Fair Winds and Following Seas
Part 23 (End)
There was a thunderstorm overnight and it woke them, as lightning flashed visibly through the right hand side bow window, illuminating the inside of the cabin.
Dar lifted her head off the pillow and regarded the window, listening to the drumming of rain on the upper hull and the spit of it wind driven against the reinforced plexiglass behind the light curtain.
Dixie was floating placidly at dock, the jetty providing protection against any incoming waves and after a moment she put her head back down as Kerry gave her a pat on the stomach. “Rain.”
“News said it was going to.” Kerry murmured. “Summer in Florida. Isn’t that what you always tell me?” She asked. “At least we’re here inside and it’s not in the middle of the afternoon.” She relaxed, and closed her eyes. “But damn, for all those people out there with holes in their roofs.”
Dar studied the low cabin roof over their heads, it’s height just barely enough to clear hers, the doorframe something she had to duck through. But it was fiberglass, and solid, the hull meticulously shaped and sealed and certainly they had plowed through far worse weather with her than tonight’s thunderstorm.
But then, this boat, bought new, cost far more than many of the houses that had been wrecked by Bob. Her makers had assumed bad weather, and wind, and the corrosion of sea water and had built accordingly.
Like old man Hunter had, building the dock they were tied to, and the stone seawall that protected the pier. Though Key Biscayne was across from them, south of that they were open to the Bay, and the Bay open to the Atlantic Ocean.
He’d built for it. Dar wondered how he would have felt knowing what he’d built stood up to the worst Bob had brought.
Good, she thought. Satisfied, like she was when some program she’d written tested out. She felt an odd sense of kinship at a distance with the builder of their new home, and though they’d had nothing in common, and he would have likely found her bizarre in the extreme, it would have been interesting to have met.
Thunder rolled again, and more lightning.
“You’re not going back to sleep are you?” Kerry asked, in an amused tone.
“It’s almost dawn.” Dar deferred.
“It is, I heard the dogs sit up.” Kerry agreed. “So let me go see what I can arrange for all of our breakfasts, because we finished the peanut butter cups and pop tarts last night.”
“I’m sure there’s a jar of peanut butter in the closet.” Kerry pulled back the covers and got out of the comfortable bed in the cabin, sliding on a pair of shorts and pulling a tshirt over her head as she heard the sound of dog toenails approaching down the steps from the living area. “Good morning, doggos.”
Thunder boomed and their ears went back, but they followed her into the main cabin and waited next to their bowls while she got out their bag of kibble. She poured them some breakfast then stood back as they munched, regarding the kibble bag thoughtfully.
“It’s awful.” Dar emerged from the small bathroom, wiping her lips free of toothpaste. “The canned stuff is worse.”
“Sure would be easier if we could just have people kibble, huh?” Kerry put the bag back into the closet, it’s top carefully rolled and clipped. “Turn on the sat, lets see how long this weather’s supposed to last while I concentrate on not asking you how you know that about dog food.”
“Maybe it’ll delay the governor.” Dar flipped on the power for the satellite. “Hell, I can check the marine radar on the console.” She said, after a moment. “And it was a bet.”
“Did you win or lose? No wait. Don’t tell me.” Kerry retreated to the bathroom to run a comb through her hair and brush her teeth. “At least we can fill up the water tanks with tall that.” She came out, to find Dar standing in the cabin, arms crossed, watching the Weather Channel. “Florida off the front page yet?”
“Is Florida ever off the front page?” Dar asked rhetorically. “If it’s not hurricanes, it’s love bugs, or Florida men, or alligators dancing on Miami Beach or a combination of all of the above.”
“Mm. That’s true.” Kerry admitted. “This state really is weirdo central sometimes.”
“What’s the deal with the weather then?.” Kerry diverted the conversation. “Since we’re not likely to get Florida to change any time soon.”
“It’s actually a tropical low.” Dar remarked. “Slurping after that front that killed Bob.”
“That sounds so evil.” Kerry went to the kitchen and studied her options. “Can you cope with jerk chicken this early?”
“Okay, jerk chicken street tacos it is, because I have corn tortillas and canned pineapple.”
“I’ll make Cuban coffee.” Dar offered. “Since that, and milkshakes are about all I can manage and I’m guessing you didn’t refill the ice cream.” She winked at Kerry and ducked around her, reaching up into the cabinet to remove the small silver coffeepot.
Kerry casually wrapped an arm around her and held her still long enough to lean up and kiss her on the lips. “I’m glad I share the craziness of the world with you, Dar.” She looked up into Dar’s eyes, pale and reflecting the warm, ochre inside light. “I really do love you.”
Dar leaned over and kissed her back. “Likewise.” She gently bumped heads with her. “We are really the luckiest people on the planet.”
“We are.” Kerry paused, listening to the thunder outside. “Do we really need to get up?” She asked, wrapping the sleeve of Dar’s shirt around her finger, watching her face.
“Do you mean, do we need to actually get out of bed.” Dar’s eyes twinkled knowingly.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean.” Kerry smiled, as Dar’s hand cupped her cheek. “Its too early for me to start looking through all that mail and its raining to hard for us to do anything.”
“C’mon.” Kerry dismissed the thought of jerk chicken tacos for the moment and eased past Dar, moving in the direction of the cabin.
By the time the sun was rising over the horizon, the rain had stopped. Dar walked out onto the back deck and then crossed the gangplank to the dock, coming out of the Dixie’s shadow into a pool of warmly pink light as she went to the steps and trotted up them.
There was no railing to them. They were neatly made in a zig zag of of the rock wall but the residual damp made them a bit slippery and Dar pondered having both solar lights and iron tread plates put in to make it a bit safer at night.
She could easily imagine them arriving here at night, after a trip, or a dive or just a ride over to Key Biscayne for some dinner. Having the boat this close to the house made it almost as convenient as a car, and she paused, considering again the trade off with having to take the boat somewhere to get it serviced and fueled.
Eh. Crandon Park marina wasn’t that far. Dar shrugged and continued upward. Putting a marine diesel tank under the ground probably wasn’t in the cards.
At least for now.
Reaching the top of the steps she crossed the pool deck, it’s surface now an almost shining deckled white from it’s cleaning. The pool had been covered with plywood and she stepped over the thick cabling that crossed the space coming from the telco box.
She paused, regarding the cables, tracing their route along the edge of the deck and up to the door, going through one pane of the French doors that had been carefully removed, and then blocked with a square of wood that had a hole cut in the center large enough for the cables to pass and a piece of foam around them for insulation.
It was a nice, thoughtful piece of work and she took the time to appreciate it, making an internal note to find out who had done it and thank them, as well as whoever had routed the cables, the electrical carefully bundled separately from the data, neatly strapped and tucked away.
Not really relevant in terms of it’s operation, but it showed care and attention to detail and it made her happy to see it, sparing her the time it would have taken for her to do it otherwise because she would have. Even now there was a bit of a separation between two cables and she nudged them together with her foot.
About to go in, she paused again as she spotted the pop up tents in the big hall beyond, then she retraced her steps and walked around the side of the house instead, up and onto the long, covered porch towards the back.
It was quiet. She could hear birds in the trees, and the rustle of branches overhead. The wooden boards under her feet creaked and shifted as she crossed them and every few feet a lizard raced from one side to the other, surprised by her presence.
On the east side here, the rising sun speared through the foliage and across the porch laying down a pattern on the surface of it. Dar paused midway and turned, facing the water, and looked at the view to the southeast, to the ruffled waters of the Bay as it met the darker blue of the Atlantic.
She imagined working here with her laptop, listening to the sounds of the water and the investigative creaks of the seabirds and she nodded to herself. “Yeah.”
She took a breath, and found it full of the smell of earth, and vegetation, the far of smell of wood smoke, and as she continued walking and she got closer to the back of the house, the scent of the barbeque heating up.
Around the back corner she could see the RV’s, and if she listened hard, could hear the sounds of people stirring.
Sure enough, one of the grills was open, and as she came to the back entrance, it opened and Pete emerged carrying a bowl. “Morning.” She stepped back and held the door open.
“Morning!” Pete greeted her cheerfully. “It sure was nice to just get some shuteye, without crazies or cops around. Tell ya that.” He looked around. “Rained last night, but who cares?” He said. “We definitely moved up in the world, junior.”
“Yeah, thunder woke us up but we took advantage of that and filled Dixie’s fresh water tanks.” Dar agreed. “Kerry’s doing some work from the boat. Thought I would come up here and see what we need to get together to move the rest of our guys out here.”
“The ones out on the island?” Pete asked. “Why not leave em there? From what those other techie guys said, they’re having a ball living the lifestyle of the rich and famous out there.”
“I could. But they’ll be more productive here, with the high speed access we have.” Dar said. “I just have to figure out how to put in workspace and keep them fed.” She mused. “They probably are enjoying the service out there though. The staff like them and keep bringing them sodas and chips.”
“Ah, it’s going to take me a few weeks to get enough furniture around anyway.” Dar shrugged. “Everyone get rest in there?” She indicated the house.
“Seems like.” Pete set the bowl down on the worktable next to the grill. “Having real power sure does help. I did my share and more of rough living, but boy you don’t realize you don’t have stuff until you don’t have it. You know?”
“I know.” Dar agreed mournfully. “One night on our couch in the office was kinda enough for me.”
“But you could have stayed out on that island yourselves.” Pete said. “I mean, you do live there.” He watched Dar’s face, splashed in the sunlight. “You don’t have to hang out here. We’re pretty savvy and all.”
“You are. But we’re responsible for all this.” Dar said, as the door opened and Sasha came bustling out, carrying a bag full of what appeared to be fresh baguettes. “Besides, I like it.” She admitted. “I like being in the middle of all the crap going on. It’s interesting. It’s problem solving. What the hell would I do back on the island? Probably getting my ass in trouble pissing people off or being asked to fix someone else’s problems.”
“Yeah.” Pete said. “Everyone respects that. You do, you know, when you’re a grunt, when the guys in charge sit in the mess with you and don’t have some cook make them something nice delivered to their tent.”
Dar nodded. “Yeah.”
“Were you ever a grunt, Dar?” Pete asked. “Bet you weren’t.”
“No.” She smiled easily. “I’ve been running things, legit or not, since I could walk and talk. Ask my mother. Made her crazy. It’s why I never really could have gone into the service. Some striped bozo would have told me to do something and first thing out of my mouth would have been ‘why?’ and the second would have been ‘kiss my ass’”
Pete thought about that briefly. “Andy took orders.” He said, after a while.
“I’m not my father.”
“He said that last night.” Pete concluded. “And said given how everything turned out, he’s absolutely all right with that.” He winked at her. “That whole thing with the rig out there and the phone guys.. that tickled his ass.”
Dar chuckled. “That was sweet. But honestly that was just being in the right place at the right time, and seeing those guys.” She admitted. “Lucky we had something they really, really wanted. And for them it was worth it. I checked the local news last night. That line brought up the whole statewide emergency system.”
“Absolutely. Everyone won in that carnival of WTF.” Dar agreed.
The door to one of the RV’s opened and Maria climbed out, spotting her and coming over. “Good morning Jefa.” She greeted Dar. “Did you know these things here have a washing machine inside them?” She asked. “It is like having an apartment.”
“Well let me get cooking.” Pete said. “Want to get everyone fed before the politicos show up. They’re not worth Sasha’s magic grub.” He went over to join Sasha at the prep table, where she was contentedly slicing up the bag full of bread.
Maria observed them for a moment, then she turned and regarded Dar.
“Where did she get fresh baguettes?” Dar guessed her thoughts. “Some things, it’s better not to ask.” She said. “No, I had no idea they had washing machines. That was Kerry’s gig.” She said. “But I am glad you and Tomas are comfortable. That’s what counted.”
“And now we have the internet.” Maria agreed. “Josh so nicely set up a laptop for Tomas and he is very busy now, working to set up insurance claims for all our neighbors.” She nodded. “It is good, Dar. I know we have said thank you again and again, but again, thank you.”
Dar smiled. “Yeah, this is working out.” She agreed, then paused. “What’s going on with your house?” She eyed her long time assistant, one of her dark eyebrows lifting in interrogation. “Mayte said you all went by there again yesterday.”
Maria clasped her hands in front of her, and cocked her head to one side. “It seems that by somehow our house is being taken care of by some government program, Dar.” She said. “They have shown us the paperwork, there is no mistake. There is our name and our house, on it.”
Dar’s blue eyes took on a distinct, somewhat piratical, twinkle. “So they’re fixing it?” She asked in a mild, innocent tone. “Cool.”
“It is all ruined, the inside, from the water.” Maria said. “But they have taken everything out and are doing it again, like they were working at our office. It will take a long time, of course, but it will be okay at the end.”
“Good.” Dar nodded. “I know that can’t replace the things you had in there, Maria.”
“No, but they are just things, as Kerrisita said to us.” Maria acknowledged. “So, however, Dar, can you imagine how that could have happened, that program?” She looked steadily at her. “We did not ask for it to be like that.” She paused, but Dar remained silent, waiting. “My neighbors, they want to know how they can have that same program and I do not know what to tell them.”
Dar leaned back against the tree they were standing under, the tree that she’d climbed the previous day. “I made that happen.” She said, after a long moment. “I know you didn’t ask for it. But it’s a fee I took for doing someone a favor.”
“But Dar…” Maria protested.
Dar held a hand up. “There were a lot of people in that program. They were there not because of any merit, Maria. They were there because they were friends of some important people, or given money to some politician, or they were rich.”
Now Maria nodded. “This is what happens, with people all the time, everywhere.” She said. “This I understand very well. But…”
“Well I made it so those people all could get things taken care of. So for my fee, I added some names.” Dar concluded. “Your house is as important to you as some investment property in Coral Gables, Maria. Sometimes when you get an opportunity to even the scales, you take it. So I did.”
For a moment, Maria was silent. “Will this make trouble for you?”
Dar’s eyes twinkled even more. “Not unless you tell someone I did it.” She said. “Those guys don’t want anyone to really know about that list, Maria. Makes bad press. You can just tell your neighbors that because your employer does some work for the government, it’s a benefit.”
Maria drew in a breath to answer, then paused, thoughtfully.
“It’s true.” Dar said. “In fact, it’s the absolute truth.”
“Yes that is so.” Maria finally said, with a slight laugh. “Tomas said it must be that way. That you had something to do with it. But we can tell everybody this, and they will also understand completely. The government, yes, this is something we understand.” She reached out and touched Dar’s arm. “We will use our good fortune to help our neighbors.”
“Good.” Dar slid her sunglasses over her eyes as the sun penetrated the trees and lit up the area. “Now. Where the hell are we going to meet with the governor. Speaking of politicians.”
“Ah, this is no problem.” Maria reverted to business. “We can use the desk part in our vehicle, yes? They have put up a work area there in any case, and it has some chairs.” She patted Dar’s arm. “Come look. We will have some cafecita.”
“Lead on.” Dar pushed off away from the tree. “I made some this morning but Kerry and I both agreed it was more suited to pour on top of ice cream as a syrup.”
“That is too much sucar.”
“Spoon stayed straight up so you’re probably right.”
The Dixie wasn’t really set up as an office, but Kerry improvised with the small coffee table bolted to the deck and one of the comfortable bucket chairs nearby. She had her laptop on her knees, and a cup of herbal tea in the holder on the chair arm, and on her screen was a video conference.
“So, Col… anyway.” Kerry said. “A lots happened in the last few days.”
“No kidding!” Colleen said. “Wait now, Mark’ll be here in five minutes. He was just talking to the long term hotel we’re staying at.”
“Trouble?” Kerry asked.
“For a change? No.” Colleen laughed. “And I … are.. where are you?”
“On the Dixie.” Kerry told her. “Connected to wireless in a tree on land on our new property, hooked up to a high speed internet connection courtesy of the telecom company we traded land rights for it.”
Colleen propped her head up on her fist. “Y’know, you said something about that in your email.” She said. “Great quality.” She said. “So you’re parked in the water near there I guess?”
Kerry nodded. “Dar just went up to see what was going on, and figure out where to talk to the governor at.”
Kerry nodded again. “We think he wants us to do something.” She said. “Don’t worry, I’m going to make him pay for the privilege.” She said. “So how’s it going up there?”
“Not bad.” Colleen leaned back in the chair she was sitting in. Behind her were the bland buff walls of the office space they’d rented. “We’re holding our own. I found a little company near here that does basic IT outsourcing and we’re using them to cover nights for us, so now we’re rotating the guys and girls off.”
“Not that they don’t show up here anyway. Not that much to do around here.” Colleen admitted. “I’m afraid to tell them the rest of that lot is bunking up by your new place. They’ll run out and hijack the bus back there.”
“Still want to come back?”
“They do.” Her finance director nodded. “And some of them have places and family there they’re a bit worried about.”
Kerry leaned back and regarded the screen thoughtfully. “That’s natural.” She admitted. “If we had a place for them to work out of we could handle them here now, with this connection. But there’s nothing to sit on even. Give us a few more days.”
Colleen nodded. “I’ll tell them that. It’ll make everyone happy.” She said. “I thought that place was a historical something though. They going to go along with you turning it into an IT shop?”
“Probably not.” Kerry admitted, with a smile. “Dar just told our lawyer to deal with it. It’s not like we had a lot of choice, and frankly I don’t know what they’re thinking of doing with … no, I know what they want it to be, but there’s no history to restore here.”
“Long story.” Kerry said. “But we agreed we wouldn’t do anything permanent here, just what we had to do to make things functional. So if they throw the book at us we can roll it back.”
There was noise behind Colleen, and then Mark walked into camera range and sat down next to her. “Hey poquito boss!” He had a ballcap on his head and took off a pair of sunglasses, tucking them into the collar of his shirt. “Wow, nice clear pic! Where are you?”
“Sitting in the cabin of the Dixie.”
Mark blinked. “Like as in your boat?” He asked, after a moment’s silence. “Oh yeah, it must be. I recognize the background.” He paused again. “Pops hook you up to a submarine or something?” He hazarded a guess. “Cause that ain’t cellular bandwidth you’re on.”
So nerd. Kerry smiled back at him. “Ain’t cellular.” She agreed. “C’mon, I have Thor the God of the internets here. How long did you figure it would take?”
Mark laughed out loud. “She take over a military node or something?”
“Sort of. We now have a major pipeline crossing our land that happens to hook into the emergency grid and our fee was power and internet.” Kerry informed him. “Give us a few more days to finish setting up, and you could work from our second floor with a nice view of the Bay.”
“Once she’s done talking to the governor.” Colleen informed him, as he was digesting that. “And hello? Do I get a nice view as well?”
“Let me find some folding tables and lawn chairs first.” Kerry chuckled. “Its literally an empty building right now except for a bunch of pop up tents and cables running everywhere.”
“Kerry, that’s freaking amazing.” Mark finally spoke up. “I mean.. it’s totally typical and all that stuff but wow.”
“But wow.” Kerry agreed. “Dar’s pretty intent on moving operations here until we can get the office power and circuits back. And you know, when Dar puts her mind to something, it does usually happen.”
“No that’s great.” Mark said. “Josh and Leo must have spilled to everyone because they were all looking at me when I got here like they expected me to.. I don’t know what.”
“Tell them what’s going on.” Kerry supplied. “So go ahead and officially tell them.” She said. “How’s the… that Brazilian account going?”
“Pretty sweet, actually.” Mark sounded surprised himself. “Turns out those outta work waiters from Palm Beach got some IT skillz. They’re only passing on the stuff they can’t handle to the guys here.” He said. “And it’s sweet for them, because they live at the northwestern edge of West Palm, they got a power coop there and they’re living in one guy’s house.”
“Beanbags and laptops?”
“No idea, don’t care.” Mark admitted frankly. “But they work east in Palm Beach and that’s all shut down so they’re making their rent doing this. They said if we need more people, they can probably scrounge them.”
Kerry pondered that. “Great job, Mark.”
“Stupid luck, Kerry.” He responded instantly. “Like, really stupid luck because one of the maintenance guys here at this building we’re in has a sister who’s dating one of the guys in that house. All I did was be in the hall talking to Scott about our problem long enough for that guy to hear us.”
“So.. you think the fact that we just happen to buy the property that happens to be the nearest point of land to a major internet inroute and happened to be here when some guys were trying to find a way to bring it closer to a node is anything but luck?”
Mark eyed her.
“C’mon Mark. Listen, I’ve got some business savvy, and Jesus only knows Dar has a higher IQ than summer temperatures in July here, but we literally did nothing to plan any of this stuff.”
“Way higher than summer temps.” Mark responded. “But I don’t want to take credit for stuff that just happened and I don’t’ want you to think I magicked up this awesome plan.”
“But you did.” Kerry smiled. “Success isn’t knowing what to do all the time, Mark. It’s taking what life tosses at you and doing the best you can with it. You turned what would have been a contract cancel into a win for the customer, and for us, and all props, you know?”
“I told him that.” Colleen had been listening in silence, her hands folded on the table. “Being in the right place at the right time is just our brand.”
They looked at each other in silence for a minute. “I think you just found our company motto, Col.” Kerry finally broke it. “That’s going to look great on a T-shirt.”
“Rightyho.” Colleen made a note on the pad at her elbow. “I’ll get the process started. I may not know what end of a cable to do anything with, but you’re right. That’s good marketing.”
“So anyway, yeah – if this place hadn’t been here, and they’d kicked us out, we’d have figured out something else like hauled everyone over to the island.” Kerry said. “Which would have been hilarious. But the service out there for comms sucks.”
“Does, Elvis was saying it.” Mark went with the subject change. “So about those waiter guys… “
“Did we hire them direct, or are we just paying them a per day?”
Kerry nodded. “Give them a choice. Either they can onboard as a support team and we do that like we usually do, or they can incorporate and we do a B2B contract with them and they handle their own legalities and logistics.”
“And taxes.” Colleen remarked. “Same thing we offered Carlos. But make it known they need to complete the contract, hmm? When that restaurant opens back up, no running off and abandoning us until we can wind down.”
“Got it.” Mark smiled cheerfully.
“Great. Now let me go find out what trouble Dar’s gotten into and figure out where we can get folding tables.” Kerry said. “I’m hoping sometime soon a Walmart will open.”
“Call the Miami Beach Convention Center.” Mark suggested. “I bet they got tons of stuff in their back room, and nothing to do with it.”
“I’ll do that.” Colleen took a note. “Send you a note if I can get hold of them.”
Kerry sat back, feeling a sense of accomplishment. “All right guys, lets just keep on rolling. I’ll let you know what comes of the meeting with the governor, if anything. It might end up just a pissing match.” She paused. “I can’t really believe I am going to say this, but I wish my mother was here so I could throw her at him.”
“Maybe she’ll show up.” Mark said. “Y’never know.”
“You never know.” Kerry agreed. “Talk to you guys later.”
Dar walked along the beautifully finished wooden floors on the third level of the house, her eyes searching the ceiling intently until she reached the side of the house away from the water and finally found what she was looking for. “Ah.”
She was alone. Downstairs she could hear voices and work underway, and now that she was near the land side of the house the sound of a truck backing into the loading area.
But here on the third floor, where there was just the master suite that took up the whole one side and smaller, anonymous rooms here on the land side it was quiet and untouched.
Nothing really to be done here, after all. They would use the many closets, rooms, cubbies, sections, and spaces on the 2nd floor and 1st floor to put things in for work, but this level was intended for living space. She paused at the edge of the back stairs and pondered the thought of having a door put in, to separate the area.
Then she shrugged and dismissed the thought and focused on the hatch in the ceiling, conveniently above the start of the stair bannister.
She judged the height then she put her hands on the bannister and vaulted up onto it, balancing on the narrow beam and reaching up to push against the hatch, which obligingly gave upward, then as she shifted to try and move it aside, it surprised her by lowering itself down.
“Ah.” She was charmed. There was a wooden ladder attached which helpfully extended itself halfway down to the floor and kept her from trying something stupid to get up into the crawlspace to look around.
She hopped down to the ground then reached up and grabbed the highest rung she could reach and pulled herself up and got her knees on the lowest step, then straightened up and climbed up into the attic.
It smelled of wood and dust, and she was happy to detect no smell of mold or mildew as she looked around. The roof timbers were heavy four by four, and creosote coated, and she walked along one of them over to one of the roof peaks that held the small, round, boat like windows.
Much to her surprise, she found they were more boatlike than she’d expected, since they were, in fact, portholes that had been fashioned into the wall of the house, complete with their brass fittings and clamps as though Hunter had gotten them from a shipyard supply store.
Odd, but she worked the clamps and with a yank, pulled the porthole open and stuck her head through it. She studied the view over the trees, and noted the sight lines. “Hm.” She could see past the western edge of Key Biscayne, and past Virgina Key, and had a clear view of the loading cranes for PortMiami.
Satisfied, she pulled her head back in and carefully closed the porthole, fastening the clamps and checking the seal to make sure she hadn’t just introduced a leak into the roof. Then she turned and walked along the timbers through the centerline of the attic, the only path she could take that admitted her height.
There was no insulation. They’d have to install that. But the joins she saw were sound and there were no obvious signs of water intrusion, and surprisingly no signs of resident fauna either.
She’d expected at least a water rat, or a racoon. But it was critterless and she finished her circuit of the attic and arrived back at the hatch and climbed back down to the ground.
It was stuffy, and they’d decided it was a better course to leave the windows closed and not add to the onerous task of the spot coolers in removing the humidity letting in the sea breeze would add. She examined the ladder and found the locking mechanism, unlatching it and watching the ladder retract itself up into the ceiling, the hatch closing with a light, but definite snick.
She admired the workmanship. Like the rest of the house, it spoke of attention to detail uncommon even in the very expensive condo she lived in. “Nice.”
The sound of boots on the steps made her turn and look down, to find her father making his way upward to where she was standing. “Hey Dad.” She leaned on the bannister. “Good morning.”
“Morning there, Dardar.” Andrew returned the greeting. “We all are parked up next to you on the water there. Ferry’s a mess and a half with all that gov’mint whohaa going on.” He said. “That dock there’s a good one.” He came up to stand next to her.
“Hunter knew his stuff.” Dar agreed. “I was just up in the attic, seeing if I could plot out a point to point from here to the island. Might have a sightline if I can get enough elevation out there.”
Andrew nodded as though he knew exactly what Dar was talking about. “Man knew how to build.” He agreed. “Had him some.. “ He made a slight shrugging gesture, his lips twisting a little into an expression Dar could almost feel on her own face. “Didn’t have no respect for ladies.”
Dar folded her arms across her chest. “What do you mean?”
“Wall, y’know Dardar.” Her father seemed a mixture of embarrassed and perplexed. “Folks had some thoughts in the past bout who the head of the family was, that kinda thing.” He said. “Kinda was the way it was.”
“Sure.” Dar finally nodded. “The whole, women are weak, walk two steps behind the husband kinda thing.”
Andrew nodded. “Was how he grew, ah suppose. Same as my old man. He didn’t have no use for womenfolk running things, or being strong or nothing like that. Felt the good Lord put them on earth to serve menfolk.” He paused. “Still people like that, round everywhere.”
“Its’ true.” Dar sighed. “Kerry’s father was one of them.”
“Glad you weren’t.” Dar said, after a moment.
“Your grandmaw done always said ah was cursed with an open mind.” He said. “But truly, Dardar, all ah ever done was live by the idea that every’body’s equal in the eyes of the Lord. Ah feel like that’s done me well in mah life.”
Dar nodded slowly. “Wish more people would.”
Her father shrugged a little bit. “Anyhow. Ah only talked a few times to that there fella and the last time I done slugged him. Don’t matter why.”
Dar could well imagine, and she internally, silently agreed it didn’t matter, whether it was some insult of him, of her mother, or of her, or just in general. “Maybe that’s why that kid was so happy to sell this place to us.” She mused. “That makes a little more sense.”
“Ah do think so.” Andrew agreed solemnly. “So, like your mother says somesuch, what done go around, done come around and bites you in the behind.”
Andy put his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts. “Don’t think on it too much, Dardar. Man’s gone, he done a good job building, now it’s you alls.”
Dar was silent for a minute, and he just stood there, comfortable with the silence and waited. “Well, can’t do anything about it.” She shrugged. “You’re right, he’s gone, we’re here.” She chuckled softly. “It’s just so ironic.”
“C’mon, it’s hot up here.” Dar gestured the back steps and started down them. “I want to see what was on that truck I heard coming in.”
“Ah do think I heard some fuss at the gates ‘fore I came up here.”
“Probably the governor.”
“Probly. You all mind if I sit by an listen to his chit chat?”
“Not at all.”
“We don’t have any tables inside yet.” Dar opened the door to the RV and stood back, allowing the tall, lean man in short sleeves and slacks to climb up ahead of her.
Behind him were two men in sports jackets, sweat rolling down their faces and down through their collars that had spiral corded earpieces disappearing under them.
“And it’s air conditioned.”
Kerry went next, and Dar followed her.
Inside, the workspace had been set up neatly for the meeting, and two extra chairs had materialized from the other RV’s. Maria was standing by near the small kitchen, the folding partition behind it had been closed and fastened and in the front of the RV, Andy was seated in the driver’s bucket seat, big hands folded, just watching.
Mayte was in the passenger seat, with a small pad and a pen.
On the desk was a computer, and a phone and a large monitor screen had been mounted against the wall, which was now showing the cloud dashboard with lots of impressive graphs and blinking lights and scrolling content on it.
Behind the desk was a built in credenza, and as though pre-arranged which of course it was, Kerry settled in the chair behind the desk and Dar leaned back on the credenza behind her. “Please sit down.” Kerry said, politely. “Tell us what we can do for you.”
“Senor, would you and your people here like a cold drink?” Maria asked. “It is so hot outside.”
The governor was a man in his mid sixties, with a weatherworn face and straight, gray hair. He sat down in the right most chair in the space and hitched up the knees of his slacks, taking out a handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow with it. “I’d love some cold water if you have it, thank you ma’am.”
The two security personnel accompanying the governor sat down in two chairs at his back and gratefully accepted the bottles as Maria passed them along.
The governor opened his bottle and took a long swig of the water, not even asking for a glass. He then put the cap back on the bottle. “Thank you.” He said. “Let me get to the point, since we’re all pretty damn busy people.” He said. “My tech czar tells me he asked you for help, and you turned him down. I’m here, mostly, to ask why that is.”
Kerry nodded, as though she’d expected the question. She removed a small folder from the desk she was sitting at and handed it over to him. “Rather than rambling on, if you would mind taking a minute to read over this recap it should set the groundwork for the explanation.”
The two security men both nodded at the same time and settled back in their chairs, one of them hitching an ankle up on his opposing knee and sipped on their water.
“All right.” The governor took the folder and opened it, removing a single printed sheet and setting it on his left knee. He took out a pair of reading glasses and put them on, and then sat there in silence, taking his time to read through the text.
Dar crossed her ankles, regarding the scar across one kneecap as she used the time to think about the possibility of getting something tall enough on the island to make a connection to. She was wearing canvas sneakers today, her leather hiking boots parked on the Dixie having themselves a rest.
She had on a company polo shirt, with the short sleeves rolled up a turn and khaki cargo shorts, a slightly more formal than tank top and denim concession to this governmental intrusion.
Kerry was dressed similarly, and now she was sitting back in the desk chair, her hands folded on her lap, elbows resting on the chair arms in a posture of infinite patience.
Outside, through the walls of the RV, was the sound of construction, the buzz of a saw, the rumble of a hammer drill, and voices in varying timbres and languages.
Finally the governor finished, putting the sheet back into the folder. “Thank you.” He said. “That’s quite a lot of information.”
“It is.” Kerry agreed. “The whole point of that was this. We did that.” She said. “We performed those services for the government, was tasked with unusual requirements, and succeeded in what we were asked to do, against some pretty significant odds.”
He nodded. “You didn’t really need to tell me all this, you know. Your competence was never in doubt, certainly not in my mind. That’s why I was so surprised when you turned us down.”
“Yep, coming to that.” Kerry agreed. “We did all that no questions asked. But when we went to that same government, and presented a bill for what that cost us, to do that, we were told that we should be grateful that we were allowed to donate our time, our energy, our ability, and success to the country and to go home and shut up.”
The governor blinked several times.
“So.” Kerry concluded. “My question to you is, please tell me why we should help?”
The governor looked at Kerry in silence for a minute or two, turning the paper over in his fingertips. Then he put it back down on the desk, and gave it a gentle push back towards her. “Not really sure I have an answer to that, but let me ask you this. Do you think it’s all right for you to want to profit on that kind of tragedy?”
His voice was mild, but his eyes were not, and one brow lifted in question at her.
“Profit? No.” Kerry shook her head. “And if two dozen buddies of various ranking government people hadn’t been given lucrative contracts the following month, I might even agree with you that we should have sucked it up and considered it the cost of doing business.”
His other eyebrow lifted. “Not sure I heard about that part.”
“Well.” Kerry smiled briefly and without humor at him. “My mother’s a senator. I hear things.” She concluded. “At any rate, we have a whole lot of rebuilding to do ourselves, to restore our operations, to help our customers… I get that everything’s a mess here, but it’s a mess for us too. Is it fair to have us stop what we’re doing, and leave our own people in this mess to help out governmental agencies that one would think could handle this sort of thing?”
“We get things going, that helps you too.” He countered. “That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Dar shifted a little, wishing she had her laptop and resisting the urge to remove her phone from her pocket and mess with it. She kept her arms folded and let Kerry play out her game, one she knew she had little or no patience for.
Never had. There was an art to negotiation – there had been literally hundreds of people back at ILS who were far, far better than she was at it and if a contract had gotten to the point where she had to get involved in it no one including her had ever enjoyed the process.
It was like having tea with a wolverine, someone had once said, and she’d actually taken that as a compliment. So now she was content to let Kerry handle the sparring right up until the point where, if he decided to get nasty with her, she’d lean in.
“It does make sense, but it doesn’t really help us.” Kerry said. “Because really, we could just pack up in these RV’s and head out of town, up to where my support group is holding down the fort in Melbourne.”
He considered that. “So why haven’t you?”
“We have people here we couldn’t leave behind.” Dar spoke up for the first time. “We had to make sure they were all okay first.”
“That so?” He tilted his head up to look at her. “Well there are a lot of folks in the same boat, I guess.” He acknowledged. “I know its popular to blame the government, when things go in the crapper, but when even the crapper is in the crapper, it’s hard to know where to start.”
“No one expected it to get this bad.” Kerry said. “You never do, right? You always assume at the last minute it’ll turn, or die, or something like that. We did.” She indicated herself and then Dar. “Day before it hit we were running around trying to get plywood put up.”
“You hope you learn from things like this. So next time…” He said.
“Except by next time, that budget went somewhere else.” Dar drawled softly.
“Okay.” He accepted that. “So then let me ask you, if I sign a contract with you, ahead of time, this time, with Ts and C’s, would you give this old man a break and just come help me out?”
Kerry awarded him a smile, a faint twinkle appearing in her eyes as she approved the approach, which showed a fine sense of political acumen and moreso, of the ability to read people. “We’ve helped already.” She commented. “We saw the emergency center come up this morning.”
The change of subject threw him a bit offguard. “Sorry?” He said. “What does that have to do with you?”
Dar leaned over and pointed out the RV’s window, which was facing the south end of the property. “See that box there? The green one? That’s where the connection is coming in that lit up that office.” She leaned back against the credenza again.
The governor looked out the window, then he leaned back in his chair. “Well I’ll be damned.” He said, after a moment’s silence. “That’s what that man was talking about.” He half turned to look at the two security men behind him. “Johnson, right? That’s what he said? Something about a cable?”
“Yessir.” The man nodded. “Some crazy story about a boat and a cable … I dunno. But it’s workin.” He concluded. “Man those guys were happy, even without no air conditioning.” He wiped his forehead. “I thought it was hot in Tallahassee. This place is brutal. Thank Jesus you have some cool in here.”
“Si.” Maria spoke up. “It is terrible for everyone. We are so fortunate that Kerrisita thought to have these trucks for us to be in.” She indicated the RV. “And we have everything we need here to do our work.”
The man eyed her with thoughtful speculation.
“With a little preparation, it is possible to do this for your locations.” Mayte added, from her seat near the front of the RV. “We have learned many things that can help.”
He leaned his arm on the back of the chair he was sitting in and regarded her in turn, then after a moment of silence, he looked at Andrew, who had the driver’s seat swiveled around and his long legs extended with ankles crossed. “And you, sir?”
“That’s my father.” Dar spoke up, to prevent the mischief she could see was coming as Andy produced a grin. “He’s our director of operations.”
“Got it.” The governor turned back around and faced them. “All right, Roberts Automation.” He said. “Lets talk T’s and Cs.”
“You bringing in a lawyer?” Dar asked.
“Nope.” He said. “Never bring a lawyer in to do a governor’s job, I always say.” He half turned again. “Give me that lined pad, willya?” He glanced back at them. “Anyway, I am a lawyer but Jesus did I get bored with that fast. I think I still remember how to write the lingo though.”
“Fair enough.” Kerry removed a pad from the drawer herself, and from the pocket of her cargo shorts, removed a calligraphy pen she unscrewed the top of, and put it down on the desk. “Lets do it old school.”
Dar and Maria exchanged grins, and then Dar went over to one of the built in couches near the small service area, settling behind it and extending her legs out across the carpeted floor.
“Would you like some cafecita, Dar?” Maria asked. “It is the time.”
“Yep.” Dar agreed. “It is the time. Café all around.”
“Ah think that there fella’s all right.” Andy pronounced, as they watched the black SUV parade trundle down the lane and out the gates. “Got him some sense.”
Kerry was standing next to him, her arms folded. “Yeah, he’s not bad.” She agreed. “A lot less asshole and a lot more lets just get stuff done than I expected from the governor of the national phallic symbol.”
Andrew turned around and stared at her.
Kerry’s lips twitched. “I heard that on the internet and it just makes me laugh.” She admitted. “Okay, so, we have the rest of today to get all our stuff sorted out before we head down to the emergency headquarters we enabled tomorrow and start fixing things.”
Dar came up behind them and draped her arm over Kerry’s shoulders. “Good job, hon.”
“With the contract?” Kerry chuckled. “Yeah, it’s not bad. If we’re not going to be able to get business the other way at least it keeps money coming in. I liked that he liked the pay for performance clause.” She looked at Dar. “Can we actually do what I committed us to?”
“Sure.” Dar said, in an unruffled tone. “So, now how much you think we could charge our island over there if I give them access to high speed internet?” She asked. “Free up that sat rig for us to go uplink the swamplands and send a point to point over there from here.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t any way to get a signal over the Key?”
“That was before I climbed into the attic. I forgot this is a three and a half story building on a rise.” Dar said. “I just need someone to sneak over to our offices and grab that dish.”
Andy chuckled. “Ah got that. Be back.” He ambled off, attracting the attention of Pete and Hank with a whistle, and then motioning them to follow, which they did, stopping in mid stride and heading his way.
“Have to make some adjustments over there but it should work.” Dar said. “I finally got hold of that VC. Told him we’re not going to market this year.”
“Told me not to bother calling him back.” Dar said. “But you know what? If it’s meant to happen, some other VC’ll come along. Or we’ll sell the IP and let someone else do it like we said.”
Kerry nodded. “This.” She gestured vaguely after the cavalcade. “This is the right thing to do, Dar.”
“It is. I’m tickled silly you drove a good deal with them, and that we’ll do all right this time because we don’t have the unlimited resources to blow like ILS did but..”
“But you’d have done it anyway.”
Dar nodded. “Has to happen. We can do this, our community needs it.” She responded, in a brisk tone. “So lets make the most of today, maybe we can find some grog, do a party tonight before we go headfirst into the crap farm out there.”
“Ride the kids over from the island for it.” Kerry mused. “They want to see this place anyway. I spoke to Angela about ten minutes ago after I finished with the governor. I took a picture of my chicken scratch and she’s turning it into one of our contracts.”
“Know what else?”
“Lobster season just started.”
They were standing under the trees just short of the loading dock and the RV camp, surrounded by rustling leaves and the noise of cleaning and woodwork all around them. Kerry turned and looked at Dar. “Are you suggesting we take time out of our last day before chaos and go lobstering?”
“Yup.” Dar bounced up and down on the balls of her feet a little. “Take limit is six per, and we’ve got at least six divers here. Won’t take much time and it’ll feed everyone.”
“What if people don’t like lobster, Dar?”
“More for me.”
Kerry started laughing. “Sure. Why not.” She lifted her hands and let them fall. “Let me go update Colleen on what happened, and see if we have all our gear onboard for it.”
“I’m going to start getting the guys to run cable for that dish.” Dar turned and started steering her towards the house. “We got this, Ker.”
Kerry wrapped her arm around Dar’s waist and moved into step with her. “Long as I have you, my love, everything else is what it is.”
The party was outside on the pool deck. There just wasn’t enough things for people to sit on yet inside, and no real way to aircon enough of it to hold everyone so they were outside on boxes and crates and benches the carpenters had thrown together.
Luckily, it was a dry night. There was a breeze coming off the Bay and tables set up with pieces of plywood resting on sawhorses holding a true cornucopia of whatever in a radical potluck style that did feature platters of grilled lobsters and a respectable lineup of fish along with two big restaurant style mixing bowls full of Asian seafood curry that was both fragrant and spicy.
And a huge pot of rice.
And a tray of rice krispie treats.
There were two large beer kegs with built in chillers.
There were bowls of cut up mangos and a scattering of calamondins and oranges, bananas and grapefruit all gathered from trees on the property.
The amateur musicians had their instruments out, and were jamming softly on one side of the deck. Two of the rangers had joined them, and the rest, four guys in khaki shorts and tshirts, were sitting with some of the construction guys, talking sports.
Down on the waterside, the Dixie and Andy and Ceci’s boat, still unnamed, floated at dock next to each other, each festooned with drying dive gear.
Up near the southern part of the deck Dar and Kerry were in camp chairs next to each other, provided with plates and mugs and roaming from person to person in eternal hope, tails never ceasing to wag for an instant, were Chino and Mocha.
Andy and Ceci were perched nearby, and Hank, Pete, and the other veterans had that contented look that people who’d spent hours in salt water often did.
In a circle nearby, the programmers, along with Celeste and Angela were seated with Josh and Leon catching up with each other and everyone was laughing and just enjoying the day.
The sun was low on the western horizon, behind the trees that ringed the property already and it was a warm and purple long twilight of the tropics that they’d lit with the tiki torches brought from the office, and the scent of citronella wafted over the deck to mix with the lobster, and the spice, and the beer.
“This was a great idea.” Ceci remarked. “And I think your folks appreciate a break from the bing bongs over on Fantasy Island.”
“It’s nice.” Kerry admitted. “What a gorgeous night.” She had a mug of beer in one hand and she gently swirled it around before she took another sip of it. “And the viz was atrocious but boy were there bugs out there.” She regarded her plate, which had four empty lobster tails on it. “I only got two.”
“Yeah, it’ll take a while for all that to settle down. There was a lot of damage down there. The reef’s trashed.” Dar said, mournfully. “And I can’t believe Hank caught an octopus in all that murk.”
“You know what is weird?” Ceci had a plate of all kinds of fruits and vegetables she was nibbling at. “It’s weird your neighbors haven’t come over here to see what the hell is going on.” She indicated the ring of trees. “I know there’s a wall, and all the plants, and Hunter was a nut job, but we’re making a lot of noise here.”
“Maybe they all evacuated.” Dar suggested. “Its not like I saw anyone out there walking around, not in this area. Closer to the U, yeah.”
“You mean you found neighbors who actually obey the government?” Ceci’s voice rose in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”
Andy laughed. “Could be.”
“Someone will, eventually.” Kerry predicted. “Those are pretty high rent houses on both sides there, they might have evacuated, Dar’s right. They could afford to, and maybe they’re all sitting somewhere in North Carolina in a hot tub watching the news waiting for things to get back to normal.”
“We could have done that.” Ceci said. “We could be up in the Adirondacks in sixty degree weather in some snooty resort. You could have arranged for office space and moved everyone.”
“Coulda.” Dar agreed wryly. “Next time, we will.” She added. “But just like everyone else around here I figured we’d get a skip. We almost always do.”
“True. I remember when Hurricane Andy hit, we hadn’t had a storm even really close in over twenty years.” Ceci said. “After year over year of them going every direction but here, or hitting dry air, or a cold current or who knows what, you forget sometimes it happens.”
Kerry swirled her mug again. “Oh, I don’t know.” She said. “If we had, we’d have missed out on this place.” Her tone was thoughtful. “Maybe things happen when they are supposed to. You know?”
“Remind me you said that if we find out we’re being sued.” Dar eyed her. “We might be house hunting again the next time Richard calls me.”
“You really worried?” Kerry asked her, with a smile.
“No.” Dar smiled back. “I think you’re right. Things happen when they happen for a reason.”
Jake came over and sat down cross legged at Dar’s side. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Dar responded.
“We were talking.” Jake said, launching into what was obviously a prepared speech. “Me and El, and the gals. We really want to come over here and work here.” He glanced around. “Like.. the island is cool and everything. It’s just too boring. Know what I mean?”
“Uh huh. I do.” Dar smiled at him. “I thought you might feel that way after you saw the place.” She pondered. “No real spot to work yet though. It’s pretty rough.”
“What’s wrong with right here?” Jake asked, pointing at the chairs. “Dude, the signal here’s kickass. I can just sit here in the shade with a towel under my laptop so I don’t toast my nads. You know?”
“Got it.” His boss agreed mildly as she heard Kerry stifle a snort of laughter. “Yeah okay we’ll work out a plan to grab the servers and bring them over here. You saw the room they set up for them. We’re almost there.”
“Sweet.” Jake looked pleased. “Thanks Dar.” He got up. “Let me go tell ‘em all.”
They were all quiet for a minute. Then Ceci chuckled. “Kids.”
“Nerd camp.” Dar settled back in her chair. She felt pleasantly tired from the diving, and if she licked her lips there was still a trace of salt on them from it.
Tomorrow there would be more chaos, and probably craziness but today she felt content with their decisions and generally… well… they’d just figure it out.
They’d just figure it out.
Kerry was sprawled on the back deck of the Dixie as the sun was starting to rise, a large cup of coffee in one hand and the other resting on the bolted down teak table that held the remains of some lobster benedict and one lonely piece of mango.
She studied the horizon, and the still dark surface of the water, seeing in the distance where the Bay met the Atlantic the ruffled white of rollers coming over the shallower reefs and sandbars that came and went with the tides.
A seagull was bobbing near the boat, watching her from the corner of one beady eye, it’s beak clicking a little bit as he paddled around the stone pilings of the pier.
Knowing better, Kerry tossed him a bit of the crust of her English muffin anyway and he zoomed over to capture it, as she almost saw the thought bubble ‘sucker’ lift over his sleek white head.
She chuckled. “Yeah, you guys got two live ones here now. Let me tell ya.”
Dar stuck her head out of the cabin. “Who are you talking to?”
Dar emerged and sat down in the other chair. “Did you feed it?”
The slip next to them was empty, Andy and Ceci had cruised on back to the island with their four staff, all of them busy with plans on how to wrap up things and get ready to move over, this time in a more normal fashion involving a liftgate and a truck.
They’d gotten a good night’s sleep, with no thunderstorms, and no unexpected events, just quiet gentle rocking until their usual pre dawn wake up and Kerry spent a moment imagining what it would be like to sitting up on the deck of the house, watching the sun come up in just this way.
She could do that now, of course, from the patio of the condo, but there she was always aware of the density of the people and the apartments around them, and the understanding that they were never really alone.
Here, she could see the edges of other properties if she walked to the very edge of the seawall and looked down the coast, but since they were on a point, from the house on the back deck they would see nothing but their own land, and water.
It wasn’t quite the same as living on a deserted island, but there was a peace here she was really looking forward to, and hoping like hell they wouldn’t be legally blocked from.
“Now you did it. There’s a manatee.” Dar remarked, pointing at a stubby snout emerging from the water not that far away. “He wants his toast now.”
“He wants greens, and I don’t have any.” Kerry sighed. “I think they like arugala.”
“Seaweed.” Dar observed. “He’s eating sea grapes.” She leaned forward and watched the slow moving mammal, who was browsing on the thick purple and green weed washing against the rocks on the tide. “Hey buddy!”
The manatee peered at her, it’s nostrils wiggling.
“Dar, don’t start that up now.” Kerry watched her with wry amusement. “You’ll have plenty of time to make friends, after we go and do whatever it is we need to do.”
“Me? You were the one feeding seagulls.” But Dar straightened up and stretched. “Up for another cup of coffee before we start heading out?”
Dar stood and went into the cabin of the boat, where it was mostly still quietly dim, only slices of sunlight coming in the side windows colored a chromed ochre from the tint on the glass. The two dogs had gone shoreside as the sun had started to emerge and she listened for their far off barking as she poured two cups out of the carafe.
It would be an annoying day, and she could already anticipate the arguments, the yelling, the lack of cooperation, the anger, the frustration of the people she’d be dealing with, who certainly would not enjoy some random unknown women coming into their hairball and starting to pull on it.
Dar’s lips twitched a little, into something close to a smile, and she took the cups back outside and handed one to Kerry, finding herself halfway looking forward to it. “I thought you said not to mess with that guy.” She said, finding her partner leaning over the deck.
“He’s cute.” Kerry leaned closer. “He has blue eyes.” She observed. “They sort of look like walruses, don’t they?”
Dar sat down with her coffee. “They’re most closely related to elephants.”
“If you look at his flipper there… “Dar pointed. “See the edge? See his toenails? Look up what an elephants foot looks like and you’ll see.”
The manatee decided to cruise along and munch more seaweed, since there didn’t seem to be any cabbage or lettuce forthcoming.
“Huh.” Kerry repeated, bracing one foot against the back wall. “Should we name him?”
“How about Charley?”
They both had backpacks on their backs as they walked up to the deck towards the side porch, the morning sun now fully lighting the stone and the eastern side of the house. Rather than shorts and t-shirts, they were in jeans and company polos, and hiking boots and both were carrying two of the nearly useless satellite phones clipped to their belts.
“Are there more birds around?” Kerry asked, as they walked out of the sun and onto the shade of the porch on the western side of the house. “Or am I just paying attention today?”
Dar paused and studied the trees around the edge of the clearing the house was in. “No, you’re right.” She said, after a moment. “It was.. I think they know about the storm and clear out.”
“Smarter than we are.” Kerry hooked her arm through Dar’s and they continued along the planked walk, where a broken board was being replaced by one of the carpenters despite the early hour. “Morning!”
The man looked up. “Morning, ladies.” He greeted them. “Gonna be a hot one.”
“They all are.” Dar said.
They walked on, passing another man applying a careful layer of paint over a second newly installed board, and then they reached the side of the house where the RV camp was, and the cook pit. “It’s really hard to say what the front and what the back of this thing is, Dar.”
“I was just thinking that.” Dar said, as they paused. “Those steps up to that entry there could be the front. That’s where we went in the first time. Does it matter?”
“Not really.” Kerry regarded the still somewhat quiet area. “Well lets get going. It’s almost seven thirty.” They started along the path past the RV’s to the gravel area beyond that held the rest of the cars they’d brought with them including Hank’s Humvee, and Pete’s Jeep, and at the back of that Dar’s truck they’d brought over late after the traffic to and from the island had settled down. “Where first?” Kerry asked. “Emergency management center?”
“Lets get a punch list going I guess.” Kerry continued. “Then we can see what we need to get them to do for themselves.”’
Dar chuckled under her breath.
“He was right about one thing, Dar. With all the infighting going on a third party view won’t hurt.”
“If we can get them all to shut up long enough to listen to us.”
“Hah. I’ve seen you take over a room, Dixiecup. Really won’t be a problem.”
“Mm. We’ll see.”
They reached the truck and Dar opened the back door to toss her backpack in, when they both heard barking coming from the main gate direction. “Found our dogs.” She remarked, closing the door. “Maybe the neighbors have finally figured out we’re here.”
“Oh, I hope not. We don’t really have time for that this morning.” Kerry got in the passenger seat. “Let’s go find out.”
Dar started up the truck and a moment later they were trundling across the slightly uneven gravel and stone lined path, the tires of the truck making some slight crackling and popping noises as they crunched on the rocks.
As they came around the bend through the trees, they could see the gates and both Mocha and Chino standing at them, robustly barking and standing between one of the rangers on one side, and one of the veterans on the other, who were apparently standing guard.
“Y’know Dar.” Kerry mused. “We should maybe not be so post apocalyptic armed camp. You think?”
“Until we fix everything and the power’s back on and people can order Domino’s pizza, no I don’t think actually.” Dar slowed as they reached the main gravel roadway. “There could still be zombies, Ker… but in this case, I think it’s just our lawyer.”
Dar opened her window and stuck her head out, letting out a whistle. “Let him in.” She called out. “He’s a good guy.”
The ranger - it was John, she realized, waved his hand and a minute later they were pulling the gates open, while Chino and Mocha trotted their way, tails waving in happy pride at their skill in guarding.
Richard pulled his rental car inside and they closed the gates behind him. He pulled up to where they had stopped the truck and rolled his window down. “Good morning!”
He seemed wry, but cheerful, and Dar relaxed a trifle, concluding that whatever news he had could not be completely horrible. “Hey Richard. We were just on our way out.”
“So I see.” He opened the door and half stood, holding into the frame. “Got about ten minutes? You probably want to hear what my last twenty four hours has been like. You headed back to the island?”
“We’re headed out to take over the government disaster response.” Kerry told him, dryly. “Because, of course we are.”
Richard actually laughed. “Well, if you give me a cup of coffee, I”ll make it brief and you can get on your way. I couldn’t get a flight back down from Tallahassee so I just drove.”
“C’mon back to the house.” Dar waved him back into his car. “You can take a nap in the Dixie after if you want.”
They turned and drove back to the house and parked behind the RV’s, which now had figures emerging from them, and a group standing around one of the grills, with paper plates.
Inside the kitchen the coffeemaker was lit, and there was a sheet pan full of cinnamon rolls sitting out on the counter already well decimated along with a plastic container filled with venison jerky and a block of aged cheddar cheese.
They picked up cups of coffee and then Dar led the way to the newly finished server room, empty of any servers, but with a sturdy wooden work surface along one side of the room and several chairs. There were ethernet cables draped over things, and a power strip on the ground under the table, and a large industrial spot cooler pumping away in one corner, tubes extending from it back through a small hatch cut in the door.
There were cable trays up along the ceiling with cables already in them and clamped to them were work lights, giving the space a blare of slightly green flourescent magnificence, industrial and bare, yet with a scent of antiseptic clean and the fresh wood of newly build up floor and rack platform.
Kerry closed the door.
“This was a closet wasn’t it?” Richard said, briefly looking around. “Wow.”
“IT space is IT space.” Kerry sat down. “We need what we need and it’s never just a closet.”
“Everything’s removable.” Dar spoke up. “I remember what you said.”
“Right.” Richard had set down a backpack and now he opened it up and removed a folder, which he put on the work surface. “I’ll make this fast, because if I tell you the whole story we’ll be here all day long.” He said. “So there I was in Tallahassee yesterday in the tombs digging out all the records on this place.” He pointed at the folder. “Wasn’t much. But I was looking for all the proof of land transfer and ownership, anything they had on what this place was, any old newspaper clippings, visuals, anything that could just make the case that the historical designation was invalid.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry nodded. “Because it’s not.”
“Because it’s not.” Richard agreed. “You can see this place, there’s nothing here but a building, and some nicely done stonework. Then I started to look up the submission, to see if it was legally valid. “ He paused, and took a long sip of coffee.” So there I was in the records office minding your business when I heard a ruckus.”
Dar propped her head up on one fist. “A ruckus.”
“So, because I am your lawyer and I heard the name ‘Hunter’ mentioned, I went around in the vital statistics area to see what the ruckus was, and what do I find there? I find those folks from the historical society.”
“Making the ruckus.”
“No, actually.” Richard said. “Who was making the ruckus was a big old group of environmentalist activists waving papers yelling to beat the band that those historical folks couldn’t touch anything here because they had a prior claim.”
“What?” Kerry stared at him.
“Huh?” Dar said, at the same time, her brows knitting in confusion.
Richard seemed pleased with the reaction, and he settled into his chair a little more comfortably, and toasted them with his coffee cup. “It was nice to be the witness to the weird for a change, if you catch my drift.”
Dar and Kerry exchanged glances, then just looked back at him.
“At that point, I’m thinking to go find me some popcorn and settle in to watch the show.” Richard said. “But I was a good boy, and introduced myself as your lawyer and to make what would be a long long story short, ladies, the good news is you can do whatever you want to this house.” He said. “Any existing buildings? Whatever your little hearts desire. Improve existing facility? No problem.”
“What’s the catch?” Dar eyed him.
“You can’t mess up any of the plants or trees. It’s a protected ecological biome.” Richard regarded them, with a wry twist to his lips. “You can’t remove any of them, you can’t build over them, or move them. You have to protect them.”
Kerry started to take a breath to talk, then stopped, then started again. “What the hell?”
“Why would he do both of those?” Dar asked, after a moments silence. “Was Hunter really just nuts?”
Their lawyer produced an exaggerated shrug.
“I’ve asked for copies of the environmental evaluation and the designation.” Richard said. “But I got a look at it and there is no doubt it’s legit, and no doubt it was registered almost two years before the old man requested the historical thing.” He nodded succinctly. “Those are some pissed off historical people.” He concluded. “But they aint pissed off at you anymore, at least. Now mostly they’re mad as a wet hen at Hunter, which, since he’s gone and buried, is completely lacking a point.”
“Holy crap.” Kerry murmured.
Dar chuckled suddenly. “That’s awesome.” She said. “Thanks Richard. I really appreciate you coming down to tell us.”
“Gotta tell you.” Richard grinned suddenly. “I was laughing all the way down I-95.”
Kerry sat on the edge of the wall around what once had been a garden, and now would be again near the entrance to the kitchen. Dar had walked Richard down to the dock, and she was now waiting here for her to come back, enjoying the moment to let her just absorb what they’d just been told.
She looked around and behind her where the property was a mix of wild growth and limestone elevations and felt a sense of pleasure and relief that it would remain just like that, this relatively tiny patch of nature that held such appeal even to her, even to someone who had been accustomed to pristinely groomed foliage all the years of her life.
And now this house. Kerry swiveled to look at it. She could already imagine it with new shutters, and the stone cleaned and patched, with the troughs around the steps filled with flowers.
The wraparound porch will be full of comfortable chairs, some rockers, some hanging, with little tables and places to work from if they wanted to, or just to sit and play a game of chess at.
She could almost see them doing that in her head, with happy dogs sprawled at their feet or taking a walk through the trees.
This garden here, would be full of herbs. She could taste the mint from it on the back of her tongue and smell the scent of all of it at twilight and at the end of a long day of work, what it would feel like to sit on the seaward deck and just enjoy the breeze from the water.
They would make friends with the manatees, she was confident, and she imagined she could spend some time taking pictures of all the birds. The possibilities seemed endless.
She saw motion from the corner of her eye and she turned to see John the ranger approaching, his hands stuck into the pockets of his khaki shorts. “Hey.” She greeted him invitingly.
He came over to her and sat down on the wall. “That guy Henry told me you all want us to stay and do stuff for you.” He said, straightforwardly. “Like what did you have in mind? We’re not computer guys.” He said. “We don’t do any of that, cept maybe we can help run some cable.”
“No, we’ve got plenty of people to do that.” Kerry half turned to face him. “We found out something really cool today.” She said. “This whole property, the whole area here, it’s a protected nature preserve.” She met his eyes and held them, waiting.
John smiled, just a little. “Yeah I know.” He said. “I.. uh…I went and did that.” He glanced around. “I signed the old man’s name to all the papers and sent it off, few years back.” He looked back at her quickly to see her reaction.
Kerry smiled back at him. “I thought maybe you did.” She responded, trading his surprise for one of her own. “I thought maybe that was important to you, when you saw I knew about the hammock.” She studied him. “And the way you all stayed around here and camped.”
He nodded. “You’re a smart lady.”
“I am.” Kerry agreed. “I figured you figured it was a way to make sure it stayed the way it was, if something happened.”
He nodded again. “Then when the old man said he was doing the other thing, I was afraid to tell him. Thought he’d get real mad about it, because I signed his name and all that. But he didn’t really care about the land and all he just….”
“Just wanted to keep his daughter from tearing down what he built.” Kerry indicated the house. “That’s what he cared about.”
“She would have, that girl. That is what he cared about, you’re right. Because he made this place, he put his sweat into it. He was proud of every inch of it.” John said. “Minnie cared about the land, you know, because she was from it, her people. She didn’t care about the house or nothing. She cared about the trees and she taught us about them.”
“Two opposites.” Kerry mused. “Were they married?”
“Not officially or nothing.” John said. “She took care of him, cause that’s… she was real traditional. He really liked that.” He seemed a touch apologetic. “He liked that she always kind of..” He hesitated. “She did what he told her.”
“Served him.” Kerry concluded.
“Wasn’t that long ago that was the way it was in a whole lot of the world, and still is, John.” Kerry smiled at him. ‘My parents wanted me to be a good political wife, just a piece of window dressing to help some guy get elected like my father did.”
He studied her for a moment. “Didn’t work out I guess.” He grinned, a little.
Kerry laughed. “Nah, unfortunately I turned out to be gay.”
“And smart, and stubborn, and a rebel. But it’s only been a couple generations where women even voting was a thing. You know?” She said. “I’m pretty sure that old man could not in a million years even imagine me and Dar.” She paused. “So .. we’re going to need help to keep this place safe, and take care of the land and the plants and trees. It’s a big job.” She said. “Hank scientifically knows what to do. He’s got a degree in horticulture management. But he needs a good team.”
John remained silent for a minute and they sat there as the sounds of construction and some laughter washed over them, with the sound of the door to one of the RV’s closing chasing it. “Of course we want to help.” He finally said. “But… are you saying.. is this like.. “
“Paid work? Yes.” Kerry gently cut him off. “We want to hire you all to work for us. Here, taking care of this place.” She said. “So think about it and maybe let us know tonight? We have to go talk to the folks at the county. Hank will get with you and show you what kind of pay scale we had in mind.”
“Okay.” John said. “I think everyone is going to say yes for sure, but we can talk about it.” He paused. “County people causing a problem?”
“County people hired us to fix their problems.” Kerry caught sight of Dar returning, strolling along the porch with her hands in her pockets, looking around and grinning to herself. “So it should be an interesting day.” She stood up, and as Dar approached she lifted a hand and gave him a short wave. “Talk too you later?”
He lifted his own hand and waved back, head shaking back and forth just a little. “Yes, ma’am. For sure we will.”
They got into the truck and closed the doors, then paused and looked at each other. “Is it a coincidence, Dar, that we decide to help our fellow Floridians here, and the next thing we know, something nice happens?”
Dar regarded her in silence for a minute. “It’s karma, Ker.” She said. “What you put out in the world, you eventually get back. I’m not sure what that says about us since what we usually get back is…”
“But it always works out all right.” Kerry interrupted her gently.
“True.” Dar started up the truck’s engine. “Doesn’t matter, anyway.” She put the truck into gear. “So lets go see what else today’s got in store for us.”
Kerry settled back in the passenger seat and leaned one elbow on the center console. “Mayte and Maria said they’d have the house work areas all sorted out for us by the time we get back.”
Dar eyed her, as she paused to let them open the gates again.
“Hank’s going to help.” Kerry added, with a wry smile. “There’s apparently a truck involved.”
“Do I want to know?”
“No.” Kerry settled her sunglasses onto her nose as they turned and headed up the road. “Lets just hope it’s not those convention center folding chairs that pinch you in the ass.”
“I can see where this is going. Foraging for beanbags.”