Fair Winds and Following Seas
Dar heard the sound of the Humvee returning, the rumble of the engine drifting in through the window as she stood standing in Maria’s office looking out into the night. “Ker?”
“You called?” Kerry entered behind her, wiping her hands off on a neatly torn piece of paper towel. “What’s going on?”
Dar pointed, and obligingly Kerry came up next to her, standing side by side as she looked out across the parking lot. “They’re back.”
Past the halon lights of the National Guard, past the front of the lot where a scattering of their cars were parked, the headlamps of the oncoming vehicle were visible, and as the Humvee came slowly to a halt near the entrance to the lot they could see the trailer behind it was piled high with boxes.
“Good job, guys.” Kerry smiled, giving Dar a rub on her back. “Should we go meet them and give them a hand?”
“Is it safe for us to do that? Shouldn’t we stay here in case the crowd suddenly turns into zombie Figment dragons?” Dar asked, in a serious, concerned tone. “Or a tidal wave comes up?”
Kerry eyed her in silence.
“Tinkerbell shows up and turns them all into giant schnauzers?”
“Dar.” Kerry covered her eyes with one hand, her shoulders shaking.
“Sorry. I’m tired, and hot, and its been a long, weird day.” Dar admitted. “If Tinkerbell did show up I’d pay her to twinkle us into our bedroom.”
Kerry gave her a comforting arm squeeze, and kissed her on the shoulder as they sucked in the faint, slightly damply cool air coming in the window.
They watched as the crowd, who had settled down to wait across the street from the guard enclosure, got up and approached the truck, as Carlo’s distinctive, dark, crop haired head came poking up out of the top hatch.
“Hey lookie there.” Pete had come up behind them and was peering past Kerry’s elbow. “Looks like a successful mission.” He sounded satisfied. “Hot damn. Now we can close up the shop and get some shuteye.”
“It does look that way.” Dar acknowledged. “Kerry and I were just keeping our distance so it stays chill.”
Pete laughed. “You all do attract the weirds.” He turned. “I’m gonna go help em out, then we can get that rig back in the gates.”
“We do attract the weirds.” Kerry said. “C’mon then, Dar. I just finished making some leftover nachos.”
Kerry glanced at Maria’s desk. “Oh, wait, let me grab this. Mayte was looking for it.” She picked up a slim leather portfolio tucked neatly into the organizer on the desk. “She must not have seen it under there.”
“Maria’s little black book?” Dar smiled. “Woulda thought she’d taken it with her.”
“She took a copy home.” Kerry assured her. “But she didn’t grab it on our way out of the house naturally and she gave Mayte a list of things she wanted done now that she’s here.”
“Sounds like Maria.” Dar smiled gently. “Glad she’s got the time to think of that stuff.”
“C’mon.” Kerry took hold of Dar’s elbow and guided her back out into the hall and down to the small second floor kitchen, where there was a shallow bowl on the counter, gently steaming. “Three different kinds of barbequed meats and leftover taco cheese.”
“Mm.” Dar inspected the dish, and picked up a chip, which had a beefy, cheesy blanket over it. “Did you just get bored?”
“It’s almost eleven PM. I just got hungry.” Kerry took a chip herself and went over to stand near the window, facing the same direction as Maria’s office did. She watched idly out the open panes as Andrew got out of the truck and came around to one side, Hank joining him.
It all looked orderly and calm. Kerry heard Zoe’s piping voice, and then she saw Carlos duck down, and come back up holding her admin by the waist, boosting her up and sitting her on the roof of the trunk near the machine gun. “Zoe’s taking all this really well.”
“What, nerdly armegeddon?” Dar was content to stay where she was, enjoying the snack. “Does she have a choice?”
“Well.. sometimes your dad’s friends take a little bit of adjusting to. Zoe just took it in stride.”
“Sure.” Dar went to the tiny refrigerator, opening it up and taking out a can of soda put in to cool down while they powered a little of the office from the generator outside. “I think she likes Hank.”
Kerry remained thoughtfully silent for a minute. “Likes as in likes? Or likes as in…”
“She think’s its cool there’s someone else here who’s like she is.” Dar clarified. “Probably not many people around her like that, you know?” She said. “And he’s funny.”
“He is funny, and a little random.” Kerry mused. “I think he acts crazier than he is?” Her voice lifted a little in question, and she turned, to see Dar watching her, munching in silence, one eyebrow slightly raised. “Or maybe not.”
“He’s a good guy.” Dar relented. “Dad wouldn’t bring him around if he wasn’t.”
“No, I know that.” Kerry turned from the window. “Lets get our stuff, and get ready to head home, soon as Dad’s done there. Okay?” She picked up the dish and they made their way back to their offices, sharing from it.
It was damp, and warm inside, and Kerry was happy to pick up her backpack and zip it up, glancing over at the desk to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. She slid it onto her shoulders and went over to douse the candle still burning, blowing it out gently.
It smelled of wintergreen, and she vaguely remembered them getting a few boxes of them at some after Christmas sale sometime, to add to the hurricane kit as a bit of random fun.
She went to the door between her and Dar’s office and stuck her head inside, watching Dar in the act of picking up her notepad and putting it into her pack. “Any word from Richard, Dar?”
“No.” Dar said. “I put my phone on the AP they have down the hall and picked up messages. Nothing.” She looked up thoughtfully at Kerry. “Not sure how I feel about that. I forwarded all that crap about this building to him.”
“Hope he’s okay.”
Dar slung her back over her shoulder, and then gestured to the door. They walked together outside and Dar snagged the nacho bowl before they went out into the hall. “I’m sure he’s fine. It’s possible he tried to call the office, tried to call my cell, didn’t get an answer and didn’t want to leave a message.”
“True.” Kerry said. “Give me that, let me..”
“Ah ah ah. I got it.” Dar walked down to the kitchenette and came back a minute later, sans dish. She licked her lips and winked at Kerry. “You should make that again.”
“Not sure I can get that mixture of leftovers again hon but I’ll try.”
They walked down the steps, past the little nest that Pete had vacated near the top of them and down through the lower hall to the closed front door. Kerry pushed it open and they paused, but the front porch guard station was also empty. “Guess they went over to see what was going on.”
They walked across the dark frontage to the front of the lot, and Dar opened the back door on the truck to toss her bag inside. She then opened the driver’s side door and paused, regarding Kerry who had opened the passenger side and was looking over her shoulder at the group near the road.”
“C’mon.” Dar closed the door and started over, holding out her hand and clasping Kerry’s as she joined her. “Should be safe enough unless a unicorn or something shows up.”
“Don’t invoke things.” Kerry mock protested. “You know, when I was at Hunter’s Point I was thinking about getting you a horse if we lived there.”
Dar was briefly silent. “A horse?”
“You know, four legs? Large pointed head?”
“What made you think of that?” Dar seemed slightly bewildered yet charmed. “There’s room there but.. is that going to go with the herd of sheep?”
Kerry chuckled. “No, the shed we took shelter in had a old horse stall in it.” She linked arms with Dar as they got to the front of the lot and stopped, watching the organized process as Carlos directed the crowd in Spanish.
The trailer held a lot of boxes, and next to it Andy was stacking one heavy box, and two lighter ones, then stepping back as some of the crowd came over to claim them, some with wheeled moving dollys, others just hefting the boxes to their shoulders and retreating.
Retreating where? Kerry wondered. They walked away, off to the south, down Main Highway and, she supposed to whatever transport that had brought them there, parked down the road past where the police had blocked it. They’d seen that coming in.
Hank was on the back of the trailer, shifting the boxes forward as Andy portioned them out, and the two men who had gone with them were helping him, with brief, frequent, satisfied nods.
“What’s in there?” Kerry whispered.
“Big box is four gallon jugs of water. Little ones are MRE’s.” Dar responded. “At least, that’s what Carlos is telling them it is.”
“How big a horse could we keep in there?” Dar suddenly asked.
Kerry stared at her in some bewilderment. “What? Oh!” She bit off a laugh. “It was the size of a one car garage. Does that tell you?”
“Oh!” Zoe spotted them. “Ms Kerry! Ms Dar!” She scrambled down from the roof of the Humvee and popped out the side door. “It was so wonderful!” Then she looked past Kerry and let out a squeal. “Mayte!!!” She ran past them to greet her friend and they burst into a rapid tumbling of Spanish chatter.
Behind their barricade, several of the National Guard were watching them, but seemed unwilling to either help or hinder what they were doing. There was no sign of the guard captain, but the tow headed lieutenant who had come in to ask for space was seated on the hood of a truck nearby.
Hard to tell from their expressions what they were thinking. Kerry resisted the urge to go over and find out. She stayed next to Dar, hooking her thumbs into her shorts front pockets as Dar rested her elbow on her shoulder. The crowd’s attitude had shifted now from angry despair to calm, waiting their turn to come up to the trailer.
“This was so the right thing to do Dar.” Kerry said, after a moment of silence. “Why wouldn’t they want to do it? Why did we have to?”
Dar shrugged. “Hey Zoe.” She turned and addressed the two younger women. “How’d it go out there? Where’d you get all this stuff from?”
“Oh!” Zoe came over with Mayte right behind her. “It was very good.” She said. “We went to where you told us to, Ms Kerry, to the big place near the airport. There were many many people there.” She said. “And Papa Andy went to the gate and explained what we needed, and they let us in right away and gave us all those boxes.”
“Just like that?” Kerry asked.
“Si.” Zoe nodded. “Just like you said they would do so.” She said. “They were very happy to have us to come get them I think? There are so many things there it was nice for us to come and take some for them.” She added. “They were thanking Papa Andy over and over again.”
“Sure.” Dar rolled with it. “I think a lot of people maybe can’t go to where the supplies are, and they’re waiting for them to come to them.”
“Si.” Mayte now spoke up. “That is exactly what they were saying at the hotel where we were. The floods are so bad, and flooded the cars, and all the things.”
Now the trailer was almost empty, just the boxes left for the two men who had gone with them, and those men were standing next to Andy and Hank, shaking hands, with Carlos rapidly translating in both directions. The men took hold of their boxes and hoisted them to their shoulders, their body posture triumphant and proud.
“They are so happy.” Zoe said. “To be able to take this back to their family.”
Dar watched them go, and as they crossed in front of the national guard, both of them made a very American rude gesture with one hand, before they went out of sight and out of the light into the shadows.
“Wall.” Andy stepped down off the trailer. “That there was a good old night.”
“Good job, Dad.” Dar said, in a mild tone. “Ready to go home?”
“Ah am.” He pulled off a pair of worn leather gloves and stuck them into the back of his waistband. “Get this here inside before anybody else done come and wants something.”
“That was good.” Carlos also looked quite satisfied. “Those guys out in Doral were pretty cool, too. They were all like, oh, you need some water and meals? No problem! C’mon in!” He said. “So I don’t know what that jackass in there’s problem was.” He pointed to the guard camp. “They told us if they’d known we needed water and stuff, they’d have sent a truck.”
“They were right grateful.” Hank assented. “They liked my rig.” He patted the side of the Humvee. “I asked them what the jack was wrong with these guys here but they didn’t know em.”
“Nice.” Pete materialized on the other side of him, stepping around and over the trailer hitch. “Gimme the keys if you’re gonna yap out here. Let me pull this thing inside.” He held out his hand and without comment Hank handed over the small animal skull keychain he kept the starter key for the vehicle on.
Pete got behind the wheel and they all stepped away from the truck, as he started up the engine and headed it down the driveway towards the office.
“C’mon.” Andy pointed after him and they all strolled along in the truck’s wake, until they reached the front row of parking spots where Dar’s truck was waiting. There, Andy, Dar and Kerry paused, and the rest hesitated.
“Good job, people.” Dar leaned on the hood of her truck. “I know for sure those people appreciated what you did like crazy tonight.”
“It was good.” Carlos agreed, with a smile. “Pissed off the guard guys though.” He didn’t seem regretful. “And I’m glad those people got what they needed and not an ass kicking cause they coulda.”
“True that.” Hank said.
Kerry turned and pulled the small portfolio from her back pocket. “Here Mayte, I found your mom’s book in her desk.” She handed over the item. “We’ll be back in the morning.”
“Maybe tomorrow we’ll have cell back.” Carlos said. “Maybe more folks’ll show up.”
“I will see if I can use that phone to contact everyone.” Mayte held up the book. “That is what mama told me to do first, check off who we know about. She has that in here, all the people, with all the other things she keeps, the vendors and the phone numbers and everything.”
“Old school.” Carlos smiled. “C’mon guys, let’s go inside before it starts raining again.” He patted the hood of the truck. “See you guys tomorrow.”
They got in the truck and watched as the oddly assorted gang move off towards the building, a faint burst of laughter coming back to them on the breeze through the open window on the passenger side of the car. Dar started up the engine and adjusted the seat, with a sigh.
“Another very strange day.” Kerry said. “But I’m glad that all worked out, dad.”
Andrew had stretched his long frame out across the second seat in the truck, draping one arm over the back. “Wall.” He paused. “Ah am some glad it did my own self.” He watched out the window as Dar drove past the guard camp. “Ah do spect we’ll have us some tussle with them folks though.”
“Maybe they’ll realize we saved them a lot of trouble.” Kerry half turned and leaned on the back of her seat. “We did, y’know? Those guys were all kinds of pissed off and we fixed that.”
“Dad called him an asshole in front of his men.” Dar pronounced, as she turned onto the main road and headed north. “He heard you.”
“Yeap. Meant him to.” Andrew said, unrepentantly. “Folks should not spect to not have jackassery made a note of, and that man was some fool and ah do not care for no fools.”
Kerry regarded him. “Well, he did give me a ride.” She said, in an almost apologetic tone. “But yeah, even when he was out there near where Mayte and Maria live, he didn’t really have any helpful vibes. He wanted to get out of there.”
“Well, they didn’t have anything that would help there.”
“Same story.” Andy said. “Ain’t got, ain’t got. Kerry, we didn’t got neither, but we went and got. All that man could find was excuses.” He frowned. “That bit got mah mad up.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kerry leaned her head against the headrest, watching Dar’s profile as she drove. “But you know, I think everyone they send here does want to help. Most of the time either they have no clue what’s going on or they’re not prepared for what this place is, you know?”
Dar turned right and drove up to the checkpoint, now seemingly built up a bit more with a sturdy barrier that closed the causeway except for a space large enough to allow one vehicle and there were now tents set up with air handling units stretching out and supply trucks parked nearby.
She opened her window and pulled out her wallet, waiting for the guard to come over. “Feels like Checkpoint Charlie.”
The soldier walked over to the car. “Can I help you ma’am?”
Dar handed over her license. “Going home.”
He glanced at it, then handed it back. “We just had a VIP movement there, ma’am, go on, but you might get held up at the terminal.” He stepped back and motioned at the tented control area near the blockade. “Have a good night.”
“A VIP movement.” Dar drove through the opening and out onto the causeway. “Guess the governor’s back.”
“Gov’mint.” Andy pronounced dourly. “All them movements gen’rlly involve a head or somesuch kind been mah experience.”
“Hope it’s just that.” Kerry remarked. “That’s usually what they say when they’re moving around the President.” She sniffed reflectively. “As if we really need that Ringling Brothers scenario right now.”
Dar gave her a sideways look.
“Sure hope he doesn’t have my mother with him.”
Kerry stood at the kitchen window, looking out over their small backyard and garden, past the seawall and out over the Atlantic ocean.
Today it was a mild, lightly ruffled green, and the sun was just over the horizon bathing the outside of the condo with warm pink light.
In the garden, the wrought iron gates had been wrestled open, and a large rolling landscaping dumpster was standing inside, with four busily working gardeners picking up debris and dead foliage from the space and clearing out all the coconuts and sea wrack the storm had brought in.
A soft ding distracted her and she went over to the toaster, removing two corn English muffins from it, setting them down and applying a round sausage patty and piece of swiss cheese to them before she picked up the wooden tray they were on.
She maneuvered through the living room and went into Dar’s office, setting the tray down on the desk and then walking over to the window.
On the couch nearby was a wood file, and around the bottom of the window was a thin layer of whiteish gray dust. Dar was hanging over the back of the couch routing a cable over the edge of the sill from the outside.
The room held the scent and humidity of the warm air outside, and as Kerry watched, her beloved partner seated the cable into a newly cut trough in the wooden window sill then slid the window shut.
The condo’s alarm system issued a satisified sounding beep as the window seated, and Dar reached up to close the locks that would keep it in place. “There.”
“Nice job, sweetie.” Kerry gave her a little scratch on the back.
“Thank you.” Dar got up and backed away from the couch, routing the cable around to the small table next to the window that now had a small switch on top of it. “If the kids at the office can keep their phones online, why can’t we?”
Kerry chuckled. “Eat your muffin. It’ll get cold.”
Dar sat down behind her desk and picked up a half of the muffin, munching it. Sitting on the desk was a capped thermos, and now she picked it up to wash down her mouthful, propping up one bare knee as she leaned back.
Kerry took a seat on the couch with her own breakfast. “So.”
“So.” Dar paused in her chewing. “Is it Saturday?”
“It’s Saturday.” Kerry confirmed. “Does that mean something?”
“Not really.” Dar’s expression shifted slightly. “Except it defers calling Pharma.” She regarded her quiescent computer at her elbow. “Guessing maybe the answer to that is in my inbox.”
“Might be.” Kerry agreed. “Worse case, he’s canceled our contract. What’s best case?” She asked, after a brief pause. “As long as we’re talking about it.”
“Best case?” Dar looked slightly intrigued. “You mean, if lightning struck twice and I did something unexpected on that plane flight and revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry without planning to?”
Kerry nodded as she chewed.
“Can we not think about that?”
Kerry shrugged expressively.
Dar leaned over and turned on her computer. Then she got up and went over to the small table, coiling up the cable from outside neatly, fastening it with a piece of Velcro, and plugging it into the switch. She then picked up a rounded square almost white piece of equipment and set it on top of the switch, connecting an ethernet cable from the side of it into the front of the now blinking front panel.
The access point started blinking, as if in sympathy.
Dar went back to her chair and sat down. “We can bring over a phone from the cottage.” She said. “Keep everything in here so when our service comes back up I don’t have to screw around with rewiring everything.” She eyed Kerry. “You mind?”
“Do I mind what?”
“Not having connection upstairs?”
“Oh.” Kerry paused. “I’ll just bring my laptop in the living room hon. Signal’ll reach from here.”
“Or work from my couch.” Dar smiled.
“Or work from your couch.” Kerry got up and collected the platter. “I’m going to go run over and grab one of those phones so we can just take some time to sort things out from here.” She said. “Want more coffee?”
Dar held out the thermos. “If you’re making some.”
“I am. Probably we’ll need it when the investigative team returns.” Kerry took the thermos and went back out through the living room, it’s interior unusual quiet due to the lack of the two dogs that were usually running around in it.
Andrew and Ceci had taken them out for a tour of the island. Kerry could only imagine what stories they were going to come back with, and she resisted the urge to turn on the television to the island channel to pre-empt the tales.
Dar regarded her inbox, trying to consider a sorting model that would produce anything other than bold faced exclamation points.
When everything was urgent, nothing was. A well known corollary for anyone who had ever done anything in the realm of operational systems and Dar certainly had. In the world of prioritization, you had to start somewhere. Even in situations where everything seemed like it was the most important thing.
Which, when you had customers, was everyone. There was no one sending her emails that though their work, or their request, or their deliverable was less important than anyone else. No one was dropping her a note just to say hey.
Dar finally decided to sort by non company email to top, then by date, then exclude repeat senders same subject. This produced one long page of things for her attention, and she grunted in satisfaction as she adjusted her chair, then she paused.
She got up and went around the desk, studying it.
“What’s wrong?” Kerry entered, carrying her backpack. “Not working?” She ventured, watching Dar’s profile. “Not working the way you want it to?”
Dar grinned briefly. “I want to stand up.” She admitted. “I got used to that desk in the office.” She shooed Kerry ahead of her. “G’wan, go grab the phone. I’ll get some boxes or something.”
“Gardner’s are outside. Maybe they have some crates.” Kerry stood in her way long enough for them to gently collide, then remained as Dar turned the gesture into a hug. She took a breath full of the clean smell of Dar’s cotton shirt and the hint of their soap. “Wish it really was Saturday.”
“As in, hey lets go out on the boat for a dive Saturday?” Dar kissed the top of her head, and rocked them both back and forth a little. “Yeah me too. I was thinking about what it would be like if we could take a ride down to the cabin, check that out.”
“Too much to do.” Kerry said, in a mournful tone. “But thanks for reminding me I have to call the management people down there and see if we’ve got something left to check.” She disengaged reluctantly and slid the other strap of her backpack onto her shoulders. “If we stay here today, maybe we can compromise with a sunset from the hot tub.”
“Mmhum.” Dar made an agreeable noise. “You’re on.” She walked Kerry to the door and opened it, then watched her go down the stairs and turn into the parking garage under the condo. “Oh hey wait Ker.” She called. “Hang on.”
She went out and down the steps into the underground space. “Take that helmet over.” She said, going over to the truck and opening the back door to it. “The kids want to test that code change.” She hauled the rugged case out and walked over to the cart.
Kerry leaned on the awning supports. “I want to see it.” She said. “They have everything they need there to hook it up?” She watched Dar nod. “Vroom.” She waggled her eyebrows as Dar got out of the way, and then she slid behind the cart’s steering wheel and turned it on. “I bet it’s cool.”
“It’s cool.” Dar assured her. “Tell them to use the explorer sim with high res.”
Kerry grinned, giving her a little wave as she backed the cart and then sent it up the ramp, giving the horn a little beep beep on the way.
The door to the cottage came flying open as Kerry put the parking break on, with Arthur and Elvis almost colliding in the opening as they fought to get outside.
“She’s got it!”
“You got it!”
Arthur won the struggle and bolted for the back of the cart and grabbed the handle of the case, yanking it off the back of the cart and grunting as it hit him in the knees. “Ouch.”
“Hey, take it easy.” Kerry laughed, as she got out of the cart. “It’s not going anywhere.”
“No, but we’ve been talking to Scott and he won’t shut up about the sim.” Elvis told her, as he moved out of the doorway to let Arthur carry the case inside. “A bunch of people have been here already this morning looking for you.”
“Me?” Kerry followed them inside. “Morning!”
“Hey Kerry!” Angela was already seated at the table, pads and pens and folders of paper surrounding her and her laptop, it’s cable running down the table leg and across the floor. “Boy we’ve been busy!”
Celeste was in the corner amidst a pile of cables, sorting them and coiling them up, and she looked up and waved as Kerry came inside and set her backpack down. “The governor was here, looking for you, ma’am.” She said, as though this happened to Kerry every day.
“What did he want? Did that file not go through? Dar said it did.” Kerry paused by the table.
“He didn’t say anything about that.” Elvis looked up from the case he was kneeling next to. “He and some goon showed up and just said they wanted to talk to you.”
“Want some coffee? They just refilled.” Angela told her. “They brought over some fancy waffles for breakfast. They were great.”
“They were great.” Arthur agreed. “They had that Nutella stuff in them.”
Kerry winced a little. “For breakfast?” Then she shook herself. “What am I saying? I’m the one who makes chocolate chip pancakes at my house.” She paused. “I just came over here actually to pick up a phone. Dar got our place connected.”
“No problem.” Celeste got up and went to the gear cabinet. “The guys have been teaching me about all this stuff. It’s pretty cool.” She picked up one of the IP phones and a round of cable to go with it. “Do you need a power adapter?”
“No, Dar has a POE switch.” Kerry accepted the device, which she slid into her backpack along with the cable. “Thanks – easier for us to be able get calls transferred there and not have you folks having to take all the messages.” She paused, then pulled the phone out of the bag and checked the sticker on the bottom.
“One of the spares from accounting.” Elvis supplied, without prompting.
“Great.” Kerry put the phone back in the bag. “We ran payables before the storm and no one on the face of the planet is calling our accounts receivable department this week.” She zipped up the bag. “Now. Lets see what this revolution Dar created is all about.”
Arthur grinned, as he pulled out the helmet and a incongruous set of football shoulderpads. “Sweet.”
Elvis was busy with his laptop, peridocally glancing up at the rack of servers. “Glad like crazy we have this here and not up in the cloud.” He remarked. “Wouldn’t want to try this over that satellite.”
Kerry went over and sat down on the couch, resting her elbows on her knees as she watched the two programmers setting up the rig. “They’re really excited about it huh?”
“Man.” Elvis shook his head, typing furiously. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“Me either.” Arthur agreed, connecting up the cables into the helmet. “Who gets to go first?” He looked up at Elvis, and then after a beat of somewhat awkward silence, they both looked over at Kerry. “You want to go first, Kerry?”
Kerry was charmed. “Tell you what. I’ll go last. Then it’ll be fresh in my head when I go report back.” She suggested. “Go ahead and flip for it.”
Elvis grinned, but shook his head. “He’s the gamer.” He indicated Arthur. “Get in, bro. Lets see what this thing can do.”
Dar typed contentedly, her body relaxed behind the somewhat makeshift arrangement she’d made of her desk, with a set of wooden boards and some concrete blocks between them, some construction flotsam and jetsam agreeably if somewhat confusedly provided to her by the landscaping team.
She had lifted her screen up to standing height using two blocks and two boards, and put a lower shelf in to hold her keyboard and her chair was pushed back against the wall out of the way.
The mail wasn’t as horrific as she’d imagined. She’d answered at least a dozen that were just customers and random people she knew sending notes of concern, asking how they were doing, how had their house held up, and that sort of question.
A note from Alastair, checking in, and one from Hamilton Baird of a similar nature.
She clicked on the next one, from Gerry Easton.
Dar! Need to talk to you about that thing we talked about before you went on your own! Know you’ve got a mess down there, but call me!
Dar pondered that. “That thing we talked about.” She lifted her hands up and spread them. “Sure, Gerry. When I get a phone that works I’ll call you.” She typed out the same into the response and sent it on it’s way then went on to the next message.
A knock at the door to the condo made her look up and across her desk in irritation. Who in the hell would be knocking at her door?
Guest Services maybe.
With a sigh, she headed around the desk and out of her office, crossing the living room and going to the entryway and opening the door. She pulled it inward and looked out, finding a man in his mid forties or so, with short, neatly cut black hair with a sprinkling of silver at the temples standing there.
He had a Rolex watch, and was wearing leather boots.
New resident? “Hi.” Dar greeted him.
The man studied her briefly. “I’m looking for Dar Roberts.”
“Congrats. You found me.” Dar stuck her hands in her pockets. Not new resident, sadly. Random rich friend of someone who didn’t like her? Someone who knew the sleezy contractor who wanted his own files sent somewhere?
Maybe someone renting a nearby condo who wanted a cup of sugar?
No, Dar mused sadly, not asking for her by name. “What can I do for you?”
“My name is Jason Billings.” The man said. “I’m the director for communications for the State of Florida.”
Definitely not cup of sugar. “Okay.” Dar took a step backwards, and gestured. “Want to come inside?”
He followed her in and she shut the door. “What can I do for the state of Florida?” Dar asked, indicating one of the plush leather chairs. She took a seat in the other and waited for him to join her. “I assume you’re here with the governor? We saw the police blockade when we came home last night.”
“I am.” Billings agreed. “The governor’s brought a group of specialists down here to see what can be done to start recovery operations. I’m sure you appreciate the need for that.”
Dar nodded. “I do.” She said. “It’s a mess.”
“It’s a mess. That’s a good way to describe it, and a lot of it’s my mess, because the biggest issue we have is no one can communicate. Most of the cellular towers are still down, most of the power is still out, no one can talk to anyone else because we’re all using different radio frequencies…”
“Reminds me of 9/11.” Dar said, as he paused. “We didn’t learn much.” She said. “At least after Andrew, we made people build decently, at least for a few years.”
He regarded her quietly. “No one likes to spend money on infrastructure. It’s boring and never wins you points with the voters. No one cares if they have redundant power and underground cabling when it’s time to vote.”
“Until they’re in this kind of situation.”
“Even then. People are mad while they have no power, and they’re flooded, but soon as the power’s back on, and the ground’s dry they’re out there hustling to scam their insurance company and laughing at the government.” Billings stated, flatly. “You can’t even make people keep three days of beanie weenies in their house for an emergency.”
“The ones who don’t, yell the loudest about what crap we all are.” He said, bluntly. “Sorry, not a fan of the unprepared public.”
Dar merely nodded, assuming there was no advantage to her in telling him off. “So what can I do for you?” She repeated her request. “I’ve got some beanie weenies in the closet.”
He sighed, and leaned back in the chair. “Sorry about that, Ms Roberts. I spent the whole damn day out there yesterday with the governor and got my ass handed to me every two miles.” He paused. “My father’s best golfing buddy ‘s Alastair McLean.”
Dar started laughing in pure reflex. “I just got an email from him asking how things were going. I should have known he was involved somewhere in this.” She relaxed, though, since if that was the source of his information on her, at least he knew why he was here.
At least he was not going to be a jackass to her.
He nodded. “So let me not waste your time. We need someone to help us get communications going here, and build a plan to put things back together so it works better the next time. I want to give you a contract as a consultant to help me.”
Dar blinked, startled silent for a long moment.
“I heard what you did in New York, from Uncle Al.” He said, after the silence had gone on long enough to be uncomfortable. “The whole story. So at least this time, I promised him you’ll get paid for it.”
Kerry was absolutely silent for a very long minute after the sim ended, trying to absorb it. Finally she pushed the eye shield up and looked at the eagerly waiting young men, who had with great effort stifled their reaction waiting for hers. “Holy shit.”
“Ha Ha!” Elvis danced as he sat on the couch. “I thought you were gonna say that!”
“That is super rad.” Arthur pronounced, nodding in a grave, but emphatic sort of way. “I mean, that’s like I want to just crawl in that thing and live in it kind of awesome.” He glanced at the server, then back at her. “It’s gonna rock the world.”
“Oh yeah.” Elvis agreed. “Can’t wait for Dar to come over here and show us what she did.”
Kerry sat back in the chair she was in, that she’d sat down hard in as the reality of the virtual world she’d gone into had become breathtakingly overwhelming. “Swear to God I could smell the forest we were in.”
“Programming.” Arthur nodded. “We put that in the last sprint. But not the ..” He waved his hands around incoherently. “That thing. That new thing.”
“So cool.” Elvis eyed Kerry. “You ready to come out of it?”
Kerry smiled and gestured him forward, suspecting her two employees were going to get exactly zero sleep and spend the night exploring this new facet of their project. “Much as I’d love to look around more, damn, I’ve got stuff to do.”
She held still as Elvis undid the catches that locked the helmet to the pads and lifted it clear of her head, allowing sound and the air of the room to hit her senses and skin with an almost audible pop and she imagined she could still hear the sounds of birds and crickets that just didn’t exist here in the cottage around her.
“Cel, you want to try it?” Arthur half turned. “It’s so cool.”
Elvis lifted the pads off her shoulders and Kerry stood up, taking a step away from the chair and turning.
“It really grabs your head, doesn’t it?” Elvis asked, watching her. “You keep thinking about it after it’s over.”
“You do.” Kerry had to agree. “It plays over again in your mind.” She glanced over at Celeste, who was hesitating. “It’s okay.” She said. “Though I should have you sign all our NDA paperwork.” She half turned. “Can you print out a set, Angela?”
“Sure.” Angela pecked at her keyboard. “None of that for me. Last time I tried it I threw up for an hour.”
“What does that mean?” Celeste asked. “The paperwork?”
It occurred to Kerry she’d been assuming without thinking that Celeste might want to remain and be a part of Roberts Automation, and not go back to ILS. Which seemed pretty arrogant, now that she sounded that out in her head.
Kerry felt a bit sheepish. “Sorry about that.” She said. “I should probably back up a step. I know you stopped by just to hang out, but I had Colleen put you on our payroll. You want to come work for us?”
Celeste blinked at her. “Seriously?”
“Toldja.” Arthur rolled his eyes.
“I don’t do any of this stuff.” Celeste explained her reaction. “And honest.. with those guys you have there, you don’t need me and Frank for security.”
“Right now, we have no idea what we need.” Kerry said, frankly. “You want to be here? We need people who can just pitch in and do anything.”
Celeste looked down at the pieces of cable in her hands. Then she looked back up at Kerry. “That wasn’t why I came.” She said. “I just wanted to feel like I was doing something useful.”
Kerry nodded. “I have an entire building of people over on the edge of Coconut Grove who showed up there because they wanted to do something useful. I don’t even know who some of them are, but if you want to stay, you’ve got a spot. Your choice.”
Arthur looked at Kerry from between his shaggy bangs. “Sure she wants to stay.” He said, with a somewhat bewildered expression. “You want to right?”
Celeste was momentarily silent, considering. “I do.” She said, in almost a tone of surprise. “I’d like to learn how to do some of this stuff. I think it would be more fun and a lot more interesting than guarding a glass door.”
Elvis chortled, shaking his head. “We can write a bot to do that.”
“Great. That’s settled then.” Kerry said. “So now on to the NDA. It’s to protect some of the special things we’re working on. It means you can see them, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about them.” She added. “I signed one.”
Elvis chortled again. “Dar didn’t.”
“Well.” Kerry eyed him. “She’s the one who’s inventing them. Wouldn’t be much point.”
“Is there a point to you signing?” Arthur asked. “I mean…”
“Not really, it just set a good example.” Kerry admitted. “Dar makes a point of never being a good example.” She grinned, putting her hands on her hips, and the two programmers laughed along with her.
“Cool. I’m in.” Celeste put the cables down and came over to the table, where Angela was now collating a set of printed papers from the small printer. “I mean, who even knows what’s going to happen around here right? Seems like a good time to get a new set of skills.”
A time of change. Kerry suddenly flashed back in her mind to the night she’d hit submit to send her resume to Dar where it had seemed the same to her. No idea what was going to happen, and a great time to get a new set of skills.
A mental dialog that had been complete logical fabrication, even in the silence of her own mind, because if Dar had offered her a job flipping pancakes in the executive grill she’d have taken it.
Maybe Celeste wanted that kind of change too. “Well then, welcome.” She said. “Let me get this phone back to the house and see what trouble my other half’s getting into, while you enjoy our little contraption there. Which is..” She exhaled, with a shake of her head. “Freaking amazing.”
“Freaking amazing.” Elvis repeated with satisfaction. “We’re gonna be on a billboard.”
“In Times Square.” Arthur confirmed. “Like right above that ticker thing.
Dar closed the door, pausing to shake her head in some bemusement before she retreated to the kitchen and obtained a glass of milk. She stood at the window looking out as she sipped it, watching the gardening team finishing up their work cleaning out the debris from the yard.
Outside the gate, another team of men were wrestling large limestone rocks from a golf cart, wading into the water and placing them to begin the replacement of the sandy beach that had been stripped out by the storm.
The men were working hard, and sweating.
Standing there watching, Dar reflected for a moment on what it would feel like to be one of them. She oculd remember long days working around their housing on base, cleaning out tree branches and shrubs, sweating in the tropical summer heat.
Hosing off at the end of the day, looking around with a sense of accomplishment, even though she’d known, and her father had known, that the trees and the brush would be back with a vengeance in a crazy short time. But the house had looked tidy and squared away and that satisfied something inside her sometimes quirky mind and she remembered liking it.
Her mother had liked it. It had been one of the few things they’d agreed on, and after a cleanup Ceci would often have planted out some colorful flowers in the brick planters in the front of the house to add a bright note.
Dar remembered seeing Andy come home afterward and seeing him pause in the driveway to appreciate the work, his head nodding in almost unconscious approval.
She took a sip of the milk, and remembered that moment of contentment, of the knowledge of a job well done. With a slight clearing of her throat, she put the glass down and went to the door, opening it and rambling down the steps.
The gardners spotted her and paused, turning and straightening up as she approached, waiting warily as the supervisor edged in front of them, coming between her and the rest of the group. “Good morning.” He greeted her politely.
“Hi.” Dar came to a halt.
“Is there something wrong, senora?” The man said.
Dar recognized him as one of the men who maintained the golf course. “Nothing.” She said, in Spanish. “You guys just did a kick ass job out here, and I wanted to say thank you.” She looked around at the yard, which was now completely free of debris, and almost scoured looking, waiting for some new plants. “It was a real mess.”
He relaxed a little. “Everything is a big mess.” He agreed, with a brief smile. “So much to be done.”
“My father says that every five minutes.” Dar acknowledged.
“But it gives us work. We are hoping for good overtime.” The man continued. “And right now, we need every moment of it.”
He paused, and looked at Dar.
It took a second, but she caught the clue. “If you want to come by here when you’re done, we could use some extra work here.” She offered. “Cash basis.”
All of the men, who had been standing by, leaning on rakes, staring off into the distance now looked at her, and smiled in unfeigned, knowing appreciation.
“Make my partner happy to have her garden back.” Dar continued. “So just let me know.”
“Of course.” The supervisor said. “We were going to put some plants in around the big house tonight but maybe…”
“Hundred an hour?” Dar offered, her hands in her pockets. “If you get us the really nice plants, two hundred.”
“We will be here.” The man promised, at once. “It will look very nice, for sure.”
Dar gave them a thumbs up, and then she made her way back to the steps, trotting up them as her ears caught the sound of the front door opening, all the way on the other side of the house.
She slipped inside and closed the kitchen door, as Kerry came into the kitchen from the other direction. “And?” Dar asked, seeing that faint, almost wondering, smile and the faint shake of Kerry’s head. “Like it?”
“Dar.” Kerry came over and put her hands on Dar’s stomach, leaning forward and stretching up to kiss her. “That was like nothing I have ever seen.”
Dar put her arms around Kerry and returned the kiss. “It’s cool.” She confirmed. “Glad you liked it.”
“I did. The kids are over the moon with it.” Kerry reached up and cleared a wisp of hair out of Dar’s eyes. “So thank you, my dearest love, for being the genius you are.”
Dar’s face twitched a little, an almost grimace. “No need for that. It was just an off chance.” She demurred. “Anything else going on there?” She changed the subject. “Did you trip over the government nerd on your way up the steps? He was just here asking me to take over the restoral effort on behalf of the State of Florida.”
“Abu.. .what?” Kerry felt well and truly distracted. “Wait.. what?” She looked behind herself and then back. “No I didn’t see anyone… wait, he asked you to what?”
“Want some milk?”
“Dar, hold on. Did you say the state wants to … what do they want you to do?”
“I want some chocolate pudding.” Dar placidly responded. “Can you make chocolate pudding?”
“Of course I.. wait a minute hold on.” Kerry started laughing helplessly. “DAR!” She gripped Dar’s arms and shook her insistently. “Dar Dar Dar!”
“Yes?” Dar chuckled in reaction. She rested her arms on Kerry’s shoulders and gazed at her. “Turns out the guy who runs comms for Florida’s father is an old buddy of Alastair’s.” She explained. “He wants to hire me as a consultant to help them get their act together.”
Kerry stared her, brow fully knitted, in a long moment of perplexed comprehension.
“Yeah, no. As in I told him no.” Dar responded to the unsaid words. “I’m not going to do that. Been there, done that, not going to spend my time yelling on behalf of the governor. I have better things to do.” She leaned forward and kissed Kerry again. “Like that, and getting some chocolate pudding.”
“That will just end up being thankless.” Kerry slid her arms up and circled Dar’s. neck with them. “Just like the last time, no matter what they say.”
Dar nodded. “Agreed.” She casually wrapped her arms around Kerry. “That’s in fact what I told the guy, along with how much of my own chaos I have to sort out here. That’s a full time mind suck.”
Dar made a low, grunting sound of approval, nodding her head a little bit.
“Good decision, hon. Kerry gave her a quick hug, then released her. “Nothing much going on over at the cottage. I brought a phone back.”
“I feel it.” Dar patted the backpack on her back.
“Which I’m going to plug in, and see if I can give Maria a call. I’m going to try and talk her into taking Tomas upstate. Colleen got space in one of the residential resorts there and there’s room.”
Dar turned her around and started guiding her back to her office. “Don’t forget my pudding.”
“You said you could make it.”
“You know what I should have done?” Dar finished typing and looked up, as Kerry entered. “I should have bought out that damn satellite scamster.”
“To get all the bandwidth?”
“To get all the bandwidth.” Dar confirmed. “What a pain in the ass.”
Kerry perched on the edge of the desk, watching Dar type for a minute. “Mind taking a break? I think I’d like you to try and convince Maria.”
“Won’t go, huh?”
“They’re releasing Tomas tomorrow.” Kerry obliquely acknowledged. “I told her to see if they can keep on staying at the hotel there, but she says they have so many people who need rooms she doesn’t think they can.”
“He needs medical care.” Dar stopped typing, and leaned on her makeshift keyboard shelf. “What does she want to do, try to go back home? I thought you said Mayte tried that yesterday.” She focused on Kerry. “I heard on the news this morning they’re looking at having to pump out some areas.”
“They don’t want to leave home.”
“They can’t live in their home, Ker. That makes no sense.”
Kerry nodded. “I know, but you’ve known her longer, and sometimes that pragmatic logic comes better from you than from me.”
Dar considered that in silence, then nodded. “Okay.” She moved around the back of the desk. “Trade. Just got an email from Richard, g’wan and read it.”
“What does he say?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t read it yet.” Dar walked along the cable laid neatly on the floor and followed it out into the living room to the comfortable chair and low table Kerry had dragged over to work from.
Kerry waited for her to move past then she took Dar’s place behind the desk, standing in the makeshift cockpit her partner had constructed, all full of the scent of concrete block and wood. It was workable though, and now she stood there quietly, looking at the big, slightly curved monitor full of gray one black text.
No luck getting in touch with you! Been trying for days. But I guess it’s as much of a mess down there as I see on the news. Want you to know that storm even blew down a tree in my front yard so I can’t even imagine what it was like to be where you are.
I did see in the news that your island did well, and it’s where all the fancy people are staying so at least there’s that. Glad that you and Kerry and your folks did all right, or I assume you did all right based on what I know.
So on to business.
I sure hope that property did well in the storm, because I hate to tell you, but its yours.
Kerry paused, and took a breath, surprised by the surge of happy excitement at the words. She took a breath to yell the news to Dar, then paused as she heard her partner’s low voice outside the door, already on the phone, apparently talking to Maria.
She went back to the note instead.
Hate to tell you, because I saw what the damage was down there, and if that’s damaged, because of it’s historical status you have no way to restore it and since it is protected, if it was damaged, you’re responsible for it and we might be looking at a lawsuit over it because you didn’t protect it.
I’ve reached out to them on your behalf, and I have a call later today with their legal department and I’ll let you know how that goes, but if you have any intel for me on what the status is down there send it over. They are not happy at all with the way the transfer of ownership was done, and there could be trouble there too.
On a happier note, I got your text about the office building and started working on that. That’s a more interesting problem because it’s free and clear of encumbrance to my surprise, and based on the location, that’s a valuable piece of property.
First thing I checked was the property taxes, and got a pleasant surprise in that they have a grandfather clause from way back and at least you lucked out there and are covered. I’ve reached out to the insurance company as well on your behalf and got that rolling for you.
Between you and me, there’s a lot of panic in those insurance guys. So whatever you do to improve the facility, put up tarps, whatever you need there, keep every damn receipt!
“Have we kept any receipts?” Kerry mused. “Hm.”
I hope the team down there did all right. Let me know when you get a phone hooked up to something so we can talk real time, and I’ll have some info back from the Historical Society later on today. Be safe!
Kerry reread the note again, finding it a little hard to suppress the urge to immediately get Dar and get in the truck and drive over to Hunter’s Point, and get a look at it in daylight. Take a camera, and get some pictures, and send them over to Richard.
They had so much else to worry about.
Dar appeared in the door to her office, leaning against the jam. “Doesn’t want to go.” She said, briefly. “How’s the news from Richard?”
“We have a new home.” Kerry pronounced. “Which we may or may not be able to do anything with and might be served a lawsuit over but here we are.”
“Richard wants all our receipts for what we did for the office.”
“Did we keep receipts?”
Kerry was just nodding as Dar’s question echoed her own thoughts. “He wants to call you.” She concluded. “Lets send him back the phone number here, so we can get all the details.” She retreated from behind the desk. “Have you said anything to him about the AI rig?”
“Not yet.” Dar remained where she was. “Know what I want to do?” She asked, after a brief pause where they simply looked at each other.
“Yup. Let me get the keys to the truck.”
“We can stop by the office on the way back.” Dar theorized. “Maybe there’s some receipts there.”
“Maybe.” Kerry headed past her out into the living room. “Maybe there’s a Walgreens open where I can get a package of pudding mix. I don’t have any gelatine here, Dar.”
“Came in number 10 cans back in the day.” Dar suggested, following her.
“Along with the peanut butter?”
The drive down to the Point was uneventful, except for groups of residents in the streets, some with children’s red wagons or shopping carts being pulled behind them that had multiplied in the areas between the turnoff to the beach and the southern parts of Coconut Grove.
There weren’t many signs of troops, or police in the area. Dar paused at a four way stop under useless street lights to tip her sunglasses down and regard their surroundings. “Not getting any better.”
“Really not.” Kerry had to agree.
Dar drove through the intersection and continued along the road, which here had a lot of debris on it’s surface, and in two places, fallen trees, blocking their progress.
Slowing, she looked around, vaguely remembering the area from the other night. Now it was full daylight, though, and she could see better. “We went through there, I think.” She pointed at a corner of the crossroads, and a small gap between fallen power poles and a fence.
“With the Humvee?” Kerry’s voice lifted a little in skepticism. “Oh boy.” She took a grip on the grab handle over her door. “That must have been a blast at night in the rain.”
“Yeah it was idiotic. So here we go.” Dar directed the truck to the sidewalk and up onto it, squeezing past the bus bench and along the fallen tree blocking the road. “Then we saw that wall and I figured out where we were.” She rocked down back onto the road and then they were going alongside the mentioned stone structure.
It was visibly old, and built of limestone and coral, some parts of it painted with graffiti and the occasional crater where someone had veered off the road and crashed into it, and the corner of it they passed then ran east out of sight behind a lot of trees.
“Does that go all the way to the water?” Kerry wondered.
“No idea.” Dar muttered. “But I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.” She indicated the gates at the bend just in front of them. “There’s the entrance.”
They parked in front of the gates, up on the sidewalk and out of the roadway and met in front of the truck, pausing to regard the tall wrought iron portal newly re-wrapped with a thick, sturdy metal linked chain.
Dar put her hands in her pockets. “It’s a.. “ She paused. “Its kinda over the top.” She concluded, a touch sheepishly. “Y’think?”
Kerry stood next to her, arms folded over her chest. “Its totally over the top.” She concluded readily. “C’mon. Let’s see if that smaller door is open because I’m not sure I want to have to break in again.”
“I jumped over the wall.” Dar offered up. “Didn’t have time for all that chain stuff. So if it’s locked I can pull the truck over next to the wall and we can hop over that way.”
“Lets hope we don’t have to.” Kerry patted her on the back. “All we have to show we own this place is an email from some lawyer and I don’t really want to have that conversation with the Miami police department today, my love.”
“No, me either.” Dar followed Kerry over to the small alcove. “We were in here that night, and my dad was saying he could smell the gas from Mark’s motorcycle.”
Kerry paused and turned around and looked at her. “What?” She twisted around and reviewed the alcove. “We just pushed the bike through here. It wasn’t in here that long.”
“Yeah. I know but he said he could.” Dar agreed. “But it didn’t really matter because I knew you were here.” She edged past Kerry and started to examine the small gate, with it’s locking mechanism. “And anyway, it made sense.” She took hold of the gate and then yanked it towards her.
“B..” Kerry paused. “Oh, with that thing.” She waved vaguely at the side of her head.
“Yeah.” Dar gave her a sideways look then she winked one eye. “That thing.”
Then she shoved the door outward and it opened, swinging with a protest of rusty hinges, giving them free access into the property. Dar looked out over the entryway. “Let’s snoop.” On either side of them, the wall ran along the edge of the road to the left and the right past their vision.
“Lets.” Kerry looked around avidly, glancing down the length of the wall that bordered the road, trying to fit in the sunlit view with her memories of the previous night.
Then it had seemed all darkness and formless shadows. The daylight revealed it to be full of tattered plants and ground cover, somewhat wild looking, a row of scrub pines running along the length of the wall but set back from it about the width of their truck.
The entry gates guarded a path leading away from them made from old inlaid pavers, and easily seen were the marks from the Humvee laying down rubber and shoving pieces of rock out of the way, and in some places the pavers themselves were broken. “That’ll need to be fixed.” Kerry remarked.
“Yeah, that truck’s a brute.” Dar touched one of the broken pavers with the toe of her boot. “Couldn’t really see any of this that night. Just looked like gravel.”
The paver path led forward through a stand of trees and as they entered the stand they paused. “Manuel thought this was kind of a shame, it blocked the view of the house.” Dar said, as they stood together for a long moment, just looking around.
“What did Hank call this?” Kerry asked. “A hammock?”
The area was thick with trees, some with red, peeling bark, and others with white, forming a lacy canopy and swaying in the light breeze. The branches that had covered the ground the other night were gone, and through the leaves they could see a rambling, variable ground.
Under the trees they could see ferns. “Hank mentioned ferns.” Kerry remarked. “It’s…” She looked around. “Interesting.” She said. “Different.”
“Natural.” Dar gestured to the path and they started walking up along it. There were many places where it was overgrown with weeds, and black with dirt and algae but it appeared mostly intact and someone had kept the edge moderately trimmed.
Two or three minutes walk and they passed a side branch. “That’s where the shed was.” Kerry remembered, pointing. “Where we ran to get out of the rain.” She turned off onto it and Dar caught up to her, their footsteps making a soft, scuffing sound on the ground. “It’s so quiet.”
“Probably not when life’s normal.” Dar took in a breath. “You can smell the water.” She remarked as they walked down the path and under the tree canopy, where now the shed could clearly be seen. It was also built of stone, with a tarpaper paneled roof.
In the light, it was water and weather stained, and the boards creaked as they took the two steps up onto the overhung porch where they’d parked Mark’s bike. As at that time, the door was open and Kerry pushed it ahead of her and they went inside.
It smelled of gasoline and mulch, and old wood, just as it had. “That’s what I thought was a horse thing.” Kerry pointed to the side. “Tell me if I was right”
Dar went right over to the area and inspected it, going around the half wall and standing in the center. “Oh yeah.” She concluded immediately. “It’s even got feed bins, there. Cracked and useless, but that’s the only thing they could be.” She went over to the outside door and examined it.
With a tug, she drew back the sliding latch on the top half of the door and opened it, peering outside. “Nice out here on this side. There’s a ramp.” She noted. “And a trail, I think.”
Kerry came over immediately and peered out. “Where?”
“There.” Dar pointed. “You can see the rocks lining it.” She closed the top and latched it. “Cool.” She regarded the inside of the horse stall. “Yeah, I can imagine a horse in here. Maybe they left it out, and let it roam around. Plenty of space.” She glanced back out of the half wall. “You all were in here?”
“We were.” Kerry confirmed. “There’s an oil lamp there. Mark lit it. We were just glad to be out of the rain.” She gave the railing an affectionate pat. “It’s a nice shed.”
“It is.” Dar nodded. “C’mon. Lets go check out the house.”
They walked out, closing the door behind them and went up the path again to the main roadway. “Mostly dried out.” Dar said, as they walked along. On either side of the roadway was a grassy sward, before it merged into trees again. “Damn good thing those guys kept mowing the lawn.”
“No kidding.” Kerry shaded her eyes. “Are we going uphill? It felt like we were, going towards the house.”
“Yes.” Dar agreed. “I think its built up on a limestone ridge. We had to go up those steps and there are those levels going down to the water.” She looked between the trees, to her right. “Is that a… I think I see water over there.”
They detoured off the road and across the grass, and into the thickly forested area beyond it, finding a path among the trees and rock outcroppings until they halted at a roundish depression in the rocks filled with water, here under the trees shaded a murky dark amber.
Dar went to the edge and knelt, sticking her hand in and cupping the water, bringing it back up to her lips and sticking her tongue cautiously in it. She mouthed the results, a surprised look on her face. “Thought that would be brackish at best. It’s fresh.”
Kerry came over. “Maybe he built it as a pond and filled it? It’s nice, with all the trees hanging over it.” She suggested. “I could imagine myself on a bench over there, reading a book.” She pointed to the one side of the pond, where there was some clear space and it was now speckled with green and amber sunlight. “I like it.”
“You know who else is going to like it?” Dar stood and shook the water droplets off her fingertips. “Our dogs.”
“They like water.” Kerry agreed, wryly. “You know, now that I think about it, it would be nice to sit out here and work when it’s a little cooler. Can you cover this area with Wifi?”
Dar chuckled softly. “Sure.”
They went back along the ridge to the road and continued on around the bend to the right, and then to the left that finally gave them a view of the house. The back of it, including the access to the kitchen they used had a sloping ground leading up to it, with a sparse scattering of trees and they stopped to regard the view facing them.
The architecture was .. It was utilitarian and functional. There were no embellishments, just square lines and straightforward building techniques and most of the walls were built with the same stone technique as the outer ring wall was.
“I’m glad there are no gargoyles, Dar.” Kerry said, after a long pause. “No weird embellishments anywhere.” She looked around. “I guess the rangers aren’t on duty today.”
“Guess not.” Dar said. “I guess we have to figure out what they’re really all about. Maybe they cleared out after that night, Ker.”
“Mm. Didn’t read them that way, but maybe.”
They walked up the steps to the kitchen door and tried it, but it, in fact was locked. They backed off from the concrete porch and it’s sloping ramp that went down to another squared off pad where things could be delivered, and walked along the back of the house to where the porch started on the left hand side.
There was a small set of steps up, and an entryway that was worn by time and footsteps, up onto the broad, wooden porch that went along the side of the house and here, in the light they could see the plant and algae stains on the walls and floors.
It was empty, but Kerry could easily imagine it with a table or two, and some comfortable chairs to sit on. The boards of the porch gave a little under their weight and as they moved forward, lizards flew in every direction and there was a scent of old wood and dirt and recent wetness around.
Halfway to the front of the house the view on their left cleared of the last of the trees and the Bay appeared, a mostly chopless vista with a few boats on the horizon, and a fresh breeze came up off the water and made it almost pleasant in the shade.
There were tall, paned windows along the wall, and as they passed one Kerry looked to her right, into the inside of the house. She paused and went to the window, putting her hands on the sill and peering at the interior. She was looking at the hall with its stairwell up to the second level and it’s high ceilings all painted in the same bland, off white.
Dar came up next to her, and watched over her shoulder. “Big inside.”
“It’s like a blank canvas.” Kerry answered, after a long pause. “Dar, did he live in it like this? It’s just a big white box inside. She said. “Unless that kid came and emptied this place all out. What do you think?”
“Could have. We can ask the rangers.” Dar suggested. “I noticed that too, seemed like someone had come in, and repainted to get it sold. I mentioned that to Manuel. He thought so too.” She paused. “So how would you restore that?”
“How would you?” Kerry mused. “I mean, if you don’t have any of the original stuff, would there be a point? Have someone create replicas? I’ve been in historical houses. The fascination is seeing the actual things people lived with in those times.”
“No one really wants to live in a museum of fake antiquities.” Dar stated, somewhat bluntly. “I don’t.”
“Do we have a choice if we go for this?”
“There’s always choices.” Dar concluded. “C’mon.”
They walked around to what was, in fact, the front of the house, which overlooked the deeply sunken pool, and the multilayered deck and the stone steps going down to the coral and wood dock.
Because the house was on a point, and this was the curve of it, their horizon was mostly open water across Biscayne Bay, facing Key Biscayne. “They didn’t get the full storm surge here.” Dar said, after a moment’s silence. “the Key took the brunt.”
They walked down the steps to the pool. It was half full of green, murky water and the deck was covered in debris. “That’ll take some work.” Kerry mused. “Lets see what the dock’s like.”
There was an air of neglect here that wasn’t as apparent in the rest of the property. Dar led the way carefully across to the edge of the stone verge. Another stretch of steps led downward to the dock level, but these had broken edges, and were covered in algae.
The dock itself seemed in battered, if okay condition. There was rust and from where they were standing, they could smell the acrid richness of seaweed and the salt from the sea.
Kerry enjoyed the breeze, content to stay where she was as Dar navigated her way down the steps to inspect the docks safety. She could see several boats out in the channel, but they were far away enough that their engines were inaudible, and she could only hear the wash and slap of the tide against the rock wall.
She looked down, thoughtfully. Then she turned and looked up at the house, it’s lower level at least ten or twelve feet higher than where she was standing.
“Looks all right.” Dar climbed back up to stand next to her, dusting her hands off. “Literally just rock. Only thing its good for is parking the boat if we want to and tying up. There’s some iron cleats sunk into it.” She glanced across the channel. “Have to pick up gas over at the marina there.”
“A little shorter run down to the cabin.” There was a stone bench at the edge of the deck, and Kerry went over and sat down on it. “It’s a lot of work though.” She removed a small camera from her pocket. “Was it like this back here when you looked at it, Dar?” She took some shots of the exterior.
Dar joined her, and they watched as two boats came cruising by, one with the blue flashing lights that indicated some kind of officialdom. The other was a sturdy work boat, a cabin cruiser with a heavy set of visible radar and a half dozen men in khakis and golf shirts onboard. “No water in the pool.” She conceded. “But yeah, looks pretty much the same. “
The boats slowed and then the one with the light started circling, while the other puttered around in a roughly square pattern. “What do you figure, Dar? Are they looking for a sunken boat or something?”
“They’re sounding.” Dar watched them. “So they’re looking for something.”
“Something like a body something?”
“No, not with a depth sounder.” Dar leaned back and folded her arms. “Maybe someone dropped something there. It’s too far off to be a car or that sort of thing.” She paused thoughtfully. “Sunken boat maybe.”
They turned and regarded the outdoor space. It was, aside from the stone platforms, devoid of any decoration. There were no plaster fountains, or dolphins or anything. Just… “Like inside.” Dar said. “An empty slate. I wonder if there’s anything existing that show what this place looked like when he was living here?” She wondered. “Maybe we can research it once the libraries open up again. Might be in the Main library off Brickell. They have a big Florida history section.”
“Is this going to be crazy, Dar?” Kerry asked, suddenly. “What if we can’t do anything at all here? What if we can’t even put in air conditioning?” She kicked her heels gently against the rock. “I guess we can… “ She fell silent.
“We can build a tent platform and put a tent up.” Dar said. “And get a swamp cooler.”
“Let’s see what the actual historical designation is.” Dar smiled gently. “Is it the house, or is it this homestead? There’s land enough here to build whatever we want if we can’t live in that big thing.” She patted Kerry’s knee. “Relax until we know.”
Kerry shifted and regarded her with interest. “Explain that a little.”
“What was declared historic? His house? The pool? The dock? Or the entire property?” Dar said. “That’ll outline what can be done. Are they trying to protect the biology, or is it the house and what’s around it?”
Dar gestured. “There’s nothing particularly historically interesting here, Ker. Old man Hunter was a character, but he wasn’t anyone who was taught about, or did something that was notable. He just owned this place, and was a cantankerous bastard. What is it they want to save?”
“Huh.” Kerry repeated. “I figured he was famous, as in, I could go down to the Herald and do research on him kind of famous.” She admitted. “I had a note to do that before the entire half of the state got pressure washed and I haven’t had time to use our three bits a second access to look at anything.”
“Far as I know, he was just known for annoying the local tax collector and anyone who wanted to develop this point.” Dar stood up. “Lets keep exploring. Maybe we’ll find a treasure map.” She said. “Maybe we can build a high tech tree house over in those woods.”
Kerry amiably followed her, as Dar picked her way across the debris strewn deck and past the green, murky pool. They left the water behind and walked around to the south of the house, walking along a path of crushed shells bordered by old, scuffed half pavers.
It gave their footsteps a gentle crunch, a bit like breakfast cereal, and the path led away from the bay and into a thick stand of trees, winding between two ridges of moss and fern covered rock. It was odd, and uneven, and there were dips and trenches all along the ground, with moss covered trees full of feathery red bark and thick leaves, only a little stripped from the recent storm.
“You know what this reminds me of, Dar?” Kerry said, suddenly, stopping and looking at the trench to her right. “Weirdly, but a little?”
Kerry turned. “It does, doesn’t it? Its like a reef, but above ground.” She turned around in a circle. “What is this?” She asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen nature like this anywhere.”
Dar went over to one of the ridges and sat down on it. “It’s part of the Miami rock ridge.” She slid her boots out and studied them. “It’s a line of topology that goes from the top of the keys up to the county line. There are only tiny bits of it left showing in places here in the east. Wainright Park has some of them. I remember seeing it when I was there for some picnic or something.”
Kerry sat down next to her. “It’s a little jungle like.” She touched one of the ferns. “It makes most of the land sort of…”
“Unuseable unless you flatten the ridge, grind it down to the ground like they have done to the rest of it around here. It’s limestone.” Dar rubbed her thumb against the rock. “And.. at one time it really was part of the ocean floor, in the past.” She looked around at the quiet surroundings. “If I scraped the top fo this, we’d find sea fossils.”
“I remember flying over the Everglades, coming into Miami.” Kerry said, thoughtfully. “It was a sunny day, and I could see down into the water and there were these ridges, you could see them. I thought they looked a little reef like.” She looked around. “If this was covered in water, like the glades is, it would kind of be like that.”
“It would. So Miami rock ridge was what it sounds like, it was a ridge. It’s about… twelve to fifteen feet above sea level.” Dar said. “So the house there, it’s built on top of the ridge. He left the rest of it… “ She looked around, and then up at the canopy, visibly shredded and thinned by the storm. “Natural, I guess.”
Kerry got up and wandered further on the path. “You said there were mangos here.” She paused, looking up at a tree. “And.. avocados?”
“And gumbo limbos, but I don’t think you make gumbo from them.” Dar smiled. “This is old Florida. This is what it was, before all the development.” She concluded. “Just swamp and plants and nature.”
It was hard to imagine. Kerry turned around in a circle again, then she climbed up onto the limestone ridge and walked along it, stepping over a small gap that held a thick puff of ferns. “I think this is cool.” She concluded. “I like it, Dar. It’s really kind of unique.”
“Reminds me of some places down south I used to camp in, when I was small.” Dar agreed, with a smile. “All gone now. I drove through the area when I was doing that work down there. Condos.” She leaned back against a tree pole, a tall pine with horizontal branches, mostly stripped, several broken.
“What are these?” Kerry had found a small, green leaved bush tucked behind a line of of the red barked trees. “Baby oranges? Do they grow up to be big oranges?” She looked enchanted. “Fresh squeezed orange juice from our own tree in the morning?”
Dar hopped up onto the ridge and walked over to her, peering past her at it. She started laughing.
“Those are kumquats.”
Kerry stared at the small, round fruits on the bush. “THOSE are kumquats?”
“Those are kumquats.” Dar searched among the leaves. “Careful, it’s got thorns.” She found a mostly ripe one and removed it from its stem. Then she took a bite of it, and handed the rest over to Kerry.
“You eat the skin?” Kerry watched her chew and nod. Then she put the half fruit into her mouth and bit down. Immediately, she regretted it. “Oh crap Dar.” She mouthed, caught between wanting to spit it out and her ingrained manners. “it’s SOUR!”
With a grimace she swallowed the tart, tangy substance and breathed in, getting an intense wash of citrus across the back of her throat. It made her eyes tear, and she half turned, giving Dar a look.
Her partner was standing there innocently, licking her lips. “They’re great on pizza.”
“You’re toast.” Kerry bolted for her.
“They’re not bad on toast, either.”