Kerry trotted down the steps, descending down to the lower level of their office complex as the crowds were thinning out and the hallways emptying. Outside, it was already dark, and she glanced at her watch as she rounded the corner and headed for the small closet in the back of the stairs.
Time to go. “Hey guys, you back here?”
“In here.” Mark’s voice floated out.
Kerry ducked inside the doorway to the closet, spotting lights in side. She found Mark and Kannan there, hunkered down next to a box mounted on the wall and a panel full of blinking lights. “How’s it going?”
“Not bad.” Mark dusted his hands off. “Kannan’s just finishing the prep on the fiber box.”
Kannan looked up from his work. He had a white helmet on with a light in the front, and its beam nearly pegged Kerry in the eyes before she stepped sideways to avoid it. “It is almost done, yes.” He agreed. “This will be all right, I think. We left room for them to bring the cable up here, against the wall.”
He indicated the path. “Then it is a simple curve into the termination box, here, where we can then connect it up to our router.”
The router was on a makeshift shelf, a flash of new steel against old, blackened iron but sturdy enough to hold the square, stolidly blinking device that was already trailing wires that led to the half buried panel they’d found earlier.
“I just finished making the hookup.” Mark seated a punch down tool in his belt kit. “I think I blurped everyone upstairs, did you see it?”
“Dar did.” Kerry’s eyes twinkled a bit. “That’s how she knew you had to be about done.”
Mark grimaced. “She’d probably have done it without a hitch.” He groused. “But man, it’s dark in here.”
Kerry patted his shoulder. “So, we’re ready on this end?” She asked. “Ready for them to bring the cable up from the subway, and that’s it?”
“Well.” Mark sat down on a piece of jutting pipe. “I mean, in terms of connecting it, yeah, that’s it. But once it’s hooked up, Dar’s got to figure out what to do with all those different data streams. I got no clue what’s going to come down that pipe and I don’t think she knows either.”
“Can we get a list of what it is from the Exchange?” Kerry frowned. “That can’t be that hard.”
“Can’t figure out who to ask.” Mark admitted. “I talked to a few of those guys down there and they all had different answers. Apparently the people who really knew what was up.. I guess two guys anyway aren’t around anymore.”
“Ah.” Kerry crossed her arms. “Okay, well I’m sure she’ll figure it out. But we’re done on the physical side.”
“Yep.” Mark nodded. “Next thing that happens is the cable gets here, and Kannan connects it up to this panel” He patted the structure. “I plug it up, we get blinkies, and then Big D can figure out how to get the bits where they need to go.”
Kerry exhaled silently. “What about the other end?”
Mark gathered up his tools. “I figure we can run down and do that end tomorrow. They get any further today? I know you guys were saying they were stuck down there.” He edged carefully around the electrical panel, which bore a new, shiny clamp with cables trailing from it towards the wall and the equally new socket the router was plugged into.
“They’re working on it.” Kerry said. “They know what the deadline is. We just have to make sure we’re ready so we’re not the hold up, right?”
“Aaabsolutely.” Mark agreed. “C’mon, Kannan, pack up. I’m dying for a beer.”
“That sounds good to me too.” Kannan agreed. “I think I have just enough of these ends to make the connections for tomorrow at the other place. Then I hope they get this done quickly. Once we are finished with this, Ms. Stuart, will we be going back to Miami?”
“Yes.” Kerry answered, in a definite tone. “We have a lot to do back home getting our own house in order. I’m glad we’re helping out the country here, but we’re at the end of our ability to extend ourselves while our own people and customers also need help.”
“Too right.” Mark tucked his gloves into his belt. “I think these guys are taking way advantage of us. We’re too freaking convenient.” He said. “I heard those dudes down at the exchange talking about how they’d get us to do all this stuff for them and then they’d bill the feds for it.”
Kerry stared at him. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope.” Their MIS chief shook his head. “I’ve been meaning to tell you about it, I just kept forgetting with all this crap going on. I mean. “ He held one hand up. “Like, they’re happy we’re helping and they think it’s great we’re doing this, but they’re also checking to see how they can line their own pockets at the same time if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean.” Kerry stepped back and held the door open. “Let’s lock this and go get that beer. Dar and I have some work we need to catch up on tonight, so we’ll pass on dinner but she wanted to buy the first round of drinks.”
“That is very nice.” Kannan shouldered his backpack as he and Mark moved past Kerry and she shut the door behind them. “It is difficult, these things we are doing but all the same satisfying. It is good to do hard work.”
They walked around the back of the stairwell, and headed for the steps up to the lower level of the offices. The shops were mostly closed, though the restaurants were still open, and there was a small scattering of people still walking around.
Near the entrances, there were National Guard troops, standing near the walls and watching the remaining people, their eyes following the odd one walking along, as their hands cradled their rifles.
It brought home, again, what had happened. Kerry had realized she’d started to forget, caught up in the moment of doing what they were doing until she was pulled back into focus on it seeing one of the guardsman, or hearing someone talk.
Seeing the pictures of the site. Pictures of the dust covered firemen, doggedly searching through the wreckage for survivors or signs of their lost comrades.
Resolutely she turned her back on the guard and led the way up the steps, reaching the lower level and heading to where Dar and the rest of the team were waiting near the doors to steps up to the street.
The offices above were already quiet, emptied out. The staffers had gone home, those that could, and the rest were going with them over to stay at the hotel until they were allowed back downtown. Alastair had visited the hotel manager and leased a floor of the place out, to give the dispossessed a place to call home that wasn’t the office they’d been camping in.
Life was moving on. One of the salesmen had commented on it, as they’d broke up and closed the office down for the first time since the attack, and there was a sense of sadness about that. A grief that was only partially acknowledged, and not yet dispelled.
She could see Dar, leaning against the wall, her hands in her pockets as she talked to one of the New York staff. Her partner looked tired, there was an uncharacteristic slump to her body posture that was visible to Kerry, if not to anyone else, and she felt a moment of impatience that they had to postpone a retreat to their room if even for the best of motives.
Dar sensed their approach and looked up, past the person she was talking to right into Kerry’s eyes. Her expression shifted and one brow rose wryly, the message as clear as the crystal goblets in the storefronts she was passing.
Absolutely expressive. Kerry could recall only a few times she’d seen that particular look, usually at the end of a very long day, when the inner door to her office would open, and Dar would be leaning on the sill of it looking at her with that look, and saying “Take me home.”
Everything went into the to do folder when that happened. No matter if she was working on who knows what urgent problem, she’d put her phone on voice mail, pick up her laptop, and they’d go. That was where they line was drawn, and always had been.
“All right, we’re all accounted for.” Kerry said, as she reached her partner’s side. “Let’s roll, people.” She waited for Dar to push away from the wall and then she put an arm around her, giving her back a little rub with her fingers.
They climbed up the steps and out into the night, crossing the marble courtyard and heading for the streets beyond. Traffic had picked up a trifle, and the streets seemed busier, but Kerry wasn’t sure if that was something really different or if it was just that it was Saturday night, and there just would be more people out.
Dar’s arm settled over her shoulders with welcome warmth. She looked up at her partner. “Tired?”
“Headache.” Dar replied briefly. “Looking forward to kicking back and chilling.”
“Me too.” Kerry exhaled. “I think I’ll settle for a bowl of soup for dinner and a bubble bath.”
“Mmhg.” Dar made a low sound of appreciation. “And ice cream.” She added.
They followed the group along the sidewalk, not at the very back, but near it. Kerry was glad the pace was casual, since the long day of running around had tired her out. She had a slight headache herself, and the cool breeze they were headed into felt good despite the city scents on it.
She felt a little sweaty, a little dusty, and another thought crossed her mind. “Hey Dar?”
“Mm?” Dar seemed supremely content to amble silently at her side.
“That hotel has a pool, doesn’t it?”
“I think so.” Her partner said, after a brief pause. “Wow. A swim sounds like a great idea.” Dar perked up a little bit. “What made you think of that?”
“You in a bathing suit.” Kerry answered, in a serious tone. She felt Dar twitch a little, then start to laugh. “You asked.”
“I did.” Dar chuckled, giving her a one-arm hug.
A tall figure dropped back to join them. “Hey there.” Andrew greeted them. “What are you kids up to?”
“I was just going to ask you that, Dad.” Kerry responded. “We haven’t seen you since lunch. What have you been up to?” She tucked her free hand through Andrew’s elbow. “I heard some of the guys saying you were yelling at someone before?”
“Wall.” Andrew made a dismissive gesture. “I been sticking around that coon ass. He got himself mixed up with some of them gov’mint fellers and they was giving him a hive over some reports.” He said. “Fellers were jackass rude.”
“Alastair was telling us about the FBI wanting more reports. Was that it?” Kerry asked.
Andrew nodded. “Yeap.” He said. “Got my back up when they started saying how they were thinking how cause all them boys of yours weren’t from here that we were some suspect or something.”
Dar craned her neck around to look at her father. “What?”
“Yeap.” Andrew said. “Don’t know where they got that idea, but ah talked to them about it and I think they’re all right with it now.”
“Huh.” Kerry frowned. ‘What’s that all about? Dar, we’ve had non-US workers on visa to us here for years. You know as well as I do we take every qualified network tech we can find.”
“I know.” Dar said, her expression a little grim. “But I also know there’s an isolationist streak in this country a mile wide, and I’ve got a feeling this disaster’s going to give that a chance to show.”
“Them folks just ain’t been much in the world.” Andrew remarked.
“My father was one of those people.” Kerry said, after a short pause. “He used to say all the time that we had to watch out for what he called that foreign element.”
A siren erupted nearby, and everyone flinched. But it was just a lone police car, pulling around a corner and racing through the taxi crowded street, lights flashing.
“And a couple days ago, what was undeniably a foreign element killed a few thousand people and brought down two buildings and part of a third.” Kerry went on. “So maybe those people feel justified.”
They walked along in silence for a few minutes, crossing a street at the light and moving along the block towards their hotel. Their colleagues were walking in a group around them, talking in low voices.
“Country’s always had people from other places.” Andrew finally said. “Ain’t nobody hardly can say they b’long here.”
“No one likes to remember that in times like this.” Kerry agreed wryly. “My father’s family, back in the early nineteen hundreds, came from Scotland.” She paused. “My mother’s came from Germany. “
“Wall.” Andrew scratched his ear. “I believe my folks been here a while longer. Dar’s mother’s folks came with them Pilgrims.”
Kerry turned her head and stared at her partner, one blond brow arching sharply.
Dar shrugged. “She thinks it’s funny.”
“No wonder she made that crack about the turkey last Thanksgiving.” Kerry said. “But anyway, here’s the hotel. Let’s leave this for tomorrow, and take a mind break. Okay?”
“Sounds good to me.” Dar was glad to see the doors to the hotel. Her headache had gotten worse during the walk and even the enticing leather chairs of the bar weren’t appealing to her. There was noise there, and people moving around, and she wanted none of it.
“Alastair?” Kerry called out softly, as they entered the lobby.
Their CEO turned, spotting them and pulling up. “Well, hello there.” He said. “Glad to be at the end of this long day as I am?”
“You bet.” Kerry said. “Hey, looks like they resumed the games this weekend.”
The bar was relatively crowded, most of the screens shifted from CNN’s tense pictures to the colorful flash of football and green grass, and the drone of the stadium. One screen, a large one in the back, had the news going but most of the patrons were around the bar, with an attitude of perceptible relief.
“You a fan?” Alastair asked.
“Not so much.” Kerry admitted.
They paused in front of the bar, the big group of them, watching the screens.
“Hey, folks.” Alastair addressed them. “Give me an ear, eh?”
Everyone turned to face him. “We’ve got the whole floor, matter of fact, we took over the concierge lounge up there too. It’s got a big screen. How about we all go up there and I’ll get some suds in, and we can watch from there.”
“You are a real cool dude.” Scuzzy said. “Anyone ever tell you that?”
Alastair managed a brief grin, and then he waved them towards the elevators. “Let’s put this plan into action then, shall we?” He waited for the group to start trouping towards the end of the lobby, before he turned towards Dar and Kerry. “Feel free to skip the game shindig, ladies. I’m sure you have other things to do.”
“Thanks.” Dar didn’t miss a beat. “We do.” She gave Kerry a kiss on the top of her head. “C’mon Ker. You owe me some ice cream.”
“Owe you?” Kerry got her arm wrapped around Dar’s waist again. “Thanks Alastair. We were hoping for a chance to just chill for a while.”
He winked at them, and strolled ahead. Andrew chuckled and joined him, leaving Dar and Kerry to bring up the rear at their own pace.
Which they did. “He’s a good boss.” Kerry commented, as they passed the front desk.
“He is. Or I wouldn’t have stayed for fifteen years, and in fact he wouldn’t have put up with me that long either.” Dar responded. “He’s as conservative as they come, and yet, he never turned a hair at my being gay. “
Dar shook her head as the waited for the elevator. “When he was promoting me to VP Ops, I met with him and warned him I was, and that it would probably cause a problem for him. He said he really didn’t give a damn who I slept with.”
“You think he meant that though? A lot of people say it.” Kerry said.
“Then? I think he said it because he thought it was the right thing to say.” Her partner acknowledged. “But over the years he grew into that statement and now I absolutely think he means it.”
“He just sees value in people.” Kerry exhaled. “Wonder if his kids know how lucky they are.” They got into the elevator and were quiet for the ride up, exchanging mild nods with the three other guests who had joined them.
The floor was already noisy down near the lounge when they got off, a trickle of television sound coming out along with the chatter of many voices.
“Glad we’re down at this end.” Kerry waited for Dar to key the door open and followed her in, closing it behind them and shutting out the sound. “Ugh.”
“Ugh.” Dar repeated, trudging across the carpet towards her bag. She opened it and took out her bottle of Advil, opening it and shaking out a few of the pills. A warm body bumped into her, and she turned to find Kerry standing there, hand outstretched.
“Share.” Her partner bumped her again.
Dar did, and then she put the bottle back and rooted in the bag for her swimsuit. She took it out and paused at the credenza, picking up the bottle of water there and uncapping it. “Want some?” She took a swig and passed it over.
Kerry swallowed her handful of pills and wandered over to the book of services, opening the front page. “Dar? Where is the pool?”
Dar pointed up.
“Wow.” Kerry went over to her bag and opened it to retrieve her suit. “Glad I got into the habit of always packing mine like you do.” She commented. “You don’t know how many times I’ve thanked you when I was traveling and ended up in some business hotel with a nice pool and a nice bar and this suit made me pick the virtuous path.”
Dar’s warm chuckled surprised her with its closeness, and she turned to find Dar standing behind her, already in her suit. “Holy cow how did you change so fast?”
“Lots of practice with you taking my clothes off.” Dar gathered Kerry’s shirt in her hands and started easing it over her head. “There are robes in the bathroom. We better take them before we end up being entertainment for that crowd in the other room.”
Kerry stifled a giggle as Dar’s fingers brushed her bare ribs. “Go get the robes.” She said. “I’ll get changed and we can head down.”
“Up.” Dar tickled her navel, and then she backed off and headed for the bathroom.
Just ten minutes ago, she’d been toast. Kerry quickly shed her pants and underwear and got into her bathing suit. Just ten minutes ago she’d been a little down, a lot tired, and wanting nothing more than to crash.
Now? Kerry looked up from adjusting her strap to find Dar leaning in the doorway, a knowing look in her eye. She felt a surge of sensual energy, a clean, powerful sensation that made her smile. “Ready?”
“Always.” Dar tossed her the other robe and held a hand out. “Let’s go. I want to get wet.”
“Me too.” Kerry answered, with a frank grin. “Let’s hope no one else in the hotel does.”
“Let’s hope they don’t have lifeguards.”
The water felt unspeakably good closing over her as she dove in. There was that moment of silence, quickly overwhelmed by bubbles as she headed for the surface and felt the agitation next to her of Dar’s tall form plunging in one step behind.
She surfaced and sucked in a lungful of chlorine-tinted air, blinking droplets out of her eyes as she flipped over onto her back and relaxed. “Ahhh.”
Dar emerged from underwater next to her, shaking her head to clear her hair from her eyes. “Not overheated. Nice.”
“Nice.” Kerry agreed, enjoying the pleasantly cool liquid cradling her body as she floated. The pool was reasonably large, a rectangle of clear water against a painted blue background with lanes marked on the bottom.
There were no slides to go down, or diving boards to tempt Dar’s quirky daredevil side. Just a placid expanse of water inside a glassed in space that would be pleasantly sunny in the daytime but now was full of watery shadows and highlights.
Around the pool were chaise lounges, and on one side was a bar that was currently closed.
That was fine with Kerry. It was just nice to have the pool and Dar to herself. She rolled over and dove under again, pulling herself along with her arms and kicking from one side of the pool to the other, the chlorine only stinging her eyes a little as she swam along.
She rose to the surface again and exhaled, then turned when she heard splashing behind her.
Dar was swimming along the length of the pool, with smooth, efficient strokes, barely creating any wake as she reached the end of the pool, disappeared underwater to turn, and then surfaced again still in motion.
Kerry didn’t feel so ambitious. She stroked forward slowly in a lazy frog motion, blowing bubbles as she meandered around in a circle, going from side to side as Dar turned and came back towards her again.
She took a breath and ducked underwater again, diving down to the bottom of the pool and swimming along the bottom, enjoying the silence and the sensation of weightless gliding. She reached the wall and turned, heading back across the width of the pool in the other direction.
Halfway there, she felt something snag her suit, and she turned, to find Dar turning with her underwater, those blue eyes glinting with mischief visible.
Kerry twisted free and shook a finger at her in mock remonstrance, heading for the surface as she rain out of air.
Dar went with her, and they broke the surface together, inches apart. “Hey, it’s a fish.” Dar smiled.
“Was that a fishhook that caught my suit?” Kerry splashed her a tiny bit. “Boy this feels great.”
“It does.” Her partner agreed. “Wish it was in the pool back home, but I’ll take it.” She eased over onto her back and stretched her arms along the pool edge, gripping the tile rim with her hands.
Kerry swam slowly around in a circle, the sound of her displacing water the only echo in the large space. “So, where’s the first place in Europe we’re going to visit? You want to go the Alps?”
Dar’s face relaxed. “Thank you for not talking about work.” She replied, simply. “I just can’t take any more thinking about it right now.”
“Me either.” Kerry paddled over to her. “So, where?”
“Where do you want to go?” Dar countered. “It’s going to probably be near your birthday.”
“Oo.” Kerry put her hands behind her head and floated, bumping Dar gently and then moving away. “Where do I want to be for my birthday this year. Let me think.”
Dar was content to do just that. She tilted her head to one side and admired Kerry’s lithe body, glad to enjoy the moment.
“Uh?” She straightened up and stifled a grin at Kerry’s raised eyebrows. “Sorry. Drifted off there.”
“Ah hah.” Kerry looked skeptical. “Maybe it was mentioning it earlier, but you know, I think I’d like to go to Scotland.” She said. “Could we start there?”
“That would be cool.” Dar agreed. “I’m up for that.”
“That’s what I’d like to do for my birthday this year. Go to Scotland and have a blast with you. Climb some mountains, see some castles, and just hang out.” Kerry said. “I hadn’t really thought about it before, when we’re talking about the Alps and everything that would have been fun too.”
Kerry gazed up at the glass ceiling, the smoked surface barely showing the fuzzy outline of the moon overhead. “But I don’t know. It would be so easy to go to all those ritzy places. We could afford it.”
“We could afford damn near anything we want.” Dar agreed. “You’d look good in a Swiss chalet.”
Kerry smiled. “That’s just the point, I think. I want to be touched by the places we go to, not just buy a nice vacation. I think that’ll happen in Scotland.” She turned her head to look at Dar. “I’d like to see Antarctica, and maybe the Sahara desert.”
“How about climbing Everest?”
Kerry’s brow twitched. “Ahhhh… no.” She grinned briefly. “That idea doesn’t thrill me. I don’t mind working for my fun but that’s way too much work, hon.”
“Phew.” Dar chuckled. “For me too. I’d like to see the Mayan ruins in Central America though.” She paused, thoughtfully. “It’s hard for me to think about just going somewhere else for a month. There are so many places I’d like to go.”
Kerry rolled over and swam back. “You know what the truth is, Paladar?” She went nose to nose with her partner, stretching her hands out and bracing them on either side of Dar’s head. “Just going with you anywhere for a month is something I very badly want to do.”
Dar released the wall and settled her arms around Kerry instead. “Me too.” She said. “We need to do this.” She added, in a softer tone. “I wonder how many of those people in those towers were telling themselves, someday I’ll do that.”
Kerry remained still, and quiet, just listening.
“Someday I’ll see that.” Dar went on. “Someday. Bob wanted to buy a sailboat someday, he told me.”
“No more somedays.” Kerry let her forehead rest against Dar’s. “We could so easily have been in harms way in this, Dar. I want to savor every minute living my life with you from now on.”
Dar kissed her. “Scotland it is.” She promised. “That’s going to be a blast. Maybe I’ll get a suit of armor there to match that old sword I’ve got.”
“Maybe we’ll try haggis.” Kerry suggested.
“Maybe we won’t.” Dar smiled anyway, and then paused. “Or what the hell. If Alastair can try sushi, I can try oatmeal in sheep innards.” She kissed Kerry again, and then she nipped her nose and surged forward, taking them both underwater.
“Bwwflhh..” Kerry spluttered, as they surfaced. “Dar!”
“Tag.” Dar pinched her in a sensitive spot. “You’re it.”
“Yowch!” Kerry yelped, grabbing for her partner who was no longer there. “You pissant!”
Dar took off, diving under the water to escape, just eluding Kerry’s outstretched fingers. “Slowpoke!”
“Oh, I don’t’ think so, madam.” Kerry plunged after her. “This ain’t no forty foot piece of ocean.” She dove under the water and swam after her elusive tormentor, reaching for skin or any bit of bathing suit.
The moon slid behind the clouds overhead, wisely hiding it’s eyes.
“I’ve got water in my ears thanks to you.” Kerry hopped on one foot, as they waited for the elevator to re deposit them on their floor. “That was a fun though.”
“It was.” Dar felt very pleasantly tired, after two hours of water horseplay. She put a hand on Kerry’s back to steady her, as the elevator slowed to a halt and the doors opened. “We’re here.”
Cheers echoed through the hall as they exited, and they could see the doors to the lounge still open. “Sounds like a good game.” Kerry said, as she removed the room key from the pocket of her robe. “Glad everyone’s enjoying it. They needed a mind break.”
“Yeah.” Dar agreed. “Tomorrow’s probably going to be rough. I’m glad Alastair thought of it.” She glanced down the hall. “Speaking of.”
Alastair had just come out of the lounge, and was heading towards his room. He saw them and paused, then continued past his door and approached them instead. “Well, what have you two been up to?”
“Really want to know?” Dar asked, folding her arms over her terrycloth-covered chest and leaning against the wall.
Their CEO paused and considered. “Am I going to have to speak to the hotel manager tomorrow because of it?” He asked cautiously.
“Probably not.” Kerry ran her fingers through her wet hair somewhat self-consciously. “We were swimming in the pool.”
“Ah.” Alastair nodded. “That sounds pretty innocuous.” He leaned against the wall himself. “Game’s about near done. I’m going to let all these kids finish the night out. I’m bushed.” He stifled a yawn. “Good bunch there.”
“Glad they had a chance to relax.” Dar said. “I think tomorrow’s going to be a little different.”
Alastair eyed her shrewdly. “Even with our challenges?”
Dar shrugged. “Who the hell knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky.” She straightened up and started for their hotel room door. “Anyway, good night, Alastair. See you in the morning.”
“Bye.” Alastair waggled his fingers and turned to head back to his own room.
Kerry opened the door and held it for Dar to enter, and then she followed her inside. The room was dimly lit, and she caught the scent of chocolate wafting in the space, along with something a little spicier. “Did you send a telepathic message to room service again?”
Dar was by the desk, investigating the tray resting there. “Sorry to disappoint you, babe. I used the phone by the pool while you were doing that last set of laps. Hot chocolate, Thai chicken soup, and baked Brie with some crackers and fruit. Sound all right to you?”
Kerry detoured to the desk and liberated a grape from the bowl, popping it into her mouth and biting down. It was juicy and sweet, and she gave her partner a one armed hug for it. “Yum.” She agreed. “I’m going to go change out of my suit.”
“Me too.” Dar untied her robe and eased it off. “Last thing I need is to catch a damn cold at this point.” She draped the robe over a chair and wandered into the bathroom.
Kerry stole another grape, then she followed suit, shivering a little as the draft from the air conditioner hit her damp skin. “Dar, could you… thanks.” She caught the towel coming at her face one handed, and then she got undressed and rubbed herself dry.
Dar came around behind her and draped a shirt over her shoulder, then kissed the back of her bare neck, making her shiver for a completely different reason. “Thanks.” Kerry ruffled her hair into some sort of dryness.
“For the shirt?”
“That too.” She put the cotton garment on, and ran her fingers through her hair to straighten it. “You know, that really was a great idea to go to the pool. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really miss our gym time.”
Dar paused and peered over her shoulder, one eyebrow lightly raised.
“When we’re there, we focus on something other than whatever problems we’re dealing with that day.” Kerry clarified. “You get out of that mind space.”
“You know what it is? I’m not physically tired.” Kerry sat down and pulled over one of the bowls of soup. “My brain is just exhausted.” She took a spoonful of the spicy broth. “It’s like those people downstairs at the bar. You can’t just keep watching those pictures.”
Dar sat down opposite her, picking up her cup of hot chocolate and sipping from it as she considered what Kerry had said. It was an odd feeling. In her, unlike Kerry, it manifested in a sense of intolerant impatience that made it difficult for her to concentrate on what she was doing.
The swim break had been a relief. Just being silly and chasing Kerry around the pool had let her buzzing brain relax and now that they were back in the room, she was content to concentrate on what was on the tray and leave worrying about work until tomorrow.
She pulled her soup over and fished out a chunk of chicken. It tasted of coconut and lime and both she and Kerry were quiet as they chewed. The silence was comfortable though. Dar put some of the Brie on cracker and put it on Kerry’s plate, then assembled one for herself, taking a bite as Kerry reciprocated by putting a handful of grapes in front of her.
She looked up, and their eyes met. Kerry’s expression eased into one of tired affection and she reached out with her free hand, capturing Dar’s fingers and simply clasping them.
The warmth of it made her smile. The sweetness of the moment made her focus intently on it, savoring the strength of Kerry’s fingers curled around hers and the spicy scent of the soup and the knowledge that there were hours and hours left before the sun would rise and bring another day.
Time to hoard every moment of it.
A flare of brilliant light and crash brought Dar awake with a painful suddenness, the echoes of the sound ringing in her ears as she instinctively reached for Kerry just as another flash lit the room followed instantly by a boom that rattled the windows.
Without really thinking, Dar bundled her nearly startled witless partner in the sheets and rolled off the bed, landing them both of the floor on the side away from the window.
“Hey!!!!” Kerry yelped. “What the hell is going on???”
Dar frantically tried to untangle herself from the sheets as her brain finally woke up and placed the sound, and the lights, and the rumble into a familiar context. Then she stopped, and slumped to the floor, her head thunking against the carpet as she let out a groan. “Son of a bitch.”
Thunder rumbled again, and Kerry struggled up onto one elbow, raking the hair from her eyes and she peered around. “Thunderstorm?”
“Thunderstorm.” Dar confirmed, as she listened to rain pelt the window. “Sorry about that.”
Kerry sat up, cautiously untangling her legs from her partner’s. Aside from the bursts of lightning, it was dark inside the room and a glance at the clock confirmed her suspicions that it was far from dawn.
She groaned, and settled back down on her side, pillowing her head on Dar’s stomach. She could hear Dar’s heartbeat slowing and she closed her eyes, willing her own to stop racing. She thought she might have been dreaming, though she couldn’t really remember anything.
She had that odd sense of disassociation that usually meant she had been though. Not a bad one – probably one of those hazy weird dreams she sometimes had where she was running around in a forest chasing rabbits.
No idea what that was all about but Kerry greatly preferred them to the darker ones that made her wake shaking or in tears.
She felt Dar’s fingers slide through her hair and scratch gently across her scalp. “Well, that sure wasn’t the way I like to wake up.”
“Me either.” Dar agreed mournfully. “I don’t know what in the hell I was thinking.”
“You were thinking there was a bomb going off outside and we needed to be out of the way.” Kerry placidly responded. “Which we are. But now that it’s just Mother Nature scaring the crap out of us, we can probably get back up where it’s more comfortable, huh?”
“Yeah.” Dar pushed herself up into a sitting position, as Kerry did the same. They got to their knees, and then stood up. Kerry crawled back into bed, while her partner pulled the covers back up off the floor and settled them over her. “I see my PDA flashing. Let me see what’s up since I know that’s not you.”
“Not me.” Kerry agreed, snuggling back into a comfortable position and wrapping one arm around her pillow. She watched Dar walk over to the dresser and pick up the flashing device, her body outlined in flashes of silver from the window.
Mm. “What’s up?” Kerry asked, after a moment.
Dar brought the PDA back over to the bed and sat down on it, handing it over to her partner before she got under the covers and reclaimed her pillow. “Hurricane Gabrielle, crossing Florida.”
“Great.” Kerry thumbed through the message. “Glad we’re not in Disney World. I forgot all about the damn storm.” She said. “It wont’ come up here, will it?”
“With our luck?” Dar put her arm around Kerry and snuggled up to her. “Probably be a cat five with a tidal wave.” She exhaled. “Damn. Now I’ve got a headache from waking up like that.”
Kerry studied the PDA. “Hon, you got another message here. I think it’s from our network vendor buddy.” She passed the PDA over her shoulder.
“Read it to me.” Dar nuzzled the back of Kerry’s neck. “I’m sure it’s bad news anyway.”
Kerry cleared her throat. “Dar – I’m in Bethesda at Lockheed Martin. Just had a five-hour meeting with the folks here, and once they got past asking me not if I was crazy, but how crazy was I, not to mention how crazy you were, we got to talking. “
“Sounds like fun.” Dar mumbled.
“It gets better.” Kerry promised. “Sort of.” She scrolled down.
“Everyone agrees there’s no way to develop an optics that’ll handle the specifications of multimode over that distance.”
Dar lifted her head. “That’s better?” She asked, her voice rising.
“Put a sock in it, Roberts. Let me finish.” Kerry chided her. “Here we go. – But when I told them what the stakes were, they called in a couple of specialists who agreed to see what they could come up with.”
“Peh.” Dar put her head back down. “In two years we’ll hear of some military application for an optic that can go ten miles on multimode.”
“One of these guys.” Kerry went on, undeterred. “Is the guy who figured out how to make the Hubble work after they sent it up with a bad shaped mirror.”
“Anyway, I’ll know more in the morning. I’m gonna go get some coffee and find a chaise lounge somewhere. Hope you all are doing good up there.” Kerry finished and half turned, putting her hand on Dar’s hip. “Honey, at least he’s trying. It’s four AM, and he’s at some think tank working to get help f or us.”
“I know.” Dar relented. “I’m just in a bad mood. My head hurts and I feel like a moron for pulling us both of the bed.” She admitted. “And I was having a nightmare.”
Kerry set the PDA aside and turned over, facing her partner. She gently pushed the unruly hair from Dar’s eyes and stroked her cheek. “Want some Advil?”
Dar’s expression shifted, and she produced a mild grin. “Got everything I want right here in bed with me.”
Aw. Kerry was charmed; both by the sentiment and the almost shy look in her partner’s eyes. “You know what? I just remembered. I was dreaming about you when you woke me up.”
“Mmhm.” Kerry traced one of her partner’s eyebrows with a fingertip. “We were celebrating something in some cabin somewhere. I have no idea what. But you gave me this really pretty carved wooden bird, and we were laughing like crazy about it.”
“What was so funny about it?” Dar asked. “Did it have two heads or something?”
“I don’t know.” Kerry put her head down on the pillow. “There was a fire in the fireplace, and I could smell the trees outside, but I don’t know where we were or why that bird was so funny.” She admitted. “You have such a beautiful laugh.”
Dar’s brow wrinkled a little. “No I don’t.”
“In my dream you did.” Kerry disagreed. “And you really do. I love your laugh.”
Dar stretched, and then she relaxed against the bed. “Trying to make me feel better?”
Dar’s brief grin altered into a true smile. “The thunder was worth it.” She tucked her arm under her pillow and let her body relax, hoping her now buzzing brain would settle down and let her get a few more hours sleep.
She felt Kerry’s hand touch her cheek, with no further words, the gentle stroking against her skin speaking as loudly as her partner ever could.
What a gift. Dar closed her eyes, feeling the faintest of stings. How many people had woken together last Tuesday, had a little pillow talk, gotten up, gone to work and then hours later found themselves forever sundered from this gift they probably hadn’t thought twice about when they’d left the house.
“Dar?” Kerry’s touch became firmer, a pressure against her cheek and there was a rustle of bedclothes as she shifted and brought a comforting body warmth into the sudden chill around her. “Hey.”
Dar opened her eyes. “Sorry.” She didn’t bother to dissemble. “Just freaking out a little.”
“About the fiber?” Kerry sounded confused, and a touch distressed.
Kerry eased over and put her arms around Dar. “Did I do something?”
“No.” Dar returned the embrace. “It just hit me.” She paused, as her throat tightened. “All those people who had people they loved never come home that day.”
Kerry’s breath caught. She swallowed audibly.
“Could have been any of us.” Dar whispered. “What a crappy world this is sometimes.”
“Sometimes.” Kerry finally replied, her voice rough. “Do you know how glad I was it was you who told me what was going on? That we were on the phone no matter if you were thousands of miles away? “
“Wish you’d have been there with me.” Dar said, after a pause. “I was so damn scared something would happen to you before I got back.”
Kerry buried her face into Dar’s neck, feeling a shiver go down her spine. “Likewise.” She “I don’t know what I would have done if anything had.” Tears welled up, that had been trapped inside her for days. “Oh my god, Dar.”
Dar returned the hug. “Longest few days of my life.” She drew in a shaky breath. “Damn I can’t wait to go home. I want out of this.” She couldn’t quite stifle a sniffle.
“So do I.” Her partner whispered. “It’s been making me crazy.”
They were both quiet for a moment. Then they both exhaled at almost the same time. “Wow.” Dar cleared her throat. “Sorry this got so lousy.”
Kerry shook her head a trifle. “I’m not.” She said. “I’m glad I said that to you. I’ve been wanting to, before we let this all pass We’ve been up to our eyeballs since it happened and I’ve got all this stuff bottled up making my guts ache.”
Dar slid her hand up along the back of Kerry’s neck, kneading the muscles there with gentle fingers. She felt the warmth as Kerry exhaled against her skin, and blinked her eyes to clear the tears from them.
She didn’t cry often. Dar suspected the stress wasn’t doing her any favors and she could feel the shivers rippling through Kerry’s body. “Let’s table it for a few hours.” She pulled the covers over both of them. “We’ll be okay.”
Kerry relaxed against her. “When I’m right here, I’m always okay.” She said, after a short pause. “Hope I find out why that bird was so damned funny.” She closed her eyes and kissed Dar on the collarbone. “Love you.”
That made Dar smile again, finally. “Love you too.” She tuned out the muted sound of the air conditioning and the far off grind of elevator machinery, letting the darkness and the rhythm of Kerry’s breathing lull her back into sleep.
Maybe, she mused, it was a cuckoo bird.
“Not a good morning.” Dar followed Alastair into the conference room, which already had a half dozen people in it.
Angry looking people. Dar gathered up the gruffest of her attitudes and put them in place before she took a seat at the end of the table, while her boss circled and went to the center. She put her forearms on the mahogany surface, clasping her hands together.
“All right folks. Let’s sit down and talk.” Alastair took the middle seat and waited for the rest of the people in the room to follow suit. “I understand everyone’s pretty upset.”
“Upset?” The man directly across from him leaned forward. “McLean, that’s not close to what I am. My business is dead in the water, and what do I see on the news last night? You giving cookies to firemen.”
Dar propped her chin on her fist, and decided to remain quiet. She had certain sympathy for the customers who had come to complain, but she also had sympathy for Alastair and couldn’t really think of anything to say that wouldn’t piss off either one or the other.
She wasn’t even really sure why she’d accompanied Alastair, except that he’d asked her to, and it delayed her needing to go take Mark aside and confess about the fiber before he caught up with the cable layers, or went to the Exchange and found out for himself.
“I can understand that.” Alastair said. “But the fact is, I’m not the fella who’s going to fix your problem, so I don’t really see what the harm is in my answering questions about our community relations group.” He added. “It’s not as if my being interviewed is stopping anyone from working.”
“That isn’t’ the point. “ The man stood. “All I am hearing about is how you’re helping the government, helping the rescuers. I hate to be crass, but what about us?” He pointed at himself, then at the rest of the people who apparently were content to let him speak for them. “When do we get help?”
“Come on, McLean.” The man said. “You’ve been here for days. It was all over the news. When do we get some attention? Or are you all about the publicity and kissing the governor’s ass?”
Alastair looked over at Dar. “Wanna give me a hand here?”
The tableful of people turned and looked over at her.
“I could undress and pose on the table.” Dar suggested. “That help any?”
Alastair had the grace to look scandalized. “Dar.” He sighed, missing the sudden reactions to the name from the rest of the table. “It’s not funny.”
“I wasn’t joking.” Dar shifted and rested her weight on her elbows. “Listen.” She addressed the customers “If there was something we could do to fix everyone’s issues, don’t you think we would be doing it? You think we like being in this room being yelled at?”
“But what about what you’re doing for the government?” One of the other men spoke up. “Why can’t you do that for us? My business is on the line between the closed zone and they told me I wouldn’t have service for months. Months!”
“Because we haven’t done that much for the government.” Dar replied. “Who are, by the way, as much our customers as you are. “ She stood up and circled the table, ending up next to Alastair. “Do you know how much damage was done around the area of the Towers? DO you know how much infrastructure, electrical, telecom, plumbing, you name it, was destroyed down there?”
“Of course.” The man said. “I watch CNN just like you do.”
“Have you been down there?” Dar asked.
“They won’t let us.” The first man answered, frustration evident in his tone.
“Want my advice?” Dar sat down next to her boss. “Get your asses out of there. I’ve been in the area. Cut your losses. Find other space.”
The men looked at her.
“I’m not kidding.” Dar said, after a period of silence. “If you want me to tell you I can put a satellite rig in there to get your systems up, and backhaul your traffic that way, I will. I can do that.” She looked at each face in turn. “But if you want your business to survive, if you depend on walk in traffic, on people coming to you, then get out. “
“But…” The leader said, and then fell silent.
“Thousands of people died there.” Alastair said, in a quiet voice. “I was down in the area myself, along with Dar here… and by the way, sorry. My manners went out the window. This is our chief information officer, Dar Roberts.” He paused. “In case you didn’t guess.”
“I guessed.” The man murmured.
“How are we supposed to just move?” The second man asked. “Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Roberts. You’re not the first person who’s told me that. But we’ve been there for twenty years! How do we just leave our customers behind like that?”
“Some of them will be moving too.” Dar said. “It’s a matter of survival.” She looked at them with some sympathy. “Come up here. I’m sure Alastair can negotiate good rates here at the center for our valued customers. Right Alastair?”
Alastair’s wry look said it all. “I’d be glad to work on that, absolutely.” He said. “I know they’ve got some vacancies here, and we’ve got bargaining leverage with the management. “ He paused. “Just let me know what kind of space you’re looking for, and I’ll do my best.”
“That’s crazy. I can’t afford these rents.” The second man said. “I don’t think I can afford you now.”
A silence fell after he finished talking, and the men on the other side of the table looked suddenly discomfited. “Well, matter of fact, I’ve been leaving messages here about that subject. “ The spokesman said. “Haven’t gotten a call back. Is Bob in the office? I’d like to talk to him.”
Alastair’s jaw shut with a click and his nostrils flared. “Sorry.” He said, in a clipped tone. “He’s not in.” He folded his hands, tension showing in his knuckles.
“Oh, well..” The man didn’t seem to notice. “I guess I can talk to someone else about it. We need to defer your bills; I can’t afford to pay when I’m not getting paid myself. Someone filling in for him?”
Alastair let out a careful breath. “Not yet.”
“Well, he should at least put an out of office message on.” The man went on. “If that’s not too much to ask I… “ His voice finally trailed off as he caught Dar’s glare. “What?”
“Our sales team was in the towers during the attack.” Dar reached over and put a hand on Alastair’s shoulder. “Bob was there. He didn’t make it.”
The spokesman stared at them in shocked silence.
“I’m sorry.” The woman next to him said. “We didn’t know that.”
“We’re also missing some people.” Dar responded quietly. “So if you’re wondering, that’s why we’re here. We don’t really give a rats ass about the governor.”
Alastair lifted his clasped hands and rested his head against them.
“Well hell.” The spokesman muttered, after a pause. “Why didn’t you say something? For Pete’s sake people. Now I feel like a prize jackass.”
Dar half shrugged. “You have a right to be here, asking us what you are asking us. You’re our customers.”
“Yeah, but.” The man exhaled. “Sorry. We’re just so frustrated.”
“So are we.” Dar picked up the desk phone and dialed a number. “This is Dar. Is Nan out there? Send her to the small conference room, please.”
Now everyone looked uncomfortable, trying not to stare at Alastair’s silent figure.
The door opened, and Nan stuck her head in. “Ms. Roberts? You asked for …” She stopped, her eyes flicking from the customers to their CEO. “Is something wrong?”
“Could you please take these people to one of the reception areas? They need to discuss space requirements, maybe relocating to this area. “ Dar said. “See if Kerry can talk to them, get some details.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nan responded instantly, opening the door the entire way. “Could you come with me please?”
The customers scrambled to their feet and headed quickly to the door. “Thanks. We’ll work it out.” The spokesman muttered. They followed Nan out the door and she closed it behind them, leaving Dar and Alastair alone.
It was quiet for a few minutes. The air conditioning cycled on and off, and very far away, a siren was heard. Finally Alastair dropped his hands to the table, and looked sideways at Dar, appearing as tired and as human as she’d ever seen him. “Sorry about that. “
“Don’t’ be.” Dar studied his face. “Kerry and I both lost it last night.” She glanced away. “It’s just to damn much to keep dealing with.”
Alastair sighed. “I want to do the right thing by everyone, but damned if I know what the right thing is right now.” He tapped his thumbs on the desk. “That was a good idea, telling them to find other space by the way.”
“They haven’t been down there.” Dar leaned back in her chair. “Or they’d have thought of it themselves.”
A knock came at the door. Alastair sat back and hitched one knee up. “C’mon in.”
The door opened, and the secretary poked her head in. “Sir, there’s someone here to see you.” She looked apologetic. “He’s very insistent.”
“Jesus.” Alastair looked plaintively at the ceiling. “Sure. Bring him in.” He said. “Dar, stick around, willya?”
Dar merely kept her place, letting that be her answer as the door opened again and a tall man in dark khakis and a leather jacket entered. He crossed to the table and set down a briefcase, leaning on the surface and looking right at Alastair.
Dar herself could have been a coffee machine in the corner for all the attention he gave her.
“McLean? My name is Jason Green. I work for the Department of Defense.” He said. “I’m going to cut to the chase. Your people have been stonewalling me, and it’s going to stop, right now. I want a list of your people in our facilities and I want it now.”
“Why?” Alastair asked.
“Why?” He repeated. “I know Hamilton’s talked to you. You all have the information you need in your own systems. Why do you want mine?”
“You don’t really need to know that.” Green said.
‘Sure I do.” Alastair remained calm. “They’re my employees, and I have a responsibility under the law to protect their information and their privacy.”
“You don’t get it do you?” Green sat down. “McLean, I’m not your enemy. I don’t honestly want to be here jerking you around. You don’t have a choice. You have no recourse. You can’t ask me what I want this for, because I’ve been given the authority to do whatever I need to do in order to get what I think is important.”
“Regardless of the law?” Alastair asked.
“Law doesn’t mean anything. You ever heard of martial law? We’re in it. They just haven’t announced it to the press.” Green told him. “I could throw you in jail as a suspected terrorist and you’d spent years in some hole without contact with your family or anyone else. So do yourself, and myself a favor and just give me the damn list.”
Alastair steepled his fingers and tapped the edges of his thumbs against his lips as he studied the man. Then he turned and glanced at Dar. “What do you think?”
Green turned, as though noticing Dar for the first time. His eyebrows rose.
Dar rested her hands on her knee. “I think if my father was here, he’d kill this guy.” She remarked. “That’s what I think.”
“Who in the hell are you?” Green asked.
Dar ignored him, pulling her laptop over. “But I’m not going to sit here and watch you get dragged off to some gulag on account of a database, Alastair.” She opened the laptop. “I’ll parse a file for them. They won’t know what the hell to do with it, they wont’ be able to read the format, their program will spit out a pile of EBDIC crap when it tries to ingest it and there’s no information in there they don’t already have but what the hell.” She rapidly logged to the machine. “I’ll give it to him and he can go weenie waggle somewhere else.”
“Hmph.” Alastair grunted. “Well, if you think that’s a good idea…”
“Do you have something to put the file on?” Dar looked up at the man. “Or do you want me to pour raw packets down your god damned underwear?”
Green stared at her. “What?”
“Did you bring a portable hard drive? “ Dar asked. “Or did you bring a truck to haul off the five hundred pounds of paper it’ll take me to print out eighty thousand records on?’
“You came here, and asked for something.” Dar enunciated the words. “Do you have any idea in hell what it is you’re even asking for? “
Green turned to Alastair. “I don’t appreciate being spoken to in that way, McLean.”
Alastair regarded him for a moment. “Too damned bad.” He said. “Answer the woman if you want your list. If not, hit the road. We’re busy people.”
The man sat back in his seat, bracing his hands on the table. “Did you not listen to a word I just said?”
“We did . We just don’t care.” Dar said bluntly. “All we’ve heard from you people since this whole damn thing happened is pointless demands and threats. You have no idea on the planet what to do with what you’re asking for, and your people can’t use the data I give you. But what the hell. To get you out of here I’ll go ahead and produce it but you’ve got to cough up something to put it on or carry it away with and do it fast.”
“I’m sure you have something…” Green blurted, half standing. “You can’t expect me to..”
“No, I don’t.” Dar said. “We don’t allow portable storage devices in our facilities. It’s a security issue.” She rattled some keys. “And these databases are protected by encryption so I hope what you’ve got can handle it, not to mention interpret the structure. “
Green leaned on the table. “You’re interfering with National Security.” He spoke the words emphasizing the capital letters.
“I’m just telling you the truth.” Dar stood up, stretching to her full height. “You want us to break the law? You threaten us with jail? You stand here and talk nothing but utter bullshit, you waste of my taxpayer dollars.” She put her hands on her hips. “”Who the hell do you work for?”
Dar circled the table with surprising speed. “You listen, jackass.” She let her voice lift as she closed in on her target, missing the widening of Alastair’s eyes behind her. “Get your boss on the phone. I want to talk to him and tell him what a complete idiot he has working for him.”
The man stood up. “You want to speak to my boss? All right. I’ll arrange for that.” He stepped back from the table and pushed the chair into place. “Don’t go far.” He turned and walked to the door, leaving and closing it with surprising gentleness behind him.
Alastair rested his chin on his hand, his elbow propped on the table. “I think we just got ourselves in trouble, Paladar.”
“Not really.” Her boss shrugged. “Let me warn Ham. He’s about ready to disown us anyhow. With any luck maybe I can get them to throw us all out of the city and we can take everyone out of here.” He stood up and picked up the phone. “I’ll warn the board they may need to post our bail too. That should start their morning off right.”
Dar smiled briefly. “Let me go talk to my people.” She said. “Call me if you need me.” She headed for the door, as Alastair raised a hand and waggled it at her in farewell.
Not a good morning, at all.
“See, here’s the deal.” Mark was sitting on the floor, his coveralls more gray than green, a thick loop of rope over his shoulder. “We figured we’d track back, and get a rope down to where those guys have to bring the cable so we can just haul it when they get here.”
“Like a giant pull string.” Kerry was crouched next to him, a flashlight held in one hand.
“Yeah.” Mark nodded. “ Problem is, we’re kinda stuck getting out of this freaking room.” He looked around the old, small space. “I don’t know what the hell we’re gonna do.”
Kerry backed out of the room and looked across the floor towards the entrance to the subway. The space was filled with people crossing back and forth. “Well, with enough arm twisting we can run it across the floor I guess.”
Mark joined her. “They’re gonna freak.”
Kerry shook her head. “It’s dangerous. That’s a big cable. Everyone’s going to trip, they’re going to have to put a shield over it or shut this floor down.”
“Guess they’ll have to.” Mark agreed in a mournful tone. “Let me get hold of that maintenance guy and give him a heads up. I bet we’re going to have to go up the chain for it.”
“Probably.” Kerry agreed. “I’ll go talk to the building management. I think I just booked them a couple thousand in rentals so I’ve got some good points in the bank with them at the moment.” She dusted her hands off. “I’ll be back.”
“You got it boss.” Mark dropped his loop of rope and started off towards the back of the hall.
Kerry slid her flashlight into the side pocket of her coveralls and moved in the opposite direction, climbing up the steps and crossing the floor towards the management office for the second time that morning.
It felt like she was being constructive. The morning session on behalf of their customers had been almost pleasant, her bringing more business, and the complex glad not to have someone asking for exceptions, or rent deferrals.
She pushed the door to the office open, and returned the brief smile of the receptionist. “Hello, me again.” She said. “Is Tom available for a quick moment?”
“I’ll ask, Ms. Stuart.” The girl got up and disappeared into the inner maze of office hallways as Kerry went over to the courtesy counter and started fixing herself a cup of tea.
One thing about New York. Kerry selected a fragrant bag from a box of assorted kinds and dispensed hot water over it. People liked their comforts here. She stirred the cup and took a sip, turning and leaning against the wall as she waited.
The girl came back. “Right his way, ma’am.” She smiled, waiting for Kerry to join her before she led her back into the managing director’s office. “Here you go.”
“Hello there again.” Tom Brooks waved her in. “What can I do for you, Kerry?” He was an older man, with a close-cropped beard and salt and pepper hair.
“Well.” Kerry came in and took a seat across from him. “I wish I could say I’ve got another dozen tenants we’ll guarantee for you, but this time I’m here to make trouble.”
“Oh no.” The man behind the desk didn’t look overly alarmed. “How much trouble can a nice young lady like you cause anyhow?”
“You’d be surprised.” Kerry remarked, dryly. “Just ask my boss. Anyway, here’s the problem we have.” She went on. “As you know, we’ve got an emergency project going on for the city government.”
“I didn’t.” Tom said. “But doesn’t surprise me. Every little thing these days is an emergency.”
Kerry toasted him with her cup of tea. “Point made. In this case, there are a bunch of telecom wiring people running a big piece of fiber cable from the New York Stock Exchange to our demark down in the dungeon here lower level.”
Tom blinked at her. “Seriously?”
Kerry nodded. “Seriously.”
“Jesus.” He shook his head. “How in the hell are you going to do that? There’s no opening from that area near the steps to the subway.” He thought a minute. “You’d have to bring it up through the station and cross the concourse with it.”
“You want to do that?” Tom’s voice lifted sharply. “You kidding me?”
Kerry shook her head.
He leaned back in his chair and tapped his pen on the desk. “Wow.” He mused. “That could be a big problem. There’s a lot of people down there.” He warned. “I don’t know if we can run a cable across the floor. Maybe we can run it along the wall or something. “
Kerry grimaced a little. “That’s a long way.”
“Well, it’s coming from a long way.” Tom said. “I just don’t think they’ll let us cross the concourse due to safety reasons. Let me take my guy down there, and we’ll look at it. What size cable are we talking bout?”
“Two inch round.” Kerry admitted. “We know it’s a hassle, but the project we’re working on really is a number one priority for the government.”
‘Surprised they’re not in here telling us what to do then.” Tom got up. “I’ll see what we can arrange for that, Kerry. I know you all have been working down there, my facilities chief’s been bitching about having to leave the door open. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Thanks.” Kerry got up. “Believe me, I know we’re asking a lot. We’re just trying to get this working and there’s a lot riding on it.” She took his proffered hand. “Thanks, Tom. I really really appreciate it.”
“Save that till I can do something about it.” Tom warned. “And you folks be careful of that room in there, okay? There’s some dangerous pipes and things in there.”
“We know.” Kerry said. “Dar nearly got knocked on her behind from that electrical panel.” She followed him out of the room and down the hall. “Do we really use steam heat here?”
Tom chuckled. “Sure as hell do.” He agreed. “Glad we’re not having to turn those pipes up with you all in there. I’d have to charge you for a sauna bath.” He held the outer door for her. “After we get through this, let’s talk about moving your connections someplace else.”
“How did we end up in there anyway?” Kerry waited for him to catch up to her and they walked across the floor together. “Dar was wondering about that.”
“Long story.” Tom said. “We’ll get it straightened out.” He started angling away from her. “Be in touch with you, Kerry. Let you know.”
“Thanks, Tom.” Kerry headed for the steps, her cup of tea still clasped in her fingers, feeling another, though minor, sense of accomplishment. She didn’t envy Dar, who was floors and floors above her, dealing with the press, and with the government, and with board.
She’d heard Dar yelling in the conference room, and then a man had stormed out of the office, nearly knocking down people on his way out. Department of Defense, Dar had told her afterward, and probably a lot of trouble headed back their way.
She trotted down the steps and headed back to their little dungeon. Shaun was seated outside with a piece of pizza, and Kannan was sitting cross-legged sipping from a steaming cup. “Hey guys.” She greeted them. “Mark back yet?”
“Not yet.” Shaun shook his head. “Ms. Stuart, we want to go down to the other end and do the setup there, but we’re kinda not sure how to do that. I don’t think they’d just let us in there, you know?”
Kerry took a seat next to him. “Good point.” She took a sip of her tea. “Well, tell you what. Once Mark gets back, I’ll go round up dad and one of the trucks and we’ll all go down there together. That work?”
“Sure.” Shaun agreed. “Maybe we can even do the whole cross connect, if they got the other end of that cable up in the right spot.”
Ah. Kerry turned and looked inside the room. “You mean the connection box, like that? “ She indicated the new panel.
“Yes.” Kannan spoke up. “It would be good to get the melding down, and the connectors polished and ready. Then we have only this side to do when the other end of this cable arrives here.”
Kerry felt a little awkward, not entirely sure of whether she should spill the beans now, or wait until they arrived downtown. Part of her wanted to just tell the techs the truth, but she also felt that Dar had wanted to keep it under wraps, and she wasn’t sure if this was the place or time for her to countermand her lover’s wishes.
She didn’t mind disagreeing with Dar. They did, sometimes. But she was sensitive about doing it in front of people who worked for them because she never wanted to give the impression that she was leveraging their relationship to appear to control her partner when it really wasn’t anything like that.
Or. Well. Kerry drank her tea, allowing the silence to continue. Well, she did leverage their relationship, all the time, but not really to control Dar, more to find a consensus when they were on opposite sides of any particular question.
She knew that Dar would listen to what she was saying, even though she didn’t agree with it, just because Kerry was who she was, and they were what they were to each other. There was no way around that. Dar often blew other people off, and refused to take them seriously. With Kerry, that was never the case.
Dar always took her seriously. She always took Dar seriously. Sometimes they compromised. Sometimes they didn’t, and Kerry would accept Dar’s opinion. Sometimes Dar would listen to what she had to say, and then change her mind and agree with Kerry’s view.
But they would never had gotten that far if there wasn’t that total trust between them that gave her that edge is dealing with Dar’s mercurial, restless nature.
Speaking of. She heard a set of distinctive footsteps approaching and looked up just as Dar came around the corner of the stairwell, trailed by Mark and Andrew. Her partner looked frustrated and she felt the glower just before her eyes met Kerry’s and she headed their way. “Here comes trouble.”
“Uh oh.’ Shaun started chewing faster. “Better suck that up fast, Kan. Her nibs looks pissed.”
“There you are.” Dar addressed Kerry.
“Here I am.” Kerry agreed, patting the floor next to her. “Come. Sit. You look mad.”
In the act of turning and accepting the offer, settling herself gracefully next to Kerry, Dar managed to somehow lose most of the frustration in her attitude and ended up merely looking bemused. “What’s the scoop here?”
Mark crouched down next to the two techs, and they started talking in low tones. Andrew picked a spot on the wall and leaned against it, crossing his ankles as he waited for everything to shake out.
“Scoop.” Kerry offered Dar the remainder of her tea. “Well, I talked to the building about us running cable across the floor. I don’t think they’ll go for that, but they’re looking at alternatives.”
“Uhgh.” Dar grunted.
“The team wants to head down to the Exchange and make the connections down there. “ Kerry kept her voice neutral. “So I thought I’d take dad and help them get in there and get set up.”
“Ah.” Her partner grunted again, with a completely different inflection. “Okay.” She took the cup and finished the beverage.
“But I wanted to discuss that with you first.” Kerry said. “I know you have some concerns.” She put her hand on Dar’s thigh. “But if you want, I can handle that end of it for you.”
Dar studied her, a faint smile appearing on her face. “Thank you, Kerrison.”
“What are friends for?” Kerry smiled back. “You take your share of tough calls, sweetheart. I don’t’ mind shouldering this one for you.”
“I know.” Dar uttered softly. “One of the many reasons I love you.”
Aw. “Any fallout from the DOD?” Kerry leaned closer, lowering her voice. “Do you want me to pander to my genes and call my mother to see if she can help with that?”
“No.” Dar set the cup down. “Hamilton advised me to get the hell out of the office and go hide somewhere in case they show up to drag me off. I’ll take the team down town. I know you don’t want to go back down there.”
“Any word from Lockheed?”
Dar shook her head.
“Let’s both go.” Kerry said. “Let’s go, and we can lay it out for everyone, and just do everything we can do. Okay?”
Dar studied her laced fingers, then she looked up and over at Kerry. “All right.” She said. “You and me, all the way.” She reached over and clasped Kerry’s hand. “Let’s go.”
They stood. “Okay, team.” Kerry said. “Let’s get our gear together, and go down to the other end of this situation. Dar and I have some information to give you, and then we can get what we need to get done taken care of. “
The techs were already scrambling to their feet, and Mark had ducked inside the room for his backpack. “Hey.” He poked his head out. “We taking the bus? I threw a bunch of the gear in it, and it’s got three cases of Red Bull.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Dar said. “It’s going to be a long night.”
“Ain’t they all?” Mark disappeared inside the room again, as they got ready to move out. “But hey, we’ll make history, right?”
Dar stuck her hands in her pockets and regarded her father. “I think sometimes making history’s overrated.”
“Yeap.” Andrew agreed. “That is the truth, rugrat. That is surely the truth.” He clapped her on the shoulder. “Specially since histry’s ain’t always your friend.”
They gathered up their gear and headed off, walking up the steps and out into the afternoon light into a street full of people and sirens and cool, dusty air.