Fair Winds and Following Seas
Kerry adjusted the ear bud. “Yep.” She settled her boots on the foot pegs of the motorcycle. “Lets go.” She said, tightening the strap a little bit on the helmet she was wearing.
Mark nodded, and throttled forward, sweeping up the ramp and onto the interchange. “I’m gonna see if we can get off at 25th and go west.” He said. “I heard 36th’s a mess.”
His voice was slightly crackly, fed through the Bluetooth radios between their two helmets removing the communication challenges the motorcycle’s engine caused.
There was little traffic, unusual in the daylight. Mark gunned the bike’s engine as they crossed over the Interstate, and headed west, finding light poles down, and debris scattered everywhere. Boxes and palm fronds were littered over the surface of the highway, making navigation delicate.
A few National Guard trucks were moving along in the commuter lane, and two Florida Power and Light trucks in tandem were going the opposite direction they were, heading for the city center.
It was still windy. The trees that weren’t blown down, or missing fronds were swaying hard, some streaming sideways as the high pressure gradient that follows a storm like Bob took hold.
Kerry could feel the wind’s shove against her, exposed as they were on the back of the bike and she was very content that the far more experienced rider Mark was in control instead of her, especially as he evaded the debris on the road crossing between lanes.
“You guys leave your bikes down south?” Mark asked, as though reading her mind. “Any idea what went on down there?”
“We did.” Kerry said. “They’re locked up in the shed behind the cabin so if that ended up okay so did they.” She watched as they crossed over stretches of glinting water and half submerged houses. “Something to worry about later.”
She looked to her right as they passed the huge complex that was Jackson Memorial Hospital, where there were lights on, and a row of large generator trucks lined up outside. “Looks like they’re okay.”
“Only trauma center we got. They better be.” Mark said.
The only public non profit hospital as well, a teaching center and part of the University of Miami medical program. It was a vast complex, bounded by the highway on the east side and, with typical puckish Miami synchronicity the Federal court and jail complex on the west.
“Wow, check those boats out.” Mark commented, as they crossed over the Miami River. “Some of them ended up in the court parking lot.”
The storm surge must have been crazy, coming up the waterway. Kerry could see the glint of sun on flood waters extending on either side of the river, and collapsed buildings in the river itself, the bridges in an up position on either side.
It had funneled the surge up from the Bay and the boats that had lined the edge of the river had been thrown inland, the restaurants and shops both upscale and down ripped and in some cases collapsed into the water. A boatyard was in pieces, the aluminum panels littering the shore.
Once they were past the government and civic centers, she could see houses destroyed under the freeway, a brief glimpse of raw wood, a stretch of street blocked by a huge tree down, the flashing lights of a police SUV.
“Glad 836 goes all the way out west.” Mark said. “No way could you get through there on the ground.”
“No.” Kerry agreed, as she spotted a group of people standing up to their knees in the water. “My old apartnment complex used to flood in a regular rain. I can’t even imagine what it’s like today.”
“That place in Kendall?” Mark asked. “Oh yeah, you said you were on the first floor.” He crossed into the next lane to avoid a downed light pole, collapsed into the right hand passage with a piece of metal debris wrapped around it. “It must be a freak show here at night.”
“Must be. It was for us coming back in with the boat last night through the channel.” Kerry said. “Pitch black until we got near home. Dar had the lights blasting just in case someone was out there paddling around.”
Mark laughed a little. “When Dar told me she was going to take the boat out and like, make a landing out on the edge of the bay to offload our ops to that place I cracked up.”
Kerry chuckled a little. “I pissed off you don’t want to know how many people by reserving the big cottage out there to move that stuff and our coders to. Dar’s mother was laughing her ass off.”
“They gonna like living there?” Mark sounded skeptical.
“Oh yeah.” Kerry said. “To know they’re going to just make everyone crazy every minute between the pagan stuff and Dad’s working on machinery in the front yard?” She said. “Dad can’t wait to invite his buddies over for a cookout.” She could feel Mark laughing through her grip around him and had to laugh a little herself.
There were some there, she reckoned, that were going to look back with nostalgia on the days when the least disruptive thing coming from the Roberts family was she and Dar throwing balls for dogs on the golf course and kissing in the dining room.
The road they were on was elevated, and ran from Interstate 95 to State Road 826, and aside from themselves, several power trucks, several police cars, and a file of National Guard trucks it was empty. Kerry leaned a little to the right as they came up to the airport, which the road skirted on the south side.
The field was awash and empty. Most of the facilities were on the north side of the field, so all they could really see was several planes upside down off in the distance, and a glimpse of a damaged roof in the nearest concourse and the twisted spray of metal that had been a jetway.
There were trucks out on the field, driving back and forth. “Inspecting.” Kerry said “They want to open. I heard that on the news this morning.”
“Sure.” Mark said. “Fastest way to get supplies in.” He risked a quick glance. “Wow the tower’s a mess.”
Kerry looked, and her body jerked a little upright when she saw the tall structure, missing half it’s roof, all of it’s windows, with cables and lines hanging down on the outside just barely visible. A blue tarp was flapping out of one window. “Whoof.”
“Wonder how they’re gonna work that out.” Mark said. “ILS still does the tech for them.”
“Glad I’m not going to get that call.” Kerry said. “I can just hear the governor screaming.”
They were both silent for a moment. Then Kerry shook her head. “Just keep going. Don’t think about it.”
Mark got in the right hand lane as they passed the end of the airport, going over the bridge and heading north. All the airport parks on the right hand side were flooded, and the office buildings were missing roofs, some crushed under fallen trees and lamp posts.
Kerry thought she saw someone on the roof of one of them, and a camping tent. But they were moving too fast and she exhaled, feeling a sense of sober adjustment. One office park, all glass, had literally come apart in the wind, all of the windows blown out.
Desks and debris were hanging out of them, curtains swaying crazily in the wind, papers fluttering out all over the ground.
“We got kinda lucky.” Mark said, after a long pause. “Y’know?”
“We did.” Kerry acknowledged. “This is a mess.”
“Lot of these places aint gonna make it back.”
“Yeah.” Kerry shook her helmet covered head a little, as they started down the exit to ground level. “Are we going to even be able to get through there?”
“Good question.” Mark slowed as they reached the bottom of the ramp. The lights were out, and to the right, they could see a few cars trying to make their way around the fallen trees and collapsed electrical poles. “Lets see how far we can get. They live off 90th and something I think.”
He cautiously turned left and kept his feet off the foot pegs, ready to stop and brace the big bike as they moved through the intersection and under the highway. Ahead, there were power lines down across the road, and in the distance, they could see a tractor trailer overturned and blocking the road.
In some exasperation, the government had told, instructed, begged people not to leave home. To stay off the roads. But in each direction they looked they could see stragglers out, cars inching through water, human nature to see what was going on far more powerful than any instruction.
And after all, here they were themselves. Kerry let her own legs down off the pegs in case they had to stop short, as Mark kept to the inside edge of the road, near the median. The outer edge was deeply flooded.
Here, at ground level they could really understand the level of damage. Storefronts were boarded up, but roof damage was visible, pieces of tar shingled surface flopping off down the sides of the buildings and overhangs ripped off and collapsed.
The street signs were blown down. The light poles and traffic signals were all on the ground, and Mark was gingerly crossing over the downed lines with little bumps that made them both flinch. In the distance they could hear helicopters and the rumble of generators.
The buzz of a chain saw.
To the right, the echo of a crying child, and angry shouts in more than one language.
All around they could smell wet vegetation, stagnant water, a waft of garbage, and somewhere off in the distance, someone was cooking bacon.
She kept thinking she saw motion, and then, she realized she had. There were people moving around in the fringes, in the strip malls on either side of the road, wading in water. Some were carrying boxes.
“Weird.” Mark concluded, after a long pause of them just moving down the street, slowly. “Kinda Mad Maxy.”
“Kinda.” Kerry agreed. “Dar said after that last big hurricane it got pretty elemental pretty fast.”
“It did.” He said. “My dad ended up sitting on a futon chair in front of what was left of our house with a gun in his lap and a tiki torch.”
“Oh boy.” Kerry muttered. “Lets hope this gets sorted out fast.”
Dar was seated in the conference room with her pad at her elbow, listening to one of the two server techs who had been working on securing the gear. “Thanks Mike.” She said. “So we’re ready to pull them from the rack and put them in the case?”
“Bout as much as we can be.” Mike agreed. “Everything looks like it’s all secured. Far as I can tell nothing got super wet, and nothing smells like it got burned out.”
Dar nodded. “All we can do here.” She said. “We’ll have to wait until we can power them up to really know.”
“Jose, we have all the network gear to bring this stuff up?” Dar asked one of their handful of network techs who had recently arrived, surprisingly, on the back of a horse. She could smell the animal on him, not entirely unpleasant.
“I’m gonna unrack the top of in there and take that, and one of the forty eight porters.” Jose said. “We got cables, no problem. But I’m gonna need the appliance for dot1x and its not gonna like not seeing the cloud.”
Dar regarded him in silence for a bit. “Take it.” She said. “We’ll spin it up and see what we get. If we have to I’ll crack into the switches and remove the config.”
Jose nodded, seeming unsurprised. “Okay. Let me go get started.” He got up and went through the door, with Mike right behind him.
“We’re done unpacking.” Carlos appeared in the doorway. “I had my guys bring those cases down to the server room.” He came inside and took a cup, pouring it full of warm ice tea. He sat down and exhaled, his skin glistening with sweat. “We all going to go over to the island?”
Dar was fiddling with her pen, turning it in her long fingers. “The high value is the repository in those servers.” She said, reflectively. “But we have all kinds of hardware here, and I think if we all abandon this place it’ll get looted in a heartbeat.
Carlos was nodding as Dar had been talking. “Zactly what I was thinking.” He said. “My buddies said they’re all up to stay here, and Micky said he’s going to go get some hardware just in case. You know?”
Dar regarded him. “Hardware like the shotgun Kerry has back on the boat.” She clarified.
“Yeah.” Carlos said, briefly. “So we figure we’ll lock everything up tight down on the bottom level, and park ourselves up on the second floor outside your office in that open space. It didn’t get any water, and we got a good view.” He paused. “Those two people from your old place want to stick around too.”
Dar smiled briefly. “They’re good people.” She acknowledged. “I was sorry to leave them behind.”
“Not as sorry as they were from what they said.” Carlos smiled gently back at her. “But hey, we can use them right now so all’s cool, right?”
“Absolutely.” Dar said. “Wouldn’t surprise me if more folks don’t show up here from there.” She said. “Anyone does, they’re welcome to share whatever we’ve got here. If they want to help out, let em. I’ll pay everyone our rate for it.”
She got up. “Let’s go walk the upstairs.” She said. “I’m making a list of what we need to get done.” She picked up her pad and they walked out of the conference room and up the steps to the second level.
Now, with the boards off all the windows, light was flooding in and Dar paused and entered one of the inside offices to go to the windows and look down at the central area in the middle of the square structure.
There were branches and debris everywhere and in the middle of it all was Scott’s trailer home looking basically untouched. It had a pile of leaves on the top of it, but the outside was undented and right now the folding back grid was providing a surface for a charcoal grill.
“Protected.” Carlos commented briefly. “But you figured it would be.”
“I did. Wasn’t sure about the storm surge though.” Dar turned and made her way out of the office and into the hallway, crossing over and going to stand in the area outside her and Kerry’s offices. This was an angular corner, the largest space that had Zoe’s outer area on one side, and Maria and Mayte’s offices on the other.
There was a skylight overhead, and it was covered now with a blue tarp, tacked into place. The floor under it was stained from the rain, but now dry. With all the windows in all the rooms open, a cross breeze was moving through and though it was warm, it wasn’t horrible.
Dar went through Zoe’s area and paused. “I would see if we can close off the back stairs, and make the main set there the only way up.” She pronounced. “Hang out here.” She turned to regard the admin desks, now with their compliment of equipment back on their surface.
It looked like it was just waiting for Zoe’s presence, and with all the sunlight she had to remind herself again that while Zoe’s presence would be welcome, there wasn’t much the admin could do with any of it without electrical power.
Carlos had leaned against the wall, with his brawny arms folded. “Yeah, the doors are pretty solid. It was more secure when we had all the boards on the windows though.” He admitted. “But it’s a lot easier to breathe in here with em off.”
“True.” Dar went into her office, which, like Zoe’s had been restored to it’s apparent functional use. She walked over and put her pad down on her adjustable workspace. The surface was set to allow work while standing, and she decided she’d stay here and use it that way.
The windows were wide open, and she could smell the sea on the onshore wind as it gusted in and ruffled the tank top she was wearing bringing with it the sound of generators somewhere in the distance and a siren.
Her desktop machine had been set back up on her desk, it’s monitor neatly centered for her, all the cables carefully arranged and managed.
Useless, certainly. But the precision made Dar smile just from the respect it showed because those techs who had arranged the machine knew her attention to detail and didn’t want to fail to show her they knew she’d note it.
And of course, she had noted it. Dar went to the desk and sat down in the chair behind it, regarding Carlos who had taken up a pose against the door sill. “Wish we could get a truck size generator and just run things here.” She admitted. ‘What a pain in the ass.”
Carlos came over and sat down on the couch against the wall, since Dar had no visitor chairs in her office. “Could we have?”
“They were all rented anywhere in the area by the time I looked.” Dar said. “Lesson learned for next time. Either we get a generator truck or we have a big one installed, like they did out on the island.” She folded her arms, the sun coming in the window splashing across her shoulders, catching the inky darkness of her tattoo.
The squeak of rubber against the wooden floors sounded outside and then Jake was in the doorway. “Another boat just got here.” He reported. “And some cops. They yelled at us.” He added. “They’re probably going to come up here they saw where we ran off to.”
With a sigh, Dar stood up. “The boat’s probably my dad.” She said. “Let’s go see what’s going on now.” She motioned the two to join her. “Cops probably think we’re pirates.”
“Yo ho yo ho!” Carlos rumbled. “Maybe we are!”
“What do you think?” Kerry was standing on the sidewalk, her helmet in her hand, as they regarded the scene ahead of them. The road had three lanes, and all three were blocked by a cascade of fallen trees, as well as stretches of murky looking water.
“Lets try going behind that mall.” Mark suggested, pointing to their right. “Gets us in the right direction, anyway.”
Kerry regarded the path. “We’re going to have to walk for a little bit. Too much stuff in the way.” She started forward, stepping over a fallen stopsign as Mark came along behind her pushing the bike.
“Yeah.” Mark eased the tires over the sign and then up and over the median. They sloshed through ankle high water and then off the road and through a half flooded parking lot. “Keep to the edge over there. Not sure what’s in all that.”
Kerry agreeably shifted her path to the left, threading between a car turned on it’s side and a garbage dumpster. There were branches and bits of construction debris everywhere, but the parking lot was tilted to the east, sloped to the backs of the stores in the strip mall and their loading docks.
It left the west edge where they were making their way along relatively dry and for several minutes they walked along in silence.
Then a loud sound made them both stop in mid motion. Mark pushed the bike up next to where Kerry was standing and they saw two men coming out of the back of one of the stores, carrying some boxes. They jumped into the water and waded towards a pile of material on the northern side of the mall.
Mark got back on the bike and started the engine, the sound of it echoing sharply. The two men dropped the boxes and started wading faster, glancing behind them.
“Maybe we should stay on this thing.” Mark said, after a brief pause. “Kinda like when you’re walking around in the glades y’know? Make noise. Scares the snakes.”
“Well, maybe they… “ Kerry regarded the door the men had come out of. “No, they’re probably not getting things to survive with at the Verizon store.” She resumed her seat on the bike and they started forward slowly, watching out for the men who had disappeared behind one of the docks.
Mark shook his head and they wound their way through the loading area and squeezed between two turned over dumpsters, thankfully empty into an alleyway that ran behind the mall.
There was around a foot of water in it. They took it slowly to keep the wake from swamping the bike’s engine until they emerged into one of the smaller streets behind.
Here the larger roads split from commercial buildings to residential, and as they rumbled carefully through the flooded ground they could hear and see people on either side of them out and about, and the sound of chain saws was audible.
They could smell cooking, the pungent scent of garlic and charcoal, and the cries of children. A dog barked, and somewhere in the distance they could hear someone hammering.
“What street is that?” Mark asked.
“Can’t tell.” Kerry could see where the street signs had been, but they were either blown off somewhere or under the deep water just to the north of them. “Look at those houses.”
They were blown apart, as though a tornado had touched down and possibly it had. To the right, they saw a man dragging a mattress out of a home that was missing a roof, hauling it over and laying it on top of a half submerged car.
A little further up the street, in a less flooded area someone had piled a stack of ruined furniture, and put a pack of plastic water bottles on top.
A dog was swimming past a car covered up to it’s windows with black water. It reached a place where it could stand and it paused, shaking itself and looking around in a bewildered way. It was panting, and looked both unhappy and exhausted.
In reflex, Kerry wanted to help it. Her intellect calmly reminded her that she was riding on a motorcycle and they were trying to find missing friends, but all that didn’t keep her from wanting to stop and do.. something. She felt in a pocket. Did she have a snack to give it?
The dog shook itself again, then it sat down in the shallow spot and looked around.
Holy shit. Kerry heard the words ring inside her own head. “Is it like this where you live, Mark?” She mournfully resisted the urge to give the dog the caramel candy she’d found and looked away from it as they rumbled past.
“Not this bad.” Mark said. “It’s a lot more flooded here. We mostly had wind and stuff by us.” He gunned the engine a little as they moved onto a less wet part of the road. “All the area we’re in was rebuilt after Andrew. New codes.”
There were trees down everywhere. The big ficus with their shallow roots had been uplifted and sprawled across yards and roads, where the taller, slim palms were upright, though missing most of their fronds and there were dented surfaces from all the coconuts in flight.
Palms were native. Their barks were smooth and gave nothing for the wind to catch against, and they were flexible. Their fronds were designed to rip free.
The centerline of the road was the least flooded, sloping to either side where the water got deeper and then extended into the side roads as far as they could see.
Ahead of them, Kerry saw a boy towing a pool raft behind him in the floodwaters, picking up coconuts as he went. He had thick, black hair and beautiful coffee colored skin and he grinned at them as they passed and waved, clearly unintimidated by all the flooding and destruction.
Mark reacted to Kerry’s pat on his side and slowed the bike to a stop. “Hey!” He greeted the boy, who sloshed over to them. “Whatcha doin?” He braced both legs out to steady their balance and Kerry did the same.
The boy admired the bike for a long minute before answering. “That’s a nice one, man.” He said. “I got some nuts for my ma to make fish curry.” He indicated the raft. “What’ choo doin?”
“We’re trying to find some friends of ours. Their house is in this area.” Kerry responded. “Do you live around here?”
He nodded. “Three blocks that way.” He jerked his head to his right. “Don’t got a roof, but ma got a grill set up on the porch an it’s dry.” He said. “It’s bad, all back in there. There’s some people died, an stuff.”
“Wow. Sorry to hear that.”
He shrugged. “One guy, we didn’t like him. He made ma mad so we don’t care.” He said, then looked around. “I lost my dog you seen him?” He asked, standing with one hip cocked as though being up to his thighs was completely natural.
Kerry removed her helmet, freeing her pale hair and letting the breeze dry some of the sweat in it. “Is he brown and white?” She asked. “There was a dog swimming in that next street back there.” She said. “He seemed kinda lost. He was about this big.” She extended her arms.
The kid’s eyes lit up. “Yeah?” He took a grip on the rope tied to his makeshift raft. “Lemme go see.” He sloshed off in the direction of the corner, letting out a whistle between his teeth. “Yo! Coco!”
They watched him go. “That’s cool.” Mark finally said, as they turned back around and continued their journey. “Bet his mom does a good fish curry.”
“Yeah.” Kerry put her helmet back on. “Seems to be taking it all in stride, I guess.”
They made it another three blocks before they found a street sign. “Lets try and go south from here.” Mark navigated carefully around a stop light sitting in the middle of the road amidst a pile of cables and they found themselves on a two lane street, full of downed trees.
There were strip malls on either side, and flooding everywhere. One gas station had it’s awning collapsed over the pumps and they could smell gasoline on the air.
Mark turned and they went south along the road, slowing where there were puddles that extended across the road, some splashing up over their boots. “Okay there, I think that’s 96th.” He said, after a few minutes silence. “Should be just west from there.”
They slowly approached the intersection, which had a bus overturned in it, seemingly deserted. Mark steered around the bus and they had a view along the road, which had a median that was the only dry part. “Okay, I’m gonna have to go up on that.” He said. “This thing ain’t gonna make it through that water there.”
“You want to stay here, and I’ll walk down?” Kerry asked.
Mark stopped, braced his boots, and then took off his helmet to turn and look at her.
Kerry also removed her helmet hastily, afraid she was missing something. “What?”
“What?” He said. “What what? As in what the what? You want me to hang out here and let you go into who the hell knows what?”
Kerry regarded him. “What do you think’s going to happen? I’m not that short. I’m not going to drown in that water, Mark. It’s only up to my knees.”
They both then paused, and then chuckled. “C’mon, lets see how far we can get.” Mark put his helmet back on and started up the bike’s engine and then he cautiously gunned it up onto the median that split the road in two. A
head, they could see a pair of fallen trees and past that, there was some activity going on. “You see those trucks.. are those trucks past there?” Mark said. “I think they’re army or something.”
“Something.” Kerry agreed. “National Guard maybe… and I see some flashing lights.” She held on as they bumped over the swamped, grassy median, weaving around the posts and slim, planted trees most of which were lying on their side.
They got to the fallen trees and then had to stop. Mark parked the bike and they got off. He set his helmet down on the seat and then started breaking off branches to make space for them to pass.
Kerry took hold of a larger branch, and started tugging on it. She was standing in water up to her ankles, and the tree moved a little, sliding sideways and allowing her to see past it. “Ah.” She paused, regarding the scene.
In the next large intersection there were, in fact, several national guard trucks and a tarp shelter. From the back of one of the trucks, water was being handed out to a line of people standing there, and blockades had been set up to prevent further progress along the road.
The flooding past it seemed extensive. Where the trucks were it was up over the tires, and past it, along the roads and a corner lot it was easily double.
“Holy crap.” Mark had cleared enough room to come stand next to her. “Well, we’re gonna have to stop here anyway.”
“We are.” Kerry admitted. “Let’s go see what’s going on.”
They walked together, Mark guiding the bike through the water until they were across from the little encampment. They took off their helmets and shrugged out of their jackets, glad to be rid of them as even the hot breeze now felt cool. “Downside to bikes.” Mark said.
“No kidding.” Kerry riffled her sweat soaked hair, appreciating the feel of the air against her scalp. She followed Mark as they walked off the end of the median and into the flooded roadway, grimacing as the hot, dank water soaked into the leather of her hiking boots and the cargo pants she was wearing.
There was a crowd gathered around the trucks and a buzz of conversation. The national guard had set up a platform of boxes under the tent, so they were able to be dryshod and the tarps kept the sun off a long table with radio equipment and papers on it.
The guardsmen and women working under it looked hot, and sweaty and most had wet uniforms up to their thighs. The young man sitting on the front box talking to the crowd had sweat rolling off his face and there was a general air of grumpiness visible.
One of the guardsmen was standing a little ways off, up to his knees in water, a satellite phone to his ear. “Look!” He said suddenly, audibly to them. “These people want to go into that area, and they’re pissed!” He had a clear Southern accent.
Mark and Kerry eased through the crowd and paused. Kerry looked at the scenario, trying to decide where she might find some indication of who to ask questions of.
“Look, you can’t go past here.” The young man at the front of the platform was saying. “Ma’am, it’s dangerous, and there’s all kinds of chemicals and all in the water, you can’t go.”
The woman speaking to him was repeating what she said in Spanish. It was relatively obvious the young man had no idea what she was saying. Kerry herself could only catch a word or two. “Any idea what she’s saying?” She asked Mark.
“Her house is back there.” Mark pointed. “She was in Orlando when the storm hit and she just got back here driving.”
‘See if you can translate for them.” Kerry nudged him. “Yelling’s not going to help anyone.”
“Got it.” Mark eased between the crowd and the edge of the platform. “Hola.” He said. “Dime. Dime.” He patted his chest. “Les dire.”
Kerry went closer to the guardsman , as people started to raise their voices, anxiety and some anger audible. “What’s the situation?” She asked him, quietly. “Hi, my name’s Kerry.”
His shoulders relaxed in some relief, responding to both the clarity of her voice, and the calmness she was projecting. “Ma’am, are you a resident around here? These folks are trying to get back into the area, and it’s just dangerous, you know?”
“I’m not actually but I have some staff who live here that I’m trying to find.” Kerry said, as another of the guard came over and started trying to answer the now shouting questions Mark was doing his best to translate. “Where are you from?”
“Alabama.” The young man said. “We just got here. Been driving most the night.” He removed his cap and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I don’t speak the language here I guess.”
“I don’t much either.” Kerry nodded in sympathy. “My father in law’s from Alabama.” She smiled at him. “I thought I recognized the accent.”
The guard got up and offered her a hand. “Ma’am, c’mon up here out of that water.” He said. “Where is it your friends live at?”
Kerry accepted the help and stepped up onto the boxes, following him over under the tarp to the table that held a street map. The group of guardsmen glanced at her as she came up, then went back to their work, accepting her presence without comment.
She studied the map, with her guard friend at her elbow. “Here, this is where they live.” She indicated a set of streets. “I haven’t heard from them, and I’m really worried about them.”
An older guardsman had been talking to someone at the rear of the tarp and came over, listening to her. “That area’s busted up pretty bad, ma’am.” He said. “Most of the houses there are under water to the first floor.” He glanced at the truck handing out water. “We can’t go further neither.”
“Sir, these people just won’t be reasoned with.” One of the men came over from the front of the platform. “Even with that fella’s help.. is he a friend of yours, ma’am? I thought you came up together.”
“He’s a friend, yes.” Kerry agreed. “So what’s being done for the people back there? I’m sure they need help, right?”
“Ma’am, there’s nothing we can do right now.” The older guard told her, with some exasperation, but not without sympathy. “We can’t drive our trucks back in there, and we’re not medics or nothing like that. They just sent us here with these tents, and some water.”
Kerry paused thoughtfully, folding her arms over her chest. “Are they going to send in helicopters? I know you can’t do anything, but is someone doing something?”
The man shrugged. “Our radios just talk to other folks like us.” He indicated the set. “What’s Miami-Dade doing? We got no idea.” He said. “I heard they were setting up a command center downtown? Something like that. They just loaded us up with tarps, and some rope, and a whole bunch of water and told us to get out here as far as we could. So we did.”
“Absolutely you did.” Kerry said. “Well, let me go see what I can do.” She walked over to the edge of the tent and went back into the sun, pulling out her sat phone and patiently pecking at the small keyboard. She glanced up as Mark came over to her. “Cluster.”
“Cluster.” He agreed. “I get why everyone’s upset but like, what are these guys supposed to do? They can’t drain shit.”
“They can’t.” Kerry said. “Hang on.” She listened to the odd buzz that was the sat phone’s ring and then it was picked up. “Dar?”
“Hi.” Dar said. “What’s up?” She said. “Make it kinda fast cause Dad’s explaining to the cops we’re not burglars.”
“I’m gonna have to go over and get my captain’s license before they haul us off.” Dar concluded. “Get anywhere out there?”
“We got near their neighborhood but it’s a nightmare here. “ Kerry said succinctly. “There’s some guard trucks but it’s all flooded and no one has any way further. No plan to that they know of.”
“No, and..” Kerry paused as she heard hear name called. “Hang on.”
“Kerry! Kerry!” A slightly slurred, latin inflected voice cut through the clamor and Kerry and Mark turned to see Zoe splashing her way through the water towards them, arms extended.
“Just found Zoe.” Kerry said into the phone. “Let me call you back.” She shut the phone in time to hop off the platform and accept the hug as Zoe reached them. “Zoe! Wow I’m glad to see you!”
“Oh Kerry.” Zoe looked exhausted, terrified, and overwhelmed. “I am so glad you are here.” She paused, and then looked at Mark. “And you too!”
Mark just chuckled.
“Kerry it is terrible.” Zoe said. “The road where Maria’s house is, and Mayte’s, is so flood and no one can get to it. I think people are hurt there.” She said. “My house is destroyed.”
“Is your family okay?” Kerry asked. “Where are they?”
“They went out to the shelter, and we are all okay.” Zoe said. “But Mayte and Maria and Tomas were not there.” She drew a breath. “Have you call them?”
“We’ve tried. They haven’t answered, so that’s why we came out here to see if we could find you all.” Kerry said. “Now we have to figure out how we’re going to go do that, because I didn’t bring any scuba gear with me.”
“I am just glad you are here.” Zoe told her. “My mama said you would do something.” She said. “I tell her everything about all what you do and she says you are better than the government.”
Kerry looked around the woebegone scene, somewhat at a loss to know what to do in order to live up to that expectation.
“Too bad we don’t have a couple jetskis.” Mark said, mournfully. “That’d do it.” He said. “Better than my bike, anyway.”
Kerry thought about that. “Too small really.” She said. “But you know…” She glanced behind her at the national guard troops. “I wonder.” She turned around and got back up onto the platform, looking for and finding her young friend. “Hey..”
“Oh, hello ma’am. Saw you found one of your friends.” The boy said. “Sorry there’s not much else we can do for you here.”
“Well..” She eyed him. “You gig?”
Surprised, he blinked. “Uh.. I mean, sure.” He said, glancing around. “But I tell you ma’am, I wouldn’t be eating anything out of these here waters. No telling what’s in there.”
“Oh gosh no.” Kerry said. “But I wonder if there are any guys around here we could call on the radio who have airboats.” she suggested. “I bet they could get in there to help people, and we’re out here kinda close to the glades, huh?”
He thought about it a moment. Then he nodded. “Done got a good idea there. Let me hook in the captain.” He turned and trotted over to where the older man was talking to an agitated gray haired women.
“Okay.” Kerry said, rejoining them. “Lets see where that gets us.” She turned to Zoe. “Any other shelters around here they could have gone to? We can check those in the meantime.” Her eyes went around the street scene. “I don’t think there’s much else we can do here.”
“Sorry folks.” The police officer accepted the cup of coffee being offered to him by Angela. “You have to admit, it’s not what we expect to see, in all this kind of mess.” He added. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Angela smiled at him. “No problem, we’ve got plenty.” She said. “The bosses make sure we’re taken care of, y’know.”
“I can see that.” He smiled back at her. “That why you came to work?”
“Honestly?” Angela said, glancing around. “I knew they’d have their act together here. I didn’t want to stay at home listening to everyone complain.” She said. “There’s no power, but things are getting done, you know?”
“That sure is true.” The officer agreed, looking around at the conference room. There were boxes of supplies, most of which had been transferred off the boats that morning, and two long chests full of ice. “Too bad you don’t have a generator here.”
“Everyone’s going nuts trying to get gas for theirs.” Carlos said. “I heard that, and no power anywhere so not much gas around.”
“And Port Everglades closed.” The officer nodded. “Yeah, there’s that.”
There were two other officers with him, and now they were all seated at the table in the conference room taking advantage of a moment to rest and consume coffee and some cookies, a selection of vanilla and chocolate oreos.
They were dressed in blue camo coveralls and knee high rubber boots, and they were stained with sweat and water, and dried mud, and they seemed quite content to be sitting down in the conference room even without air conditioning.
“We just got a call from someone saying there were people looting along the shore here.” The second officer spoke up. “And you know, that’s kinda what it looked like.” He added. “With that ramp and all you made.”
“It’s true.” Carlos said. “I told the boss that some old busybody’d call ya.” He was straddling a folding chair, his muscular arms folded over it’s back. “People aint got enough to worry about they’re calling the cops.”
“Well.” The first officer, whose breast bore a patch with the name Cruz on it. “Been a lot of reports of looting and all that already today. People getting out, breaking into stores and grabbing tv’s and stuff.” He dunked a cookie into his coffee and popped it in his mouth. “People take advantage, you know? We see that all the time.”
Dar entered with a folder and took a seat at the head of the table. “Here’s all the paperwork.” She offered it to them. “For some reason, someone here thought someday someone would want to see physical copies of something we always keep in digital that we can’t access right now.”
She rested her elbows on the table and laced her fingers together, then she reached out and took one of the chocolate oreos and regarded it with a skeptical blue eye. She twisted the cookie apart and consumed the bare half.
The first officer took the folder and opened it. “Thank you, Ms Roberts.” He said. “I really appreciate the cooperation.” He scanned through the papers, while the other two sat there quietly having their coffee and cookies. “Okay, this looks pretty straightforward.”
Angela returned and set down a steaming mug in front of Dar. “We’re fixing up some tuna fish sandwiches and Fritos in the break room.”
“Yum.” Dar removed the top off another cookie and ate it, then put the two non eaten halves with their double crème together. “Kerry said they got out to the edge of Doral.” She told Carlos. “Flooded to hell after that.” She dunked the joined cookie into the milk and held it there for a few seconds before she removed it and put the whole thing into her mouth.
“Heard on the radio.” Carlos said. “Least we can run that off that UPS. Aint much good for nothing else right now.” He rocked back and forth on the chair.
Andy entered, pulling off a pair of hide gloves. His hair was wet and there was a faintly briny scent about him.“Lo there.” He removed a plastic covered packet from his back pocket and put it down next to Cruz’s elbow “Got that off mah boat.”
Cruz glanced at the packet, then he closed the folder and pushed it back towards Dar. “Here you go ma’am. That’s all right sir.” He picked up the damp plastic and offered it back. “I’ve seen enough for my report.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Now I need to tell you, this is not going to be a really safe area after dark.”
Carlos smiled. “Yeah, it was a little creeptastic last night.” He agreed. “But we got a plan to bunker in.” He told them. “And the boss here’s going to take some of the gang with her over to where they live.”
“Got some fellers coming ovah here.” Andy said. “It’ll be all right.” He sat down next to Dar and folded his hands across his stomach. “That there case’s ready to go, Dardar.”
“Your crew is always welcome here to share what we got.” Dar addressed the officer. “We’ve got some sat phones.”
“Ah got me a spare shortwave ahm gonna hook up to that big old battery fore we go.” Andy added. “They can call the boat on it. These phones aint hardly worth nothing.”
Cruz snorted in a bit of laughter. “You people are pretty self sufficient.” He told them. “Everyone else I saw this morning, walking through the streets was either running from me with a box or asking me for a handout.”
He leaned back in the chair, apparently loathe to surrender it. “That’s what I hate about these storms. Everyone comes out after looking to take advantage, taking whatever they can get. You’re supposed to have three days of food and water in your house you know?”
“Some folks don’t have the cash.” Carlos said, bluntly.
“They can go to a shelter.” Cruz shook his head. “I don’t buy people can’t afford it. I went to Costco and got two cases of canned stuff for my house, and it was twenty bucks. Hey, it’s junk like spaghettios, but it’ll feed my kids.” His jaw jutted forward a little. “My wife made the biggest pot she had of rice and beans. That probably cost two bucks.”
“Wall.” Andy said. “Folks are like that.” He remarked, in a mild tone. “Wanting to blame folks for e’vrything.”
Cruz got up and motioned to his two companions. “That’s the truth, but not here. I’ll mark you all as friendlies and let the patrols know about your two boats out there.” He grinned a little. “And they can stop by for cookies if they’re around.”
He winked at Angela, who had come in with some plates, setting them down on the table. She offered him one, but he declined, and they left with casual waves and words.
“Well, that turned out better than I expected.” Dar admitted after they’d passed beyond hearing. “I wasn’t much looking forward to dealing with you and I frog marched down to Miami Dade jail.”
Andy laughed. “You evah been?”
“To the jail?” Dar asked. “Yes.” She paused. “Busting someone else out of it.” She conceded, as everyone swung around and gave her an interested look. “And they’re actually a customer. Got a new computer system going in.” She added. “Anyway.”
“Yeap.” Her father agreed. “Got them an attitude ah seen a time or two, them boys.” He picked up the hide gloves, and flexed one big, scarred hand. “Glad they moved on.”
“They weren’t gonna mess with us.” Carlos said, confidently. “They know better.”
“Hm.” Andy grunted. “Anyhow, lets get a move on that there box of yours.” He got up and headed for the conference room door.
Dar stood up and pulled her sat phone out. “Let me go see what Ker’s up to.” She walked around the table. “Be right back.” She ducked outside the front door and into the sunlight, walking away from the structure and into an open area before she tried turning on the phone.
This was a pain in the ass. She recalled the phone number that Kerry had been carrying and dialed it. “When the hell are they going to get the damn cell towers back up?”
“How about you stay here?” Mark asked. “Me and Zoe’ll see if we can go south a little and get to the Palmetto shelter. Maybe you can help these guys?”
Kerry pondered, regarding the shelter. In the short time they’d been standing there twenty or thirty more people had shown up including a man with a child holding a broken arm.
The guardsmen were trying to help. One man was kneeling next to the child with a first aid kit, another was going around the crowd handing out plastic bottles of water.
Everyone was standing in knee high water, and Kerry could smell the muddy tang of it. She had retreated back to the median near where they’d left the bike, and was for the moment dry shod. “Yeah I guess.”
Zoe would be more use to Mark when searching in the shelters as she was a native Spanish speaker. Kerry herself only understand and spoke a handful of words in the language but in truth she had no real desire to stay here, in the sun, with the muggy heat and the rising mosquitos around her.
But it was also true if they had to divide and conquer it was likely her that was going to encourage anything positive out of this particular situation. “Okay, you guys get going.” She concluded. “Let me.. “ She paused as the phone in her pocket buzzed. “Ah.”
She recognized the number that had originally been Dars and had been handed off to Carlos. “Hello?”
There was something that Dar’s voice did to her, Kerry half turned and focused on a clump of dead brush poking up out of the water. “Hey.” She responded. “You’re not calling me from the joint, are you?”
Dar chuckled, a low deep sound of amusement that was both wry and relaxed. “How’s it going there?” She said. “I was trying to remember if we had any way of contacting any of dad’s friends who could help but god damn it there’s no signal anywhere.”
“That’s why I told them to try the radio.” Kerry agreed. “No, nothing much here. Mark and Zoe are going to go check out Palmetto shelter, see if they were seen or heard of there.” She watched the men on the platform huddle in a small group around the older man with the sat phone. “Dar I hate to think of Mayte and Maria out there in some trashed house, in trouble. You know?”
“Is there something you can do?”
Kerry thought about that for a long moment, both of them silent and comfortable with it. “Crap I should be able to, shoudn’t I?”
“Ker.” Dar said, in a reasonable tone. “I know it’s kinda normal for us to pull rabbits out of our asses, but there are limits, y’know?”
“That sounds so damn reasonable, except I think about what we did in New York, and you saving that raft, and I’m sitting out here in this gross swamp wondering why I don’t have a drone and a paddleboard with me.”
Dar started laughing softly. “You gonna drive the drone while you’re on the paddleboard?” She asked. “Tricky.” She said. “Let me see if I can get the… oh crap. That’s right. All I have to drive is a yacht.”
“I know. I’m being a dork.” Kerry chuckled along with her. “Let me see if they’re making any progress with the radio. I don’t know what else to do, Dar. We can’t go any further west with the bike.” She ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it back off her forehead. “Maybe I’ll have Mark check that one shelter, then bring Zoe back to where her family is.”
The faint sound of buffeting wind came through the phone as Dar turned and faced into the breeze in front of the office. “Let me think a minute.”
Kerry was content to wait for that, watching a lizard appear on one of the nearby fallen trees, jerking it’s head up and down. She glanced to the side as Mark came up next to her, and raised one brow at him.
“They called the Red Cross for that kid.” Mark said. “They’re gonna maybe bring a chopper for him.” He paused. “You talking to Dar?”
Kerry nodded. “Go on to Palmetto.” She said. “I’m waiting to see if Dar has something else for me to try.”
Mark nodded back. “Okay, we’ll call if we find anything.” He motioned Zoe to come over to the bike, and then handed her the helmet Kerry had been wearing. “Buzz me if you need me.”
Kerry raised a hand in response as he started the bike’s engine, and Zoe timidly got herself arranged on the rear seat. She took a few steps away as Mark turned the machine around, and started carefully back along the ridge they’d come in on.
They had brought the young child, a dark haired boy, up onto the platform, and he was sitting on a box, his arm in a roughly made splint held on with white gauze that was stained rust with blood. His face was twisted in pain, and an older woman crouched next to him, bracing his arm on her knee.
Dar’s voice almost startled her. Kerry returned her wandering attention to the phone. “What about what, hon?”
“I know it’s out of the way, but why not try to get out to US 27 and come into Sweetwater from the other side?” Dar suggested. “Get up on the Turnpike and off at Okeechobee road.”
Kerry’s brow creased a little. “Won’t that be even more flooded?”
“Canals all drain out that way across the Everglades.” Dar said. “Sweetwater’s in a dip between the city and the swamp.” She said. “And you might find some folks with boats out there that’ll be useful.” She added, almost as an afterthought. “Some of those..”
“Places out off 41. Yeah.” Kerry completed the thought. “The tourist places, where you can take rides out. Dar, that’s a good idea.”
“Well, it’s something.” Dar said. “Don’t spend too much time out in the sticks there. It’s lunchtime.”
“I’m going to call Mark.” Kerry said, decisively. “If they haven’t gotten down to the shelter by now I’ll have him drop Zoe off and we’ll go out that way.” She felt a sense of mild relief. “Thanks hon.”
“No problem.” Dar said. “I gotta go. They’re starting to haul the servers out.” She paused. “Be careful, okay?”
“Will do.” Kerry said. “Any word from Colleen?”
“They’re almost up there.” Dar said. “She checked in about ten minutes ago.”
Kerry hung up the phone and then dialed Mark’s number. The sat phone buzzed, but there was no answer and she assumed they were underway and couldn’t pick up. She closed the phone and put it in her pocket, and then she turned around and started for the platform.
“Okay stop it there a minute.” Dar stepped back to consider their progress. They had gotten the rolling cart through the office yard and across the street, and were now trying to maneuver it across the destroyed pool deck of the sailing club.
“Crap it’s hot.” Carlos wiped his forearm across his forehead.
“It is.” Dar felt the sweat rolling down her back, and was glad of the tank top. She straightened up and shook her hands out, tired from the effort of carrying the case down a set of four broken, coral stairs. “This is the hard part.” She regarded the rough terrain they had ahead of them.
“Yeah, at least over there we could roll it.” Jake had taken his shirt off and it was hanging from the back of his belt. “We sure that ramp is going to hold up for this? I’d hate to have it sink after all that work.” He sat down on an upturned bench and took a drink of water from the bottle in his shorts pocket.
Dar walked past him to the beachfront, where the Dixie was tied up, and where Andrew’s boat was anchored behind it, both boats shining white in the sun. She went over to the ramp they’d built and walked onto it, flexing her knees a little and regarding the sense of flex.
It was actually going to be a real bitch to maneuver the whole rig onto the boat. Dar folded her arms and took in a breath of salt tinged air. Ahead of her, past the boats, she could see a dozen watercraft in the distance, three of which had flashing blue lights on them.
The chop had come down in the bay, she was relieved to see. It was light and ruffled, and the Dixie was only rocking a little bit against her lines, but still, her hull was thumping against the inflated pontoons they’d draped over her side.
“Need a beach lander.” Andy came up next to her. “Some bitch.” He concluded.
“Like the ferry, with a ramp.” Dar agreed. “Well, we don’t have one so lets just do this.” She walked along the makeshift platform, testing it’s sturdiness. It was relatively stable under her weight, but Dar knew the case they were shepherding was a lot heavier.
She walked up next to the Dixie and stood there a minute, looking at the deck. “Tricky.” She turned and motioned Carlos over, and watched both him and Andy come along the ramp, keeping an eye on the stability of the path. “Meh.”
“What’s the plan, boss?” Carlos asked. He’d also taken off his shirt. “You think we can make it down this?”
Dar looked at her father. “You’ve got a hell of a lot more experience loading things on boats than I do.”
Andy looked at the Dixie, then at the makeshift ramp, then at the case full of high tech servers. He snorted a short laugh and shook his head. “Some bitch.”
“Is what it is.” Dar extended her hands in a light shrug.
“Wall.” Andy kicked the pylon with one booted foot. “Aint gonna find out standing heah.” He hopped up and down on the planking. “Be some easier if that back deck was other way round.” He eyed his daughter meaningfully.
“Got it.” Dar agreeably untied the aft line and stepped onboard. “Get ready, and I’ll turn her around.”
Andy untied the forward line and tossed it onboard, then he motioned Carlos back towards the shore where the rest of the staff were seated, sweating and waiting. “C’mon, boy.” He directed. “Lets get this heah done fore ever’body melts.”
“Right on, sir.” Carlos headed after him, turning his head as the sound of the Dixie’s engines firing rumbled behind him, spotting Dar up on the flying bridge, standing behind the controls. “Worst comes to worst we can all jump in.”
It was stifling under the tent, but it was at least out of the sun and Kerry ignored the pungent smell of heated canvas as she climbed up out of the water and onto the wooden platform.
The young guard she’d befriended turned and saw her approaching. The rest of the group he was with looked up as well, but went back to leaning over a map on the makeshift plywood desk after a moment.
“Oh, there you are, ma’am.” The guard said. “I thought you’d done gone off.”
“My friends did.” Kerry agreed. “They’re going to look for our other friends at the Palmetto shelter.” She put her hands into the pockets of her cargo pants. “What’s your name?”
“Billy.” He answered promptly. “Harris.”
“I’m Kerry.” Kerry offered. “So did they… I mean, are you all going to stay out here or..?”
Billy sighed, taking off his camo hat and wiping the sweat off his brow. “We don’t know.” He admitted. “I hear they’re bringing in more supplies, but my cap’n there said the more they bring stuff in here the more people’ll show up.”
“Probably true.” Kerry said. “And they’d have to bring in some kind of shelter,, you can’t stay here. The mosquitos will eat you all alive at night.”
“I done told him that.” Billy nodded his head wisely. “They need to get us one of those big bus things at least. With a big old battery like a RV, you know?”
“I do know. I’ve driven one.” Kerry smiled, her ears pricked to listen into the conversation around the table. It wasn’t particularly low pitched. “I went on vacation in the Grand Canyon, and we drove there from here in one of them. It was cool.”
“Lets just pack up and get out of here.” The older man was saying. “We can’t do anything useful. These people are just going to keep showing up wanting more than we got.”
“He’s right, sir.” One of the women dressed in camo gear said. “We should be doing search and rescue, that’s what we’re trained for. Go over back into the city.”
Billy had also heard the conversation. “Just when we done setting up.” He sighed.
Kerry studied the crowd. “But these people need help too.” She objected, quietly. “Someone has to.”
“Can’t go no further.” Billy said. “You see that water there.”
They heard the sound of the chopper approaching, and two of the other guard called out to Billy as they moved away from the tent and started to clear a space. “Gotta go.” He said. “You can stay up here until we’re ready to pack. I know the cap’n don’t mind.”
Kerry did, in fact, remain where she was as she watched the guards, now grown to a group of six, push the crowd back gently as they made an open circle around the injured boy. She sensed motion to her right and turned her head to see the captain standing next to her. “Is there enough space?”
“Drop a basket.” The man said. “Listen, Ms…” His brows lifted.
“Roberts.” Kerry supplied.
“Ms Roberts, there’s not much you can do here. We’re not having any luck contacting anyone around the area who can help, and we don’t got the gear to go no further in the wet there.”
“Yes, I can see that.” Kerry agreed readily. “We need some punts, or something. I’m hoping my friends got to a shelter. Everything back there looks like it’s sunk.” She glanced at the name patch on his chest, which said Dodge, J.
The captain was nodding his head as she spoke. “That’s right.” He said, then hesitated. “Billy done said you had family back where we come from.” He looked briefly around with studied casualness. “I know some Roberts where I come from.”
Kerry wasn’t entirely sure where this was going. “My father in law’s family still lives back there.” She said. “His siblings.. well, his brothers. His sister moved to one of the cities not that long ago.”
“He wouldn’t be one of old Duke’s boys, now would he?” The captain’s gray, steady eyes watched her face, with a slight, noncommittal smile on his face.
“Yes, he is.” Kerry said. “He hasn’t lived there in a long while though. He..”
“Went for the navy.” The man now smiled more easily. “I do know the family, we go back a ways.” He stopped speaking, as the helicopter came to hover over the open space around the boy. “Let me go make sure this goes right.”
He went to the edge of the platform, clapping one hand to his head to hold his hat in place as the downdraft from the rotors flattened everything underneath it.
“That poor kiddie.” The young woman had come to stand next to her. “We’re going to find a lot more, for sure.” She was roughly Kerry’s height, and had curly auburn hair. “Command said they already knew they’d need to send the dogs in.”
“Dogs?” Kerry asked.
“Cadaver dogs.” The woman said, placidly. “Best thing to search with. I mean.. “ She hastily corrected herself. “Not at first, they’ll send in the rescue dogs first. I mean.. I know you’re looking for some friends and all that.”
Kerry felt at that moment, both nauseous and lightheaded as she considered the potential result of her search and she felt the muscles in her jaw tighten.
“That was a crappy thing to say. Sorry.” The woman said. “I’ve just done this before.”
“No, I know.” Kerry said. “It’s all right.”
The captain came back over, and the sound of the helicopter began to fade away, the boy being hoisted up in the rescue basket with his tiny, terrified mother with him. “That’s done.” He said. “Betty, lets see about getting us packed up here. Ms. Roberts can come with us. She’s family.”
“Yes, sir.” Betty produced a brief grin, then she went back to the makeshift table and hauled a crate out from under it, putting it on top and starting to pile things from the tabletop into it.
“I’d probably better stay here and wait for my friends to come back.” Kerry said. “But thank you very much for the offer.”
The captain smiled at her. “Ma’am, we can’t leave you out here in this mess.” He said. “We’re not gonna go that far, just up into Doral and meet up with our main unit. Them friends of yours can get there easier than back here.”
And that, Kerry acknowledged, was true. She really had no desire to stay out in the open, in the mud and flooded area, with a gathering crowd that was now getting a bit more agitated since all the water had been disbursed and there seemed to be nothing else forthcoming from the trucks.
She didn’t feel really in danger of anything, but she also didn’t think she could get anything useful done by standing around in water up to her knees either and the water level didn’t seem to be going down any.
A loud and angry yell distracted both of them, and the captain turned and his hand dropped to the holstered firearm on his belt.
Two of the men in the crowd were grappling with one of the guard, who was trying to pick up empty boxes and put them back on the truck. Two of the other guardsmen started towards them and then a bunch more of the crowd surged forward, reaching out and grabbing for the boxes.
“They’re empty!” The captain called out. “Stop! Stop it! There’s nothing left!”
The voices were rough and mostly Hispanic, with a few interjections of the sounds Kerry knew was Creole. She felt at a loss and helpless, and without anything else to offer she went to the table and started helping Betty pack up.
“That’s gonna end in a bad way.” Betty said. “Lets get going.” She picked up one end of the box and Kerry grabbed the other end, and they moved the crate off the table as one of the guards picked up the piece of plywood and lifted it over his head, throwing it into the back of the truck.
“Fall back!” The captain yelled. “Get in the truck. We’re moving out. Jack, leave them the damn boxes they’re empty and these idiots don’t speak enough English to understand me.”
Kerry hastened along the edge of the platform with her burden and then stepped down off it into several inches of now stinking mud between the platform and the truck. She helped Betty lift it up and slide it into place, then before she could react herself she was grabbed around the waist and lifted up into the truck herself.
Three soldiers vaulted into the back of the truck after her, and the captain let out a whistle. “Jack, get rolling. Go east! C’mon!”
Kerry caught her balance as the truck jerked into motion and Billy landed next to her on the bench that served as a seat on either side of the middle cargo area. “Where are we going?”
“Southcom.” Billy said. “Hope it’s not flooded too.”
Southcom. Southcom. “Oh, okay. I know where that is.” Kerry felt a sense of relief. “I’ll just call my friends when we get there. It’s probably a better path for them to pick me up anyway.” She braced her mud covered boots against the floor of the truck and held on.
Dar stood at the controls, her head turned to look over her shoulder as she popped the engines in and out of idle to keep the Dixie in place as the team literally manhandled the large pelican case down off the dock and onto the wooden ramps they’d built.
There were seven people there working on the case, Carlos and his two buddies providing the real horsepower with their bodybuilder physiques glistening with sweat in the sun.
Jake and Allan, the two programmers were there, but they were both slight and slim and mostly of use in climbing around the case to keep it straight on track. Celeste their old security guard from ILS was helping them, and Andrew was in the water, directing the action.
Dar felt a little unsettled, torn between wanting to be down there working with her team at this difficult task, and knowing she was without a doubt the person who needed to be driving the Dixie here in the tight quarters of the half destroyed dock.
“All right. Bring that there end ovah here.” Andy was hanging with one hand off the makeshift dock, pointing with his hand where to bring the edge of the case. “Watch out ovah there don’t step on that there edge.”
“Got it.” Jake had caught his balance as he almost fell off the other side of the repurposed aluminum door. He inched around the edge of the case and tugged it forward, swinging the front end around to where Andy had indicated. “Here?”
“Push.” Carlos told the nearer of his two buddies. “Yeah, get it … yeah.” They shoved the case along the planking towards the end of the ramp, where the Dixie was idling just out of reach.
“Dar!” Andy now turned his head towards the boat, and raised the volume over the engines.
“Yeah?” Dar answered, craning her neck so she could see her father’s dark head at the waterline. “What?”
“Back on in here.” Andy said. “Squitch by squitch now!”
“Easy for you to say.” Dar shifted into reverse, one hand toggling the two throttles that controlled the big inboard engines as the Dixie eased towards the shore. The current was pulling against the bow and it was hard to keep the big boat straight as she slowly approached the dock.
The rumble of the engines covered the sound of wood cracking, but Andy heard it and he turned quickly in the water, looking back and forth. “Hey!” He let out a call of warning. “Y’all look out there!” He shifted his grip as the wood planking moved, the pylon under them cracking and collapsing under the weight of the case. “Oh lord.”
“Whoa!!!” Carlos let out a yell of alarm, as the case started to tip, leaning over on one side towards where Andy was hanging on. “Grab it! Hey! Look out! Watch out!”
Dar heard the commotion and leaned to one side to look along the port side of the boat. “Oh crap.” She saw the case shift and start to slide towards the water as the planks tilted and twisted while the team tried to grab hold of it.
“Dad! Move!” Dar hollered, her hands freezing on the controls until she saw her father’s tall form disappear under the surface of the water and then she gunned the engines, swinging the back end of the boat around and under the edge of the dock as the case turned and tumbled with everyone scrabbling for it. “Let it go!!!”
“But..” Jake protested.
“Let it GO!” Dar bellowed, only barely keeping the back end of the boat from collapsing the makeshift ramp.
Carlos released the handle but lost his balance and went into the water, and the rest of the helpers scrambled for hand and footholds as they let go, reeling to keep their balance. Celeste sat down abruptly and grabbed the edge of the door.
The big case hesitated, and then fell off the ramp in a rush and onto the back deck of the Dixie, tipping sideways and then back as it hit the diving well and tilted towards the surface of the ocean. “Oh crap.” Dar muttered. “Wasn’t what I wanted.”
Her mind was already going through the steps of dropping the anchor and whether she’d refilled her dive tanks but a second later, Andy emerged from the water and launched himself up and over the gunwale, grabbing hold of the edge of the case and hauling it backwards to keep it in place.
A ragged cheer came from the team watching on shore.
Andy braced his boots against the lip on the back deck and leaned forward a little, booting the dive ladder into the water. “C’mon here, boy!” He yelled to Carlos.
Carlos was swimming through the water, keeping clear of the engine wash. “Okay?” He eyed the churn of the diesels warily.
“C”mon.” Dar called out. “Just grab the ladder!”
Carlos swam forward and did, hanging on as Dar shifted out of idle and the Dixie surged forward, bringing her stern away from the rocks on the shore that had been washed with her engine outflow they’d been so close. The edge of the hull brushed the dock and made it sway crazily, nearly throwing the team on it into the water.
“Crap.” Dar adjusted the throttles. She got the bow out and ahead of the dock and they were clear, so she put the engines back into idle. “Carlos! Get on!” She yelled, watching as the boat drifted out a little from the shore and into the bay.
“Oh boy!” Carlos climbed up the ladder and into the well, getting his weight against the case as he helped Andy tip it onto it’s end. “Holy crap, pops!” He said. “That was nutzo!”
“Yeap.” Andy agreed, looking around. “Need me some rope.” He muttered. “Put you a dent in this here fiberglass, Dardar!” He called out, as Dar maneuvered the Dixie back around to bring her bow to the shore again.
“I’m going to drop the anchor and give you a hand.” Dar announced, just as she hit the switch to do just that. She felt the rumbled as the heavy device dropped from its housing and plunged into the lightly chopped water and then pulled taut as it hit the bottom and the Dixie swung against the current and held.
Dar waited until she was sure the boat wasn’t going anywhere, and then she turned and went to the ladder, putting her hands on the railing and letting her body weight take her downward in a tumbling rush that ended with her boots on the deck.
“Get me a rope.” Andy directed, as he and Carlos kept their grip on the case, keeping it tilted towards the cabin. “Tie this here thing here.”
Dar reached into the deck box and removed a coil of rope. “Lets get everyone onboard and see if we can get it out of the well and onto the deck.” She tossed the rope out to uncoil it and then fed the end of it through the handle on the case, tying it into a neat knot. “It’s waterproof but I don’t want to test having it ride back with my prop wash a foot up over it.”
She ran the rope over the edge of the well to a deck cleat and secured it.
“Stay there.” Andy told Carlos as he released his hold and went to the box, removing another rope and repeating the tie down on the other side. “All right.”
Carlos cautiously let go of the case and then straightened up. “Whooof.”
Dar came over to inspect the case. It was tilted on one edge, the ropes holding it against the low wall that separated the diving well from the back deck and she could see the dent her father had mentioned where the edge of the case must have impacted when it fell.
“Nice catch, boss.” Carlos commented.
“I was lucky I didn’t take out the dock with you all on it.” Dar responded, with a brief wry grin. “Okay, let me get her back in there and give Kerry a call to see if she’s on her way back here. Lets get this thing back to the island before something else happens.”