Fair Winds and Following Seas
“Any luck?” John had the sense to stay at a distance, hands behind his back, rocking up and down a little on his heels. “It’s getting kinda late.” He added, in an apologetic tone.
“Dude, shut up.” Jake said, without looking at him, his hands holding two very thin wires in place as Dar studied the circuit board, a soldering iron held lightly in one hand. “You’re watching brain surgery.”
Dar smiled briefly, then leaned over the router and lowered the iron, gently feeding in solder with her other hand and she laid down a new path across the glittering circuits.
Elvis was seated on the couch with his laptop somewhat forgotten in his lap, watching with interest. Ceci was perched on her stool behind the table, content to observe.
This wasn’t ever something she’d seen Dar do. The programming part, yes. Endless typing on keyboards and drawing diagrams with branches and boxes on them, yes. This? No. She knew better than to ask questions though, more so than hapless John.
“Okay.” Dar pulled her hands back and then put the soldering iron down on it’s holder, pausing to regard the solder on the board and then reaching back and plugging the power cable into it’s socket. “Lets see what that did.” She listened to the airplane sound of the router for a moment and then she moved around from behind the table and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” John glanced at the router. “Is it done?”
“Going to make a phone call.” Dar brushed past him and out the door before he could ask anything else, closing it behind her as she walked away from the cottage and into the open space beyond. She was about to open her phone to call when it rang.
She answered it. “Hey.”
Dar grimaced. “What’s up?”
“So we left the hospital.” Kerry said. “And we made it onto the highway, and we made it all the way down here to US 1 and we got to UM.”
“Okay.” Dar said. “And?”
“And there’s a roadblock.” Kerry said. “They won’t let us down into Coconut Grove. They say it’s too dangerous.”
Dar looked around. “So what are they suggesting you do?” She asked. “Go back to Baptist?” She added. “Did you explain where you’re trying to go?”
“Oh yes.” Kerry said. “If they weren’t convinced I was nuts before that, they are now. I told them there were a dozen people camping at our commercial office near the waterfront and we were going to get picked up by a yacht.”
“It’s true.” Dar said, in a reasonable tone. “Not sure why they think you’d lie about that.”
“Honey.” Kerry sighed. “It’s late, and these guys are not in a really reasonable mood.”
“Well, can’t help that I guess.” Dar closed her eyes and searched her memory. “Okay. So what direction will they let you go?”
“What do you mean?”
One of Dar’s blue eyes opened up. “Kerry, they aren’t expecting you to stay there at the roadblock. They won’t let you go to the office, where will they let you go?”
“Oh.” Kerry fell briefly silent. “Well, I don’t know. I didn’t ask him that.” She admitted. “I was just pissed off so I just walked away and came over here to call you.”
“Okay. So see if they’ll let you go south on US 1, and then turn and go east on Hardee.” Dar instructed. “Go as far east as you can, and you’ll eventually run into the coast. Once you do that, call me and I’ll be heading over there.” She said. “Pick you guys up.”
Kerry’s eyebrows contracted. “Just… anywhere?”
“Hon, I have no idea what the coastline looks like out there.” Dar said. “Find someplace you think I can get the Dixie into.” She added. “Or, like you suggested, go back out west and hang out at Baptist until the morning. Could be they’ve got the ramp fixed by then and I can get the truck off.”
It would be safer, Kerry acknowledged, for them to just go back, and wait for daylight. Safer for her and Mark, and safer for Dar, who wouldn’t have to pilot the Dixie over in unknown area. She considered a moment longer, then remembered the flooding and the bus bench. Or would it?
“What’s the boss saying?” Mark was seated on the bike, arms folded on the handlebars, keeping an eye on the police barricade.
“Wants us to go east and find a spot to have her pick us up.” Kerry said. “Or go back where we were.”
Mark eyed her thoughtfully. “Go east where? Hardee?” He asked. “That’s how I come to work. We can actually pick up Main past Douglas and get closer to the office.” He glanced at the police, who were drinking coffee nearby, now having decided they were mostly harmless.
“Unless there’s another roadblock.” Kerry mused.
“Bet there isn’t.” Mark said. “They won’t watch every street.” He straightened up. “Going up US1 woulda been easier, but we can still get there. Good deal.”
“Okay.” Kerry decided. “Dar, we’re going to try to go east. I’ll call you when we get somewhere useful.”
“Okay. Be careful.” Dar reminded her. “I’m gonna try to wrap up here.”
Kerry hung up the phone and went over to the bike, resuming her place on the back of it. “Lets give it a try.” She said. “Damn it I wish I’d brought that shotgun.” She said. “It feels so exposed on this thing.”
Mark started the bike and gave her a look over his shoulder. “No offense, I’m kinda glad I don’t have that up behind my ear.” He gave the police a genial wave and turned the bike around, heading back south along US 1.
The cops waved back, visibly contented that their jobs had been successfully done.
Dar went back into the cottage , sliding the sat phone into her pocket. In her short absence her father had arrived and was standing near the table, peering over Jake’s shoulder at the inside of the router.
“Lo.” He greeted Dar.
“How’s Kerry doing?” Ceci asked, from her perch in the corner.
“She and Mark got stopped by a roadblock. They’re trying a different path.” Dar said, coming over to the table and looking down at her laptop. It was mostly black screen and she reviewed the writing on it. “I’m going to have to go over there and grab them from the coast.”
“Better ah do that.” Andy concluded. “That there bike aint’ gonna fit on the back deck of yours.” He went on. “Got a ramp thing fit out for gear by ours.”
“On your boat?” Dar glanced up at him.
“Yeap. Moving stuff.” Andy said, briefly. “Where they trying to get?”
“Not sure. They’re south of UM. They’re going east and then they’re gonna call me.” Dar typed into the keyboard and reviewed the results. “Well. That’s a step forward.”
Jake looked at the screen. “Is that the bus?” He asked, pointing at a set of cryptic readouts. “There?”
“Yeah.” Dar reviewed the inside of the router. “Now those ports can talk to these ports and all I have to do is hack the operating system and recompile it to make it happen.” She sat down and started typing. “Won’t be line rate, but it won’t matter.”
“Wicked.” Jake pronounced. “I’m going to go set up the repository to sync.” He left the table and went back to the couch, picking up his laptop and putting his sock covered feet on the ornate coffee table in front of it.
The door opened again and a large man entered. “Where the hell.. there you are you little bastard.”
John stood up from where he’d been sitting in the corner. “Oh, Ricardo. Hi.” He said. “We’re making progress here and I..”
The big man walked over and grabbed John by the front of his shirt, yanking him upright. He was tall and well built, with a thick, muscular neck and frame that advertised many hours spent in a gym and the potential of a drawer full of Speedos.
“Oh lord.” Andrew muttered under his breath. “Ah done ask you, is this needed right now?”
“I told you I am done with your bullshit!” Ricardo yelled, shaking him. “You promised me a connection! Where is it?”
Andrew turned and headed towards the two of them, while Jake and Elvis stood up uncertainly, glancing at Dar for direction.
Dar finished typing and stood up herself, sucking in a breath. “Hey!” She let out a short, sharp bellow. “Stop that, ya peanut brained git!”
Ricardo turned and stared at her. “You talking to me? Who the fuck are you?”
“Who the fuck are you?” Dar yelled right back at him. “I rented this place and didn’t give you permission to walk your ass inside it.”
John reached up to uncurl his fingers off his shirt front. “That’s the person who’s trying to get this thing to work Ricardo.” He said. “I wouldn’t piss her off if I were you.”
Ricardo released him and shoved him backwards, then he turned and headed in Dar’s direction only to find himself blocked by Andrew’s tall form in a sudden, yet very deliberate motion.
“Get out of my way.” He said, in an irritated voice, stopping when Andrew ducked his head a little to stare him in the eye.
“Ah do not care for people yelling at mah child.” Andrew said, in a very mild tone. “Ya’ll will adjust your attitude, or ah will escort you out the door.” He folded his hands in front of him and stood quietly, his body filling the gap between the chairs and the table.
“That a threat?”
“Statement of purpose.” Ceci spoke up from her corner. “You’ll get a lot more out of this crowd with honey than with bullshit. Just saying.” She had her fingers interlaced around her knee and she regarded Ricardo with a bland expression. “Over the top macho ain’t gonna get you much either, since he’s a retired Navy Seal and she’s gay.”
Ricardo stared past Andrew’s elbow at her.
“I’m a pagan priestess.” Ceci remarked, with a smile. “Whadda you got, Mr. 305 and a half?”
“Thanks dad.” Dar went back to her seat and continued pecking at her keyboard. “Thanks mom.” She regarded the results, and sniffed reflectively. “We should put the table against that door.”
Ricardo was now watching them all with a faint wariness. He took a step backwards. “Who are you people?” He fell back on his original question. “You some shyster like this guy?”
“We’re the Troublemakers.” Ceci responded. “Cecilia and Andrew, and the little tyke at the table over there is Dar.” She said. “We live here.”
“Okay.” Ricardo drew the word out a little. “Ricardo Montaluco. I live here. I just moved here last month and now this happened. My business relies on being able to get online, understand?”
“Got it.” Dar said, restarting the router again. “Like everyone else. Believe me buddy, I’m doing what I can to get this going.”
Ceci cleared her throat. “Look, they’re doing some scientific mish mash thingamabob there to get this dude’s random moneymaker to give everyone a link to the Internet. If you can’t help them do that, leave it alone. Being an asshole is not going to speed up the process.”
“She’s right.” Dar watched the device boot up. “If being an asshole sped up this process it’d have been done for a hour already because I’m a damn good asshole.” She glanced over at him. “So unless you’re a Cisco asic design engineer and can do this better than I can, go find something useful to do.”
She went back to the laptop and sat down, calling up another screen.
For a long moment, Ricardo looked from one to the other of them, his face expressionless. “All right.” He finally said, in an abrupt sort of way. “You like empanadas? My wife just finished making some of those and some pandebonos.”
“Yum.” Dar didn’t look up from her keyboard. “Columbian?”
“From Bogota.” Ricardo confirmed. “Send me one of these boys, we’ll bring them back.”
“I’ll go.” Elvis stood up and stretched. “My knees are killing me anyway.” He said. “I could use a walkabout.” He followed Ricardo out the door and after a moment, John ran after them.
“That went a lot better than I expected.” Ceci remarked.
“Lord.” Andrew exhaled, shaking his head and returning his attention to the router on the table. “Ah do not know why folks can’t start off reasonable and end up jackass stead of t’other way round.”
Dar chuckled shortly. “Okay.” She said. “Now let me get that image off the repository. Jake plug me back in wouldja?”
Mark slowed down as they got to an intersection, and turned left across oncoming traffic which thankfully was light. “Here’s Cabellero, and the next corner there is Hardee.” He spoke into the microphone in his helmet. “Lets see where this gets us.”
They moved along the road, which quickly moved from commercial once they were a few blocks off the main US 1 roadway and into residential. “Oh boy.” Mark muttered. “Trees.”
Lots of them. Mark throttled down and moved ahead cautiously, as the roadway ahead showed full of debris. On either side were houses, but here, at least, the flooding if there had been seemed to have receded. There were trees down across the yards and roadways, and branches but some had already been dragged aside, and they made slow but steady progress.
Around them the sound of generators was significant. Through the branches and debris there was flashes of light, and in some cases, the house windows showed lit from within.
Twice, they passed groups of people in a yard, and in many places, the dim lights showed the blue of tarps in place over damaged roofs.
The houses on either side were of good size, and Kerry noted the cars they were driving past were newer models, with a lot of SUV’s and sedans. “Nice area.” She suggested.
“Barb and I looked here.” Mark said. “We actually found a place down off Douglas but we decided to wait until after hurricane season to see about buying.” He added. “Glad we did, now.”
“No kidding.” Kerry muttered.
“Gonna go by there in daylight. Maybe if they took a lot of damage we’ll get a deal.”
“Well, that’s one way to look at it.” Kerry chuckled a little. “Okay what’s that up there?”
“Roundabout.” Mark said. “I’m gonna go across the middle of it.” He gripped the handlebars a little more tightly and sent the bike over the ground in the center of the road, feeling the vibration as the wheels went over rocks and random debris. “Urf.”
They got through the intersection then went along another several blocks, until they came to a T shaped crossroads that had a wall along one side. “Left, huh?” Kerry suggested. “Will that take us down closer to the office?”
“Should. I think this.. it’s hard to tell in the dark.” Mark said, a little uncertainly. “Street signs are missing.” He proceeded north along the wall. “I think I usually turned the street before this. Its not… well, it’s going the right direction anyway.”
It was very dark now, the roadway lined on both sides with trees. “Yeah, here’s Douglas.” Mark said, with a tone of relief. “Yeah here we go. Now we’ve just got to get up to Main, and then take Main down to the office.”
That seemed the best plan. Kerry nodded. “Yeah, that’s the ticket. Better for us to catch a ride from someplace we already know, and we’ve got people there.” She said. “Maybe we’ll just crash there. It’s getting late.”
“Makes sense. Got people, and food, and guys with guns there.” Mark agreed, as, a few minutes later they reached a stretch of the road that was clear of debris. “There’s Main up there.” He sped up and headed for the corner, the light of the bike showing at last a clear path.
“Storm’s hitting right up the Potomac.” Andrew announced, returning to the cottage via the back door of it. “Figure maybe a category 3.” He stepped aside and held the door open, allowing a gust of warm, wet air to enter. “Them people are all fussed up there.”
“Good.” Dar said absently. “Keep them all from calling me.” She glanced up, as a low rumble of thunder made itself heard. “Crap. Again?” She frowned. “I thought high pressure was supposed to come in after one of those things.”
Ceci came in, pushing back the hood of a violently purple rain jacket. “Just was over at the mansion. Weather’s being sucked up in back of Bob.” She said. “Expecting a couple inches of rain, like anyone needs that right now.” She reported. “Extending that long front that’s pulling it up the coast.”
“What a mess.” Dar looked down to check her watch. “And if it’s raining those damn phones won’t work either.” She got up. “Give me that long cable there, Jake. Lets see if this thing’ll do anything useful before I have to head out again.”
Jake went over and picked up a coil of cable laying inside the door to the pool area. The door itself was cracked open to allow the cable to enter, and at the other end of it was John’s minivan, parked on the coral deck. He came over to the table, uncoiling the cable as he went and laying it down between the couch and the table. “We should tape that.”
“Let’s see if it works first.” Dar typed in a configuration and studied the results. “Then worry about taping it.”
Jake handed her the end of the cable and she plugged it into one of the ports she’d hijacked. The router considered the cable for a short period, then acknowledged what it’s purpose was meant for and enabled itself. Dar watched the counters increment, watching for errors.
Then she changed screens and, got up, going over to unplug her laptop from their rack and then walk back over to plug the end into another port on the router.
That port came up rather more quickly, and Dar cleared her screen and then refreshed it, watching the configuration change.
She checked the router’s logs.
Then she opened up a browser and waited, agreeably surprised when it brought up a website. “Huh.”
“Working?” Jake asked, with interest.
Dar picked up her laptop and turned it around, displaying the screen. “Something’s working.” She felt a sense of relief, and then put the laptop back down. “Now, before everyone comes back, let’s get some work done.” She disconnected the second port from her laptop and then reversed her steps, plugging the cable back into the rack. “Let me reset the routing.”
She went back to the router and then opened a session from it, to the rack, and started typing.
“Rockstar.” Jake said. “That’s like some deeply underground hackity hackstar there, chief.”
Dar chuckled softly under her breath. “That was easier than doing it in a submarine tell you that.”
Jake paused and looked at her, as though trying to judge the relative mock level of the statement. Then he just shook his head. “I think I hear a cart outside.” He got up and went to the front door, unlocking it and cautiously letting it open, keeping one foot behind it to block it if needed. “Oh hey.” He then stepped back and opened the door, as Elvis entered carrying a large, tin foil container.
“Keep it open.” Elvis advised, as he moved across the floor and went into the kitchen with the container. “I think that guy’s like a restaurant owner or something.”
Ricardo was back, with John at his heels. He was carrying a drink container and a stack of cups, and John had a stack of plates and another foil covered dish. “Okay.” Ricardo said. “So we got what I promised here, now what about you?” He set the container down on the table. “That’s some hot chocolate.”
He jerked his jaw at Dar in an aggressive way. “Hey?” He said. “You delivering the goods or what?”
Abruptly a rapid sequence of beeps cut through the room, odd and discordant and from multiple sources including the two laptops sitting on the coffee table, a rapidly incrementing series of chimes and blurps that filled the room along with strident bongs form the rack.
It made Andy jump, and he quickly looked from one machine to the other, before he turned to look over at Dar in question. “Hey, Dardar. What all’s that?”
“What the hell?” Elvis had come in from the kitchen with a double handful of empanada. “What is that noise?”
Jake was already diving past him to the couch. “Dingdongs. That’s the mail server.” He said. “Dar got it working. It’s up. That’s our mail coming in. It’s synching.” He squirmed forward and pulled his laptop over. “Lemme turn the freaking sound off before it makes me deaf.”
Dar finished typing the last few characters of something she was doing and hit enter. “Spoiler alert.” She remarked blandly. “It works.”
She turned to regard Ricardo. “Congratulations. Your bringing the grub did the trick. Good job.” She left her keyboard and went to the front window, that was also cracked open to allow the input of the cable from the palm tree to enter.
“Wait.. you’re serious?” John rushed past to the back door and stuck his head out of it. “Hey! Alex! Alex!!!” He yelled out the open portal. “Hey!” He squirmed out the patio door and disappeared into the rain. “Alex!!!!”
Dar snaked the cable over to the router and plugged it into one final port on the back of it, then she went around to her laptop and made a final configuration change. “Okay.” She said. “It’s done.” She said. “Dad, you ready to head out to the mainland?”
“That’s it?” Ceci said. “Really?” She said. “What’s actually going on?” She asked, making a gesture around the room. “With all the digital music bombs?”
“One of the servers in that case is our mail server.” Dar explained. “I wrote it.” She added, as an aside. “When it saw the internet, it lifted it’s electronic hand up and said yo, here I am. Send it. As in, all the mail that’s out there been waiting for us since it all went down after the storm.” She gestured at her laptop, which was still dinging like mad. “I use a caching service so I don’t have to change the MX records.”
Ceci regarded her. “Sure.” She nodded. “Absolutely. That makes all the sense.”
Ricardo had a radio strapped to his waist and he was talking into a headset and mouthpiece attached to one ear. “That’s what I said, idiot. Plug in that cable and get to fucking work!” He turned to them. “Thanks.” He said. “That was worth the food. I’ll be back. I want to talk to you people about something.” He left in a rush, slamming the front door behind him.
“Can’t wait.” Dar felt an almost giddy sense of relief. Not so much that she’d made the router work, but that the task was done and now she could focus all her attention on getting Kerry home. “Let’s get out of here before the bastard figures out he’s got a quarter point nothing bandwidth and wants me to change the laws of physics.”
The sound of the rain outside felt like it was drumming on the back of her head, as she thought about the roads and the dark and the possibilities, and finished up her typing, already thinking ahead to the boat, and the trip and the water.
She turned off the sound on the laptop, having no intention at all at opening up the mail screen and looking at it.
Elvis came over to Dar with a plate and handed it to her. “These are pretty good.” He said. “I’m not sure they’re worth the internet, but it’s better than that chicken they had in the big place tonight.”
Dar picked up one of the hand held pastries and took a bite of it. Her eyebrows lifted. “Mm.” She made a noise of surprised approval. “That is good.”
“Spicy.” Elvis agreed. “They got some cheese ones in there, Mrs. R.”
“My lucky day.” Ceci hopped off her stool and went into the kitchen, where Celeste and Andrea were camping, Andrea industriously pecking at the keyboard of her laptop. A cable was trailing off the side of the table and running out into the living room from it.
She went to the foil container and lifted the lid on it, seeing the neatly stacked treats inside. “That man had a clue.” She selected one and broke it in half. “Ah, there we are.”
“Is cheese vegetarian?” Andrea asked, after a brief pause.
“No.” Ceci took a bite. “But I really like it, and no animal gave it’s life to allow me to enjoy it.”
Celeste pondered that. “What about eggs?”
“Is now the time for us to get into a philosophical discussion about how I feel about the status of non fertilized embryos?”
“Probably not.” Celeste blushed a little. . “I’m too tired for that really.” She said. “Boy it’s been a day.” Her pale hair was still wet from the rain, and her face was windd and sunburned. “Glad I got a ride back here though. It was pretty creepy at the office.”
“I can imagine.” Ceci said. “You’ll have more to do here now that whatever it is my kid did is done.”
“We’ll have plenty to do tomorrow.” Andrea agreed. “I’ve got all these emails to look at. Holy Moses.” She shook her head. “It’s gonna take me days. But we got a phone we can plug in.”
“Wait for the morning.” Ceci said. “I can only imagine the inane calls now.”
The kitchen was small, but complete. It had a slimline refrigerator, a stove, microwave, and pantry and the table that was built into the bay window to allow a view of the garden. It was polished and clean, and elegant.
Ceci didn’t much care for it. She stood, leaning against one of the carefully crafted and sealed tile counters, munching on her cheese empanada, trying to decide if she wanted to go out on the boat again. It had, she acknowledged, been a long ass day.
“All right.” Andrew stuck his head in the kitchen. “We all’s going around.” He announced. “Ain’t gonna be long out there I figure.”
“Be careful.” Ceci warned, turning around and going back to the foil case. “Here, take one of these. It’s almost hamburgerish.” She offered Andy a caramel colored pastry. “I don’t know what that jackass does, but whoever cooked these knew their business.”
Andy took the item and cautiously took a bite of it, chewing warily. “That’s some good.” He pronounced. “Gimme another one of them.”
“Here, wait.” Ceci fished inside the pantry. “Morons have a little picnic basket in here. We might as well use it. “ She filled up the basket with some of the treats, and a few napkins, and handed it to him. “Here. Dar probably expended a couple grands worth of brain cells on that gizmo we should enjoy the pay for it.”
Andy took the basket with a brief grin, then left. The door to the cottage opened and closed, and then the place was filled again with the sounds of the servers humming, and the soft rattle of keyboards.
Ceci got herself another cheese empanada.
“This is a mess.” Mark said, huddled against a half knocked over tree. “Fuckin rain.”
Kerry had her arms folded over her chest, wet through. She was leaning against the tree trunk herself, a rivulet of rain running down off her nose. “Glad it’s summer.” She remarked. “At least it’s warm rain.”
Mark exhaled, leaning his head against a cracked branch.
Kerry regarded the rain, which was barely visible in the pitch darkness, except as a vague, dense motion ahead of them. The tree was against a coral rock wall that ran alongside the road, dark and equally anonymous, it’s surface scuffed and in places darkened with moss.
A rumble of thunder rolled overhead, and then, sudden and startling, a blast of lightning that outlined the street in violent silver.
“Shit.” Mark eyed the clouds. “Maybe we should get away from this tree.”
“And go where?” Kerry asked.
Mark just made a face, acknowledging the dilemma.
Lightning flared again, and Kerry caught sight, a distance away, of a gate in the wall. “Lets see if we can get in there.” She suggested. “Maybe there’s an overhang we can get under.” She ducked out from under the tree and into the rain, holding one arm above her head to shed some rain.
Mark looked doubtful, but he pushed his motorcycle out into the road and followed her, grimacing as the rain hit him full force. “Maybe we were better of where we were.” He muttered, but kept pushing, through a growing flow of water that was coming up over his boots.
He couldn’t even tell what road they were on anymore. A turn off he’d though would lead them to Main Highway and the office had ended up dodging unexpectedly east, and they had ended up on this turn off with the wall on one side, and nothing but trees on the other.
No idea where they were. He thought they were going north now, but whether it was the rain or the dark he couldn’t for the life of him remember seeing this route before. Maybe it was all the fallen trees? Without any lights and nothing to use for a directional beacon it was…
Mark exhaled. It was scary. He was scared, and tired, and seriously regretting leaving Baptist where at least there it was cool and dry and they had coffee. He felt his nape hairs lift and ducked his head as another lightning flash outlined the clouds.
Kerry was just moving steadily ahead of him, a greenish white blur in the rain and then a moment later, the world lit up again with lightning. He saw the gate she’d spotted, and as the thunder rumbled loudly overhead, they turned to the right towards it.
It was an old gate, wrought iron, two halves that came together in the center and were wrapped with a stout chain, and as they came up next to it, a very visible lock. “Crap.” Mark parked the bike and took out his flashlight, turning it on and playing it on the lock. “We could maybe tie the bike to this and yank it open.” He looked over his shoulder. “Not much runway.”
The gate was at the corner of a bend in the road, and right across from it was a huge ficus tree uprooted and sprawled across the road, blocking it.
Kerry took a step back. “We could climb over this.” She remarked. “But that’s abandoning your bike and I’m guessing you don’t want to do that.”
“Not unless I got no choice.” Mark said. “These things are expensive, Ker.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kerry went to the other side of the gate where she’d spotted an indentation. “Hang on let me…” She paused. “Oh, wait now here’s something.”
Mark sloshed over to her. “What is … oh. Well, that’s not really big enough for both of us.” He looked at the small alcove. “You want to just hang out in there?…” He paused. “I mean, no sense in both of us standing out in the rain.”
“There’s a smaller gate in here. Let me see your light.” Kerry held her hand out behind her, and when Mark gave over the flash she brought it around in front of her to look at something set into the wall. “Hang on… this isn’t locked.” She rattled something and then took a step back into the rain. “Ah hah.”
Mark peered over her shoulder. “Oh.” He said. “I might be able to get the bike through that but… “ He looked past the open small gate. “Is there a point? This looks like a park.” He took a step back and regarded the gates, looking at either side of them. “No plaque, but maybe one of the old private ones down here.”
Kerry shrugged. “Better than nothing? Maybe there’ll be a shelter we can hang out under. Like… you know, where a barbeque might be or something. And if this is going along the coast, and we can get near the water, I can call Dar for a pick up soon as it stops raining.”
Thunder rumbled over their heads. “Sounds good to me.” Mark said. “Let me get the bike before it floats off that rain’s getting wicked.” He went back into the rain and got the bike up off its kickstand, pushing it over to the alcove and angling the handlebars as Kerry pushed the gate all the way open and held it for him.
It was a tight squeeze but he shoved the motorcycle thorugh the gate and kicked it closed behind him as Kerry got out of the way. “Lead on.”
Holding the flashlight, Kerry moved across the water covered ground, angling over to where there was a gravel outline in front of the big gates. “Over here.” She called back, and then started forward along the outline of the roadway.
A blast of lightning gave her a quick look at the path ahead, and she could see lots of trees. Some were lying down across their path. She thought she saw what looked like a square structure to the left further on though, and she hastened towards it as the rain started to come down even harder.
The wind came up and blew hard against her, almost stopping her in her tracks and she paused. “I think we’re heading towards the water.”
“Don’t walk into it.” Mark warned. “The water I mean. Feels like Bob turned around and came back.”
Kerry inhaled. Was that possible? Hurricanes were at the very least, fickle. But she didn’t think any of the potential scenarios had included that one in it, and surely Dar would have said something if it had. She took a breath of air again. “I can smell saltwater.”
Mark sniffed. “I just smell rain.” He shrugged. “But I’m a native. It just smells like air to me.”
Ah, yes. Kerry wiped the rain out of her eye and then she pointed. “I thought I saw a building over there. Lets try that.” She took hold of one of the handlebars and helped Mark push, glad at least they had relatively solid gravel under their boots. “Watch out for that block there.. not sure what that is.”
“No telling.” Mark grunted. “Hibachi maybe. We could see some homeless or something in here.” He glanced around. “Now I do wish you’d brought that gun with ya. Since we’re trespassing and all that stuff.”
“Hopefully everyone’s inside hiding from the rain.” Kerry held the flashlight with her other hand and they put their heads down and just moved as fast as they could, the thunder and lightning worsening. “And if not maybe they’ll take pity on us.”
The square structure loomed up in front of them and to their relief it had a covered porch. They got the bike up onto the raised concrete pad, both of them relaxing at the same time at the abrupt stopping of the deluge. Mark went over to the door and tried it cautiously. “What do you think?”
“What do I think?” Kerry came over with the light and turned the knob, pushing against the door as it grudgingly opened. “I think it’s better than nothing.” She drew in a breath, and found it full of the smell of wood and gasoline, and the rich scent of…
Well she wasn’t sure what it was, at least it wasn’t that unpleasant. She stepped inside and shone the flashlight around, finding what appeared to be a garden shed. In one corner there were various grass cutting type of machinery and lined up against the wall several cans of gasoline.
There were shelves on the opposite wall full of dusty cans and buckets, and in the back of the shed was a large square space with shoulder high walls. In front of that was a low bench. “Well.” Kerry closed the door, shutting out the thunder of the rain. “It’s empty and it’s dry.”
Mark nodded. “Good call boss.” He said. “We can wait it out here at least.” He took off his riding jacket and hung it up on a nail in the wall. “Whoa that was nasty.”
Kerry went over and sat down on the low bench. It was a relief to get out of the rain, despite the shelter’s warm and stuffy atmosphere. “Maybe leave that door open.” She said. “Get some air in here.” She rubbed her nose in reflex, imagining the dusty air tickling it.
Mark went over and opened the door, blocking it with a bucket he found near the wall. “Hope the wind doesn’t send the rain in here.” He said. “I don’t want to mess up whoever this is floor.” He looked around the room. “Oh hey wait a minute… I think I see something useful over there.”
He walked over to the shelves and inspected their contents, as Kerry shone the light in that direction. “I think this is a.. yeah.” He worked at something and then light flared, outlining his dripping form. “A camping light.” He pronounced with some satisfaction. “My old man has a half dozen of these.”
“Nice.” Kerry remarked. “One of the oil ones? Yeah, I smell it.” She shut the flashlight off to save its battery and extended her boots, letting her head rest against the wooden half wall. “Boy it’s been a long day.”
“No kidding.” Mark sat down on a box, and leaned his back against the wall of the shed. “Maybe we can get a nap in waiting for the rain.”
Kerry closed her eyes. “Sounds great to me.”
“This here’s a big old mess.” Andy said. “Ah swear.”
Dar was driving the golf cart, and now she was leaning her arms on the steering wheel , the plastic sides rattling in the downpour all around them.
Ahead of them was the dock, and there were still work lights on, but their glare was obscured by the rain and they were swinging wildly in the wind. Tied to the pylons, the boats in the marina were in dipping motion, even the protected waters choppy with froth.
“It’s a mess.” Dar agreed, with a sigh. “One step forward, two steps back. Been the story of my life this week.” She studied the dock, deciding whether they should run for it, and get onboard and get moving.
She was thinking about Kerry. About where she was, and where hopefully she was sheltered, protected from the storm that was currently lashing the palm trees that had not fallen in the previous weather, but were now bending as though Bob had, in fact, turned back on himself.
“Wall.” Andy said, after a long pause, where they both regarded the marina in silence.
“Let me see how far I can get out there.” Dar turned on the cart and took a bumpy path across downed limbs past piles of rubble down to the lower level of the marina. The dock was narrow, but she maneuevered slowly past the half sunk boats towards the far end.
Tied up alongside, both the Dixie and her parents boats were rocking in the choppy wake, rain sheeting off their fiberglass hulls.
Andy had never named his boat. He’d been content to take possession of the vessel with just it’s hull number, and that was that. It was longer than the Dixie, and a little wider, and now had a ramp braced across it’s back deck to facilitate loading and unloading from the dock.
Dar parked the cart near the wall, and for a moment the thunder softened a little, as they were in a bit of shelter. “You get that thing started, I’ll untie us?”
Andrew looked at her, one of his grizzled eyebrows hiking up. “How bout you steer.” He suggested. “Figure we’ll get on out of here faster with all that mess.” He indicated the wrack filled marina. “I done close to poked a hole in that thing last time I parked it.”
Dar smiled, silently accepting the unspoken compliment. “Sure.” She took the fob and stuck it in her pocket, then she unzipped the plastic and ducked out into the rain, grimacing a little as it lashed against her and she drew in a breath half air and half mist.
Rich and pungent and a mixture of the ozone smell of the water falling and the sharp crispness of the nearby sea as she crossed the dock and reached out for the railing of the boat, stepping over and onto the wooden surface of the ramp clamped onto the deck.
She wasted no time in climbing up to the flying bridge, a little different from hers, a little newer, with a Plexiglas housing around it to keep the rain off that she gratefully ducked into.
Below, in the flickering light of the work lamps in motion she saw her father untie the bow, and then head to the aft as she settled behind the console and got the engines started. Dual inboards like hers, but almost twice the power, and she could feel the rumbling difference transmitted to her through her feet on the deck.
She’d driven the bigger boat a few times before. It wasn’t as maneuverable as the Dixie due to it’s greater size but she tapped the throttles with confidence as they drifted away from the dock. Ahead of her, where the marina building had once stood she spotted one of the dockmasters, drawn out by the sound of the engines and watching her.
She lifted a hand up and waved at him, as he stood there in the rain, peering out from under his thick rubber hood. It was impossible to see his features but after a moment, as if in resignation, he lifted his hand and waved back, and then he turned and went back under the series of tarps that had been set up to shelter the material being used.
Andrew climbed up to join her and sat down in the second chair behind the console, folding his hands in his lap as he hooked his military boots on the stainless steel footrest, peering out from under his rain hood. “Ah do like this here night riding.”
Dar gave him a quick, sideways glance as she gently eased the boat out backwards, past the Dixie’s berth. “This?” She indicated the rain with her elbow, her tone one of mild disbelief.
“Sure.” Her father replied, amiably. “It’s just wet. Least it’s warm.”
“That is true.” Dar reached the open space in front of the marina entrance and swung the aft around, for a moment facing directly into the open gap, and watching the tide racing in before she shifted into forward and headed out into the channel. “I dunno. I’d rather just take a swim in the pool.”
It was very dark as she turned out into the channel, relying on the markers and the depth sounder for a backup as they moved past the island and it’s halo of lights.
The headwind was fierce. Dar could feel it shoving against the hull and it thrummed the Plexiglas cowl behind which they were standing. She turned off the floodlights and left the running beams on only, letting her eyes adjust to the shadows as they left the island behind.
“Ya’ll want you some night eyes?” Her father asked, after a minute or so.
“You have some?” Dar wasn’t surprised, when he opened a drawer in the console and withdrew a set of goggles, handing them over to her. She slid them on one handed and adjusted the fit, blinking a few times as the world adjusted from grays to oddly outlined flashes and almost colors.
After a minute of that, Dar removed the goggles and handed them back. “Too weird. I’m fine” She resumed her attention to the channel, judging the current and adding a little power to the engines, glad to feel the counter to the fast running current. “Tide’s coming out.”
“C’n feel it.” Andy agreed, as he put the goggles back in the drawer. “Figure they all made it to the office?”
“That’s where I’m going to start.” Dar said. “At least I can tie up there.”
“C’n find us a truck.”
There was a point, Kerry found, when you were so tired you really could sleep sitting up on a wooden bench in a stuffy shack, with only the random puff of damp air to cool you down.
Even dressed in sopping wet medical scrubs and wet hiking boots.
Not entirely a deep or particularly restful sleep, one of napping, and waking and napping again, shifting a little to attain a bit more comfort or relieve a cramp – but now at least she wasn’t’ dripping water on the concrete floor.
In a moment of waking, she regarded the dim and flickering light, coating the inside of the shed in mellow gold, the rumble of thunder from the outside and the pattering rattle of rain against the windows and the overhang.
Mark was curled up on a bag of.. gardening soil? Mulch? Kerry could barely see it and figured it didn’t much matter any more than the provenance of her bench did. It had been a long day, and at least for now this little shed provided all the shelter they could have reasonably asked for given everything.
She let her eyes close again, listening to the rain outside. As long as she could hear it, she knew they were in a holding pattern. There was no way for her to communicate, no way for her to let Dar know where she was, and no way for them to move on.
It gave her a sense of.. a moment of lack of anxiety. An internal acknowledgement that it was okay to just sit here, under a solid roof, waiting for the world outside to change so she could move on and do something else. The only worry she had was the worry of worry itself – knowing that out there, somewhere, Dar was wondering where she was.
Was she still on the island? Waiting for the rain to stop? Kerry smiled, sitting there with her eyes closed. No. Rain was meaningless to Dar. Not rain, not dark, not rough or strange waters, the only thing that would prevent her from searching is the fact she had no idea where to go.
So probably, Dar had gone or was going to the office. Just like Kerry had intended on doing. Just like they’d discussed, so at least, there was a starting point and when the rain stopped or the day came whichever first, that’s where they’d head.
A soft sound made her open one eye, to see the sleek, wet form of a small animal scoot through the door and then stop, clearly not expecting to find other living creatures inside. She opened her other eye. “Hey there little guy.”
It was a cat. There was no collar on it, and it was covered in thick muddy colored hair plastered all over it’s body whose ultimate color she could only guess at.
With a sneeze, the cat shook itself and sat down, shaking it’s paws one at a time and sending tiny spatters of mud across the floor.
Kerry watched it, and after a minute the cat moved over to near the door, but enough inside to be out of the rain. It sat down again and then tucked it’s paws under it, watching her in return with inscrutable eyes.
Okay. Well. Kerry closed her eyes again. If that was the… she paused in mid thought, as the sound of running footsteps drifted in on the breeze, not that close, but not far away either. She sighed, and opened her eyes, listening.
Near the door, the cat had also heard, and turned it’s round head, it’s pointed ears twitching.
Someone, possibly, trying to get out of the rain just like they had been. Kerry wondered if the faint light from their lamp would draw them over to the shed, or was the heavy downpour enough of an obscuring factor?
She reluctantly shook herself fully awake and stood up, watching the cat back away from her warily, scooting into the empty square space behind where she’d been sitting. She went to the door and stuck her head out, looking past the bike parked against the wall to the open space beyond.
Trees and debris and a curtain of rain were all she could see. The footsteps had faded. Then motion caught her attention and she looked over towards the gates they’d entered from, and saw four or five moving bodies, and now those footsteps echoed. “Ah.”
“What’s up?” Mark scrambled to his feet and came up next to her. “What’s going on?”
“People.” Kerry pointed at them. They were running past between the trees but then, one of them looked over and saw the shed and the light and yelled out. “Ah, crap.”
“Hey, probably just looking for shelter.” Mark said, reasonably. “We got space in here sorta.” He glanced around. “Well, maybe not.”
Kerry took as step back and looked around the shed, walking over and taking down a hoe from one of the hooks then leaning against it. “Let’s hope they’re friendly.”
“Why wouldn’t they be?” Mark asked. “I mean, we’re in a park.”
“We’re in something, behind a locked gate.” Kerry reminded him. “Maybe it’s a historical grounds?”
“Huh.” Mark opened the door all the way and squared himself into the entrance. “One way to find out. Hey!” He lifted his voice and gave the oncoming men a brief wave. “Hello?”
The nearest newcomer hauled up as he reached the overhang. “What the hell you doin in here boy?”
Mark stood his ground. “Staying out of the rain. What does it look like?” He, perhaps consciously, had deepened his tone, and braced his hands on either side of the doorframe. “The hell is your problem?”
“You’re trespassing, is my problem.” The man came up under the overhang. “This is private property.” He was dressed in a rain slicker, dark green, and a pair of rubberized pants with rubber boots, and was tall and well built. His face was bearded.
His dress wasn’t a uniform, but he had a large, long flashlight gripped in one hand and there was plenty of room in the rain jacket for a more deadly weapon.
Kerry figured a bit of dialog couldn’t hurt. She came up behind Mark, still holding her hoe, and peered past his shoulder. “We didn’t mean to.” She said. “It was just washing us off our bike.” She indicated the motorcycle. “Sorry about that.”
The sudden intrusion of her lighter, female voice made him take a step back. His attitude visibly changed. “Well, how’d you get in here?” He asked, glancing at the bike. “Somebody called us, said they saw people up by the wall.”
Two other men came up behind the first, all dressed in the green rubber raincoats. “John went to check the house, Robby. Make sure no one got in.” One of them said. “All kinds of trash out in the streets you never know what you got here.”
Robby, the tall bearded man, made room for them to come in out of the rain behind him onto the porch and for a moment it was a silent, uncomfortable standoff.
“We came in the gate.” Kerry provided, in a mild tone. “We were trying to ride back along the road and the rain was too hard.”
The silence lengthened. “That’s a nice bike.” One of the other men commented, after it had gone on what seemed like a very long time.
“Thanks.” Mark responded. “Not great in the middle of this though.” He indicated the rain. “We were just trying to get somewhere. The cops stopped us up near the U.”
A fourth man came up. “All clear by the house.” He reported. “Looks like it’s just these folks.”
“The gate was locked.” Robby said, eyeing them doubtfully. “I had to unlock it to get in.”
“Maybe we were just lucky.” Kerry responded. “It was open. I’m no locksmith.” She smiled at him. “I run an IT shop.”
Mark edged aside to let Kerry ease past him, recognizing the fact that she presented a more sympathetic figure. Even in the middle of the night and the middle of a deluge, guys were guys and even in damp hospital scrubs, Kerry was an attractive woman. “That’s where we were going.” He added. “Back to our shop down in the Grove.”
Two of the men had flashlights on and the combined glow of them outlined the concrete porch as they pointed the beams down at the ground, after they briefly outlined Kerry’s figure. The three that had arrived later all looked at Robby, who was, apparently their leader.
“Yeah, okay.” Robby said, after a pause. “I don’t blame you none. I’d have tucked out of the rain if I could, too.” He glanced around. “It’s just people get in here, y’know? Homeless and all that and mess around with the place and the old man, he didn’t cotton to that.”
Old man. Kerry frowned suddenly. “Sorry to ask this.” She said. “Would you mind telling me where we actually are? I’m not from around here.” She added, as an aside. “I’ve never been this far south in the Grove area.”
One of the others laughed a little bit. “No you sure ain’t. Where you from?” John asked. “You talk like a Northerner.”
“Michigan.” Kerry replied. “Little place called Saugatuck up on the lake.”
They all clustered closer, to get out of the downpour. “Well, ma’am.” Robby said. “You all are in a little place called Hunter’s Point.” He paused. “Sure you never heard of it.” He added. “Figures in the history round here way back though.”
Kerry blinked. “Hunter’s Point.” She repeated. “Are you kidding me?”
Robby looked surprised. “You have heard of it? Yeah, this is old man Hunter’s place.” He said. “He done passed, a bit ago we’ve been keeping it all tight like he’d want it.” He added. “My dad used to keep the grounds here. Old man treated him right.”
Kerry leaned back against the doorframe of the shed. “I’ve heard of it.” She agreed. “It’s really nice of you to keep an eye on it.. for his.. family?” She ventured. “Someone was telling me now his daughter..or maybe…”
“Yeah.” Robby said, briefly. “Something like that.” He said. “But I think he’d be all right with you all staying here in shelter. He wouldn’t mind ya, not you being up from Michigan. He had him a place up there, off one of them lakes.”
“Old man’d be all right with it.” John agreed, in a quietly assured voice. “He’d a liked that there bike I tell ya.” He took a step back and studied the Harley. “He woulda.”
Robby nodded. “Stick here.” He told them. “Lot of trees and stuff down and no lights.” He motioned for the rest of them to leave. “We’ll be back in the morning and open the gates up again so you can get out of here.”
“Thanks.” Kerry put her hands into her pockets, as she watched them leave, quickly disappearing into the curtain of rain that had turned the ground near the shed into a long stretch of racing off water. “Well.”
“Kinda jerky jerks.” Mark commented. “I went to high school with guys like that. Guys on the football team who beat up nerds in the locker room.” He leaned back against the doorframe. “Never saw the internet coming.”
“No one really did back then. But hey, they liked your bike.” Kerry turned and made her way back inside the shed, going to the center of the room and standing there in thoughtful silence.
Mark went back to his sack of garden matter and sat down. “Glad they chilled out.” He sighed. “They liked my bike, but I think they liked you more.” He chuckled. “Ma’am.”
Kerry smiled briefly. “Wonder what they would have said if I’d told them there is a slightly more than zero chance I actually half own this place.” She looked around the inside of the shed, seeing it now with a odd shifting of perception.
“Say what?” Mark sat there, legs splayed, hands propped against the sacking. “This place???”
Kerry went over and sat down again on her bench. “You know we’ve been looking for a new house.” She said. “Before the storm hit, Dar came over to look at a place called Hunter’s Point, it was for sale.” She looked around. “Has to be this place right? Couldn’t be two of them.”
Mark continued staring at her. “You guys bought this?” He seemed unable to process it. “Man, I’ve heard stories about this place my whole life. The whole thing with him refusing to use the property, and being a pissant to the county and holy crap? This? It’s a historical something isn’t it?”
“Something, yeah. Well. We tried to.” Kerry said. “It was all happening before Bob came through. There was a bunch of legal stuff and I don’t know if it all went through or what happened. Probably not, now that I think about it but isn’t it funny we ended up here?”
“It is. Now I really wish it was morning so I could see the place.” Kerry drummed her heels on the floor. “Dar said she thought I’d like it.” She said. “She did. She said it was big enough for me to have a herd of cows on the property.”
“You want a herd of cows?”
“No.” Kerry chuckled. “I asked her if there was room for a garden.”
“Huh.” Mark shook his head a little. “That’s crazy. But now I wish it was light too I wanna see it.”
Kerry checked her watch. “That and Dixie’s coffee maker.” She muttered. “C’mon sun.”
“No freaking kidding.”
They could hear the office before they saw it, once Dar had shut down the engines and they were tied to the makeshift dock.
The sailing club was still in it’s woebegone state, it was obvious no one had done anything to it, no bit of debris had been moved, save the flotsam and jetsam they had used to create their footpath.
The building next door, a high-priced restaurant, had been swept clean by the storm surge and was equally abandoned, so when they could hear the sounds of salsa music echoing out of the rainy darkness it was relatively simple to guess where it was coming from.
“What the world?” Andy finished tying up the boat and straightened up, planting his hands on his hips.
Dar pulled her rain hood up. “Lets go find out.” She was glad to have the gear on, despite the muggy heat as the rain drove against them, the choppy water rocking the boat against the pier and she ducked her head a little as they headed into the wind onto the shore.
They got onto the tree strewn pathway and climbed up through the debris on the back of the club. A broken shutter flapped in the wind, smacking against the concrete wall.
Past the club they climbed back down onto the roadway and then crossed the road between the shoreline and where the office was, and now in conjunction with the music, they could see the low gleam of lamps inside the windows on the lower floor.
Dar searched the front of the building as they approached the doorway, feeling a sense of disappointment when she didn’t spot Mark’s bike. “Damn it.” She’d been hoping it was just the rain keeping them in radio silence. “They’re probably under an overpass somewhere.”
“With that bike? Something like it.” Andrew said. “Shoulda set them up with a Humvee.”
Dar eyed him. “We have any?”
They turned the corner and approached the front door, and then halted as a dark figure blocked their path, along with the sound of a gun being cocked.
“Yo boy.” Andy started forward again. “What’re you all doing out heah?”
“Hey.” The figure stepped back and pushed the door open for them. “Had some trouble before. Mick and Garvy are round the back.” He lifted a hand. “Hey there, ma’am. Got a little party going on inside.”
“So I hear.” Now in the reflection Dar recognized Jerry, tucked into a sheltered spot near the door with a large thermos nearby. “Carlos in there?”
“Big boy? Sure.” Jerry settled back onto his perch, shifting his gun into the crook of his arm. “They’ll be glad to see ya.”
They entered the hallway and turned the corner and stopped in surprise at the crowd of people clustered around long folding tables. “What the heck?” Dar muttered. “Who are all these people?”
Andy was staring past her. “Ah’m sure ah do not know.”
Carlos spotted them. “Hey guys!” He yelled a greeting over the music. “C’mon over!” He gestured to someone standing in the doorway to the small downstairs kitchen. “Hey turn it down a little. The boss is here.”
There were at least forty people in the hallway. There were big fans on either end of the long corridor and damp, cool air was being pulled in from outside and circulated around the folding tables that held all sorts of miscellaneous food and drink on them.
There was a hotpot, three coolers full of ice, a slow cooker, all with cables dangling over the side of the table and a long extention cord running down the hall and out the loading dock door. The music quieted a little, and now the sound of a generator was clearly heard from that direction.
Dar was halfway down the tables before she realized she did know some of the people. Aside from Carlos and his buddies, and Celeste’s co workers from ILS, two of Scott’s old friends were there, and their landlord. The folks who she didn’t know were looking at her with deep interest and Dar figured if she didn’t know them, apparently they knew about her.
“Hi.” She offered a general greeting.
“Lo.” Andrew added, from just behind her. “You all having a party?”
“Hey Dar, hey Mr. R.” Carlos was seated on a duct taped stool holding a plastic cup of what looked like beer. “We got stuff left from the grill. Ya hungry?”
“No, we got some stuff back at the house.” Dar said. “We got the internet up over there.”
“Yeah?” Carlos said. “We heard from the cops they might have some cell service up here tomorrow, maybe tomorrow night.”
Their landlord came over. “Hey guys. Sorry about what happened before the storm.”
“Ya’ll should be.” Andrew said, sternly. “This here’s a responsibility you done had.”
“Didn’t even know it was happening.” The young gay man shrugged a little bit. “Soon as I heard, I did what I could but they said you already took care of it.” He explained. “And you did a great job! I saw some of those other places on the way in here. Holy moly.”
“Still a lot of damage.” Dar said. “The skylights all leaked.”
He nodded. “Carlos told me when I got here. I went and looked.” He said. “I’ll have an appraiser come over. I have a guy who works with us.”
“Hey, what’s up with Kerry?” Carlos spoke up. “They making it down here? Must be if you guys are here. But that weather’s crap.”
Andrew circled the table and went over to two of his buddies, who were relaxing on a table near the end of the hallway.
“Glad those guys were here.” Carlos said, coming over to stand next to Dar. “We had about a dozen thug types come around when we were grilling. Said they were the neighborhood protection squad.” He cleared his throat. “We put a guard on the front after that.”
“Yeah they ran like crazy when big A’s buds came around the corner with those machine guns. It was kinda funny, but it wouldn’t have been, you know what I mean?” He glanced around at the crowd, most of whom had gone back to their casual conversation. “I don’t mind a little scrapping but it wasn’t really the time or the place for it.”
“No.” Dar settled onto one of the stools near the wall. “So what was their pitch? “ She folded her arms over her chest. “I mean, what were they going to protect you from? A truck of their buddies?” She asked. “Or were they offering to sell you stuff they poached?”
“Said no cops were around, so we were sitting ducks.” Carlos said. “I was just getting done saying hey, we just fed us some cops when the spooks came up behind me rattling their triggers.” He said. “That one guy, Hank? He’s a scary dude.”
“Most of my father’s friends are a little out there.” Dar admitted with a brief smile. “I’ve had them around so long I don’t notice it anymore.”
Carlos regarded her. “Your pop’s a little scary.” He said. “Come to that, boss, no offense but you’re a little scary so that don’t surprise me you thinking that’s normal.” He glanced behind him. “But I think these guys are sort of enjoying this whole thing a little.”
Dar regarded the three men at the end of the table. “Yeah, could be.” She exhaled. “Anyway, I was hoping Kerry and Mark would be back here by now. They got stuck at the checkpoint at the U about two hours ago or so.”
“That’s not that far.” Carlos looked at his watch. “So where the hell are they?”
“Wasn’t raining then.” Dar said. “Figure they’re under some shelter waiting for it to stop.” She pondered that. “But after what you just told me, now I’m wondering how many of those gangs are out there.”
“Poof.” Carlos looked a little concerned. “If they were at the U two hours ago… man, that’s only like fifteen minutes from here unless they ran into debris or that stuff. It’s pretty dark out there too.” He put down his cup. “Maybe we should go look for them.”
“Yeah.” Dar drew the word out slowly. “I was hoping they’d get ramp fixed so I could bring the truck over but they’re not done yet.”
“Hey Dardar?” Andrew came over. “We got us a Humvee. Ya’ll wanna go out and find them two?”
“You got a hummer?” Carlos looked impressed.
“Tch.” Andy grunted. “None of that candy assed stuff, a real one.”
A Humvee! “Absolutely.” Dar felt a sense of relief. “I know roughly which way they were going to take. But I know Mark’s not going to want to leave that bike.”
“Got us a trailer hitched up’ll take care of that.” Andy clapped her on the shoulder. “Lets go. Hank was using it to haul his landscaping stuff round.”
“Problem solved.” Carlos said. “I’m gonna go see if those cops are out there still. Let them know we’re looking for some people.” He motioned one of his buddies over. “C’mon, lets go for a walk, get your Gore Tex on.” He headed towards the door, reaching for one of the large raincoats hanging on a door edge nearby.
“Lord. Wall, that can’t do harm anyhow.” Andy pulled his hood up again as Hank came over, giving Dar a big grin, and a thumbs up. “C’mon, boy. Lets us go hunting round here.”
Hank was a stocky man of middle height, and the distinctive scar of a cleft palate. His eyes were deep set and he had one earlobe stretched out with a round bone earring. “Yo, junior.” He greeted Dar. “How’s it?”
He had a lisp and a scar on his neck and there was a little crazy around the edges of his smile, and Dar had known him since childhood. “Hey Hank.” She returned the greeting. “How are ya?”
“Having me some fun.” Hank told her, with a twinkle in his eye. He patted the stock of the automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. “Lets go find ya friends.”
Dar was glad enough to follow her father and Hank out, moving from the faintly stuffy and slightly beer scented air inside back out into the rain, relieved to be doing something to find Kerry instead of just waiting around.
Waiting, and having stilted and uncomfortable conversations with their landlord and the homeless military vets who had been Scott’s erstwhile family and clashed with her more than once and were now sheltering inside her office.
She shook her head and then she looked up as an engine fired to see a camo painted Humvee parked in front of the office with an equipment trailer hitched up behind it. It was an older model, with some battered panels and bent fenders, and a ramming grid mounted on the front.
There was a machine gun on the roof, covered in a heavy tarp, and the exhausts were piped up with snorkles that tipped up over the roof of the vehicle. “That’ll do.” Andy said, with satisfaction.
“Found it at a auction.” Hank was behind the wheel, warming up the engine. “Spent a year fixin it up.” He added. “Aint great on gas, but pulls the hell out of my stuff and people leave it alone.” He settled into the seat. “I got a job to cut them up some trees at Bayside tomorrow.”
Dar got in the back behind the driver’s seat, glancing up at the hatch that would allow someone to stand and fire the gun. “That thing have bullets?”
“Sure.” Hank waited for Andy to slid into the passenger front seat and close the door. “Almost put a water cannon up there but it leaked all over the place. Pain in my ass.” The floor of the truck was bare steel, dented and scuffed and now almost completely covered in mud.
“Nice.” Dar complimented him, and meant it.
He put the truck into gear. “Where’we going, junior?”
“Do not call her that.” Andrew frowned.
“She don’t care.” Hank asserted. “Hey?”
“Head south on Main.” Dar felt the vibration of the engine all the way through the frame of the military truck. Now that her eyes had adjusted she could see the belted armament container under the gun and tucked into slings behind both seats were handguns.
It was a little like being inside a Mad Max movie, only it was raining and they were in Miami instead of some desert somewhere. “They let you roam around with that up there?” She returned her attention to the machine gun.
“Today? Sure.” Hank started out along the road, running the Humvee over the road bumps with a jarring motion. “Don’t usually. Scares the civs.” He looked both ways. “Cops where I live know I’m crazy they leave me alone.”
Dar wasn’t really sure the National Guard or the cops would appreciate the blatant arms, regardless of what was going on around them, but as it was dark as the inside of a gorilla’s butt and there were roaming gangs of curiously weenie racketeers she supposed it would be all right.
The musty smell of canvas and gun oil called up memories of her childhood and she relaxed against the hard seat, bracing her boots on the floor as the truck rumbled through the dark streets and they got to the main street in the Grove, the eponymous Main.
Very different from her life now but there was a part of her that remembered those times with a deep fondness, a brief glimpse of a might have been and a childhood spent in a world apart from what she knew now. She glanced up into the oversized rearview mirror and met Hank’s eyes, and smiled.
He smiled back, and winked at her.
They turned left and they started through the town, and as they went from the business area into the southern parts Dar now saw in fact, groups of figures around, mostly under the overhangs of buildings staying out of the rain.
“What’d them cops say?” Andy asked, after a few quiet moments.
Hank shrugged. “Came for food.” He said. “Said they’d picked up couple dozen looters and ran em up to the jail and ran out some dudes selling water for twenty bucks a jug.” He slowed down as they came to an intersection with no lights and some surprising but light cross traffic.
The cars on the road were going along slowly, most had more than one person in them. “Sightseers.” Hank commented. “Jackass.”
“Maybe.” Andy watched them move past. “Out looking for something that’s sure.”
“Maybe they’re just enjoying the air conditioning.” Dar remarked dryly from the back seat. “Maybe we should close down the office and send all those people home.” She added. “Are we idiots back there in the middle of a blacked out city?”
“Think goin home’s safer for em?” Andy glanced at her in the rearview mirror. “Don’t think so, Dardar. Least they got folks around em and cops stopping by.” He looked out the window as they passed a group of men huddled under an overhang. “Back in the back there, no tellin.”
The group of men turned their heads and watched them go by, one of them pointing at the truck as they all took a step back more firmly against the building wall.
“That’s probably true.” Dar admitted. “Look at some of these streets. You can’t even see a hundred feet through all the down trees and light poles.” She knew there were houses back behind them, and once in a while she could see the brief glimpse of a lamp.
“I like that place you got back there.” Hank chimed in. “Once you close off that gate on the back it’s pretty good to keep critters out.”
“Cept that damn cat.” Andy chuckled.
“People critters. Its like a little fort, with that place in the middle.”
Dar thought about that, as they moved through the intersection, realizing that Hank was right. The office was a four sides around the middle open space and it was a little fort like in that regard.
Though the windows were all jalousie and it wasn’t really defensible to any serious attack, still, there were only two real entrances, the loading dock and the front door. Totally unintended but there it was. “You got a point there.” She said.
“Yeap.” Andy had a flashlight and he now had one hand extended into the rain with the light in it and he was sweeping the side streets as they rolled through the darkness, leaving the stores and commercial streets behind and entered a shadowy maze of downed trees.
The rain increased, thundering on the roof of the Humvee, and a mist of it blew in the windows, dusting Dar’s face with it. She blinked it out of her eyes and took in the richly mineral scent, licking some droplets of it off her lips. “Turn down along Monroe towards the water.”
Hank obeyed turning left off the main road and down a treelined street where trees had been blown down in all directions, and some work had been done to clear a few trunks out of the way. The Humvee went off the road and around the debris with relative ease, and through the rain they could smell the scent of newly cut wood.
“Sombody been through here with a chainsaw.” Andrew observed. “You think they went down here, Dar?”
“I told Kerry to get to the coast.” Dar said, absently. “Find someplace with a dock I could get the Dixie into.” She shifted and stuck her head out of the window, ignoring the rain. “There aren’t that many places… most of that stretch past here is residential.”
“Well, we can’t get past this.” Hank pulled the truck to a halt, as they came up on a huge ficus tree, turned on it’s side and blocking the entire throughway. Someone had been working at it, there were chunks of it missing, but a backhoe was parked in the rain nearby, the cab covered in a tarp.
“They couldn’t either.” Dar remarked. “Let’s try the next street.”
“Could they all be tucked up near that school?” Andrew asked. “Maybe didn’t get down this far.”
“Could be.” Dar agreed. “Might have tried coming down Hardee.”
“Lets buzz by Sacred Heart first. They got that old fashioned carport thing.” Hank suggested. “Maybe they went under that.” He turned the truck around and went back up the road, turning back onto Main and continuing down into a heavy wash of rain.