Fair Winds and Following Seas
“You’re where?” Dar’s voice came through the phone with a full compliment of disbelief attached. “At the what?”
“Long story.” Kerry said. “I couldn’t get hold of Mark and the guard was pulling out. They offered me a ride and it was that or stay in the middle of that flooded area with a lot of pissed off people.” She glanced around. “Would have ended up being just as useless.”
“Holy crap.” Dar said. “Let me see what we can do to come get you.”
“I’m fine. This whole place is crawling with National Guard.” Kerry said. “They’ve got power here at least, and I got a hot cup of coffee.” She added. “I tried to call Mark again but he’s not picking up.”
“These sat phones suck.”
“Well hon.” Kerry took a sip of her coffee, standing as she was in shade of a large block concrete building that sprawled along a flooded street. “A lot of things suck right now.”
The front grassy area was covered in water, but it was not enough to stop the military trucks who were driving in and out and parked all along the main drive into it. There were men and women moving in all directions, most carrying boxes and crates, sloshing through the shallow flooding.
The building had a large wall on the outside, and a guarded gate and the front door she was standing near was six feet above the water, up a set of cracked and weathered concrete steps. “Anyway, just wanted to let you know where I was. I’m going to see if I can talk anyone into giving me a ride back down there and keep trying to get hold of Mark.”
Dar sighed unhappily.
“Go on and get those servers over to the island.” Kerry suggested. “I’m pretty sure I can get someone here to ride me down there. They have to be patrolling there too, right? Might as well have one of us doing something useful since I utterly tanked at finding out about our people.”
There was a deep rumble of generators behind her, and she could hear the air handlers cycling on, cooling down the building. There were more guard trucks arriving every few minutes and in the distance on the other side of the building she could hear a helicopter firing up. “They’re using this as a staging area. Sorry about the noise.”
“Figures.” Dar said. “Are you sure it’s okay Ker? I hate thinking of you stuck out there alone.”
Kerry smiled. “Hon, I’m in the middle of like a thousand soldiers. I’m fine.” She said.”I’ll meet you back at the office. Give you a call when I get there, and you can come pick me up.”
Dar didn’t like the idea. Kerry knew from the tone of the grunt. But she also knew their options were very limited. “Okay? I know you want to get our satellite office going.” She paused. “Even without an actual satellite.”
“Yeah, okay.” Dar finally said, with an audible sigh. “Anyway we managed to get the case onto the back deck but it took a fall in the process. No idea if the damn things’ll work when we get them powered up.” She said. “If they don’t I’m going to just head back over there with the gang and we’ll meet you.”
“Deal.” Kerry said. “Drive safe, hon.” She said. “Let me get off, I see a call coming in. Maybe it’s Mark.”
“Okay. Call me if he’s got any issues.”
“Will do.” Kerry hung up the line and took the incoming one. “Hello?”
“Colleen here.” Her friend and their finance director said. “We just got up here to the space and glad I am to have air conditioning and power back I will tell you that.”
“Hey Col,” Kerry smiled. “Glad you got there. Everyone okay?”
“Fine as rain.” Colleen said. “We’re going to get things set up, and then turn the phones on. You want anything forwarded or should we just take your messages, you and Dar?”
“Messages.” Kerry answered at once. “Otherwise it’s just going to be a mess, because these things only randomly work.”
“Got it, and will do.” Colleen said. “How’s it going at the office?”
Kerry glanced around at her surroundings. “They got the servers on the Dixie. Jesus only knows if they’re going to work.” She said. “Dar’s on her way back to the house with them now.”
“Good luck then lassie.” Colleen said. “Give all me regards and I’ll have my fingers crossed they at least get the cellular towers back up there.”
Kerry hung up and pondered the controls of the phone, then she dialed Mark’s number again. It rang several times, but again, there wasn’t any answer.
She cursed under her breath and then shut the phone down and put it into her pocket, going back inside the huge building and out of the heat.
Dar regarded the back deck of the Dixie for a long moment, rubbing the edge of her thumb over the keypad on her phone. She was standing on the dock, still feeling a touch indecisive about what to do next.
Carlos and his buddies had gone back up to the office, using the hose near the loading dock to rinse the salt water off their skin.
The programmers were on the boat, sitting in the deck chairs, sucking down bottles of ice tea from the Dixie’s compact kitchen and Angela had just come over the rise with a basket along with two others and Celeste.
Andy had just swum over to his own boat and hoisted himself up onto the back deck of it. He was making the vessel ready to go, and Dar lifted her hand to give him a wave as he appeared at the side facing her.
“Okay.” She turned as the approaching gang got to the ramp. “All aboard.” She said. “Let’s see if we can get the gear up and running and the office set up before Kerry gets back.”
“Right you are, boss.” Angela looked pleased. “Glad I can be a help, you know? I was hoping I’d get to go with you because I just talked to my cousin and it’s a mess back where I live for sure.”
“Us too.” The two women behind her agreed. “We’ll do whatever you need us to.”
Dar waved them all forward. “G’wan get on.” She said. “You too, Celeste. Once we set up the gear, I could use some security around. It’s secure data.”
“Right you are Ms. Roberts.” Celeste looked pleased to be asked. “I”d be glad to. There’s nothing at all we can do over at the ILS office. Jerry went over there and it’s blocked off due to all that damage. No one’s allowed inside.
Dar nodded, and followed them over to the hastily braced end of the dock and then onto the deck of the Dixie, pausing only to untie the ropes holding the boat to the shore.
As Dar stepped onto the deck she felt the boat move and start drifting and she quickly dodged around her passengers and got to the ladder up to the bridge. She climbed up and went to the controls, perching on the edge of the captain’s seat as she pressed the starters for the engines.
The inboards caught and started up and she reversed the boat back from the shore, feeling the rocking of the bay chop as they moved in reverse until she had enough clearance to swing the bow around and face the east. Ahead of them, Andy was already underway, moving cautiously through the debris field and into the channel.
“Can we come up there?”
Dar looked at the ladder. “Sure.” She called down. “Better do it now before I have to maneuver.”
Jake and Allen came climbing up immediately and came over to the console, looking at the controls with avid curiosity. “The rest of everyone went into the cabin.” Jake said. “This is a nice boat.”
“Thanks.” Dar checked the depth sounder and looked at the bottom outline, as she turned the Dixie out from the shore and into the marked channel ahead of them. There were dozens of boats out on the water now, mostly police and military, but a few pleasure craft out to see the damage.
The breeze picked up as she gave the engines a little nudge, and then they were crossing the bay in Andy’s wake, heading back across the water towards the shipping channel.
“What’s all the stuff down there?” Allan asked, pointing at the lower deck. “The tanks and all that?”
“Scuba.” Jake answered for her. “It’s cool you have your own stuff. Me and my dad are certified, but we rent ours all the time.”
“We go out on the weekends sometimes.” Dar said. “Or when we go down to our place in the Keys. Faster if you have everything. There’s a compressor at the marina, and down by our cabin.”
“That’s cool.” Allen said. “My dad has a Skidoo. We take it out sometimes. “
“What’s he doing with it right now?” Dar asked, thoughtfully.
“Riding around looking at all the storm stuff. He brought some animals out of the flooding already.” Allen said. “I bet he’s the most popular guy in the neighborhood right now.” He paused thoughtfully. “Bet he’s raking it in too. Buck a ride or something.”
“Wish I had a couple of them.” Dar said. “Kerry’s out west trying to get over to where Maria and Mayte live. It’s all flooded. She can’t get past the turnpike and twelfth and apparently the national guard showed up with tents and trucks.”
“Need some airboats.” Jake said. “That’s what my dad said before. He saw on the news all those people were floating around on wood debris and stuff. Cars all flooded, houses all flooded, what a huge ass mess.”
“They live out there in Sweetwater.” Jake said. “Mayte showed me pictures of her house. It’s nice. All full of flowers and things in the front and a garden.”
“We’ve been out there. It’s a nice neighborhood.” Dar agreed, adjusting the throttles a little as they went past the bridge. “We can’t get hold of them.”
“That’s what Mark said. Hope they find a way out there.” Jake said. “That whole area got trashed. Did they stay in their house or go to a shelter?”
“We don’t know.” Dar admitted. “I think they said they were going to stay in their house, but crazy as it got.. not sure I would have.”
Jake blinked at her. “But you did.”
Well, that was true enough. Dar adjusted one of the throttles and peered at the depth finder. “We figured it would be as safe as anywhere. You’ll see when you get there.”
They turned into the shipping channel, on the cargo side that would take them up along Terminal island, and then across the short channel that separated it from the island and Dar picked up the speed a little, keeping a sharp eye on the depth gauge.
The engines roar made more conversation difficult, and so the two programmers went over to the table behind the console and sat down, content to watch the passing scenery as the drone of the engine rose around them.
After a few minutes, Dar glanced back at them and half to almost chuckle, seeing the two fast asleep in the padded chairs.
Her radio crackled. “Dixie Dixie. C’mon back.” Her father’s low, growly voice emerged.
She lifted the transmitter. “Dixie. Go ahead.”
“Got me an idea. Pull up into the service bay at the front there when we get by.” Andy said. “Got them a boat lift.” He added. “Haul that big old box up out to the dock.”
“Roger that.” Dar agreed at once. “Great idea.” She said. “Not sure if the cart can handle the weight. I probably need to bring the truck around.”
“Yeap.” Andy agreed. “Ce’pt some of them roads on there are still blocked up.”
The radio crackled. “I heard that.” Ceci’s voice interrupted. “Where are your keys? I’ll drive that thing over the backs of these wingnuts here still arguing about that flooded golf course.”
Dar chuckled in reflex, glad they had set up the marine radios which were proving far more reliable than any other technology so far. “In the dish on the kitchen counter.” She said. “We’re still about twenty, thirty minutes out from docking.”
“That’ll give me enough time to stop by club and grab some box lunches they claim they have ready.” Ceci sounded satisfied. “Be there in a jiff and oh by the way, they got amateur hour TV rolling from the security building. Funniest thing you ever saw, got a camera pointed at the radar and everything on an in house channel.”
Kerry walked down the hallway, it’s surface covered in nondescript gray weave carpet that matched the mostly nondescript gray walls except where a large irregular blob of scrubbed dark gray stain covered the ground.
She identified it without effort as a toner explosion, and noted the wall socket nearby at the height you would need one to be for a copier.
Like all the government buildings she’d ever been in, this one smelled of linoleum polish and bureaucracy, and again like places she could remember since childhood she heard the sound of an old fashioned telephone ringing somewhere along with the clatter of a typewriter.
Randomly, she wondered if someone wasn’t just playing that into the PA system somewhere, an MP3 track like one of Halloween noises. “Government background soundtrack.” She said, under her breath, as she turned a corner and went into the large open conference room where the national guard leadership were camping.
Here there were televisions on rolling carts, and several on the wall, a bank of wired telephones, a lot of men and women in fatigues, and against the wall, boxes of water.
There were people walking in and out in army and navy uniforms as well, and Kerry could see her new friends from the edge of Doral over near one corner where there were folding tables set up in a large square and laptops where information was, she supposed, being collected.
“There you are.” Billy saw her and trotted over. “So hey listen, where did you say your friends lived?”
Kerry promptly provided Maria’s address, and followed him over to where the woman who had been at the table in the tent was typing into a keyboard.
The woman looked up and gave her a brief smile of welcome. “Nice to be back in the AC.”
“It is.” Kerry didn’t deny it. She sat down on a folding chair next to the table as Billy took a seat behind one of the laptops and starting typing into it.
“Stupid system is slow as hell.” He commented.
Kerry wisely kept her mouth shut and did not offer an opinion, as the last thing in the world she wanted to get entangled with at this moment was a government computer system that possibly needed adjustment.
And then the nerd kicked in. “I guess you guys are using satellites.” She remarked casually. “They are slow.”
Billy glanced at her, and then other woman did too. “You know something about it?” He asked.
“More than I want to right now.” Kerry admitted. “But at least you have satellite backhaul. Everyone else is kinda stuck.” She leaned back in her folding chair and took a drink of her coffee. “Wish we’d thought to have a dish put on the roof.”
“Okay.” Billy went back to his screen. “That area’s totally underwater.” He wiggled aside in his seat and turned the screen so she could see it. “See here? It’s about five to six feet of water.”
“Holy crap.” Kerry said. “That’s like a swimming pool.”
“It is.” The woman agreed. “That’s why we had to get out of there. Ain’t nothing we could do.”
Kerry regarded the screen, then she looked at the two young soldiers. “So what are they going to do?” She asked. “I mean.. there are people there trapped, aren’t there? I saw video of people sitting on top of their roofs.”
Billy shrugged. “Wait for the water t’go down.” He said. “I heard the Cajun Navy’s coming over but it’ll take time for that.” He said. “Some places, I guess they can bring choppers in like we did for that boy but not with all them trees.”
The woman nodded. “They’re getting some pole skiffs from Orlando.” She said. “Maybe down here by tomorrow.” She could see Kerry staring at her, and her expression became a bit defensive. “We brought supplies. No one expected the whole place to be drowned.”
“S’right.” Billy agreed. “Got us lots of tarps and duct tape and all that.” He said. “We though it would be mostly stuff blown down, like a tornado.”
Kerry held a hand up. “Yes, of course, sorry about that.” She apologized. “I’m just worried about my friends.” She said. “Let me go try and.. “ She paused. “Figure out what to do.” She got up. “Thanks, I really appreciate the info.”
She walked through the room and headed for the door, aware in her peripheral vision of the captain trotting after her.
Andy already had his boat tied up to the maintenance dock by the time Dar was starting to maneuver into the narrow channel.
Two of the ferries were tied up there, relatively unscathed, but the third docking area, where the third of the three of them would usually have been was empty. Andy had tied up at the front of that space, leaving the rear part of it, with it’s hoist, for Dar.
The hoist was mostly used for the fast boats and outboards the marina staff used to get around the outside of the island waters, to do light maintenance, and if someone needed to make a fast run across the channel without using the ferries.
As Dar eased in, she saw the dockmaster, Jack, and two of the marina staff come out of the hut near the end of the dock area, wiping their hands with some paper towels. The dockmaster lifted his hand and waved casually at her, indicating the cleats on the pier nearby.
Jack walked over to the side of Andy’s boat as he stepped off, and they started to speak with each other. The other staff waited on the pier for Dar to come alongside.
“Can we help with anything?” Jake asked, coming over to stand next to the controls.
“There’s rope on the front deck there.” Dar indicated with a tilt of her jaw. “If you want, go grab it and toss it to the guy on shore.”
Jake retreated down the ladder, with Allen right behind him and then he climbed up onto the side walkway and made his way along the cabin to the front of the boat.
Dar positioned the Dixie up against the pier and waited for the lines to be secured, and then she shut the engines down, climbing down the ladder and arriving at the deck as the door to the cabin opened and the rest of her passengers appeared. “Okay. Lets see what we can do with this thing.”
“We’re here?” Angela asked.
“More or less.” Dar replied, stepping up onto the gunwale. “We stopped here to get the servers hoisted off.” She crossed to the dock as Jack and Andy came over to her. “Think we can do it?” She asked, as Jake and Allen climbed up after her.
“Hi, Ms Roberts.” Jack said. “Whatcha got there?” He regarded the large, long case on the back deck. “Looks like a coffin.”
“Big box of IT gear.” Dar said. “We have to get it over to the cottages. We rented the big one near the club.”
“Oh yeah.” Jack said. “I heard all about that. Got in ahead of some other folks and they were roaring.” He glanced past her. “Get the lift down to get that box up, willya Pete?” He said. “They should be done clearing the roadway so’s Mrs. R can get back in here.” He added as an aside to Dar and Andy. “S’how I knew you were heading in here.”
“Sure.” Pete unhitched the cradling gear and stepped onto the dock. “You ladies want to get inside there, or up on the pier? I don’t want you to get hit with nothing.” He was a tall, well built man with a silver gray crew cut, and tattoos up the length of one arm.
“Probably need all of us to move it. It’s heavy.” Jake said. “Took all of us to get it down to the boat and then it almost fell in the water.”
Pete nudged the case, then bent over and gave it a shove. “Oh boy.” He straightened up. “Thanks for warning me. Jose, go grab the rest of the gang inside there wouldja, if they’re done with the tree?”
“Sure.” Jose hopped ashore and jogged over towards the shack.
“Had a tree come down across the driveway.” Jack explained to Dar and Andy. “We were in the middle of chain sawing it into chunks and moving it out of the way.”
“They have a lot of customers for the rest of those villas?” Dar asked. “I didn’t figure they would, since we didn’t have much damage that I could see.” She frowned a little. “Thought they’d be glad of some income for the thing.”
Jack snorted a little. “Not folks here, folks on the mainland who want to sleep on those fancy sheets.” He said. “Friends of friends, you know what I mean?” He eyed her. “The mayor’s a buddy of someone out there, and he wanted some place for the feds to stay since he wants them to give us lots of money.”
“Jackassery.” Andy commented briefly. “Most of them folks hold their heads tween their kneecaps.”
“Pretty much.” Jack said. “Like all the rest of it. I’ve had about up to my eyebrows with it this past week.” He put his hands on his hips and exhaled, visibly frustrated. “One guy was giving me a hard time for coming over to get lunch.”
“One of them folks with their boats sunk?”
“You got it.” Jack nodded at Andy. “I told him one more hour of it soaking ain’t gonna matter.”
Dar grinned wryly. “Then we show up.” She indicated the Dixie.
“You have never been a problem.” Jack said, bluntly. “You and your family are nothing but good people, and there’s no one on staff here’ll say otherwise.” He indicated the group of men who had come trooping around the corner of the shack heading towards the dock. “Glad to help you out here.”
A moment later, Dar’s truck came pulling around on the service road and crunched to a halt near the lift, the driver side window down and Ceci’s silver blond head poking into view. Andy went over to the car and leaned against it, catching his wife up on the details.
Dar glanced around her, at the service docks that seemed mostly intact. “Doesn’t look too bad back here.”
“No.” Jack agreed. “No one wants to live on this side. Got views of the cargo ships going in and out mostly. They all want to live on the east end, and the south. South got the worst of it.”
“Hey.” Jack looked at her. “True you fixed the cams? I heard that in the mess there.” He indicated the shack. “Sam said you went in there and sorted them out.”
“That shouldn’t surprise anyone.” Angela spoke up. “Everyone knows Ms. Roberts is a genius.”
Dar frowned. “Someone tried to mess around with it.” She half shrugged. “I just rolled it back. Wasn’t that complicated.”
“That’s not what he said, but sure.” Jack grinned at her. “They’re just glad they don’t have to foot patrol in the heat and I don’t blame em. Some of those guys were working all night and they just let them come over for some chow about an hour ago..”
Dar put her hands in her pockets, cocking her head slightly to one side. “Why not just feed everyone up at the mansion? It’s not like its fancy food. It was something like hamburgers and mac and cheese.”
“No mingling.” Jack said, briefly. “You know how it is.”
“Give me a damn break.” Dar said. “We’re in the middle of a natural disaster they should grow the hell up.” She turned and stepped back onto the deck of the Dixie, climbing down onto the back deck and walking over to help Pete lift the edge of the box to slide one of the canvas lift straps under it.
Jack watched for a moment, a faint, wry smile on his face. Then he hitched his belt up and stepped onto the deck of the Dixie, pulling a pair of worn leather gloves out of his back pocket and fitting them onto his hands. “Move over guys.”
“Hold on there.” Andy ambled over to join them. “Cec, back that there truck up around ovah theah.” He got down into the deck and wiped his hands on his cargo shorts. “Least ah didn’t hear no parts moving round.”
“Let the cradle down!” Pete called up to the dock. “Need more slack.”
‘Want me to drive that back around, Mrs. R?” Jake asked Ceci. “My dad’s got a truck like this one.” He added. “it’s a pig to turn around.”
“Sure kid, have at it.” Ceci willingly opened the door to the vehicle and hopped out. “Angela, lets go see if we can find a drink in there these guys are gonna need it.” She led the way over to the nearby shack. “How’d you do?”
“It’s a mess.” Angela said. “Glad I’m here.” She said. “Specially over here, though they had a nice little setup at the office and with Carlos around I wasn’t worried about being over there.”
“I just bet.” Ceci chuckled. “And who’s this?” She asked, as Celeste joined them.
“Hello, Mrs Roberts.” Celeste said. “You don’t remember me. I work security at the ILS building. I remember when they brought that cake in you did for Kerry. I’m Celeste Cruz.”
“Well.” Ceci regarded her. “Welcome back then! C’mon.” She led the way forward. “The more the merrier.”
Kerry was already at the door before the captain caught up with her and she slowed reluctantly as he called out her name. “Oh, hey.” She took a step back from pushing the outer door open and turned. “Something wrong?” She asked. “I didn’t leave anything back there I don’t think.”
“Oh no! Nothing’s wrong. Just wanted to see if there was anything we could do for you.” Captain Dodge said. “My name’s Jerry, by the way.” He held out a hand. “Don’t think we proper met back there.”
Kerry returned the grip. “I’m’ just going out there to use the phone.” She held up the device. “Get hold of my friends and have them come pick me up.”
“Where’s home? Where you trying to get to?” He pushed the door open and they went outside into the hazy sun and nearly breathtaking humidity. “Whoa.” He took off his glasses and rubbed them with his shirt. “Fogged that right up.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy hot.” Kerry picked up the sound, faintly, of angry voices some distance off. “Anyway, our office is over in Coconut Grove.” She told him. “That’s where we’re all gathered.” She explained. “I live out on Fisher Island, though. Near the Coast Guard station.”
The name meant nothing to him, and he just nodded. “So you all went to that big shelter, right? The basketball stadium? Why don’t you let me get you a ride back down there. Meet your friends.” He said. “East, we got plenty of patrols.”
“If someone’s going that way, I’d love a ride.” Kerry said. “Figure out what to do next to find our people out there in Sweetwater.” She stuck her hands in her pockets. “Go find someone with a jet ski maybe.”
“I got ya.” He smiled at her. “You hang on here a minute and make your phone call. I’ll see what we can cook up.” He said. “Did they do a lookup for ya inside?”
Kerry nodded. “No record of them, but their house is definitely in the flood zone.” She admitted. “I hope they just went to a shelter.”
“Sit tight.” The captain went back inside the building, releasing a puff of cold, dry air into the heat that almost drew her back after him.
She sighed, though, and went over to stand under the overhang, one edge of it ripped and damaged but providing a bit of shade as she got out the sat phone and tried Mark again.
No answer. She folded the phone and crossed her arms, gazing across the mud and water covered yard as she breathed in the moist, warm air. She could feel the sweat gathering under her shirt and she was aware of being a little hungry and more than a little frustrated.
She suspected the captain would get her a ride. Which was great, but it didn’t help her find Mark or Zoe, and she wondered if they were back where she’d last seen them, hunting for her. Should she ask the nice Jerry if he’d arrange to have her taken back there?
No. Kerry reluctantly sighed. The guard was here to help people, not escort her around South Florida searching for a guy on a motorcycle. “We should have stuck together.” She admitted aloud. “We’re so damn used to cellphones working.”
The loud voices grew louder, and she saw figures behind two parked trucks. Since nothing was coming to mind, she walked in the direction of the sound and came up next to one of the trucks seeing three men behind it facing off against one other.
Definitely a situation to avoid and so naturally Kerry stayed where she was and listened.
The three were soldiers, in muddy fatigues with sweatstains across their backs and down each side. The single man facing them was in jeans and a tshirt, with a thatch of thick black hair and a lean rangy body.
“Look, I just want to talk to someone.” The black haired man was saying. “Don’t be such douchebags.”
Kerry turned and leaned casually against the truck, wincing a little as the heat of the metal hood penetrated the light material of her shirt. She remained there though, crossing her ankles as she punched in another number into the phone and held it up to her ear.
“We told you, get the hell out of here buddy.” One of the soldiers said. “We don’t want your kind mooching around.”
“My kind?” The man repeated. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Who the hell do you think you are, you plastic ass GI Joe.”
The phone rang through to the message service. “Mark, give me a call.” Kerry said quietly into the phone. “I’m not where you left me.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Get your hands up, jackass. Let’s see who’s plastic. I’ll put this plastic right up your ass.”
Kerry folded up the phone and pushed off the side of the truck, turning and coming around the other end and stopping short as she came upon the group of them. “Oh!” She called out loudly. “What on earth’s going on here!”
One of the soldiers had his fist wrapped in the dark haired man’s shirt, and his other fist drawn back, a second soldier had his sidearm drawn, and the third had just been moving to grab the black haired man’s arm.
They all froze at her exclamation and the man closest to her spun around, throwing his hands up in surprise as the rest just turned their heads.
“Sorry!” Kerry give them all a smile. “Didn’t mean to interrupt anything...” She put the sat phone in her back pocket. “You all okay?”
The soldiers were young. The dark haired man was too, maybe early twenties. One of the soldiers still had peach fuzz. Kerry felt slightly ancient as she strolled forward towards them, putting her hands into her front pockets in a casual move.
“Oh. Uh.” The closest soldier to her let his hands drop. “Sorry, ma’am. Are you.. “ He looked around, clearly surprised to find her there. “Um..”
The other soldier somewhat furtively put his gun away, and the third released the dark haired man, giving him a shove backwards. “We’re just taking care of a trespasser ma’am. We’re fine here, thanks.” The soldier said, gruffly. “No problem.”
“Get out of here.” The second soldier told the dark haired man. “Clear out, and stay off the base.” He took a step towards the man again.
“Hold on.” Kerry said. “He’s not doing anything.” She said. “Why not go back inside and get some of the fresh coffee they just finished up making in there?” She suggested. “It’s hot.” She added, with a gentle grin. “I was just in there. They’ve got sandwiches too.”
They were all taller than she was. They were full of bravado, and young aggression and at least in the case of the soldiers were hot and irritated and probably in no mood to deal with some strange chick who obviously wasn’t part of the guard.
But Kerry drew in a breath and studied all of them with a direct stare, her eyebrow lifting, a veneer of confident command exuding from her she’d learned mostly from watching Dar.
Who hadn’t had to learn it from anyone, since it came as naturally to her as breathing and Kerry knew well there’d have been a lot less hesitation if it had been her partner here with her supremely macha attitude.
For a minute, it was a true tossup. She could see the twitch, almost smell the testosterone flare. “Go on.” She told them with quiet confidence. “We’ve got enough to deal with, don’t we?”
“Can’t do anything out here anyway.” The man nearest her said, with a faint shrug. “Lets get a drink and get out of this damn sun.”
They left, not without giving the black haired man, and Kerry, stares before they trooped off and around the truck, one of them hitching up his fatigue pants with a jerk.
Kerry watched them go, then she turned back towards the dark haired man. “Hi.”
He was staring frankly at her. “What the hell are you? Some sergeant major or something?” He was a little scruffy, and he had a few small scars on his hands, a deeply tanned skin and an angular face with a pointed chin. His eyes were a surprising hazel.
“Random nerd.” Kerry told him solemnly. “Did you need something from these guys or were you just messing with them?”
He was only an inch or two taller than she was, but he had a wiry toughness evident under the soft cotton of his shirt. “I came here to see if these jerks wanted to rent my ride.” He said. “Didn’t even get far enough to talk about it.”
Kerry looked past him. “What kind of ride? You got a swamp buggy or something?”
“You don’t think I brought it close enough for them to just grab, do you?” The man snorted. “Got it around the corner.” He paused. “It’s an airboat. “ He added. “Not that I expect you to know what that is.”
“Ah, you never know.” Kerry smiled at him. “Matter of fact, it’s music to my ears.” She said. “They might not be interested but I certainly am.”
“You are.” He eyed her doubtfully. “What the hell does a sergeant major want with something like that? I just came here because I saw some of those dodos walking through the water half a mile over cause no one thought to bring any boats with them.”
“Friends of mine are missing south of here. I want to go find them.” Kerry said. “I was going to see if I could get out to Tamiami and find someone who had an airboat and what do you know? Here you are.”
He tilted his head a little to the left. “Why not have the GI Joes find em?”
“They don’t have boats.” Kerry smiled briefly. She felt the sun beating down and it was giving her a headache. “Yes or no? You for hire?” She asked. “What’s your price?”
He looked around and then back at her. “Thousand bucks.” He sent the words at her like a slingshot, with an arrogant little jerk of his chin.
“I don’t take credit cards.”
Kerry smiled again, as charmingly as she was capable of. “I’ve got cash.” She said. “Let’s go.” She pointed back the way he’d come, towards the gates. “Before some captain comes back and makes me go in a Humvee.” She added. “What’s your name?”
“Joe. What’s yours?” He countered, caught between outrage and pleasure.
“Kerry.” She herded him towards the gate.
“Sergeant major Kerry.” He turned and headed down the street with her at his heels. “Weird ass day just got a little weirder.”
Dar regarded the long, somewhat now battered case seated in the back of her truck. One side had a dent in it, from where the box had fallen into the back of the Dixie, and she pondered if she should open up the case and inspect it, before they spent more energy on getting it to the other side of the island.
Then she shrugged. “We’re this far.” She turned and leaned her back against the sun warmed truck side, feeling the heat penetrate the sweat soaked shirt she had on.
The team was seated at a picnic bench nearby, having some actually iced tea. They were chatting with the dockmaster team, and now that the sun was angling to the west, an onshore breeze had come up and it felt good against her skin.
Andy came over to her. “What’cha think?” He jerked his head in the direction of the box.
“I think they’re probably dead as a doornail.” Dar acknowledged. “That stuff isn’t meant to be dropped off the side of a building and do anything useful afterward.”
“Wall.” Andy’s expression was philosophical.
“Is what it is.” Dar said. “What a pain in the ass.”
Her father chuckled a little. “Yeap.” He said. “This whole thing is.”
It was. Dar paused, then glanced sideways at him. “You think we should move out somewhere else?” She asked. “Midwest or something?”
Andy shrugged. “Got tornados there.” He said. “Fires out by the west. Floods in some places. Always something.” He concluded. “Least you see these here things coming.”
“True.” Dar said. “Next time we’ll have a better plan. We didn’t think about any of this after we started up.”
He patted her on the back. “S’all right Dardar. All happened so quick.” He said. “That there ten watt bulb you got for a landlord didn’t think of nothing and he’s had the building for years.” He paused reflectively. “Y’never do think these things’ll come right at you.”
No, it was true. They all came into the area, and you expected them to turn north, or turn south or get ripped apart by having to come up over Cuba, whose mountainous terrain served as an effective though somewhat unintentional barrier.
Even when they came closer, even when the cones started including your area, because they were so fickle, and so erratic, no one every really though they’d be ground zero.
And yet, here they were. Dar sighed, and straightened up. “Well, might as well know the worst.” She waved at the seated team. “Lets get this over to the cottage.”
Jack had just finished a sandwich, and he wiped his hands off and stood up. “We’ll give everyone who wont fit in that truck a ride over on the cart.” He offered. “That metal must be burning hot by now, No one wants to sit back in the back there.”
“Thanks.” Dar opened the driver’s side door then paused, cocking one eyebrow at Ceci.
“Don’t give me a look, kiddo.” Her mother said. “You certainly did not get those long legs from me.” She shook a finger at Dar. “Not my fault.”
Dar adjusted the seat all the way back and got in. “Uh huh.”
Andy got in next to her, and Ceci climbed into the back seat, along with Angela. The rest of the group got into the golf cart and a moment later, the odd little parade was bumping across the debris strewn pathway towards the newly re-opened tarmac road.
There were landscaping teams out, dressed in long sleeved, bright green shirts rendered almost black with sweat, with wide brimmed hats. They were moving branches and debris to the side of the road, dragging newly cut pieces of stump along as well.
It looked like brutal, exhausting work and Dar was glad enough to be in the air conditioned truck, navigating carefully around them as she made her way onto the main road and headed towards the club. “Jack said they were kicking up about us renting the cottage?”
“Your mama had some words with them. “ Andrew said, solemnly.
“Jerks.” Ceci confirmed. “But glad we asked for it yesterday. Wouldn’t have had a chance today. They got the rest of them parceled out to all their buddies.”
“Hmph.” Dar made a low noise in her throat.
“You know what you sound like when you do that?” Ceci said. “Kermit the frog.”
“I do not.”
Dar focused her attention on the road, which curved around the end of the island heading back along the route that would take them past their house. They were just coming past the ferry dock when her sat phone rang.
Without looking, she fished the phone out and answered it. “Dar.”
“Hey, it’s Mark.”
Dar nodded in reaction “Hey, what’s up.”
“What’s up is we got no idea where Kerry is. She’s not where we left her.” Mark said. “The guard was here, and trucks and everything with a tent and now they’re all gone!”
‘I know.” Dar said. “She was trying to call you. She went with themto the big Southcom facility in Doral, off 41st.” She steered around two golf carts that were moving in the opposite direction, shiny models with addresses on them that marked them as residents, not workers. “She said she was going to try and keep calling you.”
“Oh! Great.” Mark said. “Thanks – I know where that is.” He sounded relieved. “I”ll go find her.”
“Any luck with Maria’s family?”
“Nothing. They haven’t seen them. Zoe and I checked three shelters, then I left her back at the one her family’s at. She’s going to try and get a ride over to the office to be with everyone else.” Mark said. “Those shelters are a mess. Just loud and screaming kids and ugh.”
“Well.” Dar pulled into the turnoff that would take them over to the area where there were cottages and villas to rent. “Better than a house with no roof.”
“True that.” Mark agreed. “I’ll call ya when we hook up. I don’t know why these phones are being so damn flaky.”
They arrived in front of the cottages and as they did, they saw in the putting green to one side of the rentals a helicopter landing. It was sleek, and dark green and anonymous, and two men in guyaberas got out, ducking under the rotating blades and shielding their face from the downdraft.
“That would be handy.” Dar regarded the helicopter. “Faster than the Dixie.”
Andy studied the craft. “I could maybe fly that.” He announced. “I done a course on it.” He added. “While back though.”
“Can’t have changed much.” Dar observed.
“No.” Ceci told them. “Stop it. Both of you.”
They got out of the truck as the golf cart pulled up alongside, and a moment later, as they were walking across the emptied central patio the islands hospitality manager spotted them and hurried over. “Ah! Ms Roberts. Good you are here.”
They all halted in the middle of the patio. In the center was a fountain, now empty, and around it stone benches that looked relatively untouched. One was tipped over, but the rest were firmly in place, with only a stain of brownish debris to show where water had washed over the area.
There were cottages and villas on all sides of the central area, two of them larger with steps leading up to them and patios, and some smaller units that were original to the place, then side paths to another area behind them that held a circle of newer villas that had more recently been built.
“Hi, Clemente.” Dar greeted the man. “We’ve got the..”
“Yes, yes I know.” Clemente said. “Of course we know, and we have moved the furniture in the living room aside for you to bring in your things to work.” He indicated the steps up to the biggest of the cottages. “May I show you?”
They trooped up the patio steps and the manager pushed open the wood front door, which stuck a little. “It has swollen up.” Clemente apologized. “From the water.”
Inside was a large, square room, with an elegant wooden table in the center. A couch had been moved to against the wall, and two lamp tables had as well, leaving as much as the stone coral floor open as was practical. “It is okay?”
Dar nodded. “Good as it’s going to get.” She said. “We can put the rack in the corner there.” She pointed to the far side of the room where there was an empty space. “It’s fine, Clemente. We’ll get set up best we can.” She turned. “I’ve got four folks who’ll be staying here too.”
“Si.” Clemente nodded. “Come, I will show you the bedrooms.” He indicated a back hallway. “And now that you are here, I will tell the electricians.” He hustled over towards the back of the cottage, and the two programmers and Angela and Celeste followed him.
Dar walked over and looked into the small kitchen. “This’ll do.”
It was refreshingly cold inside. They had taken out all the carpets, though Dar wasn’t sure if it was because of their presence, or to remove water from them. The cottage had two bathrooms and the kitchen, and three bedrooms along with the large living space.
“We can have two more people here.” Angela came back out. “Are you taking another trip back there Ms R?” She asked Dar. “Maybe more folks are there now.”
Dar nodded. “Gotta go pick up Kerry.” She agreed. “I’ll see who else is around, but lets get that box in here first.” She said. “This going to be okay for you all?”
Jake just laughed.
“This is pretty nice.” Celeste spoke up. “And oh my gosh that air conditioning feels so good.” She sighed happily. “We can bring in those supplies from the boat, if we can borrow one of those carts.”
“You can take my truck.” Dar said. “Lets get things going.”
She went outside with the rest of them and they gathered around the back of the truck, unlatching the tailgate of the truck and letting it down. “Now.”
The case was lying on it’s side, it’s weight more than enough to keep it in place.
Allen took a mover’s dolly the marine group had loaned them and put it on the ground. “This is gonna be tough.” He said. “If we miss that thing it’s gonna hurt.”
“How are we going to get it up those steps?” Angela asked. “Maybe we should get some help? That thing’s a ton weight.” She said. “Wish we’d brought old Carlos with us!”
“Let me go get some fellers.” Andy said. “Stay put.” He walked off towards the path between the cottages, and the rest of them looked over at Dar in question.
“Lets see if we can find some boards.” Dar said. “We’ll make a ramp.” She pointed towards the road, where the landscapers were still dragging debris around. “See what we can find. “
Kerry sloshed along as they walked west from the military base of operations, towards the Everglades. Joe was splashing ahead of her, reaching out to grab and break the idle twig as they went deeper into the flooded area here at the industrial end of the street.
“How did you make out in the storm?” Kerry asked, catching up to him. “Your house, I mean.”
“Don’t live in a house.” He said. “I live outside.” He glanced at her, a crooked smile appearing. “I know where there’s some limestone caves, you know? Little ones. I just ducked into one of em.”
Kerry was impressed. “Wow.” She said. “That’s gutsy.”
He shrugged. “S’what the problem is with everyone in these parts. It’s all of it swamp. All of it floodplain, you know?” He said. “You build against it, she comes.” He indicated the sky vaguely. “Stupid.” He led her around a stretch of trees. “Here we go.”
Tucked into a gap between a thick patch of sawgrass was an ungainly creation, two rickety seats on top of a flat bottomed, broad beamed platform, and behind the seats was a eight foot high screen of rusted metal poles that formed a protective grid.
Behind the grid there was a large vertical propeller, and attached to that was a gas engine. Under the seats was a weathered wood box and the floor of the platform had a hand hammered look as though the metal of it had been repurposed.
It was stupendously weird looking. Kerry, however, thought it looked great. “Nice.”
“Built it myself.” Joe told her, with a proud expression. “I hunt with it. Bring back skins and game.” He walked up onto the boat and went to the back of it, yanking a pole with a long spike on the end of it out of the ground. “C’mon up.”
Kerry climbed up onto the boat, glad to have her boots out of the murky, mucky, pungent mud. The boat shifted under her and she put her hand on the back on one of the chairs to hold herself steady as Joe knelt beside the engine and started it up.
It rumbled to life. Joe listened to it for a minute, then he reached over and engaged a clutch and the propeller started turning. He quickly got up and sat in the left hand seat, taking hold of the rudders as the boat started to move. “Siddown.”
Kerry did, without complaint. The breeze picked up as they headed west, the propeller driving the boat through the flooded grass and out over where the water covered the road. The sound of the engine prevented easy conversation, so she spent some time looking around as they turned along a deeply flooded road and went south.
“Twenty seven.” Joe said, raising his voice. “Underwater all the way to Tamiami.”
There weren’t any people out here. The depth of the floodwaters was, Kerry reasoned about five feet or so, but as she looked between the trees she could see houses buried up to their first floors and cars completely covered. Overhead, she spotted some birds circling.
“Buzzards.” Joe noted her glance. “Lotta dead stuff around.” He said. “Cows. Some horses.” He paused. “People.”
“Yeah.” Kerry said, briefly. On the wind they were heading into she could smell a hint of decay, the distinctive scent of death mixed with the smell of water and foliage. It made her tense up inside, and as it did, the thought that being out here with a very random and unknown man was probably not the smartest thing she’d ever done.
She felt she had a good instinct for people. She knew, in fact, that she had a finer talent for judging intent than Dar did, and Dar had told her that on more than one occasion. She was the one who made the business deals, evaluating customers and deciding if they were the kind of customer who would end up being a good investment and long term partner.
So was it smart to be riding on a rickety airboat along the edge of the Everglades with someone she didn’t know? Kerry’s lips twitched. Dar would have. It was a good cause. She wanted to find Maria and Mayte, and make sure they were safe. The mission was one she knew her partner would have accepted.
It probably wasn’t smart, but then again, it didn’t really matter now did it? Because after all, here she was.
Here she was, driven by that innate risk taking part of her that raised its head sometimes utterly unexpectedly, surprising her colleagues, their customers, and occasionally herself.
She settled back into the rusty seat and kicked a bit of the mud off the bottom of her boots, letting her hands rest on her knees. The sun glinted off her wedding band and she rubbed her thumb against the bottom of it, finding obscure comfort in the warmth and the solid feel of the metal.
To the right, there was a line of trees and behind that she could see swamped grass for as far as she could focus. Every so often they would go past a flooded house, and on the left, a continuous flash of them as they came even with blocks interspersed with wooded areas.
It seemed desolate. Joe fished under his seat into the box and pulled out a headset that he crammed onto his head then pulled out a second for her and handed it over. “Put that on.”
Kerry took it and glanced at it, then pulled it on over her ears. The headset, ear muffs actually, blocked out the sound of the engine though they were a little loose and not that comfortable. “Thanks.” She said, after a moment. “That was making my ears itch inside.”
“Loud.” Joe agreed. “Gonna turn up there, see what we can find out for ya.” He pointed ahead of them, to where a huge stand of trees had collapsed, and were lying across the road bed they were traveling over. “S’close to where you said.”
Kerry straightened up in her chair and braced her boots on the floor of the airboat, taking in a breath and then releasing it.
If they found them, if they were okay, it would make for good end to the day.
Dar wiped the sweat out of her eyes and paused to catch her breath. They had the case on its end, on the dolly and part of the way to the cottage entrance.
Jack had his guys bring over two pieces of three by twelve long enough to get up the steps and they were propped against them now, waiting for their arrival.
“Holy crap” Allan was leaning against the case. “This is crazy hard.”
“Almost there.” Dar said. “But something just occurred to me.” She left her spot and went up the makeshift ramp to the door, standing against it and measuring its height against hers.
“Oh crap.” Jake muttered. “Don’t tell me it’s too big.”
Dar came back over to the case and stood next to it. “I think it’ll just fit.” She said. “Otherwise we’ll have to take it around the back and around the jacuzzi through the patio.”
“Everything’s a bitch.” Allan said, mournfully.
“Sometimes.” Dar put her shoulder against the case. “C’mon.” She and the two programmers started pushing the case towards the steps.
It was difficult. The ground was uneven, and covered in gravel. But it was at least even and they made good progress until they had the dolly lined up against the planks. Dar then took a step back and regarded the case.
“That’s gonna fall on top of us if we try pushing it up there.” Jake said. “I bet you.”
Dar exhaled. “We’ll put a rope on the top of it, and someone’ll pull while the rest of us push.” She decided. “I’ve got some rope back in the boat. One of you take the cart back and go grab it. It’s in the box in the back.”
“No problem.” Allen trotted off.
Dar went over to one of the stone benches in the center of the square and sat down on it, the white stone warm but not unpleasantly so. She let her boot slide forward as Jake came over and sat down next to her.
The square was quiet, at least for now.
The two men from the helicopter had been visible going in and out of the cottage across from theirs, and Clemente’s crew was just coming out of the front door of it, their arms full of cleaning supplies.
As Dar watched them, one of the islands peacocks appeared, looking warily around. “Ah.” She said. “Wondered what happened to them. I hadn’t heard them screaming the past couple of days.”
Jake looked at the cleaning ladies, then at her, with a strange expression on his face. “Um… what?”
“What what?” Dar asked, then she pointed at the bird. “That. Island has a dozen of them.”
“Oh! What are they?” The young programmer studied the bird. “Big ass freaking thing.”
“It’s a peacock.”
“Yeah?” He looked at the bird with interest. It was stepping around the patio, randomly pecking at the ground. “Boy peacock or girl peacock?”
“Peacocks are boys.” Dar said, dryly.
Jake looked at her, one of his eyebrows hiking up. “That’s right out there.”
“I didn’t name them. The girls are called peahens.”
They watched the peacock, apparently satisfied by the now empty courtyard, spread it’s feathers out into an array, strutting around in a circle. It paused for a moment, then let out one of it’s high pitched cries.
“That’s annoying.” Jake said. “You put up with that?”
“Not around our place. We have dogs.” Dar said, with a smile. “But yeah the first time I heard one of them let off I thought someone was screaming for help. Wondered what the hell kind of place I’d gotten into.”
“This is pretty ritzy.” Jake looked around. “I mean, you can see it’s money here, you know?”
“It is.” Dar admitted.
Jake was silent for a moment. “I didn’t figure this was your style.” He said. “I mean I knew you lived here but I didn’t think…” He paused. “You’re not really the Gucci type.”
“I’m not.” Dar smiled briefly. “I inherited the place here from an aunt. It’s not really… anyway that’s why Ker and I are looking for another place near the office.”
She glanced past the case, to where the two men from the helicopter had reappeared, and were covertly watching them. “They don’t much like me here.” Her lips twitched. “Though I’m not really sure what they hate more, my redneck background, the fact that I’m gay, or my dogs.”
Jake regarded her with a bemused expression in silence for a long moment. “Fuck them?” He finally opined. “Like why the hell should they care? I remember when I started working for you when Kerry told me about you guys I was kinda weirded, but after a week it was like – a nothingburger.”
Dar chuckled. “A lot of the people we started the company with already knew.” She said, putting her hands behind her head and crossing her ankles. “Some of the other owners here are just jerks.” She added. “Just like anywhere else.”
“Like everywhere. I have people call me a geek all the time.” Jake said. “Cause I like computers and comic books and gaming. They don’t know me.” He studied one of his sneakers. “Making fun of me, because I don’t’ like to play football.”
“I don’t like to play football either.” Dar said, in a reasonable tone.
“You’re a girl, you don’t have to.” Jake told her. “If you’re a boy, and you don’t like to play football, everyone thinks you’re gay.”
Dar folded her arms thoughtfully. “Well, if you’re a girl and you do like to play football, they think you’re gay.” She said. “I’m not really sure what that says about football.” She concluded. “But anyway I never liked it. I’m not really a team player.”
Jake started laughing unexpectedly. “I never liked it because I’d rather be in the air conditioning with a keyboard. He admitted. “I only liked to do skateboarding outside.” He kicked his heels against the gravel. “But it’s cool. I’ve got a bunch of friends who like the stuff I do now.”
Dar glanced at him. “You found your tribe.” She said. “I get it.” She indicated the surroundings with one hand in an idle circle. “I don’t care about this place or the morons who live here. I’m giving this place to my folks so if they had an issue with me just wait.”
Jake started laughing again.
“Juuuust wait.” Dar repeated, with a wry grin. “My mother’s already got plans to invite her coven over to have some midnight thing in the middle of the golf course.”
Jake held his hands over his stomach and laughed without restraint.
“Only thing good about the place is it’s built like a brick shithouse. We didn’t even lose a shingle.” She lifted her hand and exchanged a wave with one of the young maids who worked for Clemente. “Hey Juanita”
“Hola Ms Roberts.” The young woman said. “Who is your friend?” She gave the shirtless and now somewhat sunburned Jake a smile. “Buenas Dias, senor.”
“Hi.” Jake returned the greeting with a somewhat embarrassed grin. “I’m Jake.”
“He’s going to be staying in the big cottage. He works for me.” Dar told her. “Trying to get some work done, since our office on the mainland has no power.”
“Si, of course.” Juanita said. “We will take very good care of them, Ms. Roberts. What can I put in the kitchen?” She inquired. “Coffee, yes?”
“Coke, Doritoes, and Snickers bars to start.” Dar informed her. “Try to stock it with some pop tarts too.”
“Pop tarts!” Jake sat up. “Now I want one!”
The golf cart from Dar’s unit came bouncing back into the courtyard, fully loaded. Allan got out, along with Andy, Jack the dockmaster, two of his men, and Chino. Andy had a coiled hank of rope on his shoulder. Chino came trotting over to Dar and jumped up into her lap, tail wagging enthusiastically.
“Oof. Chino.” Dar got her arms around the large animal and gave her a hug. “I missed you too. Now get down.” She told the dog, who obediently hopped off.” “Did you leave Mocha behind?” She asked, as Chino wriggled between her knees and cocked her ears in response.
“He’s busy guarding the back yard.” Andy told her. “Them folks are doing some cleanup back there.”
“Hi Chino.” Jake greeted the Lab. “Did you get scared in the storm?”
“Not really.” Dar gave the dog’s tail a tug. “They didn’t like all the noise but they did all right.”
“Okay here we go.” Jack and the two other dock workers were surrounding the case. Dar got up to join them, as Jake took the rope from Andy and climbed up the steps to reach out and tie it onto the top handle. “Almost there, guys, almost there.”
They slowed as they reached the thick pile of trees and Joe maneuvered the airboat around the end of them, going through a thick patch of half submerged logs as the bottom of the vessel scraped over debris. The throttled down engine muted to a low rumble in response, as they went forward cautiously.
Kerry missed the breeze of the travel, the heat of the sun and the moisture of the humid air gathering around her like she’d walked into a spa. But she put that aside and stood, keeping hold of the back of the seat as she watched the horizon.
They moved from a patch of trees and onto a street, where houses were half buried in water.
It was quiet. The sound of their engine was the only noise. She could not hear anyone nearby, no shouts or yells, or babies crying. No sound of generators.
They passed by a car that was almost fully submerged, and as they did, both she and Joe spotted at the same time that someone was inside it.
Kerry drew in a breath. “Oh.. did you see…”
“I saw it.” Joe steered the airboat in closer, and slowed, then he turned and focused forward again. “Nothing to help there.” He said. “Got a lot of that I figure.”
The figure inside the car was upside down. There were fingers sticking out of the gapped window, and they were dark purple, and stiff. Kerry felt a chill ripple across her body and she slowly let her breath trickle out. There were flies buzzing around the hand.
“Don’t know what they were thinking, sitting there.”
“Storm surge came in too fast, maybe.” Kerry watched over her shoulder as they moved past. “Should we tell someone?”
Joe looked at her. “Who?” He asked, with a faint shrug. “Family’s either not there or gone.” He focused his attention on the path ahead. “Cops can’t do nothing. Plenty of time later for cleaning all that up.”
“I guess you have a point there.” Kerry took our her cell phone though, and opened her note program, taking down the address of where they’d seen the car with it’s gruesome contents. “Anyway.”
She slid the phone back into her back pocket, firmly directing her thoughts away from the possibility that she might find the same when they got to Mayte and Maria’s house. “This is pretty horrible.” She commented, as they went past an entire block that seemed deserted.
“It’s bad.” Joe agreed. “They knew it would be. My brother said that’s why they didn’t say to leave until last minute. No place for all them people to go.”
Was that true? “I thought it was because they weren’t sure where the storm was going.”
Joe gave her what could only be described as a look of pity. “Come on, lady.”
“Or they were betting it was going to turn.” Kerry finished, but with a doubtful tone in her voice.
“You don’t know much about the government.” Her driver stated, slowing the boat down a bit, shading his eyes with one hand as he peered ahead. “They stink.”
Kerry took a breath, then just smiled grimly. “Sometimes.” She agreed, moving up closer to him and peering ahead. “What do you see?”
“Hear it.” He abruptly cut off the engine and let them drift, the sound of water lapping everywhere and crickets surrounding them. Then she could hear it too, the far off rumbling of an engine of some kind, and the sharp retort of a hammer striking. “No idea what’s that about.” He said.
“Well, whoever’s making all that noise isn’t dead at least.” Kerry replied. “Lets go find out.”
He started up the engine again and then they lurched forward as the fan spun into gear, pushing them forward into the humid air as the sun slanted in from behind them casting their shadows forward across the flooded road.
A duck fluttered out of their way, a big white and black Muscovy with a red nose patch who honked at them in outrage as it settled back into the water.
As they moved closer to the sound there were houses now that showed some signs of life, and several had people sitting on top of the roof. One man had spread out a tarp over the roof and was tapping nails into it to hold it down, and there was a woman next to him, hugging herself.
There was a cat swimming across a yard. It did not look happy. It swam past a car that had a man standing on top of it, looking around with an air of exasperation. “Hey!” He called out and waved at them.
“Later!” Joe held a hand up.
Kerry felt sorry for the man, who stood looking after them with his hands planted onto his hips. But she wanted to find out how her friends were doing, so she remained silent as they came to a T in the road and Joe paused. “Which way?”
Kerry looked right and then left. The street signs were no where to be seen. She’d only been to Maria’s twice, and both times Dar had driven and on both occasions they’d come from the east, not from the west like they were now.
“To the right there.” She said, after a long pause. “Right, and then left.” She added, following some instinct tugging her in that way.
Joe nodded, and steered the boat in that direction, glancing behind him and then back forward as he navigated the turn and as they cleared it they could see a large group of people standing in the floodwaters half a block away around an RV turned on it’s side.
Two men were pushing a door, floating on the surface of the water, and on the door there was a huddled figure, writhing in what seemed to be pain.
“Whoa.” Joe slowed their forward motion.
The people in the group closest to where they were had turned, and started gesturing to them, waving, beckoning them closer with definite urgency.
“That don’t look good.” Joe stated.
Kerry was occupied, her eyes scanning the crowd intently. “My friend’s house is just past there.” She said. “Two houses down on the left.” She added. “Lets see what’s going on here.”
“No choice. They’re gonna stop us.” Joe turned off the big fan engine and let them drift forward. “Hey!” He called out. “Watch out, stand back yo!”
The man nearest him yelled back in Spanish.
“You speak that?” Joe asked Kerry. “Your friends live here, figure you do.”
“I don’t.” Kerry admitted. “And I..” She straightened up. “Okay, over there.” She pointed, spotting Mayte’s slim form climbing up onto the roof of a car parked in a nearby flooded front yard. “Mayte!” She lifted her voice in a clear bellow. “Mayte!”
Mayte saw her and a moment later recognized her and let out a scream of acknowledgement. She scrambled off the roof of the car and plunged into the water, and started wading towards them.
Now five or six people were heading in their direction, all raising their voices, all urgent, all in Spanish, the men pushing the door guiding it towards them, another woman pointing at the figure on it emphatically.
Kerry glanced sideways at Joe. “How many people can you take on this thing?”
He was somewhat nervously toggling the engine start trigger, a worn and dirt smudged push button on the end of an actual piece of a tree stick lashed to the side of the seat. “Three more, maybe.” He said. “Six including you and me tops.”
“Can you get to her?” Kerry indicated Mayte.
Joe looked at her, at first in a little surprise, then with a faint, crooked grin. “Sure.” He started the engine with an expression of relief, and started forward moving into the crowd of people who reeled to get out of his way. “Move out!” He yelled. “Move it!”
No one took him seriously at first, one of them reaching out to grab the edge of the airboat but Joe gunned the engine and shoved the man backwards and he fell into the water, turning and scrambling away from them with a shout of incoherent outrage.
The woman pointed at the figure on the door and yelled.
Kerry went to the front of the boat and braced her boots on the edge around the roughly square deck, reaching out with one hand as Mayte got to them and offering her a hand up. “Hurry.” She said. “C’mon!”
Mayte grabbed her hand and was yanked upward out of the water with a powerful surge. “Oh Kerry!” She gasped. “Oh it is so good to see you here..” She sucked in a shuddering gasp. “They are up in the house, and my papa is so sick. Please we need help.”
“Steady. Hold on” Kerry pulled her back away from the edge and gave her a hug. “Keep going towards that second house.” She directed Joe. “Don’t let those people take hold of this thing.”
Joe gave her a one handed, somewhat mock salute. “Right you are, sergeant major.” He increased the speed. “And here I had ya pegged as a bleeding heart liberal.” He added in an approving tone. “Hang on.” He moved away from the crowd and headed east.
Kerry grabbed a one handed hold of the seat and kept her other around Mayte’s upper arm. “Now what’s going on?” She asked. “What happened?”
“Dios mio where do I start.” Mayte said, and then she looked past Kerry. “Thank you so much for coming here!” She told Joe. “They told us no one could come help us, they had a helicopter come over here this morning.” She took a breath. “And I could not use those phones!”
“I know.” Kerry told her. “What’s wrong with your dad?” She asked, as they came around a fallen ficus tree and into the front yard of the house she knew Mayte and Maria lived in. “Maria!” Kerry spotted a familiar face at the second floor window. “We’re here!”
Joe glanced behind them, and then up at the window. “This is gonna be a mess.”