Fair Winds and Following Seas
A bit of early morning sunlight slanted sideways across the concrete sidewalk, bringing out the vivid color in the feathers of a chicken making it’s way off the street into the thickly tufted grass yard. It pecked at the ground and turned its head in startled attention at the crunch of tires nearby.
“Choo choo.” Two women emerged from a sedate blue sedan that had just parked in the parking lot, the younger of them making a shooing gesture at the chicken as they walked up to the front door. “Mama, I think those chickens live around here somewhere.”
“Si.” The older woman agreed. “I think it is in the side there, by the wall.” She withdrew a key from her large purse and inserted it, turning the lock and pushing the door open. “Mayte, please go turn the alarm down.”
“Yes, mama.” Mayte went quickly behind the reception desk and opened a knee height box, bending down to key in a code into the pad inside.
Maria closed the door behind her, throwing the deadbolt into place before she went into the first floor kitchen and turned the light and then the power to the coffee machine on. “It is nice here so early, yes?” She regarded the machine with satisfaction. “This big one is enough for all the new people.”
“Well..” Mayte stuck her head inside and made a face. “Just today when there is so much to do it is, mama, but not always.” She withdrew and then she ran up the wide, wooden steps to the second level, pausing to turn on lights as she went up.
“I will turn on the Weather Channel.” Maria called after her.
“Okay mama!” Mayte crossed the long hallway at the top of the stairs into an office set in the short side of the building, which was built on a rectangle with an empty space in the center. “They only say the same thing again and again though.” She added mournfully.
It was naturally quiet in the office, with no one else there yet. Mayte went to her desk and sat down behind it, turning on her PC. The hum broke the silence and after a moment she got up and went back in the hall, going down a small way into a second kitchen which held an expresso coffee maker, a hot water dispenser, and a refrigerator.
The counters were full of supplies and condiments, and there were cabinets above them with pasted and scrawled labels identifying what was inside.
She took a cup from the small dishwasher under the counter and got a teabag from the drawer, letting hot water run over it as she glanced out the window.
The trees were moving in the wind outside, and she could see a few clouds in the sky, scant evidence of the storm offshore headed their way. As she let the tea steep, she heard the bell ring downstairs, and the door open, her mother greeting their receptionist who was usually the first one in.
A male voice was also heard, their security director Carlos, and Mayte knew that now everyone would start pouring in, aware of the need to get everything taken care of early before the weather turned bad. They knew automatically – no one had to call them just like no one had to tell her and Maria to arrive when they did.
They knew their bosses expected it.
She took her tea and went back to her office, as the bell rang again, and she could hear, dimly the sound of the television on the first level floating upstairs, quickly covered by the sound of multiple voices.
Mayte put her tea down on her desk to cool a little, and went out again and across the hallway to the large double offices on the other side. She opened the double door and propped both sides open, going inside and turning on the lights.
Inside was the small reception area, where Zoe the admin would soon be sitting, and behind that two doors that led into the two corner offices that were just now peaceful, the morning light blocked by shutters on the big windows on the outer wall.
Very different. Though both had desks and built in shelves on the wall, the office on the right had a collaboration table surrounded by chairs, and the desk had folders scattered over it along with a group of photos, a collection of squish balls and several small stuffed animals.
In the corner stood a boxing dummy, with a pair of gloves tied by their laces hung over it’s shoulders.
The office on the left was, in comparison, nearly empty. It’s desk was glass and steel, with movable surfaces and to one side near the window was a drafting table covered in diagrams. A plush leather couch was against one wall, and on the shelves were a teddy bear, several large seashells and a water stained wooden box.
Mayte went to the windows in both and opened the shutters, flooding the room with light as she turned and left the doors ajar, exiting into the reception area just as Zoe came trotting in. “Buenas dias!”
“Buenas dias, Mayte.” Zoe returned the greeting. “It will be a busy Monday for sure!”
“Si.” Maria spoke into the phone, standing behind her desk facing the handful of people inside. “Yes, he must arrange for this, yes? We do not have people to make up the shutters.”
“Landlord’s job.” Carlos grunted. He was a tall man, with a very muscular body and dark, thick hair. “We shouldn’t have to mess with it.”
“Sure is.” Mark Polenti, their operations director agreed. “Wait till the big Kahuna gets here if they keep stalling. She’s gonna kick their asses.”
“I think we need to get everyone to move their things away from the windows.” Mayte was sitting on her mother’s desk, her long, slim legs encased in denim. “Just to get started?”
“That’s gonna be a mess.” Mark said. “With everybody crammed into every square inch in this place, there’s a lotta stuff.”
“True that.” Carlos agreed. “Can’t believe we’re out of space already. Heard Colleen say they’re gonna start putting desks in the hallways.”
“Yes, you will please come here right away.” Maria stated firmly into the phone. “No more talk about it.” She put the phone into it’s cradle, making a small noise like an annoyed cat sneeze. “Do I not know that they are busy? What does that matter? They still must come here and fix the shutters.”
“Should I call the landlord mama?” Mayte suggested. “I think he is not here but he should tell them.”
Maria’s phone rang and she picked it up. “Buenas dias, this is Roberts Automation, Maria speaking.” She paused to listen. “Yes, yes, the meeting is for today, but there is…” She paused again. “We have to make ready for the hurricane.”
“Someone’s not from around here.” Carlos chuckled under his breath. “Who doesn’t know about the damn storm? All that’s been on the television for a week.” He said. “I’m gonna go turn on the Weather Channel in the conference room up here.” He turned and started out of the room, turning into the hallway and disappearing.
“We can serve it to everyone’s desktop.” Mark followed him out. “Don’t want to miss an advisory.”
“Where’s.. ah. Here you are.” Colleen stuck her head inside the office. “Maria?”
“Si?” Maria put her hand over the receiver.
“I’m going to run the payroll cycle. I don’t want to risk waiting.”
“Si, this is good.” Maria nodded in agreement. “Also, the payments.”
“Got it.” Colleen disappeared.
Zoe replaced her. “The UPS, they are here with some envelopes.” She said, in her soft and somewhat indistinct voice. “It is downstairs in the big conference room.”
“Shoo.” Maria waved them off. “Get them for me if you please. I am explaining the weather to this person in New York.”
“I’ll bring them back to you mama.” Mayte hopped off the desk and they all filed out and down the stairs, as the door opened up again and a crowd of polo shirted figures entered, calling greetings up the steps as they filed in.
The parking lot in front of the doughnut shop was unusually packed for this early on a Monday morning. Every spot was taken, and there was a line out the door along with a stream of people emerging with stacks of boxes.
In a spot near the door a sport truck was parked, engine idling, a short, blond woman seated inside keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. Inside, the radio was playing a weather report on a local station, and in the cab of the truck were two large Labrador retrievers sitting upright with alert ears.
A battered flatbed truck pulled in and double parked, a man in a white tank top jumping out and getting in line. “Oh, that’s gonna be a fight.” The blond woman said, shaking her head a little. “C’mon Dar, hurry up before we have to call the cops.”
“Growf.” The cream colored lab barked gruffly.
“I know, Cheebles.” The woman reached back and gave the dog a pat, as the second dog agreeably licked her arm. “Almost done.” She straightened the cuff on her cotton tshirt, and then folded her hands and put them in her denim covered lap. “We have to get some treats.”
Both dogs cocked their heads, ears perking.
“No, not for you.” The door behind her swung open and she smiled, rolling down the window on her side of the car as her partner emerged, carrying a stack of doughnut boxes, several bags, and two cups balanced on top of everything swerving to avoid the people in line as she made her way over.
“Here.” Dar handed a steaming cup of coffee to her. “Crazy in there.” She put the stack of boxes and bags into a cabinet in the back of the truck and closed it, then went around to the driver’s side and got in, levering her tall frame into the seat and shoving a pair of sunglasses over her eyes. “Nuts.”
Like her partner, Dar was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her dark hair pulled back into a tail. She boosted the air conditioning a little, as Kerry rolled the window shut and blocked out the steamy late summer air.
She put her own cup into the holder on her side of the cab and started the engine. “Look at that jackass.” She indicated the double parked truck. “He’s going to get his ass kicked by the squad of angry grandmas in there picking up their bake sale goodies.”
Kerry took a sip of her coffee and set the cup into a holder in center console, hiking one boot up and setting it on her knee. “Thanks for going in there on our behalf.” She said. “I’m sure the staff are going to appreciate the thought.”
“Gonna be a long day.” Dar put the truck in gear and carefully pulled out, crossing several lanes of traffic to a left hand turn lane with fluid grace. “Damned hurricane.”
“Aw.” Kerry regarded the swaying tree branches with a brief grin. “I’m kinda fond of them, Dar. I’ll never forget my first one.” She glanced sideways at Dar’s profile. “Even if that was only a tropical storm.”
Dar smiled, looking both ways before turning despite the green turn arrow. “It’s a pain in the ass because we’ve got so damn much going on.” She said. “We were supposed to meet that commercial real estate agent this afternoon to see the building she found us.”
“I checked it online. Not sure it’d have done us much good. Looks like a run down tire shop.” Kerry sighed. “We’re going to have to start putting people in hotel rooms at this rate.” She sipped her coffee. “Or start turning down contracts. Do we want to do that?”
“Not for that reason.” Dar said, as they turned down the street the office was on. “Lets have Maria call some of the long stay hotels near here, see if we can get a three month deal.”
“Could be worse problems than having more work than space or people.” Kerry said.
“Could be worse.” Dar parked the truck in the lot. “Looks like everyone’s here already. Glad we got lots of doughnuts.”
She got out and opened the cab door. Both dogs jumped out and shook themselves, then followed them closely as they walked up the path towards the building.
Dar stood by Zoe’s desk, her arms folded over her chest. “Listen, putting shutters on this place is not my damned responsibility.” She said, in a loud bark. “I don’t give a damn if he’s in Cozumel. Get someone over here or it’s going to be your damn building getting wiped out and my lawyer filing a lawsuit!!”
Zoe was sitting quietly nearby, her head nodding a little in emphasis at Dar’s words. On the desk in front of her was a plate with a few crumbs on it, and she licked a little bit of sugar off her thumb as Dar hung up the phone in irritation. “They will not help us.” She said, softly.
“Has no clue what to do.” Dar agreed in disgust. “Must be his boyfriend of the month he picked up off the beach.” She reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. “No point in trying to find someone in the area they’re all booked up doing it.”
“Yes.” Zoe agreed. “Would you like a coffee, Ms Dar?” She suggested. “Or a milk?”
“Not right now.” Dar exhaled. She drummed her long fingers on her arm for a moment, then she hit the speaker button on the phone again and dialed. “Let me try something else.” It rang twice, then was picked up.
“Lo.” A deep, gruff voice answered. “That you, Dardar?”
“Hey Dad.” Dar said. “Got the boat all tied up?”
“Yeap.” Andrew Roberts said. “Hows it your side there?”
“Sucks.” Dar said. “You know of anyone around who wants to make a few bucks putting up shutters on this place?” She asked. “The idiot landlord is on vacation and the guy subbing for him has the brains of a hamster.”
Andy pondered in silence for a bit. “Ah might.” He said. “Lemme call round and we’ll see.”
“Thanks dad.” Dar said. “I’m going to keep on their asses but any help would be great.” She said. “Later.” She hung up the phone. “Cross your fingers.” She told Zoe. “He’ll either show up with a few old buddies, or a construction battalion. If you hear a tank pulling up yell.”
“Yes I will, Ms. Dar.” Zoe took this in calmly. “Would you like a milk now?”
“Sure.” Dar said. “Bring it over to Ker’s office.” She circled the desk and went over to the right hand side door, opening it and going inside.
Kerry was standing at her desk with Mayte, going over a paper checklist. She glanced up as Dar entered. “Any luck? I heard you yelling.”
“Gave up. Called dad.” Dar said, succinctly. “Told Zoe to yell if anyone rappels into the courtyard.” She went over to the desk and perched on the end of it. “I don’t think moving the gear into the hall is going to do jack squat.”
Mark entered, and closed the door behind him. “Backups are done.” He said, briefly. “Col’s got all the payments out, and we just transmitted the AP invoices.” He sat down in one of Kerry’s visitor chairs. “So that’s all right, but the problem is..”
“The problem is, if this place takes a direct hit, we’re out of commission until it’s sorted and that’ll kill us.” Kerry said. “None of us expected we’d end up as successful as we did and we outgrew ourselves. I know.”
“And I have a compile due to be transferred to the DOD by the end of the day.” Dar exhaled. “We should have found a bunker.”
“We shoulda, but we didn’t, yet.” Mark made a face. “The support guys.. Dar, I can throw up a VPN to the telecom system and we can put them on a bus up to Melbourne. We’ve got the secure storage facility up there.”
Dar nodded. “They’d end up with more space probably. They’re crammed in there like sardines.” She said. “Start calling around for a bus. Make sure it’s got a rig for wheelchairs.”
“Got it.” Mark got up and pulled his phone out. “At least this is tourist central. Bus should not be a problem.” He walked out, and closed the door behind him.
“Ugh.” Kerry said. “Let me get this buttoned up, Dar. You go compile.” She gave her partner a nudge. “Lets get as much done as we can before things really start going to hell.”
“Start?” Dar got up and headed for the connecting door between their offices. “Lets hope we don’t end up working out of shipping containers.”
Dar propped her head up on her hand and studied her screen, idly moving her trackball in a circle with her thumb. The large, high resolution monitor displayed an intricate diagram, and she selected, then zoomed in on a section to review it.
A spatter of rain hit the window and she glanced over her shoulder, looking over the foliage dense neighborhood where branches were tossing in the wind.
After a minute, it faded, and the motion slowed, the clouds overhead visibly in motion as they moved aside and a bit of sun came through.
Squall. Dar shook her head and went back to her screen, making an adjustment and then saving the file, compressing it and adding it to a folder sitting on her desktop. Squall, and a rain band.
Hurricanes were peculiar things. The center of tropical cyclone was still far offshore, sucking heat energy from the warm waters of the Atlantic and putting a twist in the atmosphere that gathered bands of low pressure around it.
Those bands extended out far from the center and swirled over water and land, bringing bursts of rain and wind and then dying off as though no storm was out there at all, making preparing for one sometimes frustrating and occasionally dangerous when gusts of wind took panels and wood out of your hands.
This one, right now, had 90 mile per hour winds and at a category 2 status. But all the weather stations and NOAA were saying it was going to strengthen, and by the time it hit the nearby Gulf stream current it could be a category 5, with 150 mile per hour winds and very dangerous.
Very dangerous Hurricane Bob, with his cheerful, friendly name.
The problem with hurricanes though, was that they were predictably unpredictable. Everyone said it could strengthen, could hit the Miami area, could cause hideous damage and it very well might do just that.
Dar glanced at the ticker running at the bottom of her monitor as a flashing icon indicated it was time for the 2pm update from the National Weather Service. She sat back to wait for the scrawl, with its anticipated bad news.
Or it well might do nothing of the kind.
It could hit the Gulf Stream, and veer off. It could fall apart because it sucked dry air into itself. It could stop and just spin offshore, dumping rain over the area for a week bringing a flood threat more than wind. An eyewall replacement cycle could take it from a Category 5, to a Category 2 again overnight and end up just being annoying.
You really just never knew.
Dar got up and hopped up and down a few times, shaking out her arms and wandering over to the window to look out. On the streets nearby, she could see trucks and cars with plywood strapped to their roofs, storefronts with hurricane panels being put on their windows, and people carrying cases of water.
Water, cans of evaporated milk, tins of Vienna sausages, spam, and spaghettios. Small camp stoves to boil water. Batteries, and battery powered fans. Like taking part in a bug out event in slow motion as everyone stopped everything and watched the big buzz saw approach.
She felt more than a little frustrated. She could hear, even through the glass, the sound of hammers in the distance, and the faint whirring scream of a drill. “Damn it.”
“You say something, hon?” Kerry entered from the door between their offices. “Maria just made coffee.” She put a cup down on Dar’s desk and came over to the window, reaching out to give her partner a light scratch on the back as she joined her.
“I said, damn it.” Dar repeated. “As in, damn it, I hate having to depend on someone to get something done and they aren’t doing it!” She slapped both hands against the sills on either side of the window. “Really pisses me off.”
Kerry half turned and sat down on the window sill, which had a thick base and a cushion designed specifically for that purpose. “I know.” She said. “We talked about buying the building, remember?” She put a hand on Dar’s leg, feeling the powerful muscles jumping under her touch.
“We did.” Dar turned and sat next to her, putting her back to the weather. “But we said we’re outgrowing it, so did it make sense?”
“At the time, it didn’t.” Kerry agreed. “Then we found out there really isn’t any open office space around here that works for us.” She said. “And building your own office building takes a hell of a lot of time.”
Dar made a face. “Grrrrrr.”
“No one expected this little venture of ours to go like it did, honey.” Kerry patted her arm, then leaned over and put her head on Dar’s shoulder. “I mean, we planned the whole thing over drinks and coconut shrimp. I figured it’d be you, me, and a half dozen other people and we could work out of our boat if we had to.”
Dar’s tall body shook a little as she laughed silently.
“Was not expecting to be talking to you about buying office buildings in their entirety just yet.”
“No, I know.” Dar put her arms around Kerry and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “I wasn’t either. This just caught us by surprise.”
There was a light tap on the outer door. “C’mon in.” Dar called out.
Neither moved as the door opened, their relationship taken for granted by all and certainly by Maria who entered and smiled at them. “I have I think some good news.”
“Awesome.” Kerry pronounced. “We could use some.”
Maria came over to the window. She had a clipboard with papers on it. “I have heard from Manuel.” She said. “He has two things he wants to come to show, even with the storm.” She displayed the clipboard to them, turning so the light from the window fell on the pages. “You see?”
Kerry took the board and reviewed it. “Oh.” She said. “Is this… what is this?”
“It is a house, here.” Maria pointed. “He says, it will need a fix.” She said. “But it is separate, you see here the wall? And it has the thing here for the boat.”
Dar craned her head to look at it. “Ah. That’s Hunter’s Point.” She looked at the sketchy diagram. “It’s that kind of corner lot, near the park.” She regarded it with interest. “It’s for sale?”
“Si.” Maria handed her the paper. “Manuel said he also was very surprised.” She said. “And he also found this, not so good I think.” She handed Kerry the other paper. “It is the property next door.”
“Next door to.. “ Kerry took the paper. “Oh!” She glanced to her right in reflex. “The lot next door? That run down.. whatever it was?” She got up and went to the other window, looking out. “We don’t want to buy that, do we?”
“Manuel thinks it would not be good, no.” Maria admitted. “But he sent it because it was here.”
A thick hedge separated the land their office building was on with the lot next door. There were two buildings on it, overgrown and long unused, at least part of it used by the homeless population as a shelter. “Well..” She half turned as Maria joined her. “I guess we can ask what they want for it anyway.”
“There is a lot of work.” Maria concluded. “It will need to be built up as a new thing.” She said. “Manuel will come here, but I have told him I do not think we will have time to look at this today.”
Dar got up and went to her desk, bringing up her screen. “I’m done with this.” She said. “I can go over and look at this place.” She held up the paper, then put it down on the desk. “It’s probably in worse shape than the place next door is but I’d like to see it.”
“You know it, Dar?” Kerry asked.
“Of it, yeah.” Dar addressed the package, and sent it over their secure mail system. “It’s a nice size piece of land, not like most of the places off the water.” She straightened up and folded the paper, sticking it into the back pocket of her jeans. “Surprised it’s on the market to be honest.”
Kerry turned around. “Well hon, we could buy both and hope the storm wipes everything clear for us to start over again with them.” She said, in a wry tone. “Would be our luck.”
Dar chuckled. “It would be.”
“Mama, there is a truck here.” Mayte popped her head into Maria’s office. “I think it is Dar’s papa.”
Maria bolted alertly around her desk and trotted over to join her daughter, as they went to the bay window overlooking the front of the building.
As Mayte had said, a large panel truck was parked now in front, somewhat blocking the street outside. A half dozen men were jumping out of it, all dressed in coveralls and a moment later, Andrew Roberts appeared from around the corner, holding a roll of paper in one big hand.
“This is good.” Maria said, in a satisfied tone.
There was a load of wood in the back of the truck, and along the sides were lashed two extension ladders. As the two women watched, the new arrivals started unloading the material onto the lawn, one of them pausing to speak to Andy, now standing with his arms folded over his broad chest, a ball cap covering his grizzled dark crew cut.
He was in jeans and a short sleeved cotton shirt, and like the six men wore heavy combat boots.
Dar emerged from the front door and came over to them, and even at this distance, the family resemblance between her and Andrew was evident as they stood side by side settled into the same stance.
“Dar’s papa is so nice.” Mayte said, after a silent moment.
“Si.” Maria smiled. “He is a very nice man, and now he is taking care of this problem for us. So we must now go and finish the preparations.” She turned and shooed her daughter. “Vamanos.”
They went back into the hallway, where there were now folding tables set up on the inside walls covered in plastic bags, and technicians were piling computers and gear onto them, pushing rolling carts off the elevator at the end of the passage.
“Get everything up onto the second floor here.” Mark was calling out. “We need more bags!”
“I got em.” A wheelchair sped down the hall with a tow headed man in it, his legs missing below the knee. He was wearing a blue polo with the company logo on the chest, and khaki carpenter pants with tools emerging from all the pockets.
There was a large box of outdoor garbage bags on his lap.
“Thanks Scotty.” Mark grabbed the box as he wheeled by and set it on a nearby table, ripping the top open and starting to pull out the black bags. “Soon as we get this done, we can get you guys on the bus and upstate.”
“No problem. Chuck is in the demark, putting bags over the punchdowns.” The man in the wheelchair said. “One sweet thing about not owning no home is not having to deal with all this crap.”
Mark snorted. “No kidding. My wife’s running around looking for a hose to empty the pool with right now.”
Scott turned in his chair and unhooked a sack hanging from the back of it, lifting it up over his head and setting it down in his lap. He opened the top and started removing a stack of boxes. “Got all the little NAS off the dudes downstairs.”
“They still working?”
Scott nodded. “Got something they gotta do they said.”
“They do.” Mark moved along the tables, ripping bags out of the box and draping them. “Project deadline’s COB today for that sim framework. They don’t give a crap about hurricanes.”
“No, my dear, banks don’t either.” Colleen came sweeping by with a cart carrying document storage boxes. “Never a dull moment around here, let me just say!”
The sound of a hammer drill suddenly thundered. “Sweet.” Mark said. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He headed for the stairs. “Wish the damned generator install hadn’t been late.”
“Fuckers probably sold it to a higher bidder.” Scott called after him.
Dar got out of her truck, pausing to lean against it to wait for their real estate agent to park and join her. She studied the wall in front of the truck, old and weather worn and she suspected made of coral. It was higher than she was tall, and there was a set of wrought iron gates in it, locked with a thick wrapped chain and lock.
Manuel arrived at her side and twitched his linen jacket straight. “Buenas dias, senora.” He said. “Thank you for meeting me today, I know it’s hectic.”
“Buenas dias.” Dar responded amiably. “Yeah, it’s a mess. But I was surprised to hear this was on the market so it peaked my interest.”
Diaz nodded. “And I as well. I was really surprised to see the listing. My secretary saw it, and brought it to my attention this morning when we got in.” He gestured to the side of the gate, where a smaller entry stood. “I met with the selling agent and got the key.”
“Old place.” Dar followed him to the smaller gate and stood while he unlocked it and pulled it open with some effort. “Someone living here?”
“No no.” Manuel went through and held the gate gate open, then let it swing shut behind them. “Not for a very long time I’m told.” He paused, and regarded the open space before them. “At least they keep a gardener on.”
There was a long, deep lawn in front of them, the wall stretching on either side and then down the property line until it disappeared into a thick line of trees. “Could play soccer on this damn thing.” Dar commented.
“You could put in tennis courts, a little golf course.. sure.” Manuel said. “Plenty of space. You could even build another house on it.”
They started walking down the driveway, a surface made of paver stones that were old, and dirty gray black, partially obscured by dirt. They might once have been white, Dar considered, glancing to either side as they neared the tree line. “Plenty private.”
“Of that, it’s certain.” Diaz agreed. “It’s a little point, not too common around here. Most of the other houses are side by side.”
They followed the path as it entered the trees, and now the pavers turned a stained deep brown as the canopy closed over them, a band of mature trunks and thickly leaved branches with a scattering of broken and tumbled stone benches underneath them.
They passed a collapsed pagoda, and a wrought iron table covered in green moss, then the driveway bent to the left and they emerged into another cleared space, this one far less empty.
“Huh.” Dar stopped, and put her hands on her hips, regarding the view.
“Interesting, isn’t it?” Manuel eyed her with wary hope.
The house on the lot was a three story structure, with a porch on the lower level extending all around it and steps up to the front door. There were windows on the second level with shutters over them, and the third seemed to have just portholes that were covered now with dirty wood.
It had an old fashioned air about the architecture, but the structure seemed relatively sound, and the posts holding up the porch roof were straight and all present. “Could be worse.” Dar commented, briefly. “At least it’s standing.”
“Well, it needs a lot of updating.” Manuel acknowledged. “The agent said they did a bit of work before they listed it, but he said he knew it was a fixer upper.”
They climbed up onto the porch and he unlocked the front door, opening it and standing back to let her enter. “I mean, the structure is okay, but there’s nothing modern in it.” He explained. “Needs electrical, aircon, plumbing, nothing’s to code, you understand?”
Dar paused inside the front door and looked around. The house was utterly empty, but smelled faintly of old wood and a bit of new paint. “Yeah, I get it.” She commented. There was a staircase going up on either side of the entry, and the ceiling was high giving a general air of space.
It was dim inside, and very stuffy. “No power?” Dar guessed.
“No.” Manuel shook his head. “The power, water, all of that’s shut down for a long time. I told them they’d need to certified for mold and spores. You’ll need a twenty ton unit to cool this thing down, and there’s no insulation anywhere.”
“Lot of work.” Dar concluded. “Permitting’ll take forever.”
“No kidding.” Manuel repeated. “This is gonna make a general contractor a happy, rich man.” He looked around the inside. “But there’s some good structure here. It’s very open. Not like some of the little boxes in boxes they build today.”
“That is true.”
Past the entry there were doors and they were open. They walked through them into a large room that filled the width of the house, with another set of double doors in the back that led into another room the same size.
At the back of that were floor to ceiling windows and those looked out onto the water, overlooking a multilevel pool area, with a large, battered, very empty pool.
Dar walked to the windows and looked out. The edge of the property was uneven and jagged, a seawall made of rocks surrounded the edge and a long stone dock extended out into Biscayne Bay.
Most of the grounds were overgrown with weeds and the deck itself was cracked and worn. There were double doors that opened out and she pushed them open, grimacing a little at the creak of the worn and warped wood as it scraped over the stone.
A breeze ruffled the waters and blew against her and she walked out onto the deck, past the empty pool, and then turned around to look at the house.
Manuel, following at her heels watched her attentively. “You like this.” He stated confidently.
“I do.” Dar admitted, with a faint smile. “Damn it’s a mess, it’d be cheaper to build it from scratch probably, and the last thing I need in my life right now is a renovation project. But I do like it.” She turned back around and took in a breath of the sea air.
“Not a good time to look at this type of property.” Manuel said, a touch mournfully as a ragged line of clouds started moving overhead in another squall. “But I can say, this will not be on the market long. I think someone will buy it quickly, and make a guest house, or a hotel out of it. Could pay nicely for that.”
“Well, not until the hurricane’s over. You can’t close with insurance under an active watch or warning.” Dar said, in a practical tone. “And this is gonna need a big windstorm rider.”
“That is so.” Manuel edged back towards the doors as it started raining. “How about we go inside and I can show you what they’re asking?”
Dar took out her cellphone and took some pictures of the outside, then ducked inside as the rain started coming down in a sheet. “No harm in looking.” She took some pictures of the dining room, then went to a door on one side and pushed it open to reveal a hallway into a very large kitchen. “Talks cheap, right?”
Manuel smiled, following her into the space and removing a folder from underneath one arm.
Kerry perched on the edge of the folding table, raising a hand to wipe a sheen of perspiration off her face and push her hair back out of her eyes. “Whoow.” She looked down the hallway, now lit with the overhead fluorescents as half the windows were covered in plywood.
The tables were full, packed with gear, and swathed in heavy black plastic. Underneath the tables were waterproof crates full of personal effects, and supplies and as she watched, Scott wheeled out of the elevator, his arms shoving the rims of his chair powerfully as he pulled a laden cart behind him.
The once homeless veteran, now a senior in the tech support department, had turned out to be one of their best workers. He was good on the phone with customers, was a tenacious troubleshooter, and his quirky attitude and humor kept things lively down in the bullpen.
Kerry gave a tip of her mental hat to her partner, who’d hired him. “That the last load, Scott?”
“Freakin hope so.” Scott twisted in the chair and unhooked the cart, then pivoted around to start stacking the contents in a yet uncovered watertight case.
His wheelchair had been hacked. Kerry considered that was the best description of it.
There were no handles to push it from behind, instead, a metal grid was fastened to it with hooks and bungy cords for carrying gear, and the wheels themselves looked more like bicycle tires, turned by rims with nubs, and hand brakes so Scott could stop and turn, lift up onto the rear wheels and spin in a circle.
He lived in an equally hacked motor home parked in the parking lot of the gym just down the block, where he spent his free time working out and doing some IT favors for the management there in exchange for them letting him plug in his RV to an outside outlet.
His salary could have easily gotten him into an apartment but he had no interest, retreating to his compact, disability friendly haven with it’s satellite TV and no one to bother him. His old friends had moved on, and Kerry didn’t know if he’d found new ones, but he seemed content, and the other techs all liked him.
“Miss Kerry?” Zoe appeared at her elbow. “The bus has come outside.”
Kerry hoisted herself up off the table and went to the window, spotting a big blue passenger bus now parked on the side of the building. The driver was opening the lower storage for it, and Mark had gone out to talk to him. “Did we get hotel rooms?”
“Yes.” Zoe came over next to her and regarded the bus. “Miss Maria has made it so there will be a meal waiting when they get there also.”
“Great.” Kerry went to the stairs and dropped down them two at a time, moving past the receptionists desk and into the lower hallway. She walked across to the far side and then down the long side hallway until she came to the support desk bullpen. “Hey guys.”
There were two dozen techs inside, both male and female, and they turned as she entered and straightened to focus on her. They were all dressed in company polos and jeans, most were finishing up wrapping cables and putting headsets in plastic bags.
“The bus is here.” Kerry announced. “So grab your bags and get them loaded up. We’ve got hotel rooms and dinner waiting for you up there in Melbourne.”
“Hot damn.” Celeste hoisted her backpack onto her back. “Jimmy, you got this?”
Jimmy was on the phone, and he half turned, giving her a thumbs up. Then he went back to his call, his eyes flicking over the screen of the PC in front of him.
“They’re going to have to wait tonight until we get the rig up.” Mark had come in behind her. “Jesus we need more people.”
Kerry regarded him wryly. “If the Melbourne thing works out, maybe we can keep a group up there permanently. You think we can do some recruiting while we’re in the area?”
“Mmm.. good idea.” Mark disappeared out of the room.
“Where is.. ah there you are.” Ceci Roberts appeared, dodging the stream of outgoing techs and joining Kerry near the back of the room. “Now I remembered all over again why this whole hurricane thing sucked.”
Kerry smiled at her mother in law. “Yeah, I used to read about those parties and thought wow, that might be kind of fun.”
“It’s not fun.”
“It’s not fun.” Kerry echoed. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s causing us a lot of trouble.”
Ceci nodded. She and Kerry were roughly the same height, and they both had pale hair, and slim builds. Most people who met them assumed they were related by blood rather than marriage. “Where’s my kid?”
“Househunting.” Kerry inspected the phone queue, gave Jimmy a pat on the back, and then she led the way back out into the hallway. “Want some tea?”
“Househunting in the middle of a hurricane warning. Nice.” Ceci followed her. “I’d love some tea. I was about to go find some pizza for Andy and the boys.”
They went to the first floor kitchen, where there were now stacks of water in bottles against the wall along with packages of toilet paper. Kerry went to the hot water dispenser and retrieved two cups, adding some tea bags. “He saved our asses. The landlord is out of the country and whoever he had filling in for him is worth about as much as these tea bags once we’re done with them.”
“He said.” Ceci was looking at the bulletin board on the wall, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket to dial a number. “Since our prep consisted of parking the boat, and the shutters at your place out there are electric I think he was feeling a little left out of all the nonsense to be honest.”
“Thank goodness.” Kerry handed her one of the cups. “We have so much in flight, it’s crazy. I think Dar just finished one project and sent it off, and we’ve got two more due by the end of the week. If we get a hit here, I’ve got no idea how we’re going to make those deadlines.”
“Too successful for your own good.” Ceci remarked.
“That could be true.” Kerry admitted. “But at least, with those closed contracts it puts enough in the bank for us to expand.” She glanced to her right. “That plot of land next door’s open.”
Ceci’s pale eyebrows hiked up. “That swamp? Kerry it would take five years to clear that land and redo it.”
“I know.” Kerry nodded. “But it’s the only reasonably sized lot in the area. Otherwise, we need to move out of the city, either way south, or way north.”
“Yeah.” Kerry said. “I like it here.” She exhaled. “What a mess. When we signed the contract on this place, we figured we’d have growth space for a couple years.”
Her mother in law chuckled.
“And with all our government contracts, we have to work with secure space. It’s not like I can just put people anywhere.” Kerry took a sip of her tea. “They’re really excited about that new rig Dar’s designing, but I think she’d going to end up finishing the programming in some bunker in the hills.”
“Massive.” Kerry said, frankly. “She did a demo for their top brass three weeks ago and I swear they nearly pissed their starched uniform pants.” She glanced around and lowered her voice. “I had to come up with a lot of vague, weird language to file our patent on it.”
“That’s pretty damn exciting actually.” Ceci followed her as they went out into the hallway, hearing the sound of drills and hammers from outside. “Let me get this pizza ordered.” She said. “Where’s Dar out looking, by the way? Nearby?”
“Some place called Hunter’s Point.” Kerry said. “I was going to google it.”
Ceci paused in mid dial. “Huh.” She said. “I can’t believe the old man put that up for sale. He even told a bunch of those big money boys who wanted to buy it to kiss his ass.”
“Now I really want to google it.” Kerry led the way up to her office. “Let’s add enough pizza for everyone.” She suggested. “You can even share yours with Scott.”
“Yes, nice having another vegetarian around.”
Dar sat in her truck, both doors open to let a cross breeze through the cab as Manuel sorted through a folder of papers. “So wait, old man Hunter died?”
Manuel nodded. “Si, yes.” He said. “Perhaps four months ago? They took some time to sort out the will and he’s granddaughter inherited this place.” He handed her a sheet. “She very much wants to sell it.”
Dar nodded. “That explains it. I know he was holding onto this place like a tick.” She regarded the piece of paper, full of dense typing. “Developers tried to have it off him for years… that’s why I was surprised it was on the market. He was notorious for telling everyone to drop dead.”
Manuel was nodding. “That is what I also heard.” He said. “He was a very harsh man, they said. But this property was paid off totally, no one could affect it.” He glanced around. “We have the exclusive listing. My uncle did some paperwork for the gentleman in the past.”
“All profit then. Good deal for the grandkid.” She lifted her head and regarded the property and it’s stone wall. “Soon as someone hears this is on the market it’s going to be a bidding war.”
Dar smiled briefly. “Tell the kid I’ll pay what she’s asking, in cash, soon as the title can close, as is.”
Manuel frowned. “Ms Roberts, that is not a good deal.” He protested gently. “There is a lot of work that is needed here.” He gestured vaguely at the property. “The codes have changed, it needs a new electrical service…”
“Pointless unless we can close on it.” Dar said. “See if the kid really wants to sell it as fast as she said. She may not, may wait to see if someone ups it.” She handed the paper back. “I know what this piece of land’s worth to a guesthouse. Give it a try.”
“Bueno, I will.” Manuel nodded. “I will call her right now, and lets see what it is she has to say to me.” He got out of the truck and walked over to the gates, taking out his phone and turning his back to Dar.
Dar leaned back in her seat and pulled out her phone, opening up her texting app and typing in a quick message to Kerry. She sent it, then paused and expectantly watched the screen.
A moment later it lit up. “Hey.” She answered it, turning and propping one booted foot up against the door jamb. “Figured you’d call me.”
“Honey, do you really want to make that decision today?” Kerry’s tone, though, was humorous. “I know you hate to sleep on things but Jesus.”
“I like it.” Dar said. “You will too.” She added confidently. “But the deal is, if it gets around this is on the market Marriott’ll drive the price past anything we can do.”
“Ah, a now or never thing.”
“Something like that, yeah. The old guy who owned this thing was a jackass. Sounds like the kid that inherited wants no part of that.” Dar watched as Manuel paced back and forth, one hand on the phone, one waving in a typical Latin motion.
“Got room for a garden?” Kerry asked.
Dar regarded the gates. “Got room for you to plant a crop of wheat and add a flock of sheep to keep the grass short.” She said. “Probably have to rebuild the house from the ground up hasn’t been touched since the 40’s.” She admitted. “No power, no AC… “
Dar pondered. “I didn’t check that.” She said. “But I also don’t see any outhouses.”
Kerry chuckled. “Okay, well hon, I’ve got the bus being loaded here and a pizza truck just drove up so let me know what happens, okay?”
Dar smiled. “I’ll get back there in a few minutes.” She promised. “Want me to grab you some sushi?”
“Got it.” Dar said. “See ya.” She hung up and slid the phone back into her pocket as Manuel got into the passenger side of the truck and ran his fingers through his thick, black hair. “And?”
“It is very interesting.” Manuel said. “The young lady, Ms Gardner, did not want to speak to me at the beginning. She did not like my voice.”
Dar regarded him with a slight frown. “Didn’t like your voice?” She repeated.
“But, I did get to say your offer.” Manuel went on, holding a hand up. ‘So there is no problem there. In fact, she found that very interesting and she is coming here right now to meet you.” He glanced at her. “I hope that is all right. I know it is a very busy day.”
“Well.” Dar pondered. It was more or less what she’d hoped, best case, would happen and therefore somewhat stunning to her that it had. “If she didn’t like your voice without meeting you I’m gonna guess this is going to be fast one way or the other.” She glanced at her watch. “Hope she’s close. I’ve got sushi to acquire.”
“She said ten minutes.” Manuel sat back in the seat, taking out his handkerchief and mopping the sweat off his brow as Dar boosted the AC a little. “But yes, my wife is right now at Sedanos. It is no doubt a loco day.”
Kerry leaned over the phone on her desk, trying to block out the sound of the hammer drill behind her. “Sorry, John. They’re putting up shutters.” She said. “It’s a little crazy here today.”
“No kidding!” The voice on the other end of the phone said. “You’re the only one who answered your damn phone down there. It’s nuts! How can you expect to get business done?”
“Well.” Kerry sighed, pressing the receiver against her ear. “You know, hurricanes are a thing. No one enjoys them but you can’t really pretend they’re not there.” She glanced towards the door to her office, where Zoe and Mayte were standing conversing. “Pain in the behind, actually.”
“So move?” John suggested. “Nobody says you have to park your office down there. Customers don’t care about what you all have to deal with. We just want results.”
“We talked about it.” Kerry kept her tone even. “But most places have something they have to worry about. Tornados, or floods, or earthquakes or whatnot. The difference with hurricanes is you see them coming.”
“And they take a hell of a lot more time away from doing business.” John said firmly. “I’m telling you, Kerry – don’t get me wrong. I like you, I like Dar, I like what you’ve done for us but now you’re telling me I might not have my build by Friday because you might be closed?”
“The problem is John, we don’t know. This thing could veer off and do nothing.” Kerry said. “We’re moving some of our teams out of the area, and Mark’s working on standing up a cloud instance of our code base so we can have the programmers work remotely. We could have no impact at all – but we also could have the building blown apart if we take a direct hit here, and I thought it was only responsible of me to let you know the whole story.”
There was a brief silence. “Yeah, no I get it.” John said, in a grumpy tone. “And I do appreciate the transparency, Kerry. I just need to make my checkpoints. This is a big deal for us.”
“John, I will give you my word we will do everything we can to keep you on schedule.” Kerry said. “It’s a big deal for us, too.”
John grunted softly. “Fair enough.” He conceded. “Good luck, huh? I usually don’t pay attention to that tropical stuff but I signed up for the alerts this time. Crossing my fingers it goes and hits Cuba.”
“Crossing my fingers it just blows apart and goes nowhere.” Kerry said. “Thanks John. I’ll be in touch.”
She hung up the phone and sat back, reaching up with one hand to push the thick, pale hair out of her eyes. “What’s the news, ladies?” She called out to Mayte and Zoe. “Bus take off?”
Mayte came forward with her clipboard, and Zoe trailed after her. It was now dark in the office, the windows covered with plywood and Kerry leaned over to turn on the desk lamp.
“The bus has left, yes.” Mayte said. “The accounting people have finished their work, and Ms Colleen has let them go home to prepare for themselves.” She reported. “Mr Mark has not come back from the other building yet.”
“He’s competing with everyone trying to find space I guess.” Kerry sighed. “Okay, whoever is done with their prep here, including you two.. “ She eyed them. “Go on home and get your stuff done. Did we set up the phone dial in system?”
Zoe nodded. “We have the code.” She said, in her soft voice. “We can put in the message, and everybody knows to call and find out.”
“Okay.” Kerry stood up behind her desk and stretched. “Let me go call Dar and find out where the hell she is, and then we can wrap this up.” She walked to the door of the office with them and looked up and down the hallway.
It was much quieter inside now, the doors to the individual offices were closed, the tables in the hall were covered in their plastic tarps.
Andrew Roberts was standing at the far end of the passage, his arms folded over his chest, two of the men he’d brought with him positioning a large sheet of plywood over the window at the end. He spotted Kerry and headed her way, his t-shirt covered in wood shavings and dark with sweat.
“We owe you big, Dad.” Kerry met him halfway.
“Wa’ll.” Andrew looked around with a dubious expression. “Ain’t the best. But it’s what could be done. This here place should have them shutters like ovah on the island does.”
“It’s true.” Kerry said. “Landlord didn’t want to spend the money. Now I’m going to write that into our lease renewal and whatever it cost for you to do this I’m deducting from our rent this month.” She put her hands on her hips. “Should have done it the first time, but who knew?”
“I mean, who knew this was going to take off like it did? We were just worried about having a few desks to sit at to make sales calls the first few months.”
“Need more space now.” Her father in law agreed. “Aint much room round here.”
Kerry turned as she heard familiar steps on the stairs. “Ah.” She smiled as Dar appeared at the top of the landing, a paper bag in her hand. “There you are.”
“Here I am.” Dar agreed. “Hi dad.”
“Hey rugrat.” Andrew greeted her amiably.
“How’d the property thing go?” Kerry asked, reaching for the bag. “Good?”
“Uh oh.” Kerry bumped her towards the kitchen. “Tell me while I chow.”
It was a mango tango roll. Kerry chewed a piece of it, while she watched Dar assemble herself a cup of coffee and sit down across from her at one of the small tables in the break room. “So?”
Dar called up the pictures she’d taken and handed her phone over. Kerry thumbed through them. “Holy freaking crap.” She blurted, putting down the chopsticks. “That’s bigger than my parent’s house.”
“Probably.” Dar agreed. “Definitely more property.”
“Woah.” Kerry looked up. “How old is it?”
“Ninety forties, I guess.” Dar said. “Like I said, no AC, no power right now.. it’s a crap ton of redo.”
Kerry looked at the next picture, taken from the back of the house looking out over the water. “Nice view.” She reviewed the panorama. “And a dock for the boat.”
“Dog’s’ll love it.”
“Without a doubt.” Dar agreed. “Like I said, you could plant acres of corn there, and a herd of cows.”
“Unbelievable amount of land.. how in the hell did they hold onto it that long? You could park a whole Sandals on that corner.” Kerry shook her head. “Okay, I get why you bit.” She handed the phone back and picked up her chopsticks, expertly selecting another section of sushi and putting it between her teeth. “I like it.”
“I knew you would.” Dar set the phone down and sat back, cradling her coffee cup in her hands. “The old man who owned it was a notorious asshole. His great great something was an original settler in the area back in the day when it was mostly mangrove and scrub and Henry Flagler was building his railroad to bring all his rich friends south for the winter.”
“He wouldn’t sell the land just because he didn’t want to see the place torn down. He didn’t even live in it. It just sat here.” Dar went on. “Drove the county crazy. You know how much taxes they could have made on that land?”
Kerry chortled softly under her breath. “Oh yeah, I can imagine.”
“Anyway, he’s gone. Died a few months back. His granddaughter inherited the place.” Dar said. “Twenty something kid. Can’t sell it fast enough.”
Kerry chewed and swallowed, studying her partner’s face. “That’s bad?” She watched Dar’s eyes narrow. “You talk to her?”
“You don’t like her.” Kerry said, in a tone of certainty.
“I don’t like her.” Dar said. “She lives in California.”
Kerry consumed another piece of sushi. “Well, a lot of people do, Dar.” She said, mildly. “it’s not a crime, at least last I heard.”
“She’s an arrogant bitch.” Dar said. “She’s in the entertainment business or something along those lines out there.”
Kerry sucked on the tip of her chopstick. “Family?” She guessed and watched her partner definitively shake her head back and forth.
“Total breeder.” Dar said, succinctly. “And a complete racist anti immigrant asshole.” She added, unexpectedly.
In the midst of taking another bite of her food, Kerry stopped in mid motion, the sushi halfway to her mouth, her light green eyes opening wide in surprise. “The kid?” She said, in some astonishment. “From California?”
“The kid, from California.” Her partner confirmed. “Apparently that’s why she can’t stand South Florida. Can’t deal with all the people from other places.”
Kerry’s blond eyebrows knit together, her face contracting in puzzlement. “Dar.” She said. “I’ve been to California. It used to be part of Mexico. There’s a lot of people there from other places.”
Dar shrugged and took a sip of her coffee. “Kicked Manuel out of my truck.” She said. “Had a complete flagpole up her ass until I started talking and she realized I really wasn’t Latin myself.” She regarded Kerry dourly. “Which she I guess assumed because my agent is Latin and I’ve got a tan.”
“Holy bananas.” Kerry put the sushi down. “Did you withdraw your offer?” She asked. “Or.. I mean, I’m sure she backed out when she realized you were gay.” She paused. “You told her that, right?”
“I did. Didn’t care.” Dar shook her head. “All she cared about after that was did I have the cash and the fact I wasn’t.. wasn’t from someplace else.” She swallowed some coffee. “Said I was the first person who’d made an offer who wasn’t a Latin man and she wanted nothing more than to screw them all by selling it to me.”
Kerry blinked. “Wow.” She finally said. “Isn’t that a little young to be so.. um.. “
“Hate filled? You’d think.” Dar acknowledged. “I wanted to kick her ass right into Biscayne Bay.” She exhaled. “Matter of fact, when she found out I was married to another woman she thought that was awesomely hilarious.”
“Awesomely hilarious.” Kerry repeated, propping her chin on her fist and she gazed across the table at Dar. ‘So we’re buying it?” She ventured. “Or are you going to front the offer to some lawyer for Hilton named Juan?” She suggested. “Because in the asshole Olympics I’ve seen you score gold, hon. Chickie from Malibu is not in your class, y’know?”
Dar smiled, finally, and chuckled a little. “Yeah, I don’t know. She just .. maybe it was all the stuff going on today she rubbed me the wrong way with all that crap.” She shrugged a little. “ I said we’d go forward with it – hell, I sent it all to Richard for all I know the stupid bitch doesn’t even have clear title.”
“Well.” Kerry mused. “She should like him at least.”
“And, since we’re under a hurricane watch.. or is it warning already?” Dar said. “It’s got to wait for insurance clearance anyway. So who knows.” She nodded at the plate. “Finish your lunch. I’m gonna go see what else I can wrap up before all hell breaks loose here.” She stood up. “Bus gone?”
Kerry nodded. “Mark’s still looking for secure server space.” She said, before picking up a piece of the sushi roll. “I’ve been pushing off a call from Washington all day.”
“We decided to only code that local, hon.” Kerry reminded her. “Twenty twenty hindsight…”
“Twenty twenty hindsight we needed seeing eye dogs.” Dar agreed mournfully. “So let me go find ours and see what I can do to help get us out of this mess.”
By evening the winds were picking up and the staff was winding down. Kerry walked through the lower floor, sticking her head into all the offices to make sure no one was left, the rooms as buttoned up as they could be, windows covered in plywood and everything off the floor.
Hurricanes were tricky things. The winds were dangerous, sure, but even more so if the storm came over the bay it would generate a storm surge that would pick up the waters not far from where they were and push what amounted to a slow motion tidal wave over the land.
Flooding caused more damage than wind, sometimes with them and where they were just off the bay, meant it was quite possible the building would suffer both and they would have one hell of a mess to deal with.
She got to the server room and walked inside, the sound of the water chilled racks and stacks of equipment providing a ferocious low pitched hum.
Dar was inside, arms folded, talking to Mark. Neither looked happy.
“Not a damn thing.” Mark said. “They couldn’t even spare two racks.” He looked sweaty and there were smudges of dirt across his skin and his face. “I don’t see any way of keeping this stuff up, Dar. I say our best bet is to move it upstairs, maybe into where Zoe’s desk is.”
“Or take it home.” Dar said. “That place I live in’s built like a brick shithouse.”
“it is.” Kerry joined them. “And now that the island’s got generators, there’s a chance you could actually run these things.” She regarded the racks. “But hon, we’re not going to get chilled brine cooling there in a day.”
“No.” Dar mused. “But if the power’s out here, it’s not going to matter.” She looked up at the ceiling. “We can’t send copies of the code home with the programmers. It’s secure.” She shook her head. “We’re going to have to shut down the system and just secure it here, I think.”
Mark nodded. “Figured that.” He exhaled. “Once this is over, we can see about secured space.. maybe one of the government centers?”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “I don’t want to give up control over the code until we hand it over. Call me crazy.”
“Never do that.” Mark grinned briefly. “That new AI stuff you’re doing is freakazoid coolness.”
“Yeah. Which is why leaving it here worries me.” Kerry spoke up. “Maybe we should take it to our place, Dar. At least you’d have your hands on it there.”
Carlos popped inside, turning a little sideways to let his big frame clear the door. “I jiggled around the inputs, and I got this whole level up on the generator circuit.” He said. “For the cams, I mean, and it’ll keep the link up for maybe 48 hours.”
“Good job.” Mark said. “Least we’ll be able to see what’s going on here.”
“Yeah, but we can’t do much if someone breaks in.” Carlos said. “And for sure the cops won’t. They won’t dispatch during the storm.” He cleared his throat. “So I thought… listen, how those guys boarded this place up, it’s a hell of a lot safe than my apartment. I can stay here.”
Dar drew breath as though to protest, then paused thoughtfully. “On the second level you mean.” She clarified.
“Yeah, in the corner there. I figured if we close all the doors, it’d be okay.” Carlos nodded. “We got enough supplies.. we got water here, and I’ve got enough protein powder to last me a week.” He grinned briefly. “Two of my buddies wanted to hang out too. They’re east and had to evac. It’s better here than one of those shelters.”
He looked around at their faces. “What do ya think?”
Kerry glanced at Dar in silent deferral.
“Not a bad idea is what I think.” Dar said, after a long pause. “Since you volunteered.” She added. “I wouldn’t have asked anyone to.”
Carlos smiled. “Figured I should before you did.” He gave her a sideways look, as Mark started to laugh and then a moment later they all did.
“Busted.” Dar admitted, sticking her hands in her jeans pockets. “That secure code base has me spooked, I won’t lie. It’ll make me feel a lot better to have someone here.”
Her security director gave her a thumbs up. “We got you covered, boss.” Carlos assured her. “I’ll go text my buds to bring over our camping gear. If we couldn’t talk you into this, we were going to stay in the gym but their roof’s kinda iffy.”
Dar smiled in acknowledgment and looked over at Mark. “How’s the five PM?”
“Hundred and ten.” Mark said. “Going through an eyewall replacement cycle, so that means it’s going to boof up overnight.” He glanced around. “I might talk Barb into coming over here. Those military buds of Big A did not mess around.”
“They never do.” Kerry asserted. “I’ve gotten a whole new appreciation for the military since I’ve known Dar.”
Mayte entered the room, carrying several small waterproof cases in her hands. “Here we go.” She set them down on the worktable in the server room. “I have gotten satellite telephones so we can talk to each other if the regular phones have a problem.” She regarded the boxes. “Like last time.”
“Good job, Mayte.” Kerry went over to examine the boxes. “This is great. I hadn’t even thought of that. I forgot the last time we lost power and cell towers all over the place.”
“Awesome sauce!” Carlos agreed. “I can keep one here, so I can let you know what’s going on after it’s done.”
They sorted out the boxes. “I think we’re as ready as we’re gonna be.” Mark said. “I’ve gotta stop for some evaporated milk on the way home. Barb couldn’t find any.” He looked over at Dar and Kerry. “You going home?”
Dar hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. We’ve done all we can.” She admitted. “Did the bus get to where it was going?”
“They’re up and running.” Mark said, briskly. “They’ve got calls online, and it’s all good for now.” He paused. “Unless the hurricane decides to jack up north. That would kinda suck.”
“It could.” Dar said. “Sometimes these things are just mother nature’s middle finger, y’know?”
“Oh, I know.” Mark agreed mournfully. “But I also know the more prepared you are, the less you need to be. I told the bus company to stay with em. If it looks like it does a hockey stick we just bring em back down the west coast.”
“Good plan.” Kerry grinned.
They walked out of the server room and locked the door behind them, stifling the hum as they made one last pass around the lower floor. The receptionist’s desk had been packed up and set on top of the conference table in the conference room, and as they came to the foot of the stairs, two Labradors came trotting down to greet them.
“You ready to go home guys?” Kerry sat down on the stairs as the two animals climbed all over her, smacking her with their tails. “Oof.”
“Hey.” Carlos said suddenly. “What about Scott’s buggy?” He asked. “Its in the back of the lot by the gym.. against those trees so I guess it’s got some shelter but my buds just texted me about it.” He held up his phone. “Want to know if we wanted to do anything about it.”
Kerry looked at Mark. “Did he say anything before he left?”
“He said screw it. If it gets blown apart he’ll just get another one.” Mark reported. “He didn’t seem like he cared too much but you know Scott. He’s pretty random.”
“Well.” Kerry mused. “Yeah he’s pretty live in the moment. I guess that’s understandable.”
“That was a lot of work though.” Dar said. “How about I pull it into the middle area with my truck. It’s more sheltered than the parking lot.” She pointed to the center of the square building, which served as a picnic area for lunch, and had small tables scattered around that had now been brought inside. “I can back it in through the loading dock.”
Mark glanced at his watch. “That’d work.” He said. “And it won’t much time.”
“Won’t take long at all.” Carlos said. “I’ll go run down there and get it ready to go if you pull around.” He put his satellite phone down on the conference table and opened the front door, holding it against the gusting wind. “Yeah, it’s time.”
Dar got her keys out. “Ker…”
“I’ll stay here with the kids.” Kerry said. “And get the back gates open.” She added. “It’s a good idea. I know he said he didn’t care, but if we can make it any safer, we should, and protect his stuff too.”
“We should.” Mark agreed. “Good thought.”
Dar backed up the truck to the front of the modified trailer, as Carlos and his friends lifted up the tongue and slid it over the ball hitch. She felt it thump into place, and the frame of the truck shift, watching in her rear view mirror as the four men put the chains in place.
The lot of the gym was mostly empty, only two cars were in it, parked close to the building and as she waited she saw the back door open up and a man and a woman emerge, obviously employees. They saw the work around the trailer and came over.
“Hey.” The man recognized Dar. “Oh, hi, Ms. Roberts.” He smiled at her. “Julie said someone was back here, didn’t know it was you.” He glanced at the trailer. “That can’t be really safe.”
“Hey Roberto. We sent Scott up north with the support team.” Dar explained. “So we’re gonna pull his rig over to our building.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea. Over in that middle empty part you have?” Julie asked, nodding as Dar did. “We’re just locking up and heading home. What a mess, huh?” She looked around the parking lot which was already full of fallen branches. “I hate hurricanes.”
“Yeah, I used to think they were cool, you know, hurricane parties and all that when I came here for college. Didn’t have to worry about anything and it was great when classes were canceled.” Roberto agreed. “Now I’m in the real world.”
The four men had finished hooking up the trailer and securing the chains and now they jumped into the bed of Dar’s truck, making it rock. “Yeah. Real world for sure.” Dar said. “Good luck, folks. Hope it passes us by.”
“You too!” The two waved and got out of the way, as Dar put the truck into gear and cautiously started forward, mindful of both the heavy trailer and her four passengers.
Regardless of how Scott thought of his little shelter, it was the right thing to do, and Dar felt a sense of contentment as she navigated the parking lot, then turned onto the road that would take them back to their building.
The unasked for kindness of Carlos and his friends, seated in her truck bed laughing together in her rear view mirror brought a little peace to her at the end of this anything but peaceful day.
It smoothed her ruffled feathers, she realized, from her interaction with Hunter’s grandkid. She’d walked away from that feeling kind of.. Dar considered. Kind of slimy.
She was a realist, and she understood that it took all types of people to make up the world, and she had been and was willing to deal with all kinds to achieve her purposes – and her current purpose was to acquire that property she’d kind of fallen in love with and felt at a gut level Kerry would be happy in.
So it was worth dealing with some slime. If they could get the deal done, it would be worth it. She knew it, in that way she sometimes did when the logic wasn’t always so obvious on the surface and she was enough a pirate to want to steal it out from under everyone just on general principal.
Dar smiled just a little at her reflection in the rear view mirror, meeting her own eyes in it, their light crystal blue in contrast to her dark hair and tan.
Then she focused on the road, as they reached the back side of their building and Kerry pushed the gates open to let them inside.