Fair Winds and Following Seas
“Put that other torch over here.” Carlos’ voice sounded out of the darkness, and a moment later Dar heard the sound of a lighter being clicked, and then saw the kindling of a tiki torch being lit nearby. “Yeah, that’s it.”
The central space inside the building’s structure was full of firelight and shadows, and the scent of grilling. Dar was seated on one of the picnic tables a little in the open, listening to the chatter around her as the now round dozen residents of the building settled down with paper plates.
She was no closer to finding a router she could readily use. The voice gateway had been loaded onto the Dixie along with a box of spare internal parts and she had a half formed plan of what she was going to try with them when she got back there, and had a little access to download some router code.
“We might have the image for that release train on the disk.” Bill came over and sat next to her, his plate full of very recently grilled steak. He set down the plate and took a drink from a bottle clipped to his belt. “But I dunno. I think that box was for those guys down in Kendall.”
Bill nodded. “I had it on my list of setups but not until next week. Their building ain’t scheduled to be done before then. “ He picked up a piece of steak in his fingers and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully. “Wonder how they made out? That thing was just getting drywall when we were down there last.”
Dar thought about that. It was a small technology school, who’d contracted them to put in systems for their inaugural class scheduled for September.
Would they even still be around? Or was all that gear they’d purchased now just a big, useless expense? She exhaled. No real idea what any of their customers were going to end up at least here locally. Maybe they really needed to think about all those people calling Colleen.
“Steak sandy, Dar?” Carlos appeared next to her with a paper plate. “We got those loaves of Cuban bread from Don and they toasted up pretty good.”
Dar took the plate. “Thanks. Smells great.” She compressed the sandwich between her fingers, two pieces of grilled bread cut from the loaf, with the steak slapped between them, the scent of mojo and pepper, and the sharp tang of lemon rising from it.
She took a bite and chewed slowly.
Around them, it was very dark, and as the sun set, the sound of sirens had blossomed. Carlos and his buddies had closed the back gates to the maintenance area, and just a few minutes ago two tall, burly men had showed up with automatic rifles slung casually over their shoulders.
They were dressed in worn camo, and combat boots, maybe in their mid forties, accepting plates of steak with brief, appreciative grins.
Dar had no idea what their names were. Soon, she would get up and introduce herself and find out, since the small bit of information they had supplied was that they were buddies of Andy’s.
She suspected the smell of the grilling might draw in people in the area, maybe some of the police, the national guard.. or maybe the transients who lived on the streets and the men and women who had been seen looting. In the darkness it was hard to say what was going to happen and so she was glad they were here.
She still felt uneasy about leaving them in the building. There were no lights in the streets anywhere around, and though she knew Carlos was preparing to start up the generator, and that would power the fans they had, and recharge the batteries on everything else – she knew that too, that sound and the lights would also make them obvious.
The steak sandwich was hot, and tasty, and she was glad the bread absorbed the juice from it as she ate it, listening to the rumbling thrum and catching the scent of the burning oil in the torches that served a dual purpose.
Light, of course. But they were also full of citronella, a deeply pungent scent that drove off the mosquitoes that were already breeding in the thousand and thousands of pools and flooded areas all around them. They’d gotten rid of any buckets and basins of floodwater around the office, but she knew the buzzing whine of the insects would soon start to be heard. It reminded her, in fact, to take a jug of the citronella and finishing her sandwich, she folded her paper plate into quarters, sliding it into the plastic garbage bag before setting off to do just that.
She walked through the shadows and into the office, where the generator was now providing power to two lamps near the reception desk. It made the desk, the small kitchen and the conference room reasonably visible, but the long hallways and the stairs were thrown into darkness.
Dar walked up the stairs to the second level. It was stuffy and warm and she paused a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dimness, standing quietly before moving down the hallway and into the storage room near the end of it.
With the door open, she found there was enough dim light for her to see the outline of the shelves, and she went to the back shelf and picked up one of the containers of oil, turning to face the door just as a large figure filled it and blocked her passage.
Dar stiffened and got a grip on the gallon of oil, getting her balance up over the balls of her feet as she drew in breath to challenge the intruder.
“Hey hey!” The figure said, holding it’s hands out. “Sorry about that ma’am. It’s Jerry. I’m a friend of your pa’s.”
Dar could see the outline of gray light behind him and she relaxed. “Not funny.”
“No, sorry.” The man said. “I just wanted to intro myself and Tucker to ya, thought you might need some help to carry stuff.” He backed out into the hallway as Dar moved forward and then emerged after him. “Didn’t mean to startle ya.”
“No problem.” Dar said. “Thanks for stopping by. I get a little worried leaving these guys alone here.”
“Well you should.” Jerry said, blinking at her in a relaxed kind of way. He stood there in the darkness, apparently comfortable with the shadows. “There’s some unfriendlies around here.” He stated, after a pause. “They know you got computers and stuff here, you know?”
“We sent most of it upstate in a bus.” Dar said. “Except the servers, which I sent to my house.”
Jerry chuckled. “Heard that.” He said. “But they don’t know it. Figure they come in to look round, see if there’s stuff they can take and sell.”
Dar glanced around. “Really no.”
“Really no.” Jerry agreed. “But you got food and stuff. Andy knows the noise and the light and fire and all will bring em in.” He said. “Got two of our buddies’ll be by here too. They’re doing a roam around.”
Dar studied him, his square, cropped hair profile visible to her. “Goes south fast, huh?” She asked, after a pause. “The people to jackass ratio?”
Jerry smiled, bringing a surprisingly sweet expression to his face. “Never north. Don’t take much to show it. Saw me a dozen fellas just before sundown hassling up some folks who were trying to get in to see their store, see what’s left of it.”
Dar thought about that. “Yeah I noticed all the cops disappeared before it got dark.”
Jerry nodded. “Don’t blame them, you know? They told ev’rybody to stay in after dark, put that curfew up, try to keep people out of trouble. Aint got enough of them to guard everywhere.” He shifted the gun hanging over his shoulder a little. “Always pays to be ready to roll your own. You know?”
“Yeah. I kinda do.” Dar now also smiled. “It’s not deadly, but we’re always ready to get things done for ourselves here too.”
He nodded. “I seen your boys there putting in that dock. Who does that?” He laughed a little. “Who does that? People who got to get things done, using what they got, like boats. That’s who does that.” He glanced around. “That’s what I told Andy before. He taught you good.”
Dar’s lips twitched a little. “I’m sure he appreciated that.” She said. “Thanks for helping us out by the way. I do like having you all around here. Makes me feel better about the place.”
He smiled again. “You going somewhere with that?” He asked, indicating the jug.
“Back to the boat.” Dar said. “I’m going to need to put a few torches in my backyard once I get back there.” She started down the hallway. “Didn’t want to forget it. “
She got to the stairs where it was lighter, and descended into the pool of lamps at the bottom. “Hope that generator lasts all night.”
“We got some gas in my truck.” Jerry said. “Mind if I walk with you to the water with that?” His tone was mild and studiously polite. “Just in case?”
“I figure you could deal with stuff. But no need to take a chance when you don’t need to, and two’s insurance.” Jerry added, placidly. In the light, she could see there were scars on his face, and on the hand resting casually on the top of the gun there was a missing finger.
“Sure.” Dar indicated the door. “Lets go.” She led the way out the door to the building and they walked together down the dark sidewalk and then onto the path that would take them around the side of the building towards the water.
Kerry glanced around the emergency waiting room at the hospital, which was mostly empty. Tomas had been taken into the triage area in the back and Maria had gone with him. She and Mark and Mayte had taken over one corner of the room, three chairs and a small table against one wall.
On the table there were three cups, all gently steaming from the beverage station just to the left of them. There had been a choice of coffee or tea, and a worker had replaced the coffee dispenser just after they’d arrived so at least they were comfortingly fresh.
Powdered cream though. Kerry had avoided it, and was sipping her coffee in it’s pretty much natural state.
Mark had just returned from the vending machine, and now he opened his hands and put his booty down on the table. “You figure a hospital would have something better, but there ya go.”
Three OHenry bars, three packages of peanut butter crackers, three bags of sun chips. “Hey, they have sun chips.” Kerry observed. “It could be worse. “
“Could be. It took my credit card. I don’t have any small bills on me.” Mark picked up a candy bar and stripped the plastic covering off it. “Only some twenties I got out of the ATM before the storm.”
“Me too.” Kerry picked up the bag of sun chips. “But, I’m glad we’re here.”
“Yes, mama is very glad.” Mayte spoke up as she retrieved a package of chips for herself. “I hope they finish soon though I am very tired.” She admitted. “I did not sleep at all last night it was so scary and I was so worried about papa.”
“Hear that.” Mark said, stifling a yawn. “Who could sleep in all the craziness?” He glanced around the room. “It shouldn’t take too long, right? Not too many people in here.”
There were about three others, one older man reading a magazine, dressed in neatly pressed slacks and a short sleeved dress shirt, and two women, one younger one older, the older of whom was knitting something held on top of a bag.
Occasionally, they were giving their small group sideways looks and Kerry felt she wasn’t imagining that the looks were more than a little judgemental.
It was cool inside, and it smelled like a hospital, that mixture of disinfectant and wax. Kerry felt tired herself, her body sore and slightly uncomfortable with sunburn, conscious of the mud stained pants she was wearing and the worn borrowed tshirt.
Mayte was in a tshirt and jeans, the lower half of her legs with a stained ring of debris and partially dry sneakers.
Kerry munched on her sun chips in quiet reflection. “I’m going to finish this and go outside and see if I can try Dar again.” She said. “Let her know what’s going on. “
“Surprised she’s not here already.” Mark said. “Oh wait, she doesn’t know we’re coming here to Baptist does she.”
“She might figure we’d have come here.” Kerry said, in a reflective tone. “And I know there’s a bunch of people there at the office who have cars, so they’d ride her out here.” She mused. “I feel bad knowing she’s waiting on us though.”
“She doesn’t care.” Mark said. “About waiting, I mean.” He added after both women looked at him in surprise. “You know.”
“No, well..” Kerry cleared her throat a little. She was spared the further elaboration as one of the hospital workers came out and looked around, and those in the waiting room looked up and back at her in question.
Kerry was hoping the woman was looking for them, and she watched the body language as she turned and headed in their direction. “Ah.”
The woman came up to them. Mayte stood up. “How is my papa?” She asked at once. “Is he feeling okay?”
“You must be Mayte.” The woman said. “Hello, my. Name is Rita, and I’m a hospital admitting manager.” She glanced at Kerry and Mark in question. “Are you relatives?”
Mark looked at Kerry, one of his dark eyebrows lifting a little.
“My name’s Kerry Roberts.” Kerry said. “I’m the co owner of the business that Mayte and her mother work for.” She said. “This is Mark Polenti, he’s a director of our company.” She concluded. ‘How is Tomas doing?”
The administrator eyed her thoughtfully. “Okay, well, he has a badly broken leg as I think you all know.” She said. “And he’s got an infection – probably from the storm water.”
Kerry nodded. “We had to get him out of his house. It was flooded.”
“So we’d like to get him admitted.” The woman concluded.
Kerry sat back in her chair, crossing her ankles and folding her arms. “I’m glad to hear that.” She could see the hesitation in the woman’s attitude. “Baptist is in network for us.”
The woman’s attitude brightened at once. “Well, I’m glad to hear that. There didn’t seem to be any.. ah.. “ She glanced around. “How about we go talk in my office? Maybe I could get some clarifying details from you, given you probably know them.”
Kerry stood up. “Why don’t you guys stay here and finish your chips?” She suggested. “I’ve got our policy number and all that with me.”
Mark looked relieved. Mayte a bit uncertain.
Kerry just smiled and gestured for the woman to guide them as she followed her across the waiting room. The woman paused to swipe her badge on a lock and then passed inside, holding the door for Kerry to follow her in.
They walked down a hallway that didn’t seem too busy, given all the circumstances. Two rooms had lights on and doors closed, the others were standing open and were dark inside.
The woman led the way to a small office on the right hand side and went inside. “Thank you for understanding.” She said, as she closed the door behind Kerry and went behind her desk. “The patient wasn’t sure what his situation was, and his wife is a little upset.”
“Easier to talk to someone not related.” Kerry sat down, and kept her tone mild.
“Exactly.” The administrator said, with a nod. “It’s not that we wouldn’t have taken care of him regardless.” She said, giving Kerry a direct look. “Lets not have any misunderstanding. We’re a hospital.”
Kerry nodded. “But you’re not the public option.” She said. “I get it.”
“Yes. We’re expecting a lot of patients to start hitting us, and we know we’ll get our share of.. “ She hesitated. “Anyway, they told us to push back as long as we could back to Jackson.”
“That’s why I had Tomas sent here.” Kerry said, calmly. “Because I knew he was covered and he’d get good care right away. We pay a lot for our medical insurance. We care about our people and I don’t personally trust the government’s charity.”
The woman studied her for a minute, then she smiled. “Thanks for the honesty, Ms Roberts.” She said. “So let me get the details, and we’ll get Tomas admitted so we can care for him. He wasn’t sure he was.. or, well, I think he was a little embarrassed to be covered under his wife’s insurance.”
Kerry pulled her wallet out from her back pocket and removed a card from it and handed it over to her. “There’s the details.” She said, then removing a second card and putting it down. “And if they deny anything, put it on that.”
The woman’s expression went from satisfied to a subtle, obvious appreciation. “You have some truly fortunate employees.” She remarked. “I’ll let the doctor know.” She smiled at Kerry. “Would you like a cappuccino?” She paused a finger on her intercom button. “It’s been a long day.”
“Sure.” Kerry folded her arms, her brief smile acknowledging the irony.
“How about a shower, and a pair of scrubs?”
It was dark near the water. They walked in silence side by side across the walk and through the destruction that was left behind the storm at the sailing club.
Dar could hear the water, waves pushing up against the seawall and making the Dixie rock in her mooring, the boat’s white hull visible against the darkness of the sea.
The moon was fitfully present, zipping behind clouds that were strung out across the sky, the horizon dark with them. “Rain.” Jerry said, briefly.
“Like we need it.” Dar could smell it on the wind though, and the breeze that ruffled her hair felt damp. She led the way down the steps to the dock and looked both ways before she walked out onto the makeshift platform the team had assembled.
“You walk like Andy.” Jerry observed, as he followed in her footsteps. “That little rocky bounce.”
She did, she knew. She’d been told before, but she wasn’t entirely sure why other than she knew she shared her father’s tall, lanky build, the long bones in their arms and legs giving them a similar profile. “Always have.” She said briefly.
They approached the boat, and Dar reached out to take hold of the railing. “Careful. She’s really moving.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Dar stepped onboard as the boat rocked towards her and went with the motion. “I forget sometimes who the hell I’m talking to.” She walked along the back deck and opened the gear box. “Here, give me the oil.”
He handed over the jug. “You all thinking of heading out before it rains?”
“Not without Kerry.” Dar closed the box and turned. “Speaking of, let me try my phone.” She sat down on the back wall and removed the sat phone from her pocket. Jerry sat down in one of the deck chairs and extended his legs, crossing them at the ankles.
Dar dialed Kerry’s sat phone number and listened to it ring, almost ready to hang up when it surprised her by being answered. “Hey.”
“Hey!” Kerry sounded a bit out of breath. “Sorry I kind of thought you were trying to call me so I ran outside.”
Dar’s eyebrows knotted. “Um..”
“Just one of those feelings. We’re at Baptist.” Kerry exhaled and then the sounds of the background faded a little. “Let me get away from the emergency entrance. Three ambulances just pulled up.”
“But Mark followed us on his bike, and we’re almost done.” Kerry concluded. “I got Tomas admitted here, and they’re about to move him to a hospital room.”
“Great.” Dar said. “So you’ll be heading back here soon?”
“We will.” Kerry said. “What’s going on there?”
“I’m on the boat. It’s going to rain.” Dar said. “The gang is kinda hunkering down.” She paused. “What’s Maria and Mayte going to do?”
“I got them space in the residential hotel next to the hospital. They share the generators, and they use the rooms to house the doctors that work there.” Kerry reported. “All good.”
“Rock star.” Dar smiled.
“Well hon.” Kerry said. “It comes down to cash, you know? It’s kinda gross to say it, but if I hadn’t been here with my WASP privilege and my credit card they’d still be… I don’t know where.” The frown was audible in her voice. “I don’t regret it but…”
“They’d still be in their house.” Dar said. “Probably in real trouble.”
“I know.” Kerry sighed. “Anyway, I’m going to run back inside and see if they have him moved.” Behind her voice there was a low rumble. “Ugh.”
Dar heard the same far off sound in her own ears. “Try to get out of there before the rain starts. With that and no lights that’s not going to be a fun ride, and neither’s taking the boat back across the channel.”
“Did you find a router?” Kerry asked. “For the palm tree, or whatever it is that’s going on there?”
“No. Well..” Dar half turned and looked across the bay, whose surface was ruffling with choppy whitecaps. “I found something I can maybe hack and use. We sent all our spare up with the bus.” She said. “I’m guessing those satellite guys are standing outside the cottage wondering where the hell I am.”
Kerry sniffed reflectively. “So what… you mean, we have the servers up, and you found those guys out there with a satellite? To get that connected?”
“Something like that. They were trying to demo it, and.. anyway. I told them I could rig up something to let them sell it to the whole island if they let me hook up the stack.” Dar explained. “We’ve got commits for this Friday. The guys were working on the code.”
A softly echoing voice, and the sound of a siren came through the phone as Kerry thought, and Dar let the silence lengthen between them. The wind freshened, and it fluttered the fabric of her tank top against her, brushing her shoulders with a damp pressure.
Damn she wished the day was over.
“Why not go back over there and hook that up?” Kerry suggested after another long moment. “Then come back? I can only imagine a thousand antsy rich nitwits dancing on the dock waiting on being able to post their house pictures.”
“And our guys trying to do updates.” Kerry said. “And you’ll get something done, and not just be pacing around cursing under your breath at me.”
Dar drew a breath to protest, then just chuckled a little.
“G’wan hon. It’ll give you something to do while we finish up here. Then I’ll wait for the storm to come over before we head back. Safer for everyone.” She said, in a gentle, practical tone. “They’ve offered me coffee, a shower, and a pair of surgical scrubs here. I’m fine.”
About to protest, the tone made Dar pause and consider, probing the idea and realizing it quite appealed to her. “Damn good idea.” She admitted. “All right, I’ll head back and see what I can do for the link. Make sure you and Mark aren’t going to be rolling around in sideways rain.”
“We will.” Kerry assured her. “Talk to you soon.”
“Mm.” Dar closed the phone. Then she turned to Jerry who was still parked in the back deck chair, observing the land side approach to the boat. “Wanna go for a ride?”
Jerry eyed her with interest. “In this?”
“Psh. Sure.” He grinned briefly. “Want me to untie your lines?”
“Yeah.” Dar slid the phone into her pocket and climbed up the ladder to the flying bridge and pulling the starter fob for the boat out. She slid it in place and pressed the starter button, hearing the reassuring sound of the big diesels rumbling to life under the deck.
The boat started to drift back from the dock and a moment later Jerry was climbing up to come stand by the bridge, one hand on the railing and the other resting on his machine gun. “Let’r go.” He pronounced briefly. “Nothing like feeling the water under ya.”
Dar settled into place behind the controls and let the boat move with the current, gently swinging the bow around and nudging the engines into gear. “That’s true.” She agreed, easing the Dixie away from the shore and sending her out into the bay.
The channel buoys were rocking in the chop, and a spatter of rain started impacting the Plexiglas shield around the bridge as she increased speed and the boat moved from a slow wallow into crisp motion, the bow cutting through the waves.
She flicked on the running lights, but kept the spotlights off, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness that stretched on either side of them now, the coastline that would and should be brilliant with illumination dark and anonymous.
Ahead she could see the edge of the bay islands, equally dark, and far off, the lonely string of emergency lights that outlined the bridge over to the port. Only on the far northestern edge of her vision was a blur of light on the horizon that was the coast guard base, and the place she lived.
“Know what I like?” Jerry asked, after ten minutes of utter silence.
“Boat captain who knows what’s up.” He went over and sat down in the other console chair, relaxing as they sped across the water. “Andy said you got him that big old thing he has.”
“Well.” Dar considered that, adjusting the throttle a little. “I had some cash come to me, and figured it’d be better put to let him get what he wanted with it.” She reflected. “Found money, you know?”
Jerry nodded his head in a steady, continuous, positive way. “He put in time. Good to see things come to him.” He concluded. “Scales came right on that one.”
“Here.” Kerry’s new friend the hospital administrator gave her a handful of fabric and a bottle. “it’s what we use to have patients scrub up for surgery so it doesn’t smell great but it gets the job done.” She pointed towards a door. “Shower’s in there. I’d get to it quick, I just saw another couple of flashing lights outside.”
Just the shower would have been great, but Kerry took the offered supplies and ducked into the room indicated, which was a large, square space with tiled floors and a drain on one side.
A showerhead and spray was fixed to the wall over the drain, and a curtain could be pulled around it, and on the other side of that was a toilet and sink.
Spare and utilitarian and blessed as all heck. Kerry got out of her borrowed shirt and mud caked pants, grimacing a little at her sunburned reflection. She set the stack of cloth near the sink and took the bottle over to the shower, turning it on and waiting for it to go from cool to lukewarm.
First she rinsed herself off, the chlorine smell of the water comfortingly now familiar to her. Then she took the bottle of soap and used it to wash her hair, feeling a sense of relief as she scrubbed out the mud and dirt and it swirled away down the drain.
The soap – smelled like.. Kerry sniffed it. It smelled like weak dish washer detergent, actually. Not overwhelmingly antiseptic, but it produced a small lather and left behind a feeling of clean and really what more could she ask for? It reminded her of the biodegradable soap they’d taken with them on their rafting adventure.
And, given the who knows what she’d been wading around in all day, the fact it was a hospital scrub was probably not that bad a thing. Kerry shut the thought out, and applied more soap, as the water warmed to a temperature enough to actually relax her.
On the other side of the door she could hear activity, so she quickly washed the gunk off her skin, and then turned off the water and shook herself before she went over to the sink and retrieved the slightly stiff linen towel she’d been given.
She already felt a thousand times better, even given the sunburn as she gingerly patted her skin dry. She dressed in the scrubs, and then, feeling a prickle of memory, glanced at her reflection as she remembered the last time she’d been in anything like them.
She studied the eyes in the mirror and it felt like ten thousand lifetimes ago. She’d changed so much from that overwhelmed young woman it was hard to even remember what had been in her head then, aside from that moment of profound and utter relief when Dar had come through that door.
After she’d about konked her with a chair. She’d been mad and scared and truthfully in a panic right up until that moment and then almost unable to stand as all that adrenaline vanished in a puff of relief at the efficiency of Dar’s reflexes.
She hadn’t expected a rescue. In the darkest part of that day it had occurred to her that having her locked away might end up being a relief to Dar. That she was a complication that after the first excitement of their relationship might become unwanted.
That had then just gotten her angry and the anger had gotten her past the fear and really all she’d wanted more than anything was to whack the superior expression off that damn nurses face and somehow get out of there, get to a phone -believing at that moment all she had to depend on was herself.
She’d grown up a little, right then, in a screw the family I’m my own person sort of way. So she’d figured it was up to her to get herself out of the mess she was in.
Kerry smiled a little. She just hadn’t known Dar well enough yet then to assume she’d show up there or to understand that the one thing she really could depend on no matter what was on her ability to find a way to solve a problem. Her focus on a goal was one big ass train going straight downhill and you better be on the train or get out of the way.
So of course Dar had flown in a military jet across the country and broken into a hospital to find her. When you said it in your head it was so damn unlikely. When she thought about it even now it seemed outlandish, and yet if you reviewed the individual steps and choices Dar had made, given what her options were and who she knew it all made logical sense and so, of course.
Computers had told Dar where she was. Circumstance had put her in the presence of a fighter pilot. Luck had provided a reason for the hospital to desperately want her there, just like luck had provided Joe and his boat to Kerry when she’d really wanted them.
Just like random guys with portable satellites showed up when Dar wanted them. Kerry smiled. Luck. Or whatever. She had once told Dar she’d suspected she’d long term paid off Murphy, because while the damndest things happened to them, the damndest things resolved them.
Dar had just chortled under her breath.
Mark had commented that he’d been surprised the airboat hadn’t had an expresso machine, and they had spent a half hour talking about what it would have taken to plumb it for water and how much battery power it would take to run it.
Kerry ran the plastic comb in her little pile through her hair and folded her clothes, putting them int the plastic pull string bag she’d been given for that purpose. She pulled on the nubby bottomed socks and picked up her things, glancing around out of habit to make sure she hadn’t left anything.
Then she unlocked the door and went through it, pausing as two men pushing a stretcher wheeled past, a young woman lying on it with a splinted arm. She slipped the strings of the bag around her shoulders backpack style and quickly went through the emergency room and out into the waiting area.
Mark was camping in their chosen corner, a new supply of vending items on the table in front of him. He waved at her as she came over, and sat down. The room was fuller now, about half of the chairs had people in them. “Yo.” He greeted her.
“Hey.” Kerry unslung her bag and put it down on the chair next to her. “Buh, that feels better.” She ran her fingers through her drying, short cut hair. “Whoof.”
“Yeah, until people start coming over and asking you stuff cause you look like you work here.” Mark said, unruffled. “Cause you do.”
“I know.” Kerry leaned back in the chair. “But I don’t care. It’s worth it. Jesus it feels so good not to smell like swamp.” She hiked one nubby socked foot up and put it on her knee. “Burritos go upstairs?”
“Yeah.” Mark said. “They came out and said they were moving Tomas. I told them to go and do whatever they needed to, and we were going to hang here until it stopped raining.” He had a laptop out and was pecking into it. “You talk to the boss?”
“I did. I told her to go home.” Kerry studied the choices of junk food with some interest. “She sounded antsy. You know Dar.”
Mark nodded. “I called Barbara. She’s cool – a bunch of our neighbors got together and they’re grilling under a tarp they put up and Marco, my back neighbor has a big ass generator going.” He continued to type into his keyboard. “I’m fine to be out here long as I don’t’ end up sleeping in aircon. That I can’t cop to.”
Kerry chuckled softly.
“I heard samba in the background. Leave it to the Brazilians to start a party.” Mark continued. “I told her to save me some churrasco.”
Kerry paused and looked at him. “You called her?” She asked, in a puzzled tone. “Did you leave a satphone out there?”
“Landline.” Mark explained succinctly. “Had to almost fistfight the ATT guy who came by and wanted to swap it out for fiber and VOIP. Told him don’t touch my fucking POTS or I’d run his ass over with my Harley.” He shook his head. “LECS.”
“Dar once told me, LECS lie like fish.” Kerry leaned over and snagged a package of peanut butter crackers. “I had no idea on earth what she was talking about until the first time I had to drop managed service into a customer’s facility.”
“Then I got it, but I was like, where the hell did she get that saying from?” Kerry opened the package and took out one of the crackers, a round item with slightly crumbly certainly unfresh peanut flavored filling between it’s surfaces. “So I went down the uncle of all Internet ratholes and finally decided what she meant was they were bad liars as in she could see right through them.”
The door to the emergency room opened and a man and women entered, looking around in apprehension. They were both drenched, and had mud spatters all over their clothing, and they were dark haired, with brown skin.
The hospital security guard intercepted them.
Kerry watched, as the woman spoke to him, visibly upset. The guard listened, then he gestured to some empty chairs in the waiting area, half turning to indicate one of the staff who was taking information on a clip board.
Looking relieved, the woman guided the man to a seat and he half lowered, half fell into it, one arm clamped across the other as though in pain.
The door opened again, and the guard turned, as a young man entered. He was tall and good looking, wearing jeans and a Tommy Bahama shirt, his hand wrapped in a towel. He walked past the guard without even acknowledging him, and went to the admitting desk.
The nurse behind it looked up, and tilted her head in inquiry. He held out his hand and unwrapped a piece of the towel, and Kerry could see blood staining the fabric.
The nurse got up and motioned to him. She looked past into the waiting room, then badged the door open into the triage area and stood back as he went in ahead of her. With another look at the room, she followed him and let the door close.
The door that led into the inner corridors of the hospital opened and Mayte appeared, hurrying over to them. She looked relieved, and much happier. “Oh Kerry, that is so cute.” She said. “It’s so nice they gave you those things.”
Kerry just smiled past the irony. “How’s your dad doing?” She diverted the discussion. “He get all settled upstairs?”
“Yes.” Mayte nodded. “They are taking such good care of him. Mama is so happy he feels better.” She said. “We are going to go now to the place next door and take a rest.” She exhaled. “So terrible today.”
“You guys go do that.” Kerry said. “We’re just waiting for it to stop raining. I’m glad you guys are in better place for sure. I feel like it’s okay to go home now.”
“Kerry you are so kind.” Mayte looked at her with an overwhelmingly grateful look. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but at least tonight we will sleep.” The young woman looked as exhausted as that made her sound and she reached over to pick up a Hershey bar. “If it’s okay I will take this for a snack.”
“Hang in there mighty Mayte.” Mark said. “You guys’ll get through this. We got ya.” He closed the lid on his laptop and stood up. “I’m gonna get some coffee before that machine runs out. You want, poquito boss?”
“I do.” Kerry said. “And he’s right.” She told Mayte as Mark went over to the vending area. “We’ll all get through this.” She patted her arm. “Go on and get some rest, and tell your mom I said she should go to. Don’t worry about us.”
“Okay.” Mayte smiled, at last. “We will try to call you tomorrow and tell you what is happening.” She got up and slid the chocolate bar into her shirt pocket. “Good night.”
“Night.” Kerry waved at her, and watched her go, disappearing into the swinging doors that led into the inner part of the hospital.
Outside the rain was coming down in earnest, a sheet of white blocking the view out the window of the entrance and the parking lot, past the overhang that Mark had parked his bike under. Kerry took another cracker out of her package and nibbled on it, wishing she, too, was at the end of her day.
The marina was busier than Dar imagined it would be, as they rounded the seawall and she shifted into idle, letting her forward motion take them towards the dock in a drift.
In the far two boat basins there were temporary work lights lit on mobile pedestals, and there were men wrestling a lift into place over one of the sunken boats, despite the now significant rain coming down.
Dar had her rain jacket on, it’s softly rubberized length coming down halfway to her knees, it’s surface beaded with water that was a mixture of fresh and salt, as they had plowed through a wind driven spray coming around the south side of the island.
On the near side dock, against the seawall, a marina dockhand was waiting for her in a bright yellow slicker as she came in behind her parent’s boat into the second parallel slip.
Jerry had climbed down and was on the back deck, his machine gun stowed inside the gear box and a hooded windbreaker protecting him from the rain. He had their aft line in one hand as he waited, the low rumble of the engines muted.
Dar eased against the pylons, bringing the Dixie to rest against the rubber bumper and keeping the boat in place as Jerry tossed the line to the dockhand and he tied them up to the cleat. Then she cut the engines and shut the controls down, turning off the marine radio that had just been crackling with local traffic.
She climbed down the ladder. “Hey Pitar.”
“Evening, Ms Roberts.” The dockhand greeted her, having retrieved her bow line. “Welcome back.”
Jerry had wrestled the router box out of the cabin and shifted it up to his shoulder, stepping up onto the sidewall. “Look out there, buddy.” He warned Pitar, who moved out of the way as he stepped over to the dock. “This thing’s a boat anchor.”
“They’re heavy.” Dar retrieved the gallon of citronella and followed him off. “Pitar, can you fill her please?”
“Sure.” The dockhand agreed amiably. “Just finished your old man’s.” He indicated the larger boat ahead of them. “He’s been back and forth to the coast guard base like five times.”
“Hm.” Dar eyed the boat.
“Best don’t ask.” Jerry advised. “Where do we go now?”
“Probably true.” Dar admitted, pulling the hood up on her jacket. “I radioed ahead and ask them to meet us.” She indicated the rain washed landscape. “There’s a road back there, somewhere.”
They made their way up the dock and past the ruined marina building, passing the temporary facility behind it to find Jake behind the wheel of their golf cart. He had the plastic sides rolled down, and was watching for them as he turned on the cart lights as they came into view.
“Yo.” He greeted them as Jerry got the box into the back seat and Dar slid into the front. “People are seriously looking for you.” He announced. “They been by our little crib a dozen times.”
“I bet.” Dar said, getting the plastic back into place. “Go by my place, then the cottage. I need to get a PROM programmer and my toolkit.” She blinked the raindrops out of her eyes. “How’s it going here?”
“I like this place.” Jake announced, as he turned the cart and sent it barreling along the path, weaving in and around several other parked carts and piles of debris. “People come by sort of rando and give you cupcakes.” He leaned forward to see better. “We were just working on that database parse.”
“Jerry, this is Jake.” Dar belatedly made introductions. “He’s one of our programmers.” She said. “Jerry’s a friend of my dad’s.”
“Hey.” Jake looked in the small silvered plastic mirror.
“Yo.” Jerry responded, his muscular arm draped over the router box. “Sup?”
Dar used the next ten minutes of relative silence to turn her attention to the router, her eyes watching in an unfocused kind of way through the plastic shield as they navigated their way around the island.
There was debris in the road that Jake kept running over, the rain and the infrequent emergency street lights keeping him from really seeing where he was going.
“Stop.” Dar said, after one jarring bounce nearly shook the router in it’s box off the seat, Jerry scrabbling after it. She waited for the cart to halt. “Trade places.” She got out of the cart and went around the front of it, passing Jake who obediently settled into the passenger seat.
Dar got behind the wheel and released the parking brake, then she started the cart forward, focusing intently on the path as she steered the cart around the branches and other debris scattered across it. She knew the way better, of course, but there was also enough filtered light for her to see the larger items and not drive over them.
They came around the west side of the island and joined the main road that would take them past the ferry landing and around to where their condo was, and as they passed the ramp there was yet more light and round the clock work being done.
Pressure, she was sure, from the residents who wanted a way off the island. She had to admit she’d appreciate having that herself, as having her truck handy when Kerry was in need of a pickup would be a big bonus. The rain slacked a little, and she could see the flare of a welding torch.
A rumble of thunder sounded. Dar ignored it as she drove through the entrance to where they lived and pitched down the ramp to the garage.
The door was closed, not unreasonably. Dar halted and fished inside her shorts for her keychain, finding it and triggering the lifting gate.
“That didn’t get flooded?” Jerry asked, with interest.
“It did. Sort of.” Dar drove inside. “It drained through here, but the door was stuck with the pressure outside.” She parked the cart and got out, walking across the garage and past both her car and Kerry’s to the storage cabinets on the inside wall.
Jerry got out and roamed around the space, inspecting the drains in the concrete floor and the foundation. “Solid.” He concluded, as Jake remained in the cart, his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. “Somebody knew what they were at here.”
“Like a bunker.” Jake agreed. “That’s what pops said.” He added. “You see the stuff on the TV, where houses got blown all up and stuff, and it’s pretty cool out here.”
Dar opened the storage cabinet and regarded the inside of it, a collection of tools both household and technical, separated into shelves and bins, neat and in complete order. She lifted a case up and put it on the floor then opened a deep drawer and removed a second case, picking up both and carrying them back to the cart.
“That box what those guys need?” Jake asked, pointing behind him at the router. “They said you were getting something.”
“Not really.” Dar regarded her choices reflectively. “It’s the right thing, but the wrong kind of thing.” She said. “Like it is, I can’t use it for what they need it for.”
Jake turned all the way around, resting his elbow on the seat and looking at her with interest. “You gonna fix it?”
Dar glanced up, with a faint grin. “I’m going to hack it.” She admitted. “Void every warrantee this hundred thousand dollar useless piece of iron ever had.” She went back to the cabinet and picked up a magnifying mirror and light, and closed the doors.
“Oh, sweet.” Jake said, with enthusiasm. “Pirate class with Dar. I’m in!”
“Hundred thousand in that box?” Jerry went back and got into the cart as Dar resumed her seat behind the wheel. “I almost dropped it in the water coming off the boat.” He studied the item with a bit more respect as they backed up out of the garage and the rain slammed around them. “But then again, they got toilet seats they pay that for where I been.”
Dar chuckled a little, triggering the door to close as she got up and out of the ramp, and swung the cart around to head for the cottage.
“You know what just occurred to me?” Mark came back over to were Kerry was seated, flipping through a year old People magazine.
“That we’re going to break curfew when we do finally get out of here?” Kerry answered without looking up.
“That snickers and peanut butter crackers are kind of craptastic for dinner?”
Mark sat back down. “I want a cheeseburger.” He admitted. “I can’t cruise around on a Hershey bar anymore.”
Kerry tossed the magazine on the table and shifted in her chair, leaning on the arm of it and facing him. “They must have a cafeteria in here somewhere. Want to go find it?” She suggested. “It’s probably a cafeteria but maybe they’ll have French fries.”
“I’m down.” Mark agreed.
They got up and pushed open the swinging doors that separated the emergency room from the rest of the hospital, and went down the hallway, a long and wide passage with doors and entrances spattered along either side.
Soft sounds of echos, and beeps of equipment were present, and there was a lot of activity despite the growing lateness of the hour. There were gurneys lined against the walls stripped of their coverings, and twice the passed people pushing carts full of bandages and supplies going in the other direction.
They were unnoticed and unaccosted until they reached a crossroads, and then a security guard behind a desk looked up and waved. “Hey.” He said. “Where’s your badge?” He addressed Kerry sternly.
“Left it In my office. Sorry about that.” Kerry responded calmly. “Just getting a sandwich.” She indicated a sign, pointing to the promised, much wanted cafeteria.
“Well, get it on.” The man said. “No time to be messing around!” He went back to studying a monitor, now ignoring them once his message had been delivered.
“Nice.” Mark complimented her as they headed for the entrance to the café.
“Dar taught me that.” Kerry went past him as he pushed the door open for her. “Pretend like you belong wherever you are and people just go with it.” She said. “It’s easier.” She glanced around the cafeteria, which had probably two dozen people in it, and three in line ahead of them. “We lucked out.”
“They have cheeseburgers.” Mark said, in satisfaction.
Kerry chose a chef’s salad and a cup of soup, both looking acceptably appetizing as she put them on a tray and moved it along the metal railings. “Do you have an.. yes. Tea please.” She asked the woman behind the counter. “Thank you.”
“No problem honey.” The woman responded warmly. “You’re new huh? Where’d you work?”
Kerry returned the smile. “I don’t.” She said. “I just borrowed these.” She picked up her tray and went to the cashier, fishing her slim billfold out of the back pocket of the scrubs. “This, and whatever it is he’s got.” She indicated Mark.
“He gonna get a drink?” The man asked.
“Large coke.” Kerry said, handing over a bill. “Meet you at the table, Mark.” She took her change and her tray and went out into the eating area, picking a table against the wall and removing her choices to it before ridding herself of the tray.
Now that they were in the cafeteria, and she was sitting down, she was aware of how hungry she really was. She removed the covering of her salad and took a spoonful of the chicken tortilla soup, finding it acceptably spicy and warm.
Mark joined her, setting his plate down. “This ain’t bad.”
“It’s not.” Kerry forked up a mixture of her salad. It had a slightly spiced slightly sharp tasting dressing and the lettuce was still almost crisp and she munched it, and it’s chopped protein in some satisfaction. “I’d have rather had sushi, but not in a hospital cafeteria.”
Mark stopped in mid chew, one eyebrow lifting.
“I can’t chow down on a lot of stuff late at night.” Kerry explained. “It messes up my stomach.” She took another spoonful of her soup. “Not like Dar. She literally could eat a tin can and her body would deal with it.”
“Typical programmer.” Mark pronounced. “You see what those guys eat?”
“See? Who signs the invoices for their snack bin?” Kerry chortled a little. “Hey listen I tried getting them to eat heathier they just brought in bags of Starbursts.”
“And Reeses peanut butter cups.”
“Reeses peanut butter covered Christmas trees in ten pound bags, thanks.” Kerry waved her fork drolly.
Mark chuckled. “Hey the cook said he was just outside and it’s slowing down.” He reported. “Maybe this’ll work out timing wise, if we can head out after we’re done here.”
“Great.” Kerry swallowed, and then took a sip of her tea. “Just gives me enough time to think up what lies I’m going to tell the cops when we get stopped along the way.”
“Tell them you’re Gloria Estefan’s cat’s doc?”
It had in fact stopped raining by the time they went back to the emergency room, and stuck their heads outside the sliding doors that were the entrance.
Outside, the halon lights outlined trees moving in a rustling breeze, and debris and leaves tumbling across the tarmac but the sheets of rain were gone and when Kerry took a step outside and looked up, she could see brief patches of night sky between the clouds.
“Make a run for it?” Mark suggested. “Guy at the desk said it’s gonna rain again later.”
The waiting room still had a dozen people in it, some the same as had been there since much earlier that day. Some had flipped chairs around to make uncomfortable beds, and were curled into them, in one corner there were two children on the floor, wrapped in towels.
The woman and her husband were still there. He was slumped sideways in the chair, his eyes closed.
“Make a run for it.” Kerry slipped her string bag on her back and followed Mark outside.
She’d resumed her hiking boots, and having eaten her budding headache was subsiding and she settled the riding helmet on her head feeling nothing much more than anticipation of the ending of the day.
“Let’s get to the office.” She told Mark. “I’ll call Dar from there.” She was looking forward to it, checking in with the staff settling in for the night, maybe sharing a cup of spiked coffee with them while she waited for her marine pickup. “Worse comes to worse we can hang out there if it starts raining again.”
“Plan.” Mark started up the engine on the motorcycle and gunned it a little, the loud and distinct rumble filling the overhang. “Long night for those people back there.” He adjusted his microphone. “Feel bad for those kids.”
“Yeah.” Kerry said, briefly. “Seems like they’re in there a long time.” She wondered silently what the holdup was and hoped it was just that more urgently ill people were being taken first. “Probably good for me to get out there before I start trying to fix all of them.”
“You said it, I didn’t.”
She took hold of Mark as the bike started to move, and then they were out from under the overhang and on their way.
The rain had freshened the air, and it seemed a bit cooler, but the roads were now filled with puddles and Mark had to take great care in navigating slowly through them. Once they were away from the hospital grounds, the lights were also out, making it all the more chancy.
“I’m gonna get up on the highway soon as I can.” Mark said, into her ear. “Less water.” He was waiting at a dark stop light, edging into the intersection and watching both ways before he moved out and turned left. “Two blocks east and we can get onto a main road.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Kerry agreed as they went under a large tree that shed residual raindrops on them as it’s branches were stirred by the wind. A bit of movement caught her attention and she looked to her right as they went through an intersection.
Down the side road, she could see shadows in motion. “Ah.”
Mark gunned the engine and they went through the intersection at speed, getting past the side street and weaving between two large puddles caught in the bike’s headlamp. “Hang on.” He warned. “Some stuff up ahead.”
Kerry shifted so she could see over his shoulder, and squinted, trying to determine what it was the headlight was reflecting back at them. “It’s.. I think it’s a truck stuck.” She said. “It’s blocking the road.. yeah.”
A panel truck, its hazard lights flashing dimly, water up to it’s fenders and beyond that they could see a tree in the road.
“Yeah.” Mark glanced to either side of them. “I gotta go around. Hang on.”
He turned right at the next corner and slowed, the water coming up over the bottoms of his wheels as they went along a side street, the sound of the motorcycle loud in the surrounding darkness.
The large dining room table had been moved to the back of the living room of the cottage, and covered with a flattened cardboard box.
On top of the box, next to cans of soda and a silver bowl full of candy bars was a disassembled voice router, it’s top case on the floor under the table, and it’s insides glinting in the light from the chandelier, the cards and chips inside it reflecting gold and silver and surprisingly pretty.
Dar was seated on a stool next to the end of the table, her laptop still closed on the corner edge of it, while she set up a selection of tools and a small monitor.
“Here they come again.” Jake had glanced out the window as he came back in the room, flopping down on the couch and picking up his laptop. “Like thirty minutes is going to make something change.”
“It might.” Dar finished laying out her cables, routing them across the table and off the back edge down to the power strip on the floor, using the twist ties they had been coiled with to make the lines neat and tidy in automatic motions.
She didn’t look up as the door opened, focusing instead on plugging in the firmware burner and checking that it’s LED came on.
It had been a long while since she’d had to use it. Dar dusted her hands off and straightened up on her stool, hoping she remembered enough of the process not to irretrievably blow something up. “Now what?” She asked. “I told you this was going to take some time.”
“I know.” John agreed. “It’s just if I’m in here they won’t come after me asking when its going to be ready.” He picked up a can of soda and took a seat on one of the rolling cases. “Couple of those guys are getting kinda hooty.”
“They do get that way.” Dar opened her laptop and pecked at the keyboard for a moment. “Kinda what have you done for me lately jackass of the week.”
John chuckled a little. “Alex is over at that mansion place trying to buy em drinks and keep em calm.” He opened the soda can and started drinking from the can. “At least I told him, if we have to be stuck someplace, this isn’t bad.”
“Right?” Jake said, from his couch. “Hey El – you got a copy of that compiler?”
“I have it.” Dar muttered. “I’ll copy it to the utility directory.”
John sipped on his soda for a few moments in silence. Then he got up and came over to look at what Dar was doing. “Using that coax plant was a pretty slick idea.” He said. “Specially with those guys having those gizmos.”
“Thanks.We just got lucky on that one.” Dar moved over a little to inspect the inside of the router. “This was the closest thing I had to what we need.” She commented. “But it’s not that close.”
She opened her laptop and connected it to the ethernet cable draped between the coke cans, then connected a USB cable from the laptop to the router and turned it on.
“Holy crap.” John stared at the thing. “Sounds like..”
“An airplane taking off. Yeah.” Dar agreed. “It’ll settle down after a while.” She started up a terminal screen and watched the gear boot up. “You get everyone signed up?”
John snorted briefly. “You kidding?” After a moment, he got up and walked over to the rack full of gear, examining it, as he sipped his soda.
The door opened again and Ceci entered. “Hi there.”
“Hey Mrs R.” Elvis came into the room and sat down cross legged in front of the server stack. He picked up his laptop and put it on his lap, hunching over it.
Ceci made her way over to where Dar was seated. “Your father wanted me to tell you he’s on his way back here with Celeste, and a bunch of guys you were supposed to give a ride back here to for Jack.” She said. “He had to go out and make one last run to the Coast Guard station. He said.”
Dar blinked. “Oh crap that’s right.” She said, after a brief pause. “I forgot all about them.”
Ceci nodded. “He figured.” She said. “He stopped by the office to drop Jerry off, and found those guys waiting. Said he felt like a Metrobus.”
Dar paused and picked up a small set of alligator clips. “No sign of Mark and Kerry, I take it?”
“Not that he said, no.” Ceci said. “They probably did the smart thing and just camped out at the hospital. That’s a long, dark haul to make in the postapocalyptic wilds of west Miami.” She regarded the bowl of candy, walking over and selecting a Jolly Rancher. “Anyway, they got the generator going out there and he said three more folks turned up so it’s quite the party.”
Three more people. “More of our employees?” Dar asked.
“He didn’t say.” Her mother responded. “Could be a few of our lot, could be some of your ex employees, could be more of his special forces friends, could be the cops. Hard to tell what we’ll find when we get there tomorrow.” She observed. “Could be some random political types looking for handouts.”
“Could be.” Dar focused her attention to the laptop, as the router quieted down and lines of code spilled across the screen. “Anyway with that many out there I can’t just bring them all here. Not enough space.”
“Were you thinking of that?” Ceci asked. “As in, we haven’t pissed off enough people here?”
Dar paused and looked up, regarding her mother with intent focus.
Ceci waited, remembering that look from their joint past. Now though, there was an utter lack of impatience or malice in it, and she had finally realized sometime in the last year that the attention was more positive than negative.
“Just feels off, to leave them out there.” Dar finally said. “In the dark, with all those empty streets around them. I know dad has his friends there watching out, and I know they all volunteered but still.”
Ceci nodded. “And here we are in the center of all the nitwit jerktard stuffiness in the Northern Hemisphere.” She said. “I want to share it with every vagrant in downtown Miami.”
“I do.” Her mother repeated. “I grew up with people that had more money than sense, Dar. It’s what struck me so forcefully about your father, when I met him. He had far more sense than money. I had no idea, scatterbrained young nitwit that I was, how rare that really is.”
“Some of these people are not that bad.” Dar smiled.
“A lot of them are.” Ceci said, unrepentantly. “Unlike you, I actually talk to them.” She glanced around at the inside of the cottage. “But ynow what?” She looked back at Dar. “I’m glad you grew up not giving a damn about money.”
Dar considered that, thinking back to her childhood. “Yeah.” She said briefly. “I didn’t care.”
She hadn’t. She remembered happiness being a sticky twilight, breathing in the scent of just past rain and sneezing out a gnat. “Kerry always tells me I won the parents lottery.” She commented in a casual tone. “She’d have traded her childhood for mine in a heartbeat.”
Ceci wasn’t entirely sure what to say about that, but it sounded positive and so she issued an encouraging grunt. “All in all I think we all ended up all right.” She concluded cautiously. “I mean.. “She circled her finger to indicate their surroundings. “We’re here.”
“We are.” Dar studied the router, now humming softly as the lines of text stopped scrolling and went still, the cursor blinking there, waiting for her. “So before I haul half of downtown Miami out here let me try and make this work so no one’ll notice.”
Ceci took that for the dismissal it was, and perched herself on a stool where she could lean against the wall and watch what Dar was doing from a slight distance.
“This is a mess.” Mark had stopped the bike again, and they were in a crossroads with water spreading in either direction away from them. Ahead of them was murky darkness, downed limbs, and in the distance, a brief glimmer of flashlights.
“It’s a mess.” Kerry agreed. “Go back the way we came? Maybe go out west and then north?”
“Let me try that street up there.” Mark pointed ahead of them. “It doesn’t look that deep.”
“In the movies those are famous last words.” Kerry felt the bike start to move, and they were making their way through the water at a slow speed, the engine rumbling softly. Mark had wrapped his exhaust pipe with an extender so the end was elevated, but by his boots the flood was sloshing dangerously close to the spark plugs.
He gunned it a little, and they swerved through the impenetrably dark water, sending a ripple outward ahead of them that disappeared in the headlamp.
“Stay near the center island.” Kerry suggested.
“Yeah.” Mark muttered. “Hang on.”
The wash of the lamp picked up a little of the path, and as they went past a stopsign and into the next intersection, Mark abruptly came to a halt. “Oh crap.”
One of the poles that had supported the street light on the corner was down in the street, blocking their way. It’s concrete bulk was sprawled diagonally across the intersection, only the top visible.
“That sucks.” Mark released an exasperated sigh. “If we could get past this, we can get to that next street there, and it’s just a half block to the onramp of the freeway.”
Kerry looked to the right, where the base of the pole was completely submerged in deep water, that extended into the darkness and people’s yards, covering the backs of cars that were just visible to her. To the left, she could see a tree down, and just past that, there was some motion in the darkness.
She looked behind them. On the edge of the road was a bus shelter. “Hey.” She said. “If we took that bench and put it over there, could you ride the bike over it?”
Mark took off his helmet and turned around to look where she was pointing. “That thing probably weighs a ton.” He said. “I guess we could try to drag it?” He looked and sounded doubtful. “Could I get the bike over it? Crap I don’t know.”
“Got a better idea?”
Mark looked around them in the darkness. He lifted his hands and they got off the bike and sloshed through the flooded street over to the shelter, which was skewed sideways and half collapsed. It was aluminum, but beneath it was a bench made of wooden slats and concrete supports, and it was cocked to one side jutting into the street.
Kerry pushed aside one of the aluminum walls, and it bent crazily under her touch, the plastic shield that formed it’s protective surface cracked and separated. It moved as she pushed it though, and Mark stepped around behind her and put his hip against the back of the bench, leaning his bodyweight against it.
Grudgingly, it shifted. “Gonna take a while.” Mark gave it another shove.
“Let me help.” Kerry went to stand next to him and together they pushed against the end of the bench. When it moved it’s length they went to the other side and got that into motion.
Kerry could feel the debris and rocks under her boots, and was grateful she had them on, as the dank water soaked into the scrubs and leeched up past her knees. “Wish I had jeans on.”
Mark, who did, remained wisely silent. They wrestled the bench across two lanes of the roadway and approached the crossroad, the water getting more shallow as they neared where the bike had been left standing. “Know what?”
Kerry leaned against the end of the bench. “What?”
“Still need a ramp.” Mark said, in an apologetic tone. “On both ends.”
Kerry stopped, and regarded the bench. “That’s what we’ll use this back for.” She tapped it. “Rip it off, put it on one side, get the bike up onto the bench, over the post, and then take it and put it on the other side and get it back down.”
Mark looked thoughtfully at the back of the bench.
“You do have a wrench in that kit somewhere right?” Kerry eyed him. “Cause these boards are bolted onto this thing.” She touched the back of the bench, her fingertips running over the indented bolt that held the boards to the backing.
Mark pulled a small flashlight from his jacket pocket and turned it on, shining it on the bolt. “Might as well check before we waste our time.” He commented, crouching and measuring the bolt against his knuckle. “Hang on.” He turned and made his way across the drowned island to where the motorcycle was standing.
Kerry was glad enough to take a little rest, flexing her hands and looking around as the moon came out from behind the clouds and provided a little silver reflection, glancing off branches and debris and as she turned slowly, off a pair of eyes not that far off.
She stopped and stared. “Oh crap.” She let out a yell. “Mark, there’s an alligator here!” Without thinking further she climbed up onto the bench and out of the water, keeping the yellow eyes drifting closer in view. “Shit.”
Behind her, she heard the sounds of boots hauling through the water and a moment later Mark was up on the bench with her. “Where?” He asked, swinging a large wrench in his other hand. “Where is it?”
Kerry grabbed the flashlight from him and shone it out into the gloom. “It was right there.” She pointed at the spot, which was now empty of staring yellow eyes but not of a ripple of motion. “I sure as hell wasn’t thinking about alligators in all this.”
“Florida.” Mark said, briefly. “Lets get this over there. I got a wrench.” He held up the tool. “It’s adjustable. Should work.”
They both watched the water intently in silence for a minute, as Kerry played the flashlight’s beam across the surface. The water ripple settled and became still and then all they could hear was far off sirens and then the sound of mosquitoes.
“Right.” Kerry got down. “Lets get this over with before it comes back and decides to see if we’re a good snack.”
“We’re kinda big for them.” Mark climbed down as well and they both started shoving the bench into the crossroads, the water getting a bit shallower as they got it into place with one end against the concrete pole lying in the road.
“Our feet aren’t.” Kerry turned and started messing with the flashlight again. “You wrench, I’ll keep watch.” She stepped up onto the concrete pole and walked along it, relieved to have her body parts up and away from any hidden alligator jaws.
The pole was square, and around eighteen inches wide on all sides, and she was comfortable moving along it until she reached where it had cracked and part of it went off at a rightish angle and disappeared into the murky depths.
“Woot.” Mark knelt on the bench and leaned over the top of it, feeling the bolt with his fingers as he fitted the wrench into place and adjusted it. “Lets hope they haven’t painted over this a dozen times.” He braced his weight against the wrench and hauled on it. “Crap.”
Kerry half turned and flashed the light back at him. “What?”
“Probably put this in place with a pneumatic gun.” Mark straddled the top of the bench and braced one boot on the stanchion, trapping the wrench against it with his knee while he wiped his hands and then took a better grip on the tool.
“Probably.” Kerry returned her attention to the swamp around them. “Be careful.”
“Be something.” Mark muttered. “My old man would be laughing his ass off at me.”
Kerry inspected some motion in the water a little ways away, squinting as she thought she saw something poke up above the surface.
“For what?” She asked, belatedly.
“Using this wrench.” Mark grunted. “Social climbing jackass with a wood pole up his behind.”
Kerry decided the lump wasn’t, in fact an eyeball and continued her scanning. “Well, I sympathize.” She responded. “I know what that’s like, but I wouldn’t have heard about this from my father because his head would have exploded long before with all the shenanigans I get into.”
A loud crack sounded, and she turned hastily, to see Mark tumbling off the bench backwards, the wrench waving in one hand. “Mark!” She raced back over to the bench, but not in time to grab him before he ended up splashing into the water.
“Ugh.” He got to his knees dripping. “Well, it moved.” He stood up and shook himself, then went back to the bolt. “Maybe you were right. We should have gone back.”
Kerry stuffed the flashlight into her pocket. “I’ll help. C’mon.” She went over and took the wrench as he removed the bolt he’d already loosened, and got the tool attached to the bolt on the other side of the spar. “Counterclockwise, right?”
“Counterclockwise is left.” Mark said, as he worked the nut off the bolt.
Kerry got her shoulder up under the wrench and pushed away from the ground, using the strength of her legs as she straightened them. The bolt grudgingly gave way with much less theatrics than the other had with Mark, and she quickly twisted the nut off.
Mark took the wrench to work on the bottom bolt on his side. “Didn’t mean to get all literal on you.” He said, after a moment. “With the directions.”
Kerry chuckled dryly. “You forget who I live with.” She dusted her hands off, and then knocked the board loose from the back of the bench and lifted it clear, swinging around and bringing it over to where the pole was submerged.
She wedged it into the mud under the water and propped the end on the pole, before she returned to the bench to help with the second. But Mark had worked out the twisting and already had the board free, and he stepped over the pole to put the board in place next to the first.
“Okay.” He regarded their work. “I’m gonna walk it up and onto that thing.” He indicated the bench. “Grab the boards when it’s on there?”
“Got it.” Kerry said. “I’ll hold this end down while you’re doing that.” She regarded the bike. “Think this is going to work?”
“Hope it does.” Mark said. “I lay this thing down, it’s gonna hurt.”
Kerry sighed and stood by, waiting for him to start up the bike and move it up the makeshift ramp. “No matter what happens, let’s not tell anyone about this huh?”
Mark chuckled wryly and put the bike in low gear, cautiously releasing the hand brake and making it creep upward. “No problem, poquito boss. Noooo problem.”