Winds of Change

Part 5

The board room was full of very agitated men, seated around a long, teak wood table dressed in business suits. They all looked up as the door opened, and then started to take seats as a man dressed in a faded flannel shirt entered, followed by a tall, urban figure in a well fitted suit.

Hello there boys.” Alastair went to the end chair, which had been obviously left free, and sat down. “I've got a rodeo my grandkid's riding in to go to, so let's make it short if we can, huh?”

Try not to be so fucking smug, huh Al?” John Baker glared at him.

Kiss my ass.” Alastair answered, in the most congenial voice possible. “Boy have I been waiting years to say that.” He turned his head and winked at the man who followed him in. “Right, Ham?”

Hamilton Baird, ILS's senior corporate council, gave him a wryly amused look, and sat down, having arranged some papers to his satisfaction. “No doubt, having heard it often enough, Al.”

Okay, so.” Baker ignored them. “We're not going to get any cooperation from Roberts, so what are our legal options?” He looked pointedly at Baird. “I hope you found something we can use for leverage.”

Well now.” Hamilton leaned back in his chair. “What all would you fine gentlemen have liked me to find?” He said. “You all did fire her.” He lifted his hands. “You all want me to turn back time?”

We have to have legal options. You're a lawyer.” Baker said.

I am, indeed, a lawyer.” Hamilton agreed. “So as a lawyer, and as the senior legal hack here at ILS, I will tell you there is not much you can do about our ex employee doing whatever it is she pleases, because you all, like wet noodle idiots, decided to fire her. It's a little late to be calling in Mr. Lousiana Lawer now.”

Alastair chuckled. “If you all had a single piece of sense, you'd just go with her offer. Let her go open a business. Take her package, and not end up being a thorn the size of a space shuttle in your ass.”

Well said, Al.” Hamiliton complimented him. “What he said.” He pointed at the ex CEO. “That is also my legal recommendation.”

No way.” Baker said. “I'm not giving her a fucking cent.”

Hamilton lifted his hands, and then let the drop. “All righty then, we could have done this over a text message. Al, you free for dinner?”

Sure am.”

It's your job to find a way to nail her” Baker said. “Or did you sleep with her too?”

Baird's demeanor changed. He stood up and put his fingertips on the table, leaning on them. “Listen, you moron.” He said. “It is my job to keep ILS out of trouble and make sure we do things in a legal way that keeps out out of the eyes of regulators. It is not my job to make up stuff and then have it crammed back down my throat in a court of law.”

Baker stared at him in frustration.

Dar Roberts and I have a long, long history of hen and cock fighting the likes of which God has not seen the end of. But.” Hamilton held up his hand. “There is no person in this company, not you, not the rest of you morons, not even Al, that I respect more as a person, and as an employee who gave 200 percent for this crack shack, then her.”

Alastair smiled to himself, twiddling his fingers and regarding them as he nodded along with the words.

So if you do not want to have my size elevens shoved so far up your ass you'd have to tie my shoelaces with your uvula, then do not repeat that statement.” Hamilton sat down. “Now. I have given you my legal advice. You got any other idiotic thing to say?”

Jacques leaned forward. '”You are serious, aren't you, Hamilton?”

As a heart attack.” The lawyer responded. “It's a damn disgrace what you people did. Not only was it stupid, not only was it knee jerk, and shortsighted, and counter to the BEST INTERESTS OF THIS DAMN COMPANY.” His voice lifted to a yell, then paused, to let the echo fade. “It is againt the grace of god what you did to someone who gave so much to make ILS what it is. You all should be damned ashamed of yourselves.”

She was going to take those contracts!” Baker yelled.

She earned them.” Alastair spoke up. “Those contracts were ours because of her raw talent and ability.” He folded his hands on the table. “But even in that, she dind't ask for them. “

Oh, bullshit.”

Alasatair shrugged. “Let's go get that beer, Ham. I've not got much more to say. I'll save what I do have for the press, and for the shareholders when they ask me.”

Hamilton's eyes twinkled. “Nice being retired, ain't it?”

You betcha!”

Okay, hold on.” Jacques held a hand up. “Yes, it is true. We over reacted.”

Now you too?” Baker fumed. “None of you have balls!”

That is not true.” Jacques said. “I have a right to speak my mind, as you have, John, and has Pier, and Richard, and Toby, and also our two friends here. It takes a big person to admit fault. We did overreact.”

Baker stared at him. “The shareholders are going to lynch us. That what you're bucking for?”

The Frenchman lifted his hands and and then put them back on the table. “That is what comes with the responsibility. We have to stand behind our decisions. Perhaps this was a bad one.”

Baker just sighed and shook his head, leaning it against a fist propped against the table. “Fuck.”

Dar said to me.” Alastair spoke after a small silence. “She'd go along with a package, and public silence, but she coudln't stop her business since it was already in place and going forward.” He paused, and reflected. “Gentlemen, that's the best offer you're going to get.”

Sure she agreed. She gets money, and freedom and we just get shit.” Baker said.

John. You fired her.” Alastiar said, in a gentle tone. “She did not ask to be fired. She gave us 6 months notice she was going to retire from here.”

Baker sighed again. “I just hate her.” He said, bluntly. “If I had a gun,I'd have shot her the last time I saw her.”

Uh huh. Better hope you killed her on the first shot then, you weasling jackass.” Hamilton said. “Cause she'd break you in half otherwise, and if that didn't happen, then you'd get a knock on the door by her very Southern, very black and white, very Navy Seal father and we would never find your body.”

Mm.” Alastair nodded. “That's true. Y'know, the most relaxing time I had during that whole mess in New York was taking that train ride out to Long Island with papa Roberts.”

Did I tell you I got cornered by those no neck lovelies from the Governor downstairs.” Hamilton asked him. “They were doing me a grand old Mafia family discussion with me up until Andy showed up and short sheeted them right on out of there. Gorgeous old salt.”

If you let her take this deal.” Alastair said. “She will honor it, and not entertain the press with what will be hundreds if not thousands of stories about how we did business.”

You really believe that?” Baker sighed.

With all my heart.” McLean replied. “I've been in business all my life, John. I can count on my one hand's fingers how many people I would say that about across the length of my career.” He pondered a moment. “And by the way, John?”

Yeah?” Baker sighed again.

Me personally? I won't ever forgive you for making my last act as an employee of this company firing those two.” Alastair said placidly. “So do yourself a favor, and don't get in front of my truck when I'm driving on out of here.”

Alastair, the decision was all of ours.” Jacques said, quietly. “It is not fair to let it stand on John's back.”

Alastair merely smiled at him.

Toby Peterson cleared his throat. “Gents.” He said. “It's hard to swallow. I was one of the first ones to agree with John on the firing, because it seemed to me that we were in danger of letting someone who was leaving take our customers with her.”

And that might be true.” Hamilton remarked. “But firing her sure as hell wouldn't stop that.”

Toby held a hand up. “We were mad. If we lose those armed forces contracts we'll have to go back and reforcast the entire year. You think that's going to be fun?”

If you treat Dar fairly, she might just tell them to leave those contracts with us and move forward with something else.” Alastair said.

Oh please.” Baker rolled his eyes.

He's right.” Hamilton shrugged. “If Al asked her to do that, she would.”

Alastair glanced at him.

She would.” The lawyer insisted. “C”mon, Al. She could have sat in that hotel and watched you fry. You pulled that whole team off the job. Didn't have to do no crazy stunts, or nothing. No harm to her at all – you told her to do it.”

True.” Alastair said.

That was for you.” Hamilton stated. “Kerry risked arrest, and bodily harm to get that cable in place, with old Dar sitting on the floor with a pair of rocket scientists typing so fast you could not hear the keys. I saw it, sweat flying everywhere.”

Alastair nodded, but didn't speak.

Okay.” Toby said. “I get it. You don't have to keep hammering me over the head, Hamilton.”

Don't I?”

We should take the offer, the deal.” Jacques said. “Really, we have no choice, if, as you say, there is nothing we can present to anyone as an excuse for what we did.”

You don't.” Hamilton said. “The minute you all agreed to let those two women have a relationship and not say anything about it you lost any ability to put that card on the table. That is, boys, the only thing on either of their dance cards that could possibly have given you leverage, and you let that go on for years, and gave them both bonuses, and all that.”

That was your fault.” Baker pointed at Alastair. “You told us to ignore it.”

I did.” He agreed. “It was the best thing to do for the company at the time, and the yearly results that came after that validates the decision.”

Jacques sighed. “You know what the worst of it is?” He said. “We will not have that.. how do you call it? The magic to rely on anymore. We will have to do our jobs.” He held his hand up “I vote to accept the offer.”

Seconded.” Toby backed him up. The rest of the board grumbled but lifted their hands.

Baker looked at them. “I want it on the record I object.” He said. “I will not vote for that.”

Unfortunately, you ass, we just need a majority.” Hamilton said. “I will record that this board voted to accept the offer from old Dar, and I suggest that Al deliver the message, even though he doesn't actually work for us anymore.”

Alastair nodded. “Sure.” He said. “I'll do it.”

Baker rolled his eyes. “So have we found anyone to go take charge of that nuthouse in Miami?” He asked. “The agency that's looking for us said they had one candidate, but they called and said they got another position.”

Steak?” Hamilton leaned over and whispered. “I think our work here's done.”

Sounds good.” Alastair stood up. “Folks, I'll deliver your message. If you keep your tempers, and be nice, I might even agree to go over to Miami and hold the fort there until you can find a new CIO. Those people there trust me at least.”

That mean we have to pay you again?” Baker said, but his expression was mollified. “Least it'll give us some breathing room.”

Thank you Alastair.” Toby said, with a brief smile. “That would be nice.”

Right. Ham, let's go.” Alastair dusted his hands off. “You ever see a rodeo?”

Lord, I am in deep cheese grits.” Hamiltion picked up his papers and followed as Alastair made his way towards the door.


Kerry brushed a bit of dust off the sleeve of her sweater, and took a breath, lettting it out as she stood in line to go into the courtroom. She had a folder with papers clasped in her hand, and she glanced at the clock, as the doors opened to let them in.

There were about twenty people with her, and they all had sheets of paper like hers, and she watched them all start shifting and moving as the clerk of the courts stepped back to let them go forward.

Thursday. Hard to believe it was already Thursday. They'd had two days of hurry up and wait, as things jerked into process from their standing start and now, finally, she was reasonably confident they could actually have Mayte and Maria come in on Monday and be able to do the things needed to make them employed.

Sort of. They still had a lot of stuff like medical benefits to work out, and policies. Kerry rubbed the bridge of her nose, and wondered if Dar would go for bringing an HR person onboard yet.

She followed the line of people inside, and found a seat, barely getting into it before a tall figure hopped over the row of chairs and joined her. “Oh. Hey!” She felt a smile appear as she recognized her partner. “Didin't expect to see you here.. thought we were going to meet at the office?”

Hey.” Dar settled into the seat. “Didn't think I'd let you do this by yourself didja?” She asked. “C'mon, Ker.”

Well.” Kerry ran a hand through her hair. “Its just a five minute thing, they said. I thought you were busy with Richard.”

All done.” Dar leaned back and folded her hands on her lap. “We just got back from the bank picking up the checkbooks.” She smiled briefly. “We better get that electronic fast. I can't remember the last time I actually signed a check.”

Kerry smiled, feeling both more relaxed and happier now that she had Dar at her side. She'd been halfway hoping her partner would show up for the court proceedings, but she hadn't wanted to ask since Dar had been crazy busy for the last three days getting everything rolling.

And so had she, of course. “AT&T will be out this afternoon for a site survey.” She said. “I said I'd meet them when I was done here.”

Good.” Dar regarded the courtroom with some bemusement. “Alastair said the board meeting was called for this afternoon. He thinks Hamilton might try to convince them to shut up and cut a deal.”


Yes.” Dar looked slightly embarassed. “Apparently he came down on our side.”

Really?” Kerry had to smile. “I think you grew on him.”

I think he didn't want my father to show up at his townhouse with a baseball bat.” Dar demurred. “There's going to be conditions I”m sure. Just remains to be seen if we'll agree to them.”

Hm. When's the meeting with Brigg's suppose to be, tomorrow afternoon?” Kerry pinched the bridge of her nose. “Things are moving really fast, Dar. Sheesh.”

Dar patted her back. “By the way, Gerry's due here tomorrow morning to talk about the contracts, and deliver our puppy. He just called me before I walked in.”

Gerry. Puppy. “Bu.. wh...”

Kerrison Stuart?”

I need a beer.” Kerry stood up and edged past Dar's long legs. “Be right back, hon.”

You'll get one.” Dar promised, watching Kerry make her way up the aisle and show her papers to the clerk, who stepped back and allowed her to go forward to face the judge.

Her PDA buzzed and she pulled it out to glance at it.

Hey boss – found a rad datacenter all the way south near the cutoff to card sound. Empty, the guys who were supposed to take it went bankrupt and it's ours for a song. M

Ah. Dar grunted softly, putting the device away and returning her attention to her partner. Kerry was now standing up near the judges bench, her hands clasped behind her, flourescent lights reflecting slightly off her pale hair.

She had her blue sweater and her dark khakis on and in Dar's eyes, she looked adorable. Nervous, but adorable. Dar saw her square her shouders and nod, and then reach up to take a piece of paper from the judge, who was regarding her with a mild and tolerant expression.

It's done. Dar got up and moved down the aisle to greet her partner as she came even with her, exchanging a grin as Kerry waved the paper at her. “That was fast.”

It was.” Kerry agreed. “Let's go.” She exhaled happily. “Kerry Roberts. You like how that sounds?”

Dar laughed. “What exactly are you expecting me to say to that?” She draped her arm over Kerry's shoulders as they exited the courtroom. “No?”

Do you think it was weird of me to do this? Now that it's done?” Kerry asked, after a pause.

Dar considered that as they walked down the steps and stepped out into the bright sunlight of a Florida winter's day. “I have to say I never really thought anyone would do that.. I mean, want to change their name to mine.” She said thoughtfully. “Back in the day, before I realized I wasn't going to get married, I think I'd decided I wasn't ever going to chagne mine.”

Really.. no, never mind. Retract that. Of course you woudn't.” Kerry said. “You have every right in the world to be proud of that name.”

Mm.. well, my dad's family isn't exactly something he's proud of.” Dar said. “But yeah, that never bothered me because he's my dad.”

Lucky you.” Kerry paused, then smiled. “Lucky us.”

Let's walk over to the Thai place.” Dar suggested. “They have beer.”

Now that I'm not in knots, they also have sushi.” Kerry admitted. “I don't know why I was so nervous about that, all he asked me was something about was I changing my name to escape the law? “

And you said?”'

I said no, just to escape the lousy taste of my upbringing.”

Nice.” Dar drawled. “So lets get some sushi, then go to our new digs, and see if I can beat the buttcrack in punching down our circuits.”

Oh boy.”


At last there was some peace in her day. Kerry was perched on an old wooden stool in what was becoming her office, leaning a clipboard on her lap and writing some notes on it. It was almost sunset, and the light was glancing past the window, putting a golden glow on the leaves of the trees just outside.

There was a lot going on. She could hear hammers and circular saws going in the offices to either side of her, and the distinctive jingle of the cable runners as they worked their way down the hall.

There were two sawhorses and a piece of plywood serving her as a desk, and she could smell the sea coming in the window along with a spicy scent from some restaurant down the way.

She'd changed out of her sweater and slacks that she'd worn to the courthouse into jeans and a sweatshirt, and she had the sleeves pushed up over her elbows as she worked.


Correctly assuming she was being addressed, Kerry looked up. “Yes?” She motioned the figure at the door to enter. It was one of the maintenance people from the landlord's management company, who'd been detailed to assist them in moving in.

There's a delivery for you downstairs.” The man said, apologetically, wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead. “Boy, this is a busy place all of a sudden.”

Kerry slipped off her stool and put her clipboard down on the makeshift desk. “Lead on.” She said, following the man out and along the hallway. It was open to the outside, though there were shutters that could be slid down in bad weather. It over looked the inner square, and Kerry glanced down to see the newly contracted landscaping company busy at work.

Nice to see the place being made up though.” The man said, as he ambled along at her side. “Thought the kid was gonna have to sell it off for a bit. Pity. Been in that family a while.”

It's a nice building.” Kerry offered. “We liked it as soon as we saw it. Nice area, and the space worked for us.”

The man nodded. “Lot of histry around here. It's nice. I live over there in that apartment building.” He pointed. “You can walk to everything.”

They went down the steps to the ground floor in the back of the building, where there was a truck waiting. “Hello.” Kerry greeted him. “What do you have for us?”

The driver unlatched the back door of the truck and opened it. “That's yours” He pointed at the contents.

Kerry peered inside. “Ah.” She said. “Furniture. Cool.”

Sign?” The driver handed over the clipboard and a pen.

She scanned the packing list, mentally checking off the items, then nodded and started to sign the manifest, pausing after her first name. Then she smiled and continued to write, finishing with a slight flourish and handing it back. “There ya go.”

The driver and his helper hopped inside and extended the rear gate, preparing to get a pallet jack into position to move the delivery.

Kerry turned to the building supervisor. “Is there an elevator?”

The man nodded. “Freight, over there.”

Okay, let's wait for it to come down and I can separate what's first floor and what's second.” Kerry stepped back to give the room and folded her arms over her chest, regarding her first purchases for their new place.

Nothing very exotic. The nicest piece of furniture she'd reserved for her partner's desk, with a top that was adjustable to height, with a wraparound design that would be confortable for Dar to sit at while she worked, and yet, would allow her to raise up part of it to stand if she wanted to

Sometimes, she did. She got tired of sitting down like anyone else would and Kerry had found her more than once with her laptop on the drink credenza at the old office pecking away while she stood there.

There was also a smart board for Dar's office, and, for the corner, a nice zero gravity chair and a reading light in case she wanted to chill out for a few minutes.

She'd spent a lot more time on Dar's office than her own. Her furniture was more or less the same but she'd added a small workgroup table and chairs for the corner of her office rather than the relaxing chair.

For the rest of the offices they would have people for in the short term – she'd gotten modular desks and comfortable chairs, and the floors had been covered and lined with rubber surfaces. “Okay, so, those two pallets – they go upstairs.” She pointed. “Those three stay here, and the ones in the back, they go upstairs too.”

All right.” The driver agreed. “But y'know, we're just supposed to drop it at the dock” He eyed her. “Don't suppose you want to be hauling that all yourself, huh?”

Kerry smiled at him. “I sure don't.” She responded. “But I'm open to a delivery fee. Interested?”

The driver grinned. “Now that's my kinda customer.” He motioned to his helper. “C'mon, Jake. We're gonna get us some beer money. It's our last stop anyhow.”

Kerry chuckled, taking a breath of the cool air and exhaling in contentment. There was a pallet jack and she thought she could figure out how to use it, but having two big strong men who already knew how to do it made a lot more sense to her, especially since she had some cash in her pocket to reward the with.

Sometimes, it did not pay to play the butch card.


Kerry turned, to find Dar approaching. Her partner was in jeans and a sleeveless sweatshirt, with a tool belt full of punch down paraphernalia strapped around her waist. “Hey. Furniture's here.” She indicated the pallets.

So I see.” Dar said. “What do you want to do about telephones?” She asked “I'd rather use the twisted pair for data, and not have to split off a pair fro phones.” She folded her arms over her chest, and regarded the pallet now making it's way down to the floor. “Huh. Nice chair.”

Glad you like it.” Kerry reached over and brushed a bit of pull string fuzz of Dar's bare shoulder. “Let's see what we can do about using an IP phone system. Let me call and see what revolutionary stuff is available we can prototype.”

Okay.” Dar agreed. “Let me go back to installing that demarc. “Looks like we can hook into the same pops for a ring that ILS did.” She hitched her thumbs into her work belt and winked at Kerry, then sauntered back into the building.

Scuse me, ma'am.”

Kerry put her lustful stare on hold and backed up out of the way, looking down the service ally and spotting a small cafe on the corner opposite the end of it. “Be right back.” She circled around the building super and strolled down the lane, which had the wall of their building on one side, and a thick leafy hedge on the other.

It was nice. Even the dumpsters she was walking by were relatively clean. She got ot the corner and crossed the street, exchanging brief smiles with two women seated at a table outside before she entered the cafe.

It was mostly empty, but the staff were obviously getting ready for a busier evening. “Hello.”

Hey.” The girl behind the bar greeted her. “Whatcha want?”

Two lattes, extra shot of expresso, to go please.” Kerry slid onto a stool to wait, as the woman busied herself with her order. The cafe had a coffee bar, with a case full of the usual pastry selections, and about ten small tables with menus stuck in table tents on them.

There were also tents on the bar, and Kerry removed a menu and studied it. After a moment she put it back, having found a couple items she could forsee herself ordering for lunch in the weeks to come. Next door to the cafe was a pizza shop, and next to that a Thai place.

Nice. At the old office, unless they wanted to take a car out, it was pretty much restricted to the cafeteria downstairs, or the executive lunch room upstairs.

This ramble of choices seemed more fun.

So hey.” The girl that had taken her order came back over to her and leaned on the other side of the counter. “You working around here? I saw you go by a few times the last couple days.”

One of Kerry's very blond eyebrows hiked a little. “Yeah.” She agreed thoughtfully. “The next building that way.” She pointed. “We just moved in.”

Oh! The old Supertravel place.”

Kerry nodded.

That's been empty a while.” The girl commented. “The last people there, the nail people.. they were cool. Had piercings and all that stuff.”


But no one wanted to go in there. Too much of a bummer, you know? Just them in that little space and everything else empty.”

Kerry nodded again. “Yeah, I know what you mean – they would have been rattling around in there. It's a pretty big space for a small operation like that.”

The girl waited for her to go on, but Kerry merely sat there, with her hands folded. “So did your company rent part of it, or..” Now her eyebrow lifted in question.

All of it.” Her patron cheerfully supplied.

'So what do you guys do?”

Kerry cleared her throat. “It's high tech.” She said. “Computer services, networks, that kind of thing.” She observed the body language across from her and decided her interrogator was pleased with the information. “We're a new startup.” She fished gently.

No need. “Oh, that's very cool.” The girl said immediately. “You hiring? When are you going to get that all going? Most of the companies that move in here already have all their staff.” She reached behind her and secured a stack of paper to go menus. “Want to put these out? We love free advertising.”

Kerry chuckled. “Sure.” She took the menus. “We're probably going to start taking applications in a couple of weeks. We've got lot of work we're doing on the building first, getting furniture and stuff in.”

Good to know. Is it all tech stuff?”

Tech stuff, sure, but also regular office positions. Accounting, logistics, you know.” Kerry said. “Spread the word? We don't mind free advertising either.”

You bet.” The girl smiled. “I”m Janine.” She offered a hand. “What's the company name?”

Kerry.” Her customer replied. “And it's Roberts Automation.”

She took her coffees, paid for them, then retreated back towards their building with a sense of satisfaction. She could hear snatches of music, and smell something barbequing somewhere nearby, and she was smiling as she trotted up the back stairs and headed down the hall towards their new offices.

Yeah. This was good. She edged around the pallets in the hall and squeezed into her space, going over the interconnecting door when she heard Dar's voice drifitng through it. “Hey hon.” She poked her head inside, then proceeded as she saw her partner by the window.

Dar turned, and spotted the coffee. “Ah. You rock.” She took hers. “I was just thinking about who to call to have a coffee machine installed here.”

The building super was standing there, having been the other half of that conversation. “Well, we used to have a service, you know, one of those Continental or somethings.” He said. “The last people, they just had a Mr. Coffee drip machine.” He added. “Used to leave em on all the time. Smells bad, burnt coffee.”

It does.” Dar agreed “I'd rather have a small local company in here. Anyone around who'd be up for stocking dorm refrigerators with drinks and maybe do single cup coffees?”

The man looked at her in surprise. “You mean like one of the shops around here?”

Dar nodded. “Nerds need caffeine, sugar, and protein.” She said. “It keeps the brain cells spinning.”

He put his hands on his hips. “Now that's an interesting question. Lemme ask around.” He gave Dar a look of respectful appreciation. “I guess all them vending machine people and stuff will be asking to talk to you. They pulled all that stuff out after the travel people left.”

Not fond of them, especially the ones that take your money.” Dar responded.

Well.” Kerry took a sip of her coffee. “We really think we should set a better example than candy bars.”

Dar just started laughing, shaking her head and wandering off back to where the drivers were unpalletizing her desk.

Anyway.” Kerry had to chuckle, acknowledging the irony. “We'll figure out something. We're going to have a few more people showing up on Monday to work.”

The man nodded, then they both turned as a soft knock sounded on the door frame. “Hello, sir.”

Their landlord came in, looking around with appreciation. “You folks don't waste any time.”

No we don't.” Kerry said. “We've got our papers and our checkbook. Why not come over to my space and I'll square that away with you.” She went back to her office followed by Marcus, putting down her coffee on her plywood temporary desk and pulling over the leather case full of documents. “Sit.”

He pulled over a stool and parked himself on it, hooking his leather booted heels on the rungs. Today he was dressed in a Ambercrombie and Fitch zipped hoodie, and jeans, and had on a leather wristband to compliment the outfit.

Kerry wondered briefly if he was gay. Her gaydar was unreliable at best. “Okay so – here's a copy of our incorporation documents, and a check for the first month. You did say we'd get half off, right?” Her eyes twinkled a little, as she handed it over. “I think we're making up for it in renovation.”

No argument.” Marcus took the papers cheerfully. “I'm getting a lot more out of this deal than I thought I would. I looked you guys up on the internet. You're sorta famous.”

Sorta.” Kerry agreed, with a brief grin. “In a notorious, fifteen minutes of fame kinda way.”

Why'd you decide to cut out on your own?” He asked in a curious voice. “Seemed to me like you all were doing great.”

Kerry rested her elbows on her knees, as she watched the drivers diligently delivering her desk across the room. “Yeah, back to the wall, facing the windows, guys.” She paused, the returned her attention to their landlord.

I'm just being nosy.” He offered. “You don't have to answer that.”

I don't mind.” Kerry replied. “ILS fired us. So we walked down the street, and opened our own company.” She felt a sense of curious satisfaction saying it. “Stuff happens, you know?”

Sure do!” Marcus sighed. “More than you know. I just got fired from Sedanos. They said they wante someone more latino to be their marketing head.” He eyed her. “You don't seem latino. Want someone to do your marketing for you?”

Kerry was caught between sympathy and laughter. “Don't you think that's a conflict of interest?” She queried.

He shrugged. “It's Miami.”

Yes, that was true. “Let me talk to Dar about it.” Kerry said. “I am not sure we're ready for a marketing department yet, but we will when we're up and going.”

He grinned at her. “I like you guys. My mother would have liked you guys. You're family and you're not cheapskates.”

Ah. “Guilty both charges.” Kerry answered easily. “From what I've seen aroudn the Grove so far, we should be comfortable here.”

He nodded. “No problem. Most of the businesses that move in here – they're looking for an audience, you know? But no one around here needs high tech.. at least, the kinda stuff you were talking about. So you're not competition.”

Ah. That's true.” Kerry hadn't thought about it that way, but now, the interest of their neighbors made more sense. “We'll be clients. Trust me. Nerds that work here will go and eat, and drink and buy stuff if it's walking distance. I know my kind.”

Exactly.” Marcus agreed. “And you're not a pawn shop.” He exhaled in satisfaction. “But I was kinda curious.. what kind of customer do you have? Who buys that stuff?”

Today? Almost everyone.” Kerry said. “High tech, meaning computers, and wireless, and high speed internet, and websites.. pretty much everyone needs it. At ILS, we had to deal with the biggest of companies to make the financial model work. Now, we can take small customers we'd never have looked at there.”

Marcus had been nodding the whole time she talked. “You get it.”

I get it.” Kerry said. “But.. “ Her eyes twinkled again. “We could get some bigger clients that might surprise you.”

Ker?” Dar poked her head in the door. “If your desk is here, can we borrow your sawhorses to set them up in the conference room so our friends have somewhere to meet with us tomorrow?”

Sure.” Kerry got up and picked up her things off the plywood. “Does that mean we need to rent folding chairs for them?” She stood back as two of the building people entered and started taking away her table. She let them remove it, then she walked over to her now assembled desk, where the drivers were waiting patiently. “Thanks guys.”

No problem.” The lead driver said. “This stuff went together easy. Not like that cardboard stuff.”

Kerry offered him a folded bill. “I really appreciate it.”

The man glance down, then up at her with a broad grin. “Lady, so do I.” He motioned to his partner. “Lets go. We got beer to drink.”

She waited for them to go, then she set her things down on the surface of her new desk, and perched on a corner of it. “I think we're going to like it here.”

Marcus grinned and bounced on the stool. “Think the feeling's mutual!”

Ahh.” Kerry spread her arms out on their jacuzzi, gazing up at the night sky full of stars. “What a day.”

The doors to the condo slid open behind her, and the smell of chocolate emerged. She glanced to one side to find a steaming cup being set down by her, joined by a plate of freshly cut fruit. “That looks awesome.”

So do you.” Dar joined her in the tub, settling into the hot bubbling water with a contented sigh. “So, how many goons you think Bridges is going to send to talk to us?” She picked up a slice of apple and munched on it.

Hopefully not more than we have chairs for.” Kerry closed her eyes and savored the rumble of the bubbles against her skin. “Can you believe it's been less than a week, Dar?”

Crazy.” Her partner agreed, glancing at her new cell gizmo as it rang. She reached over and picked it up, then opened it as she saw the caller ID. “Evening, Alastair.”

Kerry slid over to listen.

Tell Hamilton I say hi.” Dar said. “Yes, the sound you hear is the jacuzzi.”

Well, glad youe getting a chance to relax, Dar.” Alastair's voice came through the speaker. “So are Ham and I, matter of fact. We're in that steakhouse near the big office. Just got out of the board meeting.”

And I was of the opinion, Maestro, that I was owed a beer.”

He got it for us.” Kerry whispered. “Or he wouldn't be calling you that.”

Dar covered the mouthpiece and smiled, nodding at her. She then removed her hand. “So what can I do for you gentlemen this evening?”

Here's the thing, Dar.” Alastair said. “It took some convincing, but we got the board to agree to your terms. You can go on about your new business, and they'll finish out the retirement package, including paying you until your resignation date.”

Dar's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. “And.. I have to do what?”

Stay clear of the press.” Alastair said. “Don't solicit existing ILS customers, or employees.” He added. “Except for the two customers who have already approached you, that is. Can't do anything about that, I suppose.”

Dar and Kerry exchanged a long look. “Alastair, I can see what I can do about Gerry and the existing contracts.” She said. “Bridges, that I have limited control over.”


Three existing employees are already coming to work for us.” Dar went on. “Two of them solicted us before we left, and I asked Mark Polenti to come with us the night you fired me.”

And the other two are?” Alastair didn't sound very surprised.

Our admins.”

Dar heard Hamilton laugh in the background. “I mean, c'mon, Alastair. I'm probably only going to hire fifty people.” Dar said. “You've got a quarter million of them.”

Not me.” Alastair protested. “I'm retired.”

Well.” Alastair mused. “It is a right to work state, isn't it? If they come to you, as in, if they resign and decide to go elsewhere, not much we can do about it.”


But Dar, please, don't solict people.” Hamilton's voice edged in. “Why would you have to? They all want to come work for you and live in your garage. We all know it. You even offered Al a job. I could get a complex.”

I don't think I can afford you, Hamilton.” Dar started to smile again. “We'll be judicious, I promise. I mean, hell, Alastair. We don't even have benefits or anything set up. Those people aren't stupid. They have families.”

I would have come to work for you without benefits.” Kerry commented. “Hell, you were the benefit I was interested in. I didn't even know what you were paying me until I got my first auto deposit.”

Dar gave her a droll look.

I heard that.” Hamilton cackled. “And I totally do believe it's true.”

Dar sighed. “Listen, we dont have the scope to handle most of ILS's customers. We're starting small, and see where it all goes. I”m not out to put them out of business. I just want to make a living.”

Maestro, do you not realize those men in that boardroom are scared to death of you all doing just that?” Hamilton said. “They are pissed off, because they have become used to rolling in the dough based a good part on your work, and now they aint' got that.”

Dar sighed again. “They'll find someone. I'm not a rocket scientist.”

Yes you are.” Kerry objected, at the same time both Alastair and Hamilton did.


All right, Dar.” Alastair chuckled “Its your own damn fault. “

Yeah, I know.” Dar responded in a resigned tone. “But you know what, Alastair? That goes both ways. I hear them out there talking crap about me, all bets are off.”

There was a momentary silence “I'll make sure they know.” Alastair said, after that pause. “We'll send the papers down for signature. IN fact, I'll bring em myself. I told the board I'd go down there and try to sooth some feathers. Lot of still very upset people in that office.”

Nice of you.”

Alastair sighed. “Well, I'll give them someone to yell at, anyway.” He said. “Talk to you later, ladies.”

Night, Alastair. Night Hamilton.” Kerry had her chin resting on Dar's collarbone. “Enjoy the beer.”

Dar closed the phone and put it down. “I should feel like that was a win. Why don't I?




The island gym was mostly empty, the early morning light pouring into the spinning area and casting long, and still shadows across the floor.

Kerry finished her set of sit ups and paused, wiping her face off with her towel. She lay back down and felt the chill of the board against her back as she relaxed, feeling some of the compression come off her spine.

Off to one corner, Dar was busy doing some punching bag work, her hands encased in blue leather gloves as she batted at the hanging ball with a steady rhythm.

Kerry watched her for a minute, then she crossed her arms over her chest and started another set, twisting a little to each side as she pulled herself up to give her trunk muscles a little workout as well

It felt good. Tiring, but good. She finished the set and unhooked her legs, swiveling around and putting her feet against the ground, stretching as she stood up.

How's your ribs?”

Kerry turrned to find Dar boxing in place nearby, bouncing back and forth from one foot to the other. “Fine.” She said. “Haven't had a twinge for weeks.”

Good.” Dar tapped her gloves together. “If you were going to have one, it would be on that board.”

Uh huh.” Kerry hung her towel around her neck. “Dont' remind me.”

Dar batted her playfully on the shoulder, then she bounced back over to the boxing area, leaving the hanging bag behind and going for the big body bag instead, unleashing solid hits on it.

Kerry went to the shoulder press instead, and seated herself, pausing to adjust her grip as the door opened and two other residents came in to join them, making the crowd in the gym now equal to four. This early, it was usually like that. The place would get busier as the day went on, and was positively really crowded just after work hours.

Dar really enjoyed the boxing stuff. Kerry had positioned herself to keep her partner in view, and she enjoyed watching her graceful rhythm as she worked around the bag, trading hits with kicks, the impacts loud enough to raise a small echo.

She, on the other hand, stuck with her shoulder presses, leaning forward to keep proper form as she shoved the handles up over her head, sucking in a breath as she lowered them back down and felt the ache.

Again, it felt good. She'd been stuck for a while with just some light swimming, while her ribs healed and though she'd gotten enough out of it to keep herself in trim, it wasn't the same as the exercise she got from the weight training she preferred.

Weird, since she'd taken so long to decide if she liked the exercise or not, but now that she'd gotten used to it, skipping it made her feel a distinct lack of energy and she was happy to get back to her regular routine.

She finished her presses, and went on to the line of leg machines, giving her upper body a rest as she hooked her feet under the quad bar and settled back to start flexing, folding her hands across her stomach. “Hey Dar.” She called over, now that she was much closer to her partner.

Yes?” Dar paused in her assault on the bag and turned, putting her gloved hands on her hips and raising a brow in question. She was wearing a pair of threadbare sweatpants and a sports bra, and the effect was curiously sexy. “Did you need to ask me something?”

Did she? Kerry wrestled her thoughts back around. “What do we want to name the puppy?”





How about Chocolate Chip.”

Didn't I feed you breakfast this morning?” Kerry said, in fond exasperation. “Seriously.”

Dar sauntered over and rested her arm against the machine Kerry was seated on. “I was serious. It's a brown dog.” She said, reasonably. “We named our cream colored dog Cappuchino, didn't we?”

Kerry finished her set and let the weights down. “We did.” She confirmed. “But Brownie?”

Dar deftly unlaced her gloves with her teeth, and pulled them off, flexing her hands. “How about Coffee?”

Kerry covered her eyes and mock sighed. “Paladar Katherine.”

Dar chuckled, reaching over to ruffle Kerry's sweat drenched hair. “You name him.” She said. “I”m going to go take a shower and finish puppy proofing the house.”

Oh, right behind you.” Kerry got up off the machine, feeling the all over ache of muscles well used. “How about Mocha?” She asked, as she tagged along towards the changing room. “Chocolate and coffee. Brown dog. That work?”

Mmmmoooocha.” Dar burred. “I like it.” She went to the teak doored locker they shared and opened it. “I hope Chino doesn't decide to chew us in our sleep for this though.”

Kerry chuckled. “I was trying to remember how I felt about getting a baby sister.” She admitted. “But I was too young. I don't even remember what it was like when Mike was born.”

Mm.” Dar tossed her gloves and boots inside, then grabbed her towel and headed for the shower. “Sometimes I think about what having a sibling would have been like.” She said. “But my parents I think were pretty sure one was enough.”

And I agree.”

I'm sure you do.”


C'mon, Chi.” Kerry motioned for their pet to hop up into the truck. “We're going to the office, and you'er going to meet a new friend.”

Growf.” Chino settled on the big bench seat, her tail wagging, delighted to be included again in their travels.

I think she likes coming with us.” Kerry got into the passenger seat of the truck, while Dar was leaning over the front window, putting their new sticker on. She leaned back and hiked her leather booted foot up to rest on her opposite knee. “Feels good to not have to worry about what's going on in that old office, you know, Dar?”

Yes, I know.” Dar swung back into the truck and closed the door. “I never really realized how it hung over me until it wasnt there.” She started up the trucks engine. “I know we're going to be involved in our own stuff, but it's not the same thing.”

No.” Kerry idly petted Chino's head as the Lab stood up on the back seat and shoved her muzzle between the front seats. “I always dreaded my cell phone ringing. I knew it was something down, something broken, some customer pissed off.. you get tired of the I'm really sorry and I'll try to get that fixed for you type of conversations.”

Yeah.” Dar pulled out and drove slowly around the golf course, going between trees and bushes, bright flashes of flowers, and a brief glimpse of a peacock before she reached the turnoff to the ferry terminal. “I feel like a weight's off my shoulders to tell you the truth.”

Kerry smiled at her, turning half sideways in her seat to watch her partner's profile.

Its like its all brand new.” Dar parked, and leaned back in her seat, giving Chino a scratch under her jaw. “I didn't think it would be like this.”

Me either.” Kerry admitted. “Oh crap, forgot to tell you. I got a call from Colleen while you were getting dressed. She's got all our stuff.”

Ah.” Dar grunted. “Cool.”

Including your fish.” Kerry said. “She said she fed them some corned beef.”

Aw.” Dar smiled a little. “I sort of missed them. They were nice to look at. Want to have her meet us at the new office with all of it?”

Kerry smiled back. “Already asked her.” She said. “She's meeting us there. She said Duks told her to take the rest of the day off.”

Dar watched the channel go by. “Gerry's going to meet us there at one? I think that's what he said.”

Yes.” Kerry agreed. “Having Chino meet the puppy in a neutral space is probably a good idea.” She regarded her pet. “Not that she's got an aggressive hair on her body, but you never know.” She tickled Chino's ears with her fingertips. “We can watch them play together before we bring him home.”

Mmmmocha.” Dar drawled. “Mocha and Chino. It's trendy precious, but I don't care.”

Kerry chuckled.

The ferry docked, and they rolled off, heading along the causeway in the bright noon sun.


Friday, even at lunch time, already had a sense that it was a downhill slide into the weekend. There were more people on the streets, and the cafes seemed fuller. Kerry was in her office getting things sorted out, boxes of her knick nacks and office stuff sitting on her new desk.

You know, I like this place.” Colleen remarked. “Much less hoolaganism going on.”

Well for now.” Kerry studied the built in shelves between the window, and brought a box over to start populating them. “But yeah, its quieter over here, and more relaxed.” She glanced over her shoulder. “How's it going over at the other place?”

Colleen made a face at her. “Kind of a wreck, really.” She perched on Kerry's desk. “Not so bad by us, you know we bean counters keep to ourselves, but it's a riot on ten, and on fourteen.”

Kerry nodded. “Yeah. I figured.” She said. “There were a lot of things in flight there. I had about ten projects in motion when they cut us loose, and God only knows what Dar was into.” She removed a stack of pictures from a box. “Thanks fro getting all this stuff in case I havne't said it twice already.”

No worries, m'dear.” Her friend waved the thanks away. “I was glad to do it. The two of your offices were like tombs, with the Burritos gone and all that.” She indicated the box. “I put in that brass name plate they gave you at that party. Dar's was glued to the door, but yours was in those holders and I could get it out.”

Kerry lifted it out and studied it. “Well.” She smiled. “I got promoted out of this firing, and got a better name. But it's a nice keepsake. Thanks.”

You got the name done?” Colleen asked. “Already?”

Yesterday.” Kerry affirmed. “So when our new business cards get here, it'll be Kerrison Roberts.” She grinned at Colleen. “You think it's weird?”

Colleen shook her head. “For you? No. You've been stuck like duct tape on Dar since you met her.”

Kerry's face reddened a little.

Oh, c'mon. You know you were.”

I was.” Kerry reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose. “And damn, my family's been a pain in my ass the last couple of years. Feels good to leave that name behind.”

Ker? Gerry's here.” Dar stuck her head in the office, and gave Collen a smile. “Stick around.” She said. “We can grab a cup of something after we finish these meetings.”

Colleen looked pleased. “Surely.” She said. “And I want to meet this new puppy, since I get to sit your place so often.”

C'mon, Chi.” Kerry scooted through the door and joined her partner, as they went to the window to watch the long, dark car drive up. “Ah. Formal.”

Well, he is a general.”

Yeah, I know.”

It parked in the very front of the building, as close to the door as possible, and the front doors opened as two uniformed officers jumped out. They opened the door and Gerry Easton emerged, with his aide, who had a wriggling armful of Labrador puppy to wrangle.

Lets go.” Dar led the way down the stairs and they got to the door at the same time the military party did, and she pulled it open and stepped back. “C'mon in. “

Ah, Dar! Excellent.” Gerry hustled inside. “You boys look around, hm?” He directed. “Don't break anything.”

The two officers disappeared.

This way.” Kerry indicated the left conference room. “It's not fancy, but we're trying to get things going here.” She opened the door, displaying the newly painted and carpeted room, with it's makeshift table and mismatched chairs inside.

Growf!” Chino spotted the puppy and got up on her hind legs to investigate, nearly knocking the aide down. Her tail started wildly waving.

Put that little man down.” Gerry said, as they squashed into the conference room and he closed the door. “Whoof! Quite a travel day!” He said. “Pretty weather here though. Very nice.”

The aide put the puppy down and he immediately raced over to Chino, touching noses and starting a tick tacky dancing paw wagging tail lickfest with her.”

Growf!” Chino crouched down on her front legs.

Yap!” The puppy let out a squeaky bark. “Yap yap!”

Oh my gosh that's so cute.” Kerry sat down on one of the chairs they'd scrabbled together for the room. “I think she likes him!”

The general had taken a seat across from her and was watching with a look of beaming content. “Sure looks like it.”

The puppy scampered over to where Kerry was sitting, attacking her boot with enthusiasm. Chino came after him, slamming into Kerry's knees as she got her nose between the puppy and Kerry's shoe.

Ow. Easy!” Kerry leaned over and picked the puppy up. “What do you think you'er doing, huh, little man?”

Yap!” The puppy scrabbled up her chest and tried to get to her chin, poking his u shaped tongue out.

Dar started laughing, as she sat down next to Gerry, watching the show. “I think that one's yours.” She advised her partner. “Chino, come over here before you knock her down.”

Growf!” The Lab trotted under the table and came out next to Dar, to receive an ear scratching.

Did you say hi to your grandpa?” Dar asked.

Heh.” Gerry folded his hands on the table, and motioned the aide to sit down. “So you're moving very fast here eh? Been only a week?”

Only a week.” Dar agreed. “Been a little crazy.”

The general nodded. “So, what happened?” He asked. “I thought you were going to run it out as it were.”

You happened. “Dar said bluntly. “I told them about the Joint Chief's not wanting ILS in the mix due to our international setup, and between that, and the executive branch wanting me to work for them board lost their minds and booted us. Figured to cut their losses, or something like that.”

Insane.” Gerald Easton tut tutted. “Like little boys.”

Dar lifted her hands and let them drop. “Just got this started faster.” She said. “Didn't think you would mind.”

Not in the least!” The general reached down to pat Chino, who had poked her nose into his elbow for attention. “Well, madam... didn't you grow up to be a pretty girl.” He stroked her head. “Look just like your mother, how d'you like that?”

Growf!” Chino's tail wagged at the attention, then she turned her head and spotted the puppy upside down in Kerry's arms, getting his tummy rubbed. She scooted under the table to investigate.

So we finished the incorporation work yesterday. I just got my checkbooks.” Dar said. “And we rented this space, talked to a few people about coming onboard... it's been nuts.”

I can appreciate that.” Gerry said. “But it's a good move for us, if you know what I mean.” He pulled out an envelope and put it on the table. “That's the specification they want. Had a bunch of the boys, couple from each service, sit down and pow wow, and that's what they came up with.”

Dar opened the envelope and pulled the clipped papers out, scanning them quickly.

Dar, how about some coffee?” Kerry still had the puppy in her arms, and he'd calmed down and was blinking sleepily. “General?”

Sure.” Dar murmured distractedly.

Joe would do me good.” Easton said. “Jennifer, give a hand, eh? You know how I like it.”

The aide got up. “I'll bring in the dog things too, sir.” She went to the door and opened it, holding it while Kerry went through ahead of her. Chino trotted after them and after the door closed, it seemed overwhelmingly quiet inside.

Dar had unclipped the papers and she was reading them. Easton waited in silence, playing with his wedding band a little as he sat there, apparently content to simply wait for her to finish.

The writing was dense. Dar scanned it stolidly, reaching the point where she started thinking ahead of the words, the comprehension of the subject in place as her head started to shake back and forth a little.

Problem?” Gerry hazaraded.

Ungh.” Dar rested her head on her hand and continued reading, and Easton leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his uniformed chest as he regarded the blank wall.

Okay.” Dar finally said. “Done.”

He started a little, and turned his head to look at her. “So? What do you think, Dar. Something you can do?”

Dar straightened the papers out and clasped her hands over them. “I can but I won't.”


I won't. It's the wrong idea. Wrong structure.” She said. “The general idea is okay, but the structure isn't scalable.”

Easton blinked at her. “Haven't got an earthly what you just said, Dar.” He remarked. “Good? Bad? Yes? No?”

Complicated question. “Can we set up a meeting for me to talk to them about it, maybe do a whiteboard session?” She countered. “Present a different way to get the same results?”

Ah.” Easton nodded. “They came up with nonsense. I get it.” He patted the papers. “Long as you commit to getting this rolling, do it how you want to. Right? I'll send these boys down here to talk to you. They'd love the break from the weather.”

She put the papers back in the envelope. “Deal.” She said briefly. “Oh wait. We probably have to sign something now since we don't have a preexisting contract.”

Easton made a snorting sound.

Dar chuckled softly. “It's going to have to wait until I get home anyway. I don't have a typewriter, a computer, or a printer here yet.”

No problem.” Easton took a pen out of his pocket and turned the envelope over, scribbling on it for a long minute. “We know how to do things like this in the Army, don'cha know.” He remarked. “Can't tell you how big a weight this lifts off me, Dar. Was told to find someone else to do this, and hadn't clue one where to start looking.”

There are other companies who do what we do, Gerry.” Dar said. “I could have given you names.”

Would have been second best though” He continued writing.

Dar twiddled her thumbs. “Wasn't like that the last time I did a job for you. I thought you were going to have me whipped on the yardarm, or whatever that saying is.”

Gerry snorted again. “Navy.” He said, finishing his writing and signing underneath. Then he turned and looked at Dar. “I know that ended up in the crapper.” He said. “My fault.”

Dar's brow lifted.

My fault, because I should have stood fast on it.” Gerry leaned on the table and regarded her. “We sorted it out, sure. People got punished. Press would have been bad. But we' d have survived it.”

And now it doesn't matter.” Dar said, quietly. “Because of the attack.”

He nodded. “Right.”

I'm sorry I was a part of that project. Wrecked a lot of old memories.” Dar admitted. “No matter how big of a jackass Jeff turned out to be, I still remember growing up playing with his kid.”

Easton frowned. “You were too close.” He said, after a brief pause.

I was.” Dar pulled the envelope over and took the pen from Gerry's hand. She spent a minute reading the hand written contract, then she just smiled and signed it, her slanting script distinct from her old family friend's. “Water under the bridge though. Now it's a new day.” She put the pen down. “So thanks for becoming our first customer.”

Easton looked relieved. “Glad you feel that way.” He held his hand out, and she clasped it. “Listen, now. This thing, it's important.” He watched her nod. “Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us. We let them get us. Failure in intelligence they said? Well it's true. I know it and you know it. Embarassing all around. But it can't happen again.”

Got it.” Dar said. “I'll do my best, Gerry. But I'll need a chance to get this company up and going. Don't expect me to deliver anything overnight.”

No worries.” He waved a hand. “Now, about those other contracts. The ones from before.”

Leave them with ILS.” Dar said, then after a brief pause, she smiled faintly. “For now.”

He studied her face. “You sure, Dar? Got an opportunity to get the whole enchilada.”

I'm sure. We don't have structure for that. Yet. ILS does a good job of support. Let them keep it. They renew next year anyway.”

He nodded. “All right.”

The door opened and Kerry and the aide, followed by Chino and the puppy entered. “Coffee all round.” Kerry put the tray down. “You all wrapped up?”

Dar handed her the envelope. “Our first contract.” She said. “Stick around, Gerry, a team from Bridges is due here any minute.”

Hah. Fancy boys, most of em.” He moved his chair to play with the dogs. “Probably run from these two.” He picked up Mocha and let him chew his finger. “Look at that vicious little man.”

Kerry leaned over and gave Dar a kiss on the head, and patted her shoulder. “Might have been nice to get the sign on the door first, hon.” She whispered.

Dar chuckled, and shrugged.

And a couple of employees.. maybe a pc or two...” Kerry chuckled with her. “I know, we'll make it work.”

We will.” Dar exhaled. “One way or another, we will.”


When the next car came, though, there were secret service agents in it, and instead of a fancy boy it was Bridges himself. He swept past the reception area and glanced around, then took his sunglasses off and regarded the two of them. “You may think I just used this as an excuse to take a few days off in Florida at the government's expense.”

Kerry had just come down the stairs with a cup. “Well, glad we didn't open an office in Michigan then.” She held the door to the conference center open. “C'mon in and join our little circus.”

Bridges eyed her, then he motioned one of the agents forward. “No offense, Stuart.”

None taken. I've had secret service agents peek in my bedroom since I was six.” Kerry responded mildly. “My sister had a crush on one of them I still tease her about.”

The agent paused and looked at her, then grinnned and moved past, glancing quickly around the room. “Just some Army people and a couple dogs, sir.” He reported, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Bout what I'd expect to find here.” Bridges pushed the door open and entered. “Ah, Easton.”

Hello there.” General Easton had his jacket off, and he was tossing a ball to the end of the room. “Didn't figure to see you here.”

Back at you.” Bridges regarded him, then looked around. “Damn spook was right. Couple of Army people and some dogs. Where the hell is Roberts?”

Yap!” The puppy saw a new target and galloped over, attaching himself to Bridges' shoes and tugging a lace. “Yap!”

Dar'll be right back.” Kerry sat down at the makeshift table.

What in the hell is this?” Bridges took a seat and picked up the puppy. “This one of yours, Easton?”

Both of them are, matter of fact.” The general said. “Pups of my Alabaster.”

Bridges held up the puppy and examined it. “Cute.” He put the puppy down, and watched as Chino came over, snuffing at the creatures and giving Bridges a doubtful look. “Growf.” She took a hasty step back when the puppy started chewing at her feet. “Growf!”

Entertaining.” Bridges dusted his hands off. “You just moving in to this place, I take it?”

Signed the lease Monday.” Kerry agreed, sipping her tea. “By next Monday, we might even have a few employees and toilet paper in the bathrooms.”

He chuckled dryly. “A little too much chaos to suit you?”

Kerry pondered that question, her ears catching the rhythmic sound of Dar coming down the steps. “No, not really. I was looking to make a change, after September.”

The advisor nodded, looking up as Dar came in the room. “There you are, Roberts.”

Hello.” Dar came over and sat down across from him. “Sorry. Had to talk to the electrical inspector.” She put her hands on the table. “I didn't expect you to be here. Thought you would send someone from your staff.”

And waste a trip to Miami in the winter?” He responded. “What kind of fool do you take me for?”

Dar lifted her hands in a faint shrug. “I live here.”

Well.” Easton got up. “I know you lot have things to discuss. We'll be getting on, getting on. Back to the hotel and then a few days of R and R.” He winked at Bridges. “No fools here either.”

Dar stood back up. “Gerry, give us a call tomorrow. We'd love to have dinner with you.” She extended her hand, which he gripped and released.

Easton gave her a genuine smile. “Absolutly, Dar, I will.” He reached down to give the puppy one more pat. “Little man, you take care of these ladies, all right? Be a good boy.”


We'll take good care of him.” Kerry said. “And I think he and Chino are going to get along just fine.”

Then the general was gone, and the door was closed, and they were facing each other around the table. Bridges studied them in silence for a moment. “Well, here we are, people.”

Here we are.” Dar had been carrying a portfolio and she now opened it. “I've had some time to study the requirements document you sent.” She studied a page thoughtfully. “It's an amibitious project.”

She looked up at him, and he lifted his hand and rotated his finger, brow lifted.

Dar folded hr hands. “The technology, the algorithms that this would take don't exist.”

Yet.” Bridges said, dryly. “Listen. Cut to the chase, Roberts. I know this thing is outlandish. I had ten people in my office yesterday telling me it was pie in the sky. Can it be done?”

Did they say it coudln't be done?”

Yes.” Bridges said. “That's why I”m here. The last time everyone told me something couldn't be done you ended up doing it.”

Dar exhaled. “I don't know if it can be done.”

That's what you said the last time.”

Last time I was encouraged to find a way by the fact you were going to railroad a friend of mine and destroy the company who paid my paycheck.” Dar replied, bluntly.

He shrugged. “End justified the means.” He said. “You can call me an asshole all you want, Roberts, but no matter – it was worth it.” He indicated the portfolio. “You going to try it or not? I've got a pool and a scotch and soda calling my name.”

Two conditions.”

He rolled his eyes.

One, no one tells me how ot write this.” Dar said. “No one has a say in how it's done but me.”

Bridges raised his eyebrows.

Not going to have a committee instructing me how to design.” She countered. “I didn't put up with that at ILS, and I won't with you.”

Now he smiled. “As it happens, Roberts, I agree with you a hundred percent. Done. G'wan.”

Two, you give me access to all the systems you want to parse the data, so I can write filters for them.” Dar said. “Giving them raw access is useless. It's too much data. I need to narrow focus the intelligence to what they need to look at.”

Now he looked serious. “Maybe they don't know what they're looking for.” He objected. “I dont want anything held back from them on some namby pamby privacy crap.”

Dar shook her head. “If you don't focus this, it's a waste of your money and my time. Last thing you want is to have this system that does fracture all that privacy crap, but doens't find a bad guy who blows up Penn Station.”

Bridges grunted. He eyed Dar for a moment, then shifted his gaze over to Kerry who was sipping her tea with a mild expression. “You''re both undergoing a security profiling, y'know.”

We already have top secret clearances.” Kerry replied.

This is more than that.” Bridges said. “Everyone you bring into this thing is going under a microscope. You get it, I'm sure.”

Kerry nodded.

Dar nodded.

Finally he sighed. “All right, Roberts.” He said. “You get what you're asking for. Now here's my condition. I find out you're scamming me, or you go public with what you're doing, you both go to Guantanamo and you're never coming back.” He looked quickly at both of them, but neither flinched. “Understood?”

Understood.” Dar responded quietly. “You get billed for my time, and for any resources, at a cost plus twenty five percent for the development period. I'll hand over a set of milestones to you, and before it goes into production, you and anyone you want comes here to get a demonstration and sign off. If it's what you want, we'll agree on a price for it. If it's not what you want, you don't owe anything more than that.”

He relaxed visibly. “Now that's a deal I can shake on.” He said. “Most companies would have asked for ten mil up front to squander. It's a deal, Roberts.” He held out his hand, and slowly, Dar took it and they shook. “For the record, the fact that everyone else told me this wasn't do-able is in inverse proportion to my confidence that somehow, you can.”

Dar gave him a skeptical look.

They told me what you did.” He remarked in a conversational tone. “With the cables, the NASA guys, little miss butter woudln't melt in my mouth breaking into the exchange.. “ He looked amused. “Woulda made a decent movie. Pissed off a lot of politicians, and gave me a laugh for the day when that bell rang and all that crap started flashing.”

I didn't break into the exchange.” Kerry protested. “My mother got me in.”

Bridges laughed. “Did she know why?”


He laughed again. “They would have arrested the lot of you if it hadn't worked. Had all the charges ready, sabotage, and the rest of it. You got lucky.”

And we're dealing with you again, why?” Kerry inquired.

Wasn't me.” Bridges said, surprisingly. “You can call it bullshit, but belive it or not, Stuart, I was on your side. Told them it was stupid, not to mention dangerous playing that game. You knew too much. Your company knew too much. That's why we need to back them off from the tricky stuff.”

From what Hamilton said, we'd never have gotten to testify so what was the danger?” Dar asked, quietly.

You can only go so far with that. You can put Arab looking me and dirty turban heads in jail and no one much cares. But you two would have caused a lot of fuss.” He admitted. “You look too good on tv.”

Kerry rolled her eyes.

Think about it.” He retorted. “Roger Stuart's kid, and the daughter of a well known artist and a war hero? Would have been easier just to have them shoot you.”

And we're dealing with you now why?” Kerry asked again.

Because you know it has to be done.” He answered, straightforwardly. “And your both idealistic enough to think you can do it the right way.” He eyed Dar. “Don't think I don't know that. You'll try to do all that left wing protect the individual crap and with any luck I'll just be able to take what you give me and get enough out of it to justify the pain in the ass and the cost.”

Why us then?” Dar asked. “Hire some redneck right wing hot shot who will do it without any concience. Be cheaper, and you probably can blackmail whoever you want then.”

He paused and looked at her. She looked right back at him. “I could get offended. “ He said.

Go fuck yourself.” Dar replied. “That help?”

Bridges paused, then chuckled. “Okay, we can stop the asshole olympics.” He said. “You give it a go, we'll see where it takes us.” He stood up, glancing at the corner where Chino was curled up in the corner, her head on her paws. The puppy Mocha was curled up against her, his head resting on her elbow. “I have a deerhound.” He commented. “More tempremental than those things.”

Kerry got up. “Interested in a cup of coffee?” She asked. “There's a nice little cafe down the road.”

He gave her a dry look. “Not dressed for it, but thanks for the offer.” He indicated his neatly pressed suit. “I'll gather up my spooks and leave ou to enjoy your weekend.” He stood up and then paused. “Do we need to sign anything?”

Dar shoved the portfolio over. “G'wan. That's what Gerry did. I won't have printed contracts, or pens, or even a printer for another week.”

He chuckled and pulled the packet over, scribbling his name on the top of it. “Glad you decided to get out of ILS.” He said. “If anyone asks, we'll say you preferred not to have your motives mixed.” He winked at them and pocketed his pen. “Later, people.”

Then the door was closed, and he was gone.

Kerry sat back down. “Holy crap, Dar.” She said. “We just booked enough business today to catapult us into some Gartner quadrant.”

Dar regarded the two packets of papers on the table, and shook her head. “No kidding.” She said. “Fortunately, both of these contracts can be handled by small teams, so we can get started before we really get things rolling. I'll need to hire a team of database analysts and a pile of lamp stack people and front end designers.”

Kerry regarded her. “We probably need to hire someone for HR and accounting first.” She said. “So we can give them some kind of benefit package and of course pay them.”

Dar nodded meditavely. “Have you figured out how we're going to make an offer to Colleen without breaking our promise to Alastair?”

Kerry smiled.

I probably can't manage approaching Mari.” Dar continued, in a regretful tone. “Colleen's been there a relatively short time, and she wasn't management yet.”

She will be now.”

You know who I'd like to find a way to bring in?” Kerry said. “Your buddy in NYC.”



She'd never move to Miami.” Dar said. “But we could find a way to ask.” She got up and gathered the papers. “Let me go run a compile on the financial sys... oh, wait, I can't. I don't have a computer here yet.”

Let's go, hon.” Kerry went over and picked up Mocha, who woke up with a sleepily startled look. “Hey there, little man. We're going to take you to your new home.”

Growf.” Chino looked up at her.

You too madam.” Kerry patted her thigh. “I”m not picking you up.”

They moved into the hallway, and Colleen was there waiting for them, leaning against the wall with her car keys in her hand. “Is that the new pooch?”

This is Mocha.” Kerry agreed. “He's Chino's little brother.” She handed over the pup to her cooing friend. “Isn't he cute?”

He is.. just like she was when she was a baby.” Colleen cradled the puppy in her arms and tickled his belly. “So how did things go?”

Really well.” Kerry glanced at her partner. “Dar.. do you..”

Want to take the dogs and get the car? Sure.” Dar took the puppy from Colleen and whistled for Chino. “Be right back.” She left the office and headed for the parking area, feeling just a touch overhwelmed and a bit lightheaded after yet another whirlwind day. “Glad it's the damn weekend, Chi.”

Growf” Chino was trotting beside her, sticking at her heel like the well trained dog she was. They had never needed to leash her, she came when called, and stayed when told, one of the few things in Dar's life that had proven utterly reliable.

Once she'd stopped chewing shoes, that is.

It was good to have a minute to just think, as she walked to the truck. Things had been happening a such a breakneck pace, it was a relief to be able to regroup while Kerry made her offer to Colleen and hopefully it would end up with them having dinner together back on the island.

Hey there.”

Ah crap. Dar looked up to find their landlord just about to open the door to his own car. “Hey. We're just leaving.”

He paused. “Yeah... um.” He leaned on the frame. “Did I see soldiers here before?”

Dar opened the back door to the truck and waited for Chino to jump up, then put the new puppy down next to her. “You did.” She closed the door. “Customers of ours.”


Don't worry. Just for IT services.” Dar got in the driver's side of the truck. “They won't be here often.” She rolled down the window as he came over.

So you have customers already?”

We do.” Dar acknowledged a moment of relief. “But they were people we knew before. We still have to find new clients.”

Sure.” He agreed. “I was just a little surprised... I guess you guys are going to go full out next week, huh? My brother said he was putting a whole bunch of stuff in for you.”

Dar nodded. “More employees will be around. We're looking for someone for HR. You know anyone?” She turned as Mocha scrambled up into the front set, clawing at her leg. She lifted him up and set him down. “With any experience?”

Hm.” He leaned on the door “I might.” He reached over and gave Mocha a pat. “He's cute.”

Yap!”Mocha put his paws up on the inside of the window and made himself heard.

Send them over on Monday if you do.” Dar said, spotting Kerry and Colleen strolling out of the building, Kerry with a napsack over one shoudler, Colleen with a big grin on her face. “We gotta go.”

I will.” He stepped back, then waved at the other two. “Have a great weekend.”

Dar tickled Mocha under the chin. “Are you gonna last till we get home or are you going to piddle on me, huh?” She leaned on the windowsill as the two other women came up. “We set?”

We are.” Kerry responded. “Coll, follow us home? Let's do the italian place and we can fill you in on the two contracts we just signed.”

Colleen crossed her arms and leaned against the truck. “That I will.” She said. “After I call me mother and tell her about my new job and a promotion to boot.” She looked really happy. “And that I can get rid of those linen suits. My life just got so much better, I can't tell you.”

Okay, see you over there.” Kerry went around and got into the truck, taking the puppy from her partner. “We'll celebrate.”

Colleen went for her car, and Dar started up the truck. “What a damned day.”

Uh huh.” Kerry said. “I've got those contracts. Lets hope like hell the PC's and printers get there monday. Can I get the specs for the servers you need to run all that software on?”

Sure.” Dar pulled out of the parking lot and started heading for home. “We need to get that, plus all the network componens for the office.”


Some retirement, huh?”

Kerry exhaled. “Are we getting in over our heads already?” She asked. “Dar, we've got two major contracts already and we don't even have employees yet.”

Not true.” Dar said. “We have admins, and we have an operations director, and an accounting director , and us.”

Ho boy.”

Listen.” Dar said. “Just call up a placement agency on Monday, and give them our requirements for everything else. Let them do the investigations and the work, and bring in qualified candidates.”

Kerry considered that, then grunted. “Ah.”

It'l be fine, Ker.”

They were quiet for a while as they drove, Kerry letting the puppy chew on her finger as she cuddled with him. “Bridges creeped me out.” She said finally, as they were pulling onto the ferry. “That whole passive aggressive Guantanamo thing.” She sighed. “I didn't mind the stuff for Gerry. That's all pretty straightforward.”

That's why I left us an out.”

You really think they'll let us take an out?” Kerry looked uncharacteristically pessemistic. “What if they just decide to take the code and do what they want with it?”

Won't happen.” Her partner relaxed, reaching out and circling Chino's head with her arm, giving the Lab a friendly rub. “Besides, weren't you the one who asked me to think about doing it?”

Kerry sighed. “That was before we talked to that guy just now again.”

Relax.” Dar wriggled into a more comfortable spot as the ferry took off for the island. “Look at it this way Ker, at least he was out in the open jackass. No pretending.”


I think if I can do it, it'll be fine.”

I hope so.” Kerry sighed. “Next time though, I'll just keep my mouth shut... oh, crap.”


Glad you got leather seats.”



Continued in Part 6