Winds of Change

Part 7

There was enough done, and enough installed by the following afternoon for Dar to settle in at her desk, her new laptop on one side, her desktop on the other, and an 11 x 18 size pad of graph paper in front of her ready for her to start considering structure for their two projects.

It felt exciting. She was relaxed and comfortable, glad to be in jeans and a sweatshirt with it's sleeves pushed up above her elbows looking forward to an afternoon of high level design.

They had extended offers to five people, the network was all patched and ready to go, the DSL link was active, the WAPs were installed and working, and she was starting to hear the faint rattle and buzz of activity echoing softly in the halls.

She had light coming in behind her, and she uncapped the dark blue pen and sat for a minute, hand holding up her head as she considered how she wanted to start building these new things.

Across the room, on the shelf, there was a new music player that Kerry had installed for her, with a little remote control she could use from her desk. It was playing some quiet new age music now and she felt her body moving gently to it as she started to sketch out her design.

Logic symbols and boxes, shapes and arrows in a mental shorthand that truly only meant something to her as she put down how this system should talk to that system, at what level, with what language. It wasn't something she'd learned in school, rather, it was something she'd invented to be able to put down on paper her own way of getting things done.

Part diagram, part logic flow, part high level structure. It felt impossibly good to be sitting here in the quiet, with no screaming people or ringing telephones to interrupt her concentration.


She started with Gerry's project, boxing in the services he commanded and scribbling in their names, along with the systems each used to collect their data in a veritible cornucopia of neatly formed shapes. Then she paused and regarded them, before she put a bigger box in the top center, labeling it with neat, precise capital letters.

Then she drew lines between the services and their programs and the box, turning her head a little sideways to write in the data stream types and languages the systems would be speaking.

Another box went below that, and the she spent five minutes or so writing in the intent of the system, along with lines that ended in circles, with names applied to all of them.

Then she sat back and studied it.

Wasn't really that difficult a design. She drew in a makers box on the bottom and added the name of the system, her name, and systems architect after it, a smile appearing on her face as she filled in a few more details, glad she hadn't seemed to have lost her touch during the years she's spent running things.

You could. She'd seen designers become project managers and lose the ability to go back to initiate things. But she'd done enough devleopment and stuff on the side that she thought it woudln't take all that long for her to get that edge back.

“Whatcha doing hon?” Kerry came in, sipping from a bottle of ice tea.

“Making Gerry's plan.” Dar replied. “C'mere and I'll show ya.”

Needing no prompting, Kerry came over and perched on the window sill. “You're writing it out longhand?”

“Sure.” Dar said. “Despite what Visio would have you believe, it's actually easier to do this from scratch with a pen and a pad. So look.”

“Im looking.”

“Six services. Each of them use different databases.” Dar said. “SQL, MySQL, Oracle, DB2, Sybase, and Informix.”

Kerry regarded the pad. “Are you actually telling me that they couldn't decide on using the same database, any of them?” She asked in patent disbelief. “No way.”

“Yes way.” Dar contradicted her. “So, having then all talk to each other is pointless. We'd spend our entire time writing interfaces that stopped working as soon as they patched or upgraded.”

“Huh.” Kerry studied the paper. “So they all talk to the big box.”

“Mm. So we use this.” She pointed at the first square. “We use an enteprise service bus. It's a universal translator.” She added. “Takes input from all those systems, and rewrites it into a common structure.”

“Hm. I remember learning about them in school. We didn't have one at ILS though.” Kerry commented. “I remember seeing a test system at the college that let them bring in data from fake fast food joints.”

“No we didn't.” Dar agreed .”I wouldn't allow systems to be installed that weren't a common interface. We used Oracle across the company because I told everyone if they tried using anything else they were going to pay for the enterprise support group out of their salaries.”

Kerry nodded. “ I can picture that meeting.” She remarked. “There's a point to standardization.”

“There is. You reduce your support matrix if you limit the needed skill sets.” Dar said, then paused. “Boy do I sound like a talking head or what?”

“I love your talking head.” Kerry smiled. “Feel free to try out your lectures on me anytime.”

Her partner smiled. “Uh huh. So then, we put in a data warehouse.” Dar pointed to the second box. “The genius of this, is that we strip the data of source, so it's pure data. Then we can run analytics on it, and I'll write a natural language report generator so they can just ask it questions, and it will make the connections for them.”

Her partner studied the page, then looked at her. “You can do that?”

“I can do that.” Dar smiled. “Listen, I know you're more used to seeing me in an operations role, but I started as a programmer.”

“No, I know you did.” Kerry sat back. “I mean, I realized, Dar, just going day to day in the company that there was an awful lot of stuff there that you personally created.” She said. “I was just going wow in my head about the natural language thing. That's hard.”

“It's hard.” Her partner agreed. “But I've been thinking about it for a while – you have to make it so that its not so hard for them to interact with these systems, so they feel comfortable with it. Otherwise they'll just ignore it and go back to writing everything down on library cards.”

And of course, Dar would know that from the inside. Kerry drew in a breath, appreciating this newly revealed facet of her lover intensely. It was like getting to know her way back when, before she went on a personal track that would get her kudos and prestige. “That's totally cool.” She said.

Dar grinned. “Glad you think so.” She said. “I”m going to scan this in and put it in an official structure, then send it over for Gerry to run by his ops team. I don't expect they'll give me any grief over it.”

Kerry leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Awesome.” She said. “So how long would it take a normal person to figure this out?”

Her partner chuckled. “I've been doing this a while. Give me some credit for experience.” She said. “Feels good to be doing it again. I missed being an architect. I figured that out after I did that new network.” She leaned back in her chair. “That's why this whole new thing's been so much fun.”

Ah. It was like music. “Totally glad to hear that, my love.” Kerry smiled. “I knew you weren't happy there. You were in a box you didn't much like but you weren't sure how to get out of. You coudln't have gone back, there.”

“Right.” Dar nodded. “Crazy making.” She admitted. “Only thing that kept me from going nuts was you.”

Kerry ruffled her hair and then kissed the top of her head. “Love you.” She meandered around the desk and headed back for her own office, where she could hear her gizmo ringing from where she'd left it. “Be back in a minute.”

Dar watched her until she disappeared, then she returned her attention to her pad, adding a few more details before she got up and went to the scanner on the wall shelf, picking up the top and putting the pad on it face down. She triggered the scan and went back to her desk, watching the paper appear on her monitor.

It had come together fast, but then, she'd been thinking about it since the meeting, putting together ideas in her head she wanted to try and use to give Gerry the best result.

Because she really wanted to do that. The contract would have been hard to sell for ILS – they'd have had to build in far too much overhead to cover the contract costs – here, it was much simpler, and she could work on building a support team after they got to a certain point.

She filtered the drawing into her diagramming program, a custom written set of code that did block and character analysis and produced a digital version of the drawing she'd done, complete with the writing, converted into a font that was a reasonble facimile of her handwriting because she'd coded it that way.

She cleaned it up, and removed the grid lines, then opened up the newly started mail program and connected it to the equally newly christened mail server.

Very raw, and very basic. It wasn't the pretty mail they'd used at ILS, but it encrypted the mail, and gave them email addresses in their new company domain. She looked up Gerry's dot mil address in her phone, then she attached the plan, and rattled off a few lines of basic explanation.

Then she sat back and studied the mail, unable to suppress a smile as she clicked send, and watched the server obediently move it along it's way.

“Hey boss.” Mark stuck his head in. “I got the website set up. Figured we'd just go with NetSol and let them deal with the hassle until we got a datacenter to house production stuff in.”

Dar nodded.

“So, it's just basics.” Mark came over and pointed at the pc. “Dub dub dub G'wan and hit it.”

Obediently, Dar typed in their domain name, pleased when it came back with relatively snappy response. “Ah.” She regarded the screen, which now showed a page in what was becoming their corporate colors, with the company logo on it, and contact information. “Short and sweet.”

“We need a web guy to do stuff with it.” Mark said. “I just wanted to get the page up and secure the domain.”

“We'll get that going.” Dar studied the generic page. “Give it some personality.”

“Yup.” He agreed. “You want anything added to that page? I still got my notepad open.”

Dar considered. It really was just a splash page, with a contact number she recognized as Kerry's. That would change once their phone system was in, she reasoned. The address of the building was there, and under the About Us page, just a listing of the startup crew with their titles.

“Had to.” Mark grinned. “I wanted it to be out in the world so I can tell my relatives to hit the page if they didn't believe me.”

Dar chuckled. “Looks good for now.” She said. “Custom application and system design. I like it.” She pushed the pad over to him “I just sent our first spec out to Gerry Easton. Let's see if they like it.”

Mark sat down on the chair across from her desk and studied the pad. “You know what the coolest thing is?” He asked her. “Not getting 2 am phone calls yet.”

“We'll set up support groups for the service groups.” Dar said. “With some crossover, maybe contract a few overseas groups for follow the sun.”

“Yeah – but it's gonna be freakout city if they have an issue and weve got to call up ILS and bitch them out for network problems.” Mark's eyes twinkled. “At least, for now.”

Dar's eyes also twinkled. “For now.” She conceded. “Though, I really don't want to be ILS. I want us to stay a little small, so we can react to what's going on. Look at all the businesses that tanked after 9/11 – couldn't change.”

Mark looked around the office. “I was thinking that myself before.” He admitted. “How cool it was just to have a little crew here, and everyone tight.”

“Nice to just be sitting here working on this stuff.” Dar smiled quietly. “Really nice to know my phone's not going to ring and have some board jerk on the other end chewing my ass.” She drew the pad back and flipped the page over, consdiering the new clean space waiting for her imprint. “I was getting really tired of that.”

“Bet you were.” Mark got up. “Let me go get the backups going. We just got the library hooked up.” He circled the chairs and ambled out. “Later!”

Later. Dar smiled and tapped her pen against her pad, settling down with her chin on her hand again as she pondered the teal squares.

Bridges project would be different. She'd have to be very careful how she structured it, and there would be the issue of access. It would also require a natural language interface, but instead of the regulated structure of the databases, this would need to be able to handle the freeform fire hose of data that was the internet.

Slowly she sketched in several squares. Then she drew a mesh between them, but after a minute, she pulled off the page and crumpled it up. No, it couldn't be modular. “Has to scale.” She muttered, drawing a bunch of circles, as she bounced in the chair a little, making it squeak.

Another crumple. The internet was a distributed system. There was no central point, no one place it all went through.

Dar got up and went out to the antechamber, where Mayte was busy assembling a set of files behind her desk. “Hey Mayte.”

The young woman looked up, and smiled. “Did you need something?”

“Just going to get a drink.” Dar rambled down the stairs, emerging on the bottom floor and ducking into conference room where the drink cart had been set up. She observed her choices, then selected a cup and got some coffee into it, adding a little cup of flavored creamer and stirring it.

“Uh hey.”

Dar turned, to find the kid with the skateboard she'd seen the previous day standing in the doorway. “Hey.”

The kid looked half embarassed, half annoyed. “I came here yesterday?”

“Right.” Dar focused on him. “Your father's one of the carpenters .He sent you here to get a job.”

The kid looked relieved. “Yeah, right. So I was here yesterday, and they told me I had to come back today and talk to somebody about working here.”

Dar took a seat and waved him in. “I'm the somebody. C”mon in.”

He eyed her dubiously, but entered the room and put his skateboard down, sitting down in a chair across from her. “So I talked to this guy yesterday.”

“Mark.” Dar nodded.

“Yeah.” The boy agreed. “So he talked to be about some security stuff.”

Dar studied him. “You want to do security stuff?”

He shook his head. “No not really. “ He said. “It's all cool the hacker stuff and all that, and I guess it would be okay to look around for that stuff happening, but it's kinda boring.” He said. “If I want to do that I can just sit on the internet at home or at the library.”

Dar counted herself highly entertained. “So what do you want to do?” She asked. The kid was about Kerry's height, and had sandy blond hair and hazel eyes, and a smattering of freckles across his nose, and his body under it's cotton tshirt and jeans was gawky and angular. “Or, what do you like to do?”

He considered her for a long minute. “I like to make stuff.”

“Hm.” Dar tilted her head a little. “Stuff like what? Like programs?”

He shrugged.

“Got some code with you?”

He held up a thumb drive.

“C'mon.” Dar got up and motioned him to follow her up the steps and back across the hall into her office. The antechamber was empty now, but she could hear Mayte's voice coming from Maria's new office.

She circled her desk and held her hand out, taking the drive and stuck it into the usb port in her laptop.

“They won't run on that.” The kid commented.

“Don' t want to run anything.” Dar sat down and pulled up her editing system. “I want to see the code.” She scanned the drive and selected af file, bringing it up in the editor and studying it.

The kid gave her a more interested look. “You program?”

Dar glanced up at him, and nodded, then went back to the screen. She bumped the desk slightly with the chair, and her desktop screen came to life, but she ignored it while she concentrated on the text.

A soft chitter distracted her though, and she looked up to see Gopher Dar appear, doing a little dance across the screen. She chuckled softly and went back to the laptop.

“What's that?” The kid asked, after a minute of silence.

Dar looked up. “Whats what?”

“That.” He pointed at Gopher Dar. “Is it a game?”

Dar leaned away from the laptop screen. “That's a program.. doesn't really have a purpose. Just a recreational thing.”

The kid got up and came over, peering at the screen. “Wow.” He watched Gopher Dar sashay across the desktop, waggling a finger at the two of them while it rambled around in a circle.

Dar moved her desktop mouse and clicked on him, and he jumped, turning and scowling at her.

“That's some killer graphics.” The kid moved his nose almost up to the screen. “Look at the fingers! No jags or pixeltion at all.”

“No, it's all mathematic. Vector based.” Dar said. “Sees the screen as a grid, and interacts with everything it finds.”

Gopher Dar sat down and folded his arms over his chest, sticking his tongue out at them. Dar captured his tongue with the mouse and he grabbed at the pointer with both hands.

“Holy shit.” The kid almost crawled on top of the desk. “So this isn't a game or anything?”

“No.” Dar regarded the little beast. “Just entertainment.”

“You could make a rad game with that.” The kid said. “Is it a wrapper? Could it work with like, a swordsman or something?”

Dar chuckled. “Probably. I'm not sure why I picked a gopher. Just because it was goofy looking probabaly.”

The kid slowly turned his head to stare at her. “That's your stuff?”


“No way.”

Dar leaned back. “No way what?” She asked. “No way I wrote that because I'm female, or too old or.. ?”

The kid blushed. “Sorry, didn't mean to diss you.” He sat back in his seat. “Thats' the kind of stuff I like to do. Making characters and games and stuff. I've got this idea.. “ His voice grew animated. “It's this game console idea where the characters interact with you and you can make them do stuff.”

“That what this is?” Dar pointed to the laptop. “I can see the decision tree metrics.”

The kid grinned. “It's a simple version of it. The whole thing's too big I didn't want to drag my external hard drive with me here.”

Dar turned and switched to her keyboard, calling up the program that had been running in a background window. She typed out a dozen lines and cut and pasted a few places, then recompiled the program and restarted it.

Gopher Dar blinked out, then reappeared, this time with a sword in his paw, and a Robin Hood outfit on. He looked around and waved the sword, chittering loudly at them from behind the glass.

“Sweet.” The kid said. “Can you show me how to do that?”

“Depends.” Dar rested her elbows on her desk and laced her fingers together. “That's decent code” She indicated the screen. “You want to develop it for us? Get paid to write on it?”

He stared at her for a silent moment. “For real?”

Dar nodded.

His reaction was unexpected. He sat back in his chair, looking stunned, an unfocused look to his eyes.

Dar waited.

“My dad thinks this is all kid stuff.” He finally said. “He wanted me to get a job at a bank.”

“What's your name?” She asked, quietly.

He made a face. “Don't laugh. It's Arthur.”

“I never laugh at anyone's name, given that mine's Dar.” Her eyes twinkled a little.

“That's not a girls name.”

Dar half shrugged. “Okay, Paladar Katherine.”


“Really. So you want to come work for us, Arthur? I'll hire you as a programmer and that can be your first project. If you get it how you like it, I”ll write some hardware code to make it run on a platform and maybe we can both make a few bucks.” Dar folded her hands, watching his jaw drop a little. “Yes? No?”

He paused then he grinned like a cheshire cat. “Fuck yeah.” Then he clapped his hand over his mouth. “Sorry.”

Dar pulled the thumb drive out and stood up. “No problem. Let's go down to the HR office and get your paperwork done. Can you start on Monday?” She handed him the drive

“Not today?”

“Sure, why not?” Dar waved him ahead of her. “Let's go surprise your dad.”


Kerry and Mayte strolled along the street together, heading for the coffee shop. It was another bright and sunny day, and the sidewalks were full of people. “I think having them do the drink service is going to work out.” Kerry said, as they neared the cafe.

“Yes. They are close to us and also, they agreed to charge us just for what was used.” Mayte said. “So it is not just spending money and wasting things.”

“And they have relatively healthy snacks.” Kerry noted. “I like that idea better than a vending machine with chocolate bars in it.”

'You do not like chocolate now?” Mayte looked confused.

Kerry chuckled. “You know I do. It gets delivered to my office on a regular basis. But if someone's missed lunch, I would rather they have something that's actually nutritous instead of pure junk food.”

“Not so much the chips and pretzels.”

They entered the cafe, and the girl behind the bar looked up and waved, already used to seeing them “Hey girls!”

“Hey.” Kerry took over one of the stools and sat down. “Latte, for me.”

“Some tea chai for me.” Mayte perched on the seat next to her.

“No problem. Hey, Gary wanted to talk to you if you get a chance.” The girl said. “And there's a guy, Robier? He carves really cool wooden business signs. Wanted to know if you wanted one for that big old barn over there.”

Kerry's ears perked. “Hand made?”


“Absolutely.” She handed over one of her brand new, just off the press business cards. “Tell him to give me a call.”

The girl grinned. “You betcha.” She tucked the card away. “Hey, did you guys have a problem with that old scrounger yesterday? We heard something like that, and he and some buddies of his were around here trying to get Gary to give them our day old bread.”

“You mean the guy in the wheelchair?” Kerry asked.

The girl expertly frothed milk for Kerry's latte. “Yeah. I don't even know what his name is. But he's around here a lot, trying to snitch stuff. We've got to watch the condiment trays outside if he's around.”

“He was looking into our garbage.” Mayte offered. “For some boxes.”

The girl put down Kerry's coffee, and started fixing Mayte's chai. “He gets stuff out of all the dumpsters around here. I used to feel bad for him, and for some of the other homeless guys, but if you don't give them what they want they get all asshole on you.”

“That's pretty much what happened. “Kerry agreed. “The maintenance men chased him off and he was rude and angry with them. Is he actually a veteran?”

The girl shrugged. “Gary thinks he is.” She admitted. “I mean, it sucks a little, that they went to war on our behalf and now they're living in the streets, you know?”

“Yes.” Kerry nodded soberly. “My father in law's retired Navy.”

“Bet he doesn't live in the streeet.” The girl eyed Kerry.

“No, he lives on a big yacht now his kid bought him.” Kerry admitted, with a smile. “But he did live in the streets for a little while I think, when he got back from the middle east, before he and Dar hooked back up.”

“Dar's papa is a very nice man.” Mayte said. “Not rude like those others were.”

The girl nodded “So anyway. This guy, Wheels, or whatever his name is, he got back about six months ago. There's a shelter thing near by here, and they hang around that place.”

“The building men told us he was dangerous” Mayte accepted her cup of chai and offered up several bills for it. “Is that true, do you think?”

The girl shrugged again. “People can be creepy. He stares at me, sometimes, It makes me uncomfortable.” She admitted. “I try to make sure someone's around when we close at night, to walk me to my car.”

“I get that.” Kerry sipped her latte. “They were outside when we left the other day and they started fighting.” She said. “Normal people would have hit the gas and left but of course we stopped and tried to help.”

“Kerry!” Mayte sounded dismayed.

“Yes?” Kerry gave her companion a wry look.

“You should be careful.”

She shrugged “Anyway, I get that they can be rough. I told them I was going to call the cops if they messed around outside our building again.” Kerry said. “I hope they took me seriously.”

“They call the cops on them all the time.” Cheryl said. “Sometimes they chase them off, but they're kinda sympathetic to them, you know?”

Kerry did know. She could see the police officers feeling bad for the veterans. “If they start taking stuff, it's not about being sympathetic.”

Just then, the kitchen door swung open and Greg, the owner of the cafe entered. He was a short stocky man with grizzled red hair and an explosion of freckles all over his head. “Hey!” He came over. “There ya are. I just got back from your place looking for you.”

He leaned on the counter. “So you liked the setup, right?”

“We did.” Kerry agreed.

“So when you get going there, can we talk about doing catering for you, for meetings?” Greg asked. “Like when you get clients in, that kinda thing. My cousin runs a shop down on South Beach and he does that for some of the biz down there. Better than bringing in pizza, yeah?”

Kerry considered that. “Okay, so - we can make a deal for that, and try it out.” She said. “I like the drink service, and the tray your guys brought over today was perfect.”

Gary beamed at her.

“Only thing is, we can't make it an exclusive because you don't have stuff like pizza and cheeseburgers.” Kerry concluded. “So if we make it that you're our first call for catering, but you are okay if I bring stuff in from fast food joints sometimes, I am okay with it.”

Mayte looked a little confused, but she stayed quiet.

'Sure.” Gary readily agreed. “Not sure why you'd want to bring in McDonalds, but heck no accounting for tastes.”

“I know my audience.” Kerry acknowledged, with a rueful smile. “In that case it's a deal.” She held out a hand and he took it. So now that's decided, can I get a large mocha to go please? And two of those chocolate chip muffins.”

Kerry clasped her paper bag and her to go cup as she walked alongside Mayte back towards their office. “I really like this area.”

“Me too. But there is no McDonalds.” Mayte grinnend briefly.

“No, I know. But two things.” Her boss said. “One, you never want to give any vendor an exclusive unless you have to. They stop wanting to compete if they know they don't need to.”

“I see.” Mayte nodded.

“Two, sometimes you just need a cheeseburger. Even a vegetarian one.” Kerry said. “Other cultures have their comfort foods – I guess yours might be black beans and rice, or yucca, right?”

“Si, yes. It is what we have many times, with limes, and also, roast pork.” Her companion said. “Though not too much. It makes you very heavy.”

“For those of us with a long line of American ancestors, it's pizza, cheeseburgers, BBQ ribs, or fried chicken. None of them are particularily healthy but they all sure taste good.” Kerry smiled. “Or, for instance I make Dar grits all the time with her breakfast.”


“Yeah. Ground hominy. I'd never heard of it before I started living with Dar. Never even had it in a restaurant down here, but it's something she grew up with and loves. It's like a cereal.” Kerry explained. “But you have it with biscuits and gravy, and maybe eggs for breakfast.”

Mayte pondered that. “I cannot even think about what that might be like. Is it good?”

They entered the office building and climbed the steps, hearing voices on the 2nd floor. “I've acquired a taste for them.” Kerry answered. “By themselves they're kinda tasteless, but if you put enough stuff on them they're pretty good.”

“You must be talking about my favorite breakfast item.” Dar had heard the last sentence. She was standing on the second level with a gangly young man with a skateboard. “Meet Arthur. He's going to be doing some programming for us.”

Arthur was carrying a folder along with his skateboard, and he shifted it to under his arm and extended a hand to both women. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Kerry returned the clasp. “So he's the first programmer? He gets to pick his space then. You done that yet, Dardar?”

“Nope. Just finished with HR.” Dar said. “Want to do that? Mayte can you get desk stuff ordered for him, and a desktop and monitor? He'll run linux.”

“Sure.” Kerry motioned him forward. “Let's get you a home away from home, Arthur.”

Mayte scribbled a note and trotted off to her desk, and Kerry led their new acquisition off down the hallway towards the office space they'd laid out for the programmres. She remembered the conversation yesterday about the kid, and wondered about the change in his job assignment. “You do some programming now?”

“Yeah.” He said. “Games and stuff. I showed some of that to that other lady, and she was okay with it.”

Kerry chuckled. “If Dar was okay with your stuff, everyone else will be okay too.” She pushed the door open to the programmers area and casually kicked a doorstop to hold it there, making mental note to ask her beloved partner what her thought processes had been on this one.

She wasn't nearly so hypocritical to wonder about the hiring choice. Dar made those by instinct, and she'd been a prime example of it.

“Yeah, she's got skills.” Arthur volunteered, looking around the room. “This is cool.”

Dar had designed the space, having the best insight into the psychology of it's inhabitants. The room was on the inside wall, overlooking the garden and each cube space had window real estate and walls high enough and enclosing enough to allow for a blocking out of the surroundings.

The desks were wide and had adjustable levels for monitors and keyboards, and there was task lighting built into the overheads to allow the overhead flourescents to be turned off. There was enough space in each cube to permit a worktable, or a beanbag chair, or a small refrigerator, all of which Kerry explained to Arthur as they toured all the spaces.

“That's rad.” Arthur became steadily more cheerful as they talked. “My brother does system design and his place is like a three by three desk and potted plant.”

“No we know from experience that you can't get creative work out of people if they're in a box they can't personalize” Kerry said. “We're going to be a small company... everyone's going to be important.”

They had stopped at the last cube, in the corner where a little angle in the room had given this workspace an angularity the others didn't have. Arthur peered around it then he put his folder down on the desk and leaned his skateboard against the wall. “This is okay.”

Kerry pulled out her gizmo and tapped out a message to Mayte, glancing at the cube number. “Sounds good.”

“What's that?” Arthur eyed her phone. “That a Handspring?”

Kerry nodded. “We're testing them.” She pocketed it. “Did HR tell you about the security check?”

“They said something about the government.” He responded. “I didn't really get all that.”

She perched on the edge of the desk. “Not a big deal. Everyone we hire gets a background check. We do work for the government, sometimes.”

“Yeah?” He looked interested. “Cool. What do they look for? I got busted for tagging once.”

Kerry smiled. “That'll probably pass. Just tell your family and friends if they get a call don't freak out.” She advised. “You might want to reread the page in there about confidentiality when you get home. Did Dar say when she wanted you to start?”

“She said Monday, but I can come in tomorrow.” Arthur supplied. “I was doing some work with my dad, but I suck at it and he'll be glad if I stop.” He admitted. “I power stapled him in the leg the other day.”

She laughed out loud. “Yeah, I really suck at what my dad did too.” She said. “Then sure, we'll see you tomorrow. Give us a chance to get you some gear in here.”

Arthur gave her a thumbs up.

Kerry pulled one of her new cards out and handed it to him. “Give me a call if you have any questions.”

He glanced at the card. “You and that other lady sisters?” He asked .”You don't look alike.”

Kerry casually stuck her hands into her front jeans pockets. “So we should probably get this out of the way now since you asked. “She said. “No, Dar and I aren't sisters. We're domestic partners. We live together.”

She paused and waited, watching his facial expression carefully.

He looked up after a second. “Oh, you mean you're gay?”

Kerry nodded. “Somtimes people find that uncomfortable.”

He shrugged. “I don't care.” He said. “Maybe I would if you were my girlfriend.” He concluded. “You guys aren't all political about that? I don't like all that stuff.”

“We try not to be political at all.” Kerry smiled gently. “I had enough of politics growing up. My father was a Senator.” She added. “So if you're expecting rainbow flags and all that, probably not going to happen.”

“Okay that's cool.” Arthur said. “The guys I game with would give me shit if I was a part of that and I don't want to deal with it.”

Really, refreshing honesty. “Then we're good.” Kerry concluded. “We will have dogs here though. That okay by you?”

Arthur grinned wholeheartedly for the first time. “I like dogs.” He said. “What kind?”

“Labrador Retrievers.” Kerry motioned him ahead of her.

“Saw that other lady has fish. Can I bring in my iguana?”

“He live in a tank or on your shoulder?”

Dar shut her systems down, leaning back as the silence took over the room, allowing her to enjoy the spears of golden sunset peeking through her window.

She could hear Kerry in her office talking, and the soft, easy chuckle that drifted through the open door.

She was looking forward to going home, and having a light dinner with her partner, then spending a little time in the island gym together.

They were the last to leave, and that, too, felt a little funny since she was used to knowing that though they were gone, in the building somewhere there were night operators and off shift workers, keeping their eyes on things throughout the night.

Here, when they left, they locked the door, and that was it. Dar got up and slid her laptop into her backpack, zipping it up and slinging it over her shouder as she heard her partner finishing up her conversation. She turned off the little desk lamp and walked over to the interconnecting door, leaning on the sill.

Kerry grinned at her, and held up one finger.

Perfectly content to wait, Dar went over to the window and sat down on the wide sill with it's fabric covered padding. She leaned against the window and watched the foot traffic outside, seeing some groups of young men and women strolling down the road heading for the waterside.

She halfway wished they had the boat docked. She felt like putting the bow to the wind and wanted the crisp breeze in her face and wondered briefly if Kerry would be up for a night dive.

“Okay, so let's plan on that tomorrow.” Kerry was saying. “I need to wrap this up, I've got an appointment I'm late for.”

The appointment smiled, watching her reflection in the glass. She pulled out her Handspring and reviewed it, then accessed a little program she'd downloaded earlier that day. The hourglass spun for a while, then delivered her up the marine forecast and she had to regretfully forget her idea of a dive when she noted the ten foot seas offshore.

Ah well. Maybe they'd end up swimming.

“Bye.” Kerry finished her call and came over to the window, putting her knee on the padded bench and leaning against Dar's back. “Hey love of my life.”

“Hey.” Dar turned around and circled Kerry's knee with one arm. “I was going to suggest going out for a float tonight but the water's too choppy.”

Kerry peered out the window, then at her. “And you know this how?”

Dar held up her device.

“Ah.” Kerry smiled. “Want to stop by the sporting goods store to see what we're going to need for our trip instead? I know we could just look it all up on the interwebs but I'd like to see what it all looks like up close.”


“Then lets go.” Kerry leaned over and gave her partner a kiss on the lips. “That was our phone provider on the line. They'll have a shipment for us in by Friday. I”m letting Mayte run with it.”

Dar returned the kiss, standing up and pulling Kerry upright with her. “I got a note from Gerry.” She said, when the parted a little. “I think his guys like the plan, but I need to go up there next week for a day and talk to them.”

“Good. By then we should have a little gang of programmers for you to get to work with.” Kerry kept herself pressed against Dar's body, content to absorb the warmth and affection soaking into her.

“Yup.” Dar rocked them both back and forth a little. “This is so cool.” She exhaled happily, then squeezed Kerry one more time before she released her and draped an arm over her shoulders instead as they headed for the door together.

This time there were no fights going on outside and they were able to get to Kerry's car and settle themselves without incident. Dar peered both directions, but the road was clear, no sign of anyone loitering, and she leaned back in satisfaction as Kerry got the car started and they pulled out of the lot.

They headed west, crossing through the city and out to the western suburbs, pulling off the highway into one of the big malls on the edge of the county. “We can grab dinner here too.” Kerry said. “They've got a lot of restaurants.. and a Dave and Busters.

Dar snickered. “You just want to try and beat me at Skiball again.”

Kerry gave her a look, one blond eyebrow arching up. “Try? I beat you like egg whites the last time Dixiecup.”

'I got you back on the basketball.”

“And I had no handicap at that, huh?”

They parked and walked inside the mall, bypassing various stands and kiosks as they steered their steps into the big Bass Pro Shop that took up a large percentage of one side of the complex.

“Oh wow.” Kerry paused, as they studied the inside of the store. “There's a lot of stuff here.”

Dar's eyes were already twinkling. “This is going to be an expensive trip.” She eyed the boating section. “You think we should actually put together are real hurricane kit?”

“You're not looking at that bucket of MRE's are you?”


Kerry reviewed the notes on her desk with a sense of bemusement. She selected one and dialed the contact number, pausing to wait for it to connect. “Hello, I'm looking for John Chavez?” She paused and considered a brief second. “I'm returning his call. From Roberts Automation?”

She listened to the hold music then detected the sound of a reciever being picked up in haste. “Hello?”

“Hello? Is this.. Kerry, is that you?”

“Sure is.” She agreed. “What can I do for you, John? I assume by your note you know I”m not with ILS anymore so I”m not sure I ..”

“No no, I know. I know.” He broke in hastily. “I guess word's getting out and I saw your new website. So I wanted to call and see what you guys were up to.”

“Well.” Kerry responded slowly. “I guess we're up to opening up our own business. Dar and I just incorporated two weeks ago or so.. got an office going and all that.”



“Great, as in can we meet? I'd like to talk about some projects.”

Kerry pulled her phone away from her ear and stared at it, then returned it to the side of her head. “Okay, John, but you don't even know what we're doing so I 'm not sure..”

“You're not going into the cleaning business are you?”

“No.” Kerry said. “It's technology, naturally, but..”

“Great.” Chavez broke in again. “That's what I figured. We've got a bunch of projects – blue sky stuff – I'd love to have you look at them and let me know if we can contract you guys.” He paused. “I wanted to make sure I get on the list first.”

Kerry blinked. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Then she shook her head a little. “Sure John, I'd love to talk to you. Want us to come down there or you want to visit our new offices? They're in the Grove.” She checked her watch. “What day's good for you?”

“You free today?” He asked. “I'll bring lunch in.”

“How's 2pm for you? I can't do lunch, Dar's already picking mine up.” Kerry demurred.

“You got it! Me and Manuel will be there at 2. Looking forward to it.” John sounded happy. “Later!”

Kerry released the line and studied her phone with a quizzical expression. Then she turned over that note and picked up the next one. “Cherise Montez. All Dade Paper.” She tapped the note against her chin. “That's another one I had in my contact list.” She dialed the number. “Hello, I'm looking for.. oh hi Cherise. Yes, it's Kerry. I got your note and I...” She listened and hurriedly called up her calender. “Well, sure I can do Monday... what's this ab... ah, yea, I guess it's going around. “ She listened again .”Infoworld email alert. I see.”

“Anyway, glad I got in touch with you, Kerry.” Cherise said, echoing slightly through the phone. “My senior management called me the minute they saw that, and wanted me to just sit down and talk with you about some things.”

“Sure. Looking forward to it.” Kerry said. “See you on Monday.”

She disconnected the line, then looked up as she heard a sound and found Dar's lanky frame in her doorway. “Honey, I think words gotten out about our leaving.”

Dar came over and put a piece of paper down on the desk. “It has.” She agreed. “Glad that website had your phone number on it not mine.”

Kerry picked up the paper an examined it. “Oh, that email alert. Cherise from Dade Paper just called me.” She read through the article. “It's pretty noncomittal on why we left.” She observed, noting the almost complete lack of details, but the addition of a link to their new web site.

“Hamilton keeps his word.” Dar said. “And so will we.”

“Wonder how long it will take for the Herald to call us.” Kerry put the paper down. “We said we woudln't go after their customers, Dar, but what are we supposed to do when their customers come after us?”

“Mm.” Her partner waggled her eyebrows. “I'm sure they're not going to ask us for the same things they asked ILS for.” She said, reasonbly. “Maybe we'll catch those little projects that ILS woudln't even quote.”

“Uh huh. Kind of how that whole thing with Gerry and the president worked out.” Kerry said. “I don't want us to have to worry about delivering all this stuff when we're just only barely open.”

Dar ruffled her hair. “Then we say no.” She said. “Not even ILS bid on everything, remember?”

That was true. Kerry had even made that decision a time or two herself, when the numbers hadn't made sense, or when the requirements were very specialized and they would have had to incur unreasonable startup costs for it.

Hm. “Okay, well lets see what all this chatter gets us.” Kerry finally said. “Who knows? Might turn out to be nothing.” She picked up the next note, and examined it. “City of Miami. Do we want to talk to them?”

“Mm.” Dar evaded the question and meandered off. “I'm going to go program something.”


“Speaking of, come get your lunch.” Dar winked at her, as she disappeared.

Kerry put the note down and selected a different one, putting it next to her phone before she got up to go retrieve her share of what smelled like chicken curry. Dar had discovered a tiny Thai place down the road and if the scent was any indication, it was a winner.

She didn't resent Dar for assuming she'd handle the calls. They'd agreed from the outset she'd be in charge of the customer contact side of the house, with the exception of those two little special deals with the government that were pointed directly at her partner.

Dar trusted her to keep them from getting into contracts that were outside the scope they'd defined for themselves, and to keep them going in the right direction where she herself might go off into unprofitable tangents just because a project interested her.

Kerry chuckled as she crossed the floor and ducked into the adjoining office.

Dar had put the bags and boxes on the small work table across from her desk, and Kerry opened the containers and set out two plates to fill, since her partner had gotten tied up in a conversation with the maintenance chief. She sorted out the brown rice and the fragrant red curry, and brought one of the plates over to the desk with a tall cup of Thai coffee.

“Thanks, gorgeous.” Dar came back in the office and went to her desk. “Lock company'll be here Monday to do the install. I got them to agree to let us put biometrics on the offices, but they need access to the outer hallways and the maintenance rooms.”

“We can do scan cards.” Kerry said. “But we should put cameras in.” She took her own plate and perched on the window ledge with it. “Especially if we're going to have to pass the government's security standards.”

Dar nodded, her mouth full of chicken and rice.

“You want to try those eyeball scanners again?”

Dar shook her head.

“Palm locks, then?”

Her partner shrugged and swallowed. “Better than thumbprints. That never did work for me.” She examined her thumb. “I think all that typing wore the ridges down.”

Kerry got up and came over, putting her plate down and peering at the digit. Then she leaned over and kissed it. “If the darn thing can't read it, too bad.”

Dar grinned in response. She reached up and chucked Kerry under the chin then she went back to her plate, while her partner settled back on the window bench to chew in silence.

“Y'know.” Dar said, after a little while. “Maybe we should have shared an office.” She studied Kerry's relaxed form, legs extended on the bench, sun splashing across her chest. “We spent more time in each others anyway.”

Kerry tilted her head and smiled. “We're such kooks.” She admitted. “What are we going to do for Valentine's day, by the way? It's coming up.”

Dar tilted her seat back and put her feet up on her desk. “Mmm... let me think about that.” She mused. “Is it my turn this year to come up with a surprise?”


A soft knock came at the door. “Cmon in.” Dar remained where she was, waving a fork at Maria when she came inside. “Hey Maria.”

“Si, hello.” Maria said, bringing over a set of folders. “There are many things to take care of, but before this all gets in the box I would like to ask a favor.”

“Sure.” Dar said. “Whatever you want, yes.”


Kerry chuckled. “My god you're in a good mood.” She told her partner.

“I am.” Dar confirmed. “Seriously, Maria, what do you think you could ask me for that I woudln't say yes to?” She asked, in a reasonable tone. “You want to paint that office black or something?”

“Tcha.” Maria clucked her tongue. “No it is this, my neighbor has a young daughter, and she is looking for a first job. Could she work with us, to make things in order?”

“Sure.” Dar repeated. “The last person you recommended was Mayte. You're batting a thousand.” She chewed a mouthful of curry chicken and rice and swallowed. “Bring em in.”

Maria smiled at her. “Thank you, Dar. This girl, she is very nice, but also, very shy. It would be good for her to work with some nice people.” She put the folders down and then trotted out, closing the door behind her as she started to talk to Mayte in Spanish.

Kerry let her plate rest against her knee for a moment, as she glanced outside. “Ah,”


“Our friend is back.” Kerry watched the man in the wheelchair come along the road, glancing either way before he turned in and started to make his way through the parking lot.

“Yeah?” Dar's voice was suddenly much closer, and then she was leaning over Kerry to look out the window. “Yep, there he is all right. Not with anyone this time.” She watched him move between the cars and end up popping up onto the sidewalk, pausing before he started along the edge of the building. “Heading for the dumpster I guess.”

“Do we really have such interesting garbage?” Kerry mused. “Hey, we just had those big servers come in. Can we give him those boxes?”


“I mean, it's not like we get those kind of things all the time, and they're pretty solid.” Kerry said. “If he could use it, why not?”

Dar scratched her nose. “Yeah, I guess.” She said. “Seems weird though. Wouldnt it make more sense – if were going to give him anything, that we find out if theres something more pemanent than a cardboard box we could do?”

Kerry turned her head to regard her partner in some bemusement. “You want to help him?”

“Mm.” Dar shrugged a little. “Not really.” She answered honestly. “I just think I'd feel like a jackass just saying 'hey buddy, you want a box?”

“Huh.” Kerry scooped up the last of her chicken and chewed it in thoughtful silence for a minute. “Yeah maybe you have a point there. I think I just feel bad, mostly because I know your father.”

Dar leaned on her knee, bumping against Kerry's shoulder lightly. “I feel bad about feeling bad about that. Because the guy was a jackass.”

Kerry wound her arm around her partner's thigh and squeezed it. “Our consciences can be a bitch sometimes.”

“Sometimes.” Dar agreed, pushing off the sill and stepping back. “Anyway, I guess its okay to get him those crates, but we should put them in there when he's not around, and let him think he's snitching them from us.”

She went back over and dropped into her chair, pulling her laptop over and getting it arranged on her knees as she tilted back and put her feet back on the desktop.

Kerry got up and put her plate in the garbage, adding Dar's to it before she gave her a kiss on the top of her head and headed, not back to her office but out the other door.

The outer office was empty, and she crossed through it and walked along the hallway around to the back and down the back stairs. She crossed the hall and went out the back door, pausing to look around from the top step of the loading dock.

The area was empty, the dumpsters undisturbed. She waited a moment, then walked down the concrete steps and circled the big green disposals, seeing nothing but fallen leaves around them, the token South Florida acknowledgement of winter.

She walked along the edge of the service area, and looked down the long path between the back section and the front sidewalk, each side bounded with chinese cherry hedges that were thick, and almost head high on her.

On one side, the hedges went flat to the building edge. On the other, they were a barrier to a slim open space between the property the building sat on and a wall to the next structure.

Kerry cocked her head to one side, and listened, then she slowly strolled along the path, glad for the warmth of the sunlight drenching her as she walked.

It was quiet. She could see butterflies hovering over the hedge tops, and in the trees that overlooked the wall of the next yard she could hear birds singing.

Midway down the path she paused, and regarded the hedge on the wall side. It had thick leaves, but she could see several broken branches, and there seemed to be a not quite natural gap in the otherwish lush foliage.

She strolled on, kicking the few loose leaves from the path with her boots, until she got to the front of the building and came around again to the entrance. Here she paused, and regarded the little front porch, overhung with iron lattice that held baskets of sturdy winter flowers.

“Interesting.” She commented to the empty space. Then she went in the front door and paused, surprising Mayte and a slim, red haired woman who was behind the reception desk. “Ah, hi there.”

“Kerry, hello.” Mayte turned. “This is Angelina, who has come today to start with the reception area. She is from the staffing group.”

“Hi there Angelina.” Kerry extended a hand.

“It's good to meet you.” The girl said courteously. “You're the owner, right?”

“One of them, yes.” Kerry agreed. “Welcome to the gang. I think by Monday you'll actually have a phone to answer.”

The girl smiled, showing cute dimples. “They said you were just starting. They weren't kidding I guess.” She said. “I just came in to fill out my paperwork today, they said I could start Monday.”

“Great.” Kerry waved, and moved past, trotting up the steps to her office.

She found Dar talking to a tall, tattoed man with a pony tail, dressed in jeans and a leather shirt and she made bets with herself regarding his reason for being there. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Dar said. “This is John Robier. He makes custom signs.” She paused. “He's looking for you.”

“Ahhh.” Kerry held out a hand. “Yes, the folks at the cafe down the road told me about you.” She regretfully lost her bet, and studied the man, who had a rugged, powerful looking face with a beard and moustache in a mix of gray and brown.

He nodded. “Said you wanted a sign?”

“We need a sign.” Dar acknowledged.

He put a much thumbed through portfolio down on Dar's desk and opened it. “ This is the stuff I do.” He said. “See if you like it.”

Dar went around the back of the desk and settled into her chair, pulling over the portfolio as Kerry came around to join her. There were pictures in the notebook, of signs of varying vintage, and size. “I like that one.” Dar pointed at a shot, of a relatively square one, with the background carved back and stained and the letters prominent and almost three dimensional. “Can you do a logo, like this?” She indicated desk plate.

He picked it up and examined it. “Sure. How big you want it?”

“Good question.” Dar got up “Lets go look at the front door, and you tell us what size it should be.”

The carver gave her a quick, appreciative look. “That's different.” He followed her out the door and Kerry followed him. “Usually customers want me to shut up and carve.”

“If we wanted that we'd just mail order it from signs R us. “ Kerry said.

They walked outside and down the sidewalk a little, then turned and regarded the front of the building.

“Could put it above the door.” Kerry said.

“Mm.” Dar folded her arms.

“I think it would look better on the second level there, like a four by three, or a five by three foot.” Robier suggested. “See it better from the road.” He looked at her. “You're the only tenant, right?”

“Right.” Dar closed her eyes and pictured that in her head. “Over the door it would be too narrow.” She said. “And by the side there, the iron lattice would block it.”

The man nodded.

“I like the idea of it up on the second floor, Dar. That's right under our window.” Kerry said.

“Okay, we like it.” Dar turned to the carver. “Make it as big as you think would look good.”

“I need the logo.” He said. “And I'll get working on it.”

They turned as they heard footsteps, and Kerry reocognized her afternoon meeting. “Hey John, hey Manuel.” She extended a hand. “See? We're so new we're still arranging for our company sign.”

“Great! We're the first ones then.” John smiled at her. “Hi there, Dar. How's it going?”

“Busier than I thought it would be.” Dar drawled, with a wry look.

“Hope we can add to that. “ John didn't miss a beat. “Can we talk?”

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. “Sure, c'mon in.” Kerry escorted them past and into the office. “Conference room's first door on your left.”

Dar waited for the door to close then she laughed and shook her head. “Okay, so you need a deposit from me?” She turned back to the carver.

“You didn't ask how much it is?” Robier countered.

“When I have to file my first corporate financial results I might care.” Dar said. “Right now I don't. I've never started up a company before, so I want things done right, and getting a local artist to do a sign seems right.”

Robier studied her, then he smiled suddenly, shifting his face from wary and slightly skeptical to warm and friendly in a heartbeat. “Seems like you're doing all right already.” He jerked his head in the direction of the door. “Gary said you guys do high tech?”

“We do high tech.” Dar agreed. “I know its kind of weird location to put high tech but I spent the last fifteen years in an office on Brickell and I was over it.”

He nodded. They walked over to the little patio in the front and sat down on the iron chairs. “I did high tech, for a while after I got out of the service.” He said. “Telecom install, you know?”

Dar chuckled. “Oh yes I know.”

“Worked out of a central office near Doral. Just day after day of same old same old, until Andrew hit.” He said. “I think I worked two months straight, no time off, almost 20 hours a day.”

“Sucks.” Dar said. “You can only do so much of that.”

“Right. I got to where I was having flashbacks. Felt like I was back in the service with all that stress. So I just stopped. Quit one day, and went to work on construction the next” He sniffed reflectively. “Got to learn how to use band saws, and something about the smell of sawdust got into me so I started carving.”

Dar studied him for a long moment. “That's a good story.”

He nodded again. “Coudl have ended up like some other people, sweeping the street or on meds, or gone crazy but that was an anchor. Then when I got good at it, it became something a lot more, because then, you create things.”

“Computer programming's like that.” Dar said, briefly. “You start with nothing but an empty page and end up with something that does things.” She leaned her elbows on her knees. “I wanted to get back to that, and that's what ended up with this.” She indicated the building.

He regarded her. “You been in the military?”

Dar shook her head.

“Funny. You kinda have the look.” He said. “No offense or anything intended.”

Dar's lips twitched. “I grew up on a Navy base.” She admitted. “My dad's retired Navy.”

It seemed odd, to be this forthcoming to a stranger, she suddenly realized. Odd, but not really wrong. There was something about the wood carver she instinctively liked or at least, that's what she was telling herself.

“Okay, thats probably it.” Robier grinned. “My dads' retired Marines. Never lets me forget it, since I went Army.” He cleared his throat. “One thing I learned, doing my own thing, is how sweet it is to be your own boss.”

Dar nodded emphatically. “That's what I've been learning the last couple weeks.” She admitted. “I never really expected it to be as different as it is.” She leaned back in the chair and hiked one boot up onto her opposite knee. “Been a revelation.”

“Sure was.” He said. “Well, I don't need no deposit. The materials hardly cost me anything, it's all in the work. So I'll go get started on it, and let you know when you can expect it.” He stood up and waited for her to stand as well. “Good to have you in the neighborhood.”

He held out his hand and Dar clasped it. “Glad your neighbors recommended you.” She returned. “Thanks.”

He lifted his hand and waved, then made his way down the sidewalk, turning left at the end of the path and starting back down the road in the direction of the cafe.

Dar stuck her hands in her front pockets and watched him go, leaning back against the wrought iron and enjoying the afternoon breeze.

A soft knock on the glass nearby made her look up, to find Kerry looking back at her from inside the conference room. Her partner crooked a finger at her, and she smiled, pushing away from the lattice. “Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me.” She chuckled and opened the door, catching a hint of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the air.


“Ah.” Kerry finished her laps and stretched her arms out along the edge of the heated pool glad to keep most of herself submerged and not exposed to the chilly air. “Damn that feels good.”

“It does.” Dar had just surfaced after doing a few underwater somersaults and turned over onto her back, stretching her body out with luxurious thoroughness. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Kerry extended her legs and crossed them, sinking down in the water and feeling the pull against her shoulders.

“What do you think about taking the boat up to Crandon Marina tomorrow for the party?” Dar asked. “We could take some people for a ride maybe.”

“You know what I think?” Kerry asked. “I think you're really getting into driving that boat.”

Dar grinned, taking up a position and stretching her own arms out along the coral stone verge. “Me wanting to take the boat out twice this week make you think that?”

“Mm.” Kerry tilted her head and gave Dar a kiss on the shoulder. “Sure I'd love to take the boat hon, long as we stay near the Intercoastal if things get rocky. I've had a chancy stomach with that thing since we got back from the islands.”

“We can take Chino and Mocha.” Dar said. “I bet they'd like to meet everyone.”

“I bet everyone would like to meet them.” Kerry countered. “We should have taken them to work today – you might not have lost that laptop case.”

Dar chortled softly “Little terror.”

“I don't know how he got out of that laundry room.” Kerry said, with a sigh. “And left the gate intact. That's what I don't get.”

“Opposable paws.” Dar said. “He opened the gate, then closed it behind him.”


“Okay, Chino closed it.”


Her partner lifted her hands up and put them down. “What do you want me to say? They have psychic powers?”

“Urgh.” Kerry let her head rest against the stone. “Want to go down to the cabin after the party?” She asked, after a moment's quiet.


“Was that part of the plan too?”

“Maybe. Depended on what you said to it.” Dar eyed her. “We have to introduce Mocha to the cabin anyway. Don't we? There's not that much for him to chew down there I don't think.”

Kerry smiled, her mind already moving ahead to waking up on Sunday to a run on the beach, maybe a ride on the bike.. “I'm so up for that.” She exhaled happily. “Before we get attacked by another dozen customers next week. Sheesh, Dar!”

Her partner chuckled. “That was pretty out of the box.” She admitted. “I like the idea of some of those initiatives, though. Most of them are in our scope.”

“Most of them are in ILS's scope too.” Kerry grew serious. “Are we going to be in trouble with this? I know we didn't solicit them, but if someone looked at it from the outside, it looks pretty bad, doesn't it?”

Dar detached herself from the edge of the pool and started a slow backstroke across the surface. “No.” She said as she crossed back over towards Kerry. “I really don't think so, Ker. It's not existing business, and they approached us. I”m not going to turn down legitimate work because they happened to get introduced to us at ILS.”

“They could say we were stealing work from them.” Kerry said, launching from the wall and swimming alongside her. “Should they have the right of first refusal?”

Dar stroked cleanly through the water, pondering the thought. Overhead, the stars were crisp and bright, the sky completely clear as it almost never was. “Should they.” She mused. “I don't know Ker. Let me ask Richard on Monday. See what he thinks.”

“Not that I mind getting business.” Kerry turned over on to her back and blinked the warm water out of her eyes. “I just want us to be clean in this. I don't want a confrontation with them.”

“Yeah, I get that. Problem is – we're in the same industry. They could make the case any work we do they had prior art on.” Dar said. “So if that's going to be an issue, I'd rather put the work ahead of it and deal with the fallout.”

Well, that was true. Kerry had to admit privately. After all Dar had really only worked for ILS, so by definition, anyone approaching her would have known her in that role, with the exception of the military contracts. Those she'd earned the hard way, very young, coming sideways into the industry.

But these guys? And the ones visiting her on Monday, and Tuesday, and then the City of Miami?

“Relax, Ker.” Dar caught up to her, swimming with that sinuous grace Kerry always envied. She wrapped her arms around Kerry and kept flexing her legs, driving them both through the water. “Truth is, we brought a lot of value to them. People recognized that, and want to exploit it.”

“Mm.” Kerry let her legs drift down to the bottom now that they were in the shallow end. “I just think we should be careful. We want to be successful, but in a legitmate way.” She poked her partner in the belly. “As much fun as it would be for us to toss them head over heels in the marketplace.”

Dar grinned. “You know what their biggest problem is? It's not that we're competing with them.” She rested her forearms on Kerry's shoulders. “Their biggest problem is the gap we left. How much of their current service offering was my intellectural property?”

Kerry studied her face. “What do you mean?” She said. “Your programs?”

Dar shook her head. “The way we did business. The way we structured accounts. The way a new service was laid out, how we sized things. That whole matrix.”

Kerry blinked.

“That was all mine.” Dar said, in a mild tone. “Not sure I ever mentioned that.”

“Not sure I ever thought about where that came from.” Kerry muttered, after a minute. “I mean, I knew the analytic schemas were yours, but...”

Dar smiled. “So. Like I said, let's see what Richard says. I think if it ever came down going into court, if they lost business to us they would have to admit why they were successful all those years.”

“Ah.” Kerry exhaled. “I see what you mean.”

“But it might not come to that. They might compete and win. Some clients might not want to risk a startup. Lot of deeply conservative people in the client list.”

And that, Kerry thought, was true to a point. “Maybe they'll go after all those really conservative ones that woudln't have anything to do with them with you in charge.” She pointed out. “Use it as a selling point.”

“Maybe they will.” Dar suddenly grabbed her, and lunged off to the side taking the both underwater. She pinched Kerry in the butt then let her go, whirling in mid water and kicking off in the ther direction.

“Bmmfph!” Kerry let out a squawk underwater and chased her. They splashed across the pool until they reached the other side, when Dar got her hands on the side of the pool and pressed herself up ward and out of the water just a whisker ahead of Kerry's grabbing fingers. “You punk!”

Dar chuckled, going over to the table they'd left their towels on and quickly wrapping herself in one of them, handing Kerry hers when her partner climbed out after her. “Here, polar bear.”

Caught in the act of shivering, Kerry mock glared at her as she got the soft terrycloth around her. “No one in Michigan would even think about standing around at night in a wet bathing suit in winter.”

“Frostbite.” Dar remarked simply. “You have to put up with a lot in Florida but this one one of the upsides. It's just a little chilly.”

They strolled up from the pool area onto the path where they'd left their golf cart and got in. “See now, if we were in Michigan, this would need to have heated seats.” Kerry turned the cart and sped it along the cart path, winding around the side of the old Vanderberg Mansion and then along the beachfront to where their condo was perched over looking the sea.

As they pulled up to the outside gate, a chorus of barks and yaps marked their approach, and then the sound of the dog door bursting open and the patter of toenails was heard.

“Ah, the family is coming to greet us.” Kerry tapped in the code to unlock the back gate and squeezed inside as Chino and Mocha reached them. “Hey guys!”

“Yap!” Mocha's tiny nails scrabbled at her knee, and she picked him up and cradled him in her arms. “Enjoy this while you can, little guy. I won't be able to do this for long.”

“Yap!” Mocha licked her chin with great enthusiasm, then nibbled on it.

Dar pulled the gate shut behind them. The lights were on in their little garden and the wall cut off the brisk breeze, making it more comfortable to walk. She could smell the scent of mesquite wood, and the little grilling area near the wall bore evidence of use. “Did you leave something on?”

“I did.” Kerry agreed, giving Mocha a hug before putting him back down on the ground. “We have some fish filets in those little packets and sweet potatoes and wax beans.”


“And a bottle of white wine chilling. So let's go change and come enjoy it.” Kerry herded the dogs up the steps and opened the door, following them inside.


Dar adjusted the throttles as she piloted the boat through the narrow entrance to Crandon Marina. It was busy, and she could already hear the sounds of the beachfront across the road from the basin they were going to park in. “Did you get us a slip on the far eastern side, Ker?”

“Yep.” Kerry was on the back deck of the boat, Mocha's little harness leash clamped firmly in one hand. The puppy was almost beside himself with excitement, standing up on his hind legs and staring out over the transom with wide amazed eyes. “On the pontoons there, to the right.”

“Cool.” Dar eased through the clustered vessels and headed for the spot indicated, which only had a few boats moored to it. It was the furthest from the marina, but easier to manuver. “Glad we decided to map the place out. That would have been a long ass walk on the west side.”

It would still be a walk, but there was a path Dar could see up through the trees that would lead them to the main road, where they could cross over and enter the beachfront park area the shindig was being held in.

Twenty twenty hindsight would proably have indicated driving, but they'd decided to manage the hike as a tradeoff on taking the sea route out after the party was over.

Dar spotted the slip number Kerry had given her and she put the engines into idle as the light current took them towards the pier. There were bumpers over the pontoons, and as they approached, a young man in light sweatpants and a short sleeved shirt trotted over and waited expectantly for them.

She skillfully played the throttles to counter the current, slowing their forward motion to almost nothing before nudging the bow into the slip as the dockside helper reached over and grabbed the forward tie line and got it around a well used cleat. “Thanks.” She called out to the man, who waved, as he moved aft and took the other line Kerry was holding out to him.

She kept the boat against the dock until he tied them off, then she cut the engines and secured them.

“Hold on there, you guys!” Kerry called out. “Just hang on!”

Dar moved quickly to the ladder and slid down it, in time to grab Chino's leash as the Labrador started to try and jump off the boat onto the dock. “Got her.”

Kerry picked up Mocha and stepped onto the dock, waiting for her partner and Chino to do likewise. “Whew.” She put the puppy down as Dar got Chino's leash straightned out. “Next time, let's think this through a little more.”

“Mm.” Dar wryly grunted agreement. “Live and learn. C'mon guys.”

They walked down the floating dock and onto the path, then headed up through the trees towards the road. It was another pretty winter day, but the high seventies temperatures made their short sleeved shirts comfortable, and Kerry exhaled in contenment as they made their way through the trees. “What are these, Dar?”

“Sea grapes.” Dar responded. “This entire area used to be full of those Australian pines, but Andrew cleared them off over in Boggs park at the tip of the island and they replanted a lot of grapes and sawgrass in it's place.”

They emerged on the road and went to the nearest crossing, waiting for the traffic to clear before trotting across. On the other side was another path, and this one lead east towards the ocean and the picnic area just beyond the first fringe of trees.

They had just barely entered the area when yells started going up, and Dar looked ahead of them to find people running and waving. “Here we go.”

“Yap!” Mocha stopped in the path and barked at the oncoming crowd. “Yap! Yap! Yap!”

“C'mon, little man.” Kerry patted her leg. “Let's go meet people.”

“Growf.” Chino chimed in, her thick cream colored tail wagging gently back and forth, as the crowd swirled around them and they moved forward into it.


“Glad you stopped by, Dar.” Alastair was sitting on a piece of the seawall, dressed in khaki shorts and a golf shirt. “Nice shindig.”

Dar was sitting next to him, with Chino curled in a ball at her feet, damp and exhausted. “It is nice.” She agreed. “We should have done this more.”

“Mm.” Her former boss agreed. “So how's it going?” He glanced sideways at her. “Hear you've got the new office space up and going.”

She folded her bare arms over her chest, her skin absorbing the sunlight and drying the seawater from her bathing suit. “Full speed ahead.” She admitted. “Aside from Gerry and the government, I've had some nibbles for some new projects from six or seven potential clients.”

Alastair chuckled. “I figured you would after that piece ran.” He said. “Board's a little uncomfortable with the idea that reporter put forward about innovation.”

“There are plenty of innovative people left there, Alastair. I only took myself, my wife, and four people with me.” Dar protested in a mild tone. “And that's all. I gave my word on it.”

He scratched his nose. “I think it's you they're uncomfortable about.” He said. “As in, was that guy right, and were you the driver behind a percentage of the success we've had in the last decade?”

Dar rolled her eyes.

Mari approached them and took a seat next to Dar, giving her a pat on the leg. “Had a lot people come up and tell me they were really glad you came.” She said. “Not that it should be a surprise to you, or to Kerry.”

They both looked over at a nearby cluster of picnic tables, where Kerry was surrounded by her former staffers, a smile on her face. She had a t-shirt on over her suit, and some board shorts on against the chill, and she was more than a little windblown.

“It's a nice party.” Dar agreed. “I was just telling Alastiar we should have done this more often.”

She nodded. “Hard to get budget for it but you're probably right.”

“How much could this cost, Mari?” Dar asked. “It's all burgers and dogs, and condiments from the local warehouse store. You don't rent the space, do you?”

“No, I know.” She said. “You just get tired of fighting when you want to do employee reocognition stuff. No offense, Alastair, but I kind of had it up to hear listening to you all in budget meetings telling us we had to tighten up when we know the whole board had golf memberships and tickets to ball parks.”

Alastiar regarded her soberly. “Executive perks.” He admitted. “But that comes with hiring executive talent.”

Mari looked at him, then looked at Dar, then got up and walked off, shaking her head.

“Now what did I say?” He sighed. “Can't make anyone happy down here it seems.”

“I think her point was, you never offered me any of the perks.” Dar said, hiking a knee up and resting her elbow on it. “I was never one of the good old boys.”

“You never wanted any of that.” He accused. “Don't tell me now you did.”

“No, I didn't.” Dar agreed readily. “But the discrimation was a pretty evident. If you have a VP of HR, that matters to them and Mari and I go back a ways. Maybe she thinks one less golf membership should be translated to a couple more beach parties for the rank and file.”

“You came from the rank and file” Alastair observed

“And I would way rather have had beach parties. Maybe I should have initiated that.” Dar responded. “I realized lately that my support in the company always came from the ranks. Not you all.”

“And that's why the board wants to make sure your replacement is one of them, not one of the gang.” Alastair said. “Tried to talk them down off that ledge, but they weren't having any of it. So they're bringing in some guy who worked as CIO for one of our competitors for three or four years. I hear he's a hard ass.”

“Brook Higgs?” Dar guessed.

He nodded.

“Alastair, he's an idiot.” She said, bluntly. “He got the job with those other guys because his daughter was screwing around with the CEO's son.”

Alastair regarded her in surprise. “Dind't know you followed gossip, Dar.”

“I don't.” She said. “He told everyone in that think tank high level tech exec meet last August.” She said. “The one you made me go and speak at.”

“He said that in a panel?”

“He said that at dinner, with eight of us at the table” Dar said. “Too much free booze in play. But he must have put in a decent team because they're not doing all that bad.”

Alastiar sighed. “Well, he starts in two weeks. The board likes him, he's on the membership committee of two of the big clubs in Houston. Think they're going to base him there, not here.”

“Uh huh.”

“He's got a hot young guy he's bringing in to take Kerry's place.” Alastair went on, after a moment. “He'll be in Miami. No one's really looking forward to it.” He added. “Except for me, since I told the board I'd hang around here until the new guys were in, and then I'm back to my ranch.”

Dar exhaled. “Well, sorry about that.” She looked over as the crowd around Kerry burst into laughter. “Uh oh. That's probably an embarassing story about me getting told.”

Two of the building security guards came over, waiting hesitantly until Dar noticed them and waved them forward. “Hello, Ms. Roberts.” The taller of the two said. “We just wanted to come over and tell you how much we missed you.”

“Hm.” Dar smiled at them. “Given that the best thing about me you could say is I know your names, why?” She asked.

“Because you know our names.” The man said immediately. “Hardly anyone else does.” He glanced at Alastair. “Excuse us, Sir.”

“No problem, people.” The ex CEO said. “I never had any illusion as to who exactly ran the company up until last month. I'm glad Dar got the personal respect she did, and that so many of you spoke up about that to me.” He said. “Loudly.”

The two guards returned the smile. “Ms. Roberts, I know you said you can't take a lot people with you, but if you ever need security people at that new place of yours, please let us know.” The man said, firmly. “Because I'd leave ILS in a heartbeat.”

“Me too.” The woman with him agreed. “I still remember the night we had that guy in the lobby yelling at us in some language, and everyone we called just told us to call the police. ” She looked at Alastair. “Then Maria called you and you came down and took care of him and it turned out all he wanted was to get hold of his wife becaue his daughter was giving birth before her time.”

Dar blinked. “That was a long time ago.” She commented.

The woman nodded. “It was my first week at work.” She explained. “And I was so scared because he was so upset, but then people told me, no matter what the problem was, you would solve it.”

“Poor guy.” Dar said. “He had just moved here, he and his wife relocated from Europe. He had no idea what to do and neither did his wife.” She glanced at Alastair. “I ended up driving them to Jackson and interpreting for them. No one in the emergency room spoke German.”

“When was this?.” Alastair asked.

“95? 96?” Dar guessed. “I remember telling the desk not to tell anyone I'd done it.”

The woman nodded. “That's right.”

“Why?” Her ex boss asked, in a curious tone.

“Wasn't what you paid me for.” Dar felt more than a little embarassed, and she was pretty sure she was blushing. “But anyway, you two – you're right. I can't ask you to come work for us. But if you happened to find yourselves unemployed, come see me. Can't guarantee theres a place, but we can always talk about it.”

The man grinned. “Thank you.” He said. “And thanks for coming over today. We all.. “ He looked vaguely behind him and gestured with one arm. “We wanted to get to say goodbye.”

Unexpectedly, Dar felt a lump rise in her throat, and she paused a minute for it to ease. “Me too.” She said. “Sorry it went down like that. Wasn't really fair to anyone.”

“No, ma'am it wasn't.” The man agreed. “But we're glad you're doing okay.”

They waved, and turned to leave, scuffing through the sand heading back over to where an ever larger crowed was gathering around the picnic tables.

“Y'know, Dar? You're right there. Wasn't really fair to anyone.” Alastair said, after a long pause. “Wish I had a chance to go back and do it all over again.”

Dar paused thoughtfullly, then she shook her head. “Water under the bridge.” She stood up. “C'mon, let's go get some of those marshmallows and enjoy the party.” She towed Alastair over to crowd, with Chino trotting behind them. “Let's have fun.”


Continued in Part 8