Fair Winds and Following Seas
It was dark, the sun still behind the horizon as well as obscured by some clouds that were barely just visible. Kerry reached the southeasternmost part of the island, just before the arc of the marina and paused, slowing down in her run to taken in the small whitecaps rolling against the seawall.
She was in a tank and cotton shorts, with dark purple weights wrapped around her wrists and ankles complete with carefully applied reflective strips because with all the golf carts whipping around, you never knew.
She stood, breathing easily, one sneakered foot braced against a coral upthrust, the onshore breeze smelling richly salty and because it was coming from the northeast, free of the scent of sewage from the treatment plant over on Virginia Key.
It must have seemed like a great idea, back in the day, to find the easternmost point of the easternmost island on the far end of a causeway to plop one of your main treatment plants on, there where a dump out into the Atlantic ocean was so handy.
Around it was a public park, and a beach, and walking trails and there in the middle, easily seen on satellite, sat the Central treatment plant with it’s settling tanks and chemical pools and when they got a huge surge of rain down the pipes it would roll over all of it and into the sea.
Kerry wondered how much had been sucked out from the storm surge. Dar had commented they weren’t going anywhere near the ocean in the area until sometime next year.
Ironic in the extreme, since she was pretty sure that if someone could buy the key, move the plant, and then develop the land with multimillion dollar homes they would sell like hotcakes until someone dug a pool into their back yard and ended up into one of the tanks they would have buried to get rid of them.
And there was that smell, and the untreated sewage that would flow over and into the sea.
Constant irritant not only to their neighbors here on her island, but all the way up South Beach when the current was running close to shore and they had to close all the beaches.
Ah well. She stretched her back out and flexed her hands, turning to skirt the marina on her round of the track the followed the shoreline, taking care to watch the edge of it as much of the gravel had been sucked out to sea and there was still debris uncollected around it.
Kerry hauled up and turned, spotting the white shirt and khaki shorts in the gloom. “Hey.” She turned back around and waited, a smile appearing as she recognized one of her favorite of the staff heading her way.
One of the beach club waiters arrived at her side, carrying a tray with a china cup on it, and a leather wineskin over his shoulder. “I thought I saw you out here.”
“You did.” Kerry smiled at him. “When did you get here, Carlos?”
“Just last night.” Carlos put a twist of lemon into the cup and then expertly poured a stream of steaming expresso from the wineskin, the scent of it rising between them. “We got lucky, you know? My family. We stayed by my mama down in the Gables and the house is okay, just no power.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Kerry accepted the cup, and took a sip of the hot, pungent, strong beverage. “Boy that tastes good. I can never make it right at home.”
“It takes a special pot, you know?” Carlos said. “And the motion, in the wrist?” He made a sinuous, mixing gesture. “It’s very nice to just come back and do normal things like that. I was cutting up a tree yesterday and all my hands have blisters.” He chattered along confidently. “But I got to the fire station and could use their desk phone to call in and they said to come here.”
“It’s been busy.” Kerry agreed. “We’ve been busy.”
“Oh yes, I have heard. Everyone is talking about you guys and la boats and the little van and everything.” He nodded emphatically. “And did you know the governor and all of those people are staying by you?” He asked. “They were in the club for dinner last night.”
“Kinda dorky?” Kerry hazarded a guess, from his expression.
“Not so nice.” He agreed wryly. “One of them, a large man, bothered Alecia and wouldn’t leave her alone. Robert finally took her away from it.”
Alecia, one of the hostesses, a tall and very elegant chestnut haired woman with beautifully chiseled cheekbones and a gentile, gracious manner. “Wow. Sorry to hear that.” Kerry murmured. “As if there isn’t enough tough stuff going on.”
“Its true.” Carlos filled up her coffee cup a second time. “I mean, you know.” He said. “It’s like that here? The men think we’re here for them.” He paused. “And sometimes the ladies too, and we’re used to it but he was too rough about it.”
“I don’t think so, no.” Carlos paused thoughtfully. “Just crude, you know?”
Kerry sighed. “I know. Probably a good thing my parents in law got back late and didn’t go over there. That would have shown up in the weekly rag and given more work to our lawyer.”
“It’s true.” Carlos said again. “Anyway, I just wanted to say good morning and bring some of this coffee. Now I will go back and get ready for the golf men to come for breakfast.” He winked at her, and turned, retreating back towards the club with his wineskin full of expresso, and her empty cup.
Kerry regarded his lithe figure as he trotted up the steps to the outside patio, where a coworker was busy setting up tables in the pre dawn murk. The chat had made her feel a little sad inside, given the way he just accepted the ill treatment as part of the job.
Why did it have to be like that? “Why do people have to be jerks?” She mused aloud. “Because they can, Kerry. Because everyone says it’s just how it is.”
Having the convenience of expresso on her morning run was a familiar comfort. She appreciated the attention, and the taste of the strong coffee with it’s hint of lemon tang on the edges felt full and rich in her mouth but…
Ah well. “Can’t change that today.” She turned and started back down the path to the marina, picking up her pace as she headed for the edge of the shore, her soles moving from the pavers to the gravel with a soft rhythmic crunch.
Kerry sat at the dining room table, her half finished cup of tea in front of her along with a plate with half a banana muffin on it. She was freshly showered, and now dressed in a company polo shirt and dark green shorts and light green socks, ready for the day.
The television was on, and she was watching the early news, the just post dawn sky slowly lightening outside in a sedate pink glow.
She hiked up one knee against the edge of the table and took a sip of the tea, watching the helicopter shots of still flooded neighborhoods, shelters packed with uncomfortable looking people, and then, towards the end of the segment, almost as an offhand comment, a shot of the White House lawn where trees were down.
She’d seen that shot of the tree about two dozen times now. It didn’t really surprise her, usually when a storm came through there were a few iconic shots that represented to the world what it was like to be there.
She remembered one where a kiteboarder, giving the onshore winds a try, had been slammed face first into the side of a beachfront motel and my god, she’d seen that so many times it had made her scream. It had become a meme on the internet and she still occasionally saw it in some facepalm memorial.
Then there’d been another storm in the islands, that had flooded an airport. That islands only airport, a small field near the ocean.
Every time they talked about that storm, there was that one shot of that one flooded airport, with the field covered in water and light posts sticking out of the waves, and a gull floating in the choppy waters. She could see it now in her mind, it’s beak opening and closing in bemusement.
So now this storm, Hurricane Bob, who had ripped through Florida and caused who only knew how much damage to homes and businesses, and lives – would be remembered by a shot of a tree lying across the steps of the White House with a helicopter hovering over it.
Watching the national news, she realized the country had moved on from what had happened here where she was. It was more interesting to see the amazing sight of water in the streets of DC, congresspeople wading in the streets in their suits and the flag on the mall in tatters because no one remembered to take it down in all the chaos. That was new and different, and not just oh Florida again.
She shook her head, picking up the half muffin and taking a bite of it. Even the local reporter seemed to acknowledge it, making a somewhat snarky comment as they came back to news of the area, the ticker below the anchor scrolling off it’s never ending messages of shelters, and, a new thing, personal messages.
Personal messages, because communicating was so damn hard right now. The TV station had offered to accept messages from anyone, to anyone, and put it on their ticker so that people could try to find each other and discover if friends and family were okay.
It irritated Kerry. It made her think there should be something they could do in order to… well not to fix the problems because she realized there were things like flooded buildings that really were beyond their control but maybe they could come up with a plan, a way to do things so next time…
The next time. In a week, it would all just be frustration and anger, and people yelling and no one would think about what they would do differently next time. Just what they could do now to go back to normal and then it would be lost in a flood of politicians bluster and promises.
Well, maybe they could come up with some ideas and maybe after a while, someone would be interested.
Kerry finished her muffin and dusted off her fingertips, the sunlight coming in the sliding glass windows from the patio reflecting off the ring on her finger. She got up and picked up the plate and cup, taking it into the kitchen and rinsing them before she put them into the drying rack.
It was quiet in the condo. Andrew and Ceci had headed off some time ago, deciding to have breakfast at the mansion and then check on their boat, leaving Kerry to get herself ready for the day and whatever that had in store for her.
She could rummage around and figure out how to get the connection in the condo working, but she got up and picked up her backpack instead, slinging it over one shoulder and clicking her tongue.
Chino and Mocha came running, tails wagging. “Ready to go to the cottage, kids?” She asked them. “Lets go see how our friends are doing there this morning, okay? She said. “Lets get some work done!”
“Gruff!” Chino was the first to the front door and when Kerry opened it, she ran out and Mocha almost knocked Kerry over following her.
“Hey!” Kerry closed the door and went down the steps, walking over and down into the parking garage and throwing her pack into the passenger seat of the golf cart.
Chino and Mocha both jumped into the back, making the cart rock, as she turned the fob and released the brake. “Hang on you guys.”
Both dogs sat down, pressing up against the back of the seat as she backed up and then swung the cart around and sent it up the slope to the road, pulling again to a halt when a string of cars came past heading towards the ferry dock in a parade of shiny well waxed gleam.
She was glad of the pause as it gave her time to retrieve her sunglasses from the storage box and put them on, relieved to cut the early morning sun as she waited for the line of posh cars to end.
There was a lot of them. Kerry looked up and down the road as car after car went past, until she finally saw the last of them, a black sedan with heavily tinted windows and surprisingly plain hubcaps she knew at once for security.
“Oh.” She leaned back as it went by, then pressed the gas pedal down. “Probably the governor’s buddy.” She turned left and went along the now empty road, glancing to her right as she caught motion to see a large crowd of land scape gardeners busy at work on the golf course.
Really? Kerry could have thought of a thousand other things it would have been better for those men to be doing rather than cleaning up that little 9 hole course but she focused her attention on steering around the clumps of gathered debris at the edge of the road and not running into anything.
Behind her, Mocha had laid down and Chino was still sitting, absorbing the breeze from their passage as they traveled around the edge of the course. There was a strong onshore wind this morning and it was almost comfortable despite the heat.
Kerry pulled the cart into one of the small lots to one side of the cottages and got out, grabbing her pack as the dogs joined her, following her closely as she walked across the sidewalks and into the back yard of the cottage, where the satellite van was parked.
All was quiet.
Kerry walked to the double French doors and opened one of them, hearing voices already inside. “Good morning, team.”
“Hey boss!” Angela was just coming into the living room area, carrying a tray of coffee. “Oh boy, I could get used to those beds let me tell ya!”
“They’re comfortable.” Celeste agreed. She was seated at the table, working on a pile of message pads.
Jake and Elvis were already on the couch, busy with their keyboards. They had plastic bottles of Coke on the table next to them and a pile of cookies and looked contented as clams.
They were morning people, or at least, working for the company they had become that way more or less the same way Kerry had. She offered flexible hours, and while many of the staff took advantage of it, especially those who had to work around childcare and school classes, most of the people who worked right around Dar showed up when she did.
Just like Kerry did. Just like she always had, since she’d started working for Dar way back when, and she’d check for her bosses’ SUV in the lot when she pulled in, always glad when she beat her.
Well, at least until they started living together and it really made no difference. But there was something about Dar that made people want to step up and meet her mark. Kerry had felt that herself from day one, and though she knew being in love with her partner was a factor, that didn’t change that inner expectation.
Besides, Dar was usually mellow in the morning and her staff had learned that was sometimes the best time to approach her. “You get any feedback from the Pharma guys?” Kerry asked, as she put her pack down and started getting out her laptop. “Dar was asking.”
Jake glanced up and over at her. “That guy that works for them, Tony? He said he was going to call us in the morning today. They were doing some tests.”
“Good.” Kerry said. “Did those files all get transferred from our friend of the friend of the governor?”
“They did.” Elvis said. “They said they’d be back.”
“I’m sure they will.” Kerry plugged in her machine and opened it. “Since we’re the only game in town right now.” She sat down to wait for the machine to present to her a desktop in some useful format. “We hear from Colleen yet today?”
“Not yet.” Angela said. “It’s kinda early.”
Eight am. “Not really.” Kerry demurred.
“No.” Celeste was smiling, a little, as she sat sorting pink slips of notepaper. “We always knew the day had started when Ms Roberts came in the door. Especially on Mondays.” She said. “I had the early shift.”
“I remember.” Kerry leaned on her elbows. “It was always better to get into that mausoleum early and avoid the crowd at the elevators.” She paused. “And you got the first crack at the pastalitos, of course.”
Celeste chuckled. “They held yours apart.” She glanced over at Kerry. “There was always a separate box, didn’t you know?”
Kerry blinked and laughed a little. “I didn’t.”
“Maria took care of you guys. She knew those café people and she made sure they had what you liked every morning.” Celeste reported. “Even if they ran out for everyone else. That and the plate lunches.” She continued her sorting. “Especially the chicken imperial.”
“Dar does like that.” Kerry admitted. “I make it at home, but it doesn’t taste the same.”
Celeste nodded. “I do too. Whenever she was out, I knew I could score for lunch.” She got up and brought the slips over to Kerry. “Okay, so… I think these are current customers, and these are people asking for you.” She put them down. “These are some who are asking for Dar, and these.. I don’t know what these are.”
Kerry picked up the last pile and started going through them. “Those are sometimes the most interesting.” She said. “Lets see what we’ve got here.” She said. “Angela, see if you can get Colleen on the phone. Lets get someone up there to call those currents.”
“Right you are, boss.”
Dar walked quietly down the hall, mindful of the very pre dawn stillness of the hotel around her. Far off, she could just hear the faintest sound of the rattle of dishes, guessing that somewhere in some part of it some night room service waiter was bringing around a nightcap.
Or, perhaps, bringing an East Coaster like her some coffee and cereal in what was for them the middle of the night. She rode the elevator down and went into one of the more public areas, crossing an empty hall to the hotel gym.
Open 24 hours, and with her keycard, it was. Dar pushed the door open and entered, letting it close behind her and she took in a breath of chlorinated air from a swimming pool and the scent of spindle grease from the rows of exercise machines.
Both appealing, but Dar’s target was in the back of the high ceilinged room, a climbing wall that spread across the entire back of the facility, and one she remembered from the last time she’d stayed there. She’d woken again early, typically, and ended up so engrossed by the wall she almost missed her morning meeting.
Now she faced it again with a feeling of pleasure, and sauntered over to the stand that held a block of chalk, covering her hands with it before she approached the climbing rig.
She wanted one, and had pondered the idea of putting one somewhere… maybe on the inner courtyard of their building? Attaching it to the outside of the condo would be giving too much free entertainment to her neighbors.
Dar studied the hand grips and reached up as far as she could, taking a firm grab on one of the holds and pulling herself up enough to get a foothold under her. Would that be worse than giving that much entertainment to her staff?
She frowned a bit, then shifted to another set of holds, working her way steadily upward.
A thought occurred to her. “I
could build a whole jungle gym at that new place.” She murmured.
That would be cool.” She pictured it in her head, a wooden and steel structure out in the thickly wooded area surrounding the house, quiet and private.
She could make it modular, so she could move it around and change it.
She got to the top of the section and considered, wondering if she should go down and then up in another area. She could see the grips she’d end up on not all that far away and without much thinking about it, she coiled her body and released the handholds she had, shoving away with her legs and reaching out to the new ones.
Halfway there, it did occur to her exactly how idiotic the motion was but by then it was too late and all she could do was hope her grip would hold and not drop her to the floor twenty feet below.
She felt the rubber touch her fingers and she clenched them instinctively as her body collided with the wall and she swung wildly for a moment, convinced she wasn’t going to hold on. Then her feet caught on two of the protrusions below her and she was able to adjust her grip.
After a moment to regain her composure, Dar started down and around this new section, one that jutted out a bit and provided her more of a challenge.
Near the floor she reached an outcrop and let herself hang from it, stretching her body out for a long moment before she released her hands and dropped the short distance, taking a deep breath.
“Lady, you are crazy.”
Dar turned to find a young man in a tank top and cotton shorts nearby, with a towel around his neck. He was lithe and muscular, with curly black hair and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache. “Am I?”
“Jumping like that with no rope?” The man said, his voice rising. “With no one in here? Yeah, you are crazy.”
Dar shrugged a little bit. “Seemed like fun at the time.” She turned and regarded the next section of wall, which curved up and was, apparently, the most advanced part. The top part of it was higher, and the handholds seemed further apart.
“You gonna put a harness on for that and use the belay?”
Dar half turned. “No.”
The young man came over to her. “You’re going to freestyle that?” He said. “I’m gonna call 911 so they can get ready for it.”
It felt like a challenge. Dar felt the prickle of it tingle her arms. “I’ll be fine.” She reassured the man. “Don’t you have something else to do?”
“With a crazy lady here about to go break her neck? No I don’t!” The man said, cheerfully. “G’wan Tarzan. Have at it.”
Dar blinked mildly at him, then she walked over and put more chalk on her hands and went towards the wall, taking the last steps at a faster pace and ending with a leap in the air, catching two handholds as high as she could and pulling herself up.
“No no no… I was just…” The man yelled from below. “Crazy lady stop that!”
But it was fun. Dar got a foothold then swarmed up the wall, her body now used to the activity and well awake and it reminded her suddenly of the wall she’d climbed back on the rafting trip. That same feeling of motion and challenge.
She hadn’t enjoyed it then, because of the terror of the situation they’d been in but she enjoyed it now, making her way hand over hand up the side of the artificial cliff until she reached the top and then worked her way meticulously around the promontory to the other side.
She paused there, and glanced down, to find her new friend watching her with his hands clenched in his hair in such patent horror it nearly made her laugh and lose her grip.
She looked down, and wondered for a brief moment what it would be like just to let go and plummet, to land on the ground like she remembered doing on that cliff. She dreamed about it sometimes, that fall, and the tumbling in mid air, and the landing like she’d had springs in her boots.
Almost. Dar imagined herself doing it, hearing the scream in her head from the guy at the base of the wall and feeling the jar of the landing all the way up into her hips.
It would be fun. As long as she actually landed on her feet and not on her head and end up getting dragged off to the emergency room.
Dar sighed. Ah well. She had a demonstration to do that was important, and so she maneuvered her way to another hold and started down the angle, depending now on the grip of her fingers to hold her against the tug of gravity.
She could feel the strain across her back, and was glad she’d spent the time she had over the last few months in the gym doing pull ups as she spent a bit more time in climbing around whatever she could find to climb on.
Halfway down the angle straightened and it became a more conventional descent, and she ended it with a calmly sedate hop at the very bottom, turning and dusting her hands off as she turned to face her watcher. “Tolja.”
“You a pro?” The man was now just chuckling.
“I’m an IT geek.” Dar told him. “Excuse me. I got a pool calling my name.” She indicated the water in the distance.
“I’m an IT geek.” Dar repeated. “I just like climbing. Do you climb?” She indicated the wall behind them. “It’s fun, right?”
He hesitated. “Naw, I don’t mess with that.” He said. “But hey, I gotta get to work. Don’t let me hold you up.” He backed away and gave her a brief wave, then headed towards a nondescript door in the back of the gym.
Dar watched him for a moment, head cocked slightly in mild puzzlement, since his attitude had changed so quickly and for no reason she knew of.
Unless he didn’t like IT people? Dar gave a light shrug. Possible. Sometimes people didn’t, assuming they were either rude or jerks or snort laughing stereotypes. She made her way over to the pool and pulled the tshirt off over her head and setting it on one of the brown wooden stands and adding her shorts to it.
She took off her sneakers and went to the edge of the pool in her swimsuit, stepping off and going headfirst into the water, already anticipating the cool bite against her skin.
After the climb it felt good, and she swam with lazy strokes end to end in the pool for a half hour, until all the tension had wound it’s way out of her and she ended the last lap on her back, floating until her fingertips touched the wall.
Over her head the ceiling was tall and in the east corner of it she could see the dawn rising, the light coming up over the mountains through the smoked glass panels.
She lay there just breathing for a minute, feeling the water advance and retreat over her body as she inhaled and exhaled, feeling a sense of animal comfort. Coffee, she decided, rolling in the water like a seal and gliding over to the steps.
There were towels in a shelving unit and she took one as she got out, drying herself off as she started to hear more motion around the gym, and saw two or three bodies claiming rowing machines and a treadmill. Idly ruffling her hair dry she walked over to where she’d left her tshirt and shorts, now spotting her morning’s friend standing behind one of the counters.
He was facing another man, who was taller and thicker, with the air of a football coach about him. He had a finger in the smaller man’s face and was talking fiercely, though keeping his voice low and glancing briefly around at the customers.
Now why, Dar wondered, was the morning being started off by someone being an asshole? She pulled on her shirt and shorts over her still damp one piece suit and sat down to resume her sneakers. The smaller man was answering, his hands coming up in a placating gesture, but that only seemed to make the other man point harder.
No one in their right mind would get involved with what was obviously an employer and employee issue, and yet when Dar stood up and started walking it was in that direction.
What was it Kerry called it? Her paladin gene? This stupid instinct to mix it up in business she had no business being involved in that got her into trouble almost every time. Dar slung the towel around her neck as she approached the counter.
As they caught sight of her in their peripheral vision, both men stopped talking and the taller one turned coming over and putting his hands on the counter as she arrived. “Good morning, ma’am. How can I help you?” He asked, in a quiet tone.
Dar could see, in her own peripheral vision the smaller man standing there, looking off to one side, visibly steaming. “Can I talk to you a minute?” She asked mildly. “Somewhere a little more private?”
“Of course.” He looked slightly surprised but stepped back and gestured towards the far end of the gym. “Lets go to the lounge. I think they’ve just brought orange juice in.”
Dar followed him over to a small section of the floor that had been partitioned off with potted plants and dimmed lighting, where there were comfortable chairs and on one side, a juice bar that was just getting set up. It smelled of aromatherapy and lemon and was empty of guests.
The man walked over and picked up two glasses of juice from a tray on the counter and came back over to her, offering her one. “Now, how can I help you?”
All sweet consideration and peaches and cream. Dar took the glass. “Thanks.” She said. “So I came in here pretty early, and the gentleman behind the counter out there was the only one here.”
“Oh,yes?” He looked politely interested. “Seth. He’s our morning setup man.” He said. “He’s always got some story to tell, mostly to avoid doing work.”
“Well.” Dar paused. “What I was going to tell you was, I was climbing up around on your wall there, and I think I startled him.” She kept her own voice bland and mild. “Swinging around like a monkey, you know.”
As she had spoken, she saw his face change and go from politely interested to actually interested. “Oh really?”
“Yeah, and the thing is, he tried to stop me and I didn’t want him to get in trouble on my behalf, if you know what I mean, because I didn’t listen to him.” Dar regarded him intently. “I don’t take direction well.”
“Huh.. yeah, he was telling me about that. I wasn’t sure ..” The man paused. “You were climbing up the wall? He said you were doing it without any safety ropes and all that. That was true?”
Dar nodded, smiling at him, her pale eyes twinkling a little bit. “So I get it was dangerous.” She said. “Wasn’t his fault I did it anyway.” She admitted. “All in all, he took it pretty well.”
He was silent for a minute, glancing past her, then back to meet her eyes. “Ms…” He hesitated.
“Roberts.” Dar supplied. “Dar Roberts. I was staying in the lodge overnight.”
“Ms Roberts, that’s a decent thing you did.” He said. “I was just ripping him a new one for not finishing the setup this morning and thought he was just making up some bullshit… excuse me.” His face flushed. “I’m sorry, some nonsense like he always does.”
“Story teller?” Dar asked, casually.
“Never stops.” The man said. “Always making up stuff and messing with the guests.. makes em laugh, but man.” He said. “Anyway, I’m glad this time it was legit, and I’ll go tell him what you said. You didn’t have to. Most don’t care.”
“No problem. But you know, you might want to leverage that.”
About to turn away, he looked back. “Excuse me?”
“Guy makes people laugh… you must have classes and things here right? It’s a public gym isn’t it? Not just for the hotel?” She drained her glass and set it down. “They have a gal at a gym I go to who makes up all kinds of stuff and teaches classes. Everyone loves em, cause it keeps them from thinking about running in place or whatever they’re doing you know?”
“They pay extra for her classes.” Dar winked at him, and put the glass down on the counter. “Just a thought.” She waved and headed off towards the door, shaking her head just slightly bemoaning the frequent lack of imagination people had.
Ah well. She dismissed the event and left the gym, walking through the hallways towards the elevator that would take her up to her room, where she would shower, dress, and head over to the mountain.
They would deliver their demo, she would talk to the brass. With any luck they’d end early and she could head back to the airport and home.
There was an air of nervous expectation in the room as Dar entered with Scott, the techs already there, Jocko already heads down in the keyboard making sure everything was ready.
They were in the big conference room this time. Dar had presented in it before, and it had somewhat weathered leather seats and wood panel walls, and the smell of wax and cleaner recently applied.
She set her overnight bag near the wall and her backpack next to it, seeing no need now to have her laptop out and in use. She’d spent the evening last night scouring through the code and she thought she knew what had happened with her change.
She had no intention of explaining it. No one in the room would understand her. Dar had spent some time as she’d eaten breakfast thinking of what she was going to say to Scott and then found he was far too nervous to listen to it anyway.
All he’d wanted to talk about was who would be there, and that she had to ‘be nice’ to him.
Dar forbore to point out that she felt it was up to him to be nice to her, but she went to the neatly set up service in the corner and got herself a cup of jasmine tea and sat down with it. She felt relaxed and comfortable in her jeans and short sleeved shirt and now merely waited to see what was going to happen.
“Okay.” Jocko finally looked up. “It’s as ready as it’s gonna be.” He looked at Dar. “Want to check it?”
“No.” Dar responded mildly. “Totally trust you know what you’re doing.” She took a sip of her tea, wishing they’d get on with it. It was already ten minutes after when they were supposed to have started, and she hoped that didn’t mean it was going to be one of those days.
Scott was sweating. “They’ll be here soon.” He assured her. “Mary called me from the desk, and said they were coming down.”
“It’s your party.” Dar said. “I’m just here for the chips and dip.”
That made Jocko smile, and his shoulders relaxed. “These guys can be tough.” He told her, as though excusing Scott’s nerves. “But you’re probably used to that.”
“Yes, I am.” Dar smiled back at him, with just a hint of a wink. “Listen, you have a good product here and you know what you’re pitching. Just relax, and let it fly.” She counseled them like she would her own team. “Let your work speak for itself.”
“Easy for you to say.” Scott sighed and went over to fuss with the cups again.
“It’s my work, so sure it is.” Dar folded her hands on the table. “It’ll be fine, people. Even if it doesn’t work or if it craps out everyone expects technology to do that. Relax.”
Jocko made a face at her.
“I’ll do the talking if it goes south.” Dar almost laughed. “There’s no one walking through that door who’s going to rattle my behind.”
“You don’t know this guy.” Scott muttered under his breath at her.
“He doesn’t know me.” Dar responded crisply. “Let him bring it. I can handle whatever he pulls.”
That, at least, did relax them a little and they talked amongst themselves until the door lever shifted and the door pushed open into the room, and two men entered.
One was the brass who was running the program. Dar knew him relatively well. The second was a tall, ginger haired man with a thin face and very sharp gray eyes, dressed in civilian clothes she didn’t know at all.
Know the man himself. She knew the type though, and had a sudden urge to kick him in the front of his pressed linen kneecaps. But she remained seated, unfolding her hands and picking up her cup of tea to take a sip of it as the military men around her snapped to attention.
“Where are.. there you are, Peterson.” The brass came over to him. “Are you ready? We don’t have much time for this.” He glanced at the table. “Hello, Roberts. Good to see you.”
“Hey Charlie.” Dar responded casually. “Who’s your friend?”
If she’d started tap dancing it could not have gotten a more startled response from the room and she enjoyed it. “And you should make some time. These guys have worked their asses off for this.”
Charles Boots paused and regarded her for a moment. “Oh, sorry.” He turned to the ginger haired man. “I forgot you never met. This is Robert Haribee, from the budget oversight office.” He motioned the man forward. “Rob, this is Dar Roberts. She’s the one who’s cooking up this thing.”
“Nice to meet you.” Dar waited for the man to come over before she stood up and extended a hand to him, expecting and getting the faint reaction as he wasn’t expecting her to be taller than he was. “My company’s developing this on your behalf, yes.”
He gripped her hand hard, which made her smile, and then released her. “Pleasure.” He said, shortly. “So are we ready to do this?”
Dar sat back down and met Jocko’s eyes, giving him a nod. “Which one of you wants to put the rig on?” She asked crisply. “Want to cut to the chase, Mr. Haribee? Siddown on the end there if you do.”
He absolutely just stared at her for a long, blank moment, and Dar spent that time pondering in her own head what he was thinking, deciding it was either probably who the hell was this woman, or do these people not know who I am, or are you fucking kidding me?
She sketched him in her imagination, and added the thought bubble, feeling her face tense a little as she suppressed a smile, enjoying the mild taunting, a favorite strategy of hers to keep others off balance and keep them from predicting what she was thinking herself.
Would he turn and leave? Tell her to fuck off? Yell at Charlie? Or take the challenge.
Abruptly, he turned and went to the chair at the end of the table and sat. “Okay.” He said. “Let’s do it.” He said. “Should I take my jacket off?”
Ah. Dar was pleased. Nice. “Great choice.” She complimented him. “Nothing like getting the facts firsthand.”
“If you would sir.” Jocko said, moving the rig cart forward. “It’ll fit better.” He added as the ginger haired man stripped off his sports coat and tossed it onto a nearby stand. “Okay, I’m just going to get this on you. Let me know if it pinches.”
Charlie sat down next to Dar. “You have balls the size of the eye of a great white whale.” He uttered under his breath at her. “Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Everyone on the planet.” Dar leaned back in her seat and cupped her hands around her tea. “Except my partner, who knows better.”
“So lets see if this works.” Kerry got into the passenger seat of Dar’s truck, with Andy driving it, and settled back, pushing her sunglasses up onto her nose. “Oh boy, what a day.”
“If they all don’t touch that pole we put up on the roof, it’ll be all good.” Her father in law put the truck into gear and they headed for the ferry. “Ah think I got that there dish focused all right.”
“It’ll be nice to have contact with the office. It’s making me nervous, thinking of all those guys over there.” Kerry watched the road go by, passing two work crews moving downed trees.
“Me too.” Andy admitted. “Ah do think it would be a right thing to bring all them folks ovah here.” He pulled into the ferry launch area, and waited, as two cars bumped carefully onto the car ferry ahead of them. “You all said Dar done good with that program thing?”
“She said the demo went very well.” Kerry affirmed. “She was going to meet with some suit or something afterward and said she’d try to call again before they took her back to the base and get her on some transport back here.”
“Some good.” Andy put the truck in park, leaning back and folding his brawny arms across her chest. “Ah do not know how long this here area’s going to be like this though.”
“No me either.” Kerry sighed. “I don’t know. I’m going to try and talk Dar into moving the operation up to mid state. At least until they sort out things down here. We can’t do business like this. It’s nuts.”
“Big old mess.”
“Big old mess.” Kerry echoed him. “I mean, I talked to people today, they need help, they need our services but without any connection and no power? Dad, we can’t do this.” She exhaled. “I have a pads worth of people willing to give me business and I can’t take it.”
Andy thought about that in silence as the ferry casted off and headed shoreward. “Aint’ good.” He concluded.
“No.” Kerry murmured. “It’s not good. I know everyone is being so good, and showing up at the office and doing what they can to clean it up but that’s not going to let us survive as a business.” She propped her head on her fist, leaning her elbow on the window jam.
The ferry parked at the far end, and they rolled off, going up the ramp and turning left onto the causeway. It was devoid of other cars, and far off on the end where it emerged onto Miami Beach Kerry could see flashing lights and the sun reflecting off camo trucks.
It was hot and hazy and with only some fitful breeze to stir the air and she was guiltily glad of the air conditioning in the truck, happy to enjoy it until they reached the office. “If we get the point to point link up, then at least if Dar calls they can relay it.”
“Yeap.” Andy nodded. “That or ah can teach one of them boys to use that radio.” He said. “Ceci kept one of them little units.”
“It’s not that hard. I don’t know what their problem is.” Kerry muttered. “I mean, we’re a technology company for god’s sake. Just because it’s analog technology it’s not like it’s from another planet.”
Andy chuckled. “Them kids are busy in that place.”
“And surely, your friends know how to use radios.” Kerry said. “I mean, c’mon?”
“They do.” He agreed with her. “More fun to go round and build sniper nests than yappin on the squawk like a big old chicken.” He sniffed reflectively. “Never liked that.”
Kerry paused in thought. “Really?”
“Didn’t like hearin mah voice.”
Her brows knit and she half turned to regard him, willingly distracted from the sun baked tarmac. “I love listening to you talk.” She objected, after a moment’s pause. “I always have.”
They pulled up to the line of cars waiting to go through the roadblock and Andy gave her a sideways look, his grizzled eyebrows quirking slightly. “Say what?” He said. “Ah talk like a hick from the backwoods, which is what ah am.”
Kerry regarded him and smiled. “Exactly.”
“Exactly. You don’t pretend to be anything other than what you are.” Kerry said, after a brief pause.
The barrier lifted and Andy was distracted by having to drive past it.
“When I first met Dar.” Kerry seemed to realize there was more explanation needed. “What struck me about her was that she was so honest. It was really strange at first, you know? All my life I’d lived in a family and in an environment where everyone around me was all…part of a game.”
“You had to think about what people said because it never really was what it sounded like.” Kerry clarified. “There was always some kind of agenda.”
“Dar ain’t no innocent, rally.” Andy said, as he paused before turning left to go south.
“Oh no, that’s not what I meant at all. Dar has all kinds of strategy in that head and it’s always light years past where anyone’s expecting. But when she says something, it’s just what it means. There’s no hidden message.”
“Ah.” Andy grunted thoughtfully.
Kerry smiled. “At the beginning, I would ask her, what did you mean by that, Dar? And she would look at me with this weird expression like maybe she’d accidentally answered in a foreign language.”
“She tells you straight.” Andy said. “That is a true thing.” He nodded. “No messin round.”
“Its why people didn’t and still don’t really like dealing with her. She never lets people down easy, you know? You ask a question and you better the hell want to hear the answer because that’s what you’re getting.” She gazed out the window, a fond smile on her face. “It’s a relief.”
“A relief. I can ask her something like, hey, what do you think about me dying my hair purple?” Kerry said. “And she’ll said, Kerry, you’d look really stupid with purple hair. I never have to worry about what she’s thinking. It comes right out.”
“Ain’t no games.”
“Ain’t no games.” Kerry echoed him. “You always know where you stand.” She said. “So when I met you, I knew where that came from because that’s exactly what you’re like too.”
He smiled, just a little. “Got my ass in trouble mor’n once.” He demurred. “And Dar too, growing up.”
“But it’s such a blessing.”
He digested that as he drove for a moment. “Ya’ll really want to make your hair purple?” He finally asked, tentatively.
“No. I’m a faux anarchist. It was radical for me not to have bangs.” Kerry reassured him. “Did you not see my family’s reaction to my tattoo?”
“Ah do remember that.” Andy chuckled, as he pulled into the street where their office was, dodging the still rotting piles of garbage, and cars that had been swept into the fronts of buildings by the storm surge.
They went past a national guard truck parked along the side of the road and two more behind it, then into the front of where their building was and into their parking lot.
All of the debris had been moved out of the yard, and the trees that had been down, or dropped limbs were trimmed back and looked relatively tidy. They parked and got out. “Lemme go get some of them boys.” Andy said, settling a ball cap on his head. “Get this dish from the back here.”
He headed towards the front door, which was standing open and Kerry could hear the sound of a saw going from inside. She stood out by the truck for a moment studying the building, and then she drew in a breath and exhaled, feeling the sweat starting as she walked up the path.
The porch, with its guard post seemed unscathed, and the post itself was empty though there was a folded blanket inside it, and a water pot. Running from it under the door was a electrical cord and Kerry stepped over it carefully as she went inside.
Unlike the previous day, when it had mostly smelled musty and moldy, today the inside smelled like freshly cut wood and as she looked down the hall she saw two sawhorses set up and caught the scent of bleach. There were four men standing at the end of the passage studying some paper.
Did she know them? Kerry scooted through and went out the back door into the central space, deferring the question for later. On the back porch, she stopped and looked around, a little startled at the activity.
Half the area had been turned into a construction workshop. They were using Hank’s Humvee as a work platform and the single gas grill had turned into an outdoor kitchen, with no less than three larger grills in a semi circle including one that was set up as a wok.
“Ah! Hello, Kerry.” Sasha popped up behind her and put down a cooler. “How are you? The kids invited me to move my kitchen here. Okay?”
“Um. Sure.” Kerry sidestepped out of the way. “Must be safer for you here than in the street, right?”
“You got it, and got me customers here always hungry.” The Vietnamese woman agreed. “It was good, you know, with the army but they told me I shouldn’t be out there early, late, nothing I might get kilt. You know? They were good, they were nice, liked my sandwiches, but not around at night.”
“Got it.” Kerry stuck her hands in the pockets of her shorts. “So what’s been going on around here, Sasha?”
“Here?” Sasha paused in the midst of removing a bag of chopped meat from her cooler. “You got the only good stuff going on the whole area. Guys are here fixing things. Everything else on the block is dead as a fish.” She put the bag on the makeshift worktable. “Nobody’s coming back here, anytime soon.”
No. Kerry had got that feeling, as they walked from the parking lot into the building. The atmosphere of desolation and destruction were sombering. “Yeah, I talked to the insurance adjusters when they were out by the sailing club. They said the owners were just looking to cut losses and sell.”
“Oh yes?” Sasha perked up and looked around at her. “Maybe I buy. My brother can bring his fishing boat here.” She looked speculatively at the back of the facility, where beyond it was the road and then the club. “Make a restaurant.”
“That would be awesome.” Kerry said, after a startled moment. “No one really used that sailing club anyway. Dar thought they were laundering money through it.”
There was a knock against the doorframe behind them, and Kerry turned to find a National Guard lieutenant there, his regulation green cover in hand. She studied his face, but didn’t recognize him. “Hi there.”
“Hello, ma’am.” Thus recognized, the lieutenant came forward. The patch on his chest said “Galahad” and Kerry got a sudden mental image of him on a horse with a sword. “My captain told me to come in here and have a chat with you all.”
He was probably in his mid thirties, and had a rusty red crew cut. “Sure.” Kerry said. “What can we do for you lieutenant?”
“So, we were looking for a place to set up a command point. He thought maybe we could ask you if we could set up in your parking lot out there.” Galahad pointed vaguely over his shoulder. “You’re a little in the corner here, it’s kind of a good spot.”
National Guard camping in the front yard? “Would you be here all the time? As in, at night?”
He nodded. “Yes ma’am, we’ve got a generator with us. They asked us to patrol down here, there’s been a lot of criminal activity, with people breaking in and stuff.”
“Absolutely you can take over the parking lot.” Kerry said, easily and at once. “As you can see, I have a number of staff taking shelter here, and it would ease my mind to have you and your team around.”
Unexpectedly, he smiled, a wholehearted and genuine grin that creased his sunburned face and almost made Kerry blush. “That’s awful nice of you, ma’am. We saw you all had a generator and all that here yourselfs, and it kinda felt like it was a safe place for us to be too.”
“What all we got goin on here?” Andy arrived from his inspection. “Lo there.” He greeted the guardsman politely, as he came up to stand next to Kerry.
“Lieutenant Galahad, my father in law, Andrew Roberts.” Kerry made introductions. “The lieutenant wants to set up camp in our parking lot, Dad.” She explained. “We seem to be strategic.”
A darkly humorous expression appeared on Andy’s face. “Do tell.”
The guardsman took that at face value. “My captain asked me to come ovah here and ask if we could put our trucks and our tents over in that lot there, sir.” He said. “We been asked to set up a command post. Patrol down here, and make sure folks don’t get all crazy.” He tilted his head a bit. “Crazier than has been, I mean.”
“Ah see.” Andy said. “That all right with you, kumquat?”
“Definitely.” Kerry said. “The more guys guarding my peeps the better.” She winked at the guardsman. “Will you tell them where to put things, dad?”
“Surely.” With a casual gesture, he indicated the entrance. “Lets get you boys all settled out there.”
“You bet. Thank you ma’am.” The guard lieutenant said to Kerry, with a courteous duck of his head. “We really appreciate it.” He put his hat back onto his head and adjusted it absolutely straight, then followed Andrew out and back through the building hall.
Kerry regarded them, then turned and regarded Sasha. “That is good, right?” She asked. “Having the National Guard outside?”
“More customers.” Sasha said, nodding briskly. “Yes, very good. Soldiers always hungry.” She went back to her bag of chopped meat and opened what appeared to be an art portfolio leaning against the table, removing a plastic cutting board and a neatly wrapped packages of knives.
“You’ll be a franchise by the time we’re done here.” Kerry abandoned her to the grill. She walked along the outside edge of the central space, heading towards the Humvee, and it’s makeshift woodshop. “Hell we might end up a dozen franchises ourselves.”
“Boy it’s hot, isn’t it sir?”
Andy regarded the shorter man. “Always is round here.” He said. “That part of there, where you all want to set up?” He pointed at the south end of the parking lot, where it angled to run along the side street. “Need to leave this here bit clear.”
“Where that driveway is?” Lieuutenant Galahad said. “That where you all are putting your cars at night? That’s smart, sir. Don’t leave nothing out here in the dark.”
“Had them some trouble the other night.” Andy agreed. “Got some of mah old buddies bunking in there.” He eyed the guardsman carefully. “Fellers who can take care of themselves.” He clarified. “Don’t mess round.”
The lieutenant nodded solemnly. “Yes, that’s what my captain said, sir. He said he saw some veterans around here, and talked to one of them, named Pete last night.” He glanced over his shoulder at the building. “Its your building, isn’t it sir? Has your name on it, and all.”
“Ain’t.” Andy said. “B’longs to mah kids.” He added. “Weren’t going to let it get torn down, kids got a lot built into it.”
They walked together across the lot, towards the front street where two large guard trucks were idling, the back of one of them revealing a lashed down generator, and a dozen already sweating uniformed figures. The lieutenant lifted his hand and pumped his fist, and they paused as the trucks rumbled into gear and pulled into the lot.
“Totally get it.” Galahad said, with a satisfied expression. “We got to take care of our own, right sir?” He walked over to the lead truck as it arrived near the front edge of the lot, and guards piled out of the back of it, moving into the shade from the few still standing trees.
Andy watched them with a faintly furrowed brow, as the lieutenant pointed and indicated directions, outlining with the edge of one hand the entrance to the path that led through into the center of the building with care. The second truck arrived, and one of the doors opened, letting an older man emerge, dusting his dark cap off on the leg of his uniform pants before he set it on his head.
Andy stayed where he was, just watching. “That there’s brass.” He commented to himself. “Don’t change no matter what the service.”
The older man talked to the lieutenant for a minute, then he turned and headed towards where he was standing. Behind him, the soldiers started removing wood planks and boxes of supplies, quickly starting to cover the open ground.
It was steamy hot and overhead there were clouds starting to gather on the fringe of the sky, and as he stood there waiting for the guard brass to make his way over, Andy saw a large open back truck with a battered city logo pull up next to one of the garbage piles.
Six men jumped out, all dark skinned, all drenched, pulling on thick canvas and leather gloves as they approached the pile. One of them pointed towards the busy guardsmen, then waved at the piles and yelled an order. As he watched, they started loading the garbage, dripping and stinking, into the back of the truck.
“Good, they done got here.” The captain walked up, looking over his shoulder and watching the truck as well. “Bout time.” He held a hand out to Andy. “Ah do believe your name is Roberts.” He said. “Jerry Dodge.. My family comes from the same part of Alabama as yours ah do think, down by Ozark.”
“That’s right.” Andy took his hand and they gripped and released. “You all the feller that helped out one of mah kids t’other day, out west of here?”
The man smiled. “I sure am.” He agreed with confident good cheer. “Spunky young lady. Might have figured she’d lead me on back here to this place.” He indicated the office building behind where they were standing. “Recognized the name. Figured had to be the same’s she told me.”
“Yeap.” Andy said. “Glad to have you all round here.”
“Glad to have you all at our backs.” Dodge said, frankly. “Gotta say we’ve been doing more policing than rescuing in these here parts. Didn’t realize it was like that.” He reviewed the setup, taking Andrew’s silence for agreement. “Anyway let me go get us all set. Have time for some coffee later?”
Dodge gave him a brisk nod, and headed back over to the trucks, and the busy soldiers. Andy exhaled as he watched him retreat, making a pensive noise with his lips. “Ah do believe.” He said, to no one in particular. “That man views his hometown a sight better than ah do.”
He turned and headed back to the office, silently shaking his head.
“All right, in here.” Haribee pointed at a door, and then stiffarmed it open, moving inside and holding the door for her to enter.
Dar followed him inside the room and went to the table as he closed the door behind her and blocked out the noise of the hallway beyond, where rooms full of some kind of training were going on.
It was lunchtime and she was hungry. She took a seat behind the table and hoped this conversation was going to be brief, and that whoever was driving her back to the air base knew where a Wendy’s was.
Now that the demo was over, and apparently a success, her mind was moving on and moving back to the challenges they faced back in Florida and she wasn’t much really in the mood to listen to some bs lecture from some government lackey.
Maybe he sensed that. Haribee slid into the chair opposite her and leaned on his elbows, all his air of detached aloofness for the moment a least gone. “Okay.” He said. “That was something.”
Dar put her arms along the soft, leather chair arms and interlaced her fingers, cocking her head slightly to one side in a listening attitude, deciding the statement didn’t require a response and more was to come.
She knew he’d been impressed. One look at his face when they took the helmet off had been enough to show that and even Scott had relaxed along with the rest of the techs in the room when he had turned and stared at them all in silent, evident, astonishment.
Now he was watching her with a sense of barely held interest and eagerness totally at odds with his original attitude and so Dar wondered what it was that was on his mind.
“Know what I think?” Haribee said abruptly.
“I’m about to.” Dar responded, in a dry tone.
For whatever reason, that made him smile. “I think you surprised the hell out of me. That was all those gadget heads claimed it was. Congrats. That doesn’t happen often around here.” He said, briskly. “I’m more used to looking at loads of crap duct taped together with vague promises.”
Dar nodded. “Tech’s like that. Sometimes you can get away with it.”
“Yeah?” He eyed her. “So when was the last time you did that?” He waited, seeing her smile. “Don’t answer. You don’t have to. I had my office find out who the hell you were when they said you were flying in here for this. I figured it was either they wanted someone to explain it to me, or someone to take the blame if it flopped.”
“You have an interesting file on you. A lot of people in a lot of places have crossed paths and come away with all kinds of opinions that mostly boil down to you being a damned useful person if something needs to get done, so long as you agree it needs to get done.”
Dar nodded again, avoiding looking at her watch. “Fair assessment.”
“It doesn’t mention that much about the fact you’re some kind of engineering genius.” He continued. “You have to go to the US Patent office for that.”
Really nothing to respond to for that, so Dar didn’t. She just sat there in silence.
“You don’t talk much.”
She cleared her throat a little. “I haven’t had any need to yet. You’ve only asked me one question and then told me not to answer it.” Her eyes watched him alertly. “Glad you liked the demo. Assume that means it’ll continue to be funded, great news for me. Anything else you want?”
“Uh huh. “ He laced his fingers together. “All prickles and edges. That’s what someone said, and they were right. Lucky for me I don’t care about that.”
“Okay.” Dar agreed amiably.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sure this’ll do whatever it is these yokels are planning for it. Train new troops? Okay whatever. Makes good press. No issues for me. Budget’s not even that significant.” He said. “But when I’m not running around collecting a paycheck for giving my opinion on government spending in the real world I fund businesses.” He paused. “Specifically, high tech startups.”
“I know a market when I see one.” He said, slowly. “That gizmo, shined up and put out there, is a gaming gold plated winner. You must know that.” He said. “You do, don’t you?”
“The thought.” Dar leaned back in the chair and regarded him. “Had occurred to me, yes.” She acknowledged. “ In that, it would be interesting to see if someone wanted to market it. Easier for me to sell it to one of the big console makers.”
“Why?” He asked. “Why lose out on all that money? For what, for royalties? Two bucks on every game? When you have it all? C’mon.” He said. “It’ll take years for any of those guys to adapt this to their system. They’re too big. Got too much invested in their own platforms.”
This was actually going in a direction Dar was totally not expecting. She hadn’t bothered to research who would be at the demo, because at the time to her it hadn’t really mattered. She’d been in the presence of government oversight hacks before.
True though, she also acknowledged silently, there hadn’t been much time or access to data for her to check anything in the last couple of days. So she pondered his speech a moment, considering the statement carefully, evaluating the potential truth in it.
There was truth, she decided. This was someone who knew what he was talking about in the same crisp, confident way that very often she herself did and knowing it in herself, she could see it in him. Was it the whole truth? Partial truth?
Extremely good acting?
“Possibly.” Dar finally agreed. “But it also means I don’t have to invest in marketing and manufacturing, which is something my small company doesn’t do, along with mass market distribution.” She said. “We do custom solutions.”
She paused then, an eyebrow twitching up, waiting to see where that would lead.
He nodded in brisk comprehension. “You’re right on with that. So lets not waste time, either mine or yours. We’ve both got better places to be than a moldy conference room in some government rockpile.”
He wrapped his hands together firmly and met her eyes. “So here’s the pitch.” He said. “Let me bring this all together. I know people in both marketing and manufacturing. I’ll build a shell company that we can use as an umbrella to make this thing.”
Really unexpected. Dar drew in a somber breath and regarded him.
“We can’t waste time. This is going to be hot.”
He was probably right. Dar had considered that herself after seeing the demo, had mentioned it to Kerry in their conversation. “Probably.” She acknowledged. “But we have a lot of things on our plate right now.”
“Like?” he asked. “This?” He indicated the room vaguely.
“No. My office just got hit with a category five hurricane.” She responded dryly. “It’s in South Florida.”
“Move it.” Haribee said, at once. “You don’t want to put anything like that down in that cesspit anyway. No talent down there, it’s got lousy weather issues, lousy local politics. Only plus is no state income tax. Wait to retire there.” He pronounced crisply. “Move it here. Plenty of good office space, a lot of talent coming out of the colleges, and.. “He studied Dar with intent, impersonal regard. “You look like you enjoy the active outdoors. I love it here for that.”
Dar thought about her encounter with the climbing wall that morning. “It’s nice.” She agreed. “And I have a major customer nearby.” She looked around the room. “I’ll think about it on the way home. I have to discuss it with my partner.”
Feeling a bit like she was in a new car showroom, she smiled briefly. “I can’t.” She shrugged a little. “There’s no cell service in half the state. That’s why Scott was having a nervous breakdown setting this up.” She opened one hand and made a come hither gesture at him with two fingers. “Gimme a number I can call you on and we’ll talk.”
He didn’t want to. He wanted to close the deal. She could see it in the lines of his athletic body and the shifting motion and she held herself still and calm, projecting an air of take it or leave it at him with what she hoped was the right mix of interest and caution.
It didn’t really matter, in the long run. She wasn’t going to commit to anything with him without discussing it with Kerry no matter how much prospective cash was on the table.
Maybe he knew that. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a very thin billfold, removing a card from it and tossing it over the table at her. “Don’t waste time.” He said. “I’d like to pull this together fast for a next Christmas campaign.”
“All right.” Dar picked up the card. “Maybe I can send a team to work out here when I get back. They’d probably like the break from heat and rain, and they can get Scott’s checkpoints nailed down.” She paused. “And start up this new project.”
Haribee grinned. “That’s the ticket.” He slapped the table with his hand and stood up. “Today’s been a worthwhile day for me, Roberts. Thank you. I don’t get many.” He turned with no further speech and left the room at a brisk walk, leaving behind the faint scent of linen and men’s cologne.
Dar glanced at the card, then stuck it in her back pocket with a faint shake of her head. “Oh boy.” She muttered, into the empty room. “Has been a day hasn’t it.”
She contemplated going in search of Scott, but just as that thought made her stand up, the door opened and he entered, an expression of enormous relief on his face, a bubbly jubilance showing in his motions.
“He’s really happy.” Scott said, apparently feeling he had no need to identify the he. “Thanks Dar. It was great.” He flopped down into the chair Haribee had just vacated. “I was kind of surprised, you know? That he wanted to get into the rig. That was bold of you to ask him.”
“Fastest way.” Dar folded her arms. “Seemed like a sharp guy. Figured it was easier to show than tell.”
“He’s a..” Scott paused. “He’s tough. One of those guys whose the smartest guy in the room all the time. If he wants your opinion he’ll give you one. That kind.”
“Mm.” Dar’s pale eyes twinkled just a little. “I’ve been accused of being that kind myself y’know.” She said, but in a mild tone. “So maybe it takes one to know one.”
Scott took a breath, then stopped, looking uncertainly at her.
“You all would have done fine without me.” Dar reassured him. “All he needed to do was see it. Glad he thought it was worthwhile and he’s not going to cut your funding.” She started over to grab her bag. “Can I get a ride back now? I’m sure ten thousand things have gone to crap back home while I’ve been out here enjoying having electricity and internet.”
“Take you myself.” Scott said. “I called the base, they said they’ve got something going that direction in about two hours. Time for lunch?” He added, in a hopeful tone. “Got a little place on the way that’s got great barbeque.”
“Sure.” Dar got her backpack on and slid the strap of her overnight bag over her shoulder. “Lead on.”
“No definitely, he’s happy.” Scott opened the door for her and followed her outside into one of the many, similar hallways with their cryptic wall plates and school color painted walls. “He greenlit us to go forward. The team’s over the moon!”
They walked down the long passageway and out the front entrance to the big facility, emerging into a beautiful early autumn day that featured clear blue skies and dry, sweet smelling air. “Nice day.” Dar commented as they walked across the pavement towards the parking.
“Yeah it is. Too bad you can’t stay a few days, gonna be great weather over the weekend.” Scott pulled his keys out of his pocket. “My buddies are trying to get me out to do Pikes Peak. Now that we got good news, I might be talked into it.”
Dar got into the passenger seat of his SUV and set her bag and backpack down between her feet. “Lot of folks do stuff outdoors here I guess.”
“Sure. We’ve got a little of everything here. Hiking, fishing, rafting, hunting, you name it.” He glanced at her, as he paused before turning out onto the main road. “Skiing, kayaking, you know.” He turned and headed off down the road. “Rock climbing.”
Dar spent a brief moment thinking about that. “That lodge has a climbing wall in their gym.”
“Oh it does. A lot of folks belong to that place. They have tournaments sometimes. It’s a great wall.” Scott responded at once. “Did you try it?”
“Yeah.” Dar murmured. “I noticed it the last time I was here so I gave it a go this morning.” She regarded the passing scenery. “Pretty entertaining.”
“Guess there’s not a lot of that down by you?” Scott hazarded.
“No mountains, no. I suppose some gyms have walls.” Dar said. “Mostly water sports down there. Deep sea fishing, surfing, wave boarding, diving, that kind of thing.” She paused thoughtfully. “I spend a lot of time in or on the water. I’m a scuba diver.”
“Oh yeah?” Scott said, in a surprised tone. “You have a boat?”
“I do.” Dar folded her arms over her chest. “Matter of fact that’s what I used to get our server stack back up and running after the storm came through. Brough them over to where I live, where there were generators and a satellite truck.”
“Wow.” Scott glanced quickly at her, then at the road. “On a boat? That sounds crazy.”
“It was.” Dar regarded the scenery out the window, and the towering mountains in the distance. “But you do what you need to do in that kind of circumstance.”
They were both silent as Scott turned and headed off on a side road heading north. “What was that like, being in that storm really?” He asked suddenly. “I saw the news reports, but most of what they were showing from when it happened just looked like a big wet mess.”
“It was a big wet mess. But it also came with hundred and sixty knot winds.” Dar related. “it’s a gigantic tornado, just slow. It’s coming at you at maybe ten, maybe six, maybe 20 miles per hour and you see it coming for days. It’s literally like being in a slow motion train wreck.”
“Then when it finally gets to you there’ a lot of wind, it’s loud.” Dar continued. “Things are breaking and getting thrown around all over the place, then if you’re in direct path, you get into the eye and the wind stops and it’s very low pressure. You feel your ears pop and all that.”
Scott was just looking sideways at her now, the whites of his eyes visible.
“And then the wind starts coming from the other direction when you come out of the eye, and it’s loud and full of banging and roaring again. Can last for an hour, maybe more coming right over you. If you’re lucky you’re in a place that’s built for it.” She sighed. “If not you can get your roof pulled off and the walls blown out around you, or twelve feet of water blast through your yard.”
“Why in the hell did you stay there?” Scott spluttered. “if you can see it coming, why not just leave?”
Why? That really was a damn good question. So many of her neighbors hadn’t. But some had. They’d all of them, all of the people who lived on that island had the choice, the means, the ability to just leave and go somewhere else, and watch, from afar.
She and Kerry could have taken the programming team and come here. She could have challenged the programmers to wall climbing efforts after they’d finished coding for the day. They could have taken hikes, and just watched CNN like the rest of the country had.
Her parents could have taken their boat, with it’s oversized engines and gone pretty much anywhere.
Why had they stayed? It hadn’t even been a question in her mind if she was going to until they were in the middle of it and they all realized just how ridiculous it was that they hadn’t.
“Good question.” Dar finally said, as they pulled into the lot of a wood and stone building, that featured a long shed behind it full of split logs and a steady flume of smoke curling from a large pit in the back corner. “I don’t really know.”
“Seems crazy!” Scott reached ahead of her to open the door to the restaurant. “I saw those news interviews. My goodness! People wading through the water, all those people dead! They should have all left!”
Dar sighed. “It’s not that simple.” She followed him over to the ordering counter. “Some people can’t. The shelters can’t handle their needs. Some want to stay with their pets.”
“Dogs and cats, and potbelly pigs and goldfish and whatever.” Dar glanced at the board. “Rack of ribs and a root beer.” She turned to Scott. “Some have no cars, no way of getting anywhere.” She paused. “I, apparently, am just a stubborn idiot who decided to stay in my house on an island on the edge of the Atlantic.”
They took their trays and claimed a wooden benched table, with simple wooden poles holding up rolls of paper towels and squeeze bottles full of four different kinds of barbeque sauce. Scott promptly picked up two of them and squirted them in tandem on his chicken.
He was humming under his breath. “First time in weeks I can eat in peace and not have a stomach ache.” He said. “Damn I’m glad we’re past that.”
Dar picked up a rib and took a bite, finding it well cooked and tasty, even without the lurid mixture of sauces that Scott was now also applying to his French fries. “Those guys really hassling you?”
He put down the sauce and picked up a drumstick, twisting it free of the half chicken he’d ordered. “You don’t get much chance, in our area, to get on a project that gets you in the spotlight, y’know? Well, sure, y’now.” He took a bite of the chicken and chewed it. “If he’d tanked it, and he could have, we’d all go back to the grind and carry that. You know, there goes that guy that was on that stupid killed dead project.”
Dar did know. “Yeah, I get it.” She said. “I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It was a win for us too, now we can start on the next set of deliverables.”
Scott looked around, but it was early, and there weren’t many other people in the place yet. “Might go even faster. I got a call from my boss not ten minutes after we were done in there. They want to show this off for the quarterly video show. I gotta make a speech.”
He grinned, almost maniacally at her. “I can’t wait to send a copy to my mom.”
If they did end up moving some folks out here, Dar decided as she toasted him with her rib and a wink. She would pitch the takeover of the whole team as an outsource. Would they want to leave the military and come work for her?
She finished the rib and took a sip of her root beer. Perhaps they would.