Fair Winds and Following Seas
She’d woken up too much. Kerry regarded the darkness outside, watching the rain fall through the partially opened door. Mark had fallen back to sleep, curled up on his sack full of mulch but the brief interaction they’d had with the erstwhile guardians of the property now had her mind going too much for her to sleep.
And she wished she had something to drink.
And she wished it would stop raining, so she could go outside and try to call Dar.
She tipped her head back and looked up at the ceiling of the shed. It was wooden, but even in the low light she could see the pale strips of hurricane strapping, and the walls were concrete block. No matter the condition of the rest of the property this, at least had been built to current code.
The floor her boots were resting against was also concrete, and it had a slight decline to it, into the center where she could see the outline of a drain.
So they could wash the place down, she figured. But why would they want to do that in a garden shed? It’s where she’d expect to find dirt, after all.
She got up off the bench and stretched her body out, turning to regard the space with a bit more curiousity, putting her hands on the half wall she’d been sitting against and looking over it into the square portion behind it.
It was concrete floored as well, the same faintly slanted surface and in the center of it, another drain. She looked down on the inside of the wall, surprised to find a bin fastened to the inside of it.
Agreeably glad to find a little something to engage her restless brain she walked around the half wall and into the other space and went over to the bin, leaning closer to examine it. It was a thick plastic, and in the corner there was a second, this one with a hole in the bottom.
Kerry straightened up and frowned, planting her hands on her hips and she studied the bins. Then she turned around and looked at the rest of the space, realizing that there was another door in the outer wall, with a split top and bottom that could be swung outward.
It seemed well fastened, and not much used, but as she touched the surface she wondered, a faint flicker of memory from their recent vacation surfacing.
Was it a stable? She turned around in a circle and regarded the clean, silent space. There was room, she thought, room enough for a horse to be kept in the square space and the bins maybe were where they kept it’s food. She looked at the second bin. Maybe kept it’s water in there.
A horse. Kerry regarded the door, then she walked over to the half wall and realized there were eyebolts on both sides of the opening, where something could have been strung up to block entrance into it and figured yeah.
A horse. But a horse in the middle of Coconut Grove?
Well. Kerry leaned on the half wall and looked at the rest of the space. Definitely full of gardening tools and implements there was no doubt of it’s purpose, but the cabinets and shelves that ringed the walls really could be used for anything.
Why not for a small stable? She smiled faintly, and wondered if Dar had seen the little shack. The thought of a horse living there in the past would have made her smile. She thought back to the day Dar had visited the place and faintly shook her head. No, she hadn’t mentioned it.
But then, why would they have spent time looking at a garden shed? On that day, with the storm bearing down on them and all that going on? Surely the broker had merely mentioned it, maybe pointed at it as they made their way up to the house.
The house. Kerry looked off into the distance, wondering what condition the house was in, that they might be responsible for. Were they now obligated for a money pit the size of Biscayne Bay?
Along with everything else? She knew half their projects would be canceled, who knows how many customers would back out, be wiped out, no longer calling, or making preparations they’d done for jobs now nothing but unfunded expense.
Now the thought that they’d gambled on buying property on the cusp of disaster seemed the most idiotic of things they could possibly have done.
Kerry sighed. Why hadn’t they thought of that? About what would happen if they had to do things like rebuild the office, and not have customers and they needed that funding to keep the company afloat while things got back together?
What if that stupid landlord ran out on them and they never heard from him again? What if they were left holding that bag? She thought about that for a moment. Well, what if that happened? They would just have to find some other place to park.
Just like they’d spun up out of nothing, maybe they’d have to do it again. Kerry went around the half wall and over to the door, pushing it all the way open and emerging onto the overhung porch.
It was still raining. But the incessant downpour seemed to have eased somewhat and she could see the path they had come up from the road on, and how it curved along the trees and disappeared again into the darkness. She glanced at her watch. “Jesus. Is it only nine pm?”
Her clothes at least were now dry. She could smell the faintly antiseptic scent from them, and standing out in the slight breeze felt good.
The darkness drew her, now that she knew where she was, and it was almost impossible for her not to emerge out into the rain, and start exploring the property as idiotic as she knew an idea that was.
There were a lot of trees. She sighed. So that wall they’d been driving along was part of the place too. Did that mean they’d be able to let the dogs roam at will all over? “Oh my god they’ll love that.” She spent a moment imagining their pets racing around.
It was obvious, too, that one thing they would have here was privacy. She turned and measured the distance to the outer wall, and then she shaded her eyes and tried to peer through the trees to where she assumed the house was. Real privacy.
Shutting their door gained them that where they lived now, but she was always conscious of their condo’s shared construction no matter how well built the walls and this…. Dar had been right. She could keep a herd of sheep to crop the grass here and no one would know.
They could, actually, keep a horse in the little stable.
Would Dar like that? Kerry knew there were horse ranches not that far away and wondered how difficult it would be to figure out how to buy one and would it like living here?
Kerry looked around at the expansive grounds. Now that she was seeing them it seemed impossible obtaining them could have happened so easily and she acknowledged that these grandiose thoughts of buying horses and potential herds of sheep were ridiculous.
But fun to think of. She folded her arms and leaned back against the wall of the shed. More entertaining than thinking of the whole company going down the tubes anyway.
Reluctantly, she turned and went back inside the shed and sat down on the bench, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, checking the face of her watch and willing the time to pass faster.
Through the faint sounds of rain coming through the door, she then heard footsteps, coming her way.
“This here’s a big old mess.” Andy said, reflectively. “Maybe them kids figured they weren’t gonna get down this way and went on back.”
“That would make sense.” Dar agreed. They were standing outside the Humvee in their rain gear, where Main Highway met some of the feeder streets that angled off to the west and where a huge ficus tree had collapsed to block the way in both directions.
And the streets going right angles to it were flooded, so deeply none of them thought a motorcycle would have been easily gotten through it.
A ficus, and three light poles, and an overturned eighteen wheel truck whose sides were gashed open and evidence around it that the gashes had been pried open further and items removed.
“Too bad.” Hank said. “This was getting fun.” He said, in a mournful tone.
Dar wouldn’t really characterize it quite that way. She tugged her hood up a bit more, looking around and trying to figure out what their next steps should be.
Go back to the office? That was probably the smartest thing to do.
But wait. She blinked and squinted a little, willing the gray shadows to resolve in the distance around the back of where the tree had emerged.
“What’cha looking at, Dardar?” Andy came up behind her and looked over her shoulder.
“Can we get through there?” She pointed at the corner of the road, where the tree’s roots had come up and exposed a large hole. Behind it there seemed to be a bit of a gap. “Back in that corner there, between that concrete light pole and the bench?
“Sure.” Hank got back behind the wheel and started up the engine, while they scrambled in behind him. “Gonna be tough to make that turn with the trailer but we’ll give ‘er a try.” He put the truck in gear and rumbled over the divider in the road, running right over a collapsed street sign.
“Got to remember not to back your ass up doing that.” Hank commented, as they went down the other side of the median and heard the harsh clanging as the trailer bumped over after them. “Get all mashed up in the transaxel.”
“Yeap.” Andy had his flashlight out and he was focusing it on the gap. “Got you a car blocking that on t’other side, ah can see it.”
“Not fer long.”
Dar debated closing her eyes, then she just grabbed hold of the rigid framework of her seat and looked sideways out the open window as the truck rammed through the gap she’d seen, the front bumper ripping apart one of the branches.
The truck tipped onto it’s side as they ran over the bench and she was glad of her grip as they almost went over enough to take on water through the window on Andy’s side. He had one hand latched onto the gap where the gun was fastened and looked completely unfazed by motion.
They were over the bench in a moment and righted themselves, landing back upright with a jarring bang as they got through the open space and dragged the trailer behind them.
Dar resisted the impulse to look behind them, focusing on the path ahead instead as the front windshield repelled the rain and gave her a reasonable view. “No way they came through here.”
“No way.” Andy agreed, as they plowed into a deep flow of water and it sloshed over the floorboards. “Be up over the engine in that there thing.”
They got through and ended up past the crossroads, and found flooding in all directions. “Well. Damn.” Dar sighed. “Lets see if it gets any better off to the west.”
“Sure.” Hank cheerfully put the truck into a lower gear and they lurched forwards. “Getting the inside washed fer free here. All good, y’all, all good.”
There were no people around, not unreasonably. Between the rain and the flooding, and the residential streets the opportunity for looting would be less lucrative. “Probably focused around that truck back there. Wonder what was in it?” Dar said.
“Beer.” Andy responded. “Had it a Budweiser picture on it.” He added. “Probl’y still half full I reckon.”
Hank chuckled. “Hey it’s not that bad.” He said. “You a beer fan, junior?”
“Not really.” Dar answered absently. “Kerry’s the alcohol expert in the house. I’ll drink what’s put in front of me.” She watched the wake from the truck roll out in front of them. “But I’ve never really been a drinker.” She glanced to her left. “Hang on, can we go down that way?”
Hank looked at her in the rearview. “East? You said go west.”
“Yeah, I know. Lets just go down that way for a minute.”
With a shrug, Hank turned the wheel and hauled on it, changing direction and then running the Humvee up and over the center island that was covered in water. “Hang on.”
The street she’d spotted was overhung with trees and full of debris. But as they bumped up over the curb and down again and plowed through the flooded area and down the lane after a minute the water subsided. “Goin up a little.”
Dar nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Seemed like it was higher there.”
“Big old mess.” Andy fell back on his original complaint. “Lord it’s gonna take a age to get this sorted out.”
It was full of fallen branches and on either side, dark and abandoned houses with no sign of any life at all and Dar hoped that it was because their owners had prudently sheltered elsewhere.
The road angled a little to the northeast, and then out of the gloom the houses disappeared and with a faint curve they were going alongside a wall.
Andy shone his flashlight on it. It was at least eight feet tall, and old, coral construction that was no longer allowed. “Looks like the base of that there cabin of yours down south.” He commented. “Lot of that down these parts from back when.”
Dar stared at it for a minute. “Oh.” She said, after a brief, surprised pause. “Crap this must be Hunters Point.” She stuck her head out of the passenger side window into the rain. “Didn’t realize we were…. Huh.” The whole issue of the Point and the deal bubbled up in her memory. “No idea what happened with that.”
Andrew was now also looking at it with far more interest. “Do tell.”
Hank slowed his roll, looking through the front windshield at the barrier. “That the crazy guy place?”
“Yeap.” Andy agreed. “Sure is.” He regarded it. “Nice big old wall. Ah do like that.”
“Ain’t nobody down here for sure. Been empty for years.” Hank supplied. “You think maybe they… he looked down the wall. “No place to hunker down.” He glanced at Andy, then at Dar. “Turn around?”
“There’s some gates up ahead. Lets see if they’re open.” Dar leaned on the window sill. “If they saw the flooding and turned down here, they might have gone in, especially if Kerry realized where she was.”
“Yeap.” Andy nodded in satisfaction. He turned to look at Hank, who was looking at them with a puzzled expression. “Dar went and bought this here property.”
“Tried to.” Dar demurred. “No idea how that worked out. Richard never called me back before the storm hit.”
Hank brought the truck to a halt. “Say what?” He said in a tone of utter disbelief. “Y’all bought that old crazy mule’s place? For real?” He asked. “Didn’t think that old man’d ever sell to nobody!”
“Died. Gal he left it to didn’t want it.” Andy gave him a poke. “G’wan and drive ovah to them gates.”
“Jesus P Fish.” Hank shook his head and put the truck back into gear, gunning the engine and sending them trundling forward, the trailer bumping and clanking along behind them as the road went dry and the sound of the tires went from a slosh to an almost sizzle. “That old place. Sonova sonova.”
“Gate’s locked.” Dar peered through them, looking into the darkness. Despite the rain behind her she thought she could hear voices ahead. “Dad, check that little door over there. That’s how we got in when we were here.”
Obligingly, Andrew pulled his hood up and went over to the side of the gates, turning on his flashlight and examining the other entrance.
“Get out the way, junior.” Hank was standing on the running board of the truck, his lights blaring past Dar to illuminate the area beyond the gates. “Ain but take a minute, knock those suckers down.”
Dar was looking at the chain. “How about breaking this instead?” She said. “If I do own this place, I don’t want to have to worry about replacing the damn gates.” She looked up at the tall, intricate wrought iron. “That didn’t come from Home Depot.”
Hank came over and looked at it. “Oh yeah. No problem. Hang on.” He went back to the front of the truck, where an industrial winch was bolted, and unlocked it, bringing over a hook. “Gimme that.”
“Locked up here Dardar.” Andrew came back.
“That’ll do.” Hank clipped the hook into the chain wrapped around the gates and went back to the truck. “You all get out the way there. Them bits’ll fly everywhere when it snaps.”
Dar and Andy obediently backed off, going over to the smaller entryway and getting out of the rain as Hank put the Humvee into reverse.
Dar peered through the iron grate in the smaller door, watching the shadows and glare of the headlights play out.
“Y’all think she’s in there.” Andy said, after a long moment of silence.
“I do” Dar answered in a tone of calm certainty. “I’m not into any of that mental garbage but I know what this feels like.” She admitted. “Its like a string pulling me.”
Andy chuckled. “Ah don’t know nothing bout that, Dardar, but I can smell on the ground here that motorcycle likely came through.” He indicated the small space. “Scuffed them up some leather and somesuch on the edge there.”
Dar inhaled a little, now realizing she could smell the faintest hint of gasoline and oil. “Here?” She touched the mark on the wall.
“Here we go!” Hank yelled from outside, and threw the Humvee into reverse, the trailer bumping up and over the median behind him. “Watch it! Gotta back up it jammed the damn winch.”
“Lord.” Andy looked out at the truck as it pulled the cable taut and they could hear the whine of the winch motor. “Wish we just had us a bolt cutter.”
Dar started to chuckle then she turned as she heard a yell coming from inside the compound. “Uh oh.” She turned and peered through the grate, seeing dark, running bodies in motion, several heading for them. “Oh boy.”
“Lord.” Andy stepped out into the rain. “Hurry it up!” He circled fist in the air. “Got comp’ny!”
A group of the shadows split off and headed to the left and she heard more yells, the words in them cut off by the rain and the wind, but then a lighter tone cut through it and she grabbed the smaller door and shook it hard, leaning back to pull against it with her weight as she recognized the sound.
It stayed firmly locked, and so she abandoned it, darting out into the rain and turning to regard the wall. Eight feet? Nine? Didn’t matter.
She hiked up the sleeves on her jacket and took two long steps, crouching and then leaping up to catch the top of the concrete and coral surface and hoping she’d get a purchase on it. The top had a bit of an edge, and she gripped hard, hoping now that it would hold and not send her flying back flat on her ass.
It held. She hauled herself upward and swung her body up onto the top of the wall with a grunt.
“Dar!” Andy yelled from behind her. “Hang on a… “
Too late. Dar was up and pressing her body over before the echo of her father’s startled yell faded, adrenaline pumping through her as she let herself drop to the ground, grimacing a little as the distance jarred her bones and nearly sent her sprawling in the sodden, slippery leaves.
She heard the crackling twang as the chain broke, and the roar of the truck’s engine, but now she heard urgency in the yells and what she thought was the sound of a gun.
Then she took off running.
“Now what?” Kerry got up and got to the door, hearing now more than one person running and the sound of an engine not that far off. “Mark!”
“Huh?” Mark’s head jerked upright, and he blinked. “Wh.. what’s going on?”
“No idea.” Kerry said. “Someone’s… I think there’s lights by the gates… “ She walked out of the shed and looked that way, seeing headlights. “Yeah.. not sure…”
Mark was at her shoulder, rubbing his eyes. “What the hell’s that all about?”
Now the footsteps were heading in their direction, and they could see a half dozen men running towards them. “Those guys are armed.” Mark said. “Same guys as before?”
“No way to tell.” Kerry took a step back into the shed and looked around. “Anything here to… huh.”
“Yeah I just came back down on wish you’d brought that gun.” Mark retreated at her heels and closed the door behind him. “There’s nothing but.. oh, well, a bucket. Or that wheelbarrow.”
“Or a hoe.” Kerry took one off the wall and examined it. “Too bad it’s not a scythe.”
Mark looked at her. “You know how to use a scythe, boss?”
“Hell no.” Kerry hefted the hoe in her hand. “I can’t barely use a potting shovel. But it sounds good.” She handed him the hoe and took a rake for herself, and they turned as the door was flung open and the rain came inside along with the thick, pungent scent of rubber. “Hey!”
“Get out!” The man, a stranger, yelled. “We got trouble here! Go on! Go up by the house! Fore you get hurt!”
“What’s going on?” Kerry asked. “Is someone coming in the gates?”
“Get out!” The man came forward and two more came in after him. “Get hold of these people and get them up by the house. We don’t got time to be arguing with them.”
“Hey wait a minute.” Mark protested, as two of them grabbed him by the arm, one taking the hoe out of his hands and tossing it in the corner. “Hey stop! Hold on guys!”
The first one, tall and bearded, and drenched, went for Kerry. Instinctively, she took a step back and swung the rake across her body, whacking him in the hand with it. “Hey!” She let out a yell. “Stop it! Leave us alone!”
“You’re gonna get hurt!” The man shook his hand, sucking in a breath. “Damn you lady, we just want to get you someplace safe! We got some yahoos in a damn army truck breaking down the gates now come on!” He dodged her rake and grabbed her arm, then he turned and without much effort he hauled her up and over his shoulder. “John! Get him and let’s go!”
Startled speechless, Kerry found herself half upside down, the breath knocked out of her. She scrabbled for a hold on the slick raincoat and dropped the rake. “Stop! Ow! Hold it! Let me down!”
“We should go with em, Ker.” Mark held his hands up and hastened to the door. “Who knows what that all is.”
“Mark.” Kerry half growled under her breath. “What are the odds, if people showed up at the gates here, in an army truck that we don’t know them?” She twisted as they went through the doorway and then they were in the rain and a rumble sounded overhead. “STOP IT!”
Off in the distance she could hear a high pitched whine and the rumble of a heavy engine.
“They’se breaking the gates!” A man’s voice shouted nearby. “Get the shotgun! Hurry!”
“I’m goin up to the house!” The man carrying her yelled. “Those f’n cops ain’t worth shit they’re scared to come down here.”
“F’n army truck with a machine gun I don’t’ blame them!” One of the men hauling Mark along bawled back. “Move move! “C’mon! We gotta get under cover where we can hold em off!”
The man carrying Kerry started to run and then she was just hanging on for dear life as they threaded between heavy trees and over rough ground. “Buddy!” She finally caught her breath. “Let me down so I can talk to those guys.”
“Crazy woman!” The man said. “Just shut up and we’ll be there in a minute.”
He was traveling up hill now, and outpaced the two with Mark, going off on a side path. “Lemme get up onto the… oh crap someone’s coming.”
Kerry could hear the racing footsteps heading their way. “Oh boy.”
“Shit.” The man said. “C’mon, one more minute and I’ll be there…”
Kerry couldn’t see behind her and yet she didn’t really need to. “Stop and let me down or we’re both going to get hurt.” She yanked on his hood. “Dude, stop!”
“John, I’m there!” He ignored her, letting out a bellow. “Go in the back!”
With a deep breath Kerry suddenly arched her body, yanking herself to one side as hard as she could, as she caught her boot against a tree and shoved away from it with every ounce of effort she could muster, struggling to get herself free from his grip.
He was going uphill and lost his balance. “Shit!”He yelled, and with a truly heroic effort he twisted in mid air and landed on the side Kerry wasn’t on, releasing her to roll free and thump hard against a tree stump to one side of the path. “What in the hell you do that for you..”
He scrambled around and got to his feet and turned and was hit by a freight train coming from the dark, from between the trees, traveling at speed that didn’t even slow down an instant before it plowed into him, lifting his body up and sending it into a deep hollow between the trees full of mud and leaves.
He sprawled there and then there was the sound of an engine nearby and the headlights outlined them in stark blue light and he looked up through it at the tall figure facing him with half clenched fists dressed in rain gear that obscured all other detail.
“That’s why I did that.” Kerry pulled herself upright with one of the tree roots sticking out. “Oof.”
Dar abandoned the seated man once she realized he was done resisting and then went over to her, offering a hand up. “You okay?” She asked anxiously, shoving her hood back and ignoring the rain. “Wow I’m glad to see you.”
“Wow I’m glad to see you too.” Kerry heaved a sigh of relief as she gave her a hug. “I was in that shed just wishing you’d show up and here you are.”
Dar returned the hug, a smile creasing her face. “Glad we came out to find you.”
The rest of the crowd was catching up, and in a moment Mark was there, dusting off his shirt as he stepped up next to them. “Pops is here.” He said. “Y’ know, you were so right on about that, Ker.” He added, in a matter of fact tone. “They do have a machine gun though. Not sure where that came from or what that’s about.”
Dar felt her heartbeat settle down, and the goosebumps eased under her rain gear, all the adrenaline releasing and making her knees shake. She was glad to have Kerry leaning against her and for a long moment she rested her chin on Kerry’s head and gently scratched her back.
“Well, you know Dad. Doesn’t surprise me.” Kerry responded. “They’re lucky that’s all they had, and I was able to stop that big ox before they holed up in some bunker and we were under siege from my own family.” She exhaled, shaking her head. “Did not need to end this day like THAT.”
“All right you boys just stand up over theah.” Hank was behind him, and the sound of an automatic rifle being cocked was clearly heard. “No body don’t touch nobody no more and we’all will be just fine.”
“You kids all right?” Andrew appeared from between the trees, a handgun in one hand, muzzle pointed skyward. “Fellers here got some candy assed ideas they’re police or something.” He glared at the small crowd of now cowed guardians. “Running round here like that. Mah god.”
“We’re fine, Dad.” Kerry answered for both of them.
The man who had been carrying Kerry hadn’t gotten up. He was still on the ground, his arms propped behind him. “Who in hell are you people?” He finally asked. “You are trespassing on private property, you know that?”
“Are we?” Kerry looked up at Dar.
“Possibly.” Her partner responded. “Possibly not.” She hunched her shoulders as the rain started coming down harder. “How about we go under some shelter and sort it all out.” She pointed at the bulk of the building ahead of them, all flashes of concrete and shadows in the headlights.
“Scoot.” Hank gestured with the muzzle of his gun at the dour looking men. “C’mon, c’mon. Don’t make me itchy.”
They made their way down a small set of steps and to a protected entrance, in awkward silence, followed by the two armed veterans then Mark, then last, Dar and Kerry still arm in arm.
“Found a place you can get the boat in, hon.” Kerry said, as they stepped across an inset granite threshold and through a narrow passage, feeling Dar chuckle through her hold on her. “How crazy is it we ended up here?”
“For us? Not crazy at all.”
The back entrance let them directly into a huge old fashioned kitchen, with a long, weathered table in the middle and built in, old style wooden cabinets around the walls. There were several soapstone sinks and on one end of the kitchen, a cast iron wood burning stove.
There was evidence of recent habitation. There were stacks of water against the far wall, and several coolers were lined up next to them, along with some containers of powdered milk and sugar. On the counter near the stove was a large battery charger unit, and that had a single thing plugged into it, a coffeepot.
It had high ceilings. In her first somewhat startled, fragmented view of it, Kerry got a sense of space and age, and whitewashed walls and she could smell a hint of woodsmoke and stone and the weathered wood, a halfhearted veneer of cleanser over the top of it.
The walls themselves had no adornment. There wasn’t any sign of any personal touch in it, just the big room and it’s anonymous history. Kerry was reminded, vaguely, of an old church she’d once toured, built from native rock and abandoned by it’s congregation, solid and yet somewhat sad.
There was a battery lantern in the corner and after they all entered and filed in, one of the men turned the lamp up and they could finally all see each other in more than just silver splashed lightning and the headlamps of the Humvee.
It was an oddly assorted group. The guardians of the property were in their dark rain jackets so alike they seemed almost a uniform, with rain pants and boots, all in their twenties or thirties, most bearded, all of them husky and athletic and staring at the intruders with dour resentment.
Kerry was still in her now again drenched scrubs and her hiking boots. She ran her fingers through her hair to halfheartedly sort it, aware that she now had mud all up and down her body turning it’s color a dark brown and adding a woody hint to the scrubs scent.
She removed a sodden leaf from her neck and looked at it, twirling it idly into her fingers before she put it into her pocket.
Mark had on his riding jacket, which he quickly stripped off now that they were inside and laid it over one of the benches near the wall. His shirt was spattered with rain and dirt underneath, it’s pale khaki looking almost camouflage itself.
He turned and then went to stand behind Kerry, pushing his glasses up onto his nose and then sticking his hands into his pockets in a stolid, understated support.
Dar was wearing her Helly Hansen poncho, with its hood pushed back, her dark hair wet and tangled and yet framing her angular features with stark precision.
Both Andy and Hank were in military raingear, in a dappled shadowy camo and stained, worn boots, the dimly golden light picking out the scars on their faces and glinting off the intent focus of their eyes.
Andy had put away his pistol, but Hank had his gun slung over his shoulder and cradled in both hands, and he stood with his back against the wall near the door watching them all, mostly in shadows this far from the lamp.
They all stared at each other, then Dar drew in and released a breath and took charge. She unzipped the throat fastening on her poncho and pulled it off, shaking the drops of rain off and then putting it on the bench next to Mark’s jacket.
“All right.” She turned and said. “I’ll start.” She planted her hands on her hips.
“Hey wait a minute.” John spoke up, cutting her off. “You were here the other day with the old man’s grandkid.” He studied her . “I saw you with her, and some other guy.”
Dar nodded. “I was.” She said. “My name’s Dar Roberts.” She paused. “This is my partner, Kerry.” She indicated the shorter blond woman at her side. “This is my father, Andrew, and our friends Hank and Mark.” She angled her head in their direction. “Now who the hell are you?”
John was watching her. “You buy this place?” He asked. “Cause I know that little bitch wanted bad to sell it.”
“Maybe.” Kerry spoke up briefly.
“What does that mean?” He looked at her, then at Dar.
“Exactly what it sounds like. We might have. We signed the deal, and our lawyer was working on it, but then the storm hit and I haven’t heard from him yet.” Dar said. “So yeah, maybe we… “She indicated Kerry and herself. “Own the place. Maybe we don’t.”
The guardians all looked at each other. “Shit.” John said. “She really did it.”
“Bitch.” One of the others muttered the word softly under his breath. “He shoulda cut her out. He knew she’d sell soon as he was cold.”
“So maybe you all are the ones trespassin.” Andy spoke up. “So suppose you all speak up on who you are fore ah do call me some cops and have you hauled off on outta here.”
“Cops won’t come here.” John said. “We called em when you were breaking the gates. Told us to fuck off.”
“You all would be surprised what might show up here if we done the callin.” Andy’s tone was mild, and faintly humorous.
“Or we just shoot ya and dig a hole for ya.” Hank suggested. “Got me a little bobcat I could use for it.” He smiled at them with a gentle, dreamy expression on his face.
Kerry gently reached over and tugged Dar’s sleeve. She jerked her head toward the door, and they walked together back out of the kitchen and into the rear entranceway, leaving all the men to stand there watching each other.
“What’s up?” Dar inquired.
“So.” Kerry folded her arms, waiting for her partner to half turn and focus on her. “These guys used to work for Mr. Hunter.” She explained. “We met them after Mark and I took shelter here when it was raining like crazy. We found that small gate open.”
Dar nodded. “Okay… so… “She glanced behind them at the kitchen door. “What was all the running around over?”
“Well.” Kerry cleared her throat gently. “Someone broke down their front gates with an armored truck. Until then they were just fine with us hanging out in their garden shed and we were just waiting for the rain to stop to call you.”
“So maybe don’t be so hard on them.” Kerry bumped her head against Dar’s arm. “I think they were his homies. They’re kind of like Hunter’s point park rangers.”
Dar laughed faintly. “Rangers?”
“They were trying to force us to safety. “ Kerry clarified. “As in, rescuing us from you and Dad.” She added. “And Hank.”
Dar laughed a little harder, reaching up to cover her face with one hand.
“Of course, I knew it had to be you. Who else would know exactly where I was and show up in a Humvee?”
“It’s Hank’s gardening truck.” Dar scrubbed her fingers through her wet hair. “It’s got a trailer we figured we’d use to haul Mark’s bike on. But anyway I heard you yell and I..” She glanced past Kerry and then back to meet her eyes. “Didn’t stop to think.”
“No, but I’m glad.” Kerry replied soberly. “Glad you guys came.” She rested her head against Dar’s shoulder. “I was sitting there really wanting you to be here and then you were.” She let her eyes close a moment. “It’s been a long ass day.”
Dar kissed the top of her head, mud and leaves irrelevant. “It has. Let’s go wrap it up.”
“He called her Minnie.” John was seated on a chair backwards, his hands clasped together as he leaned his elbows on his knees. “Minneola, her whole name was. She was full blood Seminole.”
They’d turned on the coffee pot and made some coffee, as the storm outside put down a curtain of rain so thick you couldn’t see anything past it.
The guardians had put what they had on the table, and they were all seated around it, working their way through some cake doughnuts and Fritos. Doug, the man who had carried Kerry, was sitting on a box near the stove.
“He was crazy about her.” John picked up his cup and cradled it in his hands. “She knew how to do everything, y’know? She could cook, and make pretty shirts, just all kinds of stuff. My dad told me when he lived here, when he was a kid she had a horse and she would ride it all bareback and everything.”
“Folks round here didn’t much care for Indians back then.” Doug spoke up. “That’s what the old man used to say. But he didn’t care.”
“Didn’t care.” John agreed. “My pop said he’d get a gun out and like to shoot anyone who had nothing to say about her, little Minnie.” He looked up at his unusual audience. “Sounds crazy.”
“Not really.” Kerry said, at the same time as Andy did. Hank laughed, giving the side of his gun a pat and the men in green raincoats just looked at each other uncomfortably. “Wonder how he felt about food fights.” She added. “So far he sounds like a pretty good guy.”
Mark chuckled at that, extending his legs out and crossing his ankles.
“Anyway, she gave him two boys and a girl.” John continued. “They all grew up here. Old man had money.. not really sure how he got some of it, but they always did all right. Kids grew up though and went off, didn’t want to live here.”
“Went to Colorado, one of them, and the other two to Cali.” Another of them said. “Left the old man and Minnie here by thereselves in this big old place.”
“He didn’t care. He liked it.” John objected. “Told everyone else to get lost and leave them alone.” He added. “Then Minnie got killed one night. She was just out near the water, watching some birds like she did sometimes and some drunk asshole in a big ass sailboat came past and shot her in the head.”
Kerry’s eyes widened. “What?” Her voice sharpened.
“Yeah, it was stupid.” Doug said. “Just stupid. Bunch of jerks just bought them a boat and took it out in the Bay and were shooting pelicans.” He frowned. “Said she looked like a pelican, in her little shawl and all that, down by the water.”
“Some bitch.” Andy pronounced the words with precision. “Hope the law got them.”
“Rich guys.” John said. “Bought their way out of it. Paid the judge. You know how it is.” He half shrugged. “People like that don’t pay.”
Kerry turned and looked at Dar who had straightened up and put her cup down on the table.
Thunder rolled over head, and lightning flashed outside.
“Anyway, old man was never the same after that.” John said. “We felt bad, y’know? I always liked this place, we hung out here. Camped near the far wall down south on the edge of the property. We took care of things. You know, after work and all that.”
“Old man treated us good.” One of the others said. “We’d come sing carols for him on the holidays, like that.” He said. “Then one night we came here, just near dark, and there were fire engines and I don’t’ know what else all over the place.”
“Someone called the cops I guess.” John said. “He was lying on the ground, you know? Just fell down and died. Poor old guy. They took him off, then a few weeks later, she showed up waving some papers around talking crap about everything.”
Kerry stood up and walked around in a circle, looking at the kitchen. “Why?” She asked. “It’s a gorgeous property. There’s nothing like it anywhere around here.”
John shrugged. “Found out she couldn’t do nothing with it, I guess.” He looked at her, then at Dar. “Ya’ll know that, right?” There was a touch of malice in his tone. “You can’t turn it into no hotel or nothin.”
“They told us.” Dar got up and started looking around as well. “Last thing in the world I want to do is own a damn hotel.”
“You want to go buy it anyhow?” Doug asked, in a puzzled tone. “Well, you all showed up in a car with a machine gun so maybe you’re crazier than the old man was.”
Dar walked to the doors in the back of the kitchen and pushed them open, swinging, heavy wooden doors covered in material that felt worn against her fingertips. “He wouldn’t ever sell to anyone.” She commented. “That’s what you said, wasn’t it, Dad?”
“Yeap.” Andy agreed. “Gov’mint wanted to buy the place once ah heard bout it. Make it into a VA home or somethin. Wouldn’t let em.” He regarded the men, who had turned to look at him. “Probly woud’a ended up something else anyhow, bein the gov’mint.”
“Possht.” Hank made a rude noise. “End up some tin bar jock strap’s gym locker.”
That seemed to go over well with the guardians. They exchanged glances, and faint smiles, and resettled themselves, their postures relaxing.
One of them got up and went to the coffee pot, the old fashioned perculator kind and triggered the dispenser into his cup, sending the scent of slightly chicory scented steam into the room, and Doug went over to pick up two cookies, juggling them in one hand.
“Yeah, no, he sure enough didn’t trust the government.” Doug said. “Specially not the locals, not these days.” He put a cookie into his mouth and bit down on it. “Scams, you know?”
“Fought like nuts to get this place named historic, so no one else could do nothin with it.” John nodded. “They just done that, maybe four months back.” He paused thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s why he kicked off finally. Figured it’d be okay after that.”
“Coulda.” Doug nodded. “Didn’t want nobody to ruin it up.” He looked sideways at them. “Fancy it up.”
“Hope he liked cabling and wet dogs.” Dar went through the door, letting it shut behind her as she walked down the long hall, emerging out into the large, long high ceilinged space in the center of the house.
The kitchen was in the back of the house. The hallway had long lines of cabinets and then another set of doors that closed that all in from the space she was in now.
She heard the door open and close behind her, and waited, not bothering to turn to see who’d followed her out. “Damn storm.” She commented briefly.
“Damn storm.” Kerry echoed, coming to stand next to her. “Looks like it made it through though.” She flicked on the flashlight she’d had hung around her wrist, and shone it in all directions. “This place is huge.”
“It is.” Dar had her hands in her pockets, and she turned around in the circle. The lightning and gray skies from outside reflected through the windows, facing the water, that had survived the hurricane seemingly untouched. “Wonder if those guys boarded it up.”
“Bet they did.” Kerry walked towards front of the house that faced the water, the large space with it’s vaulted ceilings and bowed, full length windows. “Wow.”
It was hard, really to absorb the sense of space inside the place. It was three floors, but in the center it was open and vast, full of angles and shadows, the lightning only adding to the sense of presence and mystery. “Dar, we could play tennis in this room.”
“Why would we play tennis? Neither of us like it.” Dar asked, in a reasonable tone. “Handball maybe.”
“Those ceilings are high enough for it.” Kerry laughed a little bit. “Jesus.”
“Are we crazy?” Dar asked. “This is twice the size of our whole office building. You and I could actually live in the Dixie. Why the hell did we even think this was a good idea?” She asked. “Did I think, since you never even saw it.” She corrected herself.
“We’ve always been a little crazy.” Kerry took a step forward and looked around. “But you know what, Dar? I think I like this place.”
“Thought you would.” Dar admitted. “When I walked in here in my head I just said, Kerry’s going to love this.” She put her hands in her pockets and rocked up and down on the balls of her feet.
“It’s way too big, and the property’s insane, and it’s going to be so much work and it’s so expensive and you know what? I still hope it went through. “ Kerry walked forward to look out the windows, imagining herself sitting there, watching the sunrise though them, having a cup of tea. “I want to live here with you.”
“I do.” She turned to find Dar watching her, a gentle, charmed smile on her face. “I’d like to have met the old man, and Minnie.” She walked back and held her hands out, which Dar reached out and grasped. “This place is amazing.”
Dar lifted one of her hands up and kissed Kerry’s knuckles in a movement of casual gallantry. “Timing sucks.” She said. “We don’t’ even know how many customers we’re going to end up keeping. We could end up half bankrupt. Then what?”
Kerry studied her. “Then we sell your brain, a cell at a time.” She decided. “That should take care of that.”
Kerry chuckled. “Hon, I’m sorry. I’m just too tired right now to stress out.” She admitted. “I just want to go home and get in bed with you. Hell, I’d settle for the Dixie’s cabin right now.” She paused, thoughtfully. “Hell, I’d settle for the window seat in your office.”
“Not with that party going on, and unfortunately, we brought Dad’s boat.” Dar pulled her closer and wrapped her arms around her. “We figured we’d have to get Mark’s bike aboard and he has a ramp on the back.”
“I didn’t ask, you shouldn’t either.”
“Should I ask about the machine gun?” Kerry wondered. “That was kinda radical even for him.”
Dar chuckled softly. “It’s real.” She admitted. “There’s a magazine of rounds in there under it.”
“Of course it’s real. With dad it always is.”
Kerry studied the inside of the big room, really finding no details other than a vague sense of pale walls, and a staircase moving up into the shadows. “Wish I could see more of what everything looks like.” She murmured. “But I do like that kitchen.” She said. “It’s so big, and that one corner is just right for that inside garden I’ve been wanting to try.”
Dar nodded. “I liked this place because it’s not a square box like all the other square boxes around here.” She mused. “And the space and the trees. It smelled good. There’s mangos around somewhere, and citrus.” She added. “And boarded up or not, there’s no water in here. He knew what he was doing in building it.”
“Well, we don’t know that.” Kerry objected mildly. “But I don’t hear anything dripping.” She reached around Dar and flashed her light along the floor in both directions. “Seems dry.”
“And it had an awesome view.” Dar concluded looking over Kerry’s shoulder, as lightning lit up the emptied pool, and the stained stone wall, and beyond it the algae streaked dock. “I bet we could end up petting a manatee out there before breakfast.”
“I think I’d like to pet a manatee. Or at least, share my banana yogurt with one.” Kerry leaned against her. “The dogs are going to love this place.”
“Oh yeah.” Dar exhaled, in some contentment. “The structure of this place is solid. Who’d want to make a hotel out of it?” She wondered. “I liked the way it looked.” As she said it, there was a faint creak around them as the downpour seemed to ease. “Sorta felt like a castle.”
“Are these all stone floors?” Kerry looked down, examining the surface her boots were on. “As in actual stone? Not tile?”
“They are.” Dar scuffed her toe on it. “Upper floors are hardwood.” She said. “It’s all real, old timey solid stuff.”
“Which is going to be such a party to work around making this livable for us.” Kerry said. “But kinda fun too, I think.”
“Master bedroom’s got the same view as this.” Dar indicated the floor to ceiling windows. “We’ll work it all out.”
Kerry turned off her flashlight and closed her eyes, feeling Dar’s breathing moving against her and the shift of her jaw as she pondered there in thoughtful silence. “Well, Dardar, should we say screw the rain, and just head back?” She suggested. “I get the feeling this isn’t ending anytime soon.”
“Yup.” Dar patted her on the back. “Lets go and get this over with. I want a shower, and some hot milk and another day.” She paused. “Did I tell you I got the internet up?”
Kerry started silently laughing. “Oh god. On second thought, lets just stay here.” She moaned. “I don’t want to see my email.”
It was awkwardly silent after the two women left the kitchen, and the men remained, the six guardians in their foul weather gear and the two veterans holding the room with effortless attitude. Mark sat at the table with his head propped on his hand, looking from one group to the other, patently a part of neither, his tribe having left the room.
Finally, Doug cleared his throat. “So… “ He said. “Who are you people, for real?”
“We done told you that.” Andy said.
“Yeah, I know you said your names.” Doug acknowledged. “But who the hell are you?”
Hank chuckled, more of a low giggle. “We’re the redneck inquisition.” He said. “Nobody never spects us.”
That even made Andy smile. He took a seat at the table, hiking his combat boot up onto his knee and letting his hands rest on it. “Wall.” He considered. “Hank here and mahself spent us some time in the Navy.” He paused, and cocked one eyebrow up as he looked at them. “And from time to time I do me some side work for the gov’mint.”
“So that’s why you have a machine gun mounted Humvee?” John hazarded.
“Nah, that’s mine.” Hank said. “I built it. ‘s a hobby.” He leaned against the wall, cradling his rifle. “I use the truck to pull my landscaping stuff. I do freelance.”
“Oh.” Doug relaxed a little. “So what about them.” He indicated the door to the inside of the house.
“Them are mah children.” Andy said, in a flat tone. “Have yourself a care about what you say about those young ladies.”
“They own the company we work for.” Mark spoke up. “Roberts Automation.” He added. “Our offices are down by Peacock Park.”
John looked thoughtfully at him. “Hang on.” He said. “That the big, square building down near the water?” He asked. “Somebody was asking the other week what went on there.” He looked at Doug. “Remember that?”
Doug slowly nodded his head. “Yeah… I do. Now what was it… “He looked away. “Christ it seems like it’s a month ago… oh yeah. Yeah, somebody said they knew someone got a job there and wanted to know what it was.” He looked between Andy and Mark.
“Computers.” Andy concluded, succinctly. “And they all do some side work for the gov’mint too.” He winked at Mark. “But mostly they mess round with that information stuff.”
Mark folded his hands. “We do. We do systems consulting and technology solutions.” He glanced at Andy. “And we’re a contractor for the Department of Defense.” He returned his attention to the six men. “And hey, listen. You don’t have to worry about this place if Dar bought it.”
They regarded him with skeptical silence.
“Seriously.” Mark said. “She’d keep it the way it is just to piss off the whole city of Miami.” He stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “She’d have a good time doing it.”
Andy chuckled. “Stubborn a little.”
“Wonder where that came from.” Hank drawled.
“Boy’s right.” Andy put his hands behind his head. “Kids are looking for a new place to live, and Dar done said she looked at this one right before that storm came in and liked it.” He said. “Ah do like it. Reminds me a little bit of Viscaya down the way there.”
“Got some good plants in there.” Hank opined. “Finely put sea grapes back in and yanked all those pines out.” He tilted his grizzled head thoughtfully “Hey Andy, you think they’se gonna need a landscaper here?”
“All them things you took out driving in here? Ahm sure they will.” Andy eyed him. “Got enough space here to put in all kinds of whatnot.”
“We could put a still in.” Hank said, thoughtfully. “Wet enough for us to grow some cane here. You still got your old family recipe, Andy? He asked, winking. “S’trendy down here now.”
“Lord.” Andy rolled his eyes.
The kitchen door opened again and Dar and Kerry came back inside, coming to stand near the table.
“You all ready to get on outta here, Dardar?” Andy stood up, reading his daughter’s body language without effort. “We can get that buggy backed on up. Figured your bike’d fit on the trailer.”
“You guys rock.” Mark stood. “Yeah, riding in this’d be a nightmare. We heading to the office? I can crash in my office. I got a go bag in there I left just in case.” He said. “Man I’ll be glad to park it for the night.”
“We’ll be back when we find out what the deal is with the place.” Dar told the green clad men. “Did you board the windows up?”
John nodded. “My dad’s in construction. We had plenty of wood.”
They were all looking at Dar with expressions and emotion she readily understood, having been a leader of people now for long enough. “Thank you.” She said. “I’m sorry about all the chaos when we got here. We didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”
Kerry silently gave her a pat on the back.
“Lady.” Doug eyed her, then rubbed his chest. “I gotta tell you I haven’t got hit like that since I was a linebacker in high school.” He admitted. “We didn’t mean anyone no harm. We thought you all were trouble.”
“We are.” Kerry grinned briefly.
Dar smiled, draping one arm over Kerry’s shoulders. “If you hang around and keep an eye on things, either way, we’ll take care of you all. I can’t imagine what those windows would have been like if you hadn’t protected them.” She said. “Probably won’t know for a couple days what the deal is with the title.”
Doug nodded. “We don’t want nothing.” He replied, unexpectedly. “We’ll do it for him, until they chase us off.” But now he smiled a little in obvious relief. ‘Hope it works out though. I think the old man’d like you folks.”
“Yeah.” John started laughing. “He would. You’d be right on up his alley.”
“Let’s go.” Andy said, pointing at the back door. “C’mon, Henry. Gonna have to untangle that cable. Think you dragged in a tree or something with ya.” He followed Hank out the door, and they filed after him.
“We’ll help.” Doug pulled his hood up. “Might as well end the night up the right way.” He said, as the rest of the guardians quickly joined him. “Well, that sure didn’t go where I thought it would.” He added, with a faint shake of his head.
“Hell no.” John went to hold the door. “Heeeeeeellllll no.”
It was still raining when they got to the office, the upper windows showing dim glows of lanterns inside. They could hear the sound of the generator rumbling softly over the rain hitting the street as Hank pulled the Humvee with it’s cargo of motorbike and passengers into the parking lot.
Kerry was seated in the middle of the back seat, leaning against Dar, her eyes closed. When they came to a halt she opened one eye and looked through the front seats, past the string of bullets through the muddy window. “Home sweet home.”
“Glad to see the place, gotta admit that.” Mark agreed. “Shit, I’m tired.”
Kerry, who’d gotten in a fifteen minute nap, nodded. She waited for Dar to open the door and get out, and she scooted over and followed her, closing the door and trudging after her partner as they went up the sidewalk towards the front door.
It was quiet, and late, and yet there was still a guard at the door, who lifted a hand and passed them on having recognized them. “Lo.” Andy said. “They quiet down in there?”
“Yeah.” The guard nodded. “I just been out here a hour. All them extras went on home. Just them that blongs in there now. That guy what owns the building said he’d be back tomorrow to talk with you all.”
“Good.” Andy held the door for them and then followed them inside, closing the door and the incessant rain behind them as they moved into the stuffy shadow filled hallway that was now, quite abandoned.
“Yeah, can’t wait for what he has to say.” Kerry grumbled. “Probably going to tell me he’s going to let some cousin of his fix the place.”
“Mm.” Dar muttered under her breath.
A floorboard creaked over their head, and Andy glanced up to the top of the stairs where a solar charged lantern was hanging. He lifted his hand and the armed figure at the top of the steps waved back.
Dar moved into the central hallway, and glanced down it. The strings of tables were still there, but they had been tidied up, things that were leftover were packed neatly away, the coolers had covers on them, only the faintest scent of grill smoke evident.
She was glad to see the clean up. She went to the door to the central open space and put her head out it, looking around the rain drenched but equally tidy picnic tables and listened to the sound of drops hitting the aluminum camper parked in the center.
Mark sighed. “I’m gonna go crash in my office.” He said. “Don’t even care of it’s hot.” He swung to the left and climbed up the steps to the second floor, exchanging a brief wave with the man on guard. “Hey Pete.”
“Yo.” Pete was resuming a seat on the couch at the top of the steps, where sometimes visitors would sit waiting to talk to Kerry or Dar, and he extended his legs out along the wooden floor and crossed his boots at the ankle. “Glad they found you guys.”
Behind him was a fan, and it was plugged into a long cable that ran down the stairs and disappeared into the shadows. It provided a light breeze, and there was a second one at the far end of the corridor. It was stuffy, but bearable.
“Me too.” Mark said. “I just want to park my ass on a chair and sack out.”
“Heard ya.” Pete smiled. “Gals put soap and all that in the shower room if you want.” He said. “Water’s not hot but this is Floooreida, and it aint cold neither.”
Mark chuckled and walked past him down the hall and into his office, which was dark and quiet and blessedly free of weird guys and rain. “I can shower in the morning.” He muttered under his breath. “Been freaking showering all damn day long.”
He went to the cabinet and opened it, removing a leather bag from inside and gratefully, blessedly, exchanged his soaked and resoaked and soaked again clothes for dry, putting the wet versions over the cabinet door to drip dry over the wooden floor.
His desk was near the window, and he went over to open the window wide, getting a faint breeze full of dampness to stir the air. Then he circled his desk and went over to the couch against the wall, dropping onto it and laying down with a sigh of utter relief. “Beats a stable. What a day.”
Kerry used the restroom and then wandered back into the central hall, where Dar was standing, arms crossed, talking to Hank. “You up to driving home, hon?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Dar had taken off her rain gear, and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. “Dad’s taking a look around.” She explained. “I was just thanking Hank for coming out with us.”
“Naw. It was fuuuuun.” Hank produced a smile that was unrestrained and real. “Reminds me of old times, with your dad.” He rocked up and down. “Didn’t’ figure we’d end up ending up though where we done.”
“No, well..” Dar shrugged a little bit. “We were all going in the same direction. Had to end up somewhere.”
“I was surprised I was where I was.” Kerry said, folding her arms over her chest. “When those guys told me it was Hunter’s I was like.. what the hell? But then I realized where it was and it sort of did make sense… did you realize where we were heading, Dar?”
“Didn’t even think about it.” Dar shook her head. “But when I saw the wall there… “ She hesitated. “I figured that kind of coincidence usually doesn’t pass us up.” She looked down the hallway, then back at Kerry, one eyebrow quirking a little bit.
Kerry looked back at her, trying to work out the expression on Dar’s face, concluding that it was possible coincidence wasn’t quite the word her partner had meant.
“That place there is sweet, I tell you what though. Hardwood hammock and all that stuff.” Hank carried on, ignoring the silent communication.
“A what?” Kerry asked, putting the question away for later.
“Hardwood hammock.” Hank said. “Old timey stuff from round here. Limestone wibbly wobblies and native trees and all that stuff.” He nodded his head. “Got your holes and gullies and all that. Ferns, y’know?”
Kerry regarded him, as he strolled off, whistling a little under his breath. “I have to look that up.” She said, after a brief pause. “Now that Thor, god of the internets has gotten that going back at the house.” She gently elbowed Dar’s ribs. “Is that hammock, as in Matheson Hammock?”
“Yeah, it is actually.” Dar responded, after pausing to think. “It’s all about the limestone substructure of the area, and something called the Miami Rock Ridge.”
“The only ridge I’ve seen in Miami is the Dade County landfill.” Kerry said. “What kind of ridge are we talking about here?”
“Not that kind of ridge.” Dar stifled a yawn. “I know where there are some near here. We can go see them the next time we head over to the new place.”
Kerry took a breath of the damp, slightly musty air. “Hon. It’s still crazy raining out there. Why don’t we just crash upstairs and wait it out?”
“Wouldn’t you rather spend the night in our air conditioned bedroom?”
“Of course I would.” Kerry said. “If our air conditioned bedroom wasn’t on an island and I’d have to get wet all over again to get on a boat, to eventally get to it on.” She nudged her gently. “C’mon. It’s been a long day for both of us.”
Dar regarded her thoughtfully, not immediately rejecting the idea. She had no real desire to go back out into the rain either, risking the slick crudely made ramp in the dark to get back on her parent’s boat. They could both end up going headfirst into Biscayne Bay.
Navigating the bay back to the marina at the island wasn’t going to be a picnic either. The marina was probably closed, and they’d have to tie themselves up, and then there was the rainy ride back to the condo.
But she was sticky and covered in mud and hot. She didn’t want to sweat all night up in their office, with just a faint cross breeze, only to have to get up in the morning and deal with the staff.
Kerry just stood and waited. She could read what Dar was thinking, pretty much, from the expression on her face and she knew it went parallel with what she herself was thinking. But she kept her thoughts to herself because after all it was Dar who was going to have to pilot them back to the island.
In the dark, in the rain.
It had been a long day for both of them. If she was tired, she could only imagine how Dar felt and she at least had the advantage of having a nap. They could get a shower in the large bathroom upstairs and she was pretty sure there was a box of company tshirts they could change into up in the cabinet next to Zoe’s desk.
It wouldn’t be that bad. Would it?
“Nope. Lets go.” Dar decided abruptly, catching sight of Andy’s tall figure coming down the hall. “Ready to go, dad?” She called out. “Rain’s not gonna get any better.”
“Hell yes.” Her father agreed. “C’mon.” He walked past them to the receptionist stand, and retrieved his raincoat, as both of them followed. “Done about had enough for one day in this here retirement.” He shook his head. “Lord.”
Dar put on her jacket and Kerry detoured into the conference room to grab a poncho she slid over her head. “Would have been nice to have this with me tonight.” Kerry commented. “Jesus I’m tired of this damn weather. Didn’t they say it was going to be clear after that damn thing hit?”
“Ran into that front.” Dar responded, briefly. “No telling with these things.”
Without looking back they went out the door and into the rain, Andy flicking on his flashlight as he led the way down the sidewalk and then turned to go around the side of the building.
Everything around seemed dark and empty. At this time of night Kerry expected it to be quiet, but still lit, always with a few people strolling along the street, or sitting at one of the cafes whose front porches were shadowed and full of debris.
The only light anywhere was the faint hint of amber glows from the windows of their own building, the flickers of candles and the generator run floodlight whose blue glare flickered from inside the open square of the building and lit the back loading dock.
Kerry reached out and took Dar’s hand in hers and felt Dar’s long fingers curl around hers.
They walked past their building and down the lane towards the sailing club and the water, feeling the rain beat against their backs driven by the offshore wind coming from the northwest. Past the debris still in the road, and the downed trees, and the sodden masses of garbage that stank.
She was glad of the wind then, driving past them, as they crossed the road and went through the parking lot of the club, climbing over two telephone poles lying over several cars and ducking under the power lines laying across everything, from the towers that had collapsed on either side of the building.
She could see the bay, and the white mass that was Andy’s boat bobbling in the waves, and in the moment she was glad they were leaving the dark city behind and that soon, in maybe a half hour, maybe forty five minutes, she’d be able to stand in her own lit, cool home and be comfortable.
Like no one behind her could. Super glad that Dar hadn’t taken her suggestion. She glanced at the inky black water on either side of the ramp, its surface full of sea wrack, and floating wooden debris.
“Careful there.” Andy directed the light on the slick deck. “Aint no time to be swimming.”
“Want to do me a favor?” Dar asked, as they edged along the makeshift ramp that extended out towards the boat.
“Pot of coffee?” Kerry reached out to grab the railing of the boat, as Andy crossed from the ramp to the deck, and she felt the boat move under his weight. “And I bet I can find some ice cream in there.”
It had taken over an hour. The weather, and the uncertainty of navigating in the pitch darkness had made Dar cautious, and it was well after midnight when they came around the south side of the island and approached the entrance to the marina.
It was, as she had expected, quiet and empty of dockhands. But the work lights were on and it was a relief to be able to see clearly, and she gently nudged the big boat into its slip past her own against the outer seawall dock glad at least that the rain had slackened, if not stopped.
To her right on the console was a thermos and she picked it up and took a swallow of the strong coffee inside, then set it down before she let the boat drift lightly against the bolsters, waiting to see her father step off and take the ropes before she shut down the engines.
“We’re tied.” Kerry called up from the aft pylon.
Dar shut everything down and made her way down the ladder from the flying bridge, with one hand on the ladder and the other gripping the thermos, glad the steps had a roughened surface on them as rain dripped into her eyes.
She joined them on land and they made their way up the dock and along the side of the temporary marina tent, it’s roof flapping in the wind and rain rolling off it’s slanted surface.
Then they were at the cart, and this time Andy took the wheel, motioning Dar to get in behind him. “You done all the drivin today Dardar. Take me a turn.”
Dar got in the back seat and extended her legs sideways as Kerry zipped the plastic shield down and they started off along the service path around the back of the destroyed marina building.
Everything here was also silent and seemingly abandoned, the difference was there were periodic lights along the road, some temporary, and through the trees real lights were seen from the buildings and townhouses that ringed the island.
“Is that a helicopter on the golf course?” Kerry commented.
“That’s a helicopter on the golf course.” Dar concluded. “I guess they managed to drain the damn thing.” She regarded the outline. “Private.”
“Them people live here, aint’ surprising.” Andy said.
“You live here, dad.” Kerry reminded him. “And we do too for now.”
“Aint’ what I meant.”
“Well.” Dar shifted a little, half turning to watch the aircraft as they went by. “Maybe I should learn to fly one of those things. Hell of a lot faster to get around with then a couple of motor yachts.” She looked at Kerry, who had turned around in the front seat to look at her. “What?” She asked. “If Alastair can fly a plane, I could.”
“Too many damn trees for them things.” Andy steered around a pile of debris in the road. “Too many trees, and too much wind, them pilots for the coast guard were saying.”
“Yeah.” Dar thought about what it had been like piloting the boat and imagined trying to do that in the air. “That’s a point.”
As they came around the curve in the road, they could see there was, despite the late hour, activity going on in the section of housing where they lived. “Now what?” Dar reversed her position, sliding to one side so she could see past Kerry. “That the bunch next to ours?”
There were dozens of dark cars parked in the road along the wall that divided the homes from the road and the interior of the island including it’s golf course. Two of them had been pulled up next to the entrance gates and there were figures standing around both, and on either side of the entrance bright floodlights were positioned, glaring out into the night.
Some of them heard the cart approaching and two men turned to look at them as Andy steered the cart, slowing it down before he turned into the opening that led into their section of the townhomes. “Cars got on here somehow. Figure maybe them ferries are running?”
“Hope so. That’d be great if we could take the truck off tomorrow.” Dar said. “That makeshift dock back there is starting to fall apart. I could feel it when we were crossing before.” She shifted back around as they arrived home, and the cart came to a halt.
The front lights were on, and as they got out and climbed up the slope from the parking area to the stairs the door opened and Ceci poked her head out. Spotting them, she emerged all the way and got the door closed before the barking dogs behind her could squeeze out. “Ah hah!”
“Lo.” Andy waved, as they climbed up the steps. “Got a fuss going on ovah there?” He indicated the next section.
“Spooks.” Ceci informed them. “I figure the governor’s probably moving his cocker spaniel in.” She added, in a wryly amused tone. “So how’d it all go?”
“Long ass day.” Andy concluded, as they went inside, to be greeted by Mocha and Chino and thoroughly sniffed. “Get out the way, furballs.”
“Do I want to know why you’re wearing hospital scrubs?” Ceci asked Kerry, as she pulled off her poncho and left it hanging on the door to the closet set in the underside of the stairs. “Where the Samhain were you the whole day?”
“Long story.” Kerry sighed, taking in a breath of the cold, dry air and savoring the chill of it against her skin. “It’s been one of those days that were about a week long.”
“Meet you in the shower?” Dar gave her a nudge. “I’ll fill in the details.”
Kerry didn’t argue. She went into the ground floor master suite and into the large bathroom, already pulling the scrubs up over her head and ridding her body of their damp mustiness. She watched the cool air lift goosebumps on her skin, and went into the shower to turn it on.
She fancied she could still smell the antiseptic smell of the hospital soap and was happy to step under the hot water in it’s drenching stream and pick up one of their sea sponges, putting some of their preferred wash on it and scrubbing her skin with it.
The heat picked up the scent of the soap and filled the shower with it and Kerry smiled, hearing over the sound of the shower Dar’s voice as she moved in her direction. “Know what?” She asked, as her partner entered the room.
“You’re glad we decided not to stay at the office.” Dar stated amiably. “Cause I sure am.” She joined Kerry in the shower and took over the sponge. “Yikes you did get sunburned.”
“I did.” Kerry agreed, contentedly washing the grit out of her hair. “Did I tell you I ended up losing my shirt escaping from a mob?” She said. “In that bag I had there’s a national guard t-shirt I conned out of someone while Mark was fixing a database server.”
Dar paused, and looked over Kerry’s shoulder so they could make eye contact. “What and what now?”
“I told you this day was a week long.” Kerry sighed. “Jesus.”
“Save it for tomorrow.” Dar put her arms around her as they stood under the drenching spray together. “We can go over it at breakfast.”
Kerry smiled, savoring the lack of rain, lack of heat, lack of confounding issues to deal with in this moment of utter comfort of the soul. “Tomorrow’s another day.” She agreed. “And no way can it be as crazy as today was.”