Fair Winds and Following Seas
The sound of the engine made speaking difficult, and so they had all gone silent as the airboat cruised along the flooded roadway heading north.
Kerry could see on the horizon, where she thought they had come from, and so she was already thinking ahead to what she would do and what she would say once they arrived back at the staging area.
Would the group she’d been with still be there? If they weren’t, what would her strategy be? Just find the first person she could and get them to help?
Maybe do that anyway, and not waste time looking for the crew from Alabama? It should be straightforward enough, since after all she was bringing Tomas to them, not asking them to go find him. That was it. She would search out the first soldier she saw, and then, only if that didn’t pan out would she try to find the others.
She nodded a little to herself, satisfied with this internal dialog. It was a habit of hers, making up little scenarios in her head and working out how she’d deal with them, thinking about what she’d say, and how she’d say it, so when she was in the moment she had a plan.
Totally opposite of what Dar did. Kerry smiled briefly. Dar just dealt with everything in the moment, and she never or only very seldom made an attempt to prepare at all, content to allow her experience and intelligence produce whatever it did.
Which definitely could be at times surprising, because Dar would just say whatever she had on her mind and there were times when Kerry had to spend a moment with her level setting so they didn’t go at cross purposes with each other unintentionally.
So now, she cleared her throat a little, holding onto the rickety seat with one hand as the wind blew hard against her and wished the ride was over, and the help achieved, and Tomas, poor Tomas whose face was white as a sheet and was in a cold sweat was getting the attention he needed.
Kerry felt helpless, despite knowing she was literally doing all she could to get him where he needed to be, and she kept going back to thinking about if she should have tried to contact someone or do something to make it happen faster.
Could she? Tomas was just one of she was sure thousands who needed assistance. She glanced over at him, and at Maria, who was sitting on the deck holding his hand, her face reflecting utter worry and misery.
She exhaled. Well, they were almost there, so no point in thinking about it.
“Okay, hang on.” Joe called out. “We’re gonna turn east.”
Mayte, who was leaning against the cowl around the engine fan leaned forward and took hold of the kayak, her young face solemn but stolid. She looked up as Kerry knelt beside her, grabbing hold of the raft with one hand and the seat with the other.
“Go on, Joe.” Kerry said. “We’re hanging.”
The airboat tilted and Kerry leaned back, her fingers wrapped tight around the rubber tie down on the edge of the kayak as gravity pulled against them. Her knees were braced on the slightly corrugated surface of the deck and for a moment she thought she felt things starting to slide off.
“Hang on.” She told Mayte.
“Si, I have it.” Mayte took hold of the edge of the fan cowl with one hand and pulled alongside Kerry. “Thank you Kerry. You are amazing.”
They pulled the kayak back the inch or so it had slid and then the airboat had completed it’s turn and they were heading up the street towards the staging area, towards the flooded field where she had first boarded the boat with Joe.
“Get you far as I can.” Joe said, briefly. “Gonna pull up near that tree up there. Don’t want to get stuck.”
Kerry got to her feet. “I’m going to get off and go get some help.” She told him “I don’t’ want to try dragging him off the deck it’s just going to make things worse.”
“Gonna charge you for waiting then.” Joe eyed her. “Just like a taxi, you know?”
Kerry looked right back at him, their eyes almost level, as she put her hands on her hips, one eyebrow hiking up. She drew in a breath, her body flexing with it, and then just held her tongue, letting her facial expression speak for her instead.
Finally, he smiled just a little. “Just kidding sergeant major.” He relented. “Just don’t take too long cause I gotta go find me some more suckers, y’know?”
“If these guys are smart, they’ll hook up with you once I talk to them.” Kerry told him. “But believe me I am not going to waste a minute getting people over here to help him. He’s really in pain.”
Joe nodded. “That leg’s a bitch.” He throttled down the engine as they approached a tree laying sideways across the road, it’s branches extending out. “G’wan.” He reversed the clutch, and the airboat slowed abruptly cutting the breeze to nothing as the boat bumped up against one of the branches.
“Okay.” Kerry went to the front and jumped off, back into the water. “I’m going to go get some help. You guys stay here.” She sloshed through the warm, murky water and got around the edge of the boat. “Hang in there Tomas, I’ll bring back a medic.”
“Kerrisita.” Maria said. “Should you go like that?” She asked. “Let Mayte or I should…”
“Nah.” Kerry smiled easily. “It’ll help me get attention fast. Don’t’ worry about it.” She assured them, with more apparent self confidence than she actually possessed. “Be right back.” She turned and evaded the branches, getting around the fallen tree and starting up to where the road emerged from the floodwaters.
There was a long, awkward pause. Then Joe went to the box and removed a rope, going over to tie the edge of the airboat to one of the branches. He glanced over his shoulder. “So.. is she a friend of yours?”
“Kerrisita is our boss.” Maria stated, briefly.
“But she is also a good friend.” Mayte added, after a pause. “And very smart.”
“She’s your boss.” Joe repeated, once he’d done tying the knot and turning, folding his arms over his chest. “What do you all do?” He asked. “Are you like… a wilderness trek adventure tour seller or something?” He hazarded a guess. “Or real estate or.” He glanced over where Kerry had just disappeared. “Or a gym?”
“No.” Mayte said. “We do computers.”
His dark eyebrows drew sharply together and he stared at her. “Say what?”
“We do computers.” Mayte repeated. “We do programs and make things with computers and things like that.” She got up and reached into the back pocket of her jeans, removing a slim billfold. She took out a somewhat soggy card and handed it to him. “That is us.”
Joe took the card and looked at it. Then he handed it back. “Well.” He half shrugged. “Guess everyone always needs computers, huh?” He sat down on the edge of his seat and looked at them. “But I aint never had a boss like that, tell you what.”
Mark removed his head from inside the cabinet. “You can smell it.” He told the man dressed in camo behind him. “It’s burned out.”
“Well, crap.” The man said. “All we did was plug it in.”
Mark took a small flashlight out of his pocket and put his head back inside the console, turning on the light and inspecting it. “What’s the power feed for that strip?” He asked, his voice muffled. “110 or 220?”
“Yeah.” Mark emerged again. “This is set to 110. The power supply. It’s got a switch.” He pointed at the side of the device.”You gotta tell it if it’s 220.” He clicked the switch, and the display changed. “Must be old as. Most of them auto now.”
“Fuck.” The man exhaled in frustration. “Why the hell would they even…”
“Have 220 here?” Mark guessed. “Dunno, man.” He turned off the flashlight and put it back in his pocket. “You got a spare supply? I could replace it for ya.”
The man paused and thought. “Y’know, let me check. Hey listen man, thanks for helping out. I’ll be right back.” He trotted off.
Mark leaned against a nearby table and picked up the coffee cup he’d brought over, taking a sip from it, content to wait and see if they had something he could work with, happy to be inside the air conditioned building, following Dar’s instructions.
Dar could have told him to get out there and ride around everywhere looking for that damn airboat with Kerry on it, and he would have. But Dar, despite being impulsive and off the rails sometimes, had a crap ton of brain cells in her head and she mostly kept things making sense.
She could have also told him to go find something that floated. Find his own airboat, or a skidoo, or steal a paddleboard. He’d thought about it. But even a jetski wouldn’t’ be much good in all the debris, the engine would suck in all kinds of crap.
Paddleboard might be okay but effing useless except to sightsee.
Really, the airboat was the only solution, and so naturally Kerry had walked out there and found one sitting there waiting and had taken it. That part, made total sense. Why the thing had been there when she’d looked for it – that was just the Juju that surrounded them.
Total Juju. Crap happened to and around them that was like you could write a reality television show about. Mark sipped his coffee and savored the cool air, feeling even a little bit chilly as his sweat soaked shirt dried around him. So sure, there’d been an airboat when Kerry’d needed one.
Probably had Crocodile Dundee on it, and a taco stand in the back.
“Hey … oh there is he is.” The camo covered guy returned, with a short, stocky gal also in camo, with techie written all over her even without the cable hanging around her neck. “Hey… what’s your name?”
“Mark.” Mark put his cup down and amiably extended his hand to the techie gal. “Hey.”
“He said you know how to fix this?” The gal cut out all the niceties, though she did shake his hand briefly. He could feel the dry stickiness of tape residue on her fingers.
“Yeah.” Mark agreed. “Blew the power supply. You got one? I can put it in. Needs a 1200 watter.”
“Awesome.” The gal said. “C’mon with me. You said your name was Mark?” She watched him nod. “Mark what? Where did you come from? You just show up here?” She shot questions at him as they walked. “I’m Chris Ringer. Technology support.”
“Mark Polenti.” Mark said. “I come from Kendall. But yeah, I was around here looking for someone, who was around here, and might come back. My boss said to hang out and wait.” He said. “So I came in here and volunteered.”
Chris gave him a weird side eyed look then she paused and switched to a thoughtful expression. “Hey, is that your bike outside?”
“That’s a nice bike.” Chris said, as they wound through long, badly carpeted corridors that smelled of old rubber and mimeograph ink. “Not much good in the swamp though.”
“Not much.” Mark agreed. “But good to move around down trees.”
They stopped in front of a set of double wooden doors, flung wide open. Inside was a room full of what seemed like random technology, some which looked new, some, Mark reckoned, was older than he was.
Inside there were probably a dozen men and women, all rummaging through boxes and cases. Cables and pieces of gear were scattered everywhere, and to one side a pile of circuit boards were teetering, a piece of plastic bubble wrap draped over them.
“Johnson!” Chris let out a bellow.
“Sir!” A tall, lanky man in camo came out from behind a packing case. “I mean.. ma’am!”
Chris made a sound somewhere between a pig’s snort and an eyerolling exasperated grunt. “I need those power supplies we were looking at. Where did we shove them?” She asked. “The fricken thing in the comms room got blowed up and needs replacing.”
“Oh!” Johnson, a blond man that looked so young Mark had to seriously wonder if he was legal or not came over. He had wide, green eyes and an unfledged look to him, all arms and gangly legs and sleeves that ended long before his wrist bones. “I think we put them over in the back there, m’am.”
“This is Mark. Show him where.. you’ll know what you’re looking for right?” Chris asked him. “That thing in that room is what they need to start entering stuff. We can’t use the big system. The connection sucks.”
“Got it.” Mark said. “It’s a local server database and you need those systems to point to it.” He said, giving the gangly Johnson a pat on the elbow. “Show me the rack, dude. Let me see if I can find one that’ll work.”
Chris looked relieved. “Great. Someone just rando shows up here who actually knows what the fuck is going on. That’s worth the coffee and I’ll get you a chit for the hot dog cart they’re fixing to roll on in here.” She gave him a brief grin. “Welcome to the guard, Mark.”
“Anytime.” Mark steered Johnson ahead of him . ”So..whats your first name?”
“Steve.” He supplied. “Who are you?” He asked, after a brief pause.
“Long story. Just show me the pile.”
Dar eased her head around the palm fronds, their spikes catching her hair as she tried to avoid having them poke her in the eye.
Most people would not have suspected that palm trees, those elegant and well known landmarks of the tropics actually had three to four inch spikes on their floofy looking fronds and were a bit of a metaphor for the often creepy danger that rode under Miami’s flashy and beach filled reputation.
Dar had gotten one right through the center of her hand once, while trying to retrieve a likely looking coconut to open. Put her off the damn things for a long time.
Set in the crown of the palm tree, in the center of where the fronds all met was a casing carefully hidden inside a covering of palm trunk colored plastic, which she cautiously poked a screw driver into the base of, getting the blade of the driver into a small slot and then twisting it.
The casing didn’t budge. With a sigh, she left the screwdriver in place and retrieved a pocket knife from her cargo shorts, opening its blade up one handed and easing closer to use it to pry along the place where the base met the covering.
Inside the casing behind the plastic, she could see a camera inside. As she pried a little harder she heard a cracking sound, and then the top was tilting up as the screwdriver fell out of place and tumbled down the length of the palm tree. “Crap.”
She hastily stabbed the knife into the tree bark and pushed open the casing, exposing the camera inside. It was covered in cobwebs, and the lens was cracked. Dar examined it for a moment, and then she reached in and yanked it free of its housing.
It came away with such ease it nearly made her reel back off the ladder and she grabbed hastily at the palm fronds to keep from falling down.
After her balance stabilized, she glanced around, then inspected the back of the camera. She put it down and then removed a piece of gear from her thigh pocket, turning it around to look at the connections. “Seems simple enough.”
She twisted the connector off the back of the camera and connected the cable into the device instead, then took the small jumper and put it where the original cable had been. It fit. But would it work? With a slight shrug, Dar climbed down the ladder to where a roll of cable was sitting and sat down on it.
She unrolled a length of the cable and removed another tool from another pocket, setting it down again when she sighed, and looked up to see where she’d left her knife sticking in the bark. “Damn it.” She got back up, climbed back up the ladder, yanked the knife out of the bark and got back down again.
Using the knife to strip the end of the cable she then closed it and put it in her pocket before she maneuvered the ends of the bare, thin, copper strands into a plastic connector, muttering under her breath as she sorted the colors.
She used the tool to crimp the connector around the cable and then she stood up, looping the cable and then wedging the loop in place in one of the jagged trunk husks that surrounded the palm. With a satisfied nod, she then turned the spool of cable on it’s side and kicked it towards the cottage, watching the cable unroll as she walked behind it.
This might get them at least some access. How useful she had no idea. She walked up the steps, lifting the spool up and rolling it across the porch until it bumped up against the outside of the building, hearing voices indistinctly inside and looking forward to escaping inside from the heat.
First things first. Might as well see what damage the servers had taken, to see if any of this was even worth her time.
Dar pushed open the door and entered the cottage, surprised to hear the distinct sounds of both server fans and keyboard clicking. “It come up?” She asked, in surprise, closing the door behind her. “All of them? Or just… what’s the deal?”
“Uh huh.” Jake was sitting on the couch, legs extended, his laptop on his lap with a cable extended from it over to the case. “Auth and services are up, and the database is just running an internal self check.”
“Huh.” Dar planted her hands on her hips. “Nice.”
On the ground in front of the server case was a monitor and a keyboard on the floor, their cables draped behind them. “Your pop brought that over from your place.” Elvis entered the room with his own laptop, a coil of ethernet cable in his other hand. “I got everything up to console and put the keys in so they’d boot.”
Another cable was running across the floor to the table against the window, where Angela was seated using another laptop, pecking at the keys. A phone was in front of her, and it too was cabled to the switch mounted in the bottom of the rack. “The note system is working.” She reported to Dar. “I’m trying to keep track of everything for Ms Maria.”
“Unreal everything survived.” Dar muttered. “Guess we had to have some luck, huh?”
“Checking the repository.” Jake said, briefly. “Problem’s going to be we can’t synch it out to anything.” He said, mournfully. “I mean, the build stuff is all here, and we can work local like you said, but man it feels weird not to be able to look stuff up.”
“I’m working on that matter of fact.” Dar reported. “I gotta run back to the office and grab a router and see if I can get something going. We need anything else here? I’m gonna grab the spare switch there too.”
Both Jake and Allen looked up at her with interest. “Yeah?” Allen sat down in one of the plush chairs on the far side of the living room, putting down his laptop and then standing back up to run the cable back across the floor towards the rack. “I think we’re okay for now, for gear.”
“Yeah.” Dar paused. “So since you all have this well in hand, let me go grab the boat and head back over.” She said, feeling a sudden sense of relief. “Good job, people.” She added. “We’re gonna get there.”
“Would you like me to take the cart for you over to the marina?” Celeste asked, a touch diffidently. “Your parents have the other one and they were going to get something.” She had been organizing the pads and supplies on the table.
“I would.” Dar patted her pockets. “Matter of fact, c’mon with me I could use a hand carrying stuff out.”
Celeste smiled in response. “Yes ma’am.”
Dar eyed her. “Yeah, I got the engine fob. But let me get rid of some of this stuff first.” She dug out the crimper and set it down, and put down the screwdriver next to it on the table. “Be back soon as I can.”
Elvis and Jake watched her and Celeste leave. “Wonder what’s up with that connection? I mean like where’s it coming from?” Jake asked. “Was that..” He got up and went to the window, opening it and looking outside. “Yeah, there’s a spool of cable out here.” He shaded his eyes. “Going over to a tree. What the what?”
“Just mess with the code.” Elvis arranged himself on the chair. “Don’t think about it.”
“Yeah, if she’s hooking us up to a palm tree and we get internet, it’s all cool.” Jake closed the window and resumed his seat. “Toss me a peanut butter cup wouldja?”
Kerry was glad enough to get out onto dry land again and she made quick progress down the road towards the gates of the staging facility. Heading east, she now had the sun warm on her back and her skin felt tight and a bit tender, and she suspected aloe was somewhere in her future.
Which was fine. If that was the most she got scolded for by Dar along with the aloe, she’d take it.
Not much had happened since she’d been there last, there were more trucks parked in the lot, and two trucks were pulling satellite rigs behind them, but now that the sun was bent westward, at least the heat was dissipating a little bit and a breeze had come up, with a welcome stirring of the humid air.
She was spotted as she cleared the last downed tree and one of the gate guards came out and came around the gate, one hand resting on his sidearm as she continued to approach.
C’mon dude. Kerry felt a moment of wry irritation. How dangerous do I really look here in cargo pants and my underwear?
That thought seemed to occur to the guard as well, as he dropped his hand down to his thigh and then held up his other hand palm out towards her. “Ma’am?” He asked, in a questioning tone. “Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
“Hi.” Kerry said, in a brisk tone. “I have some friends back there behind the turn in the road, where it’s still flooded, and one of them has a badly broken leg. I need some help.” She stopped a few feet short of him. “Can you help me please?”
He reacted immediately to the entreaty in her tone. “Oh yes.. oh yes, ma’am, absolutely.” He turned and waved at the gate. “Need a medic!!” He yelled, then turned back to her. “Would you.. ah… “
“I’d love a t-shirt if you have one and a cup of coffee.” Kerry said. “But first off, I need to get my friend helped.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket. “And let me see if I can get hold of some people while that’s coming.”
Three soldiers came running out of the gates, one of them with a kit slung over one shoulder. “What’s the… oh, are you hurt ma’am?” The medic in the lead asked her. “I see you’re a little sunburned… you got some heat stroke?”
“No.” Kerry said. “Back there, I have a friend who’s got a broken leg. He got hurt in his house. He needs help very badly.” She turned and waved them on. “I think you’re going to need a stretcher.”
The guard had run back to the guard station and stepped inside. Now he came back out and came trotting back over to her. “Here you go ma’am.” He said. “Can’t help with coffee, but I had a shirt in the shack there.” He held out his hand with a mottled green cotton wad of fabric. “Probably big on ya but it’ll get ya out of the sun at least.”
“I’ll get a stretcher.” The second medic said. “Go on and see what we got here Jase. It’s good, at least we can help someone instead of just hanging around here doin nothing.”
“Yeah gotya.” Jase the medic answered. “Show me where we’re goin, ma’am. We’ll get it taken care of.”
Kerry pulled the shirt over her head. It smelled of sun and bleach and a little bit of machine oil and she totally could not have cared less. “Thank you very much.” She told the guard. “Lets go.” She turned and headed back along the road, with the other two medics at her heels. “Really glad to see you guys.”
“Glad you found us.” The medic with the case told her. “Where’d they get hurt?”
“Sweetwater.” Kerry said. “Their house is flooded up to the second floor.”
“We saw pictures.” The other medic said. “We asked when we were going down there, but they don’t’ have no place set up for us yet.” He was walking half leaned over with the weight of the medical kit in one hand. “Damn it’s hot.”
“It is.” Kerry led the way into the water and towards the tree. “Hang on guys! We’re coming!”
“Feel bad for folks, y’know?” The medic told her. “Seen some bad stuff down in the city.”
They splashed around the tree and came within view of the airboat.
“Hey lookit that!” The second medic said. “That’s the ticket, man. That’s what we need.” He had dark skin and short, buzzcut hair. “More of those, right? C’mon lets go check that out.”
Both medics now outpaced Kerry and the one with the kit set it down on the edge of the boat and went to work, focused on Tomas. “Easy man, we’ll take care of you.” The first medic told him. “What’s you name?” He stayed in the hip deep water while the second medic climbed up onto the deck. “Excuse me, m’am”
Maria slid back out of his way. “Gracias, gracias. Thank you so much for coming.” She said. “He feels so bad with it.” She watched the medics with an expression of relief.
“We’ll take care of him, don’t worry.” Jase reassured her. “I been deployed twice. I know what to do here.” He was ripping open packages while the second medic put on a stethoscope and started rinsing Tomas’ leg off with sterile water. “Lets get all that dirt offa there.”
Joe came over to the edge of the boat next to Kerry. “Fast.” He nodded at her approvingly. “Even got you a shirt. Nice work, sergeant major. Wasn’t even ten minutes.” He eyed her. “Ready to pay me?” He asked. “I got places to go, y’know? Want to get back to my place before it gets dark.”
Kerry unbuttoned the back pocket of her cargo pants and pulled out a sheaf of folded bills. She sorted through them and kept half, then handed him the other half. “There ya go.” She exhaled. “I’ll be glad to see home myself tonight.”
With a look of patent disbelief, Joe took the bills, counted them quickly, then folded them and put them into the front pocket of his jeans. “You actually were walking around with a wad of cash in your pocket? Are you for real? Do you know what dudes do finding chicks like that?”
Kerry folded her arms, keeping one eye on the medics, who were carefully examining Tomas’ leg, and had their kit broken open and spread out on the deck. “So why didn’t you?” She finally asked, turning to look at him. “I told you I had cash.”
Joe looked at her in silence for a very long moment. “Did you want me to?” He asked, finally, in a doubtful yet puzzled tone. “You don’t seem like that kind of weirdo.”
“No.” Kerry smiled faintly. “I just took a chance. You seemed like a stand up guy.” She continued. “I work with people a lot. You get to recognize whats in their head.”
He folded his arms, a lopsided smile appearing on his face. “You are kinda weird.” He concluded. “But I seen worse I guess.”
They were talking low enough not to be overheard, but the focus was in any case on Tomas. Maria had his hand in hers, and Mayte was kneeling next to the raft, answering the medics.
It had been a chance. Kerry acknowledged it. But standing here, seeing Tomas getting care, she felt it had been a worthwhile chance, because it had the outcome she’d wanted it to. “I wanted to get help for my friends.” She added, almost as an afterthought. “And you had exactly what I needed.”
Would Dar have done it?
Or would Dar have just bought the damn airboat from him and drove it herself?
“Well. If you’re a weirdo, at least you got cash.” Joe finally concluded. “So I guess it worked out okay.”
Kerry smiled. “Win win?” She said, looking up at Joe. “You could stick around. I bet these guys could find something for you to do.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “And those buildings have air conditioning.”
“Nah.” Joe shook his head slightly. “They had they chance. I’m gonna go back around where that house was I bet some of them folks there’ll pay me.”
“Be careful they don’t try to take your boat.” Kerry said, in a serious tone.
“You didn’t like their heads?” Joe eyed her. “I should take you back out to the swamp. My mama’d like you she’s into all that stuff.”
“Like I said.” Kerry glanced at the small crowd. “You get to know what people’s intent is. Just be careful.”
“Okay.” The dark skinned medic said. “Got that splint on you, sir, and we’re gonna lift you up and get you on our stretcher here. Then we’ll take you inside. We got a triage room set up.” He motioned to the other medic. “This here raft, that was a great idea.”
“My daughter.” Tomas said, proudly, though somewhat faintly, gesturing at Mayte. “And too, la jefa Kerry.”
Both medics turned to look at Kerry.
The sound of splashing interrupted them, and Kerry turned her head to see several bodies coming around the fallen tree, and after a blink they became slightly familiar to her. “Billy!” She called out, recognizing the figure in the lead. “Hey!”
“Hey yeah! There ya are!” Billy came plowing through the water. “You found you a airboat!” He said. “These your buddies? You were looking for?” He pointed at the deck. “Hi there you all.”
The others behind him came over, two of them going to where the medics were getting ready to shift Tomas over to the stretcher. “What happ.. oh man look at his leg.” One of them said. “Easy now there buddy. We’ll get you to the clinic.”
“Captain was looking for you. We wondered where you went off to.” Billy concluded. “Should have figured you got it done.” He had taken off his camo overshirt and was just in a tshirt, as they all were, and sweatstained from neck to waist, his pants liberally mud spattered and dark gray.
Joe was watching this in silence.
“Thanks.” Kerry said. “Billy, this is Joe. It’s his airboat.” She indicated the vehicle. “Joe, this is Billy from Alabama. I bumped into him out where the flooding was and his squad gave me a ride back here.”
“Hey man.” Billy held a hand out. “This your rig huh? You hunt with it?”
“Yeah.” Joe eyed him with some suspicion. “You hunt?”
“Sure.” Billy smiled easily. “I got me a flat bottom, and just before we came out here I was catfishing off it.” He said. “This is nice. Can I come up there?”
Joe thawed visibly. “Sure.” He took a step back to allow Billy to climb onboard. “Watch out for the stick.”
One of the other guard came over to stand next to Kerry, the short woman who had been gathering papers in the tent. “Some guy came looking for you.” She said. “So we were trying to figure out where you went, then the gate said you went off with that guy.”
“Guy on a motorcycle?” Kerry guessed. “The guy who showed up?”
The woman nodded. “You know him I guess.” She said. “Sweet bike.”
“He works for me.” Kerry felt relieved. “I was hoping he’d show up here. Now I can get back to my office before a whole posse shows up looking for me.” She pulled out her phone and dialed Mark’s number, regarding the phone as it rang and rang but wasn’t answered. “Jesus these things are worthless.”
“They are.” The woman agreed, taking a step back and tugging Kerry’s shirt. “Lets get out of their way, got enough people there picking that guy up.”
Kerry put the phone back in her pocket. “He’s probably inside the building.” She moved back to allow the gang to gently get Tomas situated on the stretcher. “Stupid things made to be used in hurricanes that don’t work inside or in the rain.. Jesus!”
The woman laughed. “Yeah.” The woman agreed again. “Hot as stink all sure he’d go inside. I think he was with the technical people or something I saw him going into one of the kit rooms with a cable or a piece of gear.”
“Definitely Mark if I had any doubt at all.” Kerry chuckled. “Glad he’s here.”
The woman regarded the crowd around the stretcher. “Family?” She asked Kerry finally, in a mild tone.
“No, the two ladies work for my company.” Kerry said. “Hey guys, Mark’s here.” She called out. “Hes over where we’re heading to.”
Mayte looked up as they got off the deck, the stretcher carried by four of the guard as the medics packed up their kit. “Here?” She looked around. “That is so great. We are all almost together.”
“Coming close.” Kerry turned. “Joe, you sure you don’t’ want to stick around? I bet Billy can introduce you to his captain, who’d love to talk to you about your boat.” She said. “Right Billy?”
“For sure.” Billy agreed immediately. “C’mon, Joey. Lets go get you a drink and we can talk to the cap. We were looking for something like that out there, like Kerry told us to. We just didn’t have a way to find ya.”
“We can pull this in.” Two of the remaining guard said. “Will ya give us a ride later?”
Joe paused, then nodded. “Sure.” He said. “So far I done well out of hanging with the sergeant major here. Coffee sounds good.” He locked the engine and joined them as they waited for the stretcher to pass ahead of them, and then trooped after. “Leave it tied here.” He told the guards. “Don’t want to scrape the bottom. I took the key. Needs some gas anyhow.”
“We got that.” Billy said. “Whole tanker full.”
Dar set the sat phone on the flying bridge console, reflecting again on how frustrating the device was. Just as she thought that, though, it rang and she picked it up and answered it. “Yeah?”
“Hey Colleen.” Dar was disappointed. “What’s up?” She asked. “Everyone doing all right up there?”
“Can hardly hear ya.” Their finance director said. “Are you on the boat again?”
“Headed back over to the office. I’m working on getting us back online.” Dar said, adjusting the throttle of the Dixie. Behind her, seated at the table was Celeste, a cup of tea in her hand, her blond hair streaming in the wind. “How’s it there?”
“Well, that’s why I’m calling. I tried calling Kerry first, no answer.”
“Long story.” Dar said. “She’s trying to help out Maria and Mayte.” She said. “So’s Mark. They found Zoe.”
“Righto, yep I heard that. Well here’s the thing - we got the phones working and switched on the lines from Miami and let me tell you, it’s been… well, I hired two people on the spot to just sit here at a table answering the lines and taking notes.”
“He called too, dontcha know?” Colleen said. “Wanted to know about some circuit you promised him for yesterday.”
Dar had to chuckle a little, however wryly. “What in the hell do these people expect? They not watching the news?” She sighed. “Im doing everything I can.” She looked around at the waterway. “I’m literally sitting here trying to figure out where to steal a truck to go get things moving. Gimme a break.”
“Sure. That’s what we’re telling everyone who’s calling but some of them don’t want that from me, and want to talk to the either one of you. Can I give the nabobs, you know who I mean, this number?” Colleen said. “It’s a handful. Probably five or six.”
“Government?” Dar guessed. “We delivered our last checkpoint to them before the storm hit.”
“And they paid for it.” Colleen told her. “I was just running the reports, their payment hit the account so that’s good news at least. But they’ve been the hottest trying to get you, said something about coming to find you themselves.”
“Like we need more random military showing up here.” Dar sighed. “Yeah, give them this number. No guarantee it’ll work, but it’s all we got for now. In maybe.. “ She studied the horizon, adjusting the throttles to send the Dixie along the coastline. “Maybe two or three hours I might have more access. Might.”
“And we’ve got a ton of calls coming in.” Colleen said. “Can we do this, can we do that, this emergency, that emergency, you know how it goes. If we could answer some of them, we can triple our budgets for the year.”
“What do you want? I am the financial person around here.” Colleen sounded unrepetentant. “People standing at the door with money in their hands I have to tell you about.” She said. “And that lawyer was looking for you. Said it was something important.”
“We have more than one?”
Dar chuckled again. “Okay. Yeah, sure, give out this number to everyone. What the hell.”
“Thank you m’dear.” Colleen said. “I will do that, but will let them know its not a definite connection. Let me know what the status is with the gals, would you? People here are asking. Everyone who is calling from the staff down there I told to drive up here. I’ve got some additional space.”
“Thanks Colleen.” Dar said. “We’ll get through this.” She said, after a pause. “I’ll let you know soon as I hear from Kerry.”
“Sure. And let me know what to tell Jesus about his circuit.” Colleen said. “Something about Mary and Instagram was it?”
“Bye.” Dar hung up, still laughing.
Carlos was waiting on shore when Dar nudged the bow of the Dixie into the sailing club’s dock. The somewhat ramshackle pier they’d built and then almost destroyed had been bolstered, and, with doors and pieces of wood now presented a reasonably sturdy ramp.
“There’s a rope on the front there.” Dar told Celeste. “Toss it to Carlos. I don’t want to hit that thing again.”
“Sure.” Celeste climbed down the ladder to the deck and moved quickly along the side of the boat to the lines coiled on the bow.
“Hey boss.” Carlos walked down the ramp and held his hands out, catching the rope as it was thrown to him. “Looks good, huh?” He gestured at the dock.
“Nice job.” Dar cut the engines and let the Dixie settle against the dock. “Where’d you get all that wood?”
“Came off the windows.” Carlos finished tying up the lines. “We figured we might as well use it, and Jake’s dad brought over those telephone poles from down the road.”
Dar climbed down and then stepped over from the boat to the dock, surprised at the sturdy feel of the platform. “Feels pretty good.” She exhaled. “I gotta grab some gear from the store room. Mark’s out at Southcom.”
“He said. He called me before.” Carlos nodded. “He said Kerry found some boat or something?”
“Or something.” Dar agreed wryly. “I’m hoping the both of them get back there in one piece.” She led the way up the ramp to the shore. The sailing club was still deserted and in a shambles, and none of the properties along the shore showed any life either.
They crossed the road and went up the walk to the office, and Dar saw all the windows flung wide open, furniture that had been soaked by the rain out in the yard drying in the sun. “You guys are really kicking ass.”
Carlos smiled. “Wasn’t just me and my buds.” He said. “There’s like a dozen people here now.”
Dar eyed him. “Our people?”
“Our people, your people, some of the people from the café… randos… we’re like the community center.” Carlos reported. “Everyone brought over stuff to share out, and stuff that was in freezers. We figured we might as well grill it before it goes bad.”
Inside the office, it was hot, but with the windows open and the evening breeze coming onshore it wasn’t as stifling as it had been and Dar could hear voices, and the sound of a radio playing news. The inner doors to the courtyard in the middle of the square building were all open and a light gust of wind brought the scent of charcoal inside.
“So what is it you need?” Carlos asked. “I coulda got it ready for ya.”
“Not sure what we had in storage. I know Mark sent out a bunch of gear ahead of the storm.” Dar told him. “I need some switches and a router. Hope one of them got left.”
She glanced outside as they walked along the hallway and then she paused and stopped. “Huh.” She went and stuck her head out the door. “Hey, people.”
There were a dozen figures outside. The owners of the café down the street were there, standing next to a small wagon full of boxes. Celeste’s colleague Jerry was loading charcoal into the grill, and two more people from ILS, one of the accounting admins and a cleaning supervisor were there, getting hot dogs set up to grill.
Carlos’ two buddies were wrestling a table into place. Two of their LAN technicians were carrying boxes over to the picnic area, and one of Colleen’s data entry clerks was there, opening a bag of chips.
Everyone turned at her voice. Celeste squeezed out from behind her and went over to the two newcomers, greeting them as they stood there a little uncertainly, watching Dar approach.
“Hello there, Dar.” The café owner came over. “Thought we’d empty out the freezer. Carol said she saw you guys were down here. Not much else is going on. Most everything else down here’s empty except Charline at the bar.”
“The shack?” Dar asked, glancing past him as though she could see the little dive bar from where they were, which she could not. “She come down and open up, Dan?”
“Sure. Whiskey doesn’t go bad.” Dan said, in a practical tone. “Only crowd in town’s down there. I left a big box of muffins with her. Figure they gotta soak it up with something.” He observed Jerry now lighting the grill. “How’d you do out on the island?”
“Fine.” Dar said. “Had a lot of surge come over, but it’s got good drainage. House is fine.” She said. “You?”
“Tree’s down in the yard and we lost part of the roof over the living room.” Dan shook his head a bit. “Seen pictures of out west. Don’t make sense, does it? You live right on the beach don’t you? “
“We do.” Dar agreed. “But there’s seawalls and everything’s two layers of concrete and all that. Went over pretty fast, and we’ve got generators out there.”
“We heard on the news.” Dan nodded. “If I were you I’d be glad it’s on an island. I already heard of looting and whatnot going on down here and that’d be a big old target. Is it true you even got a stock of gas? Stations here are hard up with everyone trying to fill their generators.”
“Belcher’s right out there.” Dar said. “So yeah.”
“We got us a generator, and some gas, but we figured we’d leave it for tonight and run some lights off it.” Carlos had returned. “Dar, those cops came back before. We gave em some burgers.”
Dar pondered that briefly, wondering if she should just take all the staff on the boat and back to the island with her. “I don’t know if I want to leave you all out here.”
Dan nodded. “Gets dark around here at night with no power. I told Charline to shut herself down once the sun’s gone.”
“We’ll be fine.” Carlos said. “We got my buds, and four guys who know pops said they’d be here around sundown and they didn’t look like they were anyone to mess around with.”
Dar still felt a little doubtful. She put her hands in her pockets and looked around at the middle section. The debris and fallen branches had been moved out of it, and the area tided up. Near one side, Scott’s campervan squatted stolidly, it’s exterior slightly dented but otherwise intact.
“Honest, boss.” Carlos seemed to read her thoughts. “We’re good. We had the windows open up on the second level, and all the doors and stuff locked down here. Nobody bothered us.”
“Hey Manuel.” She deferred the thoughts as the maintenance supervisor from ILS came over. “How are you?”
He was a middle aged man, in worn jeans and a guyabera, wearing scuffed leather cowboy boots and a bandana wrapped around his head to soak up the sweat. “Buenas dias, Dar.” He said. “It’s so nice to see you. I came over to see if Maria was here, my wife was worried about her and Mayte.”
Dar exhaled. “Yeah, we’re worried too. Kerry and Mark are out in South Miami trying to find them.” She said. “I’m hoping we hear from them soon.” She glanced past him. “Hey Sandy. You hear from Duks?”
The admin, who Dar had last seen before she’d left ILS came shyly forward. “Hi Ms Roberts.” She said. “I have not heard from him, no. He had gone to Texas last week. But when Manuel said he was going to come here, I thought I would come too I hope you don’t mind.”
“Nah.” Dar said. “We’ll share what we got. You’re more than welcome to hang out.”
“More people from the old place?” Carlos grinned briefly. “Hey the more the merrier. How’s the servers coming?”
Dar dragged her attention back to the task at hand. “We got them up.” She answered, briefly. “The kids are working on them but we need comms.”
A ragged cheer rose, from the watchers who had all edged closer to listen to her.
One of the two LAN techs came out with a box on his shoulder and put it down on the picnic table, pausing to wipe the sweat from his brow on his shirt sleeve. “Jake and El?” He asked. “Sweet.”
Dar nodded “So now I need to get some gear. I hooked up with some guys and a satellite over on the island.” She explained. “Colleen got the main phones forwarded to the cloud lines they’re using and they’re getting swamped with calls.”
“Our customers?” The other LAN tech asked.
“Our customers and apparently a bunch of folks who want to be our customers.” Dar reported. “They’re gonna forward the really annoying ones to me.”
“Sweet.” Carlos said. “With all the broken crap around, figures they want you to go fix it, right?”
Dar sighed and put her hands on her hips. “I think we need to get fixed first.” She said. “We can’t even talk to each other reliably. Not sure I want to deal with trying to sort out everyone else’s problems.”
Carlos scratched his stubbled jaw thoughtfully. “Probably be some good money in it.”
“That’s what Colleen said.” Dar glanced around. “Hey Bill. You got a minute? I need something from the storage room.”
“Sure.” Bill came over at once. “Whacha looking for, boss?” He dusted his hands off on his jeans. “We didn’t pack enough gear with the box for ya? I put what Mark said to in there.”
“Didn’t figure I’d need a big router.” Dar said. “We got anything here left?”
“Let me go check.” Bill said. “C’mon Ray. I saw some boxes in the back of the telecom room maybe one of them’s a router.” The two techs trotted off, one of them pulling a flashlight out from his back pocket.
Dar’s phone rang. “Hang on.” She pulled it out and glanced at it, feeling a prickle of relief. “Ker?” She spoke into the phone. ‘That you?”
Kerry’s voice was full of satellite artifacts but Dar could not have cared less. She moved out into the open in the center of the space. “Where are you? You okay?”
“I found Maria.” Kerry said. “She and Mayte and Tomas were in their house, Tomas has a broken leg. They’re flooded out.”
“Stop.” Dar said.
“Where are you, and are you okay?” Dar asked again. “Mark told me you went off somewhere and it scared the crap out of me.”
There was a very brief pause, and a faint sound that might have been a tiny laugh. “Sorry sweetheart.” Kerry said. “I’m fine. We’re at Southcom. My airboat for hire got us back here and the national guard just carried Tomas into their triage room. Mark’s here too.”
“Okay.” Dar relaxed a little, then paused. “You hired an airboat in the middle of Doral?”
“I hired an airboat owner that happened to show up here at the base.” Kerry confirmed. “He was being hassled by the guard so I took advantage of them not knowing what the hell an airboat was and got it done.”
“Honey, I learned my end justifies the means from you.” Kerry said, in a firm, yet kind tone. “So don’t even.” She added. “Anyway, the whole first floor of their house was flooded, Dar. I think it’s going to be a big loss.”
“Poor Maria.” Dar said, after a moment. “She doing okay?” She added. “I do care about her, just not as much as I do about you.” She concluded in a milder tone. “You know?”
“I know.” Kerry responded. “But they really needed help, Dar. I had to go.”
“I would have too.” Dar admitted, with a smile. “I’m glad you found them.”
“I know. I was trying to decide if you would have dealt with the guy or just bought the boat.” Kerry told her.
“Would have depended on the attitude.”
“His or yours?” Kerry said, with a slight chuckle. “But at least they’re not trapped in their house anymore.” She said. “How’s it going there?”
“How’s it going here.” Dar regarded the gathering crowd around the grill as the sun dipped past the buildings and threw the area into shadow. “It’s okay. We got the servers up. Now I’m looking for a router.” She kicked a bit of grass with her boot. “Colleen said a bunch of people are trying to call us.”
“I bet they are.” Kerry sorted through the information. “Why are you looking for a router? I thought you had the gear packed in the case?”
“Long story.” Dar said. “So you coming back here? I’ll wait for you.”
“Yeah. Let me go see what’s going on with Tomas, and what the plan is. I’m hoping theyre going to take him over to Jackson or Baptist.” Kerry said. “Then me and Mark’ll head over assuming I can find Mark.”
“He’s fixing things somewhere in this fifties bunker.” Kerry said. “I can see his bike from where I am so I know he’s around. Is Colleen doing okay up there?”
“Fine.” Dar said. “Said a lot of people are calling looking for help.” She said. “She gave some of the government people this sat phone number in case they wanted to try calling but no one has yet.” She paused and considered. “Or they did, and the stupid thing didn’t work.”
“Yeah, frustrating. Mayte’s really pissed off about these phones.” Kerry told her. “Okay, let me go see what the deal is, and find Mark, and get over there. I can tell you I cannot wait to see our shower.”
Dar smiled. “Can’t wait to see you.” She remarked casually. “And you can help me connect our ritzy cottage full of nerds into a palm tree when we get back.”
“Okay hon.” Kerry chuckled. “Talk to you in a bit.”
“Mm.” Dar grunted a response, but closed the phone and regarded it briefly before she shoved it into her pocket and turned to regard the courtyard again, letting the sounds and the smells wash over her. She exhaled, and the tension leached out of her body, allowing her to enjoy the slight breeze that had come with the end of the day, bringing the scent of the bay to her.
In the distance, she could hear hammering. At the very edge of her awareness, a siren echoed softly, and the sound of a helicopter, and she could hear the radio inside very softly.
She walked back over to the barbeque. “Good news.” She told the assembled. “Kerry found Maria and Mayte.”
“Awesome!” Carlos responded instantly. “They okay?”
“Oh that’s great!” Celeste echoed him. “Is their house all right?”
“Glad to hear it.” Don was breaking down the boxes he’d brought, folding them into flat squares.
“Tomas, her husband got hurt and the house is a mess.” Dar said, briefly. “But Kerry got them out of there and they’re at the national guard assembly point in Doral. She’s getting them medical help.” She concluded. “Broken leg, apparently.”
“Oh wow.” Carlos murmured. “Good thing she found them huh?” He said. “Figure Kerry would get it done. She does not mess around.”
“True.” Dar smiled briefly.
“That sucks about the house.” Don said. “She lives out near Sweetwater, doesn’t she?”
Dar nodded. She remembered Maria’s house. It was a two level stucco with a barrel tile roof, every bit of the inside carefully and proudly arranged to display to the family and friends they loved to entertain there. Tomas, she recalled, played the guitar and in the echo of her memory, she could hear him playing a Spanish tune through the sound of Spanish language with the scent of saffron all around.
“I saw the helicopter shots out there.” Don shook his head. “They don’t think it’s going to drain out for days and days.”
“Well.” Dar said. “They’re in good hands now.” She concluded. “Kier’s going to make sure they’re okay, then head back here.”
“Glad that all got worked out. I was kinda worried about those guys going out there.” Carlos told Dar, in an undertone. “Specially since its late.”
“Yeah, me too.” Dar said.
Bill came out of the building with another box on his shoulder, and he brought it over to where Dar was standing. “This what you need, boss?” He upended the box on the table and opened it up to allow her to peer inside. “This is the only thing that wasn’t a switch in the room.”
Dar reached in to ease the piece of equipment out and inspected it. “Nope.” She sighed. “I was afraid of that. I think we sent the two I thought we had in the bus with the tech team to keep them dry.” She drummed her fingers on the useless equipment. “This is a phone gateway. Wrong code.”
Celeste was regarding the equipment with a slight frown. “Oh.” She said, her expression clearing. “I remember now where I’d see those kind of machines. In the closet on the bottom floor of the office.” She said. “I remember you being in there one time, Ms Roberts.”
She looked at Dar, who was looking at her with a thoughtful expression, one dark eyebrow slightly lifted. “Right?”
“Right.” Dar said, slowly. “That’s exactly the piece of equipment I need. One of the big platinum colored ones in that room, matter of fact.”
“Any place around we can get one? Or get the guys to bring the one up state back?” Carlos suggested. “Probably not something you can get in BestBuy, huh?”
“No.” Dar said. “Definitely not in BestBuy.” She pondered. “Wonder if they have any over where Kerry and Mark are. “ She said. “Government building has to have something there.” She said. “Maybe we could borrow one.” She took out her phone again. “Get the burgers going. Maybe we can swap them for hardware.”
The sun was setting in the west, and that cast long shadows down along the street that Southcom was situated on, the day’s oppressive heat finally lifting a little as a light breeze stirred the shredded branches and leaves and fluttered the flags on their poles outside.
Kerry walked across the staging yard from the gate where she’d gone to get satellite signal. As she dodged between the trucks and headed towards the door to the building, she replayed the conversation she’d just had in her head, glad at the very least she’d been able to have it.
Would have been better, she thought, in person. She wanted a hug, and she suspected Dar did as well, the worry in her partner’s tone and relief had been palpable. But she felt a lot better for having spoken to her, and savored the raw, blunt honesty that was Dar at her most transparent.
She paused outside a moment to just stop and think about it, closing her eyes and imagining having Dar here with her. She could almost hear her voice and feel her casual touch, and she felt her entire body relax and the tension ease out of her.
It felt good, even though it was all in her head. She mentally reached out and imagined a hug between them and convinced herself she could even hear the low chuckle of Dar’s response and the gentle scratch of Dar’s fingertips on the back of her neck.
So real, it made her nape prickle. She opened her eyes and blinked, shaking her head a bit to clear the images out of it. “Well. That was interesting.”
She trotted up the steps and entered the building, walking past the wide, long desk that was surrounded by people in uniform, dealing with stacks of paper. In the distance, she could hear the once pervasive and now rather odd sound of a phone ringing.
Not an electronic buzz, or a beep, but an actual phone bell, a mechanical construct inside a large plastic analog phone with a clapper that resulted from putting a device on the end of two pieces of copper wire attached to a battery that still had some charge in it firing off.
Amazing technology, in it’s time. Millions of pairs of copper wires extended into homes and businesses all over the world that connected everyone together and were now mostly replaced with something else that was easier to deploy, cheaper, faster, more pervasive…
Less resilient. More subject to outages. More complicated. Dar had taken apart an old Western Digital phone just a month or so ago, putting the parts on her desk and inviting everyone in to see it. Huge and clunky and stunningly simple next to most of what they worked with and yet, here, now, she was listening to them ring in the background, the only modern communications that were consistently working.
At least until the central office batteries ran out. Kerry wondered how many people realized their old Princess house phones were powered from those random squat buildings whose location had also mandated your fate on getting DSL service or not?
“You’re too far from the central office.” Which really meant the twisted wires that powered your phones were too long to allow digital services – something the inventor of the phone never even imagined – to be sent over them because even the most complex of their part of technology often boiled down to relatively simple physics.
Kerry stopped and turned around, as Captain Dodge caught her up. “Oh, hi.” She greeted him.
“My goodness, you all gave us a scare.” He told her. “Betty told me you found your friends.” He indicated a nearby set of doors. “Buy you a cup?”
Kerry really didn’t want to engage. She wanted to find the triage center, and find out what was going on with Tomas. However. “Sure.” She followed him into the mess. “Maybe you could help me find where they took them after we catch up?”
“Sure.” He led the way over to a table with large commercial coffee dispensers and stacks of Styrofoam cups. “So Betty said you found you one of them boats?” He glanced over his shoulder at her. “How’d that happen?”
“He found us actually. He was talking to the gate guards when I went outside to use my phone.” Kerry took the cup of steaming coffee and moved aside to add some creamer to it. The air inside the building was chilly, a little shocking after spending the prior few hours in the steamy heat, and she was glad to take a sip of the hot beverage. “He was looking for someone to hire him. So I did.”
The captain chuckled, shaking his head.
“The gate guards didn’t know what he had to offer. They were chasing him out.” Kerry continued. “So I was lucky I was in the right place at the right time.” She followed the captain over to a small metal table. “And I had cash.”
Now the captain chuckled again. “Local boy?” He asked.
“Yeah. Kerry agreed. “He uses the boat for hunting.” She exhaled. “He lives on the other side of 27 I think .” She concluded. “So how’s it going here?”
The captain sniffed reflectively. “It’s a mess.” He admitted, with appealing candor. “For all the prep we thought we did, we did it for the wrong stuff. You know?”
“I know.” Kerry commiserated. “Happens all the time in technology. You work up a solution to a problem and then the problem changes out from under you.” She paused. “You know, over near Tamiami Trail, there are probably a lot of people like Joe who have airboats. Why not go hire them?”
“Hire the boats?”
“Hire the people.” Kerry said. “That was the problem, you know? I think the guys at the gate felt like Joe should have volunteered to help. It’s been my experience that people would rather make money.” She took another sip of her coffee. “Know what I mean?”
Dodge regarded her thoughtfully. “We don’t carry around cash.” He said. “And I don’t think we’d be wanting to get into it with the locals if y’know what I mean.” He said. “Now you want to go find your friends? You need a ride somewhere?” He said. “We’re gonna go over to get the airport rolling.”
“To get supplies in, yeah, I heard that on the radio this morning.” Kerry said.
“To get the president in.” Dodge replied, in a deadpan tone. “But we’re hoping he’s bringing some water and suchlike along too.”
They got up, and Kerry carried her coffee cup along as she followed the captain out the door of the mess and down the depressingly carpeted hallway. The smell of machine oil was ever more pungent, and Kerry could feel a headache coming on.
It had been a long day. She was tired, and sunburned, and aware that there were things pending her attention that were stacking up.
She wanted a hot shower, and a bowl of hot, spicy Thai soup, and Dar.
Dodge turned right and went down another hallway, this one full of boxes and rolling cases, all in dark gray mottled colors, all with indecipherable stickers and duct tape residue all over them
“Like a damn traveling circus.” Dodge commented, jerking his head at the cases.
“Like a traveling band, actually. Reminds me of a concert I went to last year.” Kerry said. “They were in a hotel we were staying at and saw them unloading.”
Walking down the corridor Kerry could hear the sounds of work going on around her and as she passed one set of flung open double doors the smell changed from machinery to electronics, and she glanced inside then halted as her name was called out.
Ah. Kerry turned around and went back. “Hold on.” She said. “Think I just found my guy with a bike.” She poked her head inside the room just as Mark got up from the floor where he’d been sitting. “Hey!” She greeted him. “What’s up?”
“Hey!” He looked relieved to see her. “Man am I glad you got back here.”
“So’s Dar.” Kerry agreed, exchanging a knowing, wry look with him. “What are you doing?” She looked past him at the encased server, it’s side cover off and insides exposed.
“You know this guy?” Dodge had come in behind her. “Oh wait a second now… I remember you.” He looked at Mark with some interest. “How’d you get all in here?” He put his hands on his hips.
“Long story.” Mark told him. “I was just doing these guys a favor while I was waiting on the boss lady here to get back.”
Kerry chuckled dryly. “What happened?” She indicated the server.
“Plugged a one ten into two twenty.” Mark said, succinctly. “I just swapped their power supplies out.” He said. “You find the burritos?”
“I did. Tomas has a broken leg. I brought them all back here.” Kerry said. “I want to go see how they’re doing, then we can head to the office. Dar’s there, something about needing a router, and getting our gear online.” She finished the update. “You done?”
“Done.” Mark said. “I told them to boot it up and see if it comes online.” He closed a pocket tool and put it back into his pocket. “Where’d you get the T?” He followed Kerry as they went out the door again and continued down the hall.
“Long story.” Kerry said, scrubbing her fingers through her pale hair, and wishing for that shower.
Dodge led them out a door into the growing twilight, where the heat had finally moderated and a breeze coming between the buildings blew over them. There was a short, neatly trimmed sidewalk between the building they had been in and the next one and at the other end of that was another anonymous door.
“Should be in here.” Their escort swiped his badge on the reader and the door unlocked, and then they were inside a large, high ceilinged space full of warehouse style ambiance and many different areas being staged for action.
On the far side, near a pair of long, wide doors to the outside currently closed there was a section blocked off with high, pale sheeted walls, which were bordered with rolling cases that had liberally splashed on them a white square and red cross symbol.
Over the top of the sheets were snaked, wide tubes that led to a truck nearby with a large pumping system on a flatbed thrumming with engine noise. “Air scrubber.” Dodge supplied, raising his voice to be heard. “That gang over there’s mine.”
There were trucks and trailers parked in neat rows and a lot of voices surrounded them, along with the sound of cases being moved and doors being slammed, mixed with the rumble of the air scrubber and the overhead noise of fans extracting hot air from the upper part of the building.
“They usually stage choppers in here.” Dodge commented.
“Where’d they put them?” Mark asked, looking around. “They’d be freaking useful.”
Dodge glanced at him. “Flew them out ahead of the storm. Didn’t want to risk trashing em.” He went to the edge of the white sheeted area and stopped in front of a desk. “Jackson, you got the list of folks in there?” He held out his hand.
“Sir.” The man behind the desk handed over a clipboard. “Got like six of em now. Three people just drove on up in a old car just now.”
“Gonna get worse from here.”
Kerry saw an opportunity and she slid past him, motioning Mark after her as she went inside the medical area, looking around at the beds and stretchers. The hanging dividers mocked up a approximation of a hospital emergency ward, and it was hard to see past all the sheeting
“Over there, Ker.” Mark clasped her elbow and moved in the direction of a portable monitoring desk, set up against one flexible wall. “I see Mayte.” He stopped to let an uniformed man pass pushing a cart with bandages on it past them. “We giving that guy the slip for a reason?”
Kerry suppressed a smile. “He’s busy.” She demurred. “I’m sure he’s glad to be rid of us.” She led the way over to the sheeted off area around a bed. “Hey guys.”
Mayte and Maria turned around and spotted her. “Oh! Kerry! We are glad you are here.” She glanced past her. “And here is Mark!”
Mark poked his head around Kerry’s shoulder. “Heya.” He waved at them. “How’s it going?”
Tomas was lying on a padded and adjustable medical stretcher, with two of the medics leaning over him, and tubes from two different IV bags already attached to his arms. His leg was stretched out and covered in bandages, and a splint had been applied.
His eyes were closed, but his face looked more relaxed than it had since Kerry had seen him yet today. “They give him some painkillers?”
“Si.” Mayte agreed. “But the think we should go to the hospital.” She said. “They are finding out how to bring him there.” She explained. “They told us it was a very good thing you found us.”
“Si.” Maria echoed her. “They said that, Kerrisita. They have already given Tomas some medicines to make him feel better for now. You see? He is not so pale anymore.” She looked back over at her husband, an expression of tired relief on her face.
Kerry took a pause for a moment of internal bemusement, as she sought for a way to defer the praise, and then wondered why she’d want to.
Was it embarrassing, a little? To be branded as some half baked heroic? Kerry thought about what she’d done, then shook her head just slightly. No, nothing really heroic here, just taking advantage of the circumstances she’d found to achieve her goal and a splash of luck in being in the right place at the right time.
“Good job, boss.” Mark casually clapped her on the shoulder. “I told Barb this morning if I was ever up the creek I’d want you and Dar coming after me.” He concluded. “You just don’t stop.” He clarified, as everyone looked at him in some surprise. “You know?”
Well. Kerry managed a brief grin. “C’mon guys.” She said. “I knew you were out there, and I saw the flooding. What was I supposed to do?” She said, in a slightly exasperated voice. “Of course I had to come find you. You guys are family to us.”
One of the hanging dividers moved aside and a bespectacled man in a khaki shirt and dark blue slacks entered. “Okay, we’ve got a transport all set up for you folks over to Jackson, but I’m gonna warn you, there’s gonna be a wait over there it’s kind crazy right now.”
Maria nodded. “I am sure many people are hurt.”
“That, and they had some issues with their emergency generators. So they’ve got limited intake ability.” The man said. “So you’ll just have to be patient.”
“Any option other than Jackson?” Kerry spoke up.
The man glanced at her, glanced at Tomas, and then back at her. “It’s the public option, ma’am.” He said, after a brief pause. “They’re a good trauma hospital.”
“They’re the only trauma hospital.” Mark commented. “My uncle works there.”
“How about Baptist?” Kerry walked over to the administrator, her hands in her pockets. “I”d really like to get them taken care of.” She watched his face as he hesitated, looking around with a touch of embarrassment. “I’ll guarantee the cost.” She added, almost as an afterthought.
He gave her a look, as though taking in her disheveled appearance in some doubt.
“Don’t worry.” Kerry smiled at him. “I’m good for it. Just get it set up and let me worry about getting them admitted. I’d do it myself, but all I got here is a motorcycle and we’re not gonna fit.” She kept her tone gentle and friendly and he visibly thawed.
“Okay, ma’am.” He said. “Let me tell the driver. We’ll get you folks going. I’ll be right back.” He took himself and his clipboard and disappeared back behind the flap.
The medic who was adjusting Tomas’ IV glanced over her shoulder at Kerry. “That was a blessing you just did.” She said, bluntly. “I was over at Jackson about an hour past and it’s a mess.”
“Kerrisita.” Maria protested, getting up from the bedside chair and coming over. “It is okay now, we could wait for this. We did not bring our cards and things out with us from the house.”
“Psst.” Kerry shushed her. “C’mon. Lets get this done. Mark, you can follow us and we can go on from there.” She said. “It’ll be a longer drive but end up less time.”
“Righto, boss.” Mark wasn’t fazed. “Just lets get going before they find more stuff for me to mess with.” He said. “I thought they were thinking of inducting me and it’s not my scene.”
Kerry glanced past the hanging partition, where a truck was driving in with flashing lights. “Yeah.” She stepped back to let the medics raise the stretcher Tomas was on. “Just glad Dar’s not here. We’d be hip deep in something by now.”