Fair Winds and Following Seas
Dar shifted her position on the chair, glancing outside the window at the breeze lashing the storm battered plants outside. “Scott.” She took a breath to continue the argument. “Listen…”
“No no no no.. I know what you’re going to say.” Scott cut her off. “We’ll send a jet for you. Ever take a ride in a fighter?”
“It’s great, you’ll love.. wait. What?”
“Long story.” Dar said. “What’s the rush, Scott? What can’t wait until after the weekend? By then things should be a little better here…” She looked around the cottage, briefly distracted by yet more mail coming into her inbox. “We’ve been working on this for six months.”
“I can’t talk to you about why it’s a rush.” Scott said. “I mean, like, I can’t. You know?” He said. “But honest to crapazoid, it is. You gotta come up here, and show the big guy what it does, and let us go beta on it.”
“Haven’t they all evacuated? All up in the hills somewhere? Scott, no one’s even in DC this week.”
“You need to come here.” He said. “Here to Cheyanne.” He paused. “So, we’re going to send a jet for you. What time is it, ten? Can you get to the airport by noon?”
Something on the screen caught Dar’s attention and she swiveled in the chair she was sitting in, reaching over to open a page. “Hold on.” She focused on the screen, reading rapidly for a long minute, aware of Scott’s breathing on the other end of the phone. “Okay… “ She murmured. “What the…”
“Okay? Great. See you here by two, our time. Thanks Dar. You won’t regret it, I swear to you. This is gonna be big.” Scott hung up the phone as Dar was drawing in her breath to answer him, leaving her with nothing but a slightly digital sounding dial tone in her ear.
“Wait.” She said, then stopped, her shoulders relaxing as she put the phone back into it’s cradle. “Shit. I didn’t mean to say okay to you ya little…”
“Problems, boss?” Angela asked, from across the table. “You don’t look so hot.”
“Just got some unexpected news.” Dar muttered. “Very unexpected.” She hesitated, torn between the email on her screen and the terminal screen open behind it, cursor blinking, waiting on her input.
Kerry came back in the front door, closing it behind her. “Hey.” She came over and sat down next to Dar. “What’s up hon? I think I got rid of our new friend for a while.” She eyed her. “You okay? You have a funny look on your face.”
For an answer, Dar turned her laptop screen around so it was facing her partner, and gestured at it. “Here. While I was reading that, I committed to flying to Colorado in two hours.”
Kerrys’ eyes slowly lifted up past the top of the laptop screen, deferring her attention from the email for a moment. “What?” She asked, in a startled tone. “Fly to Colorado? Like… as in right now?”
“Read it.” Dar pointed at the screen. “It’ll give me a few minutes to figure out what the hell I’m going to tell John Deland about his deadline for tomorrow.”
She folded her hands and watched Kerry read, as her pale brows slowly drew together and she moved, almost unconsciously, closer to the laptop screen until she paused and looked up at Dar, her green eyes round and wide.
“Dar is this … does this say what I think it does?” Kerry’s voice rose in consternation. “Did he… the landlord signed the title to the building over to us?” She reread the email. “Is that what this says? Is he serious? Is he for real?”
“Apparently.” Dar felt obscurely comforted by a reaction almost a mirror image of her own. “Doesn’t have the money to fix it. He was carrying only the minimum insurance.” She regarded her hands, long fingers calmly clasped. “I guess he was just over it.”
“Son of an ice cream sundae.” Kerry went back and read it again. “Dar, this is insane!”
“Mm.” Dar nodded. “Who does that? Nobody does that.” She agreed mournfully. “Except people who know us, I guess.” She reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Didn’t need to read that in the middle of a half dozen customers yelling at my ass.”
“He’s moving to Costa Rica with his boyfriend.” Kerry sat back. “Holy shit.”
“Now I hope that deal didn’t go through. We don’t have the cash to do both these places.” Dar rolled her head to one side and regarded Kerry. “Though we could sell that office, I guess. With the land it’s on it’s worth something.”
“Instead of fixing it.” Kerry murmured. “But where are we going to go, Dar? We have jobs we have to do. We can’t just move everyone… can we?”
Dar shrugged faintly. “We moved them there.”
“That was before a hurricane blew apart most of the class A office space in three counties.” Kerry reminded her. “Shit I better call Coleen and see how much space they’ve really got up there.” She gave her head a little shake. “Son of a biscuit.”
It made Kerry smile, despite the shock that was still lifting her nape hairs. “Well, okay. That was unexpected.” She turned the laptop around again to face Dar. “So, you said you have to fly to Colorado? To Cheyanne mountain?”
Kerry’s brow creased again. “All at once? That’s a sudden hair on fire?” She asked. “Why? What’s so urgent? They know what’s going on down here. We’ve been working that project for months.”
“They won’t tell me.”
In the act of opening her own laptop, Kerry paused and stared at her partner. “Excuse me?”
“They won’t tell me why they want me to fly there, but they’re sending a plane for me. In two hours.” Dar said. “So now I’ve got to get a ride over to the airport and hope to hell they’re open and they let me in.”
Kerry was still staring at her. “What the hell is going on, Dar?”
“So I guess I’ll take my laptop with me and work on John’s framework on the way.” Dar soldiered on doggedly. “Unless they really are sending a fighter jet for me.” She shook her head and pulled her laptop closer. “Can’t open one of these in that back seat.”
“A f…” Kerry paused.
“Yeah… told him been there done that.” Dar pecked at her keyboard. “Jake, are the modules all linked for Dect Pharma?”
“Yeah.” Jake answered from his position on the couch. “I put the new libraries up there. They said they all compiled.” He shifted the laptop on his lap. “But that stuff is a little weirdo.”
“A little.” Dar muttered. “Where is that… there it is.” She focused on the screen, fingers moving rapidly over the keys. “C’mere you..”
Kerry shut the laptop. “Okay..” She stood up. “I’ll go back to the house and pack a bag for you and pick up my car so I can drive you to the airport.” She said. “You stay here and get as much done for him as you can before I get back.”
Dar glanced up at her. “Thanks Ker.” She said. “Sorry for the chaos.”
“No problem, maestro.” She walked behind Dar, putting her hands on her shoulders and squeezing them. “Angela, call Colleen for me would you please?”
“Sure.” Angela put pen to pad, and waited. “Whatcha want her to do?”
“Tell her to see what she can work out to house the whole company up there.” Kerry said. “Tell her to think of it as picking up the whole building and moving it up there, and add in what it’s going to cost to house everyone in the area until we get settled.”
“You got it.”
“I’ll be back.” The bizarre events of the last few minutes just made her shake her head, as she went around the table and to the door, picking up the golf cart fob on her way. “Lock the door when I leave. You guys don’t need distractions right now.”
“Gotcha!” Angela followed her. “Gonna be one of those days!”
Ceci perched on the picnic table, watching the activity in the center of the complex. It was hot, and sticky, and uncomfortable, and the gym kids had all taken off their shirts as they went back and forth setting up things to their satisfaction on the far end of the space.
They were covered in sweat, but seemed happy with the results, and two of them were using wood debris they’d dragged in from the parking lot to build a rack for the bars they’d brought to sit on.
“I don’t know, Andy. Is this really a good idea?” She asked her husband, who arrived, taking off a pair of worn leather gloves and leaning against the table near her. “What happened last night is scary.” She clarified. “I don’t think it’s safe for these kids to be here. I know they’re houses are all messed up, but we should find a different place for them.”
Andy regarded the weightlifters, and the Humvee parked in the center of the square. “Wasn’t too good.” He admitted. “Easy to get all wrong, in that dark, with guns round.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Ev’erbody getting all het up.”
“Do you think those guys were trying to hurt people?” Ceci asked. “The ones who set that building on fire?”
“Ah don’t.” Andy said. “Think they just didn’t have no place to go to, and that there building let them in.” He studied the lifters. “Ah went over there and looked round some. Bottom level there had a shop in it.”
“The sandwich shop, yes.” Ceci agreed. “That had a grill.”
“So they were just looking to… were they cooking in there?”
“Seems like.” Andy agreed. “Probly didn’t mean nothing.” He shrugged. “Found me a fella holed up near by there saw it all. Just folks lived in one of those camps down the road there.”
“Yeap. Got them out of the rain, fella said. Thinks those cops came down too hard for it.”
Ceci could imagine it. It had been a gas grill, and had gotten out of hand, maybe with people using it who, like her, had no idea how to cook over an open flame. “I can see it.” She said. “After all, we have this grill back here.” She indicated the now quiet area.
There was a propane tank connected to it, and two more standing by, and she wondered briefly where it had come from. Then she figured it was probably better not to ask. “But we put it outside, on the concrete.” She noted, the grill seated in the open, a big plastic tarp folded nearby to cover it when they were done for the day.
“Aint nobody here without good sense.” Andy said. “But ah don’t know you’re right, Cec. Coulda gone bad here, even with Pete and them round.” He studied the open space. “Figure something out.”
Mark’s bike was gone, he’d headed off towards home and now some of the staff who’d showed up were busy inside the building, it’s windows all thrown wide open to the languid air. A half dozen more had appeared after breakfast, including two more of Dar’s programmers.
“Ahm goin to go try and raise up them kids.” Andy decided. “See if that radio’s connecting up now.” He walked back into the building and along the hallway down to the room on the end, a small utility space that had a large window that faced east.
It was open, and he could smell the salt water as the breeze shifted a little, rustling the dead leaves outside. He could hear the sound of flapping tarps and hammers, and an echo of incoherent shouts somewhere in the distance and had to concede that the area even with guards wasn’t that safe.
Inside the room was a battered table with a radio set on it, and a long coaxial cable that went out the open window and up the wall outside to an antenna fastened to the wall and extending up to the top of the second floor.
Attached to the radio was a battery, and he checked the charge before he turned on the radio and sat down on the wooden stool in front of it, putting down his gloves and reaching out to tune the dials.
An earlier attempt to contact the island had been unsuccessful, though it had been hard to say at the time if it had been technical issues or just Dar and Kerry being busy.
After an adjustment to the frequencies, he picked up the mic. “Lo! Lo there you all.” He paused. “Lo! You all listening?” He released the transmitter and waited.
After a moments silence a bit of crackling emerged. “Go ahead, Dad.” Kerry’s voice responded, and behind it he could hear the distant sound of a helicopter. “What’s up? I’m just heading back to the house.”
“Wa’ll.” Andy said. “They all had a dust up here last night.” He reported. “Evry’body’s all right, but Cec don’t like the idea of keeping folks ovah here. Thinks maybe we should get them all outta here, and let that boy handle the fixin.”
There was a pause. “Well.” Kerry’s tone sounded like a mix between resignation and amusement. “Actually.. there’s a complication.”
Uh oh. Andy had known his daughter in law long enough by now to read her verbal cues, always more subtle and nuanced than Dar’s. “What’s the story, kumquat?” He asked. “Ah thought that landlord be back today to get hisself sorted out. Aint showed up yet though.”
“He signed over the property to us.” Kerry responded. “We now own the place.”
Andy stared at the radio. “Say what?” He managed, after a pause. “You all mean that boy done ran off?” He knew a moment of honest shock and surprise. “For real?”
“Yeah. For real. He had title to it, I guess. Didn’t have the money to fix anything, so he cut his losses and left us on the hook for it.” Kerry said. “And oh by the way, we’re going to be on our way to the airport in a few minutes. Dar’s got to fly to Colorado.”
Kerry’s voice now held resigned humor. “Anyway, I have to get her bag packed. I’ll stop on the way back and fill you guys all in. But we kinda should try to keep the place in one piece.”
Andy looked around the inside of the room, at a loss for words. Finally he picked up the mic. “Roger that.” He said into it, in an almost mechanical way. “Talk at ya later.”
He put the mic down and stood up, then reached over and turned off the radio to save the battery before he walked out into the hallway and looked down it. Overhead he could hear the sound of people walking around upstairs, and the scrape of chairs against the now bare floors.
He could smell mold, and debris from the outside, and the dusty scent of canvas and plastic from the materials they sealed the roof vents with.
He could hear the laughter upstairs of the workers, and it sounded so relaxed and carefree. “Some bitch.” He pronounced audibly. “Some damn bitch.”
Pete came out of the first level washroom, wiping his hands on a paper towel. “Sup?” He paused. “You look like a eel bit ya.”
Andy put his hands on his hips. “Fella what owns this place done ran out on us.”
“That punk haired little scoot?” Pete came over. “Wasn’t worth much anyhow. You all had to board up this place your own self you said.”
“Ah know that. Figured they’d come in here and fix it up after we done that, but the little bastard just handed over the keys and took off.”
Pete stared at him, eyes widened. “No shit.”He finally spluttered. “Left this all up to you all?” He made a vague gesture around the lower floor. “All this fixin? All that mess? For real?”
“Seems like.” Andy shook his head and exhaled in disgust. “Swear to the Lord, ain’t a situation we don’t get all up into.”
Pete folded the paper towel neatly into a square and shoved it into his back pocket. “Well, buddy, we better go round up some more of our old friends then, cause more stuff like last night’s gonna take more than me and old Hank.”
“Specially if you own this thing now. Don’t want it to be set on fire.”
“So that’s that.” Kerry dropped a leather overnight bag on the dresser. “As if things weren’t complicated enough, now we have crazytown happening at what suddenly is our property. Jesus.”
She was talking specifically to herself, the condo otherwise quiet, only the sound of the air conditioning plant cycling in the background.
“This is nuts.” She continued, as she sorted through the drawers and selected underwear and socks she then neatly tucked into the bag. “Totally nuts.”
She went into the closet and grabbed two of Dar’s favored short sleeve silk shirts and two pairs of jeans and returned, folding them and adding them as well.
For dealing with the government, especially the military, her partner always preferred to dress down. Kerry wasn’t sure that really made sense but she didn’t argue with it, and considering it was actually coming into fall where she was going she added a light sweater as well.
She ducked into the bathroom and opened one of the cabinets, pulling out a small bag and sorting out travel bottles worth of body wash and shampoo and a fresh scrubbie and tossing in a little bottle of Advil that was Dar’s concession to medical necessities.
She pulled out her phone and opened it, checking the calendar in the mostly useless device, glad to see that neither of them were close to cycling. “One small blessing.” She muttered and shoved the phone into her back pocket again.
She brought the small back out into the bedroom and put it in the overnight bag, pausing a moment thoughtfully, before she went back out into the main part of the condo and into the kitchen, opening up the refrigerator and pulling open one of the small partitions.
Inside were a supply of Hershey’s kisses. She removed a handful of them, their tightly foil wrapped surface cold against her skin as she returned and added them into the bathroom kit before she zipped up the whole thing and dusted her hands off.
“Okay.” She brought the bag into the living room and dropped it onto the coffee table, pausing to stand thoughtfully for a moment in silence as she considered if there was something else she needed to do before going back to the cottage.
Checking her watch, she decided she had time for a cup of tea and she went into the kitchen to put up some water for it, pausing to glance out the kitchen window at the partly cloudy weather outside.
It was breezy, and past the battered outside wall of the garden she spotted two men working, removing debris from the edge of the water where rollers were still coming up and surging past the gates.
They would need to rebuild the beach, she’d heard one of the other residents saying. Have a barge come out and pump sand in from offshore to rebuild the edge of the island and Kerry recalled them sounding impatient about it, as though that was the most important thing in the world to get done.
Here they were, she shook her head a little, sitting out here with all the comforts in the world, with power and air conditioning, people to get them pretty much whatever they wanted, without worrying about dark nights and people looting their homes.
She remembered talking to Maria and Mayte earlier. Tomas was resting comfortably, and the hospital had operated on his broken leg, and given him antibiotics.
Maria told her all about how grateful they were to be in the little residential hotel next to the hospital, and how there was even a little Cuban cafeteria open in the lobby where they’d had cafecita and pastalitos and how lucky they felt when they saw what was going on elsewhere.
Mayte had told her about how the Miami Herald had found them, and interviewed them and hoped she hadn’t minded too much about it.
The water pot hooted gently, and she poured the water over her loose tea ball, the scent of the green leaves with their faintly seaweed tainted steam rising to her nose.
She hadn’t minded. Kerry watched the tea steep. Even if she’d had, she woudn’t have told them that of course, but she really hadn’t, since it wasn’t as if they hadn’t told the truth, and frankly if she was going to have her picture on CNN, she’d much rather be for doing something laudable.
She wondered if someone had chased down what her mother’s view of it was. A faint smile twitched on Kerry’s face, as she removed the tea ball and added a drizzle of local orange blossom honey to the tea, imagining her reaction to the picture of her daughter, in a pair of drenched cargo shorts and a sports bra, streaked with mud, yelling at the National Guard.
She lifted the cup and took a sip, swallowing it around a grin. Once they had decent access, she was looking forward to watching the clip, and wondered if one of the mails in her box she hadn’t had any time to look at was from Angie who surely would have seen it.
She wondered what her father would have said. Kerry stared out over the water. “He’d have taken the good press.” She decided, with a wry grimace. “Probably wouldn’t have mentioned Maria’s family are immigrants though.”
Or maybe he would have. Kerry felt she could grant that posthumous reasonable doubt.
She took the cup into the living room and sat down on the couch, extending her legs out and crossing her ankles, stretching out muscles sore from the previous day, taking the moment of quiet to consider what direction her plans were going to take next.
Dar studied the screen in front of her. “Pain in the ass not having those damn double screens here.” She scribbled a note on one of the pads Angela had passed over to her. “I’m never going to be able to read these stupid notes.”
“Yeah, sucks.” Jake agreed. “Could we go get them?” He looked up and over at her. “That ride on the boat was fun.”
“Fun.” Elvis agreed. “All right, Dar, I finished that recompile and checked it back in.”
“All right.” Dar paused. “Hey maybe we can ask my parents to bring them back.” She said. “Hang on.” She unclipped the radio from her belt. “Ker? Ker, you there?” She paused to listen, clicking the transmit button impatiently. “Ker?”
“Go ahead. All done packing here. I was just having some tea.” Kerry’s voice answered a moment later. “Had to grab the radio off the counter.”
“Did you get ahold of dad?” Dar scrolled down the page and reviewed the code on her screen. “If he’s coming back can he throw the screens in the programmer’s cubes into the truck? We need the eyeball space here.”
“Sure, I can ask.” Kerry responded. “I just got done telling him about the landlord. He might have stopped cursing by now.” She said. “They had some kind of kerfuffle there last night with the police. Everyone’s fine.” She hastened to say. “But it sounded like it shook them up.”
“Huh.” Dar diverted her attention. “That doesn’t sound good.” She said. “Maybe we should head over there.”
“I told them I’d stop by on the way back from taking you to the airport to get all the details.” Kerry reassured her. “Anyway, let me see if I can raise them again about the screens, then I’ll be over to pick you up.”
“Okay.” Dar went back to checking the code. “This isn’t going to be done in time, Ker.” She added, in an almost mutter.
“Keep working at it. We can talk about it when I get there, to see what to tell John.” Kerry told her. “See you in a bit.”
Dar put the radio down and concentrated on the programming in front of her. “All right lets see how that works out.”
A knock came at the front door, and Celeste hopped up to go answer it. “Hello?”
“Um.” There were two young men in polo shirts standing outside. “We have some data here that can maybe get sent?”
“Let ‘em in.” Dar called out, her sensitive ears catching the voices. She half turned as the door opened and the two techs entered. “You got it on a drive? Bring it over here.” She held out one hand to them. “C’mon, don’t just stand there. I’ve got a dozen things to do.”
The nearer tech came over and unzipped a case, removing a hard drive in a housing and offering it up to her. “Here it is. It’s pretty big.”
Dar inspected the connection to the drive. “USB.” She stood up and went over to the rack. “We got anything here I can plug this into that’s not secure?” She examined the stack of servers. “No.”
“Spare lappie?” Elvis suggested. “Got one in the bottom of that case.”
“Good idea.” Dar went to the case and opened it, fishing a laptop out and bringing it over to where the router sat on it’s small table, whirring away, it’s fan causing the linen covering the table to flutter.
“So, what are you guys doing here?” The tech who’d handed her the drive asked, hesitantly.
“Coding stuff.” Jake muttered. “What the hell does it look like we’re doing here, dude?”
“Hey I was just asking.”
Dar got the drive connected and quickly examined the contents. “Hmph.” She grunted. “That’s gonna take a while.” She plugged the laptop directly into the router and attached the hanging configuration cable to it, resting the laptop itself on top of the bulky device.
It was taking time out from her work, and now she was regretting even getting involved in the situation, regretting deciding to step in and do this guy a favor. With an irritated sound, she opened up a configuration window and examined what was going on inside the router.
“Is that what’s running everything?” The tech asked.
“Dude, sit down.” Elvis pointed at a chair. “Don’t bother her.”
It made Dar smile, safe enough as her back was to the room. There had been a period, naturally, of skeptical wariness when she’d first hired on her new programmers, not the least of which had been her own internal doubt on whether she was really suited for the work anymore.
She’d never really left it, always dabbling a little bit in the craft with her gopher and the monitoring programs that were, probably, still in use at ILS somewhere. But she hadn’t focused on it like she was now, and projects hadn’t depended on her coding skills like they did now.
So as a way to start, she’d thrown the code of the business systems they were running Roberts Automation on up into their newly born repository and invited them all to have at it in terms of fixing problems and suggesting improvements.
Because, she knew these folks she’d hired knew who she was, because she knew she’d been known in the industry for long enough and had been public enough but never in this arena. That wasn’t what she’d been in the business mags for. Wasn’t even what she’d mostly ever done for ILS.
That had ended well. She’d gotten a budding respect from them out of it, had used the app framework to develop a programming design guide for the group, and with the participation of her new team shined up the old pile of code and added features and functions that surprised and delighted the rest of the company in the bargain.
Now the programmers were stuck to her like ticks, and felt an almost hilarious sense of possession, and it did, in fact, make her smile as she stood there, her fingers moving over the keyboard.
She set up some configuration and put it in place, then went back to the laptop’s interface and checked the drive’s contents. “This text file the end point?”
“Yes.” Both techs had sat down on the couch and they answered almost together. “We’re just curious y’know. We do this too.” The second one told Elvis. “I mean, IT.”
Dar studied the text file. “You FTP this file?” She half turned and looked at them, her eyebrows hiked.
“The thing it’s going to is a dBASE 4 datastore.” The nearer tech told her. “We’re lucky it has an ethernet bus.”
Dar blinked at them, both her eyes widening. “dBase FOUR?”
He nodded. “It was written by the bosses uncle or something to do building site management back in the day. They never updated it. He says it still works, leave it alone.” He shrugged a little. “Which, I kinda get. My grandpop worked for the phone company, back in the day.”
“Ooookay.” Dar turned back around and opened a terminal program, cutting and pasting the config into place and watching the session connect. “You do this all manually?”
“That what’s on the other end of it?”
“Yeah, it puts the file in a directory, then the box picks it up and sucks it in. It’s just a CSV with embedded links to the pictures.” The tech got up and came over, curiously peering over her shoulder at the laptop. “Oh. Yeah there it is, that’s the right screen there.”
In another window, Dar opened the file she was getting ready to send. “Thought you all just got here?” She closed the file and started the transfer, watching the small text pinwheel whirl. “That’s a lot of data.”
The tech remained silent, and after a moment, Dar looked at him. He was a good looking kid, with tightly curled brown hair and a dark skin. “How’d you get it in so little time?”
“We don’t ask that stuff.” He finally said. “Boss got it where he got it, you know? From the governor.”
“Okay.” Dar responded mildly. “It’s on it’s way.” She waited as he peeked at the screen, then backed off and went back over to the couch to sit down. “Probably take about an hour.”
She turned back to the screen and re-opened the file in another session, running her eyes over the data which seemed to mostly be names and addresses. Curiously, she selected one of the embedded pictures and opened it, finding a hi res picture of a nice looking home inside.
Thoughtfully she closed the windows, and then went back to her seat, pulling it up to the table and putting her attention back on her programming. “We should have my dad throw the gamer chairs in the truck while he’s at it.” She muttered. “Take this stupid furniture out of here.”
“You’re going to what?” Ceci looked up from pouring luke warm ice tea into a cup. “Wait.. what?”
Andy came in and sat down at the conference table, propping his head up one one fist. “We got us a big old mess here.” He said. “Aint gonna be nobody to come fix this place if it gets wrecked.”
Ceci put the jug down and sat down in the seat next to him. The windows were wide open in the room and a slight breeze was coming in, but the leather chairs felt clammy and they were both sweating. “No, I get that.” She said. “That landlord turned out to be the exact turd I thought he was. Got it.” She held up a hand. “But do we need to turn this place into a fortress?”
“Ah do think so.” Her husband replied in a mild tone. “Ah sent out Hank and Pete to round up a few more fellers for it.” He said. “Specially if these here folks are goin to stick round here.”
Well, that made sense. Ceci paused. No, really none of it made any sense at all, but in the world that revolved around her daughter and her daughter in law that was relatively normal. They literally lived, she was convinced, in a bizarre vortex of what the hell.
She looked around the conference room. “Well.” She concluded. “I’ve wanted to redo this place. It’s too damn dark.” She decided. “Even if we have to sell cupcakes to finance it.”
Andy pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Ah’d like me a cupcake.”
“Of course you would.” Ceci got up. “Okay, well, I’m going to grab a pad and start taking down ideas on what we need to get done to get this place back in order.” She decided. “And stick my head out on the street and see if anyone’s out there selling cupcakes.”
Andy grinned as she purposefully walked out, reaching out to take the cup of warm tea she’d left behind and taking a sip from it.
The conference room was right next to the front door, and that was also wide open, to get as much of a cross breeze through as possible, the generator being saved for the evening to run the fans that made the building habitable.
It wasn’t horribly uncomfortable. He’d been in much worse places, in worse situations and here he could go around in a tank top and not have thirty pounds of gear strapped on him.
Even the stress of the landlord abandoning them was relative. It meant they now could do what they wanted with the place, and though there was a ton of money involved, there was nothing around here unfixable.
A flicker of shadow caught his attention and he looked up and through the doorway as a slight figure entered, peering around with wide eyes. “Lo there.” He called out. “That you all, Zoe?”
Zoe reacted to his voice with a relieved sound, and a smile. “Oh, Mr Andy!” She said. “I am so glad to find someone here.”
“Plenty of folks round.” Andy told her. “You all doing okay?”
Zoe sat down on the chair Ceci had so recently vacated. “Our house is gone.” She said. “It fell into pieces. We just went from the shelter to there to see it.” She added, sadly. “My mama says, at least all of us is alive.”
“Wall.” Andy consciously gentled his voice. “That’s a true thing, Zoe. Aint’ nothing nowhere as important as your family.” He said. “Building’s just a thing. Ya’ll can always fix a thing. Can’t always fix people.”
Zoe nodded. “Yes. But they told us, it will be a long time before anything can be done.” She said. “So my papa said, I should come here to see if there was something I can do, because the shelter is so… “ She made a face. “There are people there who are not so good.” She hesitated. “They are angry, and mean.”
“Mean to you all?” Andy asked, quietly. Zoe had a cleft lip, like Hank, and the surgery to fix it had left her face a little twisted and disfigured, and given her a faint lisp to her speech.
She had wavy light brown hair and pretty almost purple eyes and now she was wearing shorts and a company logo tshirt and she had on her back a backpack that had a little stuffed kitty keychain hanging from it.
Zoe nodded. “My brother got in a fight last night. He got hurt.” She said. “So many people there.”
“Kind of a big old mess here.” Andy remarked, a touch apologetically. “Got no power, and the roof got some wet.”
“Kerry said yesterday.” Zoe agreed. “But there are good people here.” She said. “You are here, and Mr. Carlos is here. My papa said, it would be okay.”
Well. Andy regarded her. Maybe Kerry would want to take her over to the island later on, with the two programmers. “Yeap.” He just said. “Lets go see what we all can get into.” He got up and finished the tea, crumpling and putting the cup into a garbage bag. “Ah think mah wife’s out there counting carpets.”
Zoe followed, calling out happily as she spotted Carlos down the hall, with now more familiar faces newly arrived, a buzz of conversation filling the space.
Lord. Andy sighed internally. What ain’t gonna happen next.
Kerry pulled up to the curb in the arrivals level at Miami International Airport, pausing to regard the building as she put her car in park. “Jesus, Dar. Are you sure this is open?”
The front of the airport was completely covered in metal shutters, and halfway down the concourse the overhang that sheltered the outside entrance had collapsed, twisted metal structure draped all down the street and blocking all but the leftmost lane.
Past that was nothing but wreckage – the far end of the terminal invisible. Part of the parking complex, which filled the inside of the departure and arrival loop had collapsed, and between some of the debris cars left parked in the lot could be seen.
There were four police cars, and three military SUV’s parked in front of the one visible entrance, and that was it. The rest of the landscape was barren and empty, save bits of debris being blown about by the wind.
“Well.” Dar seemed a bit nonplussed. She had the overnight bag at her feet and now she took off her sunglasses to study the wreckage. “Its not open for commercial flights, no.” She conceded. “That’s what the radio said, anyway. “ She indicated the AM station playing in the car. “So I guess it makes sense….”
“Can they even land an airplane here?”
“Governor’s buddy showed up.”
“Maybe they drove.”
Dar regarded her with a hint of skepticism.
“Yeah, okay, that’s a long drive. Lets get you inside.” Kerry shook her head a bit, then she opened her door and slid out of the SUV, glancing around to see if there was anyone to talk to about leaving it parked there.
Literally no one. She’d been to this airport dozens of times and never seen it this empty, not even when dropping Dar off for a 5 am flight. “Holy bananas, Dar.”
“Holy bananas, Ker.” Dar checked her watch, then got out of the passenger side and shut the door, slinging the bag’s strap over her shoulder. “C’mon. Lets see if anyone’s inside.”
They walked together along the debris covered sidewalk, the wind howling a little through the struts of the collapsed overhang. “What a mess.” Dar studied the luggage check in station, busted into a thousand pieces scattered over the sidewalk.
She picked up a bit of the check in station. “Plywood.” She dropped it to the ground. “At least it’s not pressboard.”
“It’s a mess.” Kerry agreed. “Pressboard? Dar that wouldn’t last fifteen minutes in this climate.”
“Never stopped them before.”
They went to the closed sliding door and it stayed closed as they reached it. Dar shaded her eyes with her hand and pressed against the surface, peering inside. “Lights are off.”
Kerry sidestepped a foot or so and knocked on the other door. “You sure he said this airport, Dar?”
Dar studied the dark interior, searching for any motion. “No I’m not sure, matter of fact. He said the airport.” She muttered. “Then he hung up. But if they were sending any reasonable sized plane it would have to be to here.”
“It’s a bigger mess than this is. This is inland at least.” Dar said. “Wait, there’s someone in there.”
Kerry knocked again, wrapping her keys around her hand to add a staccato tang to the sound. “Hope he knows who you are. I’m not really in the mood to be hopping the airfield fence today.”
“He doesn’t know who I am we’re going to just turn around and go home.” Dar stepped back as the figure inside came to the door and peered at her suspiciously. “Not really in the mood to be arguing with a rentacop today.” It was a tall man in a security guard uniform, and he looked from one to the other of them for a long moment.
“What do you think he’s thinking, Dar?” Kerry stepped back as well, and slid her hands into her front pockets. “We’re some dumb chicks who are lost?”
She saw the man reach for his belt and for a brief moment she felt a tingle of alarm, but it was just to retrieve a ring of keys and she relaxed as he took his time hunting through them.
“We’ll find out in a minute.” Dar slid her sunglasses back on and glanced around, lifting her head a little, sniffing reflectively. “That’s jet fuel.” She concluded, after a moment.
“That smell.” Dar rocked up and down on her heels.
“Well.” Kerry remained facing the door, watching the guard. “Its an airport. Is that unusual?”
“In a closed airport?”
Kerry paused and gave her a sideways look, watching a brief grin and a wink appear on Dar’s face. Then she resumed watching the guard, who was now fitting a key into the inside of the door and twisting it. After a moment it clicked, but didn’t move.
The guard got his fingers into the crack between the doors and hauled at them, causing them to open with a scream of objecting metal tracks. “Fuck.”
A gust of air puffed out at them, full of mildewed carpet and musky, sweating security guard. Highly unpleasant. “Hello?” Kerry asked, in a mild tone. “Sorry to cause you so much trouble.”
The man got between the doors, wedging his body sideways and shoving against them with both hands. They opened all the way up and he turned to look at them. “Well? Whatcha want?” He asked, impatiently. “Airport’s closed!”
“Yes, we realize that.” Dar stepped forward, and almost instinctively, the man stepped back. “I was asked to come over here and meet a military plane.” She said. “Is there anyone from the Department of Defense I could talk to inside?”
It totally wasn’t what he was expecting, Kerry evaluated, and so, he had no idea what to say to Dar to that question. Her partner was a half a head taller than the guard, and was staring at him with that peculiar intensity that she well remembered from that very first moment she’d faced in the doorway of her small office.
“Well..” He glanced around. “I don’t know nothing about that.”
“Did a plane from Colorado just land here, by any chance?” Dar persisted. “Probably either Air Force, or Naval aviation?”
The guard got out of the way and gestured inside. “C’mon in and look around, ladies. I got no idea what you’re talking about but sure. C’mon. Least you smell good.” He gave in with surprising grace. “There’s some guys in the back, in the office. Maybe they can tell you.”
“You can head back.” Dar suggested to Kerry, as they edged through the door. “I’ll…”
“You can’t call me. Lets find out if you’re going anywhere and save us both the trouble.” Kerry put a hand on her hip and nudged her forward. “Otherwise I won’t be able to think straight.”
Dar grinned, a little, but shifted the strap on her bag and started after the guard, who was trudging through the gloom inside heading down the concourse towards a bit of illumination coming from somewhere inside.
Somewhere something was leaking. Dar could hear water hitting the polished concrete floor and the inside of the building smelled about what you would expect a huge public space to smell like without air conditioning for days when it required that to keep mold spores at bay through pure humidity control.
South Florida was a swamp. Both because it was, most of it being at or only slightly above sea level, but also because it had a true tropical, humid climate that had more in common with the Bahamas and the other islands of the Caribbean basin than the rest of the continental US.
Everything was air conditioned. It was the only thing that allowed people who worked and lived in the area to wear anything but bathing suits and as they slogged through the musty, humid air Dar was already missing the at least slight air movement of the outdoors.
“Mess in here.” The guard muttered. “Stupid assholes turning off all the air to save them a buck.”
They would probably have to have every surface mold spore extracted, and so, a false economy. Kerry concluded as she walked alongside Dar’s taller form. Or maybe, probably, they’d just turn all the air plants on and let them run for a few days and spray a lot of air freshener.
Probably. Kerry could almost taste the bacteria on her toungue.
“Much damage?” Dar asked as they went between the dark check in counters and along the concourse.
“Yeah. Everything from G down’s screwed.” The guard said, cheering up a little at the opportunity to share bad news. “Like, really screwed, y’know? Shutters got ripped off and the windows blew in. Whole thing’s a wreck.”
“Least in D, here, the entrance is in the curve. Backside of it got wiped out though.” The guard said. “And forget the sky bridges. Stupid idiot managers were supposed to drive them against the terminal wall but they didn’t. What a god damned mess that is. Wrecked half of airside.”
“You can drive an air bridge?” Kerry asked, distracted. “Really?”
“Sure.” The guard told her. “Just the front part, right? Where the plane goes. You can drive it back so it’s flat to the wall mostly.”
“Huh.” Kerry said. “Seems like a crazy thing to forget.”
“In a rush. Everyone wanted outta here. Now the all want to get back in.” The guard shook his head, muttering under his breath as he stumped along ahead of them. “Can’t blame em I guess. Glad I was in the ride out crew got me a cot and everything.”
Miami International Airport was U shaped, with terminals that wrapped around the parking lot in the center and the D gates were on the north side, the G, H, and J gates were on the south end and the storm had come in almost right over it.
Like most airports it had started life as a military airfield, Wrigley, and through construction and reconstruction morphed into a large, sprawling facility that handled both passenger and cargo traffic and was the primary US gateway to South America.
They walked past the security stations, all packed up and covered in plastic and beyond that Dar could now see the light was coming from the American Airline VIP club in what, in operation, would be the secured area. The stores on either side were shut tight with rolling doors and on either side the boarding gates still had shutters in place giving the entire facility a dark, dank atmosphere.
However, as they walked closer to the club the air around them stirred and moderated, and by the time they got to the entrance, you could feel the air conditioning and the guard pulled at his shirt as they walked inside. “That’s better.” He muttered. “Lemme find somebody for you to talk to.”
Inside the Admiral’s Club, the space had been taken over as a control center for the airport staff. There was power inside, and the coffee makers were going full force to service the dozens of men with papers and clipboards scattered across the small courtesy tables.
The smell of the coffee and pizza were prevalent, with a tinge of old cold doughnut on its fringes. Where there would be a little buffet set out for the airlines’ guests, boxes and bags of warehouse store bought sugar and creamer and paper plates were stacked.
The men closest to the door looked up as they entered, and they attracted attention immediately. A tall, silver haired man in a guyabera came over to them, glancing at the guard before focusing on Dar and Kerry with a look of perplexed concern.
“Hi.” Kerry short circuited him. “We know you’re busy here, so let’s just ask our question and get on our way. Have you had a military plane land here recently? We’re supposed to meet them.”
Dar made one of her little grunting noises that were half amusement and half satisfaction. She wrapped her fingers around her overnight back strap, content to let Kerry do the talking, while she glanced around the room and tried to reconcile her own memories of it as a passenger with the somewhat organized chaos she saw now.
“Hel…lo.” The man said. “I’m not really sure…”
“No, I get it.” Kerry smiled at him. “We’re just interrupting you – sorry about that but you know what it’s like working with the government. They just tell you to go somewhere and here we are.” She added. “Should we talk to flight operations maybe?”
“The.. airport’s closed.” The man finally said. “So I’m not sure…”
“Would they stop a department of defense flight from landing?” Dar spoke up for the first time. “Assuming the field is cleared for them to do so safely?”
The silver haired man half turned and focused on her. “Department of defense?” He repeated. “Okay well,that’s a different story. Come with me, ladies.” He turned his head. “Miguel, I’ll be back. Let me take these folks over to control.”
“Si.” The man he’d been talking to nodded. “I’ll keep going with this.” He pointed at a clipboard full of dirty papers.
Their guard friend waved at them. “Good excuse for coffee. Good luck.”
They exited the club and went along a corridor that got progressively warmer and mustier, until the silver haired man turned and swiped his card on a large metal door, pausing until it blinked green before he pushed the door open.
Inside it seemed metallic and the air dropped back down to a dank chill. The floor switched from carpet to linoleum tile, and the walls to painted concrete block, with a thick layer of off green that anyone having gone to public school would likely recognize.
Sounds echoed, and their steps were squeaky distinct, though the floor had a section in the middle where the wax had worn down and was scuffed.
Delivery carts were lined up against the walls, mostly empty. A few with supplies stacked on them, including tape and bags of bags, and some folded tarps.
“Thanks for taking the time to take us where we need to go.” Kerry spoke up after a moment. “I know it must be crazy.”
“Well.” The man led the way down a long hallway, with anonymous metal doors with cryptic identification blocks next to them on either side. “Yeah, it’s a mess, but to be honest, administering this facility’s a mess at the best of times. So it’s all relative.” He glanced around at her. “My name’s Steven Hillingdon, by the way. I’m in charge of the civil side of this place.”
“Where to start, huh?” Kerry sympathized.
“Where to start.” He paused at one door, and swiped his card again. “Hope you don’t mind the stairs….” Here he paused and looked at both of them in question, finely distinct eyebrows lifting just slightly.
“Sorry.” Kerry said. “Kerry and Dar Roberts.” She indicated herself, and then her partner. “We run an IT consulting company that does business with the government and they don’t view a major hurricane as a travel impediment.”
“Got it.” Hillingdon stepped back and pulled the door open. “Hey if the government is sending a plane here, it must be important. They know what kind of a mess this place is in, but on the flipside, they’ve got hardware that can deal with the mess.”
“Third floor.” He indicated the steps. “Sorry about that, but they have the elevators turned off. Not sure if it’s more power savings or the fact we don’t have to have to have the firemen in here if someone gets stuck.”
“No problem.” Dar started up the steps. “Least there’s no carpet in here to get wet.”
“That is the truth. Certainly stinks on the public side.”
“All right.” Andy stood on the landing in the center of the open central space of the building. Hank’s Humvee was back, and now Pete’s Wrangler was parked next to it, it’s shortwave whip antenna with its frowny face topper waving gently in the breeze. “Get this here mission all started up now.”
Carlos emerged behind him and came up to the edge of the concrete slab. “Whole deal’s changed, huh Pops?” He remarked. “Crazy crazy just got even mo crazy. Now we got skin in the game here for sure.”
“Some bitch changed all the right.” Andy agreed. “Aint gonna have no more of that all mess from last night round here.” He sniffed reflectively. “Nobody’s going to get no ideas when we’re done with it.”
Andy glanced at him. “That landlord?”
Carlos nodded. “He never did crap for us.” He said bluntly. “So you know, I’m glad it went down that way, even if it’s a mess for the bosses to handle.” He folded his brawny arms over his chest. “We’ll figure it out, even if we gotta go barter for stuff.”
Andy smiled, just a little. “Ain’t no doubt.” He agreed. Along with Hank and Pete, there were now eight more men in their mid thirties and forties in the central area, all in worn jeans or camo pants and faded tshirts and ballcaps, all a bit battered by life looking.
As Andy himself was.
They were enjoying relaxing near the Humvee, laughter and trash talking echoing a little over the tattered grass, one of them pointing over at the lifting area now with obvious approval.
“Buddies of yours, Pops?” Carlos asked, in a casual tone. “You got a lot of em.”
“Wall.” Andy thought about that. “Most folks who done served ah at least’ll chit chat with cause we got that in common.” He said. “Got good and bad like ev’rywhere else. But these all boys are good nuff for me to let near my kids.”
“Uh huh.’ Carlos mused. “Pops, you know they can kinda kick ass themselves, right?”
“Still mah kids.” Andy was unrepentant. “But yes ah do know that. Dar done took one of them boy scouts down by the Hunter place last night.” He chuckled a little. “Tackled him so hard his damn ears near came off.”
Carlos could imagine it. He knew his boss had a temper, and wasn’t shy about being physical. “Guess we know where that comes from.” He grinned as Andy gave him a side eyed look. “Hey, total respect! Between you and her it’s an honor to be allowed to be security around here.”
Andy smiled briefly. “Dar done grew up where being able to scrap was normal.” He said. “Ah never did tell her she got a pass for being a girl.”
No, Carlos thought to himself, getting an unexpected insight. “Hey did they get that place?” He asked, after a brief pause. “Holy crap if they’ve got to mess around with that, too???”
“Ah do not know, but I spect it’s likely cause they do get into every damn situation.” Andy sighed. “Lord it don’t never end.”
Andy and Carlos both turned, to find one of Scott’s ex friends standing there, hands in pockets. He wasn’t the same man who’d showed up the other day.
“Lo’” Andy responded. “If y’all are lookin for that wheel chair man, he’s not round.”
“No, I know where Wheels is.” The man said, with a slight shake of his head. He had curly black hair and a scar across the side of his face that twisted it just a little. “Joe was here. Said maybe you were looking for some help around here or whatever.”
Andy turned all the way around and studied him for a long moment. Carlos just remained silent, withholding judgement or deferring it. “What you got a mind to do?” He finally asked.
“I can do construction.” The man responded. “Y’all gonna need new walls up in there. I do that.” He said. “And I might know where to get my hands on some stuff to do it with.” He added. “If you got some way to move it.”
Carlo’s eyebrows lifted. “You do drywall?”
“That’s lathe backed.” The man jerked his head towards the building. “Gonna need to be taped and jointed. Yeah.” He said. “I do that.” He said. “Before you ask me why I don’t just make everyone out there no offer, it’s because you done what you done for Wheels.”
“Scott.” Carlos corrected him. “We don’t call him that here.”
“C’mon inside.” Andy decided. “Lets have us a cup of joe and chit chat.” He gestured towards the door. “See if we can make us a deal.”
“Always use a cup of joe.”
Kerry slid her sunglasses back over her eyes as she emerged from the dark tomb of the closed airport into the murky sunlight, gratified to find her car right where she left it tucked against the curb.
In normal times, there was no doubt she’d be running around chasing a tow truck for it, but today it just sat there, behind the government and military vehicles, unmolested and unremarked.
There was still no one anywhere around, but her ears detected the sound of jet engines warming up from the field on the other side of the terminal and she hoped Dar was sitting comfortably inside along with her two friendly young pilots.
They were from the Midwest and utterly wowed by the destruction, taking picture after picture of the airfield she’d gotten a good look at from the operations center inside.
Jetways had been ripped right off the building and were strewn all over the semicircle of tarmac she could see, blocking any access to the building and forcing the military transport that had been sent for her partner to park on the far side of the taxi path.
It was a Embraer jet, but converted to military use, and it was blocky and a bit ugly but Dar had been assured it had been kitted out with regular seats and she wasn’t going to be stuck sitting on strap webbing or on top of a cargo box.
Dar wouldn’t have cared. Kerry got into her car and almost envied that escape from their current reality into what was a vaster normality once you got out of the South Florida area.
She started the SUV and then paused, regarding the wrecked upper level blocking her path. “Well, hell.” She did a three point turn and went down the wrong way, down the inbound road to the terminal, hoping she didn’t encounter either police or a truck until she reached a place she could hop the curb to a egress lane.
She got to a point where she could see the field and paused, pulling over near the edge of the road so she could watch the one small moving point making it’s careful way around the debris on the field towards the runway. It waited, as a larger plane, also military, but gigantic in size landed and reversed it’s engines, the deep rumble vibrating loud and itchy inside Kerry’s ears.
The smaller plane scooted over to the end of the runway and paused, heat wash visible to Kerry’s eyes from it’s jet engines.
The large cargo plane trundled past coming back from the far end of the runway and moved towards a pair of large hangars that were the busiest section of the airport, full of mottled green colored trucks.
Kerry’s eyes shifted to the smaller plane as it started to move, rapidly coming up to speed and then unexpectedly launching itself up into the air and arching around, it’s engines thundering in a somewhat scary to watch maneuver.
Kerry closed her window and smiled, guessing her partner was enjoying the ride. She put the car back into drive and cautiously edged her way out of the airport, moving past collapsed light poles as she got around the far end of the terminal.
The parking lot tool booths, she noted, were completely wrecked. “What a mess.” She pulled into the lane that promised an exit to the eastbound highways, and as she did she saw in her rearview mirror two airport pickup trucks moving along slowly, lights flashing.
It was going to be a long time, she realized, until the airport was ready to handle commercial traffic. It was one thing to clear the runways enough for emergency transport, and something else entirely to have a facility that was capable of handling normal people.
She shook her head and got up the ramp to the highway, merging into the very sparse traffic at midday with the sense of having a unique experience that wasn’t particularly wanted.
After a few minutes of driving in silence, she turned on the radio, tuned to a local station. Instead of random pop music, it was an audio version of the local news she’d been watching on television, in fact, one of the local television stations being simulcast.
“Yick.” Kerry turned it off, exhausted from all the constant bad news.
Once she was down on street level again she paused at the corner where she normally would have turned left to go to the office, and pondered, freed from having to make an instant decision by the lack of traffic. She resisted temptation to drive down to Hunter’s Point and headed left.
They had gotten most of the biggest debris dragged out of the main street, and she was able to move along despite the frequent puddles with relatively good speed, but she was able to look right and left at what had been a familiar landscape now turned horror show.
Most of the buildings and stores still had shutters and boards up. Any external signage was gone, and a lot of the large trees that had lined the streets were now collapsed over them, blocking the side streets and in some cases leaning against buildings.
In front of where there had been a small sandwich shop there was now a handmade cart, with people gathered around it, and she recognized the woman behind it with her hibachi grill as the owner of the sandwich store.
Instinctively, Kerry pulled over and hopped out, reaching back to make sure she had her wallet in her pocket as she closed the door and headed over to the cart. “Sasha!” She called out, as she stepped over a pile of branches and between two debris covered cars.
The bronze skinned woman waved at her. “Hello Kerry!” She was standing behind the cart, a fan in one hand, waving the smoke from the hibatchi. “How are you in all this crazy time?”
Four men were sitting on the hood of one of the wrecked cars nearby, munching on sandwiches evidently purchased from Sasha’s cart. A fifth was waiting for his order, strips of meat grilling for it on the grill.
It smelled really good. Sasha was Vietnamese, she and her brother brought to the US when they were small children, making their living with the small shop that sold pho and bahn mi sandwiches and was a favorite place of the staff.
On the cart, aside from the hibatchi on it’s sturdy metal platform were containers of pickled vegetables and beneath it on the lower shelf a plastic container of baguettes.
“How am I.” Kerry looked up and down the street, with it’s wreckage. “How’s anyone?” She asked. “I see you got set up though.”
“Just like in Saigon.” Sasha smiled at her, eyes twinkling. “Right on the street. And anyway, all the freezer unfroze in the store I must do something with it. Might as well sell sandwiches!” She said. “Maybe tomorrow I can do a pot of pho. Kiki is seeing if he can do the noodle for it.”
“I’ll take one.” Kerry said at once. “Matter of fact, give me three, since my parents in law are at the office and I’m headed over there.”
“One with the vegetables then.” Sasha said. “Carlos was here before, with some of his gorillas.” She opened a container and removed a handful of meat strips, laying them expertly out on the grill. “He told me all the stuff that went on last night.”
“The fire and the police and all that?” Kerry glanced down the road. “Crazy.”
“Crazy.” Sasha split open a baguette and loaded it down with meat and vegetables, adding a squeeze of sauce and some sliced cucumber to the top before she handed it over to the waiting man. “Here you go.”
“Looks great.” The man took it, sniffing appreciably. “What kind of food is this?” He was dressed in a guyabera and cutoff denim shorts, with hiking boots and a straw hat. He took a bite of the sandwich. “Mmm.”
“It’s from Vietnam.” Kerry supplied, as Sasha was busy flipping the meat on the grill. “It’s great. Really fresh, and the taste is amazing.”
The man chewed thoughtfully. “Vietnam.” He said, after he swallowed. “Huh. Interesting.” He lifted the sandwich and wandered off, heading back down the street.
Both Kerry and Sasha watched him go. “He is not from here.” Sasha commented. “Probably a reporter taking pictures of all the damage.”
“Probably.” Kerry agreed. “There’s a lot to take pictures of. I was just over at the airport and wow.” She watched Sasha assembling the sandwiches. “How’d your shop end up?”
“Not so bad.” Sasha replied. “Water came in, but the roof held up okay, just a little leak in the back where the storage is. If we had power..” She glanced up. “We could open, you know?”
“Us too.” Kerry commiserated. “If you end up with anything left, c’mon down. I’ve got about a dozen people living in the building there.” She took possession of the three sandwiches, and handed over a bill. “They didn’t make out as well as you did with the store.”
“Carlos said.” The small woman responded. “Don’t worry, I know where my customers are. I said I would be over there tomorrow morning.” She winked at Kerry. “We get through this, all of us. Even with all the bad things. We know each other, we help each other.”
Kerry grinned and retreated with her armful of baguettes. As she went back to the car, though, she had to wonder if that was really the truth. Places like Sashas – she could see her using her cart and selling her sandwiches until power came back and business picked up but the rest?
The rest of the places on Main? Kerry set the wrapped sandwiches down and started the SUV up. How many would just stay abandoned and destroyed? How many people would do what their landlord had done, and just walked away not wanting to bother with the hassle of rebuilding?
Kerry started forward, thoughtfully regarding the mess on either side. Maybe Dar’s thought of just selling the property had merit. Maybe moving the company upstate made sense, so they could service the rest of their clamoring customers who didn’t want to hear about rebuilding or lack of power.
Angry, impatient customers who wanted what they wanted, and didn’t want to hear excuses, and had no tolerance for natural disasters.
Kerry glanced to her left as she drove carefully through the four way stops and darkened streetlights, most hanging from wires that had snapped in the storm. She could see the street where the fire had happened, the building blackened and crumbling, and the sidewalk covered in burned out debris.
There were some police officers standing outside, and a SUV with a fire department insignia. She noticed that the groups of onlookers she’d seen the day before were now gone.
Pulling down the street the office was on, she could see some of the tree debris had been dragged into a pile, and the large puddles had drained off, only providing a small splash as her tires went through them. She parked in front of the office and as she opened the door she could hear music and the noise of hammering coming from inside.
The pile of garbage, she noted, was gone from next to the building. She picked up the sandwiches and headed for the door, which was standing wide open as were all the windows to let the breeze what there was of it, go through and why the sound of music was so loud.
Stepping inside, Kerry could hear voices, unfamiliar drawling male ones, and some more familiar to her along with Ceci’s crisp commentary.
“Oh, Ms Kerry!” Zoe appeared from the stairs, trotting down them. “Hello!”
“Hey Zoe!” Kerry took off her sunglasses and slid the ear of them into the collar of her shirt. “Where is everyone?” She looked both ways, but the hallway was otherwise empty. “I didn’t’ know you were here.”
“Yes I am glad to be here.” Zoe said. “We are doing a lot of things. Papa Andy is outside and there are a lot of people there too.” She said. “They said you would be coming.. it is true, they made this building our building?”
Kerry sighed. “It’s true all right.”
“This is good.” Zoe said, surprisingly. “Maria was saying just the last week it would be a good thing if this was ours because we would take care of it properly.”
That was true. Kerry smiled back at her assistant. That was true but was it really their business to do that? How distracting would it be to have to handle their own facilities? Where did that fit in the budget, a budget now blown to hell by the storm?
Zoe didn’t seem to sense any reluctance. “Would you come see? Already they are making preparations to fix things.” She pointed at the door to the central compound. “So many people!”
“Sure.” Kerry shifted her grip on the sandwiches. “Let’s go find out what’s going on.” She started for the interior door, catching the scent of newly cut wood drifting on the wind.
“You doing all right back there ma’am?”
“Just fine.” Dar responded, her legs sprawled out across the floor of the plane, her laptop on her lap. The power cable from it was running across the steel to a generator bolted to the surface behind the cockpit, and the sound of the engines inside the plane was reasonably tolerable.
It was an odd configuration. Behind the nose of the plane, where the pilots were and a locked compartment behind them that wasn’t used now, but held a lot of electronic gear in it was a row of plush, leather first class airplane seats, four in total, and behind that a large expanse of nothing but empty steel.
It suited Dar just fine. The seats were as comfortable as the ones in a private jet, and there was plenty of leg room and if she’d wanted to get up and do cartwheels there was space for that too.
She didn’t. She was comfortable enough to be able to concentrate on her screen, working out the intricate frameworks for the new program to evaluate products for her small pharma client. It seemed like an obvious thing, a database of all the drugs and ingredients they used, but she’d folded in some of the proprietary AI potential from her networking program to allow them to analyze what things they had they could use for other uses.
Off brand, they called it. Something beyond Dar’s experience and knowledge, but important to them, and something they were convinced would give them the edge in sales, and one they wanted urgently because times had recently been tough for them.
This was a gamble. Dar reviewed the structure of the database and scrolled back, looking at the logic. A gamble that was putting pressure on John Deland who had called her out of the blue, a friend of a friend of someone she’d known at ILS who now had to prove to some new CEO why the expense.
She got it. She understood why he was pissed off, and if she’d been in his shoes, she’d have been just as cranky, saying just the same things about why she didn’t care what anyone’s local problems were, she had a delivery she’d been promised.
So here she was, in a military jet, on her way to talk to yet another demanding customer, trying to work out a knotty bug in this last set of programming before they could hand it over.
Her life was weird. Dar changed a bit of the programming, and recompiled it, then ran the sequence again to watch it fail, in a completely different way. “Crap.” She muttered under her breath, reverting the change and drumming her fingertips along the edge of the keyboard.
What the hell was it? Why was this one sequence so screwed up?
“Hey Ma’am, want a Coke?”
“Sure.” Dar took the bit of code and focused the screen on it.
The co pilot had climbed out of his seat and ducked into a tiny compartment behind the cockpit, returning with a familiar red can in each hand. He handed Dar one and then sat down in the chair across from her with the other, opening it and taking a sip.
“Thanks.” Dar paused to open the can and joined him. “So. What’d you think of all the damage?” She decided a moment of distraction might get her brain cells realigned and turned her eyes from the screen to the pilot.
He was young, probably in his mid twenties, and had a stiff crew cut of dark hair, which matched the dark brown eyes. There was a little bit of stubble on his square jaw and he seemed, Dar thought, like a great model for a GI Joe.
“Man, that was crazy.” He responded. “Only thing I ever seen like that is bombed out places in the Middle East, you know? In flight vids.” He took another swallow of soda. “I didn’t realize hurricanes were like that, you know?”
“They’re like that.” Dar responded, mildly. “Like a tornado, only bigger, slower moving, and comes with a wall of water from the ocean.”
“Crazy.” The co pilot got up. “Let me go let Josh stretch his legs.” He said. “Hey, if you need the use the head, there’s one right there in that corner, behind the door.” He pointed. “It’s kinda small, so watch your head.”’
“Thanks.” Dar watched him go back to the cockpit and waited a moment, to see if the other pilot was going to come out to distract her before she returned her eyes to the screen, reviewing the code while she let her mind linger briefly on the words they’d just exchanged.
She’d seen the pictures of the damage, and the pilot had circled the city before they’d headed out over the Gulf of Mexico towards the west, and now something the man had said niggled at her.
That it was like bomb damage. Dar looked at the screen without reading it. A result that happened from two very different sources, completely different applications of energy that had nonetheless ended up producing an end stage that was apparently the same.
Two different paths bisecting.
She blinked a few times, just breathing quietly, her hands still over the keyboard. Then, thoughtfully, she selected a section of the code, and then deleted it, typing in a replacement statement and linking it, referring back to an earlier section of the program and adding a line.
Two different paths, two different instances, and where to determine where they bisect?
She recompiled, and reran the program, and this time the code finished without complaint. Dar saved the framework with a tag, and then picked up the soda and took a swallow of it. Not failing, of course, didn’t mean it worked.
It just meant it didn’t stop. She regarded the screen. But it was some kind of progress and that was more than she’d had ten minutes ago. Dar considered the segment, pondering a way to test the logic, with the small set of test data she had.
The pilot of the plane came out and used the head, as she retrieved and reviewed the data stacks, and then he came over and sat down in one of the seats. “So.” He kept his voice low. “You’re the one who wrote that new sim, aren’t you?”
Distracted, Dar glanced at him. “Yeah.” She said, after a blank moment. “You’ve seen it?”
The pilot, a cherubic looking youngster with curly blond hair, nodded. “I got to go in it. I was a tester for the mock, you know?” He said. “It was freaking amazing. It was like I was there. I’ve been in simulators before, we all have, but this was like it was real. How did you do that?”
Dar hesitated. “Well..”
“Was it the helmet? The things.. “ The pilot touched his face, near his temples. “Hey, I realize you can’t really talk about it. I was just so… it was cool, and I was glad I had a chance to try it. So congrats.” He got up and went hurriedly back to the cockpit, where the sound of radio communications were crackling.
Dar stared after him, wondering what in the hell she was flying into.
Wondering what in the hell they’d done.