Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. Dar and Kerry are (amazingly) copyrighted people belonging to themselves, who are renting their lives to me for reasons beyond my understanding. This is the sequel to Hurricane Watch.
By Melissa Good
Dar was sprawled on the beach, her butt firmly perched on dry sand, and her legs stretched out into the surf, glistening as the incoming tide washed over them. She was leaning against a piece of up thrust coral rock, and tossing bits of broken shell lazily into the water, watched alertly by a curled up Chino next to her.
She wiggled her toes, and watched the long shadows cast by the setting sun behind her flicker, the warmth on her back and shoulders combining with the somnolent salty air coaxing her almost into sleep.
The waves moved in softly, with their familiar rush and hiss, and the faint tinkle of shells being left behind for lucky hunters to find. Dar closed her eyes and enjoyed the peace, sorely needed after the past few days.
At least she had a whole day tomorrow to relax before the new week started. She ran through a list of possible activities, then decided to ask Kerry if she'd like some time underwater. A nice trip out on the boat.. maybe they'd picnic…
Dar opened her eyes and gazed out at the empty horizon. 'Damn, my life has sure changed, Chino."
"Rrfh." The Labrador licked her chops and put her head back down on Dar's thigh.
"I used to work all weekend." She stroked the dog's soft ears. "Or sleep.. if I'd finally worn myself out enough… I definitely never looked forward to Fridays before." Now, she not only did, but also resented when meetings or conference calls kept her late at the office, and she wondered briefly just how much that had impacted her job performance.
Probably a lot, she admitted privately. She knew she used to keep up on every minute detail, sometimes startling staff members with her sharp questions. That… just didn't happen anymore. She had let a lot of things slip, left a bunch of issues resting on her crew, and mostly on Kerry's shoulders, trusting them to do their jobs, and hoping it didn't come back to bite her in the butt.
It felt so strange.
But so far… so far, no major disasters had happened, amazingly enough. Little things, sure, but they always did anyway, and she'd come to realize lately that maybe, just maybe… she'd been a touch too involved.
"Bet I drove everyone out of their cotton picking minds, Chino." She confessed. "I'm lucky they didn't toss me off the 14th floor balcony." She stifled a yawn, and tossed a last shell into the water. "We'd better go back… see what your other mommy's been up to, hmm?" She leaned over 'Where's Kerry?"
The milky ears shot up, and Chino raised her head, cocking it to one side.
"Go find Kerry." Dar urged, with a grin, watching as the puppy scrambled to her feet, and started ambling off. She pulled herself up and dusted her shorts off, then followed, digging her toes into the warm sand with a feeling of distinct pleasure.
"Hmm." Kerry ducked into the kitchen. "She must have taken Chino for a walk." She put her packages down, slipping the chocolate out and setting it on the counter. "She loves to run on the beach."
"My kid or the dog?" Andrew asked, leaning on the counter.
"Yes." The blond woman answered, with a smile.
"Mmph… she always wanted a dog."
"She told me." Kerry replied quietly.
The tall man pushed off the counter and went to stand by the sink, gazing out at the water. "Wasn't easy for a kid.. the way we lived." A pause. "Moving round all the time.. Dar didn't make too many friends."
"Moving doesn’t' always cause that." Kerry moved over and leaned next to him. "I lived most of my life in the same spot… I knew a lot of people, but I figured out pretty early on that most of the people who wanted to be friends with me, had a motive."
Andrew nodded a couple of times.
"It wasn't that bad, really…I had a lot of fun growing up. I think it was best before I was old enough to realize what was going on with my family." She mused. "I was a pretty happy kid."
They stood in silence for bit. "Miss yer family?" Dar's father finally asked.
Kerry had to think about that. "I miss my sister… and my brother. We were close." Another pause. "My aunts and uncles….we used to have big gatherings… they'd all be there, with all my cousins. We'd get pretty rowdy sometimes."
Andrew merely listened, and watched, a natural state with him.
"I don't miss checking myself in the mirror six times before leaving my room." A distant look entered the green eyes. "Or never being quite good enough." Her head cocked to one side thoughtfully. "Being here, on my own was such a change.. I'd go back there for holidays and wonder how I ever lived like that for so long."
The outer gate clanked, audible even through the closed windows, and they peered out to see Dar entering, with Chino bouncing around near her knees. Kerry felt a smile crossing her face in unconscious reaction at the sight, as the crimson rays turned her lover's tanned skin a burnished golden hue. She was wearing a very brief, cut off sleeveless sweatshirt and a pair of ragged denim shorts, and there certainly was a lot to admire showing.
"Good Lord." Andrew complained. "Think she's living in the streets with them clothes." He shook his head and stomped to the door, flinging it open and putting his hands on his hips. "Whatcha think ye're doing out there half naked young lady?"
The dark head jerked up from where Dar had been brushing off the sand from her knees, and she blinked. "Dad?"
"J'think it's the mail man talkin t'you like that?"
His daughter straightened up and mimicked him, putting her hands on her hips, then glancing down her long frame. "Half naked? This isn't half naked." She paused, then grinned and pulled off the sweatshirt, leaving herself in nothing but her sports bra and muscle tone. "This.. .is half naked." She spread her arms cheerfully. "See?"
"Lord have mercy." Andrew clapped a hand over his eyes. "Git in here." He pointed off to his right. "And you stop laughing."
Kerry was leaning over the sink, trying to catch her breath from giggling. "Oh god.. I can't.."
Dar trotted up the steps with Chino scrambling next to her and entered. "C'mon, dad.. it's not like you've never seen my in my underwear."
One blue eye appeared. "There was a lot less of you t'see when you were six and running round without yer clothes on, I'll tell ya that." Andrew groused. "Or when you were a tot and pulled yer diapers off all the time."
"Dad." Dar rolled her eyes.
Kerry felt a new set of giggles coming on.
"Damn good aim you had." Her father went on, irrepressibly. "Used them things like a slingshot."
"Dad!" His daughter got out an outraged squawk.
"Heh.. teach you to sass me, won't it?" But the blue eyes twinkled gently. "Didn't figure back then, though… such a scrappy little thing'd grow up so damn pretty."
It caught Dar offguard. She produced the most tongue tied, bashful look Kerry had ever seen on an adult human being, and she sorely wished she had the digital camera, to capture it forever. "I'm not surprised." She distracted Andrew from his blushing offspring. "Look who she takes after." She winked at him, then laughed. "Oh.. neat.. now I can say I made a sailor blush!"
"Sonofabuscuit." Andrew muttered.
"I'm going to go get some email sorted… " Kerry slipped past them and diplomatically left the two alone. "Come get me when you feel like dinner."
Dar watched her go wistfully, then took a breath, and ducked into the laundry room, retrieving a white cotton tshirt and pulling it on. "Better?" She gave her father a wry look.
He grunted, but his mouth twitched into a grin.
"Thirsty?" Dar went to the refrigerator and retrieved a pitcher of grape juice. She could feel the unspoken emotion between them, and it was making her a little nervous. "Wasn't expecting you to be by… you in the neighborhood?"
He took the glass she offered, and held it. "Not really… Kerry done gave me a call. Had a few things to say."
Dar was a little surprised, but she nodded. "Want to go inside?" She led the way into the living room, and staked out a corner of the couch, watching him settle into the corner of the loveseat at right angles to her. They were both, she realized, a little uncomfortable. "What's the bandaid about?"
He reached a hand up and touched it. "Just some stuff they're doing to make it hurt a little less."
They were both silent for a bit.
"Tough up there, huh?" Andrew asked, after several sips of juice.
"Wasn't the most pleasant experience I've ever had, no." Dar squared her shoulders and faced him. "But I'm glad I went."
He nodded slowly.
"Family's the same."
His lips twitched.
Dar studied the tile, tracing the grout lines intently. "Mom's doing all right.. I guess.. I.. um.. " A head shake. "I wish you'd call her." She had to force the words out, in a quiet mutter. 'It was hard as hell to see her and not say anything." She exhaled unhappily, then glanced up.
Andrew shifted uncomfortably. "Been so damn long.. I don’t know…can't just call… "
It would be a shock, true. "You could write." Dar suggested softly.
"Never was much good at that." He sighed, and stared at the bit of paper. "You… really think it'll be.. she won't just tell me to go t'hell or something?"
Dar considered the question very seriously. The fear she understood only too well. "I think she's in a lot of pain." She almost felt her father flinch at that. "And I think you're the only fix for that, daddy." Now, she looked up, putting all the sincerity she could into her voice and eyes. "That's what I honestly believe."
He was very still, only the pale eyes moved, flicking around the room as he thought. Finally, he let out a tired little sigh. "I miss her." A pause. "Damn, I do."
Dar had to clamp her jaw down hard. "I know." She said, after a moment for the lump to go down.
"The whole damn thing with the family though… I don't know if I can fight that fight again, Dar." Andrew closed his eyes. "Can't ask her to give that up again… you know they won't put up with me."
Dar got up and went to her study, returning a moment later and sitting down again. She held an envelope in her hands. "To hell with them." She stated softly, holding one hand out to him. "C'mere."
Hesitantly, he leaned forward. "What?" He watched as she put the envelope into one hand, and curled his fingers over it. "What is that, honey?"
Andrew's brows, almost obscured against his scarred skin drew together. "What?" Puzzled, he opened the envelope and took the papers out, unfolding them, and running his eyes cursorily over their contents.
Then he stopped.
And his face went totally blank in utter shock.
"Paladar Katherine Roberts, what in the name of God is this?" The question came out in a strangled whisper.
It was a very sweet moment. Dar absorbed it, and tucked it away down deep. "May's trust fund came due." She answered calmly. "I signed it over to you, and had Richard put it in your name."
"M…" He simply stared at her.
"I think May would have liked that." Dar smiled wistfully. "I know I did." She looked up. "You gave me so much….it felt great to give something back." A tear escaped, and she wiped it away impatiently. "Don't say you won't take it, because it's too late for that."
He folded the papers up and leaned his forehead against them, to overcome to say anything at all.
"I knew if I asked you… it'd be no." Dar ticked a finger off. "I if I offered, you'd refuse. If I gave you a chance to turn it down.. you would." Her jaw jutted out. "So I didn't. "
He gazed at her.
Dar smiled, and glanced up, to see a pair of green eyes peeking at her from the stairwell. "Kerry… could you get dad more juice? I think he's about to cough up a kidney on the floor here."
"Sure." The blond woman ambled down the stairs and ducked into the kitchen, then reappeared with the pitcher, bringing it over and pouring some in Andrew's empty glass. "You okay?" She put a hand on the silent man's shoulder.
"No I am not okay." He managed to rasp. "Did you know about this?"
"Sure." Kerry sat down next to him on the loveseat, putting an arm around him. "I thought it was the most incredibly great idea I'd ever heard."
"Did yer." Andrew seemed to still be in shock.
"Yes, I did." Kerry didn't feel any resistance to her touch, so she scratched his back between the shoulderblades, where his daughter always liked it.
He fingered the papers. "Can't think of a damn thing to say." He muttered at last.
Dar smiled, and regarded her now empty, clasped hands.
That meant he wouldn't say no.
May would have definitely approved. And as for the rest of the family…. Dar's eyes glinted in the dusky light.
They can most certainly kiss my ass.
Of course, it rained the next day. Kerry stood for a moment, yawning, and peering out the double glass sliding doors that opened to the ocean, watching the sheets of thick raindrops almost obscure the surf.
Well, she considered, that was okay too. It was a great morning for sleeping in, and they had, and here it was almost noon and she was just crawling out to put up some coffee. She continued on into the kitchen and flipped the light on, since the weather outside made it gloomy, and measured off the coffee before hitting the start switch.
It made a friendly, percolating sound as the water emerged, and she stepped back, stretching her arms overhead and considering what to rummage up for breakfast.
Kerry glanced at the clock. Lunch, if they followed their usual schedule. She ran her hands through her hair and yawned again, smiling as Chino trotted into the kitchen and sat down in front of her biscuit jar, looking up at Kerry expectantly.
"Oh." She put one fist on her hip. "So.. you think you've got me trained, huh?"
"Woof." Chino barked, then looked up at the jar.
"I don't think so, madam."
Dar peeked inside, then slid her long body around the doorjamb and padded barefoot across the tile, going right to the jar and taking a biscuit out for the puppy, which Chino crunched contentedly.
The taller woman paused, blinked, then removed a second biscuit and handed it to Kerry. "Sorry.. didn't know you liked them." She drawled. "Try some peanut butter on it."
"Hah, hah." She tossed the cookie back, watching Dar catch it one handed. "You spoil her so much."
"Mm.." Dar acknowledged, a trifle sheepishly. "Seems to be a habit of mine lately." She slid an arm around Kerry, who had sidled closer, and welcomed the warmth of her body against the kitchen's air conditioned chill. "Maybe I'm coming down with a virus."
Kerry snorted into the cotton of her shirt. "You'd be more likely to write a virus than catch one… you're disgustingly healthy, Dar.. did you know that? I've had two colds and a stomach flu since I've known you.. and you haven't caught anything."
Dar chuckled. "My body knows how much I hate being sick.. and it hates putting up with me so much, if I do catch something, it pretends not to notice." She considered. " I can't even remember the last time…oh.. wait, yes I can." Her eyes rolled. "I caught food poisoning from the cafeteria at some account I was… consolidating."
"Ew." Kerry winced. "I've never had it.. but Mike did once, and the colors he turned would have done Van Gogh proud."
"Yeah… I was so sick.. I didn't stop throwing up for… god.. it seemed like forever." Dar acknowledged. "I finally ended up just staying in the bathroom.. I was too weak to get up." A pensive pause. "Long couple of days."
Kerry's brow creased. "Why didn't you call someone to help you? God, Dar…"
The blue eyes studied her. "There wasn't anyone to call." She replied, very simply. "It was in my old place in the grove.. just me, and a few lizards."
It struck her, now, the realization of just how alone Dar had been before they'd met. "Wow." She put a hand out and touched the dark haired woman comfortingly. "Well, if your body happens to forget now, rest assured you'll be taken care of."
Dar's lips briefly tensed into a smile. "That might be worth getting sick for." She allowed, resting her forearms on Kerry's shoulders. "So." Eyes went to the window. "What do you feel like doing today?"
"Well… we've both got inboxes to clear… and laundry… we could get caught up on everything for a change."
"Mm." Dar sounded very noncommittal.
"Or, we could laze around together on the couch all day and watch cartoons."
A frank, unrepentant grin flashed back at her.
"Okay.. so.. now that we've got that settled… go find Space Ghost, and I'll bring out the coffee and whatever I find for breakfast."
Dar obediently ambled out into the living room, and flipped the TV on, grabbing the remote as she found a nice, soft spot on the couch to curl up on, wincing a bit as the cold leather took it's time warming to her body. Thunder rolled outside, and she laid down on her side, propping her head up with one hand as she surfed.
Always liked rainy days. She reflected idly, listening to the hard pattering outside. They were good times to read, or watch old movies, or… A grin played over her face, remembering the long summer afternoons on the base spent constructing models… much to her mother's despair. All those intricate, tiny pieces and the scent of glue.. so carefully painted and put into place.
Haven't thought about that in forever. How many hours had she lost herself in those? All the ships of the fleet.. each with it's proper, exact markings.. and then coming home from college one time, and finding them gone. Given to some shelter or other, because her mother thought she'd outgrown them.
She'd rarely ever been that angry. She hadn't spoken to her mother for a month after that, until her father had sought her out, and made peace.
Like always, able to bridge their differences with his love for her mother, and his understanding of Dar.. they'd depended on him for that. Maybe that was why after he was gone…
Dar sighed, releasing the memories as Kerry entered, bearing a small tray with two steaming cups and a basket of something that smelled cinnamony and sweet. "Oo… what have we here?" She grinned at her lover. "A nice healthy breakfast, I see."
Kerry stuck her tongue out. "We're low on bean sprouts. I had to improvise." She set the tray down with the coffee and cinnamon rolls, then took a seat on the wide couch next to Dar's sprawled form. "I didn't think you'd object." She tore a roll in half and offered it to her lover.
"Nope." Dar chewed the sweet pastry contentedly, saving a small piece for the cream colored Labrador head that magically appeared in front of her face. Then she licked her fingers off, and took a sip of her coffee, putting it back down and curling an arm around Kerry to bring her closer.
"Hm." The blond woman relaxed onto her side and pressed her back against Dar's warmth, sharing the colorful, soft throw pillow. "Oh yeah.. I can deal with this all day." She yawned, and snuggled closer. "I like rainy days." Idly, she picked up a few bits of mail lying on the table and sorted through them. "How did we get on a mailing list for X rated videos?"
Dar lifted her head to peer at the item. "Mm… videos… mean video recorders, which means electronics, which means high technology.. which means computers. Can you figure out how we got on a list for that?"
Kerry paused and thought. "Nope." She shrugged and chucked the mail, which Chino ran and retrieved for her, setting it down hopefully next to the couch. "Let's see… your Microsoft newsletter…. Want that?"
"Here you go, Chino… what about the small computer book club offer?"
"Oh. Right.. I need more small computer books."
"Right." Toss. "Invitation to a time share in Las Vegas?"
"Nah.. they don't like me there." Dar responded. "I know too much about the systems programming."
"Okay." Kerry peered at the next envelope. "Oh.. you're having a class reunion."
A brow arched.
She passed the envelope back. "Here… oh wait.. don’t' move. I'll open it."
Dar hadn't stirred an inch. "Did I say I wanted to see it?" She grumbled, then sighed as Kerry opened the green and orange striped envelope and pulled out it's contents. "I'm not going."
"Aw." Kerry read with interest. "Why not? It's here next weekend…it looks like fun, Dar.. it's a 'come as you were' party." She showed the flyer to her lover. "C'mon…"
A blue eye pinned her. "High school wasn't a time I remember all that fondly, Kerry…I think I was voted 'Girl most likely to be incarcerated'" She chuckled self deprecatingly. "It was the start of that rebellious phase I mentioned."
"All the more reason." The blond woman responded. "Don't you want to go back there and prove otherwise? Didn't you really get a kick out of doing that with your relatives?"
A brow lifted in thought.
"I wouldn't call it a 'kick'." Dar murmured, then shook her head. "No… I really didn't get along with the crowd that's organizing this." She pointed at some names. "Key Clubbers….bet they haven't' changed." She gave Kerry a suspicious look. "Why are you so enthusiastic about this?"
Kerry grinned, her nose wrinkling up cheerfully. "I want to indulge my newly discovered hedonistic tendencies. I want to see you in leather ."
She got a definite 'look' in return. "You what?"
"And chains.. and the torn clothes." Green eyes sparkled. "Though… " Kerry riffled through Dar's hair. "I think we can fake the spikes."
Dar started laughing. "Jesus, Kerry…. You gotta be kidding. I don't have that stuff around anymore.. and even if I did.. it'd never fit." Then she remembered the boxes still sealed in the storage area. She bit her lip. Nah.
A finger touched her nose. "I bet we could find something…" Coaxingly. "C'mon, Dar… hey.. tell you what.. I'll even rent you a motorcycle or something for the night."
Dar clapped a hand over her eyes. "How d'you even know I know how to ride one?" She objected faintly. "Kerry, I can't just… "
"Sure you can.. lots of people go to their high school reunions."
Long fingers drummed on the couch's leather surface. "Okay." Dar finally responded. "On one condition."
Triumph. Kerry squirmed around and faced her, with a delighted grin. "Name it."
Now it was Dar's turn to grin. "You come with me.."
A snort. "Of course! You think I'd let an opportunity like this go by? Me and the digital camera…"
"Dressed the same way." The low voice interrupted her slyly.
Kerry stopped, and blinked. "Uh." Slowly a finger pointed at her own chest. "Me?" Her face scrunched up in comedic dismay, as she fingered her Tweety shirt. "Dar, I'm not very convincing in leather. Really."
Dar waited, her eyes twinkling.
A sigh. "Well, okay… I'm pretty sure I'll look goofy, but.. if that's what it takes.. that's what I'll do." She gave Dar a firm nod. "Kerry, Biker Chick will be there."
Hmm. Dar let a chuckle escape, as they snuggled together, letting the thunder roll around them. This might even be kind of fun.
It was still raining as Kerry pulled up to the office, tugging up her rain hood before she ducked out of the Mustang and made the short dash to the front door. The security guard saw her coming and stepped on the plate, making the glass portals open and letting her inside with only a minimum drenching. "Morning, Ms. Stuart."
"Hi.. morning." Kerry pushed her hood back and shook her head, scattering a few droplets from her hair. "Wow… lousy weather, huh?"
"Yes, ma'am… " The guard peered behind her expectantly. "Ms. Roberts coming along with you?"
Kerry smiled. "No.. she's got a meeting this morning… " Not true. "She'll be by in a bit." Dar was, in reality, not far behind her, but they'd decided to take separate cars this week, since their unwelcome board member was roaming around, and Kerry had been assigned to escort him. Neither of them went out of their way to hide their relationship, but there was no point in advertising it to the already antagonistic Ankow.
She was alone in the elevator, and remained that way as she got out on the fifteenth floor, not surprising given the hour. Maria was in, though, and she smiled at the secretary as she poked her head in Dar's outer office. "Morning!"
"Ah.. good morning, Kerrisita." Maria smiled back. "Is terrible weather, no?" Her eyes went to the barely visible hallway behind Kerry's head. "Dar is not with you?"
It occurred suddenly to Kerry that coming separately might possibly cause more comment than just arriving together would. "She took her car." She explained. "Is our visitor here yet?"
The dark head shook no. "His plane is landing at nine.. we are sending Consuelo for him."
Ah Consuelo.. not a bad idea. "Is she still moonlighting as a dancer?"
"Si." Maria smiled primly. "Is so.. cultural, no?"
Kerry bit off a grin. "Absolutely… hey, Mariana tells me she's gotten approval for my assistant.. I hear it's someone familiar." She'd been surprised at the move, and astounded at the person Mariana had hired for her. They'd been putting off the addition for a while, with Kerry stating she really didn’t' need one, more to prevent having to deal with the awkwardness of bringing a stranger in than anything else. But now, with all the new projects, it was unfair to ask Maria to coordinate for both of them, and Mariana had gone ahead, putting Kerry's fears to rest by hiring Maria's young daughter, whom both she and Dar already knew.
Who also knew about them, and was a quiet, reserved girl not much for spreading rumors around.
Maria beamed. "Mayte is so excited…she spent the entire weekend choosing what clothes, and how to do her hair.. she cannot wait to start. She will be here at nine also, to do her paperwork."
"Great." Kerry waved. "Gotta go get ready for my squiring assignment.. .see you later, Maria." She pulled her head back out and went down the hallway, into the little alcove where her office door was.
There, she paused, watching the busy activity. A small room just off to one side had been used for storage, and now everything was being moved out. To the left, a handsome wooden desk stood on one end, waiting to go in, and behind that an MIS cart was parked, with a pc and monitor on it. She poked her head in the room as the last of the boxes left, and nodded.
It wasn't huge, about twelve feet square, but it was carpeted, and the walls were clean, with soft blue soundproofing weave on them.
"Excuse me, Ms. Stuart." A polite voice made her jump, and she ducked out of the way as the maintenance worker maneuvered the desk through the door and got it positioned. Then he glanced up, and wiped his brow. "This all right?"
Kerry blinked. "Um.. " She studied the room. "Yes.. sideways to that wall would be good, I think.. it's near the powerstrip."
He nodded. "I always like to ask.. specially with you ops people. Dear Lord goes to town knows I was in that office.. " He pointed towards hers. "Hours getting things how Ms. Robert's wanted em."
It was an unexpectedly revealing moment, and Kerry smiled. "Well, you did a great job.. I didn't have to move a thing." She patted the door frame and left the man to his work, going through her door and into her office, and closing it behind her. Her eyes moved around the now familiar confines. "Hours, huh.. and you let me think it was just an extra office you had hanging around." She chuckled and went over to her desk, flipping the switch to turn on her pc then wandering over to the window while it booted.
It was dark and gloomy outside, with sheets of rain still falling over the drenched landscape, and fractious whitecaps lashing the shoreline just visible from her window, and ruffling even the usually calm waters of Biscayne Bay, which the office overlooked. "Maybe we'll get lucky, and they'll close the airport." She remarked. "Or make him land in Tampa."
Not likely. MIA was used to this weather, and only ever shut down in the worst possible scenarios, such as tornado watches, and hurricanes.
Her phone buzzed, and she sighed, then turned and eyed the display. Ah. She punched a button. "Morning, Mark."
"Hey. Where's the boss?" The MIS manager's voice was preoocupied. "She's not answering in her office."
"Probably because she's not here yet." Kerry answered dryly.
"Oh.. I saw your IP come active…. So I figured she'd be around." Mark replied. "I'll page her.. thanks."
He hung up, and Kerry shook her head, then looked up as a knock came at the door. "What is this… did the entire building come in early today? C'mon in!"
Mariana opened the door and entered, carrying several folders and small pot of geraniums. "Morning, Kerry… you're new administrative assistant is starting today.."
"I know. I saw the movers outside."
"Right… okay, here's her profile..we've already done the background and government screening, and she came out clean."
"I'd hope so.. since she's barely twenty." Kerry took the folder and put it on her desk. "We got to meet her at her sister's quinces not too long ago.. she's really nice."
Mariana nodded. "Yes, she is… she's got nice things to say about you, too." She smiled at the younger woman. "Not that people generally don't have, mind you." She took a seat in Kerry's visitor's chair. "Which reminds me."
Uh oh. Kerry sat down, and rested her arms on her desk.
"Your six month evaluation is coming up."
Ah. "I know."
The Personnel VP considered a moment, sucking on her lower lip. "Usually, the person who does that is your direct supervisor."
Kerry nodded, folding her hands. "I don't see any need to deviate from that." She told the woman very calmly.
"Kerry." Mariana lowered her voice. "The purpose is to get an objective report on your professional qualifications."
"And Dar can be very objective." She responded. "She always has been… right from the start, When I do things right, I get commended. When I do things wrong, and I have, I get reprimanded, just like everyone else."
The older woman looked surprised. "Really?"
"Really… I've gotten called on the carpet several times.. and believe me, it hurts." Kerry admitted. "But it's never personal, Mari… it's all very 'you did this, you should have done that, this is what happened, don’t let it happen again kind of stuff." A shrug. "Just like everyone else."
"The only difference is, after a day when that happens, I get to go home, and get a big hug." Kerry's lips pressed into a thin smile. "And I try not to let it happen very often.. so, no. I'm pretty sure I'll get an objective report - as objective as anyone else would give, at any rate." A pause. "At least I'll know she's not holding the fact that I'm sleeping with my boss against me."
"I trust her." Kerry added, very softly.
"All right." Mari held up a hand. "You've made good points…let me go drop off the forms in her office. Mind if I use your back way?"
A sigh. "Go ahead.. but she's not in yet, I don't think."
"Really? Something wrong? You guys all right?" Concerned hazel eyes studied her.
Kerry threw up her hands. "We were trying to be inconspicuous for a week while that board member's here.. instead, I think the most talked about thing in the lunchroom's going to be the fact we didn't drive in together."
Mariana stared at her, then laughed. "Oh, my god.. that is so true." She admitted, lifting her hands with the geranium and all, and letting them drop. "Apologies, Kerry… it's just that you get used to a routine around here, and when it changes, people notice." She held up the plant. "This, for instance. I gave it to Duks, because he was moaning that his office has no color."
"Mm… except he's had to explain a dozen times to people why he's suddenly showing an interest in horticulture. He gave up, and made me take it back.. said he'd just go out and get a couple of beer steins instead or put a stuffed fish on the wall."
"All right, Kerry… I'll send Mayte over when she gets done with her paperwork.. hopefully that'll be before our guest shows up." She waved her geranium and walked out, leaving behind a scent of earth, flowers, and Chanel.
Kerry sighed, and shook her head, then turned and opened up her mail program, watching the inbox fill to bursting with lots of little exclamation points indicating urgent messages. "Happy Monday."
The tall woman looked back over from her worktable, where she'd been studying a new set of bandwidth reports. "Yes?" She called out, knowing the intercom would pick her voice up.
"Mr. Ankow is here."
Yippee. "Thank you.. show him in, please." Dar allowed her voice to ooze with mock charm. She expelled a breath, and glanced at her pager, noting the time. Well, the storm had bought them a few hours, at least, and trapped Ankow in an airplane for the same length of time.
The door opened and Maria came in, allowing the tall man to enter behind her and giving both him, and her boss a polite smile. "Dar, they have canceled your conference call at eleven.. they will reschedule for later this week."
"Thanks, Maria." Dar turned and faced her unwelcome guest. "Morning.. hear you had a rough flight coming in."
Ankow was dressed in an impeccable dark gray suit, and expensive looking midnight blue silk tie with very thin maroon stripes. "A waste of my time. Let's stop compounding that, Roberts." He walked across the floor and sat down in one of her chairs, peering out at the rain. "Now that you've had your little fun sending Carmen Miranda after me, you can just assign me to whatever blonde bimbo with the brains of a pencil you have planned, and let me get on my way."
Dar finished making a note on her notepad, then took her time meandering around to her desk chair and sitting down in it. She leaned back and crossed an ankle over her knee, very aware of her comfortable cotton shirt and khakis contrast to his formal wear. "Carmen who?" She put a faint smile on her face. "You mean Consuela?"
"The dancer you thought you'd distract me with." He smiled right back. "She's not my type."
"Ah." Dar rubbed her cheek. "Consuela Gonzalez is our top marketing strategist… she's got three bachelor's degrees, a masters in business, and she's working on her doctorate in finance and applied statistics… .and all you noticed was her body?" Dar clucked. "We thought you'd want to ask her questions about how we do business.. must have been an interesting ride from the airport."
He glared at her.
Dar smiled charmingly. "We don’t' keep bimbos on staff." She pressed a button on her intercom, and a quiet voice answered. "C'mon over."
Ankow decided to ignore her win over Consuela. "I want access to everything."
"With the exception of the ladies room, you've got it." Dar replied, deadpan. "Just don't touch anything… I don’t' want to spend half the day reprogramming mainframes."
He gazed at her. "Enjoy the jokes while you can. " He remarked mildly. "I would guess you've got about a month, until the stockholder's meeting. After that, if you're in this office, I'll be very surprised."
Dar didn’t react. "You seem to think that worries me."
The inner door opened, and Kerry entered giving Ankow a quick, almost invisible once over. "Morning." She offered a greeting to both of them politely.
"Morning." Dar replied. "Kerry, this is David Ankow, a member of the board of directors. He's here to review operations. "
"Sir." Kerry inclined her head graciously. Certainly, she fit the blond part of Ankow's assumptions, but Kerry's well bred air and quiet intelligence should have clued him otherwise.
"This is Kerrison Stuart, our director of operations." Dar circled her knee with both hands and interlaced the fingers ."She'll be your contact while you're here.. if you have any questions, she can answer them."
"Great." Ankow stood up. "First thing you can show me is a cup of coffee… is that starting off simply enough for you?"
"Regular or espresso?" Kerry inquired, as she followed him to the door. "Or would you like to try café con leche, the local speciality?" She managed to get to knob before he did, and opened the door for him. "Out, and to your left." She spared a glance behind her for her boss, who made a sympathetic face before she closed the door.
"So. What is it you do here, exactly… Ms…. Stuart, was it?" Ankow inquired, as they left the break room. "I'm not sure what an operations director does."
"Good question." Kerry replied. "It depends, unfortunately, on what day of the week it is, and what time of the month." She passed by her office, and caught Mayte, installed in her new office, peeking out at her. She smiled and rolled her eyes outside of Ankow's field of vision, and the girl smiled back, then went back to checking some reports Kerry had left her.
"Really. I mostly handle day to day operational problems, like outages, customer contact issues, utilization.. those areas. But I also structure and organize the consolidation of new acquisitions, and make decisions on integration when we buy into companies, or join with them as part of a common effort." Kerry motioned down the hall. "Our main operations center is down here."
"You do, huh?" Ankow seemed either bemused, or amused, Kerry couldn’t tell. "How long have you been doing this?"
"About six months." She answered, scanning her id card through the large security door. "I was working for Associated Synergenics when they were acquired.. as the manager of operations there, and when a position opened up, I applied for it and was hired."
"This position?' Ankow inquired.
"No." Kerry slid her card through a second door, and opened it for him. "But then, you already know that, Mr. Ankow, since you requested my personnel file." She smiled and stood back. "This way, please… I was hired as Dar Robert's assistant, and moved into my current role when she took on the responsibilities of CIO."
"She is your boss, then." Ankow stopped and watched her face intently.
"Just wanted to clarify that." He smiled, and walked on, into the brightly light expanse and low key activity of the operations center.
Kerry indicated the door ahead of her, exhaling a little as they approached the cafeteria. It had been hours of pointed questions, and the acceptance of her answers with an air of smugness that was frankly, getting on her nerves.
The smell of arroz con pollo hit her as the door opened, and she entered the line just behind her guest, and she debated on whether to stick to her usual chef salad, or go for one of her favorites.
"Do they have anything American here?" Ankow asked, giving the dish a distasteful look.
"Well.." Kerry smiled at the attendant, who looked at her expectantly. "I'll have the chicken, thanks.. and some flan… and a café con leche." She turned to Ankow. "They're Perdue chickens, if that makes you feel better."
"Si, Senora." The lady behind the counter wrinkled her nose at Kerry. "Senor?" She turned her attention to Ankow.
"Give me one of those chef salads." He ordered. "And a bottled water."
They took their trays and moved to a table near the window. Kerry took a bite of her chicken and glanced around, noting the eyes watching them, and glad it wasn't just her they were watching for a change.
"You were involved in the Allison Consulting fiasco, weren't you?" Ankow inquired, after spearing a forkful of lettuce.
"Yes, I was." Kerry replied. "I did the initial analysis on the data that came from them… it was very disappointing." She took a sip of her coffee.
"My question is, how did it get as far as it did? How did you allow us to be duped like that?" The acid comment surprised her. "Do you understand how much that cost?"
Keep cool. He's an asshole. Dar's words echoed gently in her mind. "I beg your pardon?" Kerry inquired. "I'm operations.. I think it's acquisitions you want to discuss that with.. or maybe Ernst and Young, who did the due diligence they very obviously should have failed."
"Yes, but how long did it take you to figure that out?"
Kerry chewed thoughtfully. "I was suspicious the first day… I sent the data the second day…Dar came out that Thursday night and by Friday we had them locked up. "
"Ah. So your… boss… had to come bail you out, is that it?" Ankow now looked amused. "Well, that's understandable.. " He dismissed the subject, and looked around. The buzz of Spanish around them was perceptible, as well as a lower hum of English, and a few tables of Creole. "Interesting place."
"I think so." Kerry scooped up the last of her rice and washed it down with some coffee. "I enjoy the different cultures.. it's very different from where I grew up."
"Michigan, wasn't it?"
"So.. what's it like having a scandal in the family?"
Kerry put her silverware down and laced her fingers together. "Mr. Ankow, I've had to put up with your being deliberately antagonistic all day."
"I don’t' have to put up with personal questions. That's not part of the job. So in answer to your question, that's not your concern." Pause. "Sir."
"All right, fair enough." David Ankow sipped his water, regarded her coolly. "I'm not here to make enemies, Ms. Stuart…and despite what everyone seems to think, I'm not here to tear down you, or anyone else."
Kerry lifted an eyebrow.
"My job.. " he paused for emphasis. "My job, Ms. Stuart, is to protect the investment that people.. just regular people, like you and me, have made in this company. Some of those people depend on that investment to carry them through lean times.. some of them depend on it when they retire. It's my responsibility to make sure we don’t betray that trust. You understand me? That means I have to come in, and ask hard questions, like why an account that cost us twenty million dollars to acquire had to be scrapped. That's not your money, Ms. Stuart."
Kerry had listened to him, waiting patiently. "Part of it is." She remarked softly. "I'm a stockholder."
He was silent.
"So is Dar. So are most of the people around you." She leaned forward. "I understand about being responsible to people, Mr. Ankow… my job is to try and make everything run, so the company can do what it's paid to do, and provide value to those very same stockholders." She studied his face. "You represent me, just as much as you do those faceless people out there who invest without being personally involved in the company."
A smile quirked the very corners of his lips. "You are Roger Stuart's kid, aren't you?" There was a touch of wry admiration in his tone. "I interned in his office for a year…I remember seeing a picture of you in his office."
It hit her so hard, Kerry almost lost her lunch on the spot, and it took everything she had to keep a politely interested look on her face.
"Hi." The interruption was doubly welcome, and the voice put a covering of calm over her very jangled nerves. "Mind if I join you?"
Dar hadn't eaten lunch with her in the cafeteria for at least three months, but Kerry had never been so glad to see anyone in her life. "Sure."
The tall executive dropped down next to her and put a tray down, with a meal the duplicate of Kerry's on it. "How's the tour?" She asked Ankow, drawing his attention to her. "Find any roaches?"
"Very educational." Ankow went back to sipping his water. "I owe you an apology, Roberts… my compliments on your selection of a babysitter for me." He tipped his water bottle in Kerry's direction. "I've learned a lot."
"Good to hear." Dar speared a bit of chicken and chewed it. "Considering your being here is putting a huge kink in operations with Kerry playing tour guide. How much more time are you going to need?"
"Hard to say." He leaned back. "I'll have to let you know." Another sip. "I'd like to speak to Lou Draefus.. I want reports pulled on all the account consolidations this year, so I can review them."
Dar shrugged, unconcerned. "Suit yourself… but you'll do that without Kerry. " She took a swallow of coffee. "We've got an Operations staff meeting this afternoon."
"It can wait then… I'd love to sit in on your meeting." He changed his mind smoothly. "I've heard so much about your managerial style." A smile. "I'm looking forward to seeing it in action."
Dar chuckled humorlessly. "Try coming to the board meetings sometime." She finished her coffee and picked her tray up. "See you upstairs in a few minutes." She met Kerry's eyes.
"Will do." Kerry answered briskly. "Can you have Maria print the minutes? I haven't' had a chance to get back to my desk."
Dar nodded, then left, threading her way through the crowd with a powerful stride that cleared a path before her like magic.
Kerry let her breath out slowly, grateful beyond measure for the few minutes Dar had allowed her to collect herself and regain her composure. Cookies for that, honey.. or maybe an ice cream cone, hmm? She put her silverware on her tray. "Are you done?"
"Just starting." He smiled at her, with a slight twinkle in his eyes.
It had been months, Kerry reflected, since they'd seen a full fledged, all out temper tantrum from Dar. The tall executive had been businesslike, but fairly mellow for her, accepting reports at their weekly meetings, and doling out assignments without her usual bouts of calling people on the carpet, or picking apart a particular operational issue until whoever it was felt like curling up under the conference room table.
Today, however. Kerry sighed, and kept an eye on her boss, who was seated in her usual chair, leaning forward and fiddling with a long stick pen she'd just been using to doodle. Ankow was in the seat next to her, questioning a reallocation of server resources, that had taken down a fairly important client for an hour, to maintain the integrity of the network.
It had been a chancy decision, Kerry knew, since she was the one who had made it. But her options hadn't been extensive, and it had either been that, or lose two critical financial applications for the balance of the day. "Without having a backup routing center, there wasn't much else we could do." She spoke quietly, catchign his attention and drawing it from her visibly edgy lover. "It was my decision."
"Did anyone call Interspatial and tell them?" He asked her.
"I did, personally." Kerry replied. "They weren't happy."
"No, they certainly weren't." Ankow agreed. "And what's to say it won't happen again, if you don't have any backups?"
Kerry propped her chin up on one fist. "That's exactly why Dar's spending all her time designing our new network. So it won't happen again." She shifted her gaze. "Right, boss?"
A very wry blue twinkle. "That's the theory, yes."
Ankow sat back, and lifted a hand.
"Mark… what about those server farms, did we get them online?" Dar asked, making a tick mark on her agenda. Was a time, she reflected, when she woudn't have had to ask. She'd have known.
"Bank A came online Tuesday, Bank B on Thursday." Mark answered, batting a small, red rubber ball between two pens on the table. "They're running pretty good, but A's taking three percent more utilization than they projected… I'm gonna have to monitor that." He glanced over at Dar. "They've got some weird traffic going across."
"Don't we know what they're running over our network?" Ankow asked immediately.
"Not always." Dar interjected quietly.
"Depends on the contract." Dar was drawing a pig. "Sometimes we're just the carrier."
"I disagree with that." David Ankow shook his head. "We should know what we're putting down those pipes… it's our responsibility."
"Talk to the people who sign the contracts." Dar shot back. "I don't make the deals."
"But you approve them."
"I approve the technology." Blue eyes took on a dangerous glint. "I make sure we can deliver what we promise. I don’t' judge the content."
Ankow met her eyes, and returned her intent glare.
Kerry cleared her throat gently, distracting them. "Actually.. we generally do know what kind of data's being carried… just not the specifics of the packet structure, unless we're asked to analyze that to improve network performance, or if there's a problem."
"Generally?" Ankow turned his eyes to her.
"Sure. Banks send banking data. Graphics companies send graphics files." Kerry smiled at him. "We don't need to know more than that… in fact, in some cases, intercepting that data is strictly against the contract, like with the airlines."
"Of course. " Mark picked up the thread. "We transmit 90 percent of the air traffic control and communications data.. we could, technically, intercept an in air mayday or a vital directional instruction if we dipped into the data stream at the wrong time."
"Yeah.. " Mark's assistant agreed. "We just make sure the right packets are going to the right people."
Ankow sat back, and regarded them in silence.
Dar made another tick point, and wished she was home. "That's it for open issues… anything out there you want me to know about?"
"Shouln't they be asking you that.?" Ankow got a last snipe in.
Dar didn't dignify that with an answer. Normally this was where her team told her about all the goofs and mistakes the'yd made, which she'd be likely to catch wind of, or have to explain. They'd tried to keep something like that for her once, and she'd given them the 'if it's going to come out of Alastair's mouth, I want to know about it" speech.
Today, however, everyone kept prudently quiet.
"Nothing?" Dar prodded. "Don't tell me we had a mistake free week?"
They all looked at each other, then at her.
"Ops, nothing?" She looked at Kerry, who gravely shook her head. "Facilities?" Now she glanced at tall, bookish Bill Bowers, who blinked and shook his head.
"Not this week, boss."
Mark cracked his knuckles. "Nope."
Mark grinned. "Sixteen attempted accesses, sixteen repulsions, resulting in four IP traces, and two hits, which I turned over to the goon squad."
Dar nodded. "All right… that's it . See you next week." She stood and gathered her papers. "I believe you had an appointment in Accounting?"
Ankow also stood. "Actually, I wanted a word with you first."
Dar sighed inwardly. "C"mon."
Mark edged around the table and ended up next to Kerry, as they watched the two leave. "Is she gonna hurt him or what?" He shook his head. "What a rhino sized butthead."
"Ugh.. you don't know the worst." Kerry drank down her glass of water, and exhaled. "I'm going to run down to the cafeteria and grab some coffee… then I've got an inbox the size of Manhattan to work out."
"I'll walk you down." Mark offered. "I could use a soda myself.." He followed Kerry out the door. "Besides.. you'll need an extra hand to help carry her milkshake back up here."
Kerry gave him a look. "Am I that predictable?" She hit the elevator door button.
Mark grinned, and rocked up and down on his heels. "NO.. but she is."
"All right." Dar dropped her notes on her desk and sat down, giving her trackball a spin to bring her monitor to life. Another page of messages had appeared, this one with a scattering of exclamation points. "What do you want?"
David Ankow crossed behind her, and gazed out the window, admiring the view. "Nice."
Asshole. Dar closed her eyes against the pounding headache. Then she opened them, and surveyed the screen, deciding to ignore her unwanted guest until he decided to say his piece. She clicked on her first mail, and reviewed it.
"You think I'm here to bust your chops, don't you?"
"I don't much care why you're here." Dar replied, typing rapidly.
Ankow circled her and sat on her desk. "You don't like being questioned, do you, Roberts?"
Dar half turned, and regarded him. "I don’t' like wasting my time answering questions you could have looked up in the corporate database, no." She paused. "You're wasting a company resource."
His eyebrow, so even she suspected he plucked it, lifted. "Is that how you view yourself, as a resource?" He didn't get an answer. "All right…Im going to surprise you." He stood and walked around to the front of her desk, then sat down. "I agree. I think you are a resource." He leaned back. "Much as I hate to admit it.. and I do… trust me, you 're not just a resource, you're damn near the cornerstone this operation's built on."
Dar folded her hands. "And your point is what?"
"My point is… you think you’ve got this company over a barrel."
Dar rolled her eyes. "You know what?" She gave him a disgusted look. "You're stupider than I gave you credit for. Get the hell out of my office, and go find something useful to do, will you?"
He blinked at her.
"Catch a god damned clue, Ankow… I don't want anything from the damn company other than my bimonthly god damned paycheck, if that's not asking too much." Dar stood, and leaned forward, using her height to good advantage. "I don't ask for trouble, I don't ask for help, I don’t' ask for assholes to come flying in here from Texas who don't have t he sense that god gave a squirell and waste my time."
Surprisingly, he chuckled. "Now, that's the Dar Roberts I heard about. I was wondering where you were hiding."
"What." Dar let her voice lift. "Do you want?"
"Either talk, or get out."
:"And if I do neither?" Ankow seemed amused.
"Then I'll pick you up and throw you out." Dar felt her darker side waking up, as her temper flared.
"Would you?" Her antagonist asked, softly. "I'd be a little careful there, Roberts. I'm not one of your Texas two steppers." He stood and advanced towards her. "I don't spend all my time around a desk."
Dar remained still, allowing only s faint smile to creased her lips. "Neither do I."
They were eye to eye now, wills clashing over the wooden surface of Dar's desk. "So… talk, or you'll leave, one way or the the other."
He let her wonder for a moment, then cocked his head, and broke the tension. "All right." He sat on the edge of the desk, and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'll tell you what I want… since you asked so nicely." A smile. "I want the company."
Dar rolled pale blue eyes. "There's a shock." She muttered.
"I want McLean out… I want his job." Ankow continued. "And I want you to help me get it."
"Ah." Dar nodded. "Is that all?"
"You think I'm joking."
"I think you're two squid short of a seafood salad." The tall woman replied. "One, for wanting to run this place, and two, for thinking I'd help you."
Ankow didn't seem to be surprised at the answer, he rose and went to the window, watching the rain fall. "Well… one, I've got my reasons.. and two… you'll help me all right." He turned, and smiled viciously. "Or I'll make your life miserable until you do."
Dar resumed her seat, and propped a knee against the edge of her desk. "You don't have the power to do that." She lifted a hand and pointed. "Now, get out."
He gazed at her. "You don't think so, hm?"
"Nope." The blue eyes held him in hooded disdain. "To do that, I'd have to give a damn about your.. or this job… and I don't." She pointed again. "So take your sleezy little plan and don't let the door hit you on the way out." He didn't move. "You think I'm joking?" Dar inquired. "Right now, this company needs me a hell of a lot more than I need it, Mister… and if you think you can do this job better… g'wan. Give it a try."
"Oh, I won't bother with that." Ankow smiled. "I'll just have our lawyers file a lawsuit against you.. for this quarter's losses. Since you made those decisions, Roberts…and you are liable for them, you did realize that, right?"
Dar was silent for a moment. "You'd never win that." She finally responded.
"Maybe." Ankow purred. "Maybe not… you've profited nicely from this company… how would the stockholders feel about you sitting there on your little nest egg, while they have to eat losses caused by your blunders?"
"If they were mine." Dar kept her breathing even. "I wouldn't wait for you to sue me. I pay my debts."
"Well… we'll just see. Why don't you think about it, hmm? I can file suit against your friend Alastair.. which Iwas planning on doing… have you seen his portfolio lately? Or I can do both of you.. and we can make a profit this quarter." Ankow stood. "It's your move, Roberts… but I'd guess you were used to that nice lifestyle."
Dar watched him saunter out, holding the door open for Kerry as she entered. Her stomach hurt, thinking about the threat, and she exhaled slowly as the door closed, and her lover stood quietly watching her. "Hi."
Kerry walked over and put a styrofoam cup down on her desk. "Hi… what happened? You're white as a sheet."
"Bastard." Dar whispered.
A glance over her shoulder showed the tightly closed door, so Kerry rounded the desk and leaned on the edge, putting a hand on Dar's arm. "Hey… what the heck did he say to you?"
Dar took a deep breath. "He wants me to help him oust Alastair."
"Yeah… I told him forget it… but.."
Kerry closed her hand around her lover's. "But what?"
Dar was silent for a moment. "He threatened to file suit against me… to recoup the losses from this quarter."
The blond woman's jaw dropped. "Can he do that?"
"I don't think so.. I mean, he can file, sure." Dar's brow creased. "But he'd have to prove criminal negligence, and frankly, there's no chance of that." She let her eyes lift to meet Kerry's. "I may have been a touch absentminded lately, but not negligent."
"You haven't been absentminded at all." Kerry replied sharply. "No one has.. the entire division's been running better this quarter by stats than the past four." Her eyes glinted a bit. "I could take personal affront for him even making that statement."
Dar patted her leg. "Easy there… no, you're right… we just had a string of bad luck this quarter… god knows it would have been worse if we hadn't caught some of it… and there's no doubt about it, but…" She sighed. "It's gonna raise questions… they'll drag out all my personal and financial records."
Kerry shrugged. "So? Dar, you've never even paid your phone bill a day late… what's the big deal?"
A dark brow lifted at her. "The big deal is going to be the fact that the half owner of everything I have happens to be my second in command here." A pause. "Who also lives with me, and shares a bank account."
"Ah." Kerry felt like slapping herself. "Right.. yeah, I forgot that part." She thought about the problem. "That's going to look kinda bad, huh?"
Bad. Dar rubbed her temples. "It's certainly going to throw a doubt on a few things… like my personal judgement, for instance…. Not to mention the fact that a number of the board members are a little more conservative than George Patton."
They looked at each other. "So.. what's the plan?" Kerry finally murmured.
"I've got no idea…. I want to talk to Alastair, see what he's got to say.. maybe there's a way to pay this guy off… I don't know." Dar closed her eyes and leaned back against the cool leather of her chair. "Damn."
"C'mon, Dar.. what's the very worst that could happen." Kerry stroked her knee gently.
A blue eye appeared. "If they sue me and win? They wipe me out… woudnt be much left but the clothes on my back, and the damn car."
"Mm.." Kerry got a peculiar look. "Well, we could go on the road then… " She mused. "Just sort of.. wander from place to place..maybe I could read poetry for a couple of quarters.. you could give self defense lessons… it might be fun."
Dar cocked her head.
"Sleep under the stars…. Fish for our dinner… how about it?"
Blue and green eyes met, and shadows within them twinkled and danced together. "Sounds….like an adventure." Dar murmured.
Kerry smiled. "Doesn't it?"
They both chuckled, and looked away. "What's that?" Dar pointed at the cup, changing the subject.
"Chocolate milkshake." Kerry nudged it towards her. " I figured you might need it."
"Mmm.." Dar captured the cup and sucked at the straw with a look of absorbed delight, then she peeked over the rim, and offered it to Kerry. "Share?"
A sigh. "Yeah." Kerry took a slurp. "What an aggravating day."
"Looking forward to the gym tonight." Dar growled, then punched a number into her phone. It rang twice, then was answered.
"Mark… I need a full profile on Ankow. Everything.. from his birth certificate to last year's taxes."
Mark's voice was definitely smug. "Already running." They could almost hear him buffing his nails on his shirt. "Figured you'd ask… what a jerk." A clatter of keys. "Should be about four, five hours…. I'll queue it to you when it's done."
Dar nodded, her eyes narrowing. "Good." A light flaring of her nostrils. "He wants trouble?" She murmured. "He's going to get it… Thanks, Mark."
She hung up and took the proffered cup back, sucking on the milkshake with a thoughtful look. "Sleeping under the stars, huh?… you know, I hate camping, but there's something very appealing about that thought.."
"Mm… yeah." Kerry smiled a bit. "I can almost smell the woodsmoke of the campfire, can't you?"
Dar's nose twitched.
It was gathering twilight as Dar packed up her briefcase, and stood, stretching out shoulders stiff from hunching over her keyboard for the last few hours. Kerry had left already, and she'd stayed, getting an unruly inbox cleared and finishing up some reports that had been hanging around for a couple of days.
Dar walked over to the wall, and peered up. With any luck, they'd be able to start preliminary testing on the new backbones at the end of the week, and Dar got a big piece of satisfaction out of that. Three weeks ahead of schedule, and she was just a touch under budget. She smiled, and ran a finger over the newly printed schematic, nodding a little at the spidery tracework of interconnections.
At the bottom, in the designer block, was the description, and the engineer.
Yeah. Dar exhaled. This is my baby, all right. There were so few, concrete things in her career that she could point to, and make that claim for. Most of her accomplishments had been behind the scenes, making the parts run with little or no visibility other than her notoriety within the management staff.
But not this. This was right out there, in plain sight, for everyone to look at, and Dar was absolutely damned positive she was going to put out the very best product she was capable of. What have you done for us lately, Dar?
She'd point. That's what.
The door opened, and she turned, surprised, then irritated to see David Ankow standing in the opening, his jacket slung over his shoulder. Not what she wanted to see at the end of a very long day, that's for sure. "You want something?"
"Thought about what I asked?"
Dar went back to her desk and picked up her briefcase. "Nope. I had real work to do this afternoon." She shouldered the case and fingered her car keys. "Anything else?"
"Oh.." He stepped back to allow her to exit. "I thought I'd just take the opportunity to try and find out a little more about you, Roberts."
"You've got the time it takes to go down 15 floors and out to the parking lot." Dar replied, heading past him and closing her door.
He followed her down the hall, and through the elevator doors, waiting for them to close. "You know what I find funny?"
He smiled thinly. "You're quite the mystery woman around here, Roberts…. That intrigues me."
"You're easily intrigued, then." Dar replied dryly. The elevator made a soft hissing noise as it decended, and smelled strongly of the brass polish the cleaning crew had used on the rails.
"No one seems to know anything about you… not where you live.. not what your hobbies are… I find that very strange, in a place like this."
One of Dar's eyebrows lifted. "Why would they?"
"Human curiousity.. same as what I'm feeling." Ankow answered. "I tried to get your personnel file, but they stonewalled me with disclosure regs… and not one person I asked, from accounting to sales seemed to know anything about you, outside this office building."
Unexpectedly, Dar smiled, feeling a sudden, surprising affection for her coworkers, quite a few of which certainly could have divulged any number of juicy personal details to him. Things on that front had gotten a lot better since she'd quit and been rehired a few months back.. even Jose and Eleanor had called a truce, in fact, Jose was actually really excited about the new network. "They mind their own business.. maybe you should take a hint."
"That won't keep me from finding out what I want to know."
The doors opened. "All right. " Dar crossed out onto the marble floor. "What do you want to know?" She waved at the security guard, who waved back and smiled. "My favorite color? It's blue."
"Miami." Dar started across the mostly empty lot.
"Why do you care? If you're looking for a night out, I'll give you directions to 79th street." Dar felt a prickly edge enter her voice. "Or the addresses to a few clubs."
He laughed. "Any hobbies?"
Dar reached her Lexus, and unlocked it remotely, opening the door and tossing her briefcase in. "Time's up." She leaned on the doorframe. "I scuba dive."
"Nice." He indicated the car. "Diving's a pretty expensive hobby… guess we paid for that too, hmm?"
Asshole. Dar got in the Lexus and started it, then turned. "What did you do with your dividend last quarter?"
Ankow was surprised at the question. He cocked his handsome head to one side and studied her, then shrugged. "Ski Vacation in Aspen, as a matter of fact.. why?"
Dar smiled. "Guess I paid for that… since I delivered that dividend." She closed the door and their eyes met through the tinted glass.
He stepped forward and put a hand on her mirror, then curled his finger down, indicating the window.
She briefly considered driving off, perhaps with his hand attached to her car, then decided the ton and a half of paperwork wouldn't be worth it. She rolled the window down. "Yes?"
The slightly mocking air was gone, as he leaned towards her, a predatory sparkle in his gray eyes. "You know… I spent eight years as a Ranger… and we used to love to get new people in like you so we could beat the smartass out of them."
Dar felt a chill go down her back, at the note in his voice. "Is that a threat?"
"No… just a warning." Ankow answered. "I don’t like you, Ms. Roberts… and I don't take kindly to people with smart mouths, and attitudes." His expression was deadly serious. "Don't play games with me."
She felt it happen. That dark, animal part of her that so very, very seldom awakened stirred, sending a chase of warm blood to her skin and lifting her nape hairs. Evrybody's got a fight or flight reflex, DarDar… you get yers from me, and it ain't inta runnin nowhere. "Guess we finally found something to agree on them." Dar felt her voice slip in pitch, dropping deeper and taking on a slightly husky tone. "Because I don’t like you either, Mr. Ankow.. and this is the only attitude I've got." She leaned forward, almost nose to nose with him. "Don't you play games with me,."
His eyes narrowed. "You will regret this." His answer was deceptively mild. "I promise you that."
Then he released her mirrror and stepped back, watching intently as she closed the window and shifted the Lexus into gear, heading for the parking lot exit.
Dar watched his shadowy figure until it disappeared into the distance.
Kerry circled her neck with her towel and trotted up the back stairs, opening the door for Chino who galloped a head of her. "Hey.. take it easy." She peered inside as she cleared the doorframe, then made a face. "Where's mommy Dar, huh?"
"Argrrr!" Chino bolted for the door, then chased her tail around in a circle when she found it closed, making Kerry laugh.
"Cut that out.. you're going to slip and fall." She used the edge of the towel to wipe her face off, after her hour's run along the path circling the island. "Whew.. it's muggy out there, but not as wet as it was this morning, I'll tell ya, Chino."
The air conditioning felt good against her overheated skin, and she just stood for a minute, letting her body cool down. It was hot, sure, and not really comfortable to run in such humidity, but completing her laps made her happy with herself, and she stretched he r arms over her head, enjoyiing the sensation of strength in her body.
"Okay." She exhaled. "Shower, then dinner… but first.." She walked over and picked up the portable phone, then dialed Dar's cell number. It rang a few times, then clicked, and a famlilar, deep voice answered. "Hey sweetie."
She could almost imagine the smile on Dar's face, since it changed the tenor of her voice slightly.
"On my way.. just getting on the ferry."
"Oh, good.. I just finished my run, and I'm going to take a shower." Kerry felt a little relieved. "Everything okay?"
"Mm." Dar grunted softly. "Ankow just stomped all over my last nerve and Fedexed it to Cleveland."
"Oo." Kerry winced. "Well, I can offer you a massage, some stuffed salmon filets, and tiramisu… how's that sound?"
A low moan. "Sounds like heaven…what do you get out of this deal?"
"You." The blond woman answered softly.
She'd hit Dar's soft spot, and she knew it, by the significant, awkward silence on the other end of the phone. Her lover never expected her to say things like that, and she occasionally pulled a sappy little bit of mush out of her pocket because it was so cute to see Dar blush, and go all tongue tied.
Not too often, though.. it'd lose it's shock value. "Dar?"
"Um.. yeah, I'm here." A clearing of the throat. "G'wan… take your shower.. I'll be there in a minute."
"Okay." Kerry smiled. "See you in a few." She hung up the phone and set it down, then padded into the bathroom in their bedroom and started the water running, closing the door to the eight sided stall and peeling off her running gear.
Her eyes caught her reflection in the mirror, and she gazed speculatively at herself, tensing her stomach muscles just to watch them move, and making a fist. "Good god. No one who knew me in high school would believe this, that's for darn sure." She shook her head and ambled into the shower, sticking her head under the spray and scrubbing her head vigorously. "Uuuggggghhhh…"
For a short while she just stood, letting the water pound down over her, easing the aches from her muscles. The shower made so much noise she didn't even hear the door open, and looked up with a start as a cold draft blew in, preceding a pair of appreciative blue eyes, and a tall expanse of naked, tanned skin that her fingers itched to touch. "Hey."
"Well, hello there." Dar joined her under the spray, and circled her with both arms. "Funny meeting you in a place like this." She pulled Kerry closer, and hugged her tightly.
Oo. That definitely felt very, very nice. Kerry abandoned herself to the mixture of warmth and chills the skin on skin contact provided. "Mmmmmm…." She sighed blissfully. "What a nice end to a rotten day."
"Ugh." Dar groaned in agreement. "I swear, that guy's missing some chips in strategic places." She picked up the scrubber buffy and the liquid soap, and started cleaning her lover's back. "He came back to the office tonight… I think he was just trying to goad me, but.."
"Proof positive of his stupidity." Kerry found an interesting bit of skin to nibble.
"I don't think he's stupid." Dar corrected quietly. "He just has an agenda.. wish I knew what it was. He was poking around the place looking for gossip about me today, by the way."
"Oh god." Kerry buried her face into the warm skin she'd been tasting.
"No.. no.. " Dar chuckled softly. "For whatever reason… they all closed ranks and made me out to be the great mystery woman of Miami."
"Oh?" Kerry lifted her head and peered up in pleased surprise. "Awesome… but you know, I've kinda got the feeling that whole attitude thing has changed in the last few months." She ran her hands over Dar's sides, and gave her ribs a little tickle. "It's become fashionable to admire you."
Lazy blue eyes regarded her, "It's all your fault." Dar tilted her head and claimed a kiss. "What you haven't done for my reputation…" She laced her fingers behind Kerry's neck as the smaller woman fell against her, and Kerry's hand roamed slowly down her body, tracing her curves .
"I just tell people the truth." Kerry murmured , as she felt a powerful thigh slip between hers, and the scrubber tickled over her suddenly oversensitive skin.
"The whole truth?" Dar whispered in her ear playfully, nibbling a tasty earlobe.
"Well…" Kerry laughed faintly, as the sensation shot a jolt right through her groin. "I leave out a few details."
"Ah." Dar slid a hand lower. "Like that?"
A nibble. "And that?"
Dar chuckled deep in her throat.
"Okay, we're set for tomorrow, right, Col?" Kerry held the phone against her ear with one shoulder while she neatly removed two fish fillets from the oven. "I'm telling you right now though that bowling is not a skill of mine."
"Who cares?" Colleen laughed. "It's disco bowling.. just the gang.. they want to see you like crazy, Ker, and no one takes it seriously."
"Okay." Kerry smiled. "Sounds like fun."
"Think Dar'll be interested?"
Kerry stuck her head out around the kitchen door and regarded the tall, lanky form sprawled on the couch with a Labrador tucked between her knees. "Dar, how do you feel about bowling?"
A tan eyelid opened, revealing a slightly astonished blue eye. "Bowling?"
"Mm.. Colleen and my old gang invited me out tomorrow… it's disco bowling, you know."
The other eye appeared. "Disco bowling? No, I don’t' know."
"She's never heard of disco bowling, Col." Kerry announced into the receiver.
"Figures." Her friend replied, with a chuckle. "It's in the dark, mostly.. and they put flourescent stripes down, and there's music…"
"Okay..okay..hold on." Kerry covered the mouthpiece. "We're going to be in the dark, throwing large, round, heavy objects and trying not to kill each other."
Both eyebrows lifted. "Oh.. I wouldn't miss that for anything." Dar responded seriously. "Do they serve alcohol?"
"They have a bar there, Col?"
"Darn straight." Colleen told her cheerfully. "And a junk food snack counter."
"She's there." Kerry grinned. "Eight, right? It'll be great just to fool around after all the junk that's been happening at work.. and I can't wait to see the guys." She'd made it a point to get together frequently with Colleen, but had only seen the rest of the Synergenics bunch twice. "I hear Ray got a buzz cut."
"Omigod." Colleen sighed exaggeratedly. "You have no idea… he looks like someone ran his head over with a lawnmower. You have to promise not to laugh."
"I promise." Kerry replied solemnly. "See you tomorrow." She hung up the phone and put it down. "Dinner's done."
"Mm… so I smell." Dar hauled her body up out of the couch's comfortable embrace and stood, tugging down her barely decent t-shirt and ambling over to where Kerry was standing. "Disco bowling, huh?"
Kerry sucked in a pleasant breath full of clean cotton and warm skin. "Hmm?" She looked up. "Oh.. yeah, well… it's mindless… just something everyone can do that isn't miniature golf." She patted Dar on the side. "C'mon… I'm hungry, and I know you must be."
Dar followed her agreeably, retrieving a pair of plates from the cupboard and holding them as Kerry removed the fish from their pan and settled them on the china. "Mm.. nice, healthy fish."
"Uh huh." Kerry gave her a wry look. "Stuffed with crabmeat and covered in parmesan… but life's a compromise, right?"
A wicked chuckled. "Right." Dar took both plates, additionally adorned with a baked potato each into the dining room and set them on the table. Kerry followed her with a couple of glasses and a bottle of apple juice, which she poured as they settled down to eat.
Dar applied herself seriously to her potato, making very sure that every square inch of the innoffensive vegetable was covered in substances designed to disguise it's taste.
"Dar.. why don't you just eat spoonfuls of sour cream, bacon bits, and cheddar cheese?" Kerry wryly asked. "Wouldn't it be faster?"
"You mean it isn't healthier this way?" The blue eyes opened in mock innocence. "I could put pineapple bits on it."
"Ew." Kerry winced.
Dar grinned, and handed over the handy carrier with the toppings on it. Kerry peered at it, then sighed and helped herself to them. "You are so subversive."
It had become a friendly, comfortable banter between them, with Kerry virtuously trying to insure neither of them got scurvy, and Dar persisting on finding the darndest ways to circumvent her.
Not that it didn't have an effect, the blond woman conceded, since she at least managed to keep her lover from eating cheeseburgers and fries every night.. what she cooked was mostly very healthy, and she'd convinced Dar to ease off on her consumption of sugar and coffee.
Of course, she wisely kept her paws off the sacred ice cream, however. Kerry smiled to herself as she watched her lover methodically decimate her fish, breaking off bitefuls and alternating them with scoops of her potato. . "Listen… seriously, Dar…"
"Were we being serious?" Dar glanced up, inquisitively. "This is wonderful, by the way."
"Thanks.. and no, but.. listen, don't feel you have to do the bowling thing tomorrow if you don’t' want to.. I know you always feel a little weird around those guys." Kerry nibbled a piece of her fish.
Dar ate in silence for a minute or two, considering. "No.. I… " She paused, and put her fork down, picking up her glass and taking a sip of her juice. "They're fine… I had a good time the last time we went out with them." She admitted. "And if Ankow's going to be up to his tricks all day.. I'll be ready for some mindless playing around."
"Mm." Kerry nodded. "Good point."
"Too bad we can't get him to go." Dar remarked. "Dark place like that.. bowling balls can get out of control pretty easily."
"He was an Army ranger."
Kerry blinked. "How'd you find that out.. Mark's stuff come back?"
"He told me." Dar exhaled. "I wasn't sure whether he was trying to impress me or scare me… needless today, he didn't get much satisfaction either way." She shook her head.
"Maybe you could introduce him to dad." The green eyes took on a wicked twinkle, then sobered. "Wait.. was he threatening you, Dar?"
A half shake of the dark head. "No.. well.." Dar sucked on her fork. "Hard to say… it was more of a… " She paused and thought hard. "It was more like… he was trying to intimidate me."
"Part of his game, I guess." Dar shrugged. "I gave it right back to him.. I don't intimidate easily.. but damn, he gave me the creeps."
"Hm." Kerry slowly broke off a bit of potato and chewed it. "Ick."
They finished dinner and retired to the living room, cuddling on the couch and sharing a piece of Kerry's tirimisu. "Mm.. did you spike this?"
"A little." The blond woman grinned. "Do you like it?"
Dar nodded, and put her arms around Kerry as she flipped channels, settling on the Discover Channel. "Oh… it's that extreme whatever show.. hey, aircraft carriers.. I used to have a model of that one."
"Yeah?" Kerry fed her a spoonful of pastry.
"Yeah.. used to be a hobby." Dar sighed.
"Mm." Kerry smiled to herself.