“Anything?” Dar peered out the door to the subway train, which was idling briefly in the station. “See anything, Scuzzy?” She glanced at her watch, uncomfortably aware of the rapid passage of time. ‘This is nuts.”
“Not a damn thing.” Scuzzy scratched her chin, as she hopped quickly back into the train. “Where the hell are these guys?” She asked. “I thought for sure they’d be up at least halfway up to the place by now.”
“You and me both.” Dar ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t get it. They were all fired up to get this done after that meeting.”
“Maybe they got a problem.” Scuzzy looked apologetic. “Them guys ain’t bad, mostly. They were pretty spooked after that guy got in trouble. My uncle said all of em were talking about it. Nobody wants that sorta trouble, you know?”
“Mm.” Dar gripped the bars of the train, rocking back and forth against them as though her body motion could make the car move with it. She went to the door again and looked out, squinting into the darkness as she peered into the tunnel. “Damn it.”
They were in the first car of the train, just behind the conductors booth. Kerry was sitting in one of the seats with her cell phone pressed to her ear, and her free hand cupped over the other side of her head.
Dar glanced at her, then stepped back as the doors started to close. “Ker? We’re moving again.”
“I feel it.” Kerry muttered. “Okay, folks, I’m going to lose you again. I’ll call you back.” She closed the phone as the train rattled forward, plunging from the fluorescent light of the station into the darkness of the tunnels again.
Dar sat down next to her and put a hand on her knee. “If this is driving you nuts, you can take off at the next station. Go back to the office and deal with Lansing there.” She studied the frustrated expression on Kerry’s face, watching the pale lashes flicker a little. “Okay?”
Kerry rested her elbows on her knees, her phone clasped in her hands. “No.” She said, after a moment. “I want to stay here.”
“Sure?” Dar gave her kneecap a little scratch.
“Yeah.” Her partner nodded. “I’m just saying the same thing over and over again. It’s probably a good thing I keep having to get off the line before I start screaming.”
“Ah.” Dar leaned back, extending her long legs across the floor of the car. She regarded the interior, then shook her head a trifle. “I can’t believe I’m in one of these things and it’s not freaking me out.” She remarked. “Last time I nearly chucked my guts up.”
Kerry straightened up and sat back. “Relative levels of things to freak out about?” She suggested. “I know it would take a hell of a lot to freak me out right now, that’s for sure.”
Dar spread her arm out along the back of the seat behind Kerry, waiting until she felt the tense back relax against her touch. “So what’s Lansing’s problem? Can I help?” She rubbed the bottom of her thumb across the top of her partner’s shoulder. “Someone I can yell at for you?”
A grudging smile appeared on Kerry’s face. “Backups are taking too long.” She said. “They’re still pretty saturated across the northern links and they’re running into issues finishing the drive mirroring.”
“Are you kidding me?” Dar peered at her. “They’re bitching about that?”
“it’s causing problems with their autonomic scripts.” Kerry tilted her head back to rest on Dar’s arm. “Their production jobs aren’t kicking off on time and it’s throwing everyone off. I understand how frustrated they are, but damn it, Dar, its not like we’re hanging out having Daquiris here.”
Dar reflected on that. “I could use a Daquiri right now.” She said. “Just tell them to split the backup into two segments, and run them on alternate nights until we get a little more clear and I can spend some time working the metrics. We’ll take the risk.”
“I suggested that.” Kerry watched Dar’s profile. “That’s what we were arguing about. When I call them back I’ll just tell them you said so, and that should end that conversation.”
“You make me sound like such a pirate captain.”
“Here’s the next station.” Scuzzy stood up. “They got to be here. This is freaking the last stop on this here train. It’s Brooklyn Bridge!!”
“Hold that thought.” Kerry stood up as they pulled into the station and clipped her phone to her belt as Dar joined her and they both went to the door and peered out of it. The station was relatively quiet, and as they stepped out onto the platform the rest of the passengers exited and headed for the stairwells further down.
Scuzzy had bounced out ahead of them, and she was near the very end of the platform, her head poked out into the tunnel as she shaded her eyes. “Okay, so here we are. Where the hell are these guys?”
Dar studied the tracks, not seeing any indication of new cable running through that would hint at the teams passing. “Kerry, get your buddy on the phone and find out where the hell these people are.” She said, going over to the cracked Plexiglas covering a subway map and studying it. “If this is Brooklyn Bridge, we’re almost back to where we started yesterday. What the hell have they been doing?”
Kerry joined her, phone pressed to her ear. “I don’t want to go any closer to where we were.” She stated. “We don’t have any protection, Dar.”
“Right there with you, Ker.” Her boss stated. “They should have been a lot further up by now. This may all be just one big damn moot point.”
The train behind them was still idling in the station. Scuzzy came back over to where Dar and Kerry were standing, extending her arms out in visible bewilderment. “I don’t get it.”
“Us either.” Dar acknowledged. “I find it very hard to believe these people haven’t gotten up this far yet. What the hell are they doing, laying the damn cable an inch an hour?” She went to the edge of the platform and looked down the tunnel, seeing not much other than a few lights off in the distance.
It smelled. A gust of surprisingly cold air blew back down into her face and she stepped back quickly, glancing behind her at the train.
“No, you aren’t.” Kerry was speaking into her phone. “I’m standing right here, looking at the wall and we’re in the city hall station.”
Across the platform, against the far wall, Dar could see another, smaller concrete slab that was darkened and obviously not used. She turned around and saw the twin of it against the other wall, then she went again to the edge of the tunnel and peered inside.
The driver had come out of his cubicle and he approached her. “What are you people doin?” He asked, in a gruff tone.
Dar turned. She held up her ID and credentials, which he peered at. “We’re working with the government.” She said. “Try to lay some cable down these tunnels.”
The driver looked down the tunnel, then at her. “You’re crazy, right?” He said. “You think you’re putting cables down the subway? We got manholes for that.” He pointed across at the other, darkened platform. “They’re over there, not in the tunnels lady.”
“Are they?” Dar looked where he was pointing, seeing a rolldown door in the gloom. “Can I get over there to look at it?”
The driver studied her , then he shrugged. “Gwan inside the car. I’ll open the other doors. You might need to jump a little.”
“Look, I’m telling you I’m right here. No one… what? What do you mean, another city hall?” Kerry motioned Scuzzy over. “Can you talk to this guy? He’s not making any sense to me.”
“Sure.” Scuzzy willingly came over. “He’s probably from Brooklyn or somethin.”
Dar entered the car through the open doors and crossed over, waiting until the driver entered his cubicle and opened the far set, exposing the dark, shortened platform. It wasn’t much of a jump, actually, Dar merely stepped across onto it, and pulled her flashlight out to explore.
The platform was filthy. She had the brief sensation of what it might be like inside a coal mine as she walked along the concrete slab carefully, glancing up at an old mosaic embedded into the wall. “Brooklyn Bridge.” She muttered under her breath.
It was obscured with plaster, and a half wall of whitewashed wood forming a crude storage area. Next to that was a door, painted black to match the inside walls and battered with years. Dar walked over and turned the knob, fully expecting it to be locked but not entirely surprised when it wasn’t.
She pushed the door open and peered inside, and sure enough, she was faced with more cable trunks than she knew what to do with. She entered and looked around, tipping her head back to look up and see tiny chinks of light above her head.
They flickered, then flickered again, and she realized she was looking at daylight. Manhole? She turned and looked at the door, then shook her head and continued exploring.
“Hey, Dar!” Kerry’s voice echoed through the station. “Where are you?”
“Over here.” Dar examined the huge bundles of cables and thick, riveted pipes that ran along the wall. A rustle of movement made her jump, and she flashed her light into the corner, which now had a pair of glowing eyes. “What’s up?”
Dar backed out of the room with guilty relief, shutting the door quickly behind her before she turned and found Kerry looking out of the open doors at her. “What’s up?”
“What’s there?” Kerry countered. “Did you find something?”
“Cable trunk.” Dar joined her in the car. “Not sure it helps us. Not sure where it ends up.”
“Hey, if you people wanna keep talkin, I got to pull the train around to the other track.” The driver said. “You want to ride around? I got no problem with that, since you’re with the government and all.”
“We’re n… “ Kerry started to answer, then she stopped. “Sure, that’s fine. Thanks.” She waited for the door to the driver’s compartment to close. “Dar, they told Scuzzy they were in some other City Hall station. She thinks they’re in the wrong tunnels.”
Dar looked over at Scuzzy, who lifted her hands again. “There ain’t no other City Hall station on this line, yeah? They got one over on the BMT though. I think they came down into the wrong stations or something.”
“Great.” Dar exhaled, pressing her nose against the window as the train started moving. “We’re screwed.”
“I think it’s the stock market that’s screwed, hon.” Kerry said, pragmatically. “It’s not our fault they took the wrong stairs.”
“We’ll still get screwed over it. No one’s going to care if they did the wrong thing. We’re the ones who promised we’d fix it.” Dar stared grimly out the window, as the train eased into a turn, and the walls shifted from a drab sooty black to a lighter brick.
She got the impression of light, and she cupped her hands against the glass to see better. “Wh… “ Her eyes took in arches and brickwork, a flash of mosaic, flickers of light, and outlined in it, a group of workers with a familiar spool. “Hey! Hey! There they are!”
“What?” Kerry crowded against her and looked out the window. “Where who.. oh.. huh?” ‘
“Scuzzy, get this guy to stop, willya?” Dar called out. “There are the bastards. In there!”
Scuzzy was already hammering on the door to the driver’s compartment. “Hey buddy! Hey! Hold it up!”
The train shuddered to a halt, jerking and rattling and throwing Kerry against Dar and both of them against the window. Dar grabbed Kerry and the pole she was standing near and got them both upright as the door to the driver’s pod yanked open and the driver emerged.
“What in the hell are you people yelling about?” The man asked. “Jesus Christ you scared the shit out of me! You know what it’s been like the last couple days? I’m having a heart attack!” He fumed. “What’s wrong wit you?”
“Hey, take it easy.” Scuzzy held her hands out. “We just found the guys we were looking for, yeah? We didn’t want to miss them.”
“What are you ta..” The driver ducked back inside and looked out his window. “There’s no one… oh hell. There is people there. What the hell are they doing there? “ He opened the slat and stuck his head out. “What you people doin out there, huh?”
Dar leaned closer to the doorway. “Can you open the doors?” She asked. “We need to talk to those guys.”
“What?” The driver was still yelling out the window. He reached back inside and triggered a switch. “How in the hell did you get in here? They told us this was strickly offlimits!”
“We’re the phone company, shaddup!” The man on the platform yelled back.
Dar went to the door and stepped carefully over the shoulder width gap onto the platform, turning to hold out a hand to Kerry without really even thinking about it.
Kerry paused in the act of hopping out and eyed her, a faint smile twitching at her lips. She shifted her flashlight to her left hand and reached over to clasp Dar’s fingers, squeezing them as she stepped out over to the other side and gave her a little bump. “Thank you, sweetie.”
Her partner paused, and a tiny wrinkle appeared on the bridge of her nose. “Was I being pretentious?”
“Just charming.” Kerry moved past her. “Wow. What is this place?”
Dar glanced briefly around, then she headed for the cluster of men around the spool. “Let’s see what those bastards are doing here.”
Kerry let her go ahead, taking a moment to tip her head back and look around. Scuzzy came up next to her, and they both slowed to a halt, and simply stared around them. “Wow.”
“No kidding.” Scuzzy agreed. “I aint’ never seen nothing like this in the subway. That’s for sure.”
It seemed like it was part of the tunnel itself, which curved around in a big loop, the far end disappearing into the darkness again on the far side of space. But in the center, the ceiling lofted up in a series of gothic arches that culminated in a thin ironwork tracery of windows that allowed light in from outside to spill across the intricately bricked walls.
It was surprising and beautiful, completely unexpected and Kerry took her camera from her belt pouch and adjusted the flash, taking a few pictures of the work. “I guess there were two City Halls.” She pointed at a mosaic tile sign on the wall, which held the words. “How weird.”
Scuzzy was looking right up at the ceiling. “Woah.” She said. “You know? I think this is like, right outside the freaking entrance to the Hall. I seen those glass things from the top, you know? I asked my brother what they were once and he had like no idea.”
“Ker.” Dar’s voice interrupted their sightseeing.
Kerry put her camera away, turning and heading over to where her partner was standing. “Sorry, what’s up?”
“Wrong fucking cable.” Dar enunciated the three words in the most clipped tone imaginable.
“Oh Jesus.” Kerry pinched the bridge of her nose, as a headache she’d been keeping at bay started up again. “Not what I needed to hear.”
“This is what those guys gave us.” The man from Verizon spoke up immediately. “This aint my fault.” He immediately added. “This is the stuff those guys from Jersey brought over, right Mike?”
“Right.” Another tech agreed immediately. “So that’s what I told that guy, you sure it’s this code? I had the code. I told him the code, and he said yeah, it was the right code, but I knew it wasn’t no right code because I been laying this cable since I was eighteen years old and I know what code it should be, and it aint this code.”
“Right. So we told those guys somebody needed to come down here and look at this before we went no further, because this is a lot of crap to go through for no reason.” The first tech said. “And my guys gave me a lotta crap about it and just said to go on with it, but ain’t no way was I gonna have these here guys run this here cable if it’s the wrong stuff.”
There was a brief silence. Then Dar folded her arms over her chest. “Right choice.”
The tech nodded. “You got that right. So they sending someone down to here now?” He asked. “I ain’t got all day to be sitting in this tunnel.”
“They sent someone.” Dar answered, before Kerry’s bristling hackles could make her pale hair fluff out like a chia pet. “I’ll look at the cable.”
“You?” The man gave Dar a doubtful look.
“Okay” The man motioned the other techs over. “Unreel some of dat, willya? This here lady wants to see it.” He looked back at Dar. “You sure you know what you’re looking at?”
“Whatever.” The man motioned her forward. “C’mon, c’mon. We aint got all day.”
“Shit.” Dar pulled out her flashlight and walked over to the spool, where the telco techs were unhitching the end of the cable in the spool and twisting it back for her to inspect. “This was one complication I wasn’t expecting.”
“Can I punch him while you’re figuring out what to do?” Kerry asked, from between gritted teeth. “Stupid piece of ignorant pork rind.”
Dar leaned against the intricately bricked wall, her arms crossed over her chest, her mind racing. In front of her the track was now clear, as the train had moved along into it’s appointed time slot and she had been left to ponder the cable, the techs, and the pit she’d dug herself into.
Shit. She felt like kicking herself. After all the bullshit she’d been spilling about everyone else’s lame ass actions she had to face the fact she had screwed up to an intolerable degree in not simply checking what type of cable this half ass vendor was giving them.
Kerry came over and leaned against the wall next to her, their shoulders brushing. “Hey.” She braced one booted foot against the brick. “Thanks for the advice on the Lansing issue. It worked.”
Dar looked sideways at her.
Kerry peered mildly back.
“You’re welcome.” The dark haired woman finally said. “You trying to make me stop kicking myself?”
“Well.” Her partner plucked at the knee of her pants. “Actually I was just trying to find something to say to you that wouldn’t make you blow up at me.”
“You know what I mean.” Kerry said. “Hon, I know you’re freaking out. I don’t want to make it worse for either of us.”
Kerry felt the gentle pressure as Dar leaned against her, a non verbal acknowledgment and surrender she felt a great deal of sympathy for. There really wasn’t much she could say, to be honest. Dar was right. She should have checked.
Of course, she could try to take responsibility for that on herself, but if she tried, she knew Dar would just go ballistic and frankly she wasn’t looking for any kind of tension between them since the situation was already more than wretched enough.
Honesty seemed the better route. With Dar it always was, even if her own inclination was to try and make excuses or find some way to entice her lover into feeling better about whatever it was she was kicking herself over. “So it’s the wrong kind of fiber.”
“Wrong kind of fiber.” Dar agreed. “Multimode. The long distance optics are single mode.”
“Longest reach multimode will do is 550 meters.” Dar let her head rest on the wall. “Eighteen hundred feet.”
Kerry did the math, and sighed. “Do they have any other spools?”
“Sure. All the wrong kind.” Dar supplied. “Know what that bastard said? Oops.”
“Oops.” Kerry mouthed the word. “Nice.”
“Yeah.” Dar acknowledged. “Mongolian clusterfuck, courtesy of yours truly.” She gazed up at the skylights, then she pushed off from the wall. “Well, screw it.” She started back towards the techs, who had been taking a break leaning against the cable spool. “No point in standing around.”
Kerry gathered herself up and followed, catching up as Dar neared the work crew. “Hon…”
Dar held a hand up. “Okay, go ahead and keep rolling it out. We’ll deal with it on our end.” She said, in a brisk tone as she came up next to where the men were lounging. “We’re running out of time.”
The crew leader turned in surprise. “Yeah? This is the wrong stuff though.” He pointed out. “You said so.”
“Not a problem.” Dar replied steadily. “I’ll handle it. Just get the cable rolled out. We’ve got a solution.”
The man studied her. “Awright.” He shrugged. “Overtime for us, and not doin what those guys down town from here are doin. Sounds good to me. Okay boys?”
The techs dusted their gloved hands off, most of them nodding. “Better than digging out pipes.” One agreed. “At least it’s quiet down here, and no dust.”
The men got to work, standing up and taking hold of the spool. “Down the line here.” The crew leader motioned Dar and Kerry out of the way. “Scuse me, ladies. We got work to do.”
“Sorry, we definitely don’t want to hold you up.” Kerry gave him a smile. “We’ll be waiting for you on the other end. Thanks for taking the time to let us know about this, by the way. At least it gives us time to get a solution in place before you get up there.”
The man nodded briefly at her. “You the people with the bus?”
Kerry nodded back. “We’ll send some snacks down the line to you when we get back. We really appreciate you guys coming through for us with this.”
The men reacted to Kerry’s charm and sincere tone. They gave her brief smiles, and one of them touched the rim of his hard hat as they rolled the spool by. “See you down at the Rock, pretty lady.” He said, giving Kerry a wink.
Kerry gave them all a genial wave. She waited for them to move down the curve of the track, before she turned and looked at her partner. “Come up with a plan?”
“Nope.” Dar had her hands in her pockets. “I haven’t a damn clue what I’m going to do.”
Kerry turned her head and looked at the men, then swiveled back to face Dar. Her brows lifted. “Is this something maybe you can come up with a fix for?”
“Hon? Is there a reason you want these guys to work all night doing this then?” Kerry asked, gently. “I know you hate to give up, so do I , but there’s a lot of work they could be doing too, huh?” She laid a hand on her partner’s arm to ease any sting from the words.
Dar merely lifted her shoulders in a mild shrug, though. “I can’t just tell them to stop.” She said. “Even if I know it’s probably going to be a waste of time.”
“Well.” Dar removed one hand from her pocket and raked her hair back from her eyes with the fingers of it. “I know the physics of it, Ker. But let’s go back to the Rock, and I’ll get on the phone with some of the eggheads I know up at our network vendor and see what they say.”
Kerry studied her face, cast in the shadows from the skylight’s grill. Even she could see the doubt in her partner’s eyes, and from her own knowledge of the technology she faced the understanding that this time Dar really was just tossing crap in the air.
“Okay.” Kerry said, after they were both silent for a minute. “We really don’t have much choice, do we?”
“Then let’s boogie.” Kerry turned around. “Scuzzy? You around here? We’ve got to get going.”
Scuzzy trotted down a set of steps in the center of the curve. “Man, this is amazing.” She said. “I ain’t never seen nothing like this place. You know what this is?” She came over, full of enthusiasm and oblivious to the nerdish gloom around her colleagues. “This is like the very first station in the subway.”
“Is it?” Kerry looked around again. “It’s really interesting.”
“Yeah. I found a plack over there.” Scuzzy pointed. “This is where it started, you know? The first station, where all the trains left from back in like in 1904. “ She looked up. “Man, they used to make things cool, huh?”
“Why don’t they use it anymore?” Dar spoke up. “Seems like a waste to just leave it here.”
“Oh.” Scuzzy pulled out her phone. “Hang on a minute, that drive told me to like call him when we needed to get out of here. Walking down the track’s not cool” She dialed a number, turning her head to one side and covering her ear as she waited for it be answered.
Her decision made, Dar turned her attention to her surroundings. She walked over to the plaque and studied it, tipping her head back to look at the mosaic sign above. There was an elegance, and an architectural beauty to it that surprised her, and she allowed herself to be distracted by the artistry in the tiles and the arches.
She felt a moment out of time, hearing the echo of a different era as Kerry walked quietly up behind her, coming to stand at her side, sliding the fingers of one hand into Dar’s front pocket.
The silent support in the motion both charmed her, and made her feel more than a little guilty. She glanced to the side, catching Kerry’s profile in the dim light from the work lamps.
After a moment, Kerry sensed it and turned her face a little, their eyes meeting. “Know what I think?” She said.
“Bet I’m about to.” Her partner wryly answered.
“I think Heaven is really going to be a plane seat heading home.” Kerry tugged her a little. “C’mon, boss. Let’s get out of here. I think I hear our chariot approaching.”
“Here we go.” Scuzzy confirmed it, pointing down the track. “Man, I wish I’d took pictures down here. This was freaking amazing.”
“I have some. I”ll share.” Kerry clasped Dar’s hand with her own and started towards the edge of the platform. Ahead of them, on the far side where the track seemed unused, the men were already working their way along, flashlights casting odd bursts of light against the soot darkened walls.
“That’s cool.” Scuzzy joined them at the edge of the concrete. “I mean, I know this is real serious and all that stuff, but I think New York is the coolest city, and I love seeing stuff like this. Like, you been over Brooklyn Bridge?”
“I have.” Kerry responded, since her silent partner wasn’t looking likely to. “It’s an amazing construction.” She added. “I know the head of the office here, who died in the attack, was also a big fan of the city wasn’t he Dar?”
“He was.” Dar said. “I’m sure he would have loved to have seen this place.”
The train pulled slowly into the station, it’s bright number six prominent in the gloom. Scuzzy tilted her head back and looked up at the skylight. “Like that stuff. Today, we just put these lights everywhere. Back then, they were smart. They used what they had, you know? Got all kinds of light in here from that.”
“Using prisms.” Kerry waited for the door to open, then she hopped inside.
“Prisms.” Dar repeated, as she joined her.
“You people done with all this now?” The driver poked his head out. “My boss said I can’t do this no more. They got real pissed at me.”
“We’re done.” Kerry said. “Thank you very much for picking us up.”
“Yeah, that was really cool.” Scuzzy went over to him. “This place is great.”
The driver shrugged. “It’s just a tunnel.” He went back in his cubicle and closed the door, then closed the outside doors and put the train in motion. They sat down as they left the old, unused station and pulled around, shuttling through only a short period of darkness before they were pulling into Brooklyn Bridge.
Dar settled back in her seat to wait out the ride, folding her arms over her chest as she half closed her eyes and thought about light.
Kerry felt her phone buzz, but she left it on her belt, content to merely sit, sharing Dar’s space as she let her mind go blank. There would be time when she got back to the office to continue her neverending problemsolving.
Right now she could use the tunnels as an excuse to rest her head against Dar’s shoulder and think about something trivial, like the pretty mosaics on the wall back there, and how warm her partner’s skin was.
There was no real point in wondering what they were going to do about the problem of the cable. If Dar didn’t know what to say about it, no one did.
She really had no idea what they were going to do.
Dar rested her forearms on the mahogany wood surface, appreciating the sound proofed walls and the stillness of the office.
On the desk was a phone, and her laptop, which was closed. The rest of the office was fairly sterile and empty, a spare the staff had rapidly found for her when she and Kerry returned from the subway, moving from an active part of the work back to something a bit more administrative.
For once, Dar was glad. She didn’t really want to be around the fiber guys, and Mark, who were setting up the gear needed to make the connection she knew wasn’t going to happen when it was all said and done.
She didn’t want to say anything to them, but she was finding it hard not to anyway. It was an odd mix of embarrassment and anger, frustration at the situation and self disgust at her part in it.
She looked at the phone, then she removed her PDA and opened it, flicking through the address book as she searched for a specific entry. After she found it, she exhaled, studying the phone pad for a long time before she made a move towards it.
A knock at the door stilled her hand in the act of dialing. She released the line and put her hands back on the desk. “C’mon in.”
Alastair poked his head in at the invitation. “Hello, there.”
“Hey.” Dar waved him forward, guiltily glad of the interruption. “How was the interview?”
Her boss smiled briefly. “Well, that went just fine. But you know, they followed me back here. Really want to talk to you.”
Dar made a face. “Alastair, I’m busy.”
“I know.” Alastair said. “But they’re right in back of me, lady. Don’t’ make me turn around and boot them. They’re not bad folks. Just want a few minutes of your time.”
Silver linings. Dar sighed. “Okay, sure.” She said. “Might as well get it over with before I get on a conference call.” She shifted and rested her chin on her fist. “Bring em in.”
Alastair smiled again, this time far more warmly. “Thanks.” He drew back for a moment, then he opened the door and entered, holding it open for the rest to follow. “C”mon in, folks. Dar’s just got a minute, so please keep it brief.”
A group of four people entered, two men dressed in khakis carrying cameras with pockets full of technical items, a tall man in a turtleneck and a jacket, and a medium height woman in a leather coat and boots.
“Hi.” Dar briefly wished Kerry was in the room. “What can I do for you folks?”
The tall man approached the desk. “John Avalls.” He held a hand out. “Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Ms. Roberts. We won’t be too long.”
Dar stood and took his hand. “I’d appreciate that. We’re in the middle of a lot of activity here.”
“This is my colleague, Sarah Sohn.” The man indicated his female companion. “And our cameramen John and Barry.”
Dar gave them all a brief nod. Then she stuck her hands in her pockets and waited.
The reporters came closer to her while the camera people set up their gear. Alastair loitered in the background, perching on the credenza that held a set of glasses and probably hid a large screen television panel.
“Okay. “ Avalls was flipping through a notepad. “Sorry, Ms. Roberts. It’s been a long couple days for us too. I’m trying to get my questions straight here so I don’t waste your time.”
“No problem.” Dar watched the cameramen wrangle their gear. “I can imagine that you folks have been going without any sleep just like we have. “
“Exactly.” Sarah nodded. “You almost feel guilty taking a nap, like you’re going to miss something if you do.” She had a portfolio open, and she took up a position near the short edge of Dar’s desk. “For a while there, even going to the restroom felt like that.”
Dar nodded. “Can’t be like that forever though.”
“No.” Sarah said. “It’s funny you say that, because I was thinking, just this morning before we met Mr. McLean, that I had so many other things to do, personal things, laundry, you know, shopping – that I haven’t even thought about since Tuesday. “
“Life’s moving on.” Alastair suggested. “I know we feel it. Our customers were completely understanding the first few days, but now, their priorities are changing too.”
Avalls looked up from his notes and nodded. “I found myself hoping over coffee this morning they’d find me an assignment somewhere else.” He said, honestly. “You can just take so much. I felt like going to cover baseball in Wisconsin.”
Dar nodded slowly. “Wish I was home in Miami, myself, matter of fact.” She remarked. “Alastair and I were in London when it happened, and we’ve been going full out since then.”
“ I was at my in laws in Virginia.” Avalls said. “My father in law was having his sixtieth birthday party, and we had the whole family in for a big barbeque.” He glanced up from his notepad. “Now he never wants to celebrate his birthday again. “
They were all silent for a moment. “Tough to know who to be mad at, isn’t it?” Alastair came over and settled on the far edge of the desk Dar was standing behind. “Anyway, here we are.”
“Here we are.” Avalls said. “John, you ready?””
“Yeah. I think there’s enough light in here not to use ours.” The cameraman said, peering into his lens at Dar’s image. “We’re good.”
“This is a high pickup mic.” Sarah said. “So we don’t need to do the whole stick it in your face thing. It’s picking you up fine.” She looked at a meter on the device she was wearing over her shoulder. “And it’s quiet in here.”
“Great.” Dar rocked up and down on her heels. “One warning. I’m tired, and I’m not a talking head.” She said. “Don’t’ ask any questions you don’t want to hear the answers to.”
Sarah looked up and smiled at her. “We know.” She said. “Ms. Roberts, I’ve been a fan of yours since you did an interview about that ATM breakdown for a colleague of mine. “ She added. “I can’t speak for John but we’re not here looking for a headline on the crawler. We just don’t understand some things we’ve seen happening and we’d like to, and we think you have the answers.”
“You speak for me.” Avalls said, in a mild tone. “I am just the talking head.”
Dar relaxed, sensing a weary doggedness in the little crew she understood at a gut level. She was usually wary of the press, given her recent experiences with them sometimes more than wary, but in this time, in this place, she felt like it was going to be okay.
Alastair, after all, knew her well enough not to put her in front of a couple of antagonistic reporters, didn’t he? She glanced over at him, seeing only mild interest on his face. “Nice shirt, Alastair.”
Her boss eyed her. “Laundry’s in the hands of the hotel, Paladar. I wasn’t banking on spending an extra couple of weeks on the road with you.”
Dar grinned, then she turned back to the reporters,. “So. What can I answer for you folks?”
“Okay.” Avalls studied his pad and paper. “Let me put on my weatherman voice and get the started. “ He cleared his throat. “Ms. Roberts, we all know everyone rushed to New York to help in this time of great tragedy. But what did that mean to you? What are you doing here?”
“Dar, be good.” Alastair got in, just as his beloved CIO was taking a breath to answer. “Remember this will probably be national.”
Dar merely laughed. Then she sighed. “What am I doing here.” She mused. “Well, for one thing, we didn’t rush up here.” She said. “This was our second stop.”
The door opened, and a familiar blond head poked inside. Dar motioned her partner forward, then returned her hands to her pockets. “We went to the Pentagon first, physically, but in reality we were everywhere after it happened.”
“Can you explain that?” Avalls said.
“Not without a white board and at least ten colored markers.” Dar replied. “In brief, we reached out and connected all of our corporate resources so we could understand what was happening and mitigate the effects when we could, and where we could.”
Kerry came over and took a seat out of camera range in one of the comfortable leather chairs to one side of the desk.
“Then, after we got a team on the ground at the Pentagon and resolved their immediate infrastructure problems, we came here. “ Dar concluded. “And since we’ve been here, we have been using the resources we have to try and help the city knit itself back together. “
“The city asked you to come?” Avalls asked.
“We came for our people here.” Alastair answered. “City didn’t have much to do with it.”
“But once we were here, and they knew we were, they gave us a priority list and we did what we could with it.” Dar added.
“Yet you brought your infamous bus with you.” Avalls consulted his pad. “This bus, which I’ve heard about from roughly everyone including all our production people has been seen all over the city passing out drinks and cookies.” He glanced up. “Was that calculated? Good corporate PR?”
“I’m sure it is good corporate PR. The name of the company’s plastered over the outside of the damn things.” Dar replied. “But in fact, no. We sent the buses because we knew we had people here who needed help. Not people in general, our people here in the city.”
“I’m sure a cynic would doubt that.” Avalls said, but he smiled.
“I’m sure they would.” Dar agreed. “And in the end, it really doesn’t matter because the buses did what we wanted them to do and more, no matter what anyone considered the motive to be. We know better.”
“So what now? What are you doing now, and what do you intend to do in the future here?” Avalls asked, after a brief pause. “How long do you focus on New York?”
Dar remained silent for a moment, pondering what to answer to that. “We focus on all our customers.” She said finally. “So in that sense, we’ll be busy here for a while. We have a lot of facility down we need to take care of.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant.” Avalls said. “I understand of course you take care of business. What I meant was, how long will you be acting in this – well, let’s call it philanthropic mode? I’m sure you’re not billing Manhattan for the cupcakes.”
Dar turned her head and looked at Alastair, her brows lifting.
The camera swung over and focused on the CEO. He had his arms folded over his chest, and a thoughtful expression on his face. “Well now.” He mused. “I don’t think we ever even thought about it that way. I recall being on our conference bridge and naturally when I heard about the problems our people were having here of course we sent our service personnel. It’s part of who we are as a company, you know? It’s the people.”
‘The people.” Alastair indicated the general surroundings, and then specifically Dar and Kerry. “Our company is our people. It’s not the technology and the gew gaws and wiring. Of course we focus on taking care of the most precious resource we have, and the buses will stick around until we no longer need them. If the city benefits by that, great. I’m fine with funding as many damn cupcakes and cups of lemonade we can pass out.”
“Now.” Dar cleared her throat. “Will that bring us good PR? Sure. Will people remember the logo on the bus? Sure.” She shrugged. “But we’d do it anyway. Our people are as glad to see those buses as anyone else is.”
“Okay, cut it, John.” Avalls said. “So now let me ask you, shouldn’t the city, or the government be out there doing the same thing?”
Dar sat down behind the desk. “Not my area.”
“Not being provocative?” Sarah chuckled also. “The Red Cross is out there. There’s nothing in the government really that provides that type of service. That isn’t their area either.”
“That’s true.” Kerry responded. “We have to have that facility because, like Alastair said, our people are our most important resource. We have to provide for them so they can do the jobs we need done in situations like this. It’s tough to be away from your family, and thrown into a relatively dangerous situation.”
“Well, we could say the city workers and the military have the same issue.” Avalls commented.
“Yes, but they get paid to do public service.” Kerry said. “Our people get paid to be nerds. That doesn’t usually mean you put your life on the line for your job.”
“And yet, here you are.” Sarah said. “And from what Mr. McLean said, you were down in the disaster area in the wreckage yesterday where you could easily have been hurt, true?”
“True.” Kerry agreed.
“Do they pay you for that, Ms. Stuart?” Avalls asked, folding his hands over his pad.
“No.” Kerry shook her head.
“So then why go?” He followed up. “I’m not asking to be contrary. I’m curious.”
Kerry glanced past him. “Because Dar went.” She answered honestly. “And I go where she goes, no matter how crazy it is.”
That shut them up. They glanced between Kerry and Dar, as the cameraman fiddled with putting his gear away. “All right then.” Avalls finally said. “Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I really appreciate it.”
“Anytime.” Dar leaned back in her chair, as Alastair got up from the desk.
“I’ll walk you folks out.” Alastair said. “Dar, the board’s asked for a short recap call, can we squeeze that in next?”
“Sure.” Dar agreed.
They left, closing the door and leaving Dar and Kerry alone in the office. Dar turned in her chair and regarded her partner, a wry smile on her face.
“Was that too goofy?” Kerry asked.
“Nah. Wish theyd’ gotten it on camera.” Dar replied. “We might as well get all the good press we can now, because you know we’re going to get thrown under those damn buses when nothing works on Monday.”
Kerry sighed. “So you haven’t come up with a brilliant plan to fix the problem yet?”
Dar snorted. “Ker, thanks for the vote of confidence but even I can’t change the laws of physics.” She went back to her PDA. “Hang out. You can hear the guffaws of laughter when I ask the guys over in the optics division of our network vendor if they can.”
“How’s it going, Mark?” Dar released the radio button and waited. She leaned back against the wall behind the desk Kerry was seated at, studiously pecking at her keyboard, the tip of her tongue sticking out as she concentrated.
Dar found the expression adorable and despite her current aggravation it made her smile.
“Good news.” Kerry said, after a moment. “They got all the circuits back up at the Pentagon, Dar. That room’s fully operational now.” She glanced up at her companion. “What’s so funny?”
Nothing.” Dar cleared her throat. “That is good news.” Her partner said. “That should give you some slack on the bandwidth in that area.” She added. “I know that was stressing the backhaul carrying most of that on the sat.”
“It does.” Kerry agreed. “I’m glad, because I told some of the customers we have riding on the sat as primary we’d maybe see some improvement after the weekend.” She went back to her keyboard. “Not that it kept them from bitching at me.”
“Hey boss, Mark here.” Dar’s radio crackled. “I got the router mounted down here. Had to pay to get some guy to give me power though. They freaked out when I wanted to run a cord over the ground.”
“Expense it. Whatever it was.” Dar responded.
“He.. uh, didn’t exactly give me a receipt.” Mark admitted. “And I kinda had to pay in cash, if you get my drift.”
Kerry turned and peered over her shoulder again. “We’re not going to pass the ethics certification this year, are we?”
Dar gave her a wry look. “Expense it anyway, Mark. We’ll approve it.” She said. “We need to get a pull cord run down to the tunnels. Any progress on finding a path?”
There was a few clicks on the speaker, before Mark answered. “They’re working on it, boss. Kannan and Shaun are down there looking for a way up.” He said. “Nothing yet.”
Damn. Dar tapped the mic against her chin. “Okay. Keep me in the loop.”
She clipped the mic and sighed. “I feel like a complete shit head making them go through this knowing it’s for nothing.” She said. “I’m going to pay them all bonuses when we get back just for that.”
“Are you going to tell them?” Kerry leaned on the chair arm and studied her partner. “I guess, really what I mean is what are you going to tell them once the cable gets here? Mark’s going to know when he sees it, certainly Kannan will.”
Dar slid down the wall to sit on the floor, extending her legs out. “I know.” She said. “I don’t know what I’ll tell them. I’m not going to tell anyone now. Let the damn cable get here, and then.. I don’t know.” She scratched her ear. “I’ll just be honest I guess. Tell them we were working on a way around it but it just didn’t work out.”
Kerry got up and walked over, sitting down next to Dar and stretching her legs out alongside her partner’s. “This sucks , sweetie.”
“It sucks.” Dar’s cell phone rang, and she pulled it out and answered it. “Dar Roberts.” She listened. “Oh, hey, Chuck. Hang on.” She keyed the phone’s speaker. “Go ahead, Kerry’s here too.”
“Hey, yeah, hi Kerry.” Chuck’s voice echoed. “Listen, they just briefed me on what you asked, Dar.” He said. “I’ve checked with a few people. That spec won’t carry the distance. It can’t.”
Kerry closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“I’m aware of that, Chuck.” Dar said. “Problem is, that’s all they got here. You know what’s riding on it.” She added. “I’ve been through the specification with a fine tooth, I know it says it’s impossible. I want to know what is possible, and whether all it’s going to take is a lot of money, which I’’m willing to cough up.”
“Well, I know, Dar.” Chuck answered. “I got fifteen senior engineers here in the white board room looking at this from every angle, but you know, it is what it is.” He said. “At most, they can tweak the modules to go a thousand, maybe twelve hundred meters. That’s it.”
Dar sighed. “Damn.” She exhaled. “You were our best shot, Chuck. You’ve developed the latest set of optics everyone uses.”
“I know.” Chuck agreed. “Not to toot our horn, but if we can’t do this, nobody commercial can. We’re the big dogs.”
“That doesn’t really…”
Chuck uncharacteristically cut her off “So what I decided to do, was call in some friends of mine who work over at NASA.” Chuck continued. “My brother’s an engineer over at Lockheed Martin, and he’s got some contacts on the team who did the Hubble. “
Kerry peered at the phone with renewed interest. “Never thought of that.” She murmured. “When it doubt call a rocket scientist.”
“All right.” Dar answered. “Do you think they’ll help?”
“I don’t know.” Chuck answered honestly. “It beats sitting in this room watching everyone scratch their heads and shrug their shoulders. We can’t do beans with this Dar. Maybe they got some bright ideas.” He said. “It’s optics. If anyone can come up with some hair brained idea to make duct tape and mirrors work, it’ll be those guys.”
“I appreciate it, Chuck.” Dar said. “We’re at our wits end here too. The nearest spool of the right stuff is 2,000 miles away and I can’t get it here before Tuesday.”
‘”Ouch.” He responded “Well, I have no idea if anything will come of it, but I didn’t want to just drop it.” Chuck said. “I’ll let you know if we find out anything, okay?”
“Thanks.” Dar responded. “Later, Chuck.” She closed the phone and studied it. “That’s not going to happen. We just don’t have the time.”
“You having that cable sent?” Kerry asked.
“I’m glad he took the initiative.” Kerry said. “Without you having to ask.” She reached over and patted her partner’s leg “Come with me to get some lunch? It’s getting pretty late and we got up pretty early.”
“Hon, you’re doing the best you can.” Kerry said, gently. “You engaged the right people, they brought in the right people, if this doesn’t happen, it won’t be because we didn’t try.” She leaned close, and captured her partner’s eyes. “We can just do what we can do.”
“Yeah, I know.” Dar picked up Kerry’s hand and brought it to her lips, kissing the knuckles. Then she turned it palm up and kissed that. “We just have to keep going and see where it takes us.” She got up and hauled Kerry up with her, pausing to kiss her palm again as they stood.
“Keep doing that and I’ll tell you where it’s going to take us.” Kerry said. “Right back to our hotel room. That’s where.” She slapped her partner on the butt and nudged her towards the door. “Scoot.”
Instead of scooting, Dar turned and let Kerry’s forward momentum bring them together. She wrapped both arms around her and tilted her head, kissing her on the lips.
Far from protesting, Kerry returned the hug, and the kiss with enthusiasm. They parted a little after a minute, and she looked up into Dar’s eyes, enjoying the frank passion she saw there. “What were we about to do?”
“Go back to the hotel.” Dar promptly supplied. “You mentioned something about lunch.”
“They have room service.”
“Heck with that.” Kerry smiled. “We can stop for a hot dog on the way back.” She stretched up and stole another kiss, then she firmly took Dar’s hands and started leading her towards the door. “C’mon. I need a break. Chances are we’re going to end up in some dusty wiring room tonight.”
“Hm.’ Dar sighed regretfully. “Unfortunately Alastair scheduled a board conference call I think. We may just have time to get that hot dog.”
“Grr.” Kerry thumped her head against Dar’s shoulder. “Why can’t the board just watch CNN?”
“Easy, hon.” Dar scrubbed the back of her neck and gave her a hug. “We’ll take a break after that. Let’s skip the group dinner tonight and just chill, okay?”
Kerry kept her head resting against her partner. “I’ve been wanting to do that for days.” She admitted. “I know it’s anti social but my nerves are getting rubbed raw in all this.”
Dar leaned against her and kept up her gentle rubbing along Kerry’s spine. “We’re going home Monday.” She said, after a long moment. “I sent Maria a note to make our reservations.”
Kerry shifted her head and looked up. “Good.” She replied. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week. I was going to ask you later on if we could.”
Dar smiled briefly. “So there’s a light ahead in our tunnel, Ker. We’ll do what we can until then, so just hang in there.”
“Hanging.” Kerry wrapped her arms around Dar and hugged her tightly. Then she let go, and pointed to the door. “So now that my libido is going to be thwarted, I”ll settle for lunch. Lead on, Magellan.”
Dar did, opening the door and heading out into the hallway.
They bumped into Alastair, almost literally, as the doors to the lift opened. “Ah.” Dar stepped back out of the way. “You see our friends off?”
“I did.” Alastair said. “Not bad folks, really. I thought that went pretty well. Didn’t you?”
Dar nodded. “Far as that sort of thing goes, yeah.” She agreed. “Seemed pretty innocuous. I’m willing to bet they were glad to get a soft story for a change after what they’ve been covering the last few days.”
“You got it.” Alastair agreed. “Dar, I set the conference call for fourty five minutes. Can I buy you ladies lunch?”
“Absolutely.” Dar indicated the door. “We were just heading out for that ourselves. I need to let you in on some technical issues that have cropped up.”
“I’ll translate.” Kerry promised. “I’ve also got some major customer complaints you probably should know about.”
Alastair sighed, as he punched the button for the lobby. “Fair trade. The FBI is after us again.”
“Why did I let you talk me into this?” Alastair studied the sushi menu wryly. “Don’t tell me you don’t’ eat hamburgers, Dar.”
“I do.” His CIO replied. “I love cheesburgers. I just also love sushi. Relax, Alastair. It’s good for you.”
“I even got my mother to go to a sushi restaurant.” Kerry added, “She liked it.”
“Your mother isn’t from Texas.” Alastair grumbled. “They have anything barbeque here?”
Alastair looked up over his glasses at Dar, as stern an expression on his face as Kerry had ever seen.
“I got Dar’s father to try it and he liked it.” Kerry informed him. “Honest.”
“Is that why he turned down going to lunch with us?” Alastair asked, dryly. “I was wondering about that.”
Dar chuckled. “He doesn’t really like sushi. He eats it to humor Kerry.” She explained. “But here, Alastair, just order the beef teriyaki. You’ll be fine, unless you’re allergic to soy sauce.”
“Hm? Ah. I see.” Her boss looked moderately pacified. “Well, that looks all right. At least I know what it is.”
“Does he really?” Kerry inquired, peering at her partner. “Do that to humor me?”
“Sure.” Dar went back to the menu. “Just like you tried sushi to humor me back in the day.” She studied her choices. “That worked out a little better though.”
“It did.” Kerry agreed. “I love sushi.” Her eyes flicked up to Dar’s profile. “Not as much as I love you, of course, but still.” She watched the pink blush color her partner’s ears and smiled. “And really, Alastair, California rolls are pretty innocuous. Rice, crab stick, some cucumber and a little seaweed.”
“Seaweed.” Dar set her menu down. “So.” She leaned back in her chair. “Here’s the mess we’re in.” She paused as a young waitress stopped at the table, her eyebrows lifted slightly and a pad in her hand. “Everyone ready?”
“Yup.” Kerry put her menu down. “Dragon roll for me, please, and some miso soup.”
The waitress looked at Dar. “Same for me.” Dar said. “And a glass of ice tea, please.”
“Of course.” The girl turned to Alastair. “Sir?”
Alastair took his glasses off and handed her the menu. “I’ll have the same.” He announced. “What the Hell. You only live once.” He settled back in his chair. “And I’ll have a glass of wine with that, if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly sir.” The waitress took their menus and disappeared.
Dar folded her arms, and exhaled. She felt as tired as Kerry and Alastair looked. They could have stayed at the office and had lunch there, but the noise, and the constant questions had driven all of them out into the streets in search of a few minutes peace.
“So.” Alastair said. “You were saying?”
Dar wished she wasn’t saying. “We have a problem.” She said. “Verizon sent over the wrong type of fiber optics cable. They didn’t realize it until they’d already rolled it part of the way out, and there’s none of the right type anywhere near here.”
Alastair folded his hands on the table. “I see.”
“Aside from that, the path from the subway up to our office is problematical, and we don’t know if we can bring the cable from the other subway to the one near the office.” Kerry added. “But that’s all pretty minor. The cable type isn’t.”
“Wont work?” Alastair asked. “Or is it just tough to make work?”
“Wont’ work.” Dar said. “Not without optics that don’t’ exist yet.” She cleared her throat a little. “I’ve asked our networking vendor to look into it, but the design cycle for those things is around two years.”
Alastair checked his watch, then looked at her. “Doesn’t sound good. What’s our plan B?”
“We have no plan b.” Dar’s voice remained quite steady. “If this doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I wont’ have the right cable in until Wednesday, maybe Tuesday night.. It weighs half a ton.”
“I see.” Her boss digested this. “Well. That sure sounds like a problem.” He twiddled his thumbs, pondering the news.
Dar just waited, watching his face. She’d known Alastair long enough to predict most of his responses, but the situation they were in was so extraordinary, she found herself unable to imagine what he was thinking much less what he would say.
She’d gotten used to the idea that they were screwed. At this point, she really just wanted to get it all over with.
“Okay.” Alastair finally said. “If it happens, it does. If not, I’ll deal with it.” He smiled as the waitress brought back tall, fragrant glasses of ice tea. “Thank you, that looks great.” He took a sip. “I wish I could work up a froth over it, ladies, but to be completely honest with you, I’m pretty out of arm waving.”
“Me too.” Dar agreed. “I can’t even get mad at the jackass from Verizon. He was scared enough to be wetting his pants. He just wanted out of that room.”
“I think he thought he was doing the right thing.” Kerry murmured.
“Probably did.” Alastair said. “I take it we’re going to keep trying, right? I mean, we’re not just going to walk away from this, are we?” He cocked his head and regarded his tablemates. “I’m not going to say anything to the government people, of course. Let them think whatever they want.”
“We’ll keep going.” Kerry spoke up. “Because you never know, until it’s over, that it’s over. I’ve learned that the hard way over the past couple of years.”
Alastair nodded. “Is there anything more we can do? Anyone I can call and take my frustration out on?”
Dar shook her head. “Me.” She added, after a pause. “Since I’m the one who didn’t check to make sure they were using the right damn cable.”
“You can’t idiot proof the world, Dar.” Alastair dismissed her admission with a gesture. “Fella who brought the stuff over to his own people to run shoulda known.” He added. “I know we’re trying to help out here but hellfire.”
Kerry smiled warmly at him, aware of the vaguely sheepish expression on her beloved partner’s face. “We expect everyone else to be as good as we are. We get bit with that sometimes.” She remarked. “You get used to people performing at a certain level which our people do, but not everyone else does.”
“Exactly.” Alastair said. “So Dar, don’t be silly. It’s not your fault.” He peered around, pausing to watch the sushi chef behind the bar. “That’s the cook?”
“That’s the sushi chef.” Kerry said. “We usually sit near the bar at the sushi place near our office down south and watch him work. It’s like food art.”
“Interesting culture.” Alastair commented. “Been to Japan a few times, to our regional office there. They’re always wanting me to send Dar over to visit them for some reason.”
“Some miso soup?” The waitress was back, with three steaming bowls. She set them down, and spoons with them, then smiled and vanished again.”
Kerry settled in to enjoy her soup, her eyes drifting idly past their table at the small crowd around them. It was late for lunch, and the restaurant was only a quarter full, most of the tables with one or two occupants either engrossed in their papers or staring off into the distance as they waited for their meals.
‘Is this tofu?” Alastair asked, in a quizzical tone.
“Yes.” Dar lifted her bowl and sipped directly from it, cradling it in both hands. “I’m not fond of it.”
He studied the white block, then he bit into it gingerly, chewing an swallowing with a noncommittal expression on his face. “Hmph. Doesn’t taste like anything.”
“That’s why I don’t like it.” Dar said.
Kerry let the conversation flow past her. She watched three men enter, and look around, then motion peremptorily at the hostess. They were heavyset, and all had dark hair and irritated expressions. They pointed at a table, and walked over to it, sitting down as the waitress hurried over with menus.
“Gimme a pitcher of coke.” One said. “Then get lost. “
Kerry’s lip twitched. The waitress didn’t seem fazed, though. She brought the pitcher and three glasses back, put them on the table, and walked away without a word. Was it the men being rude? Or was a something typical for New York that the woman was well used to?
Kerry started, and turned her head. “Sorry. Just thinking.” She scooped up a spoonful of mushrooms and tofu and munched them contentedly. Tofu didn’t taste like that much, it was true, but she liked the texture and the contrast between the silky blocks and the other vegetables in the soup.
“So anyway.” Alastair had lowered his voice. “After I got off the phone with the guy at the FBI main office, another fella called me and asked for something else, wanted to know if we had any telephone records from our customers.”
“Telephone?” Dar’s brows knit. “Did it not occur to them to call the telephone company for that?”
“Hell if I know. That’s what I asked him. They were looking for something else though, they said something about narrowing the focus.”
“But why our customers?”
“Maybe they asked the phone company, and they got what they asked for.” Dar said. “And it was a trillion one line entries in tapes delivered in a big box on their doorstep. There’s such a thing as too much data.”
The waitress appeared, with three plates. She set them down, and smiled at them. “Please enjoy.”
“Thanks, we will.” Kerry glanced around, as the woman left. “Don’t they need to have court orders for this kind of thing, Alastair? What’s the legal part of this?”
Alastair was studying his sushi roll. “Now, what in the hell am I supposed to do with this?” He asked. “As for the legal stuff, I tossed that over to Ham. I’m not about to cough anything up with out a subpoena, but y’know, he heard rumblings that someone told them they didn’t need one.”
“Chopsticks.” Dar held them up. “Put the in your hands like this.” She demonstrated, watching him try to imitate her. “Or pick the damn things up with your fingers. We don’t care.”
“Dar.” Kerry remonstrated her. “It’s not that hard, here. Do it this way.”
Alastair bemusedly studied her fingers. “That’s what Ham said they said.” He continued the conversation as he tried to make the sticks come together. “That they didn’t need any court order, they had orders from high up to just get what they needed, however they had to.”
“Scared Ham.” Having achieved dubious success, Alastair applied the chopsticks to the sushi roll. “Not much does.”
“So what does that mean for us?” Dar asked, fiddling with her own implements. “Is he saying we should… what is he saying?”
“Y’know, Dar?” Alastair studied the bit of sushi. “Now what?” He looked at Kerry.
“Dunk it like this.” Kerry motioned with her own piece of sushi, dipping it into the little bowl of soy sauce near her plate. “Then you just eat it.”
“Then I just eat it.” Their CIO mused. “Ham said he was going to call a friend of his in the government, try to feel them out, see what the real deal is.” He dunked the piece gingerly and then popped it into his mouth, chewing with a stolid resoluteness.
Kerry exhaled. “That doesn’t sound good.” She put her sushi in her mouth and chewed it, glancing past Alastair’s shoulder at the table of men behind them. They had their heads bent together, and as she watched, they looked up and over at them, then quickly looked away as they saw her attention.
Alastair finished chewing, swallowed, then took a sip of his tea and sat back, looking reflectively at the plate.
“Not good?” Dar hazarded a guess.
“If we can’t rely on the law… what the hell does that mean?” Kerry said. “What are we supposed to do?”
“Well.” Alastair said. “That was completely unlike anything I expected.” He picked up his chopsticks again. “I like it. Good stuff.” He picked up another piece. “Kerry, don’t worry yet. I’ll let you know when it’s time.”
“Cant’ do much about it anyway.” Dar plowed through her lunch. “So let’s talk about something else. When they let people back down into the tip of the island, they’re going to need comms. How do we handle that?”
Kerry was chewing. She eyed her partner.
“How about those Padres?” Alastair blinked mildly. “You like baseball, Dar?”
Dar looked from one to the other, then she shook her head and went back to her sushi. “I feel like I’m having lunch with a tableful of abstract art.”
Kerry swallowed hastily and smothered a laugh.
Alastair paused in the act of wrangling another piece of his sushi. “Not gonna ask.” He concluded. “And none of you say a word to my wife about me having this. She’ll think I’ve joined a cult.”
“Cult.” Dar mused. “That mean you’re going to get a tattoo?”
Alastair stopped chewing and looked at her.