Storm Surge

Part 7

Dar curled her arm around her bundled sweater, putting her head down and allowing her body to relax in the semi darkened room.   The rest of their team and most of the clients were in the media room next door, watching three or four different television screens and talking.

Dar had no desire to either join them or talk. She closed her eyes, just letting the chatter in the background of the computer go past her, trying to tune out enough to get a few minutes of rest before it was time for Kerry to go to the airport with her mother.

Kerry’s only comment to Dar’s question about how that worked out was ‘Ugh.’.  It made her unhappy because she sensed her partner was unhappy and there wasn’t a lot she could do about it.  What was that Alastair had said earlier? She’d turned in a good family person?


Alastair had gone to the rooms Sir Melthon had prepared for them.  He was waiting for a call back from one of their contract administrators from the government, but Dar frankly didn’t hold out much hope in that regard because she figured everyone was either glued to CNN or in the middle of the confusion and didn’t have much time to call back some CEO of some company.

Kerry’s voice filtered softly into her awareness, and Dar opened her eyes to peer at the nearby screen. Then, after a moment’s consideration she opened a browser and clicked over to their corporate travel website.

Kerry hadn’t said if she was staying at the family townhouse she knew they had in Washington. She might, Dar reasoned,  but she also might rather escape to one of the high end business hotels they used when they traveled. 

She reached over and typed in the location, then reviewed the results as the website searched and disgorged it’s results. “Hm.”  Dar grunted.  Hotels were packed, not unreasonable considering air travel was at a standstill. Everyone stuck at the airport had to stay somewhere.

There was, however, an obscenely expensive suite available and Dar clicked on it without hesitation. She pulled down the available profiles on the website and selected Kerry’s, and watched as it filled in her information and obediently reserved the space.

Dar selected and copied the details, then she pasted them into the open instant message box where Kerry’s last “Ugh” was still blinking mournfully.   She clicked send, then settled her head back down on her sweater.

Kerry’s voice, in the middle of acknowledging Mark’s status update, stopped in mid word.

Dar smiled, watching as the message came back with a tiny graphic, a small beating red heart that was a complete, if charming, waste of bandwidth.

“As I was saying.” Kerry’s voice now had an audible grin in it. “I will be out of contact for a few hours in transit to Herndon this evening. Dar will be covering for me.”

“Miami exec, this is Herndon. We’re looking forward to seeing you.” A voice answered. “Do you need a pickup?”

One blue eye opened and it’s dark brow lifted as Dar listened for her partner’s answer.

“Ah.” Kerry was muffling a laugh, she could tell. “I’m going to rent a car at the airport, thanks. I’ll let you know if that doesn’t work out. I’m sure it’s crazy around there.”

Dar reached over, and one handed, typed out a series of instructions into a console session, reviewing them before she compiled the results and sent the new little routine to run.  A moment later, she heard a soft chuckle come through the mic.

 “Hey Miami exec – this is Miami ops.” Mark broke in. “Wouldn’t that be god of the clock in England?”

“Yes.” Kerry responded. “Dar’s supposed to be getting some rest now so she can take over but I just found out she’s actually dealing with some petty details behind the scenes.”

“Petty?” Dar murmured. “Wench.”

“How about I burn minutes and watch stuff from the van?” Mark suggested. “It’s not like we’ve got a lot else to do, you know?”

Dar frowned, considering the question.  She trusted Mark implicitly. He’d been working for the company nearly as long as she had, and his knowledge and loyalty were unquestioned.

Trust? Not trust? Dar reached over and picked up her mic, bringing it over to her head.

“I think that’s a great idea, Mark.” Kerry answered before she could click in. “Thanks. I appreciate it, and I know Dar will appreciate it since there’s a lot going on over there too.”

Touche. Dar knew rejecting the offer now would seriously embarrass her partner and make her look like a cad since it was made in her best interest.  Kerry’s little payback for her hotel reservations.   She clicked the mic on. “I do appreciate it, Mark.” She said. “Especially since now I can send Kerry offshift to get ready to leave and relax before she has to fly.”

Kerry forgot to turn her mic off, and her laughter echoed through the speaker, a strangely light sound after so much tension.   “Right Kerry?” Dar inquired.

“Right boss.” Kerry surrendered. “You win this round.”

Dar glanced down expectantly at the message box.

Hoisted, wasn’t I? Kerry’s typing popped up.

Figured you could use some time to decompress.  Dar typed back. You don’t know what you’re going to get into when you get to Herndon.

True.  Her partner responded. I’m going to go grab a shower and crash for a few hours.  Thanks for the hotel reservations – I hadn’t even started to look into that and I sure don’t want to spend the night in DC.

I figured. Dar said. Sure you’re okay with going?

There was a moment’s pause in the response. Yeah.  Kerry finally answered. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get a chance to get this family thing worked out.  I think you were right about the whole thing with my mother. I think she just wanted to have something to show her committee.

Dar smiled. Hell must be freezing over if I’m telling you not to think the worst of someone.

Ah heh.  Kerry responded.  Yeah. I know. Part of me wants to just move past it all and just drop the whole thing, and the other part of me just thinks about stuff they did and gets pissed off all over again.  I just really wish I were home.

Right there with you.  Dar sighed, glancing around the room, pausing when the door opened fully and Alastair entered. Hang on, Alastair just came back.

“Well, we’ve got good news and bad news.” Alastair came over and sat down. He looked tired. “Which do you want first?”

“I can’t believe there’s any good news. So bad first.” Dar said.

“Okay.” Her boss responded. “Bad news is, there’s not one person in the government that can tell me why someone from some agency is knocking on our doors in Virginia. This group says they think that group may be doing it and when you ask that group, they don’t know anything about it.”

“Ugh.” Dar wasn’t surprised.

“Hamilton’s working on trying to track the request down, but he’s coming up against a lot of people who are in high gear with no brakes, if you catch my drift.” Alastair said. “But on the bright side, we’ve got flights to Mexico City tomorrow morning.”

Dar blinked in surprise. “They found seats?”

“The board instructed me to charter an airplane.” Alastiar looked a touch bemused. “Apparently you and I are considered a little important.  We’ve got a transfer in Mexico City to an executive jet service out to Nuevo Laredo and we’re being picked up there for the ride across the border.”

“Wow.” Dar said.

“Lucky for us, there’s quite a number of airplanes that are hanging around here unable to fly to the US. Finding one to charter was easy, or so Bea tells me.” Alastair said. “At any rate, sorry we’ll have to end up in Houston, but at least we won’t be on the other side fo the world.”

“I’ll take it.” Dar said. “Maybe by then domestic flights’ll be going again.”  She felt a sense of profound relief, regardless of the destination.  “That is good news, Alastair. Thanks.”

Her boss smiled. “I know you want to get back home. Me too.” He slapped Dar on the shoulder and stood up. “You going to get some rest?”

Dar nodded. “Mark’s covering for us.” She said. “He’s heading up in the equipment van and has a lot of time on his hands. I sent Kerry off to get some downtime before she goes to Herndon tonight.”

Alastair nodded. “All right. I’m going to go get some rest myself.” He said. “The devil only knows what we’ll have to deal with tomorrow, if today was any indication.”

“Night.” Dar waited for him to leave. Then she turned back to the screen. Ker?

There was no response. Dar frowned, then she picked up her cell phone and dialed, getting a fast busy.  She sighed, and sat back, then rocked forward again when her message was answered.

Hey. What’s up?  Kerry typed. Sorry, Brian just showed up here, same time as Richard dropping off Sally.

Dar winced. Nice.  She typed.  Like it needed to be crazier.

Uh huh.  Kerry agreed. Did Alastair find anything out?

No, Hamilton’s still trying.  Dar rattled her keys. But they chartered a plane for us to fly to Mexico tomorrow morning.  She hit enter, and waited.  


Dar smiled.  Yeah, well, then we fly local to the border and someones picking us up to make the run into Houston. At least it’s halfway home.  She said. And maybe by then I can just fly up to DC and meet you.

There was a long silence.  Dar almost  decided to send a followup, when a response came back.

Sorry. Yelling match outside the study here. For once, not involving me. 

“Oops.” Dar sighed. 

Fly fast. Kerry typed, after a pause I need you.

There was a rawness there that made Dar’s breath catch. She reached out in reflex to touch the screen with her fingertips, then let them drop.

I’ll try to hold things together in Herndon.  Kerry went on. But I’ve got a gut feeling this is going to be something more than a request to track some IP addresses.

Dar nodded to herself.  Go with your instincts, Ker.  You know what I’d go for and what I wouldn’t. If it’s something you know I wouldn’t do, just tell them you can’t do it and wait for me to land. I still have the systems locked down there.

“Systems control is passing to Miami ops.” Mark’s voice interrupted. “We are heading north. We picked up a Trailrider RV hitched to my truck and we’ve got every spare piece of gear we had in inventory with us.”

“Miami ops, this is Danny at the Pentagon.  That’s great to hear. We’ll need some of it to get stuff spooled back up, and some facilites. Do you have WAN rigs with you?”

“We sure do.  This thing’s even got a sat hookup and we’re pulling a generator.”

We have good people.  Kerry typed. 

“It’s still on fire here.” Danny said. “But we just got asked when all the stuff’s going to be back up. We can’t get inside, but we think the crossconnect room was burned up.”

We have the best people.  Dar replied.

“Okay, we’ll stop for some sixty six blocks. Can you guys source some three quarter ply if we need to rebuild the dmarc?” Mark said.

“We can do that.” Danny said.

“Then go ahead and get a dozen sheets.” Mark said. “We’ll get there, and we’ll get it done.”

“Will do, Miami ops. We’ll be ready for you.”

Dar keyed her mic. “Sounds like a good plan, gentlemen.” She said. “Miami exec  signing off for the evening.  If something happens that requires senior approval, try my cell phone first.”

“Try mine second.” Kerry added. “Let’s all stay alert. We don’t know what might happen next.”

Go get some rest.  Dar typed.

You too.  Kerry responded. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a much better day.


Rest wasn’t in her cards, apparently.  Kerry almost decided to turn around and go take back over operations when she eased out of the study and found her sister and her ex husband facing off with an unhappy looking Sally in the middle of them.

Richard hadn’t changed much. Tonight he was wearing a shockingly casual leather jacket and corduroys though, something he’d have never worn in her parents house when her father had been alive.  Kerry took a deep breath and forced herself to move forward towards them, hoping her presence would break up whatever the issue was.

“If you think I’m going to leave her here with him here you’re crazy!” Richard was saying. “She’s upset enough as it is, she doesn’t need that to complicate her life!”

Angie’s face was set and angry. “Stop being such a jerk, will you?” She said. “He’s not going to complicate anything. She’s known him all her life, for pete’s sake.”

“That’s not the point!”

“Aunt Kerry!” Sally spotted her and bolted, distracting her parents just long enough for them to turn and see her target before she collided with her aunt’s sturdy legs.

“Hey, kiddo.” Kerry gave her sister a brief smile. “How about I take her into the library and tell her a story.”

Angie looked utterly relieved. “Thanks, sis.” She  said. “That would be great.”

“Would you like that?” Kerry held a hand out to her niece. “Want to come hear a story?”

“Yes!”  Sally was hanging onto her leg, looking up at her.  She reached up and grabbed Kerry’s hand, swinging on it.

“Okay.” Kerry gave her ex brother in law a nod of acknowledgment. “Richard.” 

“Kerry.” Richard answered, stiffly. “You look well.”

“You too.” She escaped with her niece through the archway and headed for the library at the other end.  They ducked inside the dim, quiet room and closed the door behind them. “All right, here we go.”

“Aunt Kewwy.” Sally reached up for a hug, and Kerry gladly complied, picking her niece up and wrapping her arms around her.  “You been gone a long time.”  She put her arms around her aunt’s neck and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Yeah.” Kerry walked over and sat down with her on the big leather couch. “I know.  It has been a long time, huh?”  She sat Sally down on her lap and studied her.  “How old are you now, almost five, right?”

Sally nodded, her dark blond hair in it’s childish curls bobbling with the motion.  She was an engaging child, with a rounded, cute face and a snub nose that Kerry had seen in the mirror once upon a time. She had hazel eyes and a dimpled smile, and she smiled now, at her aunt.  “Where you been?

“Well.” Kerry said. “I don’t live in Michigan anymore. I moved down to Florida.. Do you know where that is?”

“How come you went there?” Sally swung her legs a little. “Mommy said you live far far away.”

“That’s where I work.” Kerry told her. “And it’s warm there, and pretty. I like it a lot. Your mama came to see me there, where I live now.”


“It’s far from here, but I have lots of friends there, and even a dog.” Kerry said. “Maybe you can come visit and meet her.”

Sally’s eyes lit up. “You gotta doggy?” She squealed. “Oh wow!”

Kerry smiled at this unrestrained enthusiasm.  “I sure do. Her name is Chino, and she’s about as big as you are.”  She bounced Sally up and down on her lap.  “She’s really cute, too.”

“I wanna see her.” Sally said. “Daddy won’t let me get a doggy.”

No, Kerry bet he wouldn’t.  “Oh, maybe when you get a little older.” She said. “They’re a lot to take care of you know.”  She added. “I didn’t get to have a doggy when I was little either.”

Sally pouted.

“Aw, cmon.” Her aunt chuckled. “So you want to hear a story? I know a good one, about a bumblebee.”

“I want a doggy!” Sally said. “Can I come to where you live and stay there?”

Kerry studied her for a minute. “You can come visit us, sure.” She said. “I said so, right? Then you can play with Chino, and go the beach and see the ocean.”

The little girl pouted again.

“Want to see pictures of my doggy?” Kerry suggested.

Sally nodded.

“Okay, c’mon.” Kerry set her on the floor and stood up, leading the way into her late father’s study, where her laptop was still resting on the desk.  She sat down as Sally climbed up onto the chair next to her, and unlocked her screen saver. “Let’s see what we have here.”

She had a folder of pictures, collected specifically together just for the purpose she was using them for right now.  Safe pictures of home, and work, of Chino and humorous ones of Dar.  “Okay, see? Here’s Chino.”

Sally squealed. “She’s so cuuuutte!”

“I told you.” Kerry gazed fondly at her pet.  “That’s her favorite bed. She loves to swim in the ocean, too.”

“I want a doggy.” Sally lamented. “All I got is a stuffed chicken and it’s stupid.”

Kerry gave her a one armed hug. “Aw. You’ll get one someday. I did, right?”

“I don’t wanna wait till I’m old!”

Kerry started laughing. “Gee, thanks!” She made a face at her niece. “Tell you what, I’ll ask your mom to get you one, okay?”

Sally’s eyes lit up. “For real?”

Paybacks were certainly, certainly a bitch.  “For real.” Kerry assured her.  “I’ll tell her to get you one just like Chino. She’ll have plenty of room to run around and play here.”

Sally looked around the room. “Mommy says we have to come stay here now.”

“Mmhm.” Her aunt said. “You know, your mommy and I grew up here.”  She said, seeing a sad look in the little girl’s eyes. “We had lots of fun with your uncle Michael, playing hide and seek and running around.”

Sally looked around. “You did?”

“We did.” Kerry said. “I used to close my eyes, right over by the wall there, and your mommy and uncle Michael would find a place to hide and I’d have to track them down.” She said. “One day, I thought they were hiding in the kitchen, and I thought I would surprise them in there.”

Sally giggled.

“So I got a basket, and I filled it with dirt from the garden, and I crept along the hallway really quiet.” Kerry lowered her voice. “And I crept, and crept, and when I was at the door, I threw the door open and ran inside, and threw the basket up in the air.”

“Oh! They got dirty!”

“Not exactly.” Kerry smiled. “Your grandma was in there talking to a stranger in there and they got dirty.”

“Ooooo..” Sally giggled, her sadness forgotten. “Did you get in trouble?”

“I ran really fast outside and they couldn’t catch me.” Her aunt told her. “And then I climbed up a tree and got stuck and everyone got so scared about that they forgot about the dirt.” She chuckled as her niece giggled harder. 

“That was funny.” Sally said. “Can we play hide and seek?”

‘Sure.” Kerry said. “I”ll get your mommy and uncle Michael to play too, and we’ll see how much trouble we can get into. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”


Kerry gave her another hug. “It’ll be fun for you here. When your brother’s a little older, you can play with him too, like I did with uncle Michael.”

Sally got quiet. “Did your daddy live somewhere else too?”

“Well, sort of.” Kerry turned her head and regarded her niece. “Do you remember grandpa?”

Sally nodded. “He’s not here no more.”

“No.” Her aunt agreed softly. “Did you know grandpa was my daddy?” She asked. “Mine, and your mommys, and uncle Michaels?”

“Oh. He was?”

“Mm..” Kerry nodded. “And grandpa had to spend a lot of time in a different place, because of his job. A lot of times we had to go there too, so sometimes we lived there, and sometimes we lived here, and a lot of times, he wasn’t here because he had to do things.”

Sally put her thumb in her mouth. “Mommy told me grandpa went to Heaven.”

Kerry just nodded. “I’m sure he didn’t want to go, but I know he’s happy there, and waiting for us to come too. Isn’t that what your mommy told you?”

Sally nodded emphatically. “I miss grandpa.” She was watching Kerry’s expressive face intently, and there was no way for her aunt to dissemble.

Kerry exhaled. “I think he misses us too, sweetheart.” She said. “But we all have things we have to do, and he had something he had to do in Heaven, so he had go there and wait for us.”

The child threw her arms around Kerry’s neck. “I miss you too, Aunt Kerry. I thought you went to Heaven too, but mommy said you just went to Miami.”

Kerry bit her lip to keep from laughing, despite the pang in her chest. “You’ll have to come to Miami to visit me there, honey. Then you can see if it’s anything like Heaven.”

Sally released her and sat up, looking back at the computer. “More pitchers?”

“Sure.” Kerry was glad enough to leave that conversation alone. She opened up the folder and the pictures popped up, tiny little colorful chunks of her life spread out on the screen.

“Who’s that?” Sally pointed at one of them.

Ah. Kerry found herself looking back into a familiar pair of very blue eyes. “That’s my friend Dar.” She said. “She lives in Florida too.”

Sally studied the picture. “She’s pretty.”

The picture was Dar sitting behind her desk in the condo, chin propped up on one fist, and a look of bemused tolerance at what Kerry knew was a just showered, tshirt covered camera wielder on the other side of the office snapping the shot.

Nothing really remarkable about it, save the smile, and the warmth in those eyes, which were looking right through the viewfinder into Kerry’s.

“I think she is.” Kerry said, with a smile.  “Dar’s my best friend. We have a lot of fun together.” 

“Do you play hide and see?” Her niece asked.

 “Sometimes.” Kerry’s eyes twinkled.  “We do a lot of things together. “ She pointed at another picture. “See that? It’s a fish.”

“Big fish!” Sally said..

“That’s a shark.” Kerry told her. “I took that picture, under the water.”

Sally turned all the way around and looked at her. “No you didn’t.” She said. “You’re not a fish!” She looked up as the door creaked open. “Mommy! Aunt Kerry isn’t a fish, right?”

Angie entered, looking very stressed. She took a moment to relax, then she shut the door behind her. “What’s that, honey? What crazy story is Aunt Kerry telling you now?”

“I was showing her my diving pictures.” Kerry turned the laptop so her sister could see them. “That one.”

“That on.. holy Christ, Kerry! That’s a shark!” Angie came over and sat on the edge of the desk. “Tell me you didn’t take that.”

“I took that.” Her sister said. “Honestly they’re not bad to swim with. You just have to remember not to stick any body parts near their mouths.”

 “Oh is that all.” Angie peered at the pictures. “Well, you still have all your fingers anyway. That’s a nice shot of Dar.” She said. “So, what have you two been up to?”

“Mommy, aunt Kerry says you’ll get me a dog.” Sally piped up. “Like that one!” She pointed at the picture of Chino. “Can I have one, huh? Please?”

Angie looked at the picture, then she looked at Kerry, who smiled charmingly at her.  “You’re lucky you’re my sister, and I love you.”

“Can I mom?”


Dar spread her arms out across the bed and let her body relax, wincing a little as the stiffness from sitting as long as she had eased.

It felt very, very good to just lay down and do nothing. The day had seemed to her to last at least a week, and to have it be quiet, and still, with just the sound of a ticking wall clock around the corner was a wonderful thing.

Her neck ached.  She debated if she should get up and go to her briefcase, which held a supply of pain killers to address the problem along with her customary bottle of water.

Deciding that getting up and undressing while doing that instead of falling asleep was easy. Dar rolled over and pushed herself up to her feet, standing and trudging over to the mahogany sidebar where she’d tossed her case.

She unzipped it and took out the bottle of Advil and the water, then she opened her suitcase and took out a long shirt to sleep in.  She draped it over the nearby chair and turned, leaning against the wood as she opened the bottle and shook out a few pills.

The room was a relatively pleasant space to spend the night. It had a small bathroom with an old fashioned tub in it, a decent size bed long enough for her legs not to hang off it and a rich tapestry on the wall that featured dogs and horses in unlikely poses that made Dar smile.

She swallowed her pills and washed them down with a mouthful of water. Then she picked up the shirt and walked into the bathroom, glancing in the mirror as she unbuttoned her shirt.  She pulled the fabric off and crossed her arms, studying her mostly naked upper half with a thoughtful expression.

A game she played with herself, lately. 

Tattoo, or no tattoo?  That was the question. With a wry chuckle, Dar  studied her tan skin, trying to imagine what it might look like with the sort of colorful decoration her partner now had spread across her upper chest.

It felt good to waste some brain cells on triviality after the long day. It was like a tiny slice of normality in what had become a morass of uncertain stress. 

Would she do it?  Dar rubbed her thumb over the skin on her chest where Kerry’s mark was.  She found the tattoo sexy, and not even because it incorporated her name. But if she had to choose her own, she knew it wouldn’t be anything like what her partner had.

What would it be?

Dar studied her skin, then she shook her head and laughed. “I have no damn idea.” She finished changing and brushed her teeth, then she went to her briefcase and pulled a diving magazine from it, settling down in the leather armchair near the window where the light from the lamp would allow her to comfortably read.

She was tired, but not sleepy yet.   There was a small television set in the corner of the room, almost hidden – but she had no desire to turn it on and listen to yet another retelling and see again the terror and the destruction she’d lived with the entire day.

It was good, just to sit, sipping her water, and looking at pictures of colorful fish and clear blue water, reading about live aboard adventures and what the price of a good rum drink was in Roatan in the spring.  She leaned back and turned the page, losing herself in the text as her mind remembered the rich tang of salt air and the deep, rumbling sound of underwater breathing.

A soft knock at the door made her jump.  She put her water bottle down on the desk, and looked up at the door. “C’mon in.”

The door pushed open, and Alastiar’s head poked around it. “Hey, Dar I..oh, my gosh. Sorry. Didn’t realize you were… ah…”

“Wearing a tshirt?” Dar gave her boss a wry look. “Relax. It’s more than I wore to that damn Halloween party that time.”

Alastiar cautiously entered. “Just thought you’d like a nightcap.” He held up a bottle. “Our host had this delivered, it’s good stuff.”

“Sure.” Dar closed her magazine.  “Last time I shared whisky with you I was resigning. We should find happier occasions.”

Alastair walked over and sat down in the chair opposite Dar.  He was still in his slacks, but had his shirt untucked and the sleeves unbuttoned and partly rolled up his forearms.  “I do remember that.”  He said, pouring a measure of the golden liquor into one of the two glasses he’d brought and handing it to Dar.
“Wasn’t fond of how that day started.”

“Me either.” Dar waited for him to pour his own glass, then she lifted hers. “Here’s to better times.”

“Amen.” Alastair reached over and touched his glass to hers, then he sat back and sipped it. “I just talked to the missus.” He said. “Seems a neighbor of ours was in the North Tower, and cant’ be reached.”

Dar shook her head. 

“Nice feller.” Alastair said. “His family’s in tatters, of course.  My wife said she’d never been so glad to have me out of the country as she was this morning.” He studied the scotch in the glass.  “Could easily have been otherwise. I was in New York last week.”

“Could have.” Dar agreed quietly. “We all travel a lot. It was just a toss of the dice.”    She considered. “But then again, so’s driving to work every morning in Miami.”  She sipped the scotch, the unfamiliar burn making her nose twitch.

“Well, that’s true, or so I’ve heard.” Alastair said. “It’s not so bad in Houston, but still.” He leaned back. “You think though, so many of us work like dogs so we can retire and take it easy, and those boys in New York work harder than most, and then something like this happens.”

“Sometimes it takes something like this happen to make you take a step back.” Dar said, after a sip of the whiskey. “We get so damned focused sometimes.”  She held the glass up to the light, admiring the honey color.  “Some times you have to stop and live. You miss out otherwise.”

Alastair smiled. “Learned that relatively recently?” He guessed

Dar’s eyes twinkled wryly. “You could say that.”

Her boss chuckled.  “What are you reading there?” He took the extended magazine and turned it around. “Ah… your crazy hobby.” He flipped through the pages. “Those islands do look nice, but the missus won’t hear of it. She wants to go see Niagra Falls our next trip.”

“I’ve seen them.” Dar said. “Alastair, take her someplace you can spend more than ten minutes at. The falls are nice, but unless you’re going to go over them in a barrel they’re not much fun.”

“Have you?” Alastair asked. “Gone over them?”

Dar’s brows shot up. “How nuts do you think I am?”

“Just asking.” He chuckled again.  “We usually end up at tourist central locations like Vegas. I don’t mind exploration, but I like mine to come with a scotch and sour and a limo driver, I’m afraid.”

“Well.” Dar extended her legs and crossed her ankles. “We call our cabin down south Microsoft Rustic for a reason.  Ker and I talk about going camping and hiking in the Grand Canyon, but I had my fill of that as a kid and I’d rather call room service myself if the truth be known.”

“Camping in Florida?” Alastair asked. “And you lived to grow up?”

Dar smiled. “We were actually going to take a trip around Europe when we were done here. See the Alps. See if I’m as bad at skiing as I was the last time I tried, and maybe end up on down in Italy.” She exhaled. “Kerry was really looking forward to it. She never got the chance to travel much.”

Alastair set the magazine down and cradled his glass in both hands. “Chance’ll come again soon enough.” He said. “I know we’ve got a rough patch to get over now, but the world’ll keep turning, y’know?  We’ll get through it. Then you two can take a month and see the place up right here.”

Dar cocked one eyebrow. “I’m going to hold you to that.” She warned.

“Deal.” Her boss said.  “Say, what do you think about Key West?” He asked. “That was the missus other idea. She got some brochures from a little place down there on the water.  I’d like to try some fishing myself.”

“That’s the place for it.” Dar turned her head as she heard her cell phone ring. “Uh oh.’ She got  up and reached across to the sideboard, grabbing the phone and opening it. “Ah.” She recognized the number. “Hey hon.”


“Hey.’ Kerry’s voice came through the phone. “Were you sleeping? Sorry if you were.”

“Nah.” Dar sat back down. “Alastair and I were having a nightcap and talking about our vacation plans. What’s up?”

“I had to call you. Danny just called from the Pentagon, and he said one of the techs there came to find him, because someone wanted to get a message to you.”

“Yeah?” Dar didn’t hear any upset in her partner’s tone, so she reasoned it was probably good news. “What was it?”

“General Easton.” Kerry said. “He just said to say he said hello, and that he needs to talk to you when you can get through to him tomorrow.”

Dar felt a sense of profound relief. “That’s great news.” She said, glancing at Alastair. “Gerry Easton’s okay. He wants me to call him tomorrow.” She turned back to the phone. “Why aren’t you sleeping, by the way?”

Kerry cleared her throat. “Um… well, I was playing with my niece and then we got into a game of hide and seek.”

“You and your niece” Dar asked.

“Me and my brother and sister.” Kerry muttered. “It ended up with a broken table leg. Don’t ask.”

“Um.. okay.”

“Listen, when you talk to the General, can you find out of his dog’s had puppies again?” Kerry asked. “My sister wants one.”

“She does?” Dar’s brows knitted. “She didn’t seem like a dog person to me.”

“She isn’t. Yet.”

Dar decided ignorance was probably better for her at this point. “Okay.” She said. “Listen, have a good flight, and let me know when you land.” She said. “Be safe.”

“I’ll text you.” Kerry promised. “It’s a commuter plane. I’m sure we’ll be fine. I just wish there was more room inside it.”

Dar chuckled briefly. “Catching my claustrophobia?”

“Don’t want to be that close to my mother.” Her partner said, succinctly. “Later hon.”

“Later.” Dar closed the phone, and smiled. “Well, that’s good news at least.”

Alastair stood up. “Sure is.” He said. “Let me let you get some rest.” He picked up his glass. “And let’s hope that call tomorrow is just him wanting to catch up on you personally.”

Dar blinked at him in surprise.

Her boss smiled wryly, lifting his glass in her direction then making his way to the door.  “Nice fella, glad he’s safe.” He said, as he eased out. “But he’s also a big customer.” He reminded her, closing the door behind him.

True enough. Dar tossed back the rest of her whisky, grimacing as it burned it’s way down her throat and into her gut.  Then she exhaled, puffing her dark hair up out of her eyes, and pulled her magazine back over.  “Hope it’s personal too.” She opened the pages. “I’m not going to have time to call in any favors.”


Kerry zipped her bag closed and set it on the floor, glancing around out of habit to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything.  She’d left her share of travel alarm clocks, toothbrushes, and other sundries in hotels across the country and learned her lesson the hard way.

“Ker?” Angie stuck her head in the room. “You ready?  I told mom I’d take you over down to the airport to meet her so we didn’t have to swing back by the house.”

“Yup.” Kerry shouldered her overnight bag and picked up her laptop case. “Let’s go.” She said. “Am I safe letting Mike return the truck to the rental joint?”

Her sister chuckled.

“That’s what I thought.” Kerry sighed. “Oh well.” She followed her sister out of the room. It was already well dark outside, and the kids were tucked in bed in the half empty house, already echoing with the impending move and a little sadder for it.  “How much can one of those cost anyway?’

Angie led the way down the steps and over to the front door, picking up a handbag and slinging it over her shoulder and picking up her keys.  “Marco, is the car ready?” She asked the man standing near the door.

“Yes, ma’am.” Marco replied.  “I filled the tank. Do you want me to drive you though? Roads are pretty dark.” 

Angie regarded her house manager with a smile. “Thanks, but I’ll be okay.” She said. “My brother’s coming with us. He can keep me company on the way back.”

Marco looked dubious at this proffered safety, and Kerry shifted her overnight back and reached up to scratch her nose.

Angie seemed to sense the unspoken doubt. “We’ll be fine.” She grabbed the strap of Kerry’s bag and tugged her out the door.  “We’re in Saugatuck, for pete’s sake.”

“Mm.” Kerry followed without further comment though, walking down the steps towards where Mike was waiting by her sister’s big sedan as the cool air hit her face.  She blinked into it, feeling the dryness against her eyeballs, and thought briefly of the sauna bath she lived in most of the year.

That had been hard to get used to.  Now this was hard to get used to. Kerry shook her head as Angie opened the doors and went around to the driver’s side.

“Here, gimme.” Mike took her bag and tossed it in the back seat, sliding in after it.

Kerry got in the front passenger side and closed the door, glad enough to relax into the leather seat for the relatively short drive to the regional airport.  “Think mom’s still pissed off?” She asked. “My shoulder’s killing me where I hit that table.”

Angie started the car and gave her sibling a wry look. “Your shoulder’s killing you? Remember you bounced into me after you broke the furniture. I feel like I was hit by a truck.”

“I was just glad it wasn’t me for a change.” Mike commented from the back seat. “It was worth it to see mom’s face when she came around that corner and saw you sitting there with all that broken china around you holding that stupid leg.”

“I felt like I was six.” Kerry admitted. “But it was funny.”

“It was freaking hilarious.” Her brother said. “I mean, after that whole lousy day it felt great to just be stupid and laugh and not worry about what building was falling down on the television or if a plane was going to crash on my head.”

They were all momentarily quiet. “Yeah.”Angie finally said. “It sure was a horrible day.” She looked at Kerry from the corner of her eye. “I think you and mom are crazy to be flying tonight. I can’t even believe they’re letting you.”

“I know.” Kerry said. “But this is different. It’s a private plane.”

“A crappy tiny commuter.” Mike said. “I’ve seen the inside of it. I’d rather drive.”

“I should have gotten a van, like that guy of yours did, Kerry, thrown the kids in there and we could have all taken a road trip.” Angie said. “Even mom.”

Kerry covered her eyes with silent eloquence.

“Ang, you’re a retard.” Mike said. “That didn’t work when we were ten.”

“Shut up.” Angie said.  “We’re adults now. We could have made it work.”

Mike slid around and extended his legs behind Kerry’s seat. “Ah, maybe.” He conceded. “I looked up that thing Kerry’s guy got, it’s not a van. It’s an RV. It’s pretty cool.” He said. “It’s got a kitchen and a bathroom and everything.”

“It’s a long trip from Miami.” Kerry said. “I’m glad they found something comfortable. Last thing I’d want is for them to zonk out on the ride and have an accident.  It takes.. I think ten or twelve hours just to get out of the state.”

“Have you driven that?” Angie asked.

Kerry shook her head. “Just to Orlando. With Dar.” She said.  “But Dar’s driven up the east coast. She says unless you take the scenic route through the mountains it’s a snore.”  Her eyes flicked to the dark countryside they were passing through.

“You staying with mom?” Her sister asked. “Hotels must be crazy there.”

“No.” Kerry shook her head. “Dar made me reservations on the edge of town. I can just pick up a car or have the office pick me up in the morning, then maybe stay out there after that.” She let her head rest against the back of the seat. “I haven’t told her yet. I think she assumes I’m going to the townhouse.”

“She does.” Mike supplied. “She was telling some dude over there to get a room ready, like you care what the view is.”

“Sometimes I do.” Kerry objected mildly. “But then again.. “ She pondered. “Usually I’m with Dar so the view inside the room’s better anyway.” She chuckled under her breath as her siblings both groaned. “I hope her flight goes okay tomorrow.”

“She’s flying into Mexico?” Mike asked. “I heard on the news that’s nuts there, the airports are crammed.”  He said. “Hope they don’t give her a hard time coming back in the country.”

Kerry extended her legs out and crossed her ankles. “I hope not.”  She said. “I can imagine they’ll be pretty freaked out, and Dar does get touchy sometimes about official stuff. She gives the airport people grief when they want her to start up her laptop.”

“Glad I don’t travel much.” Angie sighed, as she turned onto the access road for the small local airport. “Especially now. I’d be scared to death to get on an airplane.”

Kerry thought about that. She remembered thinking once that you had no idea, really, who you were going to share a plane with, who was sitting next to you, what their motives were.. or even, what viruses they were going to gift the rest of the passengers with.

Scary. Now, it was a lot scarier. She imagined being on those planes that had taken off, and finding out that passenger sitting next to you was a killer.


Her flight, and Dar’s, would at least be private this time. But the next?  Kerry sighed, hoping that the domestic flights wouldn’t start flying so soon that Dar needed to hop on the first one available to come out to meet her.  Much as she wanted to see her partner, and she certainly did, she’d rather her be safe.

Was there a train from Texas to Washington?  Kerry drummed her fingers on the armrest.  Hmm. Dar might like a train ride.

“Wow, look at those lights.” Angie interrupted her musing. “At the gate..”

Kerry peered through the windshield to see the entrance to the field approaching, bracketed by a line of emergency vehicles with their flashing lights on.  “What’s that all about?” She wondered.

“Maybe mom’s limo crashed into the guardhouse.” Mike suggested.

“Michael.”  Angie scolded him. “That’s not funny.”

“Why?” Her brother retorted. “That thing’s built like a brick. I’d feel sorry for the guy in the guardhouse not anyone in that tank.”

Angie slowed the car as they approached, shadowy figures emerging from the vehicles and blocking the entrance.  “Oh. Wow.”

“Guns.” Kerry observed. “I hope it’s the Michigan National Guard.”

“Me too.” Mike agreed, in a far meeker voice. “I don’t like guns.” He slid back against the back of the seat, moving over to Kerry’s side of the car.  “Bet Dar does.”

“Bet she doesn’t.” Kerry watched as Angie rolled the window down. “I’m the registered gun owner in the family.”

“This airport is closed, ma’am.” The man was dressed in guard uniform, and sounded very stern, but polite. “Please turn around and go back the way you came.”

Kerry heard a sound behind her. She glanced through the window and saw three more soldiers, standing with their rifles pointed not quite at the car, but not quite at the ground.  “Oh boy.” She fished for her identification in her briefcase.

“Thank you officer.” Angie replied in her most polite voice in return. “I know the airport is closed. My mother, Senator Stuart, asked us to join her here. I am dropping my sister off to accompany her to Washington.”

The soldier looked at her doubtfully. 

Angie removed her wallet from her purse, and extracted her driver’s license. She handed it over to the man. “Glad I had my name changed back.” She muttered. “This doesn’t need to be any more complicated.”

Mike prudently just kept his mouth shut, for a change.

Kerry leaned slowly over and handed her own ID over, in a leather folder that held not only her driver’’s license, but her passport, and her corporate ID.  “Here you go.”

The soldier took both ID’s and stepped back. Another man joined him , and shone a flashlight on the documents.

“Got mom’s cell phone number?” Kerry asked, keeping her voice low.

“Yep.” Her sister answered. “Hope we don’t need it.” She glanced behind her. “Give me your license, Mike.”

“I don’t have it with me.” He answered, in a small voice. “I left my wallet in my car.”

Angie closed her eyes and exhaled. “And you called me a retard.”

“Can you open the trunk, please, ma’am?” The guard said.

Angie and Kerry exchanged looks. “Oh boy.”  Angie triggered the trunk lock. “I’m trying to remember what I have in there. Hope it wasn’t the diapers.”

Kerry faced forward and folded her arms over her chest, very aware of the men watching through the window. “I guess given what happened, Ang, they don’t have any choice. I’d rather be sure, even though this is creepy as hell.”

“True.” Angie looked out as the soldier came back, and she heard the trunk slam. 

The soldier handed her back her ID, then he leaned forward and handed Kerry hers with a little duck of his head. “ma’am.”

“Thanks.” Kerry took the leather portfolio, and put it back in her briefcase. Then she gave the soldier a smile. “Long night?”

“Long day.” The man responded. “Gonna be a lot of them.” He looked back at Angie. “Go down the road there, ma’am, there’s a guard in front of that little terminal. They’ll ask for ID again.  The Senator’s not here yet, but I got a radio she’s on the way and will be here in a few minutes. Said she was expecting you.”

“Thank you.” Angie said. “Very, very much.”

 “You ladies be careful, okay?” The soldier said. “This is not a night to be out drivin.”  He lifted his hand, and the other soldiers went over to pick up the barrier, moving it aside to let them through. 

Angie put the car into drive and eased through the gates, passing the cluster of soldiers and their trucks and gaining the relative safety of the short road that led to the airport terminal building.  “I don’t think he noticed Mike.”

“Not if he called me a lady he didn’t.” Mike finally scraped up the courage to lean forward and sling his arms over the seat. “I think he liked Kerry. He was nice to her.”

“Yes, he was.” Angie glanced at her sister, with a grin. “But then, she was always the magnet in the family.”

Kerry eyed them. “He probably recognized the logo of the company that handles his paycheck.” She remarked dryly. “But if it’s like this here, what’s it going to be like where we’re going?”

Angie parked the car. “I don’t know, but no matter how much it’s needed, I don’t like it.” She indicated the squad of armed soldiers waiting for them, complete with helmets and sidearms.

“Me either.” Mike agreed. “Too forties movie like.”

Kerry zipped her jacket up and opened the door, letting in a rush of pine scented cold air. “Well, let’s just hope for the best.” She got out of the car and picked up her briefcase, seeing the lights bright on the small plane in the field beyond.  “Cause I’m not sure we’ve got a lot of choice right now.”

“Crazy.” Angie said, as they walked towards the line of armed soldiers. “Just crazy.”


Kerry slipped past the crowd of aides and found a seat near the front of the plane where it was quieter.  The aircraft had eight seats, plush and comfortable, and she settled into the one nearest the cockpit and stowed her briefcase.

Her mother and her three aides were clustered towards the rear of the plane, where the four seats were turned facing each other and there were small tables to work on.

Kerry leaned back and crossed her legs at the ankles, glancing at the two empty seats nearby and wishing her siblings weren’t back in Angie’s car waiting to watch them leave.

Safety in numbers? Kerry had to admit she’d always felt more comfortable and a bit more anonymous in the presence of her siblings at family events.  Even though she tended to stick out with her fair hair and shorter stature, still, it had diluted the attention.

Well.  She folded her hands in her lap and twiddled her thumbs. Here she was. 

“Kerrison?”  Her mother was looking around the plane.

Kerry looked past the set of seats opposite her. “Over here.” She lifted one hand and let it drop. “Thought I’d just stay out of the way.”

“Oh.” Her mother studied her for a moment. “If you like, one of my aides can sit over there, and you can sit her with the rest of us.”

Kerry smiled. “I’m sure you have work to do.” She demurred. “I’m fine over here. After all, I’m just hitching a ride.”  She caught a look of relief out of the corner of her eye from the aides. “It’s not that long a flight.”

“True enough. Possibly two hours.” Cynthia said.  “Very well, we will continue our business.” She went back to her discussion, dismissing Kerry to sit quietly in her corner.

That suited Kerry just fine. She fished in her briefcase and removed a magazine from it, laying the pages open on her lap and turning the reading light on.

Colorful fish faced her.   She turned to an article on underwater photography and relaxed, leaning against the chair arm as she read.

She glanced at her watch, then she went back to the review of new models of underwater cameras. She had seen divers with rigs the size of small minivans taking pictures, and she knew the results were often spectacular but she herself was more prone to moderation in her gear, preferring to trade off professional quality for ease of use and handling.

However, the enticing possibility of filming Dar swimming underwater in high resolution, now…..


“Huh?” Kerry looked up to find her mother looking back at her, two of the soldiers at her side. “Ah, yes?”

“This gentlemen wishes a word with you.” Her mother indicated one of the men. “I hope there’s no problem.”

Kerry wondered what problem her mother thought would involve her and the Michigan National Guard. “Sure, what can I do for you?” She asked, closing the magazine and setting it aside.  “Sit down. “ She indicated the seat across from her.

The man came over and sat down gingerly, moving his automatic rifle out of the way. “Sorry to bother you, Ms. Stuart.” He said. “But I got a favor to ask.”

Kerry was aware of a silence behind the man, as everyone else listened in.  “If I can help, sure.” She gave the soldier a smile. It was her friend from the gate, she realized, a tall man with sandy brown hair and a square, Midwestern face.

“My brother Joshua works for your company.” He said, without preamble. “He works out in Manhattan? He runs cable for you all”

“Okay.” Kerry nodded. “We have a service office there, yes.”

“We haven’t been able to talk to him since last night and my mother’s about having a heart attack.” He said. “Do you know if he’s okay?”

Yikes. Kerry took out her PDA.  “Let me see if I can find out for you.” She said. “His name is Joshua.. “

“Douglass.” The man supplied. “He’s my brother.”

Kerry typed out a quick message to Mark. “I’ll give that a minute, and if not I can log onto our systems and check.” She said. “I know there’s a lot of people that couldn’t be contacted. The phones are jammed up, and a lot of lines are down.”

The soldier nodded. “That’s what they said on the television.” He glanced behind him. “Sorry to cut in here, ma’am.” He addressed the Senator. “Uh, and you know – the press is here too, wanting to take pictures, I guess.”

“Are they?” Cynthia asked, sharply.  “Oh my. I didn’t think we notified them we were leaving tonight, did we Charles?”

“I’ll go see them.” One of the aides immediately rose. “Shall I bring them onboard?”


“Let me see what their angle is.” The aide said, scooting for the door. “It could be a good op.”

“Guess I shoulda said that first.” The soldier said to Cynthia. “Sorry about that. Ma’am.”

“Please.” Cynthia held a hand up. “Your family is more important than the press, or I should hope!”  She came over and took the seat on the other side of Kerry. “Let’s hope for good news.”

Kerry’s PDA beeped, and she opened it, crossing her toes as she scanned the note. “Hm.’ She picked up her cell phone and dialed a number. “Let’s see what this is about… Mark?”

“Hey, Kerry!”

Mark’s voice sounded relaxed, which made the sudden knot in her gut relax.  “What’s up? Do we have anything on the name I sent you?”

“That’s why I’m calling.” Mark said. “I thought it was so completely freaking weird that you sent me that note when I was actually on the phone with that same guy.” He said. “How did you do that?”

“You were?” Kerry said. “Oh, wow!”

“Still am.” Mark said. “So what’s the deal with him? He’s one of our line techs. Spent the whole damn day getting out of Manhattan and ended up upstate near Buffalo.” He said. “He got the alerts on his cell but couldn’t answer and then he turned it off for a while.”

Kerry looked up to see her mother and the soldier watching her anxiously.  Behind them, the sound of people approaching echoed. “Can you conference me in? I have his brother here.”

“For sure.”  Mark said. “Hang on a sec.” He clicked off, then clicked back on. “Okay, we’re here. Say hi to Kerry, Joshua.”

“Uhhh…. Hi ma’am.”

Kerry smiled. “Hang on.” She held the phone out to the soldier. “Here. Want to say hello?”

The man stared at her, then he reached out for the phone, his eyes wide. “Are you kidding me?” He put the phone to his ear. “Hello?” He paused. “Josh, is that you? Yeah! Yeah it’s Mike! I can’t believe you’re on the phone! Jesus Christ, bro, mama’s about sick to death with you!”

Kerry leaned on her seat arm, a big grin on her face, very satisfied to have pulled this particular undeserved rabbit out of her navel in typical coincidental fashion.  Across the aisle, her mother was also smiling as she listened, and behind them she caught the flash of a camera capturing it all.

“No, no man, I’m guarding the airport here!” Mike was saying. “I saw that lady from your company come in and so I came and asked her what was up… what?  Where are you? Buffalo?” He paused. “Well go have some damned chicken wings then!”

Kerry chuckled. “Mm.” She said. “I love chicken wings.” She saw her mother’s eyebrows hike.

“Okay, okay, listen!” Mike said. “Call mama! She’s crying, man! Okay? Yeah, you used to make fun of me for being in the Guard, and look who was nearer the hard stuff, huh?” He glanced around. “Listen, I gotta go. I’m holding these people up here. You call mama? Okay. Bye!” He hung up the phone and turned to face Kerry.

“Feel better? “She took the proffered phone.

“Man, that was cool.” He said. “That was great. I can’t believe you just called up and found him. We have been trying and trying all day long we were so scared cause he was supposed to be downtown today.” He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Wow.”

Kerry reached over and patted his arm. “I’m really glad we found him.” She said. “It was just really great timing that you asked right after he called us.”

He grinned at her. “Sometimes  you gotta have some luck.” He said.  “After a crappy day like this, man, that was just cool.” He looked over at the Senator. “Thanks for letting me on the plane, ma’am.”

“Oh! Of course!” Senator Stuart said. “I’m so glad, so very glad it was good news, and my daughter could help. It’s fabulous. Simply fabulous.” She told him. “Worth every moment of the delay, without question.”

The soldier stood up and carefully lifted his rifle so it didn’t smack Kerry in the head. “I can go out there with a light heart now.” He said. “You want everyone to be safe, but when it’s family, man, that’s just different, you know?”

“I do know.” Kerry also stood up.  “We had a lot of people in harm’s way, and we care about all the people who work for us.  It’s not exactly like family, but it’s close.”  She said. “I hope you have a quiet night after this.”

“Me too.” The soldier said. “Thanks again, ma’am. I really, really appreciated what you did.” He said. “Let me get out of your way now.” He edged into the aisle and headed for the door, ducking past the television camera and the man holding the still, with a third person ahead of them with a microphone. “Man, that was the best.”

Kerry tucked her cell phone back on it’s clip. “That was pretty awesome.” She commented. “We have so many people unaccounted for in New York, I’m glad his brother wasn’t one of them.”

Her mother stood up and twitched her jacked sleeve straight. “Well, I shall go talk to the press.” She said. “They might want to speak with you.”  She warned. “I believe they are looking for any bit of news in our area about this.”

“Well.” Kerry eyed the reporter. “They could also want to talk ot me about a lot of other things. But that’s fine. “ She put her hands on her denim clad hips. “I’m up for it if they want to.” She took a deep breath, feeling the finely knit wool of her sweater tighten around her body.

“That is another lovely sweater.” Cynthia remarked. “Just lovely. What are those designs, are they animals?”

“Beavers.” Kerry’s lips twitched as she muffled a grin. “Dar gave it to me.”

“Ah.” Her mother said. “Is she a supporter of wildlife?”

“Yes.” Her daughter answered. “She loves wildlife. And beavers.”

Her mother merely nodded, then she turned and walked down the narrow isle to where the reporter was waiting.  The television light went on immediately and the aides closed in on either side, blocking Kerry’s view.

Which was fine.  She sat back down in her seat and picked up her magazine, glancing at her watch again. “Should have kidnapped Angie and drove.” She shook her head and started reading. 


 Dar woke up in complete darkness, disoriented and not entirely sure of where she was. The smells and sounds were wrong for home, and she remembered light pouring in her window from the street in her London hotel.

Here, just darkness, and lots of quiet.

After a second of confusion, she remembered, and her tensed body relaxed back onto the goose down topper on the bed’s mattress.

Sir Melthon’s estate, set back from the road and surrounded by hedges and land, and thick gates. Far enough from the city sounds to be silent, much like it was in her own condo back in Miami.

But no ocean sounds. If she concentrated, she could hear crickets though.

“Sheesh.” Dar rolled over and lifted up her watch, pressing the side button and checking the digital display. “Ngh.” She set it back down. “Four AM.”  She counted back, then reached over and picked up PDA to check for messages.

Sure enough.  Dar clicked contentedly and opened it.

Made it. Slept most of the way.  Mother won’t hear of my getting a cab this late so she’s sending me in the car to the hotel once we drop her off at the townhouse.  Lesser of two evils.  I will end up being on the local late news in Michigan though there was a press bunch that cornered us at the airport. Interview wasn’t bad – they were too busy with all the disaster news to ask me stupid questions about my sex life.  Mom likes my sweater by the way. She thinks you have good taste if a rather odd fixation on small mammals.  Love you. K.

Dar started laughing, the motion waking her up enough to make going back to sleep immediately out of the question.   The tone of Kerry’s note was a little resigned, but amused, so she figured things weren’t going along too badly.

She sat up and pulled her legs up crossed under her, leaning her elbows on her knees as she removed her stylus and started an answer.

Hey Ker –

I’ve commissioned a knitted pullover for you with the Gopher from my program in poses guaranteed to get you thrown out of Walmart.  Tell her that. 

Glad you made it okay. Hope everything is calm in the city, mother or no mother I’d have rathered you go directly to the border and not stayed near anything white and colonnaded just in case.  I know that sounds callous and obnoxious but I am sometimes.

Dar could almost hear Kerry’s objection to that, but it was true, and she knew it.

Send me a note when you get to the hotel. I have no doubt the Mandarin Oriental will have a room ready for you, but I’d sleep better if I knew you were in it.


Dar clicked send and laid back down, letting the PDA rest on her chest.  Aside from the early waking, she’d slept pretty well, the quiet and comfort of the room allowing her to get more rest than she’d really expected to.

She wasn’t really tired. She didn’t want to spend hours lying in bed staring at the ceiling either. After a moment more of it, she sat up and swung her feet off the bed, reaching over to turn the lamp on.  A soft, golden light filled the room and she took a moment to stand and shake her body out before she walked over to retrieve her laptop.

It was quiet enough that the zipper of the case sounded loud, and she glanced around a trifle guiltily, though she knew full well the sound wouldn’t penetrate the walls.

At least she hoped it wouldn’t.   She removed the machine and it’s cable from the case and took it back with her to the bed, laying it down and then returning to the sideboard where there was a tray resting with cups and several bottles.

Reviewing her options, she poured a cup of still warm milk out of a very efficient thermal carafe and brought it back to the bed with her. She set it on the bedside table and sat down, opening the lid of the machine and pressing the power button.

Her PDA was blinking.

Dar smiled and opened it, bending her head slightly to read the message.

I would wear Gopher Dar on my chest any time, honey.  But telling my mother that here in front of her little aides is not going to make this road trip any shorter if you catch my drift.

“Probably not.” Dar had to agree. “And you’d have to explain it anyway.”

And I’d have to explain it anyway. You know I would.

Dar started laughing.

Why are you up? It’s four AM there.  But if you are, after we drop mom off, can I call you? I want to try and get through, and it would be nice to talk for a few minutes before all the crazy stuff starts up all over again. I’m sure tomorrow’s going to be worse than today – I think everyone; the business people I mean, are in shock. Tomorrow it’ll be – well, okay, but when will I be back up?

Dar nodded in agreement. “Yup.”

It’s so quiet here in the city.  I know it’s sort of late, but there’s hardly a car on the street. It’s almost spooky it’s so quiet, and I realized just earlier how funny it was to not hear airplanes. You never think of that, but we have them all the time at home over head and I’ve been here a couple hours and not one except for fighters. So strange.

There are lots of soldiers around. It almost feels like we’re at war.  Are we?

Dar gazed thoughtfully at the message.  “Good question.” She said aloud. “Have we ever not been at war?”

Anyway, we’re pretty close to the townhouse now. So hopefully I’ll be calling soon. Hope you’re up just because you’re up and not because you’re doing stuff.

Dar glanced guiltily at the laptop.  Then she half shrugged and decided to look forward to talking to Kerry instead of worrying about it.  She took a sip of her warm milk and logged in, waiting for the machine to present her desktop before she started the cellular card up and connected.

It wasn’t nearly as quick a connection as she was used to, of course. The cellular service provided speed more or less like a fast modem though, and it was enough for Dar to start up her VPN session and connect to the office.  “Might as well clear some mail.” She decided. “With any luck, everyone will have been a lot busier with everything else than sending me a lot of it.”

She took another sip of milk, licking her lips a little at the strange but not unpleasant taste. Different grass, maybe, or just a different way of processing the milk.. she wasn’t sure.  She suspected she’d get used to it after a while.

The computer chimed softly, and she started up her mail program. “Of course, I’m not gonna get the chance.” She sighed.  “Bastards.”

It wasn’t logical for her to be upset, and she knew it, because given what so many others were going through her lack of a touring vacation was so petty she’d have been embarrassed to mention it to anyone other than herself.

But she was mad. She was pissed off her life had been disrupted. She was even more pissed off that she wasn’t going to get to enjoy some simple wandering with Kerry she’d looked very much forward to. “Bastards.” She repeated. “They’re damn lucky it’s not my finger on the nuclear button cause if it was I’d have pressed it.”

Self centered, shocking, and unworthy of even thinking it.  Dar watched her inbox fill. A thought she wouldn’t consider repeating to Kerry.   But the venal stupidity of the act chewed at her, since the reasoning behind most of the worlds ills right now was based in the unthinking animal tribal instinct that humanity had no real hope of getting rid of any time soon.

There was no logic there. The instinct to hate what you weren’t was written so deeply, Dar felt, in the genes that on some level it wasn’t something you could address with words or thoughts. It was a burning in the gut. A fire in the brain that resisted any attempt at change.

It was easy for people, and she’d heard many of them in the last few hours, point at particular group and act like those people were so alien and so isolated in their hatred.  Easy, especially on a day like yesterday had been.  But the truth was, the ravaging need to destroy what wasn’t you was universal.

Dar sighed.  “So I go and say something like, yeah, I want to blow them off the face of the earth, and thereby prove out my species.”  She shook her head. “Asshole.” 

She scanned the mail, seeing not a lot that wasn’t either group sent mails or brief acknowledgements.  Her brows raised in surprise.  “I know I said I ddin’t expect much mail but I did expect some.”

But really, there wasn’t any. Dar  reasoned that maybe the fact that they’d all be in a huge conference call all day accounted for that. She could imagine sitting down to write some mundane note and just stopping, and clicking the close button instead.

She minimized the mail program and called up her status screen instead, waiting for it to draw and the counters to settle in and show what the latest was across the company.  There was no audio, she wasn’t about to trigger the voice link over the slow connection.

Instead, she studied the lists of employees, checking first the one from the Pentagon area, and then the one from New York.

Each person’s name had a red, a green, or a yellow tag next to it. Green meant they’d been heard from, and were okay. Yellow meant they’d been heard from, but were having problems. Red..

Dar exhaled slowly, her eyes running over all those little red dots.  A dozen in Washington, and three times that in New York.  She studied the names, her stomach dropping when she saw Bob’s name still stubbornly crimson.

They hadn’t exactly gotten along. She hadn’t exactly enjoyed his company. But he was an old friend of Alastairs and now, his proud enthusiasm about his city caused a pang in her chest as she remembered very clearly not wanting to hear a second of it.

She’d argued with him just the other day, over parking spaces at the office there. He wanted to spend money for covered parking.

Native Floridian Dar had thought that was crazy. Bob had gotten frustrated, and almost hung up, but then had gotten lucky in the form of Kerry’s arriving and explaining to her tropical lover. trying to get your door open in an ice storm.

Saved by the Midwest. Bob had almost seemed embarrassed, but they’d ended up splitting the cost and now, she was glad.

She was glad they’d ended the meeting not screaming at each other.

Her PDA flashed.  Dar was glad enough to push aside the laptop and pull the smaller device over, opening it up to find another message from Kerry there.

Streets full of soldiers, Dar. They blocked off most of the streets. I don’t think we’re going to be able to get close to the townhouse I’m not sure what’s going on.

Dar sat up straight in alarm, feeling a surge of adrenaline hit her.

Something about a car bomb.  Crap.

Dar reached over and grabbed her cellphone, hitting the speed dial button. Instead of a fast busy, the call went through and she heard it ring twice before it was answered. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Kerry cleared her throat.

Dar could hear Kerry’s mother in the background, and a male voice, lower and official sounding. “Listen, you want me to call up the hotel and make reservations for the whole lot of you? Kerry, you are not going anywhere near a damn car bomb.”

There was a moment of silence. “Yes, I would like you to do that. A lot.”

Dar yanked the laptop over and rattled in the travel website.  She stopped on hearing noises in the background on the phone. “Were those gunshots?”

“I don’t know.”

The website responded, and she typed in the information. “Hell, your suite’s got three rooms you could probably cram everyone in there if you had to.”

Kerry cleared her throat again, this time with a completely different inflection.

Dar scanned the response. “They have two rooms available.” She said. “I’m grabbing them. Must be last minute cancels because they weren’t there earlier.”

“Okay, let me get things organized on this end.” Kerry sounded resigned. “Wish me luck. Thanks sweetie. I’ll call you back in a minute.”

“You’d better.” Dar clicked the reserve button. “And get away from those damn sounds!”


Continued in part 8