?”

“That was really cool.” Kristie said. “Don’t worry about that guy. My dad’ll take care of him.” She added, confidently.  “He knows about you.”

Dar’s brows lifted.  “We’re computer nerds.”

She nodded. “Yeah, he knows that, but I also heard him telling someone.. I guess someone had a problem with your dog?  Or something? The gym maybe? Anyway he told them to shut up and leave you alone.”

Dar still looked surprised.

“You have some contacts with the government?” Kristie prompted.

“Ah.”  Kerry smiled. “Yes, we do have some contacts with the government.  So anyway, Kristie – you interested in a career in computers? We run a consulting company and we sure could use some help in the media department.”

Kristie made a face. “It’s kind of gross for me to say this, but I don’t think my dad would let me.”

Kerry’s eyebrows shot right up.

“He doesn’t’ like gay people.” The girl said, in a matter of fact tone.  “So like I said, he knows about you guys, but he’d really go apeshit if I said I was going to work for you. I think he’d think you were recruiting me, you know?”

Dar blinked a few times, then shrugged. “His loss.”  She said, “And maybe yours.”

“Are you mad?” Kristie looked wistfully at them.  “I don’t want you to be, I just don’t want to lie about it.”

“We appreciate that.” Kerry recovered her balance.  “But tell your dad to do himself a favor and never say anything like that to her dad.” She indicated Dar.  “He won’t care if he owns this place.”

Kristie cocked her head to one side. “Is that the tall guy, Andy?”

“That’s my dad.” Dar said. “He’s a retired Navy SEAL, and I’m his only kid.” She glanced at Kerry. “Well, his only blood kid.”

Kerry smiled at her. “Anyway, no hard feelings, Kristie.”  She said. “My father felt the same way about gay people.  He went to his grave hating me for it.”  She leaned on Dar’s shoulder. “That’s why I’m glad I found Dar and her family.”

Kristie nodded, looking more serious. “He just is like that.” She said. “It’s not a religious thing, he just thinks a family should be a man, and a woman and kids.”  She glanced at the clock. “And, it’s time for me to close this place up before any more weird stuff happens.”

They got up and Kerry retrieved their bag, then tucked her arm inside Dar’s as they headed for the door.   “Night.” She glanced back at Kristie.  “Hope that guy doesn’t give you any more trouble.”

Kristie herself looked troubled, but she waved. “Night.”

They made their way out of the store and headed once more along the path toward their home. “Yuk.” Dar said, after a pause. “That didn’t end the way I figured it would.”

Kerry shrugged slightly. “People are like that.” She acknowledged. “it’s just getting more evident I think. “

“Yuk.” Dar repeated. “My conversation with Jacques was more interesting.  He took charge of the board.  Seems like there’s a big fight going on there.”

“Big surprise.” Kerry said. “You give him any advice?”

“Yes. But I doubt he’s going to be able to take it.” Dar said, with a sigh. “It’s not our issue anymore. Let’s go have some crabs and chill out.”

Kerry accepted the change of subject and remained quiet for the rest of the short walk, pondering the stars visible over the tops of the buildings as she thought about the evening’s surprises.

Yuk, about covered it.

**

The next day, it rained.  Kerry was very content to watch the heavy clouds disburse their contents across the seawall as she stood at the kitchen window, enjoying an early morning cup of coffee.

She could hear Dar playing with the dogs in the living room, and there were cartoons playing on the television to complete the background noise.

The kitchen floor had towels on it, mopping up from the wet dog footprints and she carefully stepped over them as she went back into the main part of the house.

Dar was sitting on the floor,  legs sprawled out with a knotted towel in her hands being tugged at by both Labradors.

It was adorable.  She put her cup down and grabbed her camera, focusing quickly and snapping a few shots of the action. “You guys are hilarious.”

“I’m not sure who Mocha’s helping more.” Dar watched the puppy get in Chino’s way, then grab the end hanging from the bigger Lab’s mouth and hung off it. 

“Growf!”  Chino let go and barked at him in outrage.

Kerry chuckled, perching on the back of the loveseat.  “You all set for the conference?”

“Yup.” Dar rolled onto her back and let the dogs clamber all over her.  “Got the demo done too.  Going to spend the rest of today just relaxing.”

“I’m up for that.”  Kerry agreed.  “It’s going to rain all day, and I’m going to enjoy it, now that I sent an email to Richard warning him about little Billy Jacktard.”

“Peh.”

Kerry put the camera down and joined them on the floor, grabbing the towel and waiting for Mocha to latch onto it.  “What are you doing there, little man?”

“Grrrr yap!” Mocha  tugged fiercely at the fabric.

Chino plopped down next to Dar and put her head down on Dar’s shoulder, exhaling and stirring the dark hair on the side of her face.

“Hey Chi.” Dar curled an arm around the dog. “What are you up to, huh?”

Chino licked her ear,  making it’s owner chuckle. 

Kerry played with Mocha for a  minute, then glanced at her partner. “I was thinking of making a big pot of barley soup.  You up for that?”

Dar peered past Chino’s furry body at her. “Whatever you make, I’m up for.” She said. “You have yet to produce something out of that kitchen that I haven’t liked.”

“Is that true?” Kerry pondered. “I’ve made some kooky things in there.”

“It’s true. I grew up on a Navy base.” Dar said. “And you know how my mother cooks.”

“Hmm. So are you saying you’ll eat anything, and so whatever I make is okay?” Kerry’s eyes twinkled at her.

“I won’t eat anything.” Dar evaded the question. “You know that.”

No that was true. Kerry edged over so she could lay down and put her head on Dar’s stomach.  “Dar, can I tell you something?”

“That stuff last night is still bothering you.” Dar responded confidently.

Kerry looked at her.

“The part about us being gay.” Dar clarified. “I don’t usually care about that, but it bothered me too.”  She acknowledged. “I’ve lived here for years.  You’ve lived here for years.  Finding out people don’t  like our lifestyle is like sandpaper on the ass.”

“No, it’s not that.” Kerry said. “I always assumed there were people who didn’t like it. But that everyone now feels so comfortable saying that does kind of bother me. It’s become okay to diss our relationship in public.”

“Ker, it always was.” Dar said. “C’mon. It’s only been a damn short time where anyone’s accepted it.”

“Mm. It still feels weird.”  Kerry said. “Its like we’ve become a target, lately.”

Dar studied her briefly. “Does it make you uncomfortable living here?”

Kerry was silent for a bit.  “You mean, because the guy who owns the place doesn’t like us?”

Dar nodded.

Kerry shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just in a mood today.”  She admitted.  “Why should it matter? We’ve never even met the guy.   It makes me feel a little weird about Kristie though.”

“Mm.”

“Do people really think we recruit?”  Kerry wondered. “Like we’re some creepy vampire club or something?”

“Sure. Didn’t your dad think I turned you gay?”  Dar asked, in a reasonable tone.  “People believe what they want to believe, and it’s easier to think someone is making your loved one change than it is to believe they were born that way.”

Kerry frowned. “Yuk.”

Dar ruffled her hair gently.  “Go make your soup, Ker.   It is what it is.”

It was what it was.  Kerry rolled onto her side and then got up onto her hands and knees, leaning forward and giving her partner a kiss on the lips.  Then she yelped as Mocha bit her on the toe and then grabbed the tail of her old tshirt and started pulling it.

Hopefully it would be a nice and quiet, rainy Sunday.

**

Dar was in her office messing around with her demo when the doorbell rang.  She glanced up to see Kerry cross the living room to answer it, and wondered who the hell was calling on them this late on a Sunday evening.

“Oh hi.” She heard Kerry say, then heard the sound of footsteps coming and the door closing.  Dar looked up to see the entrance to her office filled with her partner and their two security friends from the previous night. “Hey Charles.”

“Hi, Ms. Roberts.”

Dar leaned back and propped her knee up against the desk. “C’mon in. What can we do for you?”

The two men came in, standing awkwardly until Kerry guided them to the sofa, then went back behind Dar’s desk and leaned on the credenza behind it.

“Okay, so.” Charles exhaled.  “Sorry to bother you ladies so late. But we just finished all the paperwork and I wanted to come over so we could tell you the low down.”

Kerry extended her legs and crossed them at the ankles.  Her reading of body language made her think the message wasn’t going to be all bad, and she produced a faint smile. “Would you guys like some cold apple cider? I was just about to bring some in here for Dar.”

“Sure.” Charles said, at once. “We just walked all the way across the island. Gets you thirsty.”

Kerry eased past the desk and headed for the kitchen.

“So.” Charles cleared his throat. “That guy, Billy,  he kicked up a big fuss.  He went to the island admin offices and wanted to get them to throw you ladies right on out of here.”

Dar blinked at him. “He wanted to get us evicted?” She queried. “For me defending myself with shellfish?”

“Not so much.”  The guard captain said. “He said, it was a moral thing, you know?”

Dar rolled her eyes as Kerry came back in with a tray.   “You know.” She eyed her partner. “I’d really like to know, in a graphic way, what breeders think we do with each other that’s so different than what they do.”

Kerry put the tray down and handed glasses out. “I’m not even going to comment.”  She took her cup and went back to leaning against the credenza.  “So what were they told? Since I know evicting us wouldn’t be legal.”

Charles nodded. “So that’s what the association secretary said.  That you ladies mind your own business and don’t hardly cause no trouble.” He said. “So then he went in to talk to Kristies dad, only he didn’t know he was.”

“Oh, I can see this coming.” Dar covered her eyes with one hand.

“So Big Jim broke his arm.”  The other guard nodded.  “They took him off in an ambulance.”

“That’s right.” Charles said. “Broke his arm and his nose too.  He shoulda stuck with you ladies. All he got from that was a bump on the noggin.”

“Wow.” Kerry said. “So – is he going to sue Kristie’s father now?”

“I’m thinking he’s gonna be evicted himself. “ Charles said. “But I did hear Big Jim say he was going to come talk to you  ladies so I thought I should let you know that.”  He paused, looking a touch uncomfortable. “He’s an old fashioned kind of guy.”

“Here we go again.” Kerry sighed.  “You know, it’s not against the law to be a homosexual.”

Dar cleared her throat. “Not so much with our variety no. But I think sodomy is still illegal in Broward county.”

Kerry covered her eyes, and the two guards blushed in embarrassment.

“Anyway, he can come talk to us all he wants. But this place is paid off, and we own it, and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.” Dar said. “Thanks for the heads up though, guys. We appreciate it.”

The guards finished their cider and got up. “Well, you ladies have a nice night” Charles said. “And keep out of trouble.”

Kerry saw them to the door, then returned, dropping onto the couch with a frown. “I’m not sure I liked that conversation.”

“Mm. “ Dar grunted. “He really can’t do anything to us.”

“No, I don’t think so either, but it’s just not cool, Dar.” 

“No.” Her partner sighed . “It’s really not.  Its not even cool that he’d try it with that buttload. Guy has a right to live where he wants to live – most he should do is file charges for him grabbing Kristie.”

“You’re defending him??”

“I’m saying he needs to be deal with via the legal system if that’s how you feel. Kicking him off the island for what he did is the same as kicking us off for being gay.” Dar said, in a mild tone.  “I’m not saying I wouldn’t cheer if he got tossed into Government Cut.”

“Mm.” Kerry sighed. “Yeah.”

“Let’s wait to see what he says to us.” Dar said. “I can hold my own in any verbal ass kicking contest.”

That brought a smile to Kerry’s face. “And most other kinds.” She got up and collected the cider cups.  “I’m going to get in the hot tub. Interested?”

Dar got up and flipped off the monitor, leaving it behind without a second glance. “Go baby go.”

**

The Coconut Grove convention center was small but stylish, and Kerry found herself liking it a lot more than the Miami Beach facility which was huge and echoing and gritty.    She picked up a cup of hot tea at the café and wandered over to the presentation area, where Dar was getting ready to speak.

It was all small companies.  No one probably knew who they were.  Kerry found that she liked the idea of that,  and she exchanged smiles with another woman about her age in a business suit standing nearby.

There were a lot of booths set up, representing a lot of small companies.  Kerry had already earmarked three or four she wanted to talk to, and she was planning a route through the hall after she listened to Dar’s presentation.

Quite a few people were gathering, and Kerry imagined she could feel her partner’s nervousness building up, seeing the restless motion of her tall frame up behind the podium.

Dar wasn’t fond of public speaking.  Kerry actually didn’t mind it, and of the two of them, she was the admitted more skilled.  They both knew that.  But Dar had volunteered for the event and if there was one thing that overwhelmed any nerves it was her standing tall in defense of her own ego.

Kind of adorable, actually.  Kerry gave her partner a thumbs up, and saw the rakish, wry grin that told her Dar knew perfectly well what she was thinking about.  Adorable, because Dar was, that glance through the dark bangs right at her making Kerry smile in pure unconscious reflex.

They were both dressed relatively casually.  Slacks and collared shirts, in Dar’s case an embroidered vest  and in Kerry’s a long sleeved sweater she had  draped around her shoulders at the moment.  

The morning was half over, and they’d just come out of the keynote speech. Kerry was of the opinion that Dar would have done a far better job at it, but she’d clapped with the rest as the owner of the local television station went on about innovation and the American dream.

Now the crowd was settling down, and Kerry carried her cup of juice into the auditorium, taking a seat in the back row which was a little elevated, and gave her a view of her partner.  Dar had stepped up to the podium and was now standing there quietly, waiting for everyone to focus on her.

Just as they did Kerry felt her Handspring start to buzz, and she quickly removed it and got up, ducking out of the room to answer it.  “Hey, Maria.”

“Ah, Kerrista.” Maria’s voice came over the wire.  “I am so sorry to disturb you at your meeting, but there is a person here who is insisting on speaking with you. It is a customer? Mayte has told me she thinks they are interested in doing a program.”

“Sure, put them on.” Kerry positioned herself in the doorway so she could keep an eye on Dar, finding another smile appearing as her partner’s rich and just slightly melodic voice emerged from the microphone.    “I didn’t think information technology was that sort of spur of the moment on demand thing, but you never know.”

“Si, you never do know.” Maria agreed. “Please wait one moment.”

Kerry watched Dar put her hands on the podium, knowing how much self control it was taking for her to leave them there, and not fidget with them.  Dar did that, when she was nervous. She would flex her hands and crack her knuckles, stick her mitts in her pockets and tap her thumbs on any flat surface.  

She gave Dar a thumbs up for her discipline, and got a smile back in return, along with the slightest cock of the head that made her realize Dar was wondering what she was doing on the phone.

Ah well. “Yes this is Kerry.” She said into the phone as a voice came on. “Sorry, it’s a little loud here I’m at the small business conf… what?”

“Yes, hello? Kerry?  Did you hear me?” The voice said. “This is Evelyn Chambers, from Dade County public schools? “

Kerry paused and frowned, then shook her head a little. “Yes.. um.. oh, right.” She said. “We met at the gym a while back.”

“Right.  My sister’s son works for you here, and he was talking about your company? We want to hire you. I mean, the school system does.  We were given a lot of money to upgrade all the computers and we can’t think of a better person to do it than you.”

Kerry pulled the Handspring away from her face and stared at it. Then she put it back to her hear. “Okay, Evelyn – sure. I’d be glad to talk to you about that… but you know we’re not really hardware vendors.”

“But your new company is about computers, right?”

“Well, sure. All the things we do generally involve computers but we don’t … I mean, let’s talk about it.” Kerry said. “I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning, and we can sit down and look at what you need, okay?”

“Oh but… could it be really early?” Evelyn said. “We’ve got a meeting about the budget at nine. Can I see you before then? I really want to have you ladies do this because I am so freaking tired of the men in the office telling me only guys can buy computers they are driving me out of my cotton picking mind!!!!”

Ah. The lightbulb went off over Kerry’s head with an almost audible bing. “Gotcha. No problem, Evelyn, I’d be glad to meet you at 7 or 8, or if you want, we’ll be back in the office this afternoon after Dar’s speech so..”

“Oh perfect! I’ll go get some lunch and come back.” Evelyn sounded utterly relieved. “See you in a little while, Kerry! Thanks!!”

“Uh.. no problem. Bye.” Kerry removed the handspring from her ear and peered at it, then she put it back in her pocket and started back into the auditorium, only to halt when she spotted Peter and Mark entering the building from the other direction and looking around.

“Oh, bet that’s not good.” Kerry backpedaled and waved, and sure enough the two men looked relieved on seeing her and headed quickly in her direction. “Poor Dar. “

**

“Okay, so.” Mark had steered them all over to the snack area, where there were high top tables he put his laptop down on. “Pete, you want to start?”

“Not really.” Peter looked glum. “Mark said I should come over if they booted me, and they did.” He said. “There was some big huge blow up again today and that big jerk came in and told me to clear out.”

“No problem, Peter.  We said we’d take care of you and we will.” Kerry reassured him. 

“Thank you, ma’am.” He looked a little more confident.  “My wife about gave birth prematurely when I told her.  She gave up her job when she got pregnant and this whole things been near killing her.”  He stuck his hands in his pockets. “I don’t even know what I did to tip the scales.. I didn’t make any changes, you know? I just gave them the configs and said what I though we should do.”

“The man you worked for is an absolute moron.”  Kerry said. “They had one chance to turn it around. Dar even told the board of director’s new head what to do. I guess they didn’t do it.”

Peter’s ears visibly perked.  “Whoa you  know, maybe there was something going on with that because that guy, Jeff, was totally torked off.  He said something like if they think they can just throw us out they’re mistaken or something like that.”

“Hm.” Kerry glanced up as she sensed Dar’s presence, to find her partner emerging from the room and heading their way. “Save the story for Dar.” She said. “Let me get her some milk looks like she’s going to need it. “

“I could get a complex.” Dar looked from Mark to Peter. “What’s going on?”  She glanced behind her. “I have to go back to finish a question and answer session.”

“Pete got booted, boss.” Mark got to the point.  “You put a cat in the chicken coop? Sounds like they freaked out this morning.”

Dar cleared her throat. “I had a conversation with Jacques Monert.” She allowed. “He just took over the chairman’s position. Wanted to let me know about that.” She put her hands on the hightop as Kerry came back with two large cups.  “What happened?”

“Here.” Kerry handed over the milk.

Dar’s eyes grew round and alarmed. “How bad is this, that you got me a quart of milk?”

“Well, that guy sounded really pissed off.” Peter said. “It was like a tomb in there this morning. There was only like five of us there and they threw us all out.”

Dar put her hands on her hips. “That leaves no one there to run the place.”

“Except the dorks.” Mark said. “Maybe we’ll be getting a bunch more customers along with more employees.”

They all looked at each other for a moment, then Kerry sighed. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Dar took a long swallow of milk. “Let me go do ten minutes of Q and A, and we’ll get back to the office.

“Just in case?”

“Just in case.”

**

But the afternoon was almost preternaturally quiet.  Kerry munched her spicy chicken sandwich at her desk, glancing at her email as she listened to Mayte talking to their phone vendor in the outer office.

Or really, her own office. Kerry thought about the open spaces they still had, pondering whether or not to move Mayte out and into her own space.  She was working on three projects now, and it was probably time for her to get her an Dar an actual admin since they’d promoted theirs.

“Hey Kerry.” Mark came in the door with a fistful of papers. “I got Pete through his paperwork.  You mind if I make him my assistant?”

Kerry swallowed hastily, and wiped her lips. “Not at all. You’re a director. Make him a manager if you want to. We’ve got more than enough projects to need one.”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, no kidding!” He sat down. “You think they’re doing funky stuff back at the old place?  Or maybe they’re just bringing in a whole new crew?”

“I find it really hard to believe that they’d be doing something malicious.” Kerry said. “I mean, it’s a business, Mark.  They probably promised they’d turn everything around, and they wanted to clear out anyone who could tell them any different.”

Mark nodded. “That’s what I figure too.  Pete was the one who was pushing back on them. He’s pretty sharp. I think he’ll be okay for us.”

“And now that they’ve done that,  I’m fine with putting the word out to anyone who left there to come talk to us.” Kerry decided.  “We can’t hire everyone, but with these four new contracts, and the Dade County schools thing, we need bodies.”

“Will do.” He got up and handed over the papers. “You and the boss going up to the Hill Wednesday? Maria said.”

“We’ve got to demo the database for the feds.” Kerry agreed.  “Not the real thing, a mock up.  Politics.”

“Kinda creepy.”

“Kinda. But worse comes to worse, Dar will tell them to kiss her ass, and we can not worry about it. With this new business we don’t really need it.” Kerry looked at the folders on her desk.  “It’s a lot of prestige but yeah.  Creepy.”

“Kerry?” Mayte poked her head in. “There is a reporter here to speak to you? It’s from the paper.”

“Speaking of creepy.” Kerry muttered. “That didn’t work out so good last time.” She drummed her fingers. “Okay, give me ten minutes to finish this and I’ll see them.”

Mark made a face and mimed tip toeing out of the room, almost bumping into Dar as she appeared in the doorway between their offices.  “Whoops”

“Got a reporter outside.” Kerry had her head propped against her fist as she chewed.

“Got CNN on the phone wanting an interview.” Dar responded. “Trade?”

“Nope.”

“Wench.”

**

Dar had her boots up on her desk, and her eyes closed, her hands folded over her stomach.  It was dark outside, and the building was almost empty.  “Ker?”

Kerry poked her head in from her office. “We got another fifteen minutes to wait for CNN. Want some coffee?”

“Ungh.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.  Be right back.”

Dar remained where she was, just letting her mind to blank as she waited.  The Herald request had been innocuous – the small business editor had been at the conference and seen her speak, then apparently had done a Google search and decided they might make an interesting blurb.

Kerry had handled it. 

But CNN wanted to know about the government project and that was far more dicey an interview.   It involved a film crew, and one of the high profile talking heads, and she would really rather have dove into a vat of peanut butter than go through it.

However.  Dar could hear Mayte still rattling around in the outer office, and there were creaks and footsteps that indicated to her that others were still hanging around as well, the lure of television cameras and quasi-famous people irresistible.

Peh.

Her desk phone rang. She reached over and keyed it, still keeping her eyes closed. “Dar Roberts.”

“Hello Dar, Gerry Easton here.”

“Hey Gerry.” Dar responded.  “We’ll be out there tomorrow night. Got a meeting with Bridges on Wednesday. You free for dinner?”

“Well, sure. Be happy to and I bet the missus will be happy to also. But that’s not why I’m calling. We got some big probems here, Dar, and I need you help.”

Dar’s eyes slid open and she regarded the ceiling. “What kind of problems, Gerry? We’re not actually doing anything for you yet.”

“It’s that other thing.”  He said. “The connections. “

“Ah.” Dar slowly shifted her feet of the desk and sat up. “You mean, the stuff ILS is doing for you.”

“That’s right. It’s all screwed up.” Gerry confirmed. “Now, I know you don’t work for them anymore, Dar, but we’re in a pickle, and I mean a real dill pickle, if you catch my drift. Been trying to call them all afternoon, no one’s answering the phone.”

“Oh boy.” Dar muttered.

“Anything you can do to help us out?” Gerry asked. “I got people chewing me up and down over it. Stuff’s not working, we can’t get reports, they cant send files…  Dar they’re driving me crazy.  It’s been off and on, but just around lunchtime it went down the tubes, y’know?”

Kerry entered with some coffee, and spotting Dar’s expression quickly put it down on the desk. “What’s up?” She mouthed.

“Gerry.” Dar mouthed back. “Network problems.”

“Oh boy.” Kerry took a seat on the windowsill.

“Gerry, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do but let me make some calls.” Dar temporized. “All the people I knew there are gone.”

“Eh? What?”

“Long story.” Dar said. “Let me see what I can do. I’ll call you back.”

“All right. Anything at all you can come up with, huh Dar? This is really serious.”

Dar sighed. “I know it is, Gerry.  I’ll get back to you.  Bye for now.” She hung up and swiveled to look at Kerry. “They must have really screwed it.”  She said. “Right around the time Peter showed up here, it all went to hell.”

Kerry folded her arms. “Wont be long until that hits the news.” She said. “Not necessarily the Pentagon, but everything else.”

“Surprised it hasn’t already.” Dar got up. “Let me call Jacques. He’s the only one I can think of that might be able to… well, hell. I have no idea what he’s going to do but he should know his customers are calling me.”

Mayte appeared in the entrance to Dar’s office. “The news people are here.” She said. “Where do you want to speak with them? I think the conference room?”

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. “That’ll be fine, Mayte. Let them set up in there. We’ve got to discuss something then we’ll be right down.”

Mayte nodded and disappeared.

“I’ll go keep them occupied.” Kerry said. “Are you going to offer to go fix it?”

Dar shook her head.

‘Hope we can swing that. “  Kerry patted her on the arm then headed for the door, shaking her own head as she disappeared.

“Yeah.” Dar sat down on the edge of her desk and pulled her phone out again, keying through the memory.  She found the number she was looking for and hit dial, holding it to her ear as she waited.  It range six times, then voice mail picked up.  “Great.”

She waited for it to finish and beep. “Jacques, this is Dar.  I just got a call from a mutual customer of ours, saying his services with you were down and he wasn’t able to get hold of anyone to talk about it. He’s in a big non square office building in DC.   Just letting you know in case you want to do something about it.   Later.”

She released the line, then studied the phone.  Was there anyone else she could really call?

Anything else she could really do?  Dar stood up and shoved the phone into her pocket.  Was there anything she really wanted to do?

She trotted down the steps, hearing voices in the conference room and seeing shadows in the lower hall,  accompanied by the smell of electronics and duct tape, with a waft of oil makeup on the fringes.  She paused for a moment to riffle her hair into some kind of fluffiness, then forged ahead into the conference room. “Evening.”

There was a man there, with a thin, angular face Dar thought she sort of recognized,  and two women who had over the shoulder messenger bags with pens and pads and stopwatches hanging from them on one side of the room  and two men with cameras and gear on the other side.

“Ah, Ms. Roberts.”  The man half waved. “You probably don’t remember me.”

“I do.” Dar produced a smile. “You interviewed me in New York.”  She did remember that, in a hazy surreal kind of way that most of the events were enfolded in.  “We talked about cupcakes.”

The man grinned. “We did.” He said. “So we’re a galaxy away from that moment huh? You’re not with ILS anymore.”

“Nope.” Dar took a seat at the head of the table. “Hung up my own shingle.” She indicated the building around her.

“Okay, Pete.” One of the women interrupted. “Why don’t you sit down here, and we can shoot from that angle across the table.”

“Sure.” The interviewer amiably came around the table and sat down. He was wearing a pair of jeans, and a leather jacket. “To be honest, Ms. Roberts, that interview with you got me interested in the technology biz.  So now I do in depth stuff for CNN about it. Nice change.”

Kerry came over and sat down on the other side of Dar. “This has been a nice change for us too.” She said. “Getting to start everything from scratch and all that.”

The cameramen busied themselves getting a tripod arranged behind Pete’s shoulder, and settled a camera on top of it, flicking on the battery packs that powered up with a soft, faint whine.  “We got sync to the truck?” One of them asked.

“Eyup.. got a signal back to base.”  The other responded. “Cathy, we’re good.”

“Thanks.”  The producer put her pad down, with notes.  “Let me just make sure I’ve got everything accurate here, ladies, then we can get this, and let you get on your way. I know it’s late.” She glanced up at Dar and Kerry. “Thanks for hanging out and waiting for us.”

“We were glad to.” Kerry said. “I suppose you tracked us down from that picture in the paper?” She smiled briefly. “Dar enjoyed her visit to the White House.”

“Actually.” Pete cleared his throat. “We did pick that up on research, but really you popped up on my radar because I’m local here, and I was home on some vacation when my brother in law’s scatterbrained son got hired to write games and I wanted to see who’d be crazy enough to hire him.”

Dar chuckled. “Ahh. I see.”  She leaned back. “He’s got good programming skills.  I always look everywhere for talent. Your nephew once removed might turn out to be the Bill Gates of the family.”

“He loves this place. He was at dinner at our house a week ago talking nine to the minute about some program you did with a hamster in it.”

“That would be a gopher.”  Kerry correct him. “Gopher Dar, in fact. It’s an animated program Dar writes on sometimes.”

They all chuckled “So then I ran a scan on headlines and found the picture of you with the president, and figured, hey, it’s time for me to get back in touch with Dar Roberts.”  Pete concluded, with a smile. “I guess you just recently left ILS?”

“About a month or so ago yes.” Dar agreed. “After the time we spent in New York, Kerry and I decided we wanted to retire and go do our own thing.”

“Get out of the spotlight?” Pete said, his eyes twinkling. “Didn’t work out so well for you on that front I guess.”

Dar shrugged.

“Okay, we’re ready.” The blonder of the two women said. “Pete, you’re on.”

The interviewer folded his hands on the table, and paused, clearing his throat.  “We’re rolling to archive, Dar, not live to the channel.”

“Now that’s a good idea.” Dar said. “Especially if you remember what I said the last time about not asking me anything you don’t want to hear the answer to.”

One of the producers pulled a phone from her pocket, and held a hand up, moving to the door and slipping outside.

“Okay.  So we’re speaking here today with Dar Roberts, who is a well known business person in the technology field. “ Pete said. “Ms. Roberts,  you recently left the big corporate world and opened up your own IT related business. Tell me about that.”

Kerry quietly got up and eased back,  glad enough to give Dar her moment in the spotlight.   She ducked outside the door and went across to the small kitchen, pausing when she almost bumped into Scott in his wheelchair. “Hello.”

“Hi.”  He was removing a small container from the refrigerator.  “Whats up with CNN?” He rolled out of Kerry’s way and put the container on the table, opening it up and revealing what looked like a fruit salad.

Surprising.  Kerry got one of the cold ice teas  and opened it. “Their technology desk saw Dar’s picture in the paper and wanted an interview.” She responded straightforwardly. “How’s it going with you? Mark says you do good work.”

“I like it.” He responded.  “Its good to do stuff that’s just normal.”

Kerry sat down at the table.  “I remember when I got back from New York after 9/11, it was a relief to just be able to sit down and have a boring staff meeting.”

He glanced briefly at her. “You were in there when that went down?  I was in the hospital in Frankfurt.”

“No, I was at my family’s home in Michigan. But I went there the next day.” Kerry said. “The company we worked for had  people in the Pentagon, and also in downtown New York.”

He ate several pieces of the fruit with a spoon, chewing it thoughtfully. “I saw pictures. That was a mess.”

“It was.”  Kerry agreed. “We did some work down by the stock exchange.  The destruction down there was incredible.”

“Yeah.  Only thing I was glad I got half blowed up because I knew I wasn’t going to have to go back there.” He said. “We’re going to go back there and beat the shit out of them for that. Everybody knows it.”

“Mm.” Kerry sipped her tea thoughtfully.   Their new tech had gotten himself some polo shirts and work style chinos, she noted, remembering they’d been paid the previous Friday.   “Everything working out for you?”

He was silent for a long moment, then nodded. “Glad I came and asked for that paper.”

Kerry smiled. “I think we’re glad too.” She said. “Sometimes you just have to take a chance, you  know?”

He looked up at her, for a moment expressionless. Then he smiled .

Kerry started to speak again, then paused as the CNN producer stuck her head in the door. “Hi.”

“Hi.” The woman looked harried. “Listen, I’m really, really sorry. And I mean, really really sorry, but we’ve got to pull out of here. There’s some big issue in the banking industry and they need us on it.”

“Oh. Wow sorry to hear that,” Kerry got up.  “A technical issue?”

“Something to do with how they talk to each other. Something’s gone wrong. “ The woman said.  “Hell, you want to come with us? You probably understand more of it than we will.”

Uh oh.  Kerry managed an apologetic smile. “Sorry, we’ve got plans.” She said. “But I’ll be watching tonight to see what it was.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “We’ll get back to you.” She said. “Let me go get my guys packed up.” She bustled out and left them in contemplative silence for a moment.

“Hm.” Kerry leaned against the wall. “Wonder if I should start ordering pizza.” She listened for the reporters and their staff leaving then a moment later Dar came into the room, leaning one long arm against the doorframe. “Hi.”

“Interbank’s down.”  Dar said.

“Yeah, I figured.” 

“Should we just stay here?”

“I was just considering ordering some dinner in.” Kerry sighed. “Let me go tell Mark what’s going on.”

Dar exhaled, and went to the refrigerator, removing a chocolate milk chug and opening it.  She turned and leaned against the appliance, eyeing Scott. 

He watched her in silence in return, chewing his fruit salad.

“Your buddies still giving you a hard time?” Dar asked, after a bit. 

He nodded. “I keep clear of em.” He said.  “Stay around that gym a lot. They let me work in there too a little, at night.”

“Make friends with guys in there.” Dar suggested. “I’ve seen some of the dudes that go in there. They look like ass kickers.”

He nodded again. “They got a pool in there. I like that.” He said, then paused. “There some kind of problem here?” He asked, bluntly. “With them press people, and then everyone running out?”

Dar sat down and rested her elbows on her knees. “No, there’s no problem here.” She said. “There’s a problem where we used to work.”  She took a sip of her milk and looked up as Mark skidded around the corner and came barreling into the room. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Mark said, glancing at Scott then back at Dar.  “Kerry told me, and I got a call from our old guy at the NAP.  Craps coming down”

Dar nodded agreement. “It is.”

“You think they’re gonna call you?”

“I think they’re going to have to.” Dar said. “I’m just sitting here trying  to figure out how to tell them all no.”

“Why? This point, it’s all in the crapper, Dar.  They can’t blame you for any of it.” Mark said. “You could go in there and show them all up.”

“I know that, but where does it get us?  I don’t want to go back in there. I want them to figure out their own problems and leave us the hell alone.” Dar got up.  “I fix this, they’ll never let go of me in the short term, and I’ve got better things to do, Mark.”  She drained the chug and tossed it in the recycle bin. “I”ll be in my office.”

“K, boss.” Mark shook his head.  “Man, I remember the days when I was glad to just be a tech yonk. End of the day, you just go home.”

Scott had finished his fruit salad, and he put the container carefully back in the plain, dark blue holder. “Gonna finish that printer.” He said. “Someone bent the frame, that’s why it keeps jamming.”

“We’ve only had it two weeks. Who had a chance to do that?” Mark allowed himself to be distracted. “Probably the delivery company.”

“Probably.” Scott put the container in his lap and prepared to roll out. “Might need some tools.”

Mark opened the door for him. “Give me a list.” He said. “I’ll get em ordered.”

They emerged into the hallway. “We’ll be here a while so take your time with the printer. “Mark added. “Let you know when chow gets here.”

Scott nodded, and headed off down the hall to the support office.

Mark watched him go and then turned towards the stairs, pausing when Kerry came around the corner to join him. “This gonna be a long night?”

Kerry lifted her hands and let htem drop. “Mark, I’ve got no idea.  Maybe those guys will find a way around having to call for help. I sure would if I were them.”

“Kerry” Mark eyed her. “Trust me. I lived in that place for long as she did. If its this fucked up, no one’s gonna be able to fix it but her.”

Kerry sighed.

“Pizza?”

“Chinese buffet.”

“Whoof.”

**

Continued in Part 14