Storm Surge

Part 12

Dar sat quietly in the chair in Kerry’s office, listening to the quiet conversation on the speaker phone.  Across the desk from her, Alastair was crouched, leaning forward towards the phone with his head resting on both fists.

She’d had to deliver bad news more than once in her lifetime, but usually it was bad news of an impersonal sort.  Telling Alastair about Bob’s death had been anything but impersonal.  It made her feel sad, and angry all over again at the senselessness of it all.

Her guts were in knots.  She could see how upset Alastair really was, though his expression was merely somber and his voice even as he spoke into the phone to the devastated New York office.

“They’re sure, John?” Alastair said.

“Yes, boss.” A somber voice came back. “I got a call from St. Vincents. They thought they were going to get swamped, but they didn’t. Only a few.. ah. Anyway, one of the doctors there knew him.”

“Damn it.”

“Most of the people here are in the big room. They’re pretty upset. I came in the conference room to talk to you.”  John Brenner added. “I think we’re all still in shock.”

Alastair sighed. “Has anyone called his family?”

“No sir.”

Dar watched her bosses face tense into a grimace, and she felt a wallop of sympathy for him.  She’d known Bob in a casual way, met him once or twice, and argued with him extensively but Alastair had been a personal friend.

“All right. I will.” Alastair said. “Damn, I’m sorry to hear it.  John, is there anything I can do for the folks there? I know they must be taking it hard.”

John Brenner sighed. “We all hoped everyone made it.” He said. “After people started showing up today, we all thought, hey, we’ll get through this and it’ll just be getting things moving again.”

“Yeah, I know.” Alastair murmured. “We all hoped that.”

“He stopped to help some people. It must have just taken too long, I guess.”

Alastair glanced across the desk, watching Dar’s somber eyes watch him.  “Sometimes I’d rather our people be a little less heroic.”  He said. “But he did what he had to. “

“Yes, sir. He did.”

“All right. Whatever the folks there need, people, alcohol, whatever, make sure they get it John.”  Alastair said. “I’ll get hold of Mari here and see if we can get a councellor down there.”

John hesitated. “I think we’d appreciate it.” He said. “It would be good to have someone to talk to.”  He admitted. “I’ll call you later, boss, if we hear anything else. I’m going to go back inside with the rest of them.”

“Okay John. Take care.” Alastair exhaled, reaching forward to release the speakerphone. He then settled back in Kerry’s chair and gazed across at Dar. “God damn it.”

“Sorry.” Dar murmured. “I know he was a friend, Alastair.”

“He was.” Her boss said, in a sad tone. “His family’s old friends of mine for a couple generations back, matter of fact. My granddad and his great granddad were business partners.”  He shook his head. “What a damn shame.”

“Yeah.” His CIO nodded quietly. “They were all down there Alastair. The odds weren’t great in our favor to begin with.”

Alastair gazed past her. “How many times in bad odds did you bring us out without a scratch? Maybe I got used to thinking we were just lucky that way.”

Dar didn’t know what to answer to that, so she just sat there quietly, wincing at the upset in her stomach.

“Damn it.” Alastair whispered. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”

Dar jumped a bit, as her cell phone range. She unclipped it and checked the caller ID, then opened it. “Gerry.” She warned Alastair, before she answered. “Dar Roberts.”

“Hello, Dar. Gerry Easton here.” The General said. “We’ve got you all set up.  They want to grab you in a helo,  you have space for that there?”

Dar’s brows creased. “A h… a helicopter?” She asked. “Gerry, we can drive to the damn airport.  I’d have to clear half the parking lot to get one in here unless it was the size of one of those traffic copters.”

“Well, hang on a minute.” Gerry put her on hold. 

Dar looked across at Alastair and shook her head. “Helicopter. Jesus.”

Alastair pressed his fingertips against his lips. “Y’know Dar.” He said. “Given the news, I think I’d better renege on my offer to go with you.”

Dar’s eyes opened wide.  “What?”

“I think I’d better get Bea to book me to New York tomorrow morning.” Alastair said. “Those people need support.  Bob’s family needs support.  The government can wait.”

“Hello, Dar?” Gerry came back on. “They’d rather pick you up. Got their pants on fire, now they’re scuttling I guess.  Man said he can put the chopper down near by you.  Fifteen minutes?” He said. “Hate to push the point, Dar, but we’ve got several hells in handbaskets around here and everyone’s in a rush.”

Dar studied her boss. “I’ll be ready.” She said. “See you soon, Gerry.”

“Well done. Good job.” The General said. “Talk to you later.”

He hung up. Dar closed the phone and held it in her hands, her expression thoughtful. Then she opened the phone again and dialed. “Dad? Hey.  Last minute crap. They want to helo me out of here in fifteen. Can you.. ah, you are. Okay, see you in a few”  

She closed the phone again with a wry grimace. Then she cocked her head and looked over at the man behind her lover’s desk.  “So.”

“Think I’m throwing you to the wolves again?” Alastair asked.

“No.”  His CIO answered. “But does this give you a better perspective on why I went to be with Kerry when you needed me in Houston that time?” She asked. “When she was in Michigan?”

Alastair tilted his head, and frowned. “Was I mad about that?” He queried. “I wasn’t, was I?” He watched Dar’s brows lift. “I was, now that I think about it. That General of yours was threatening God only knows what, wasn’t he?”

Dar nodded.

“Scared the pants off me.” Her boss mused. “Then Bea came in and told me what  a jackass I was to even think about yelling at you.” He admitted. “With Kerry’s father passing on. I just let that get lost in all the craziness. Shouldn’t have pushed you.”

“We did all right out of it.” Dar half shrugged. “But there wasn’t any way I was leaving. So I understand.  Family comes first. Friends come first.  Business is just business.”

“It is.” Her boss agreed, mildly.  “But I am sorry about that, Dar.”

“Ah.” Dar cast her mind back to that dark time, when Kerry’s father had passed away and everything seemed to be turned against them.  She’d never regretting getting on the plane to Michigan. “I didn’t care.”

“About me yelling?”

“Yeah. I felt bad about selling a piece of my soul to Gerry but it didn’t matter. Kerry needed me there.” Dar remarked. “Everyone else could have gotten screwed three ways in a leaky raft as my father says for all I cared.”

Alastair nodded. “People matter.  Glad you understand, Dar.  I don’t want to pitch you into the fire, but I know you can handle it.”

“I can.” Dar agreed. “It’s my infrastructure anyway.  I grew out of needing a buffer a long time ago.”  She eyed her boss. “You’ve been stepping in front of trucks for me for a week. I could get insulted. Let me go bust my own balls for a while.”

Her boss managed a half grin.  “I am throwing you to the wolves, Dar.” He said. “I’m sorry. But I can’t go dick around with a bunch of politicians when I know those people in New York are hurting.  I gotta go.”

“I know.” Dar got up. “I’m going to grab my stuff and go say hi to my dad. He’s on the way up to my office.” She said. “Go take care of those people, Alastair. They need it.  We’ll be fine.”  She circled the desk and put a hand on Alastair’s shoulder. “Leave the politicians to me.”

Alastair’s pale eyes met hers. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

Dar chuckled. ‘Think of how they’ll feel.”  She gave her bosses shoulder a squeeze. “Maria’ll take care of a hotel for you for tonight and getting you to the airport. Just let her know what the details are.”

Alastair reached up and clasped her hand with his own. “Thanks. I will.” He said. “Be careful, willya?  Having you get dinged again because of this place ain’t worth it, lady.”

“You too.” Dar smiled, her voice warm with affection. “Give the people in Manhattan my regards. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing them soon myself.” She straightened up and headed for the door, slipping through it and closing it behind her.

Alastair exhaled, letting his elbows rest on the chair arms.  Then he reached out and punched Bea’s extention in again, waiting for her to answer. “It’s me.”

“I heard, Alastair. I’m so sorry.” Bea said. “What a shame. Do you know if there’s any arrangements yet? What can I do for the family for you?”

Alastair closed his eyes, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose for a long moment before he answered. “Don’t know yet.” He answered, briefly. “Haven’t talked to the family.” He fell silent, biting the inside of his lip.

Bea was quiet for a moment. “Tough day, boss?” She said, eventually.

“Yeah.” He agreed. “Just got a whole lot tougher.”

“Dar’s admin just messaged me with your hotel details.” Bea said. “She’s such a sweetheart.  I’ll start working on getting you a flight up tomorrow morning. You want the first one out, I guess?”

“Yeah.” Alastair cleared his throat. “Sounds fine. Early as you can.”

“You want to stay somewhere near the office there? I can try getting something close. Hard to say what’s available though.”

“Get me whatever you can.” Her boss answered quietly. “Doesn’t matter.”

The inner door opened, and he looked up quickly, to find Dar emerging in to the room again with a set of keys in her hand. “Ah.” He cleared his throat again. “Thought you were out of here.”

“Almost.” Dar set the keys down. “I know you can get a ride from anyone here, or a cab, but sometimes it’s good to have your own transport. Just leave it at the hotel, and I’ll get it picked up.” She knelt down and put her hand on his knee. “Pick a causeway and find a beach. That’s where I go to chill out.”

His eyes met hers, and he managed a faint smile.  “Thanks, Paladar. I’ll try not to crash into any palm trees.”

Dar patted his leg, then stood up.   “Later.” She disappeared again, leaving silence, and the faint scent of leather in her wake.

Alastair jingled the keys lightly in his fingers. “Y’know, Bea, if I was thirty years younger, Kerry’d have a fight on her hands.”  He chuckled wryly. “No offense to my wife.”

“You know, Alastair, you’re right.” Bea said, after a pause and a long sigh. “She is really neat.  How did we miss seeing this side of her all these years?”

“Don’t know, and really don’t care. I’m just glad we have her because she’s damn good people.” Alastair regarded the pictures facing him. “I’m going to get out of here, Bea. Arrange what you can, just drop me the details.”

“Will do, boss.  Have a margarita for me.”

Alastair stood up. “You can bet on it.” He said. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll go get myself a tattoo. It’s been that kind of week.”

“Alastair.”

“Yeah, I know. My wife would kill me.” Alastair sighed. “Talk to you later, Bea.”   He hung up the phone and circled the desk, heading for the door. Just short of it, he stopped and regarded the boxing dummy.

It’s face, what there was of it, was scuffed. He picked up one of the gloves and looked at it, the laces loosened from the last hand it fit over. He put it over his fingers and slid it on, finding the inside of it snug, but well worn.

Did Kerry really spend that much time beating the daylights out of something? Was the stress here as bad as all that? 

Experimentally, he faced off against the dummy and socked it one in the puss, making the spring loaded torso rock back and forth energetically.   It’s stolid face looked back at him as it wobbled back and forth. 

He hit it again. “Huh.”  He was faintly surprised at how satisfying it felt.  Then, after a moment’s thought, he wasn’t surprised.   Quietly, he removed the glove and hung it back next to it’s mate, giving the dummy a pat on the head.

The corridor was empty when he left the office, and he took advantage of that to stroll to the elevator, slowing when he spotted Maria approaching him. “Hello, Maria.”

“Senor McLean.” Maria responded politely. “Dar has asked me to make sure your bag is put in her car, yes? I sent Mayte down to take care of that for you.” She said. “I think the army has come for her and her papa out in the parking lot. I was going to go see that.”

“I’ll join you.” Alastair punched the elevator button. “Thanks for grabbing my things. Does Dar always think of everything?”

Maria merely looked at him, both her dark eyebrows lifting.

“Silly question. I know she does.” Alastair held the elevator door and followed Maria inside.  “She’s thought of everything ever since I’ve known her.”

The door closed and they rode down in companionable silence.

**

Kerry held the door for her mother as they entered the small, typically decorated Japanese restaurant.   It was quiet inside, too late for the happy hour crowd, and she was glad enough to settle in a comfortable banquette to one side of the sushi bar. 

It felt very good to simply sit. Even with her mother across from her.   “Ugh.”  She leaned back and let her arms rest on her thighs. “What a bunch of posers.”

Cynthia looked up from examining the menu, peering at Kerry across a pair of half glasses. “Are you speaking of my colleagues?”

“Yes.” Kerry lifted her hand a rubbed the back of her neck, too tired to worry about being rude.

“Well, I have to agree.” Her mother said. “I can’t believe they disregarded all of the things we discussed earlier in favor of a senseless attack on your company.”

A waiter came by, bowing to them and waiting in silence. 

“Can I get a Kirin, please?” Kerry asked. “Mother, would you like a drink?”

Cynthia pondered a moment. “I would.” She decided. “Could I perhaps get a glass of white wine?”

“Yes of course.” The waiter said. “You want some thing to start?”

Kerry glanced at the menu. “Trust me to order?” She asked.

Cynthia hesitated, then nodded. “Of course.” She said.

The waiter turned to Kerry, his eyebrows cocking.

“Ah.. two orders of the Edamame, please, two of the watercress salads… mother, I think you’d like the tuna tataki roll, and I’d like the sushi and tempura plate, please.” Kerry glanced across the table. “All right with you?”

Her mother looked a touch nonplussed. “Well, certainly. That sounds lovely.” She handed her menu back and settled back in her seat. “I can’t say I’ve tried sushi.  Your father wasn’t partial to oriental food.”

Kerry remembered that. “Strictly old fashioned American food. I recall.” She said. “I didn’t acquire a taste for it until I moved down to Florida. It’s too hot to eat that heavy all the time.” She played with her fork. “Japanese food is usually cool or room temperature, looks great on the plate, and it’s good for you on top of it.”

“Hm.” Cynthia murmured.  She glanced up as the waiter returned, bearing a tray with Kerry’s beer, her wine, and two plates of green pods.  He put the pods and the drinks down, gave them another little bow, and retreated.

Kerry picked up her glass and took a sip of her beer.  It was cold, and light, and it went down easy.  She leaned back against the padded surface and relaxed, glad the day was almost over.

Almost. She just had this dinner to get through, just had to drop her mother off back at her office, the make the drive back to her hotel and wait for the crowning end to her day that with any luck would involve her, Dar, and being naked.

Or her, Dar, and footy pajamas. Or her, Dar, and remaining fully clothed.  She really didn’t care as long as the her and the Dar part were in there.  She missed her partner something fierce, and now the constant strain and aggravation were starting to wear on her.

“Are these like peas?” Her mother asked, studying the edamame.

“Soy beans.” Kerry put her beer down and picked one up, squeezing it and popping the resulting bean into her mouth. “With a little salt.”

“Oh.”  Cynthia picked one up and examined it, then put pressure on the end and started a bit as the pod split and the bean almost went across the table. “My goodness.” She captured it and put it cautiously to her lips, chewing it as though it might explode.

Kerry finished her pod and went on to the next one.  “Dar and I play games with these.” She related. “I can squeeze one into her mouth from across the table.”

Her mother stared at her. “Kerrison.” She said, after a moment. “You don’t really.”

Kerry smiled wryly. “Yeah, I do.” She said. “It’s our neighborhood joint near the office. They all know us there. They don’t’ care if we throw food at each other.”  She picked up another pod.  “We do lunch there a lot. It gets so hectic and stressful at the office, it’s nice to just sit and blow off steam sometimes.”

“That seems very strange.” Her mother said, then she sighed. “But really, what isn’t strange these days.  I don’t understand what the world is coming to.” 

True.  Kerry felt like the world had stopped, and started spinning the opposite direction. So much had changed in so few days, and looking forward she saw only more change ahead of them. Not good change, either. 

It was an uncharacteristically pessimistic feeling.  She didn’t much like it.

Cynthia ate another bean slowly.  She picked up her glass and sipped her wine, watching Kerry over the rim.  “It’s been a terrible day, hasn’t it?”

“Lousy.” Her daughter agreed.  “Lousy couple of days. The only bright spot for me today was Dar telling me she’s heading up here.” She paused. “Well, that and you telling the other senators off.”

Cynthia blinked. “Well, I don’t think… “ She stopped. “On the other hand, perhaps I did.  They made me very upset.”

“Me too.” 

“I am sorry about that.” Cynthia said, in a sincere tone. “I really did not expect them to do what they did. I knew they had questions, but I thought they were more interested in finding a way to better communicate. Not…” “

“Not find someone to blame?” Kerry half shrugged. “Well, it’s over. I hope they learned something from it, but if they didn’t, they didn’t.  I don’t have time to worry about it.” She gave the waiter a smile, as he returned with their salads.  “Thanks.”

Cynthia picked up her fork and investigated the watercress. “Oh, this is lovely.” She said, after tasting a bite.  “Quite delightful.”

Kerry maneuvered her chopsticks expertly and spent a quiet moment ingesting the greens. They were crisp and fresh, the dressing a touch spicy, and with more than a hint of citrus.  “That is good.” She said, after wiping her lips. 

Her mother took another sip of wine. “This is really very nice, Kerry. “ She said. “Is this some place you plan to bring Dar to, when she arrives?”

Kerry slowly finished her salad, considering the question.  “Maybe.  She loves sushi.”    She allowed. “I don’t think we’re going to be here long though. “

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.” Kerry wiped her lips on her napkin. “Soon as we get the backups running here, my guess is we’ll both be needed in New York.”  She studied her glass. “There’s a lot more to do there.”   Her brows knit a little. “So many people. So much damage.  What a total waste.”

Slowly, her mother nodded. “I was very sorry to hear about your colleague. Did you know him well?”

Bob.  She hadn’t really known him at all. He’d been a name on an email, a voice on the phone. He’d been the guy Dar had been with when Kerry’s plane had gotten in trouble, and that was the one set of personal memories she had of him.

He’d been touring Dar around the city, so very proud of it, her partner had said.

Now, being in that city had ended in his death. Kerry was sure he’d never even considered having something like that happen to him a remote possibility. No one did. 

Just a routine day for them.  Just a regular visit to clients, a bid in process, a day that had probably started with coffee at the deli across from the office at Rockefeller Center, and plans for lunch down in the business district.

“He was our senior sales executive in the Northeast.” Kerry said. “I spoke to him often. He was a nice guy.” She paused. “He loved New York.”

Cynthia shook her head. “Terrible.”

“He was a good friend of our CEO’s.” Kerry went on. “Dar had to tell him they found his body.”

“Oh my.” Her mother put a hand to her mouth. “How terrible for her. “

Kerry nodded, taking a swallow of her beer. “I’m sure it was tough. She and Alastair are pretty close.” She leaned back again, stretching her back out a little.  She felt stiff, and her body felt tired, a bone deep ache that made her hope she wasn’t coming down with something.

“Really?” Cynthia took a sip of her wine. “I thought he was an older man.”

“He is.” Kerry agreed. “But Dar’s worked for him for a long time. She’s pretty much his right hand. He depends on her all the time to get things right.” She smiled as the waiter returned, placing down their plates with a flourish. “Thanks. That looks really great.”

“Ma’am, excellent. Can I get you another beer?”

“Sure.” Kerry readily agreed. “Mother?”

“Well, yes.” Cynthia handed over her empty glass. “This looks lovely, and smells delicious.” She concluded. “Really, I can’t think why I haven’t tried this before. Certainly we have plenty of oriental places here in Washington.”

Kerry was busy with her sushi, mixing her soy sauce and wasabi just so, and adding a bit of the pickled ginger to it.  “Dar tricked me into trying it the first time.” She related.  “She said I could have just teriyaki chicken and a salad, and she had this big plate of really gorgeous colorful sushi in front of her.

“Oh my.”

“I ended up eating half of it.”  Kerry selected a piece of her meal and dipped a bit of it into the soy sauce, then she popped it into her mouth and chewed contentedly.

“This is wonderful.” Cynthia tried her tuna.  “So light.”

Kerry merely nodded. It had been a long time since her spicy chicken sandwich and the cupcakes hadn’t done anything to stabilize her blood sugar.  She had a nagging headache, and she just hoped the sushi would settle her body down and let her get through the rest of the night and back to her hotel.

Last thing she needed was a migraine. 

“Angela was telling me you have a vacation cabin?” Her mother asked. “It sounded lovely.”

Kerry swallowed, glad of the subject change to safer and less tense waters. “We do.” She said. “Dar and I decided we liked spending time down in the Keys, so we found a place just south of Key Largo and restored a cabin down there.”

“How charming!” Cynthia smiled. “I know you and your brother and sister both used to love the cabins down by the lake in the summer.”

“Yes, we did.”  Kerry took a sip of her freshly filled beer.  “It’s really cute. It has a kitchen, and a nice big living room, a bedroom, and two offices that also have pulldown beds.” She said. “It’s right on the water. We love watching sunsets from the porch.”

“You always sound so busy. I’m so glad you take time out to relax.” Her mother said. “It was so hard for us to take family vacations with your father so occupied all the time.  I know you children went to camp, but it’s not the same thing.”

Kerry chuckled. “I told Dar about my camp experiences a few times and we had to laugh because her idea of camp and my idea of camp were way far apart. “

“Really? But of course, she grew up in Florida, didn’t’ she? I’m sure it’s very different there than up in the mountains.”

“She grew up on a navy base.”  Kerry said, quietly. “I think she wanted to be in the navy until she was in high school. So yes, it was very different.”

Cynthia glanced at her.  “Goodness. What on earth would she have done in the navy? She’s far too clever for that.”

What would Dar have done in the navy? Kerry used the excuse of ingesting more sushi to give her a moment to ponder the question.  She knew Dar had wanted to be a Seal, like Andrew had been, but if not that then what?

“I’m sure she’d have ended up in some position in intelligence, or planning.” Kerry wiped her lips. “But I’m very glad she decided to go into IT instead, since I don’t’ think I’d have had a chance to meet her if she’d gone into the service.”

There was a small silence. “Well.” Cynthia said, after a pause. “I’m glad too.”

Kerry looked up from her plate in surprise.

“I am glad.” Her mother said. “That you found someone who makes you so happy, Kerry. No matter who that person turned out to be.”

Kerry studied her mother’s face, reflected in the sedate light of the restaurant. “Thanks.” She replied in a quiet tone.  “I never had a choice about loving Dar and I never wanted one, but losing my family because of it really hurt.”

“I know.” Cynthia said. “It hurt your father and I too, though I know you probably find that hard to believe. We did things that I look back on now and wonder how I could have thought they were right. They weren’t.”

Kerry exhaled. “I did some of those things too.” She admitted. “I think I figured if you hated me anyway, it didn’t matter what I did.”

Her mother reached over and touched her hand. “We never hated you.” She said. “As angry and frustrated as your father was, he truly felt in his heart what he did he did because he loved you.”

“You know.” Kerry studied her mothers face again. “I believe that.”

“Do you?” Cynthia seemed surprised.

Her daughter nodded. “Because despite everything that happened, I didn’t hate either of you.” She fiddled with her chopsticks. “I didn’t expect you to like or accept what my choices were.”

Her mother ate quietly for a few minutes, giving Kerry the chance to do the same. The air had lightened though, and Kerry felt a wary sense of relief along with a hope that the thaw would continue.

She didn’t really like conflict.  Dar reveled in it, taking every opportunity she could to dive into the deep end of the combative pool, relishing the challenge of going head to head with anyone who cared to argue with her. 

Except Kerry. Dar didn’t’ like arguing between them any more than Kerry did. 

“We didn’t really understand. “ Her mother said, after a while. “I don’t’ think your father ever did, really, though I believe he did come to respect Dar and her family. “ She took a sip of her wine. “I decided after he passed away that I would educate myself and try to gain an understanding of how you have chosen to live and really, Kerry, it’s not terribly different than anyone else.”

Kerry felt like a Martian had just taken a seat at the table and was asking for popcorn.  “Ah… you’re right. It’s not.”  She managed to respond. “We wake up, go to work, hang out, go to the gym, come home, balance the checkbook, watch television, go to bed… it’s not any different from anyone else. We just both happen to be women.”

Her mother nodded. “So it seems.  I cannot pretend I do not wish it was otherwise, but I have come to accept that it is your choice, and that is all right with me.”  She said. “I like Dar and her family very much. They seem like very sincere people, and I do not find much of that around here. I often wish I hadn’t decided to take this task on.”

“You’d rather be home?” Kerry guessed.

“I would, yes.” Her mother replied. “I understand the politics around me, but I truly do not like them. It often makes me quite disgusted with humanity.”

Kerry nodded wryly, knowing a moment of personal growth she hadn’t expected. “I hear you.” She could almost hear Dar’s knowing chuckle. “Maybe you can come with Angie and Mike and visit us.  We’ll give you a ride in our boat, and you can meet my dog.”

Her mother was quiet for a long moment. “I would like that.” She said. “After this horrible emergency is over, we shall make plans to do so.”

Kerry smiled, and lifted her beer glass, waiting for her mother to hesitantly do the same before she reached over and clinked them together.  Then she put the glass down and went back to her sushi, determined not to waste a single bite.

**

It was late when they pulled back into the parking lot outside Cynthia’s offices.  Kerry briefly regretting the need to retrieve her briefcase, then she shrugged and shut the SUV’s engine off, opening the door to hop out of it.

She took a moment as her mother got out of the other side to check her cell phone. Again.  “Darn it.” She frowned at the instrument, conspicuously lacking in messages from Dar.  “Where are you, Dixiecup?”

With a sigh, she returned the phone to her belt and circled the front of the SUV, joining her mother as they walked across the still half full parking lot in the brassy glare of the security lights. 

“What are your plans now?” Her mother asked. “It’s a shame your things are at the hotel, you could easily have stayed in the townhouse.”

Kerry stifled a yawn.  “Best laid plans.” She remarked. “In any case, Dar’ll probably come in late tonight and she knows to go there.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. Well..” Cynthia lifted a hand. “If you stay over another night, please, both of you are more than welcome to stay at our home here.”

Kerry appreciated the offer, honestly. However, she remembered the somewhat cramped and often busy confines of the townhouse and knew her partner would appreciate the space and hot tubs of the hotel instead. “Thanks very much.” She replied. “I really appreciate that, mother, and I know Dar will too. Hotels can get old after a while. “

Her mother smiled.

“It just will depend on our task list once Dar gets here.” Kerry demurred. “I think I mentioned that she’s got some confidential information she didn’t want to discuss over the phone, no telling what that involves.”

“Of course.” Cynthia nodded. “I’ve had a lovely time tonight. I’m so glad we got a chance to visit a little.”

They entered the door, and got only the briefest of looks from the soldiers standing guard, all of them looking tired and more than a little discouraged.

“Good evening.” Cynthia greeted them.

“Ma’am.” One of the soldiers responded. “Do you know how late everyone’s supposed to be here?”

Kerry’s mother paused. “Well, it’s hard to say.” She said. “Usually, perhaps nine, perhaps ten pm, but with the extraordinary events going on, possibly people will be staying later. I myself am leaving as soon as my daughter here retrieves her things from my office.”

The soldier sighed. “Thanks ma’am.” He said. “Wish they’d put some vending machines in.” He muttered. “They even turned off the coffee pot.”

Cynthia looked around the small reception room. The soldiers were the only occupants, the receptionists having long gone home for the day. “Are you staying here all night?” She asked. “My goodness.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The soldier agreed. “Long as you all are.”

“I vote we pull a fire alarm and clear the building then.” Kerry spoke up for the first time.  “I think you all need your sleep more than the senators need to grouse and wring their hands.”

“Kerry.” Her mother eyed her. “I’m sure everyone here has a good reason to be at work.”

Kerry exchanged wry glances with the soldier, who reached up and touched the brim of his camo cap.  She pulled her cellphone from her belt and dialed a number.  “Hey Mark, it’s Kerry.”

“Hey boss.” Mark said. “We’re in the trailer, chilling.”

“If youre chilling, that must be good news.” Kerry smiled. “Newark up?”

“Yeah, and soon as they finish the power feed we can do something for this place, at least barebones.” Mark replied. “You’re gonna have to come play ref on them though, everyone’s a prio 1 in their own minds around here.”

Kerry nodded. “Yeah, I know.  Anyone there free to take a little ride?” She asked. “If you’ve got some spare chow, the poor guys down here guarding my mother’s office could use some.”

“Hang on.” Mark put the line on hold.

Kerry looked at the soldiers, who were now focused on her with imperfectly hidden hopefulness. 

“So.. you want stuff over at your mom’s office?” Mark got back on the phone. “I got a couple of volunteers here to bring it. How many guys?”

“Six.” Kerry smiled. “Six big, hungry Marines.” 

“Can do, boss.” Mark said. “You sticking around there?  Be cool if you could make sure they get in all right.”

Kerry’s brows twitched. “Ah… sure.” She said. “But tell them not to sightsee on the way over. I’m about out of steam.”

“No problem.”  Mark replied. “They’ll be right over. You just hang tight.”

“Thanks Mark.” Kerry said. “You get some rest, okay? Let me know when the power gets put in.”

“Sure will. Later, boss.”

“Isn’t that lovely.” Cynthia said.

Kerry replaced the phone on her belt. “Okay guys.” She said. “It’ll probably be sandwiches and chips, but at least it’s better than a vending machine.  A couple of our guys will be over in a company truck with it.”

The Marines grinned.   “Now that’s service. Thank you ma’am.” The senior one said. “We were supposed to get a relief three hours ago but they’ve got our whole platoon out all over the place.”

“My pleasure.” Kerry said. 

Cynthia clasped her hands. “Shall we go to my office?  I’m sure it wont’ take them long to get here.  For once the traffic’s not so abominable.” She gestured towards the inner door, then followed Kerry as she eased past and headed for it.  “Gentlemen.”

“Ma’am.” The soldiers all smiled at her, more cheerful now. 

Kerry exhaled as she walked along the marble floor.  The building was quieter now, some offices showing lights and shadows, others quiet and dark.  She wondered, briefly, what the difference was, between those who’d gone home, and those who’d stayed.

“Kerry, that was wonderful of you.” Her mother said. “So thoughtful, to take care of those soldiers.  Tomorrow, I will find out why they were left there like that, to be sure.”

“No problem.” Kerry said. “I was pretty sure we had extra. We always order enough food for three times the people we have.”

“Really?”

“Nerds eat anything and everything as much as you’ll give them.” Her daughter chuckled a little. “When we have lunch meetings we put the extras in the breakroom and get out of the way. It’s like locusts descending.”

Cynthia made a small sound of surprise. “In any case, it was a lovely gesture.  I know they appreciated it.”

The door to the Senator’s office was closed, and the panel dark behind it.  Cynthia removed a key from her purse and unlocked the door, pushing it open and reaching inside to turn the lights on.  “I see everyone’s left.”

“They had a long day.” Kerry entered and moved past the quiet desks, and now silent computers. She entered her mother’s office and went to her briefcase, fishing her PDA out of it and opening it up.

Three messages, none from Dar.  She frowned, and glanced briefly at the ones that were there, finding nothing more than automatic notifications.   After a moment, Kerry closed the device and took out her cell phone again, dialing the first speed entry with impatient motions.

Her mother entered. “The intelligence committee is still meeting.” She commented. “I’m sure they’re trying to make sense out of everything that’s going on. I wonder… perhaps I will join them for a few minutes to see what’s happening.”

Kerry listened to the ringing on the other end.  “Sounds like a good idea.” She said, scowling as the phone went to voice mail.  She listened to Dar’s gruff message, waiting for the beep.

This is Dar Roberts. If I am not answering, I’m probably too busy for a message, but you can leave one at the beep. 

At other times, it would have made her chuckle. But Kerry was starting to get a knot in her gut, a shadow of worry over the absence of any sign of her partner. “Hey hon.” She said into the phone. “Where are you? Give me a buzz, huh?”   She closed the phone.  “Damn it.”

Cynthia blinked. “Something wrong?”

Kerry tossed her phone up and caught it as it fell. “I can’t reach Dar, and I don’t know where she’s at.” She said. “She said they were trying to fly her up here tonight, but I haven’t heard anything since.”  She leaned on the back of the chair.  “So I’m a little worried.”

Her mother went behind her desk and sat down. “Is there someone we can call?” She asked, practically. “Surely if as you say, the military was allowing her to fly on one of their planes, someone must know about it.”

Kerry sat down in the chair, setting her briefcase on the floor.  “I’m sure someone does.” She said. “I just don’t know how to get in touch with anyone… it was probably General Easton, and he’s a family friend of Dar’s. I don’t have his direct number here.”

Her mother frowned, and sat back. “General Easton?” She asked. “Gerald Easton, you mean? From the Joint Chief’s?”

“Yes.”  Kerry nodded. “Our dog Cappucino came from one of his Labrador Alabaster’s litters.”  She paused. “She was a gift.”

“Oh.” Cynthia didn’t seem to know what to make of that. “How lovely.”  She pondered that. “I have to admit, I am not terribly fond of dogs. “ She said. “Is yours large?”

Kerry nodded. “She’s beautiful.”  She replied. “She’s so smart, and so funny.  She’s almost human.”  A thought occurred to her. “Here, let me show you.”  She opened her briefcase and removed her laptop, opening it and starting it booting. “I’ve got pictures.”

“Wonderful.” Cynthia said. She got up and went to a small, wood paneled refrigerator in one corner of the office. “I have some water here, would you like some?”

“Sure.” Kerry put her laptop on the desk and waited for it to finish starting up. “I”ve always liked dogs.”

“I know.” Her mother came back with two glasses, and two small bottles of Perrier.  “I remember how terribley upset you were when your little pet passed on. I felt terrible for you even though as I say, I am not fond of them myself.”

Kerry gazed at her slowly forming screen, then she looked up over it at her mother as she seated herself. “Did you know Kyle had her put down?”

Caught right in the act of sitting down, Cynthia stopped, half standing, one hand on the desk and the other on the bottle of water. She stared back at Kerry.

She didn’t  Kerry felt an odd wash of relief as her skill at reading body language detected the honest shock in her mother’s posture.  “He paid off an intern at the hospital. “ She added quietly. “He ended up working for us and came in and confessed to me two or three months ago. Said it haunted him.”

Kerry paused, blinking a few times. Then she shook her head and concentrated on her laptop, calling up her photo albums as she pushed aside the memories. “Haunted me too.”

The sound of a body hitting a leather seat was loud in the room as she clicked. “My god.”  Cynthia finally said. “No, I did not know that.. What a b..” She stopped. “Certainly, your father didn’t know.”

Kerry looked up at her, one brow lifting.

“We spoke of it.” Her mother seemed to sense the skepticism. “He wanted to get you another one.” She watched Kerry’s face. “I’m afraid I talked him out of it. But if I’d known… ugh!”  She got up, visible agitated. “I look back and wonder how we could have been so unaware.”

She turned back around. “Kerrison, are you sure? This is true?”

Kerry nodded. “I’m sure.” She said. “Hell, mother, he killed my fish when he broke into my apartment in Miami and searched it. The man was a psychopath.”

Cynthia’s jaw dropped slightly. ‘W.. what?”

“You knew he visited me there.” Kerry felt an odd mixture of regret, relief, and curiousity.  “Father sent him. Don’t’ tell me now he was acting all on his own. I won’t believe it.”

Her mother blinked. “Yes.” She said. “Your father sent him.  He sent him to find out how you really were doing. He thought you were perhaps not doing well, but too proud to tell us.”  She murmured. “Kyle said nothing about a fish, or breaking into anyplace, he just.. he told us he felt you were hiding something from us.”

“Well.” Kerry exhaled. “I was.”

“But he said he spoke with you.” Cynthia sat down. “Didn’t he?”

“He did. He came back the next day.” Kerry said. “He started to threaten me but Dar was there.”   She shook her head. “Anyway.” She got up and turend her laptop around, coming to kneel next to her mother’s chair. “Here’s Cappucino.”

With a visible effort, Cynthia focused on the screen. “Oh!” She murmured. “She is quite large.”  She studied the profile on the screen. “But quite attractive, as well. Lovely color, almost white, isn’t it?”

“Cream.” Kerry agreed, calling up a second picture. “This is our cabin.”

Relieved as the subject changed, her mother leaned forward. “Charming.” She said. “Is that stained glass? How lovely with the sun coming in.”

“That’s our bedroom.”  Kerry’s lips twitched a little. “Here’s the kitchen, and that’s the view out the bay window in the living room.”

“Stunning.”

“That’s our motorcycle.”

“Oh my.”

“Stay with me, mom.” Kerry had to fight to stifle a laugh. “It’s a Honda.”  She heard the sound of footsteps, and looked up, as the inner door opened.  “Ah.”

Cynthia also looked up. “Hello Alan.” She said. “I didn’t realize you were still here.  It’s late.”

Markhaus entered, pausing when he spotted Kerry behind the desk.  “I was hoping to discuss some matters with you in private.” He removed half glasses from his eyes and gave Kerry a disapproving look.  “We have a serious situation here.”

Cynthia merely gazed back at him. “I’m afraid my family is quite the most serious matter in my life at the moment.  Whatever it is, Alan, can wait until tomorrow. “

“It can’t.” He said.

“Then feel free to discuss it in front of my daughter.” Cynthia replied. “I believe she’s cleared for this sort of thing, Aren’t you, Kerrison?”

“Yes.” Kerry confirmed briefly. “But I’ll be glad to step out, mother.  I wouldn’t want to add any of our confidential information into the mix.”

Markhaus openly glared at her. 

“Certainly not.” Her mother said.  “Alan, please be brief.  Kerrison has been kind enough to provide a meal for our guards since no one else seems to have remembered them. We are merely waiting for that to arrive, then we are going home for the evening.”

“Cynthia, are you not aware of what’s going on here?” Markhaus came closer to the desk. “This country’s been attacked. We are effectively at war. I realize you have no experience in any international matters, but at least pretend to give a damn.”

Kerry slowly stood up.

“I do.” Her mother folded her hands on her desk. “I just seem to have the sense to know that all of us sitting here burning the midnight oil so to speak and talking about it  is simply pointless. We do not have any information. All we have is speculation, and rumor. Or has the White House responded to your questions?”

“They were trying to kill the President.”

“At least he’s a valid target.” Kerry said quietly.

“What?” The man looked at her.  “What kind of nonsense talk is that? These people are insane!” He waved his free hand. “We have to have plans. We have to find out how this happened. We have to put together a strategy to get back at them, and make sure this never happens again.”

“Do you know why they did it?” Kerry countered.

“It doesn’t matter!” Markhaus shot back. “I don’t care why they did it.”

“Then you won’t ever keep them from doing it again.”  Kerry folded her arms over her chest.  “What are you going to do, send bombers over there and blow them up?”

“That’s an option.” Markhaus said. “If it were up to me, I’d have them send a nuke over there and just sterilize the whole damn region.”

“Alan!” Cynthia stood up. “ What are you saying?”

“No bleeding hearts here.” He said. “Or pansys.” He looked directly at Kerry. “That’s what the problem is. We don’t have enough right thinking people. Just perverts and peaceniks.”

“Are you calling me a pervert?” Kerry asked, sharply. “Hold on a minute, mister. Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Now, hold on.” Cynthia stood up. “This is ridiculous. Please!”

“Ridiculous?” Markhaus pointed at Kerry. “How do we know you didn’t help them, since you had all that information?  How do we know you didn’t sell us out?”

“Alan!”

“Oh yeah sure.” Kerry shot back. “I sold out to a fundamentalist organization that  probably prefers to have gay people euthanized. Yeah. I’m into that. “ She put her hands on her hips. “If anyone sold this country out it’s you. It’s this damn government.”

“Kerrison!”

“That’s the kind of patriot you raised.” Markhaus pointed at Cynthia. “That’s what the biggest problem this country has. Sick minds!” He turned and left. Cynthia chased after him in furious silence, leaving Kerry to stand bristling in the middle of the room with no place for her anger to go but inside.

“Shit.” Abruptly she sat down, her temples threatening to explode.  She could hear her heart hammering in her chest, and the throbbing was making red streaks against the inside of her eyes as she sat there with them closed.

It was too much. She wanted to throw up, every inch of her body twitching with unreleased anger. It was hard to think.

Hard to breathe.

Then a hand gripped her knee, warm and sure, a casual familiarity in the touch that made her eyes blink open.  “Uh?”

“Hey beautiful.” Dar’s voice tickled her ears. “Can I buy you a drink?”

She felt a moment of tingling shock, then the anger and frustration evaporated as she took in the twinkle in those blue eyes and felt a smile replacing the grimace on her face.

Heaven.

Kerry exhaled audibly, slumping sideways against the tall figure kneeling at her side, her head coming to rest on Dar’s shoulder as she felt Dar’s hand come up and cradle the side of her face, the warmth against her skin intoxicating in it’s own right. “Oh thank God”

“Thank Gerry, a couple of Air Force pilots, and six big hungry Marines.” Her partner said. “We’re your volunteers.”

“Ungh.”  Kerry captured Dar’s hand and kissed it relentlessly.  “Mark ‘s dead for not telling me you were there. You’re dead for not telling me you were there.  I was a nervous wreck wondering where you were.”

“Sorry.” Dar kissed her on the forehead. “I idiotically left my cell and PDA in my briefcase that’s sitting back in Miami.  I figured another ten minutes wouldn’t matter after that and I wanted to surprise you.”

“You did.”

“Didn’t mean to stress you.”

“Don’t care.” Kerry closed her eyes, absorbing her partner’s scent, and the sound of her voice and the gentle touch stroking her hair. “All better now.”

The inner door closed.  Kerry heard footsteps and the sound of a chair squeaking nearby. She opened one eye to see her mother looking back at her, her expression distressed.  “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Cynthia said. “The man is an ass.”

Kerry felt Dar’s body jerk with silent laughter.  She smiled in reaction, feeling a physical sense of relief it was hard to quantify or describe.  “Dar’s here.”

“Yes, I did notice that.” Cynthia said. “I’m glad.”

“My dad’s outside talking to the Marines.” Dar said. “Alastair went on to New York.”

“Awesome.” Kerry mumbled. “Can I have that drink now?”

Dar stroked her hair. “Sure.” She glanced over at Kerry’s mother. “Want a drink too?”

“Absolutely.” Cynthia Stuart said. “I think we should get out of here at once.”

“Best idea I’ve heard all day.” Kerry managed to stand as Dar rose to her feet, the wrapped her arms around her partner and hugged her as hard as she could. “Unnngh.”

Dar returned the hug fully. “Damn I missed you.” She said, in an undertone. “Damn, damn damn.”

“Damn, damn damn.” Kerry repeated, rocking them both back and forth. “You got that right.”

**

“You must be exhausted.”  Kerry nevertheless was content to sprawl half across Dar’s lap in the back of the SUV, her head resting on her partner’s thigh as Dar’s hands worked the kinks out of her neck. “Do you even know what time it is?”

“Do you even think I care?” Dar glanced at the driver’s seats, where her father was ensconced at the wheel with Kerry’s mother directing him.  It gave her a Twilight Zone feeling and she quickly returned her attention to Kerry.

“Probly not.”

“You’re probly right.”  Dar was tired, but not sleepy.  In truth given all the travel she really had no sense of what time her body thought it was, but regardless she was looking forward to a dark hotel room an a nice soft bed with her partner in it.  “Mark made some good progress over there.”

“I know.” Kerry said. “I really wanted to get out of there because I was more in their way than anything once I’d gotten the brass on the same page as us.”

Dar chuckled. “Our technology bus has become the social center onsite. If the PR department  were here they’d be pissing in their pants at all the good press they didn’t arrange or pay for.”

Kerry smiled, her fingertips tracing the seam line of Dar’s jeans.  Then her smile faded. “It’s awful about Bob.”

“Yeah.” Dar exhaled. “Alastair’s pretty shaken up over it. I think he really wanted to be here with us, but his family’s old friends of Bob’s.” She kneaded Kerry’s shoulders, feeling the tension in the tight muscles there.  “I think the rest of the staff there will be glad to see him though.”

“Ungh.”

“How’s your headache?”

“Better.” Kerry murmured. “Just having you here makes me feel better.  Why is that? You always do that to me.”

Dar gazed quietly down at her. “I don’t know.” She said, after a pause. “I know I feel better just being here.  You think we’re nuts?”

“Probably.” Kerry acknowledged. “Do you care?”

“Nope.”

“Me either.”

“I need to call Gerry in the morning. “ Dar said. “I’m sure he tried to call me tonight but the only place I have his private number is in my cell.” She sighed. “I’ll have to have Maria get it for me.”

“I can’t believe you forgot your briefcase.” Kerry mumbled. “Jesus, Dar. That has your laptop in it.”

“Also had my wallet in it.” Her partner informed her.  “Luckily for me I did remember to bring my father.”

“What’s that, Dardar?” Andrew asked, from the driver’s seat. “You kids all right back there? We’re almost to that there hotel of yours.”

“I was just telling Kerry about our trip.” Dar said. “I hear that hotel has a nice bar.”

“With leather chairs.” Kerry supplied. “The big cushy ones.”

“Ah do believe a beer would be right nice about now.” Andrew allowed. “Been one hell of a day after another damn hell of a day.”

“It was so nice of you to come along, commander.” Cynthia said. “You have always been so supportive.”  She added.  “I believe you need to turn… ah, no left there. Ah. Oh.”

“Hold on there.” Andrew directed the SUV across several lanes of traffic. “Jest be a minute.”

“Keep your eyes closed.” Dar advised her partner, who had stirred and started to get up. “Don’t look. I just got that knot out of your back.”

“Mmph.” Kerry grunted and relaxed again. “Company has insurance on this thing, right?”   She had her knee braced against the back of the front passenger seat, and with Dar’s grip on her, and her hold on Dar’s leg, she figured she was pretty safe.

It was getting late, and she was really feeling it.  She wished she could ask Andrew to just drop them off. 

“Thank you again for bringing all those supplies for our poor guards.” Cynthia went on. “They were very happy with what you brought I believe.”

“Damn sure shoulda been.” Andrew said. “That was some nice roast beef, Dardar. You all sure don’t fool around with grub, do ya?”

“Nerds require a lot of protein liberally applied.” Dar said. “Keeps the brain cells running.”  She riffled through Kerry’s pale hair, as one eyeball appeared and rotated up to watch her.  “So yeah, we don’t eat quiche.”

Andrew chuckled.

“Have you ever eaten quiche?” Kerry asked, in a low mutter.

“Not knowingly.” Dar confided back. “Have you?”

Kerry nodded mournfully.

Dar leaned closer. “What is quiche?” She whispered.

“Overcooked egg omelette in a cake pan with a bunch of  weird stuff it in and not enough egg.”

Dar made a face. “Ew.”  She leaned back against the seat and peered through the front windshield, spotting their hotel rapidly approaching.  She could feel a vague disassociation clouding her senses, a product of the long day’s worth of overwhelming input and though she knew there was lists of things she should be doing right at the moment she also knew she wasn’t going to do them.

People made mistakes when they were as tired as she was.  Like leaving briefcases full of important documents, machines, and credit cards somewhere.  Dar gently kneaded the back of Kerry’s neck with one hand as she watched the streetlamps go by in silence.

They pulled into the hotel valet lobby, and reluctantly Dar released her partner and gave her a scratch on the back. “Here we are.”

With an audible sigh, Kerry pushed herself up and sat back, running the fingers of one hand through her hair.  She waited for the valet to open the door and hopped out, blinking a little in the cool air as the sounds of the hotel abruptly surrounded her.

It all looked a little different. She glanced around her as they walked up the steps and into the lobby, wondering if she was just not remembering what it had been like or if she was imagining differences.  She followed Andrew into the big bar, among only a few other patrons, most gathered at the bar watching the television.

She sat down in one of the comfortable looking chairs, and extended her legs as the rest of them settled around her, a waitress in an impeccably cut suit gliding their way at once.

Bad day for business, she guessed. Or, maybe they recognized her mother.  She glanced to one side. Or maybe the tall, scarred Andrew caught their eye.

“Ms. Stuart, welcome back.” The waitress addressed her directly. “What is your pleasure?”

Beh? “Uh?” Kerry felt her brain wrench off onto a siding. She turned her head and looked at Dar for just long enough for her partner to start snickering.

“I think she means to drink, hon.” Dar drawled. “I’ll take an Irish coffee, thanks.” She told the waitress. “And she’d probably like a mojito if you can manage it.”

Kerry got lightheaded, as the blood rushed to her face.  “Thank you. Yes. That will be fine.” She muttered, rubbing her face. “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“Of course.” The waitress didn’t even turn a hair. She swiveled and addressed Cynthia. “Ma’am?”

Dar patted Kerry’s knee. “Sorry.” She leaned on the chair arm. “You okay?”

Kerry slouched back into her chair, and simply took a moment to study the angular face across the chair from her.  That’s what was different, she realized  Dar was here, and that made everything different.

She felt different, having her partner here.  She felt less defensive, less on edge.  Her eyes met Dar’s and she tried to quantify the change, seeing both exhaustion and happiness reflected back at her. 
“I’m really glad you’re here.” She said, watching the smile appear on Dar’s lips.

“I’m not glad I’m here.” Dar replied. “But I’m really glad we’re together.”

Ah. Yes. Kerry felt that nailed down her feelings completely.  “Yeah.” She felt the blush finally fade, and she was able to glance across the low table at her mother and Dar’s father. “That’s exactly what I meant.”

“Kerry.” Cynthia said. “I have to say I’m terribly sorry for what happened at my office. I was wrong. I should not have involved you at all. “ She said. “I thought I was doing a good thing, bringing information to my colleagues. Instead, it seems to have only made them angry.”

“Jackasses.” Andrew commented. “Gov’mint people got caught with their shorts round their ankles now they’re hollering foul.”

Cynthia half turned and regarded him. “Are you saying they should have known this was going to occur, Commander?”

“Anybody with a eyeball and half an ear knew that.” The ex SEAL responded mildly. “Them folks tried to blow up them buildings before. They aint’ got no voice. That’s how they talk. Blow things up. Blow up buildings, blow up police stations, blow up their own folks.”

Cynthia blinked at him. “Oh. My.”

“Ah been there.” Andrew added, almost as an afterthought. “Ain’t no love there for us. Only thing we got between us is money.”

A silence fell, as the waitress returned with a trayful of drinks.  She set down Kerry’s first, then went around the table, her motions quick and efficient.

“Please put this on my room.” Kerry finally made the connection as to why she’d been addressed first.  Her waking in the palatial suite seemed to be from another time, and had happened to another person. “And do you have a dessert menu from the restaurant?”

“Of course.” The waitress smiled at her. “Here you are.” She handed Kerry a leather bound folio.  “I’ll be right back.”

Kerry leaned on the chair arm and opened the menu, immediately gaining a dark head resting on her shoulder as Dar peered at it as well. “What do I want.” She mused.

“That.” Dar pointed at the brownie sundae. “Get it twice the size and I’ll share it with you.” She suggested, her shoulder bumping Kerry’s.  “Either that, or this.” She pointed next at a peach cobbler with ice cream. 

“We’re going to be bouncing off the walls all night.” Kerry said.  She turned her head to see that tiny bit of mischief erupt in her partner’s eyes just a moment too late. “Jesus. Don’t say it.” She sighed. “Not twice in ten minutes.”

Dar snickered, but held her silence.

“Well.” Cynthia sighed. “I’m not sure really what to do at this point.  What I am truly afraid of is that some of my colleagues will use this as an excuse to put in place some ideas that might not have found wide acceptance before.”

Kerry put the menu down and sat back, picking up her mojito and taking a sip of it.  The cool minty sweetness almost hid the bite of the rum and she licked her lips and put it back down on the table.  The waitress came back, and Kerry pointed at both herself and Dar. “Sundae.”  She glanced at Andrew, who nodded, then at her mother. “Mother?”

Cynthia frowned, then she shrugged. “Why not?”

“Four.” Kerry felt her second wind kicking in. Or perhaps it was her third or fourth by this time.  “Dar, can you let us in on what the issue is with Gerry?”

Dar glanced at Kerry’s mother, then at Kerry. One brow twitched, then she half shrugged herself. “Sure.” She said.  “Take this with a grain of salt, since I haven’t talked to anyone but Gerry about this, and he was pretty vague.”

She paused, and glanced around, but they were quite alone in their corner of the bar, the television providing an irresistible draw to everyone else including the staff.  “The problem is, they lost all the local feeds into the stock exchanges and the banking centers down on the tip of Manhattan.”

Kerry nodded.  Cynthia nodded. Andrew grunted.  “Okay.” Kerry added, after Dar paused. “And?”

“And, they need to get them back online, and not let out how damaging that is to our financial infrastructure.” Dar supplied.

Everyone nodded again. “Well, that’s understandable.” Cynthia ventured. “But I’m not quite sure.. I mean, surely everyone knows that, and by now it’s being worked on.” She paused. “Isn’t it?”

Kerry folded her arms across her chest. “Probably not yet.” She said. “The place where all those connections were is buried under the debris from the South tower.”

“Oh.” Kerry’s mother murmured. “Well, then…”

“Where do we come in to this?” Kerry looked at Dar. “None of that’s ours.”  She added. “We’ve got some customers down there, sure, and I’m already working on plans to get them rerouted, but we don’t touch the markets. I remember them saying how we were locked out of those contracts.”

“Someone told someone we could fix it.” Dar said, succinctly. “That’s what Gerry wants me to talk to that someone about. “

Cynthia was looking from one of them to the other. “I don’t understand.  What is this about locked contracts? “

“Politics.” Dar and Kerry said together.  Then Kerry half turned to face her partner.  “They think we can fix it? Dar that makes no sense.  We don’t have anything down there. No contacts, nothing. You remember what happened the last time they tried to put a bid in?”

“It doesn’t make sense.” Dar agreed. “That’s why we need to talk  to them. Find out why they think that. Alastair said I should get in and do whatever I needed to… but Ker, he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what’s the score there. I think he’s just not thinking straight.”

Kerry shook her head. “Well, okay.” She said. “On one hand we’ve got part of the government pissed off because we know everything, and on the other, we’ve got part of the government thinking we’re Thor, god of the Internets.   Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“Thor, god of the internets.” Dar mused. “I’m going to get a tshirt that says that.”

Andrew chuckled. Cynthia paused, then she laughed as well, and the mood lightened a little. 

“Really, it should wait for tomorrow.” Kerry’s mother said. “It’s very late, and I’m sure we’re all very tired.  I hope the morning will bring some return to normal, I hear airplane flights are resuming.” She looked over at Dar. “I am glad you arranged to arrive this evening, however, Dar.  I know Kerrison missed you terribly.”

“Mother.” Kerry sighed.

“Didn’t you?” Dar reached over and took Kerry’s hand in her own. “I sure as hell missed you.”

“Of course I did.” Kerry felt a little flustered. “But sheesh… you came for other reasons.” She eyed her partner, who had a faint smile on her face. “Didn’t you?”

Dar shook her head.

“Dar.”

The dark haired woman shrugged. “I’m too tired to lie.” She said. “It just so happened Gerry’s plan coincided with where I needed to be. If it hadn’t, I’d have told him he had to wait.” She gazed back at three sets of eyes, then looked over at Kerry. “Don’t give me that look. You were going to start driving for Houston yesterday.”

Kerry scratched her nose, and looked faintly abashed.

“Anyway.” Dar sipped her coffee with her free hand, the fingers of the other tangled with Kerry’s. “You and I will go down to the offices of whoever it is Gerry talked to and straighten it all out tomorrow. “

“The other sat trucks are holding out side Newark.” Kerry informed her. “ Not sure if you got that on the call.  They won’t let anyone down into lower Manhattan yet.”

Dar nodded. “We can compare notes tomorrow morning. See where we want the plan to go from here.”

“I know what my intentions are.” Cynthia spoke up suddenly.  “I have decided to return home, as early as I can. We have many things back in Michigan that I’m worried about.”  She said. “I realize there is much debate going on here, but there are people there that might be in danger.”

Kerry nodded. “I think that’s a good decision.” 

“I already know what will happen here.” Her mother said, in a quieter tone. “I already know speaking against it will do nothing.  One of my colleagues spoke with me earlier today, she’s afraid even to ask questions.  Everyone is so angry.”

“Ah get that.” Andrew said. “Ah know what that feels like. Someone done kicked you, all you want to do is get up and kick back.” He folded both arms over his broad chest. “That whole turn t’other cheek business never did much take hold in this here country.”

Cynthia sighed.

Kerry took a swallow of her mojito, glad of the warmth of Dar’s fingers around hers.  From the corner of her eye she could see ice cream heading their way, and she could sense the end of the evening coming as well, when she’d walk with Dar across the lobby and take the elevator to her .. no, their suite.

Everything was changing around her. The world, her family, her relationships with people.. the one constant being the hand holding hers, the steady confidence in Dar’s eyes, the knowledge that she would sleep tonight wrapped in the warm comfort of love.

She had no idea what tomorrow would bring.  But for tonight, life was doing the best it could and she was glad enough to take what she could get.

“Want my cherry?”

And then again.

**

Continued in Part 13