“Dar.” Kerry looked up from her laptop, and across at her visibly miserable partner. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but they’re going to need you to go down there.” She grimaced in sympathy at Dar’s hunched over posture.
“Fuck.” Dar had her eyes covered with one hand, having just swallowed a second set of pills. “Why?”
Kerry felt as emotionally miserable as Dar physically was. “They won’t let them in the demarc room at the Intrepid. Not even our local people.” She got up and circled the table, putting her hands on Dar’s shoulders and beginning a gentle massage. “Want me to go? If you tell me what to look for, and I take Dad, maybe we can do it.”
“Stupid fucking bastards. What do they think they’re going in there for with a three hundred pound spool of fiber options? Wiring the admirals urinal?”
“Does the admiral have his own urinal?” Kerry returned the wry attempt at humor. “I’ll go down there. Let me get some usefulness out of my PMS before I’m as miserable as you are.”
Dar sighed. “I’m in hell.” She straightened up. “We’ll all go down there. If I don’t kill someone we can stop by a bar I know near there and get me some alcohol and see if that helps.”
“Aw, honey.” Kerry kissed the top of her head. “You’re making me crazy watching you be so miserable.” She wrapped her arms around Dar from behind, resting her cheek against her hair. “I wish I could do something besides ache for you.”
“Life sucks.” Dar sighed mournfully. “Someone once asked me if I wasn’t pissed off I was born a woman instead of a man. I told them – Absolutely. For about four or six hours every god damned month.”
Kerry chuckled wryly. “Buy me a beer at that bar?”
“Buy you the bar if you want.” Dar gathered herself and stood up. She followed Kerry around to her laptop and waited for her to start to shut it down. Then she came up behind her and wrapped her arms around the blond woman, returning the hug and the emotion behind it. “We get this office up, you and I are going to our hotel, and chilling.”
Kerry glanced at her watch. It was almost two PM, and she figured it would be at least two hours before they had an even chance of getting the problem on the river resolved. That would make it four. “We can schedule more stuff from there.” She agreed. “And at least get comfortable.”
“What have we done to get someone into lower Manhattan?” Dar asked. “That’s going to be a lot tougher than fixing this damn office of the mayors.”
“I called my contact at ATT.” Kerry said. “He’s arranged to get us credentials down there. I haven’t told him what we’re doing.. I just said we might be able to help somewhere.”
“Well, it’s true.” Kerry closed her laptop. “Just not how he’s going to think of it.” She went still, taking a moment to savor the warmth of the body pressed against her back, finding herself rocking gently as Dar did.
How crummy and unbearable it would be if Dar wasn’t here, she mused. No matter how lousy they both felt. “I love you.” She said, into the silence they were standing in. Dar didn’t answer. She just hugged Kerry a little harder and nibbled the edge of one of her ears.
Then they both sighed at the same time, and Dar released her so she could slide her laptop into it’s case and zip it shut. “Let me call Dad.” She took possession of Kerry’s phone and opened it, half turning as she heard footsteps outside the door. “Grrr.”
“C’mon honey, remember where we are.” Kerry murmured. “They’ve had it really rough.”
“Rowr.” Dar’s eyes narrowed, but she subsided, juggling her phone in one hand as they waited.
The door lock worked, and then it opened, and Alastair came inside, shutting the large wooden panel after him and leaning against it. “Y’know, I could get to not like people after a lot of this.” He studied them. “You two off somewhere?”
Dar’s brows twitched. “We’re going to the emergency office. Try to get the cross-connects done and get those people off our backs at least.” She paused, holding the open phone in one hand. . “Wanna go with us?”
“Yep.” Alastair didn’t hesitate even an instant. “One more person calls this office from somewhere in New Jersey and tells me they’re down and I’m going to take my Longhorns coffee mug and stick it right up their behind.”
Kerry’s eyes widened. “Wow.”
“I didn’t think so many people these days didn’t read the newspaper. Or watch the evening news. Or have CNN in their houses. Or lived in such a bubble.” Alastair said. “I simply don’t understand it. The farriers on my damn ranch know more about what’s going on in the world than some of these folks.”
“You mean, they really didn’t know what happened?” Kerry asked, in an incredulous tone.
“Apparently not.” Alastair sighed.
“C’mon.” Dar was at least glad for this startling distraction to her cramps. “I think you could use a beer too.” She indicated the door as she put the phone to her ear. “Let’s get out of here for a while. I need some fresh air.” She paused. “Hey dad. Meet you downstairs?”
“Air.” Alastair agreed, waiting for them to exit and following along. “Don’t much care if it’s fresh or not at this point.”
Dar hung up as they got to the elevator, pausing to exchange a brief smile with the receptionist. ‘Sorry if I startled you earlier. “ She apologized. “It’s been that kind of day.”
“Oh.” The woman smiled back. “Actually, what you did was really cool.” She said. “And I forgot to say thanks.”
“What did you do?” Alastair asked, as the doors slid open.
“Told a customer to kiss my ass.” Dar entered the elevator and impatiently waited for them to follow before she punched the door button. “Dad’s downstairs at the bus.”
Kerry leaned against the back wall of the elevator, swallowing a little as it descended and she felt the familiar pressure against her inner ears. It reminded her of their last diving trip on the boat, where Dar had taken the Dixie out deep to a wreck in nearly 140 feet of water.
They had descended in the blue, clear water until the wreck had morphed out of the depths, half on it’s side, filled with ghostly schools of fish robbed of their brilliance by the depth.
Gorgeous and spooky, startling when a huge grouper came nosing around from the gloom around the wreck, and reeking with mystery they could only barely get a few minutes look at. The loneliness of the wreck’s position, settled in it’s bed of white sand had triggered her poetic side and she’d thought about the site frequently since.
What story was behind it, she mused.
“Huh?” Kerry looked up, to find the elevator doors open and her partner gazing back at her with mild bemusement. “Oh. Sorry.” She pushed off the back wall and scooted out of the car, feeling a little embarrassed. “Daydreaming.”
Dar patted her on the back as they walked across the huge lobby and out the side door, where a large parking area complete with two of their buses were to be found. There were a few people around them including Andrew, and they walked quickly across the lot to join him.
“Hamilton’s gone down to represent us at the big shindig.” Alastair commented. “I figured it wouldn’t do for me to be showing the flag there with all this stuff yet to be done.”
Dar gave him a wry look.
“Glad I’m not trying to fly out of here today.” Kerry muttered. “I’d be stuck on the tarmac at Laguardia until the circus leaves town.”
Alastair gave her a wry look.
“Kerry had an unfortunate ground hold the last time the president was in Miami.” Dar explained. “She got stuck in a 737 in the middle of July for six hours with no air conditioning. It made an impression.”
“I can still smell the inside of that airplane, matter of fact.” Kerry said. “Closest I ever came to going postal in public”
Alastair grimaced “That does sound painful.” He dredged a smile up as they arrived at the bus, and people turned to greet them. “Hello, folks. How’s everyone doing?”
“Lo there” Andrew cocked his head and regarded Kerry and Dar. “How are you kids doing?”
“I’ve been better.” Dar didn’t bother to dissemble. “Let’s get a cab and get down to the pier. The faster we do that, the faster Alastair can go preen for the press.”
“Well, hey.” Her boss turned around, startled. “I didn’t mean you should go make me into a hero, Dar. For Pete’s sake!”
“Don’t’ worry about it.” Kerry whispered to him. “She’s just in a really bad mood.”
Alastair frowned. “I’m in a really bad mood too.” He said. “Should I say mean things?”
“If you want to.” Kerry exhaled, blinking into the cool air. “I don’t think she meant to be mean. It’s just been a long couple of days and she doesn’t feel well.”
Alastair grumbled under his breath, but kept his comments to himself and stuck his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants instead.
“C’mon then.” Andrew pointed to the curb. “Dardar said you all’s got some folks down at the flattop giving you a hassle?” He asked Kerry, as they steered between the buses and headed for the road. “What’s that all about?”
Dar hailed a cab and they got into what was fortunately one of the mini van versions. “I need to go to the Air Space museum, please.” She said, crisply.
“S’closed, lady.” The man said.
“I know. I need to go there anyway.” Dar told him. “It’s business. We don’t want a tour.”
The driver took off without another word, pulling into the traffic stream with a typically supreme lack of regard for anything including other cars and his own safety.
“What’s that all about.” Kerry sighed. “Well, see, they decided to put the new emergency response center down at the pier, Pier 92 I think Dar said.”
“All right.” Andrew’s brows knit a little. “Seems like a funny place to put something like that, ain’t it?”
“Well.” Kerry’s lips twitched. “I have to say if I was thinking of doing an emergency center in Miami, that port we were in is the last place I’d pick but I’m sure they have their reasons. Anyway, they need things to connect and the only place we have something close enough that’s got a good link to our systems is at the Intrepid.”
Dar let her head rest against the window, wishing fervently she was several thousand miles away in a quiet, dark room, with a cup of hot chocolate and nothing more to do than read a magazine. She didn’t really feel like making the effort to get out of the cab and get involved in all the chaos she knew she would have to and for once, didn’t mind the traffic making it take longer to get somewhere.
She let Kerry’s quiet voice go past her, not really hearing the words or the answers to them, aware only of the warmth of Kerry’s fingers curled around her hand, her thumb idly rubbing against Dar’s knuckle in absent caress.
Kerry probably didn’t even realize she was doing it. Dar remembered when they first started dating, when Kerry was so very self conscious about touching Dar in public – though she’d never been in private.
Now, it was second nature to her, and to be honest, second nature to Dar as well. She liked the warmth of the touch and the affection in the gentle squeezing. It soothed her ragged temper a little, and allowed her to put aside her discomfort in favor of this tiny bit of physical pleasure.
Outside the window, the city moved past. Though traffic was heavy, she noticed the frenetic pace of the cars seemed subdued, and the people on the streets were as well. Men and women were gathered around storefronts, talking. There were few trucks on the road.
They passed a crossroad, and she watched two men simply standing, looking at each other in front of a subway entrance, seemingly frozen in place. A woman was sitting in front of them on the edge of the road, her feet resting on the tar surface itself, her arms wrapped around her knees.
In her hand, she clutched a sheaf of papers. Dar could see something square on them that looked like a picture, but she was struck by the expression on the woman’s face, which was dull, and lost and so full of grief it was hard to look at.
It brought back to her, suddenly, what had happened a few days prior, and she felt small thinking about how she’d been bitching to herself only a minute ago and wanting to be somewhere else.
“Hm?” Dar turned her head and regarded Kerry’s face. “Sorry. I was just thinking of something else.”
“I just got a message from my contact at AT&T. They’ve got credentials for us. He’s dropping them by the office.” Kerry glanced behind her, as Dar did the same. They looked at each other, then Kerry shrugged a little. “For what it’s worth.”
“We’ll use them.” Dar settled back as they started moving faster, heading across town towards the Hudson River. “Okay.” She said. “Did we get a handle on what the roadblock is at the Intrepid? Are we running into labor issues already, or is ti something security related.”
Kerry’s eyes looked apologetic. “Sorry, don’t know.” She said. “All they said was it wasn’t working.”
“All right.” Dar rested her elbow on her knee. “Then we’ll get it working.”
“One way or t’other.” Andrew remarked, from his seat behind them. “Let’s get this here show on the road. I’ve bout had enough of people fussing.”
“You got that right.” Alastair agreed. “It’s time to get things rolling.’
Dar and Kerry exchanged glances, and Kerry leaned closer, lowering her voice. “We’re the only ones who are actually going to do anything, aren’t we?”
Dar chuckled dryly, and shook her head. “Guess we’ll find out.”
Security around the Intrepid was heavy. Kerry edged to one side as they got out of the taxi, seeing a line of National Guard in front of the entrance to the Museum. There were also large orange traffic barrels blocking any vehicle access and to the right hand side, she could see the ramp that led up to the pier entrances sealed by yet more guard vehicles. “Wow.”
Dar settled her backpack onto her back and cinched the straps a little tighter. She paused to study the front of the structure, spotting a cluster of vehicles and a barrier that was surrounded by people. “Over there.” She started for the spot, quickly joined by Kerry as her father and Alastair trailed a little behind them.
Scuzzy was there, and she spotted them as they approached. “Oh, hey.” She called out. “Now we’re talking.”
Dar kept walking towards her and the guardsmen who were gathered around turned to watch them approach. She had about ten steps to decide on her approach, and with the cramps and her exhaustion, she decided on mellow just as she reached Scuzzy’s side. “Good afternoon, gentlemen” She greeted the guards courteously. “Sorry we’re causing a commotion.”
The guard nearest her, apparently in charge, had opened his mouth to respond, his body tense and shoulders squared off, but blinked and paused at her words.
Dar smiled at him, cocking her head slightly as she stuck her thumbs in the straps holding her backpack on and shifted her own posture. “I know you’ve got a big load on your shoulders here. I don’t want to add to it. What can we do so I can provide what you need to let me do what I have to do?”
Kerry merely stood there, her hand on the strap of her briefcase looped over her shoulder, as she watched her partner use one of her rarest strategies, her innate charm. She often wondered why Dar didn’t use it more often, since it was compelling and irresistible, and she wasn’t just saying that because they were lovers.
She could see the man wavering, in fact. He’d been all set to respond to anger, to aggression, to a yelling civilian out to make his life miserable, and faced with that gentle smile and those pretty blue eyes he had no idea how to get the adrenaline out of the way of his testosterone fast enough to respond.
She understood. In the few times they argued, more often than not it was that charm that made her anger evaporate no matter which one of them won or lost the fight and even now, Kerry felt herself responding to it, her body relaxing and a smile edging her lips as she watched Dar’s face.
“Well.” The man said. “This is a secure area.”
Dar nodded. “I’m sure it is. That flattop’s a big target, and there’s a lot of history both inside and on her decks. No one wants anything to happen to it.” She went on. “I don’t want anything to happen to it. “
“Okay.” The man leaned back against the truck blocking the entrance. The other guardsmen also relaxed, moving their guns down and turning aside a little as it became apparent these civilians were not about to physically storm the barrier. “So what is it exactly you people need to do? This lady here was explaining it but it didn’t make any sense to me.”
Scuzzy frowned. Kerry winked at her, and gave the waiting, grubby looking techs a smile. “Why don’t you guys go relax for a few minutes over there. I think they have sodas over at that hot dog stand on the corner.”
“Thanks, ma’am. Great idea.” The taller one said. “It’s like a nightmare under those piers running this stuff.” He turned and pointed at the big spool of rubber coated wire, the strand a full two inches wide. It trailed back behind them, snaking across the ground and underneath the rampway towards the depths of the inner pier structure. “I live here, but man, I saw rats bigger than my brother under that thing.”
“I’m up for lunch too.” Scuzzy said. “C’mon you guys. I’ll buying.” She tilted her head in Dar and Kerry’s direction. “You want something?”
“We’re fine for now, thanks.” Kerry answered for both of them. “But the next round we’re having after this I’m buying.”
Scuzzy grinned. “You got it. “ She jerked her head at the two techs.
They set their gloves on the top of the spool and trotted quickly to the nearby crossing light, waiting for it to change before they headed across towards the pushcart vendor.
“Well, it’s like this.” Dar half turned and pointed over towards the pier. “The Mayor decided to put his new emergency management office in that building over there.”
The soldier nodded. “Yeah, we know. They’ve been coming back and forth and going crazy over there since yesterday. Trucks full of stuff.” He said. “What’s that got to do with you and this thing?” He thrust his thumb behind him, towards the Intrepid.
“It’s the closest place I can connect the Mayors new office to so they can have computers and phones.” Dar explained. “I have a connection in there, because we run all the IT for the gift shop, and the museum.”
The guard thought about that. “Oh.” He said. “So you want to run that cable in there for the mayor?” He turned and looked up the ramp, where the entire top was filled with official looking cars. “How come no one just said so? For pete’s sake.”
“Well, you know it’s pretty crazy for them up there.” Dar regained his attention. “Just like it is for you, and for us too. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s going on, but we just want to get them connected, so they can work. We have identification.”
Kerry glanced at her partner, wondering if she was forgetting that she, in fact, did not.
The guard nodded. “Okay, I need to get my lieutenant here to sign off on it, let me radio him and have him come up. Sorry to have caused you some heartache, ma’am, but I know you understand what’s going on here.”
“I do.” Dar kept eye contact, and injected a good dose of sincerety into her tone. “We’ll just move over here and wait, and you let us know when you’re ready.” She held her hand out. “Thanks.”
The man took her hand and they exchanged clasps. “Can I get your name?” He asked. “Lieutenant’s going to ask. They probably need to run a check.”
“Sure.” Dar motioned Kerry forward. “I’m Dar Roberts, and this is Kerry Stuart. We’re with ILS.”
The man scribbled down the names. “And those guys?” He indicated the bemusedly watching Andrew and Alistair.
“We’re just footmen.” Alistair spoke up, in a mild tone. “We came to help move that big round thing.”
Andrew chuckled, and handed the man a bit of pasteboard card. “Thar.” He said. “Ya’ll don’t don’t half understand me when I talk up here anyhow.”
Thus prompted, Alastair handed over his own business card. The guard took it and tucked it into his clipboard, then he moved over to the truck and stuck his head inside, picking up a radio mic and talking into it.
They walked over to the spool and sat down on it, the techs having laid it flat on the ground to keep it from rolling anywhere. “Dar.” Alastair peered over at her. “How come you never talk nice to me like that?”
“You don’t have a gun.” Dar responded, deadpan. “Besides, with how I feel right now it was either be nice, or pick up that pipe and end up getting arrested. I figured nice was more productive.” She rested her hands on the edge of the wooden spool and sighed.
Alastair was facing the pier, watching all the activity. “So.” He said. “We roll this big thing inside the aircraft carrier, then what? “
“Then we hope the fiber tech coming here by train gets his ass here in time to terminate it to a patch panel I have no idea if we have inside, with connectors I don’t know he has with him and we can’t get at your average hardware store or Radio Shack, and then connect that patch panel to another patch panel with cables that don’t exist yet.”
“Sounds like a Navy kinda plan.” Andrew commented, with a faint chuckle under his breath. “Good to be out of that damn office though.”
“Amen.” Alastair said. “Is there anything we can do to fix any of those variables, Dar? Someplace we can get those things while you’re charming the fatigues off all the boys?”
Dar turned her head and looked at Kerry. “Did we source those yet?”
Kerry checked her PDA, scrolling through messages with a flicker of the LCD. “Ah.” She tapped on one and read it. “Yes, we did. We found a place that can make the patch cables, and has the bits and pieces for the patch panel.” She tilted the device so Andrew could see it, as he pulled a half pencil from his shirt pocket and wrote down the address on the back of one of his cards.
Alastair craned his neck to watch. “Where is that? Long Island?”
“Yes.” Kerry agreed. “It’s nowhere close. I’d better send one of our guys for it so..”
“Ah. Ah ah.” Alastair stood up. “Good grief. I’m the CEO of the biggest tech company on the planet. Don’t you think I can find Long Island?” He motioned Andrew to stand up. “C’mon, Daddy Roberts. Let’s go find us some bits and parts.”
“All right.” Andrew agreed. “Dar, you be all right here? I think these fellers are going to be okay.”
“We’ll be fine.” Dar assured him. “Thanks for taking care of that for us. Sooner it gets here, sooner we can get this connected.” She watched her father and boss walk off, heading for the corner to hail a cab. “Why do I feel nervous all of a sudden?”
Kerry leaned her head against Dar’s shoulder. “Honey, I’m sure they can handle this.” She exhaled. “Besides, we really need the stuff. I sent a list to the vendor, and he said he had it, but he didn’t deliver and wasn’t about to start.”
“Can’t really blame him.” Kerry kicked her feet out a little. “We’re not really local here. He didn’t know me from Adam.”
“With your voice, if he didn’t know you from Adam I’m scared to be buying fiber from him.” Dar remarked dryly. “Okay, here comes our boy. Let’s see where this gets us.” She got up as the two men approached.
The lieutenant was an older man, with grizzled gray hair and stocky body. He looked tired and harassed, which put him in league with everyone else in the city, she reckoned. “Lieutenant. Thank you for coming to talk with us.”
The man nodded briefly. “Ms. Roberts, I’ve had a call from the mayor’s office. We’ll give you the access and anything else you might need. Sorry to hold you up. Everything’s crazy here.” He glanced at the pier. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on.”
The other guard looked somber, and apologetic.
“Please. Don’t apologize, we know how stressed everyone must be.” Kerry picked up the conversational ball. “We appreciate that you took the time to get everything sorted out. Is it okay for us to proceed now? I’ll get my guys back from the hot dog stand.”
“Sure.” The lieutenant said. “John, give these folks an escort back to where they need to be, and a few hands to help moving whatever this is.” He gestured to the spool. “Ladies, have a good day.” He turned and walked off. After an awkward moment, the other guard hurried after him, leaving Dar and Kerry alone with their spool again.
“Well.” Kerry exhaled. “That was easier than I thought it would be. Want me to go get the gang?”
“Sure.” Dar said. “I’ll just sit here and wish I was under a bus.”
Kerry stroked her arm. Dar’s face was a little pale, and she could see her biting the inside of her lip. “Honey, why don’t you go to the hotel. I can handle this.” She urged. “C’mon. You look like hell. It makes no sense for you to sit here and suffer. Go relax and get a heating pad or something.”
Dar paused, then looked mournfully at her. “I can’t.” She tilted her head and indicated the returning techs. “My macha won’t let me. C”mon.” She got up as the techs approached. “All right, folks. Let’s get this rig rolling. They’re letting us in.”
“Your macha can kiss my ass.” Kerry growled, earning her a raised eyebrow look from her partner. “I should have made your dad take you back to the hotel.”
“Hey, good deal!” Scuzzy said. “You knew how to talk to those guys for sure, Dar from Miami.”
The techs put their shoulders to the spool and got it upright, then pulled their gloves back on. They started rolling the spool carefully, laying out the fiber wire behind them as they maneuvered down the slight incline to where the entrance to the museum was.
The guardsmen drew the barricades aside and two of them came over. “Can we help?” The first one asked, a tall blond with a scar across his mouth. “Where you going?”
The techs looked at Dar in question. “That way.” She indicated a tight path around one edge. “Down that ramp, between those two posts, and then stop by that second hatch panel.” She stood back as the guard and the techs wrestled the spool of wire forward. “What was that about my macha?” She asked Kerry.
Kerry stuck her tongue out.
They followed the techs down the ramp and through the truck barricades, past the visitor entrance down to the walkway alongside where the big carrier was anchored. It was quieter here, since the museum was closed, and the sound of the Hudson lapping against the old pier was much louder.
It smelled rank. Kerry’s nose wrinkled, as she glanced past the pier towards the shores of New Jersey. Above that, she could also smell the scent of iron, and grease and sun warmed metal, and they stopped just before a big metal housing from which extended thick black cables that ran into a hatch onboard the ship.
Dar studied it. “We need to figure how much we’re going to need in slack, and cut it.” She said. “That spool can’t fit in the hatch.”
The techs straightned up, and peered at the ship uncertainly. “Wow.” The younger one sighed. “Didn’t bring my measuring tape.”
Dar ducked to one side and looked, trying to measure with her eyes. She shook her head. “Need to extend inside too.” She headed for the lower gangway, which was chained off and led to an open shell door in the ship’s side. “Let’s see for how long.”
After a quick look around, Kerry followed her, and after a moment, the rest of them did too. They waited for Dar to unlatch the chain and let it fall, then they all trooped across the gangway, it’s surface flexing under their weight as they made for the entrance.
Dar didn’t hesitate. She stepped over the edge of the shell door and entered the ship, ducking inside the next watertight door and into a larger open space.
Kerry got a flashback, suddenly, to the cruise ship. It had the same smell of age and old oil and she rubbed her nose as she carefully stepped over the door sill and followed Dar into the shadows. She found herself in a narrow hallway and spotted Dar ahead of her, sticking her head into an open doorway. “Dar?”
“In here.” Dar squirmed into another compartment, this one admitting some light from outside. Kerry poked her head in, and saw the cables running in the opening. “Oh. That’s the hole from outside.”
“Uh huh.” Dar turned and followed the cables to a pipe on the far wall, and tipped her head up. “Oh crap. I forgot it was two decks up.”
Kerry looked up at the pipe, aware of the techs behind her. “Hang on guys, Dar’s tracing the cable path.”
“Dar’s wishing she was curled up in a ball in the bilge, actually.” Her partner sighed. She went to the pipe and stuck her hand in it, then pulled it out and studied her extended fingers. “Might have space.” She muttered. “Okay, we need to find either a thin cable, or stiff rope.”
“Okay.” Kerry backed up so the techs could hear. “Did you get that, guys? We need some cable – I guess Dar wants it for a pullstring.”
“Got a spool of Ethernet in the truck. “ The nearer tech offered. “That work?”
“Perfect.” Dar’s head appeared from around the doorway. “Get it, and I’ll show you where the demarc room is. We can run a pull cable down here, and pull the fiber up once we get it across from the pier. Ker, while they do that, let’s see if we can find a hank of rope.”
“Rope. You got it. “ Kerry backed up so Dar could exit the space and then followed her as she started a methodical exploration of the pretty much deserted ship. They moved out of the tightly confined hallway and into a bigger space, with a tall ceiling that spanned the interior of the ship. “Wow.”
“Hanger deck.” Dar interpreted the exclamation. “Watch your step. There might be tie downs on the decking.”
“Aye Aye, Captain Dar.” Kerry shifted so she was walking in Dar’s footsteps and put a hand out, hooking one finger on her partner’s belt loop. “Did Dad sail on one of these?”
“He did.” Dar answered, as she wandered around the big space, peeking behind boxes. “C’mon, they have to have a damn coil of rope in here. Who the hell heard of a Navy ship without rope.”
“What about over there?” Kerry pointed to something vaguely circular on the wall. “Is that rope?”
They walked over to the wall and looked up. On the metal surface was a hook, and from the hook a coil of thick rope was coiled, with a float fastened on one end. “Perfect.” Dar complimented her partner, then for good measure, she turned and kissed her on the lips. “Absolutely perfect.”
Kerry rested her hands on Dar’s hips, gazing up into her eyes. After a long pause, they kissed again. “This has to be one of the last places on earth I’d ever expect to be doing this.” She admitted, when they paused for breath. “But y’know, it’s kinda sexy.”
Dar’s eyes took on a twinkle in the half light. “Sure is. Making my cramps feel better too.”
They rubbed noses, then reluctantly parted, as Dar turned to face the wall and started to take the rope down. “However, business first.”
Kerry’s cell phone rang, sounding loud and jarring against the steel she was surrounded by. With a muffled curse, she pulled it out with her free hand and flipped it open, putting it to her ear as she squirmed around into a marginally better position. “Hello?”
“Kerry? This is your mother.”
Kerry blinked at the steel wall inches from her face. “Oh. Hi.” She said. “Where are you?”
“I have just returned home. Are you terribly occupied? I was wondering how things were going for you there.”
How were things going. Kerry felt the cold surface chilling her back through her shirt. “Well.” She grimaced as the edge of the pipe she had her arm extended up into bit into her skin. “We’re making some progress.”
“Are you? Wonderful. Where are you now?”
Kerry heard a curse echo softly down the interior of the pipe. “Lying on my back on the deck of a decommissioned aircraft carrier with my arm shoved up a pipe covered in axel grease.” She responded with complete honesty. “You?”
Absolute silence. Kerry wiggled the tips of her fingers in the vain hope of feeling a bit of cable impacting them. Above her, through the pipe’s metal confines she could hear Dar cursing, the soft grunts traveling down with wry accuracy to her ears.
“I don’t understand.” Cynthia finally said. “What exactly are you doing?”
“Well.” Kerry squirmed a little and extended her fingers a bit more. “It’s a long story. I’m helping hook up the emergency management office for the City of New York. In a really material way.”
“Ah. I see.”
“Ker?” Dar called down. “Anything?”
Kerry stretched and wiggled, closing her eyes as she wished the end of a cable probe into her hand. After a moment, she relaxed. “Sorry hon, no.” She called back. “Not a damn thing.”
Kerry returned her attention to the phone. “How are things there?” She asked. “Since they’re sort of crummy here?”
Her mother sighed. “I’m very disturbed. That’s why I decided to call you. When I got here, one of my aides informed me that we have had several incidents of people being beaten.”
“For being.. .well, I suppose they were thought to be from abroad.”
Kerry heard footsteps and she turned her head, to see Dar’s tall body slipping into her torture chamber. “Hey.” She said. “Say hello to my mother.”
“Hello Kerry’s mother.” Dar dropped down into a crouch. “Listen. There’s something in the middle of that damn pipe that’s stopping the probe. I can’t get it to go any further.”
“Hang on mother.” Kerry put the phone on her chest. “So what’s the plan?” She watched Dar’s face, which had liberal streaks of grime on it. “Is there any way to clear whatever the obstruction is? Can you get inside the pipe anywhere?”
“I can.” Dar said. “But it means I’ve got a good chance of ripping up what ever else’s in there. I think it’s a damn cable tie that’s blocking it.”
“A cable tie???”
“Yeah.” Dar sat down and braced her elbows against her knees, grimacing. “I feel like such crap.”
Kerry gazed compassionately at her. “I wish I could give you a hug, hon, but I don’t think this axle grease being all over you is going to make you feel any better.” She put the phone back to her ear. “Sorry, mother. Did you say someone was attacked?”
“I can see you’re very busy Kerry. I will be glad to fill you in later, if you want. Please go take care of poor Dar. She sounds terrible.” Her mother said. “I have another call to take, so we can speak later.”
“Okay. I’ll call you when I’m somewhere more comfortable.” Kerry promised. “Goodbye.” She closed the phone and clipped it back on her pocket to free her hand, which she then put on Dar’s leg. “Cable tie?”
“Yeah.” Dar repeated, gazing at her dirt covered hands glumly. “One of the big half inch ones, turned sideways.”
Kerry pictured it and made a face. “How in the hell do we get past that? Why the hell would someone put it in there, anyway?”
“Figured nothing else would need to go in the pipe I guess, or it twisted.. who the hell knows.” Dar sighed. “Maybe if I can find a rod long enough, I can put some kind of edge on it and cut through it.” She blinked a few times. “I tried to find an outside hatch or something.. anything, to bring the cable through somewhere else but I couldn’t.”
Kerry eased her arm out of the pipe, her skin covered in black goo. She sat up and flexed her fingers, looking around with a vague sense of despair. The light was just a bare fluorescent fixture, a pale, dim glare that hurt her eyes and made the metal space even more depressing. “Dar, I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Tired blue eyes regarded her.
“Sorry I can’t just make this better.” Kerry admitted. “Sorry we’re here. Sorry we can’t just leave and go rest.”
“Me too.” Dar agreed. She rested in silence a moment more, then she started hauling herself to her feet. “Jason?” She called into the hallway. “You back?”
“Yes, ma’am.” One of the techs appeared immediately. “We measured the rope you threw over to the pier, and we’ve got enough cable, ma’am. You want me to tie the end of the rope to the end of the fiber? John found a hardware store too, so he’s going to go get some flexible ducting.”
Dar paused, one hand on the metal doorsill. “He found a hardware store near here?”
Jason nodded his tow, curly head. “Little place. Not like a Home Depot or anything, but they got stuff.” He glanced over at Kerry who was carefully keeping her greased up forearm away from her clothing. “Wow. That looks gross.” He blurted, then looked abashed. “Sorry ma’am.”
“It does look gross.” Kerry agreed. “I feel like a plumber on a bad day.”
“Jason.” Dar spoke, suddenly, her eyes a trifle unfocused. “Tell John to get to that hardware store. Get a metal rod, long as he can find, and a stick soldering iron, the narrowest one they have. Plus a spool of metal wire.”
“Uh.” Jason pulled a small pad out of the back pocket of his khakis and started scribbling on it. “A metal rod, ma’am? How big?”
“Half inch. If they don’t have rods, get the narrowest conduit they have.” Dar said. “Eight or twelve foot length if you can get it.”
“Gotcha, ma’am.” Jason nodded. “And you want a soldering iron?”
“A soldering iron.” Dar confirmed. “And a 16 or 14 gauge extension cord at least twenty five feet long. Got that?” She asked. “And a bar of soap.”
“Got it.” Jason trotted off. “Not sure what I got, but we’ll get it. Be right back.”
Dar went to the open hatch and perched on the edge, taking in a breath of diesel tinged brackish water air, letting her hand drop to rest on the coil of rope. She glanced up as Kerry came over to join her. “Ugh.”
“Ugh.” Kerry sorted through Dar’s hair, pulling it out from under her collar and riffling it in the light breeze coming through the hatch. Looking up the river this way, everything looked so normal. She could see the other piers, all old and rusted, and the buzz of activity on the rooftop parking of the furthest one down that was the emergency center.
A few small boats moved quietly past, police boats, with slowly flashing lights. They were too far away to see the two figures in the opening, but they cruised past, obviously watchful. In the distance, the air was hazy and from the right she could hear the sounds of the city in a muted way.
Jason finished tying the rope to the cable, and waved at them. He stood by the spool, and started unwinding it as Dar sighed and stood up again, taking hold of the rope and starting to haul it in. “Watch it.”
Kerry took a step back, holding her grease covered arm out to one side and out of the way. “Want more Advil?”
“Yes.” Dar stolidly coiled the rope as it came in, making a neat circle on the deck. “Please.”
With a nod, Kerry turned and headed out of the small space, glad herself to take a break and stretch her legs. She moved down the hallway and into the hangar deck again, aware of the slowly fading light as the sun edged towards the west and left the outside in a haze of blue.
She entered the small office like room they’d stored their bags and gear in. It had a desk against the wall, and filing cabinets on either side. The furniture was functional but plain, and there were banners on the wall celebrating the many functions and trials the Intrepid had gone through.
“Ugh.” Kerry paused, as she remembered not to touch her bag with her right hand. She opened the latches with her left, and fished inside the leather sack, finding her bottle of Advil and pulling it out. She removed her bottle of water along with it, and latched the bag shut again, turning to head back out of the room.
Her cell phone rang. She almost reached for it, then stopped again, and cursed. “Son of a..” She went back to the desk and put the bottles down, then grabbed the phone. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Hey, Kerry. It’s Mark.”
Could be good, could be bad. “Hey, Mark. What’s up?” Kerry sat down on the edge of the desk. “We’re making some progress here in case anyone’s asking on the call. “ She wrinkled her nose at the smell of the axle grease.
“They found our two guys here.”
Kerry felt her own breathing stop. The tone of Mark’s voice held more explanation than any words could have, and she bit the inside of her lip, feeling a deep pang of loss for these unknown to her techs that had, at some level, traced up an org chart to her name. “I see.”
“They were in that part that got hit.” Mark added, after a moment’s silence. “About all they could identify were their badges.”
Oh my god. “I’m sorry, Mark. Did you know them well?” Kerry wasn’t really sure of what to say, or really, of what she was saying, It sounded just like random words.
“I didn’t. The guys here did though.” Mark sounded somber. “Danny’s pretty trashed. I sent them off to hang out for a while. My guys are handling the stuff.”
Kerry exhaled heavily. “Okay.” She said. “Have you told Mariana yet? “
“No. Called you first.”
Only right. “Send me their names.” Kerry said. “I’ll call her. We’ll get the process started.” She felt profoundly sad. ‘And contact their families.”
“Okay. Will do.” Mark said. “Sorry to bring such totally suckage news. Stuff’s going pretty good here otherwise. We got a few more circuits in. Those telco guys really helped.”
“Good.” Kerry murmured. “Glad to hear that, anyway. Let me get hold of Mari so she can get the ball rolling. I know she was sending some people here to talk to the staff, I want to make sure she sends some folks there too.”
“Okay boss.” Mark said. “Talk to you later.”
Kerry closed her phone and simply sat there for a few minutes. The senselessness of it all overwhelmed her, and she closed her eyes, sparing a bit of her soul and thinking of the split second of terror and heat and pain the techs must have suffered.
There was no sound, no indication of any one approaching, but Kerry was suddenly aware of Dar’s close presence, and she opened her eyes just as her partner’s hand touched her cheek and she looked up at her in question.
“Had a feeling you needed me.” Dar said bluntly. ‘What’s wrong?”
Kerry leaned against her touch. “Humanity.” She answered. “I think the whole fucking species sometimes is just one big screw up.”
Dar ignored her grease covered arm and settled against her anyway, putting an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. “Present company excluded.”
Kerry turned and buried her face against Dar’s shoulder, allowing herself that little time out before the nightmare continued to roll on.
Andrew studied the small bit of cardboard in his hand as he maneuvered down a steep set of stairs bracketed by old fashioned brass railing. He got to the bottom of the steps and was pleased to find a train waiting, it’s doors open. “Figure that’s the one.”
“You’re probably right.” Alastair agreed. “And with the bridges and tunnels still tied up, this is the fastest way to get where we need to be. Damn nice to have rapid transit that’s both, isn’t it?”
Andrew made a low grunting sound. He led the way into the train and they found a couple of seats near the front, with enough room for Andrew’s long legs and got themselves settled. “Hope them kids are getting on all right.” He said.
Alastair folded his hands over his stomach. “You know, I don’t think of them as kids.”
“You ain’t their father.”
“That’s very true.” The ILS CEO admitted. “I’ve got my own handful back home, but I’ll tell you what, they’re nothing compared to yours.”
Andrew chuckled and sat back, tapping his thumbs together in front of him. “How many you got?”
“Threee.” Alastair responded promptly. “Two girls and a boy. Two of them are married, and I’ve got three grandkids.” He glanced at his traveling companion. “I think Dar said she was an only child?”
One grizzled eyebrow twitched, as Andrew peered back at him. “Ah do believe that one was sufficient.” He paused, as the doors closed, and the train prepared to leave the station. “Though mah wife and I did think about another, it was tough on her.”
“Ah.” Alastair nodded. “My daughter had trouble with her first. He was born breech.”
“Wall.” Andy glanced out the window as the train moved through the underground tunnels that burrowed into Manhattan island and into Penn station. “Dar came right way round, but wasn’t no small baby and mah wife ain’t big.” He glanced down at his long legs. “I do believe that’s likely mah fault.”
“Dar does take after you, no doubt.” Alastair agreed. “Spitting image, matter of fact. I remember meeting you the first time and being struck by that.” His PDA chirped, and he removed it from his pocket, opening it to review. “Excuse me.”
Andrew was content to turn his head and watch the windows change from underground darkness to the late afternoon light. He was glad they were off doing something useful, though it was possible they could have done some good back at the flattop.
He pulled the list of things from his pocket and studied them again. They appeared to be something like electrical parts to him but he figured Dar certainly knew what she was looking for. He watched the landscape go by for a moment more, then he removed his cell phone from his pocket and opened it.
There were only a few numbers in the speed dial, and he selected one and keyed it in, putting the phone to his ear and waiting for it to be answered. “Lo there.”
“Ah, my husband.” Ceci replied. “Where are you?”
“Nother damn train.” Andrew said. “Goin out to get Dar some special cables and some such. What are you up to?”
“Well.” Ceci said. “Believe it or not, my family called to find out either if we were all right, or if we were part of the insurrection, hard to say. My sister sends her regards.”
Andrew made a slightly snorting noise.
“Well, she does.” His wife responded mildly. “How’s Dar and Kerry doing?”
“Them kids are having a time.” Andrew said. “Ah don’t’ think Dar’s feeling well, and ever’body’s chewing a piece of them all over. Makes mah eyeballs itch.” He grumbled. “People here are pretty shook up though. Bad stuff.”
“I saw on TV.” Ceci murmured. “Andy, you stay away from that place, okay? They’ve still got buildings falling down around everywhere and I don’t’ want you near any of them.”
“No problem.” Andrew said. “Right now me and th… Dar’s boss are on this here train heading for Long Island. Ain’t nothing keeling over out there, and Dar’s over at that old flattop off the Hudson fussing with them bolts and nuts there.”
Ceci chuckled wryly. “No matter what the situation, she ends up with the Navy.”
“Eh.” Her husband smiled briefly. “Got salt water in her even if she didn’t end up no swab.” There was something of that he was happy with. The sea had been a passion of his since the first time he’d seen it, opening wide in front of him after an eternally long two months in basic training up at Great Lakes.
Huge. Beautiful. Full of deep greens and blues and rich with salt like nothing ever before in his life had been back in Alabama. He’d loved everything about it, even the rough motion in weather, and the agonizingly small amount of space he’d been assigned for someone his size.
Finding his daughter with the same love in her heart had charmed him and some of the best times when Dar was growing up had centered around the beach, and the sea and the underwater world they all shared.
“She certainly does.” Ceci interrupted his musing. “But that’s not helping her there now. Anything we can do from here? Can I use my nonexistent family influence and insult someone for her? Browbeat some government official? Offer to paint the president in the nude? Wait. Scratch that one.”
Andrew chuckled in reflex. “Y’all do say the damnedest things.”
“It’s hard being here and just watching.” Ceci admitted. “At least you’re there on trains getting gizmos. All I can do here is watch CNN and try to imagine what scandal Miami’ll be involved in next in this whole thing. You know that airport Dar landed in was where all those terrorists trained in.”
“I feel like they’re going to close the border at Orlando.”
Andy chuckled again. “You just keep your head down there on Dar’s island. We’ll fix this joint up best we can and head back soon as we’re able.” He promised. “Got to go now. Ah think this train’s fixing to tunnel again.”
“Call me back later, sailor boy.”
“Yes’ ma’am. G’bye.” Andrew shut the phone and leaned back, tapping it against his knee as his brow furrowed into a frown. “Know what?” He addressed Alastair. “This here world surely does suck sometimes.”
Alastair looked up from his PDA. “Sure does.” He answered after a brief pause. “Wish we could just find another one sometimes.”
Kerry removed the contents of the brown paper bag and set them down on the piece of metal wall near where Dar was working. They were up on the second level now, in the space where the cable would have to come up.
There was no opening in the space save the small oval door hatches, and it was close inside, full of the scent of grease and silicon. Against one wall was a large patch cabinet, painted to match the inside of the ship with thick coats of paint. The door to it was open, exposing a plethora of connections, and there was already a shunt opened in the side to receive the new cable.
Dar was standing near the wall where the pipe emerged, a long piece of thin conduit in her hand, and a soldering iron in the other. “Let’s see.”
Kerry set out the various supplies, glad she’d taken the time to go and get most of the grease off her skin so it wasn’t getting all over the place. She could still smell it though, and cast a brief, wistful thought towards a nice long shower with lots of soap to scrub with.
Dar leaned the pipe against the wall and concentrated on the soldering iron, using a tiny screwdriver from the tech’s tool kit to unfasten the plastic grip and remove it. She experimentally fit it into the end of the pipe, glancing up as Jason stuck his head in the hatchway. “I think this’ll work.”
Jason eyed her. “Yes ma’am.” He responded dubiously. “If you say so. Is there something else we can do in the meantime? Any prep we can do for the fiber guy?”
Dar looked around. “I need some 110 in here. Can you rig that while I’m duct tape and twining us into a solution for this pain in the ass problem?”
“Sure.” Jason disappeared.
Kerry took the opportunity to sidle closer. “What are you doing with that, hon?”
“Trying to resist the urge to bash it against the wall.” Dar responded. “It’s probably good they’re leaving us alone in here. You’re the only person I want around me right now.”
Responding to the compliment, Kerry pressed her cheek against Dar’s shoulderblade, then kissed it.
Dar put the pipe back against the wall and looked at the plug of the soldering iron, holding it up against the opening. It was obviously too big to fit inside. She went over to the makeshift shelf and pawed among the supplies. “I need wire nuts.”
“Wire nuts.” Kerry repeated. “Is that something I need to send the guys back for?”
“No.” Dar removed a pair of cutters from the toolbox. “I’ll just tape the damn thing.” She cut the end of the plug off, then she removed the extention cord from it’s wrapping and cut the female end of that off as well.
Kerry merely stood back and watched, her arms folded across her chest.
With the cutters, Dar clipped the cord in the middle of the two wires that made it up, and pulled the ends apart. Then she stripped the ends off, exposing the copper. She then repeated the process on the end of the cable connected to the soldering iron.
Setting the cutters down, she took one of the ends from each cable and twisted it together, taking a piece of the duct tape and wrapping it around the ends. She repeated the act with the other end, then she wrapped all of it together into a neat bundle. “There.”
“Okay.” Kerry glanced at the pipe. “Did you want to put that through the pipe there before you connected that? Cause the other end won… sorry, sweetheart.”
Dar was banging her head gently against the metal wall.
“You did such a pretty job though.” Kerry picked up the other end of the extention cord and examined it. “You can do that with this end too if we cut it off, right?”
“I want ice cream.” Dar said, on the tail end of a long sigh.
“Me too. Should I cut this off though? I got the idea.” Kerry picked up the cutters. “You want to put the cable down that pipe, then plug it in, right?”
Kerry clipped the plug off and retrieved the pipe, carefully threading the end of the cord through it and pushing it down. She continued until she got to the taped part, which she wiggled in and coaxed onward, glancing at the bottom of the pipe and smiling as she saw the end of the cord emerge. “There.”
Dar fitted the soldering iron into the end of the pipe and took the tape, strapping the device in as tightly as she could. “Thanks.” She eyed Kerry. “My brain’s a little off right now.”
Kerry walked to the other end of the pipe and drew the cable out. It extended a good foot outside, and she took the cutters, neatly cutting the end and pulling it apart as she’d seen Dar do.
Electrical work was definitely not a general part of her skill set. In fact, she hadn’t thought it was part of Dar’s since her partner had contacted electricians on the few occasions they had issues either at the condo or the cabin.
However, this seemed simple enough. She picked up the plug she’d cut off and split the ends there, then looked at it. “Dar, does it matter which one connects to what?”
“One of the cables has a white line.” Dar answered. “White to white. Brown to brown.”
“Oh.” Kerry examined the cable, and proceeded. “Cool.”
They worked in silence for a few minutes, until Dar had the soldering iron fastened to her satisfaction. Then she set the pipe aside, coming over to Kerry’s end to watch her finish taping the ends of the cable. “Good job.”
“First time I’ve ever done that.” Kerry admitted. “Now what?”
“Now we wait for 110 power.” Dar carefully leaned the conduit against the wall. “Then we plug that in, I stick the pole down the pipe, and with any luck, I use the soldering iron to melt the cable tie.”
Kerry studied the pipe, then turned to look at her partner. “Dar, that’s really ingenious.”
“Thanks.” Dar sat down on a metal shelf. “I could have tried to shear through it with a blade, but chances are I’d cut through some of the damn cabling in there and that’s the last thing we need.” She exhaled as her partner came over and put her arms around Dar’s neck, cradling the side of her face and kissing her on the cheek. “Mm.”
“You’re so damn smart.” Kerry whispered in her ear. “I wanna be you when I grow up.”
Dar let her forehead rest against Kerry’s collarbone. “Know what I want?”
“That or a gun.” Dar sighed. “Cause I don’t’ think this day’s ever going to end.”
It was full dark by the time their train pulled back into Penn Station, halting with a jerk and a screech and the hiss of hydraulic doors preparing to open.
“Well.” Alastair stood up and opened the storage bin over the seats. “That wasn’t so bad.”
“Nope.” Andrew also stood, stretching out his long frame before he carefully lifted a box from in front of his feet and cradled it. “Glad that place wasn’t but a minute from the train. That feller was looking to close up on us.”
“Wasn’t very friendly was he?” Alastair agreed. He pulled down another big brown sack and followed Andrew as he stepped off the car and back into the lower levels of Penn Station.
“Jackass.” Andrew grunted. “Like he was doin us a favor selling this stuff. “ He paused to let a woman with a large child stroller move past, then continued.
“Then asking twenty questions about what we’re doing to do with it.” Alastair frowned. “What in the hell did he think we were going to do with it? Install fiber optics in our hotel room?”
It was a bit quieter now, the rush hour just getting passed, and when they climbed up the brass lined stairs to the concourse there seemed to be more National Guard in the area than passengers, a number of the guard with large dogs on leashes nearby.
Everyone looked a little nervous, walking by. But the dogs merely sat there, tongues lolling, waiting to be called into whatever action they were apparently trained for.
At least it was less chaos. Alastair tucked the bag of gewgaws under his arm and was glad of the noise reduction. He gave the guardsmen a pleasant smile as they crossed the open concourse and headed for the hallway that would take them eventually to the escalator and outside.
“Long day.” He commented, as they entered the main part of the station, a large, high ceilinged space with several branch corridors and plenty of signage pointing to trains and subways in three different directions.
“Got that right.” Andrew agreed, as they headed up another hall. He glanced to one side, then paused. “Goin to get me a hot dog. You want one?” He indicated a shop to one side.
Alastair looked past him, to a cluttered gathering of fast food marquees, all crammed into one low ceilinged space. “Why, sure.” He said. “Been a long time since lunch.”
Andrew went inside and set his box down on a table near the hot dog counter. He removed his wallet from his back pocket and advanced on the woman behind the counter, turning his head as he stopped. “You want one with all them things on it?”
Alastair set his bag down on the box and pondered the menu. “Chili dog.” He said. “Might as well hold up my end of the Texas stereotype.”
“Gimme two of them there things, and some taters, and a couple of cokes.” Andrew addressed the woman.
The woman studied him. “You want two chili dogs, French fries, and two sodas?” She hazarded a guess.
“No problem.” The woman turned to take care of the order, leaving Andrew to loiter in front of the desk. Near the back, a man was starting to clean up, putting chairs up on tables to sweep under them, carefully avoiding the two tables of guardsmen finishing up their dinner.
Andrew briefly pondered bringing some dogs back for Dar and Kerry, then figured they’d be stone cold before they got out there, and a mess to boot. He turned and leaned against the counter, folding his arms over his chest.
Alistair took a seat and rested his elbows on his knees. Ending up having a chili dog in a train station didn’t even seem odd after the last few days; he could barely even remember how the morning had started and he found he was mostly looking forward to some kind of success before the night ended.
He suspected there would be one. Dar generally created success, which was one of the reasons he trusted her the way he did. He also suspected she was probably waiting on their return, but he figured a five minute stop for hot dogs probably wouldn’t skew the pitch one way or the other.
His cell phone was off. He intended it to remain that way until they were back at the port, when there was some chance he could actually report on whatever status whatever politician on the other end was asking for.
Right now, tired as he was, he gained a glimmer of understanding of the undisguised sigh of exasperation that Dar sometimes uttered when she was being hounded for something. Sometimes, you could just do what you could do, when you could do it.
“Here.” Andrew handed him a cardboard box, which had a hot dog and a paper dish of fries in it, with a little plastic pseudo fork poked in them. “Figure that’s good as any till we finish up.” He took a seat at the table and bit into his dog.
Alastair followed suit, tilting his head just a bit as he realized the guardsmen were watching them from the corner of his eye. He wondered if they looked particularly suspicious or something. He glanced at both himself and Andrew, then at their burdens, which he’d shifted carefully to the floor so they could eat on the table.
Hm. Two guys, in a train station, with a brown box and a brown bag full of electrical parts, and one of the guys was wearing combat boots and a face full of scars. He watched the guardsmen in his peripheral vision, as they all started looking their way and whispering.
Andrew shifted a little, so that he was facing Alastair and could see over his shoulder. His eyebrows hiked up a little.
Alastair took another bite of his hotdog. “Not bad.” He commented, wiping his lips on a lurid napkin and just hoping the guard would find some other thing to interest them.
“S’allright.” His companion agreed. “Two things I always did like t’eat round here is hot dogs and pizza pie.” He said. “Had liberty here once and mah whole SEAL team went and got us ten of them big pies and nearly got ourselves sick to death with it. Still like it though.”
The ILS CEO chuckled. “Have to say when I was in the Army, the most interesting place we ended up having liberty in was Fargo, North Dakota. Those people know how to party, I’ll say that.” He thought the conversation had died down over at the other table, but didn’t want to be obvious and look.
“Army, huh?” Andrew gave him a wry grin.
“I’m from Texas. It’s a family tradition.” Alastair admitted. “Granddaddy was in, daddy was in, I did the ROTC rounds in college…I kept it to one hitch, though. After that I decided I liked climbing the corporate ladder better than the one in the obstacle course.” He finished off the last bite of his hot dog and poked among the wedge cut fries, selecting one with the little forklet and tasting it. “What made you pick the Navy?”
“Didn’t like hiking around with them big old packs.” Andrew said. “And ah figured at the least I’d learn me to swim in the Navy. Don’t do that much in Alabama.” He paused, studying a fry. “Wanted to see something but dirt roads and candy assed rednecks.”
Alastair glanced casually over at the guardsmen, who were now studiously looking in another direction. “I got to see a little bit of Korea.” He mused. “Then I got posted in Italy and Belgium. That wasn’t so bad. “
Andrew stood and took his cardboard tray over to the trash and disposed of it. He glanced at the guardsmen as he finished. “Lo there, you all.”
“Hello.” The one nearest him nodded respectfully. “Something you need from us?”
“Nope.” Andrew shook his head. “Hope you all have a good night now.” He returned to the table and picked the box back up while Alastair disposed of his tray, and came back to join him. They exited the food stop and headed across the concourse towards the exit.
“Yknow, I don’t think I ever heard you mention what you did in the Navy before.” Alastair commented, giving his taller companion a sideways look.
Andrew chuckled a bit. “Didn’t want them fellers asking me what all was in these here boxes cause I don’t have not one jack clue what it is.” He admitted. “Figgured if I started flapping my jaw about what I done they’d mind themselves.”
“And they did.” Alastair clapped him on the back. “Good decision. Because frankly, though I paid for em, and I can pronounce the names, damned if I know what this stuff is either.” They got to the escalator and rode it up, passing from the claustrophobic concourse into the street that was quieter than they expected, in a city that now seemed exhausted in a strange kind of way.
“Taxi!” Alastair waved one down. “Let’s see what your kids have gotten us into.” He handed his bag to the driver, who set it in the trunk along with Andrew’s box. “And if we’re very lucky, it’s beer time.”
“Won’t be luck.”
“Not with your kid, no. You’re right. It sure won’t”
“Okay, hang on.” Kerry wriggled under the pipe again and got her eyeball to where she could see up it, poking her slim flashlight into the space and turning it on. “See that?”
“Got it.” Dar’s voice came down tinnily to her. “Get your face out of the way in case something comes shooting out of this damn pipe.”
“Yes, grandma.” Kerry edged over so she could keep the light in place, but removed most of her head from the danger zone.
She could hear Dar maneuvering the pipe into place overhead, and just as she reached up to scratch her nose, a big clump of pipe crud came tumbling down to land near her ear. She could hear a soft curse, and in the tone, she sensed her partner’s frustration both with the tedious project and the cramps she was still suffering from.
Dar wasn’t usually that unlucky. Kerry suspected it was the stress of the situation that was tying her up into knots and making her monthly cycle worse than usual, and she herself had the same thing to look forward to any minute now.
“Okay, I’m heating up the iron.” Dar called down.
“Go for it, babe.” Kerry tapped lightly on the pipe with her flashlight. She was tired, and hungry, and the worst part of it was knowing that even when they finished this crazy jury rig, all they could do was pull the cable into place.
They still had to wait for the fiber terminator to come in, and finish the connection so they could get it working.
Kerry’s nose twitched, as she smelled the odd scent of heating metal. She peeked up the pipe and saw a hint of motion in her flashlight’s glare, now outlining the blockage that was preventing the cable from passing.
Sure enough, the light reflected off dusty white plastic, a zip tie wrapped around the cables already in the pipe, it’s end extending across and bending against the far pipe wall. Kerry could just see the tip of the soldering iron approaching the tie and she had to smile again at the ingenuity of her partner.
Who would have thought of using a soldering iron? She was pretty sure she wouldn’t have. Kerry pondered a moment as to what she would have done, given the limited options they had. Used a knife on a stick?
Not try getting it through?
Would she have gotten someone, a construction worker, to come in and cut through the pipe so she could access it?
“Watch out.” Dar warned. “I’m about to start melting things.”
Kerry gazed bemusedly up at her overprotective spouse. “Okay, I’m clear.” She edged her head out of the way, cocking her ears as she heard Dar curse again. She felt sorry for the two techs, trapped in the small space with her irritated partner. “Easy honey. We’re almost done.”
She could smell burning plastic. “I think you got it, Dar. I can smell it.”
“Maybe that’s my brain cells frying.” Dar responded, her voice echoing softly.
Grumpy grumpy. Kerry licked her lips, and peeked up the pipe again, seeing a wisp of smoke showing in the light. A moment later, the tip of the soldering iron jerked to one side, and a piece of curled, blackened white plastic plummeted down and smacked her flashlight before she jerked her hand out of the way and it landed on the ground. “Hey! It’s out!”
“Wooeffing hoo.” Dar grunted, soft clanking noises and dust bunnies issuing down the pipe as she removed her makeshift tool. “I’m going to send the pull cable down.”
Kerry removed the flashlight and shut it off, laying there quietly and enjoying the cool breeze from the opening, resisting the urge to close her eyes. She could hear the cable snaking it’s way down the conduit, and a moment later, the RJ45 end covered in tape plonked its way onto the metal deck near her head. “Yay!”
She got up and took hold of the cable, pulling it gently until about two feet of it was outside the conduit. Then she turned and took hold of the cable Dar had pulled in through the hatch, carefully tying the end of the fiber to the Ethernet cable and pulling it taut. “Dar?”
Kerry jumped, as the voice sounded right behind her head. “Yow!” She reeled backwards off her crouch, waving her arms until Dar grabbed hold of her and let her regain her balance. “For Pete’s sake!”
Dar chuckled tiredly. “Left the guys up there to haul this thing up. I vote we go and get something hot to eat, and a beer.”
Kerry stopped moving and slumped back against her. “Ungh. I love you.”
“Likewise.” Dar hugged her, then let her go. “Feed the wire up there, and let’s haul. Maybe by the time we get back, our fiber man’ll be here, and we’ll be in the home stretch.”
Kerry eased the end of the fiber into the pipe, and Dar knocked against it. After a moment, it started to move, snaking it’s way slowly up from it’s pile of coils on the floor up through the pipe to the second level.
Dar watched it, and dusted her hands off. “Things are looking up.” She said. “We might get outta here tonight.”
“Piece of cake now.” Kerry agreed. “All we need is some ends.” She jumped a trifle as her end was smacked, and scooted for the door. “It should go smoothly now, right?”