They had taken over the entire conference table by now. Hans had printouts spread out over half of it, and Dar had router and switch dumps littering the other half as she focused on the screen of her laptop. She was leaning on the table and had both legs wrapped around the legs of the chair she was sitting in, rocking back and forth a little as she tapped her mousepad impatiently. “You’re still sending too much data over, Hans.”
“It is not!” Hans insisted. “Look, look here.” He pushed a paper towards her. “See there? It is only what the program needs. Just that.”
Dar pulled the paper over and studied it, one long finger tracing the code. Her brow furrowed, and then she pulled over the next page, her eyes flicking over the lines of text searching for something. “Eh…eh…”
“What?” Hans got up and came around to her side of the table, leaning on the wooden surface and peering over her shoulder. “There is nothing there.”
“There.” Dar tapped a line of code with the tip of her finger. “Look what you’re doing here.”
“You’re sending the whole screen at once.”
Hans leaned closer, almost touching Dar’s arm as he peered at the paper. “And, so?”
“So it’s going as an unbroken string of linked packets and it grabs all the bandwidth.” Dar said. “You’re sending colors, Hans, as bits. You should be sending only vectors.”
He stared at the paper. “Plot it all? Don’t be ridiculous!”
“I’m not. You send vectors, it’s only four bits, I transmit that as a small packet.” Dar argued. “Change it. I’ll show you.”
Hans took the paper and sat down, frowning. “No. I cannot change it.”
“Give me that. I’ll change it.” Dar held her hand out. “Share your drive out.”
“No.” Hans refused. ‘You do not understand, Dar. If this changes, the whole program must change.”
Dar looked at him. “That’s right.”
“I am not changing my whole program. That is not what we agreed to.”
“You agreed to make it work for them. That’s what it’s gonna take.” Dar said.
“No, you must change your network, to allow them to work better.” Hans shook his head. “I am not at this time going to redo my entire program.”
Dar got up, in an almost explosive motion that sent the chair skittering back a few hops. She walked to the window and peered out of it. “Hans, it’ll work.”
“Pah.” Hans pushed a stack of papers out of his way. “It is much easier if you just give them more room.”
“They have to pay for it.”
Hans shrugged. “The world turns around on such things.”
Dar turned and leaned against the window. “Hans, cut the dirt. They contracted you for a working program. You gave them a big, smelly white elephant.”
“In no way!” He shot back, slapping his hand on the table. “This system works as designed! As designed! I will not change it!”
“You will.” Dar crossed the space between them and braced her arms on the table, leaning towards him. “Because I’m not going to ask my clients to pay more for bad programming.”
“You cannot say that!” Hans warned. “There is no way that I will…”
Dar moved suddenly, leaning much closer and lowering her voice. “Yes, you will.” She growled. “So get it into your head right now you’re going to make those changes. Do it, or I’ll call in their legal department and we can start drafting up a breech of contract filing.”
“You would not dare.”
“Sure I would.” Dar rasped. “So you’ll sit there, and make that change..” She pointed a finger at him. “Because you know damn well I’m right.”
“You are not!”
“I AM.” Dar’s voice built up to an impressive bark.
Hans glowered at her. Dar kept her eyes locked on his, refusing to let up. He shoved back from the table and threw his pencil down, then walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Dar straightened up with a reflective sniff, and resumed her seat. “Hm.” She crossed her ankles. “Forgotten how much I really like doing that.” She looked up as the door opened again, ready to resume her argument but put it on hold as Meyer walked in instead. “Hi.”
He gave her a slight nod. “Not going well, I see.”
Dar blinked mildly at him. “I think it’s going great.” She checked her watch. “Only took me four hours to figure out what the problem is. With any luck, I’ll be able to get him to fix it in less than a decade.”
Meyer rested his hands on the back of one tall chair and regarded her. “If you get the chance. I don’t think you will. I think you upset our friend Hans so much he’s leaving.” He smiled grimly at her. “So I guess your great discovery is a bust.”
Dar leaned back and laced her fingers behind her head. “Unfortunately for you, I think he’s got more integrity than that.” She remarked. “Not that you’d recognize it if you saw it.”
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” The VP asked, angrily. “You think you can come in here and mouth off like that to me? I’m your customer!”
The door opened again, and this time Stewart Godson walked in. “Well, hello you two.” He smiled, apparently oblivious to the dark thunderclouds hovering over the conference table. “How are things going? Made any progress? I see you’ve got a lot of paperwork here.”
“Excuse me, sir.” Meyer murmured, dodging past his boss and leaving the room.
Godson peered after him, then he turned and looked at Dar. “Did I interrupt something? I knew you two would get along if you just got to know each other a little bit. He’s not a bad sort, Dar.”
“He’s a scheming skunk who wants your job and has the skill set of a pickle.” Dar replied, with a light drawl. “Watch out for him, Stewart. He’ll sink you.”
“Oh, c’mon Dar.” Godson took the seat next to her. “You always think the worst of everyone, don’t you? He’s all right. He’s done some great work for us, and not only on this project.”
Dar wondered if her counterpart was really that oblivious. Finally she just shook her head. “Whatever.” She said. “All right, here’s the deal, Stewart.” She sat up and pushed the piece of paper over. “I found the problem.”
“Did you? Excellent!” Godson was delighted.
“Yeah. Only Hans is giving me a heartburn fixing it.” Dar said. “So I don’t know how far we’re gonna get.” She admitted. “Especially if your boy Meyer gets to him, since he’s got a reason to keep him stubborn.”
“What? Oh, really now, Dar. Let’s stop this talk.” Godson frowned. “He’s a valuable employee, and I don’t appreciate you tearing him down like that.” He said. “You wouldn’t talk like that about your next in line, would you?”
Dar folded her hands on the table, and took a breath. “No.” She replied evenly.
“Well, there then.”
“I wouldn’t talk like that about Kerry because she’s the very best at what she does.” Dar went on. “And because she’s proven herself to be a person of high skill and integrity. Can you say that about Meyer?”
“Do you trust him?”
Dar got up and roamed around the room. “Stewart, you’re my customer.” She stopped and gazed out the window again, blinking as she spotted Hans on the street below. He was pacing up and down, frustration evident in every line of his body. She exhaled, reluctantly censoring her words. “I don’t want to upset you. I just call them as I see them, sometimes.”
She watched his reflection in the window, his face folding into a pensive expression. Well, good. Maybe he’d think about it a little. In the meantime, that left her with her own problem down there on the street.
What if she couldn’t talk Hans into it?
“Oh, I know that, Dar.” Godson finally answered. “Listen, I’m the one who asked you to come here, remember? If I didn’t respect your opinion, would I have done that?”
Dar felt a moment of almost dizzying doubt. What then? What if the programmer flat refused, and really did walk out?
“Yeah.” Dar swallowed before she turned back around. “Sorry. Just thinking.” She returned to the table and sat back down. What would she do? Her eyes fell on Hans laptop, left invitingly close to hers. Could she take the code, and if he refused, just do it herself?
Godson clasped his hands together. “Well, look, Dar. Why not let me take you and Jason and Hans out to dinner tonight… hm? We could go down to the Italian place on the corner. How about it? You guys will be ready for a break by then, right?”
Would that be ethical? “Stewart, mind letting me look at the contract you have with these people?” Dar asked. “Just want to see what leverage we have.”
He shrugged. “Well, sure, Dar… sure. Let me get legal to bring you up a copy. “
“Thanks.” She nibbled the inside of her lip. “Let’s hold on dinner until we know how far we’re gonna get today.”
“Fair enough.” Godson stood up. “I’ll leave you to it then… seems like you and Hans are getting nice and chummy!”
Okay. Dar finally decided. He’s just an idiot. “Not really how I’d put it but…”
“Oh, sure, I saw you two..”
The door slammed open, smacking against the wall and making a resounding crack. Hans strode in, brushing past Godson and slamming his hands on the table in front of Dar. “This is what my decision is.” He barked in German. “And if you do not like it, then it is just too bad!”
Godson’s eyes turned to saucers. “Hey!..Ah…”
Dar leaned forward, and rested her chin on her fist. Her eyes narrowed a little, and she allowed a rakish grin to appear. “Talk.” She replied. “Or walk.”
Hans grabbed the paper they’d been discussing and shook it at her. “I will make one, ONE! Change in this. In just this one module, and then you will show me this big difference it will make. I will see it with my own eyes how this is the big problem you claim.”
Ahh. Gotcha. “All right.” Dar agreed. “One change.”
“And if it does not make anything better? Then?” Hans demanded. “What will you do? Because I will make no further changes.”
Was she confident in her own analysis? Dar felt uncharacteristically unsure.
“Well?” Hans barked.
Stewart Godson was looking from one of them to the other, his eyes wide and his jaw hanging. “Ah..” He stammered. “Now, let’s just everyone relax, okay?”
Dar exhaled. “If I’m wrong, I’ll give him the bandwidth.” She said, in an even tone. “How’s that?”
Hans drew back and studied her. Then he grunted eloquently. “Good.” He held his hand out to her. “We have a deal.”
Dar accepted his grip, and released it. She sat back as Hans flopped into his chair, almost pushing Stewart out of his way as he pulled his laptop over and started pecking at the keys with long, agile fingers. After a second, she looked up. “Raincheck on dinner, Stewart?” She suggested, in English.
“Uh.. well, yes.” Godson lifted a hand and started to back away. “Glad you two.. uh.. got things settled. Listen, if you need anything, just give me a call, okay?”
Godson left. Silence settled over the conference room again, punctuated by Hans’ typing, and the low, under the breath German muttering. Outside, faint sounds of the city filtered through the thick glass, but they were mostly obscured by the air conditioning cycling on.
Dar slowly let out a held breath, and picked up her PDA. She flipped it open and tapped a new message into being.
A few seconds later, the message light stuttered.
Hey! How’s it going?
Very good question. All right. Think I found something. How’s it going there? She answered, then waited for a reply that seemed to take a while to come back.
Could be better. I just bumped into Michelle in the bathroom.
Dar winced. You didn’t drown her, did you? This time the answer came back much faster.
I wish. I just want the day to be over. I’m trashed. Any idea when you’ll be home?
Dar could sense the wistfulness in the words, subtly reassuring. I’ll know better tonight. Cross your fingers.
(smile) Everything I have is crossed. I miss you.
Dar glanced furtively at Hans, but he was oblivious to her, his attention focused completely on his laptop screen with an intensity she recognized. She went back to her scribbling. Same here. Call me when the meeting’s over, okay?
You got it. Love you.
Love you too. Dar folded the cover over the pda and chewed on the back end of the stylus absently. Hans was working hard, but she found herself suddenly wondering to her own shock, if she shouldn’t just open the pipes and have it over and done with.
What was going home worth?
Dar bit down on the stylus, lost in thought.
Kerry paused for a moment outside the conference room to gather her composure. Consciously, she relaxed her shoulders and straightened her spine, and then she worked the latch on the door and pushed it open.
Inside, ten people were already circling uneasily around the big oak conference table. They were dressed in typical business attire, the worse for wear given the heat outside, and they all looked up as Kerry entered and cross to the table.
“Afternoon.” Kerry greeted them briefly. She laid her leather portfolio and her pda down by the chair at the head of the table and walked over to the well stocked sideboard to get herself a glass of ice tea. Even with her back turned, she could sense eyes on her, but she took her time pouring her drink, mixing a spoonful of honey into the glass and mixing it before she returned to the place she’d chose.
Her conference room, her chair. Kerry sat down and leaned on the chair arm, sipping her tea as she regarded the room. “Mr. Quest? Are we ready to start? I’ve got a full afternoon scheduled besides this.” Of course, if Dar had been there, it would have been her chair. It was the one she always used in this room and if Kerry concentrated hard enough, she could almost convince herself she caught a hint of Dar’s usual perfume lingering on the leather.
Looking like he smelled cabbage, Quest walked stiffly over to the other end of the table and sat down in the seat facing Kerry. “Thank you for allowing us to use your conference space, Ms. Stuart. I’m sure we all appreciate being out of the heat and sitting somewhere comfortable.” He looked at the rest of the room’s occupants. “Would you all like to take a seat? I don’t really want to waste.. “ His eyes flicked to Kerry’s briefly. “Anyone’s time.”
“Fine.” Michelle replied for all of them. She took a seat mid-way down the table, and Shari settled in next to her. They were both in smart, well cut business suits and despite the heat Michelle at least had managed to retain her air of crisp professionalism.
The representatives from the two other companies remaining in the bidding sat down across from them in the center, and Quest’s two attendants joined him at the far end. Kerry took the opportunity to lean back in her chair and hike one denim covered knee up to rest against the table edge.
Shockingly unprofessional. She took a sip of her tea. But then, so was her technonerd t-shirt whose sleeves were rolled up two turns to reveal her biceps. “I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to ask me to host this for you.” Kerry said. “It’s been a tough couple days for all of us, I’m sure.”
“Say that again.” The man immediately to her right sighed.
Rickenback, his name was, Kerry remembered. His company was one of ILS’s bigger competitors, while the man next to him, John Sellars, was from a small outsourcing firm in the Midwest. Both had engineers with them, and both were male. It made an interesting counterpoint to both the Telegenics team, and their own.
Half men, half women. Kerry wondered if Quest had deliberately picked it that way. He seemed odd and disconnected enough to have. “Tom, did you say your hotel didn’t have power?”
“Yeah.” Rickenback agreed. “Let me tell you, Kerry, you make like this swamp pit, but you can keep it.” He gave her a wry look. “How in the hell do you deal with this heat all the time?”
“We stay inside.” Kerry waited for the chuckles to fade. “Drink a lot of this.” She held up her ice tea.
“And don’t wear much clothing.” Shari snarked.
Kerry ignored her. “Well, Mr. Quest? The floor is yours. If you need anything in the way of presentation material, let me know.” There was no point in antagonizing him any further, was there? “We’re all ears.”
Quest hesitated, then gave her a gracious nod before he got up and walked a little to one side, turning to face them. “Thank you all for coming out here.” He said. “I realize it was short notice, and I realize we’ve all had some personal challenges the past day or so. However, I have a project to get started, and I don’t have time to waste on waiting for things to smooth over.” He cleared his throat. “So.”
They all leaned forward towards him, except for Kerry. She remained relaxed in her chair, slowly sucking on her ice tea. The taste of raspberries and honey filled her mouth, and she let her peripheral vision take in the rest of the table as they waited for Quest to fill them in.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk the last two days.” Quest said. “I’ve heard proposals, and concepts, and mostly.. I’ve heard bullshit.”
Kerry’s eyebrow quirked, along with the corners of her lips.
“All I’ve heard is promises and hot air. All of you think you can do the job I need to get done. But all I’ve seen is paper and smoke.” Quest went on.
“Excuse me.” Shari started speaking. “What did you expect us to do, bring the technology with us and put it on your desk?”
It was, Kerry acknowledged, a surprisingly reasonable question. “Mr. Quest, you got proposals because that’s what you asked for.” She threw her own comment in. “Are you looking for a demonstration of the technology?”
“Yeah.” Tom Rickenback spoke up. “You called us down here to respond to your request for technical specifications… what exactly did you expect?”
Quest waited them out. He paced near the wall, past the sedately framed international certification certificates. “This is what I expect.” He turned and put his hands on his hips, brushing aside the khaki folds of his jacket. “I want to see you deliver. I have four ships I need to fit out for business in less than three months. I want each one of you to take one ship, and put your money where your mouths are.”
What? Kerry put her glass down.
“Whoever does the best job for the best price, gets the rest of our fleet.” Quest folded his arms across his chest. “Twelve ships.”
There was a conspicuous silence after he finished talking. The occupants of the table all looked at each other. Kerry finally broke the tension with a slight chuckle. “Okay, let me get this straight.” She said. “You basically want to get your four ships equipped for free, so you figure by tempting us with a contract you’ll get that to happen, because all of us are more than capable of putting a network just about anywhere.”
It even got a smirk out of Shari, she noticed. Michelle licked the tip of her index finger and made an unobtrusive swipe in the air, before she settled back in her seat and folded her own arms.
Quest shrugged. “You can look at it that way, if you like. But the offer is real, and it’s here on paper. So.” He walked over and removed four reams from his briefcase and slapped them down on the table. “Put up, or shut up, as they say. Either you’re in and interested, or you can take off now, and if you’re lucky get a flight out of this place.”
His assistant got up and lifted the papers, walking around to distribute them. He handed Kerry hers last, stopping a little short and forcing her to extend her arm for it. “Sorry.” He apologized, handing it over. “Here you go.”
Quest waited until they all had their copies. Then he closed his briefcase with a snick, and picked it up. “I’ll be at the Intercontinental.” He stated. “Have your signed copies delivered there by tomorrow if you’re going to participate.” He signaled to his assistants. “Thank you again, Ms. Stuart, for the use of your facilities. I’m sure everyone was a lot more comfortable here than they would have been at the hotel’s conference hall. There’s no AC there.”
“My pleasure.” Kerry murmured.
“Can’t believe you haven’t fixed that problem yet.” Shari commented. “Must be almost as frustrating as living with Dar.”
Instead of blushing, Kerry felt the odd sensation of a cold chill flushing through her body instead. She barely recognized the churning fury in time to take a strong hold of it, hearing the soft creak of leather as her frame reacted instinctively and tensed up.
She kept her eyes on the contract, forcing her hand to move and flip the first page over. After running her eyes over the first paragraph three times without reading it, she finally looked up, giving Shari a bland look. “You want me to snap my fingers and have the power come back on? Sure.” Kerry obligingly lifted her free hand and snapped her fingers. “Since you think every thing we do requires no effort.”
The lights flickered suddenly in the room, and everyone looked up, startled. Kerry straightened a little, cocking her head as she heard a low thrum, then a series of snaps, before the lights brightened again and steadied.
“What the hell was that?” Tom asked. “You forget to pay the diesel bill, Kerry?”
Kerry scratched her jaw in bemusement. “Not exactly.” She said. “That was our generator kicking off. We’re back on city power.” She admitted. “So I guess you can go back to your hotels and get comfortable with Mr. Quest’s reading matter.”
Quest tilted his head in her direction. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you all.” He started to turn, then paused and met Kerry’s gaze. “Thanks for fixing that little problem, Ms. Stuart. Good to see you living up to your reputation.” He left the room, with his assistants trailing him as the rest of the people shuffled and started moving.
“Well.” Tom eyed the contract. “Got a fax machine I can borrow, Kerry? Now that you fixed the power?” He managed a slight grin. “I don’t mind stealing paper and a phone call from you since you’ll have the home field advantage down here.”
Kerry pressed the radio button on her cell phone. “Mayte?”
A moment later, her assistant answered. “Si?”
“Can you come down to the conference room please? I need something taken down to legal, and there are some people here who need to use the fax machine around the corner.” Kerry put the document down, and rested her hands on the table.
“Yeah, he’s right.” Shari spoke up again. “We should get an advantage written in to make up for the bid being held down here. We have to get everything shipped in.”
Kerry remained silent, her eyes dropping to her PDA as she opened it and started to scribe.
John Sellars spoke up, his voice quiet and gentle. “Good call on him getting those ships done, Kerry.” He said. “Pretty slick, if you ask me. He knows he’ll get all the bells and whistles, and we’ll be fighting each other to cut costs.”
“Mm.” Kerry looked up from her screen as the door opened and her assistant entered. Mayte walked around the table and came to Kerry’s side, keeping her eyes strictly on her boss. “Thanks Mayte.” She held out the contract. “Can you tell them I need this reviewed for execution tomorrow? And show these gentlemen to the fax machine?”
“Of course.” Mayte gave Kerry a smile. “Did you know we have the power on now? Everyone is cheering, except there were some people who I think really wanted to be sleeping in our office.”
“Best news I had all day.” Kerry returned the smile. “Tom? You wanted to send a fax? Anyone else?”
“We make our own decisions.” Shari assured her. “We don’t need our asses covered by our lawyers.”
Tom stood up and hefted his bag. “Then you’re a bigger idiot than you sound like.” He told her briskly. “As well as being one of the biggest boors I’ve run across in a decade. Ma’am? After you.” He courteously indicated Mayte precede him. “Gentlemen.. ladies…” His eyes went to Shari. “Whatever. Have a great day.”
He left, with his associate. John Sellars and his assistant scuttled after him. “We’ll take you up on that fax, Kerry, thanks.” He gave her a half wave as they disappeared through the door.
That left Kerry with Michelle and Shari, a condition she had no intention of continuing. Accordingly, she picked up her cup. “Excuse me.”
Michelle half stood. “Kerry, wait.”
Her polite upbringing was sometimes very unfortunate. Kerry paused and waited, one eyebrow cocked in a reasonable imitation of her partner’s attitude.
“Can we take you to dinner?”
Kerry almost laughed. “You’re kidding, right?” She finally answered. “You think I’m into sitting listening to rude bullshit all night?”
Shari snorted. “You just can’t take it.” She waved a hand. “None of you people has a sense of humor.”
Kerry turned to leave. “Sorry. I’d rather have dinner with my dog.”
“Kerry. C’mon.” Michelle got up and intercepted her on the way to the door. “We’re going to have to deal with each other for this whole damn project. Let’s not start it off this way.”
Kerry stared at her, then pointedly at Shari, then back at Michelle.
“Besides, we’ve got something you might want to hear.” Michelle tilted her head to one side in acknowledgment. “You pick the place.”
On the verge of saying no, Kerry paused, remembering what Dar had said about Shari’s plans. Maybe she could get her to put her cards on the table now, and have it be over and done with. “Okay.” She decided. “My choice, huh?”
“Anywhere you want to go.” Michelle assured her. “How bad could it be?”
Kerry grinned fiercely. Bad as I want it to be.
Dar bumped the door open with her elbow and proceeded inside. Hans was still hunched over his laptop cursing in German, and the sun was slanting inside the tinted windows to a far more radical degree. She set one cup down next to the programmer and went back to her own seat, settling into it and leaning back. “How’s it going?”
“Like crap. Do you know how much I have to change in this just to do your foolish test?”
Dar sipped her cappuccino. “Want me to take a look at it?”
Programmers. Dar cheerfully acknowledged her own species. “Yeah, I’d give you the same answer.” She admitted. “Keep your paws out of my code.”
Hans glanced up at her briefly, then went back to his screen.
Dar pulled out her PDA and opened it, seeing the stuttering light. She tapped on Kerry’s message.
Quest just chucked up strained peas on the conference table. He wants all of us to do one of his old ships and whoever comes in best value wins his fleet contract. I complimented him on getting his ships done for free, but I’m sending the contract down to legal now. Is it worth doing?
Oh, ps – I snapped my fingers and the power came on. I think your geek genes are leaking into me.
Dar snickered. “Oh, that’s rich.” She shook her head. “Slimy bastard.”
“Eh?” Hans glanced at her again.
“Another company.” Dar started scribing. “My partner’s handling it.”
My geek what? Glad the power’s on. Least I know you’ll be comfortable tonight while I sit here babysitting a cranky programmer – must be paybacks.
Quest is a slick operator. I wish I could say just drop it, but with the coverage Telegenics has started, we’d look like crap if we just gave up. So we’ll suck it up and participate unless you find something in the contract you don’t like.
Dar hesitated, then continued.
I think I found the problem up here. This guy’s trying to fix it, then we’ll test. If it’s what I think it is, he’ll have to rewrite half the program code. He’s pissed off. I half want to just open the pipes even if it’s not the problem and screw him. I want to go home.
She hit send, and then waited a little. However her PDA remained silent and she set it down on her leg, reasoning that Kerry might be busy. Bored, she pulled her laptop over and set it on her knees, minimizing the network sessions she had open and clicking to her personal storage files instead.
She had several folders there, but she opened her favorite one, which had pictures of Kerry, her family, and scenes of home in it. They were set in date order, and she occasionally amused herself by just letting her eyes linger over this visible record of their relationship.
One of ones she liked the best was the one that had caused Kerry the most problems when she went home that first thanksgiving. It was of the two of them, sitting on the couch together. Kerry had one leg slung over hers and they were leaning against each other, grinning at Colleen’s camera.
She shifted her eyes to a second picture, of the two of them dressed for her high school reunion. She was standing behind Kerry in this one, her arms wrapped around her partner’s bare middle. The sight of Kerry’s mildly embarrassed expression at her skimpy gear always brought a smile to her face. But she looked adorable in her leather bikini, and Dar was always trying to find an excuse to have her wear it since then.
Maybe next Halloween.
She went on to a picture taken by her mother, of the two of them relaxing on the offshore island during one of their picnics. Kerry was curled up on her side, asleep in Dar’s lap. They were both covered in sand and blown by the wind and the sea, and were totally zonked, but Dar liked the picture mainly for the smile of pure joy plainly visible on Kerry’s face.
It was amazing to her to know she’d put that look there. Or the look in the next picture, a single picture of Kerry that she’d taken on the boat, just at sunset after they’d come up from diving and were resting before going in for dinner. With reddish gold light surrounding her, Kerry gazed not into the lens, but into Dar’s eyes past it, a warm and gentle love fairly glowing from her.
Dar exhaled softly.
“Fizzing crap.” Hans cursed. “All right. Are you ready to do this test?”
Dar flexed her fingers and maximized the network session, logging into her local routers and keying up the monitor. She set several paramenters, then reviewed the results. “Okay.” She rattled more keys. “Let me.. that’s a test database you’re using, right?”
“Okay… let me give you a subinterface.. hang on..” Dar quickly set up the port. “Change your default gateway to the .2.”
Hans muttered something under his breath, but set to work on his computer anyway. “It is done.”
Dar set up a graph of the existing port, and her new one, and arranged them side by side. “Okay, start up your database.. wait. You got someone on the other side who can hit it?’
Hans paused in mid key, then he looked up at Dar.
Dar didn’t even wait for him to speak. She leaned over and picked up the phone, hitting some buttons. “Stewart? We need someone at a remote site to work with us. They’ll have to have enough brain cells to change their application database source.”
“Ah.. “ Godson’s voice trickled through the speakerphone. “I think I can find someone for that.. give me a few minutes, Dar. Okay?”
“Okay.” Dar agreed, and hung up. She drummed her fingers on her keyboard, then retrieved the PDA that had slipped off her lap and opened it when it started flashing.
Ah. Note from Kerry. Dar tapped on it.
Honey, no one wants you home more than me – but don’t tank the Northeast, please? I’ll come up and keep you company if it doesn’t work. We can find some little Italian place and get drunk on Chianti and cheesecake.
Michelle and Shari want to take me out to dinner. I get to pick where. I’m going to take them to the place we go after kickboxing, and not give them a chance to change out of their suits. Think they’ll refuse to talk to me after that?
Love you, K.
The scowl edged into a reluctant grin, which then faded out to a pensive stillness. She spent a moment thinking about Kerry spending the evening with Michelle and Shari, dive or no dive, and unexpectedly felt her blood start to boil.
The phone rang next to her elbow, and she had to tear herself back from a descent into furious jealously to answer it. “Yes?” Her voice came out a growl.
Dar cleared her throat. “Yes?” She repeated, in a more reasonable tone.
“I’ve got someone on the line from Tucson who’ll work with you… ah, is that okay?” Godson said, a trifle hesitantly. “I’ve got him on the line, I can just conference him in.”
Focus. Dar felt the muscles in her thighs twitch, a leaking of the nervous energy that suddenly filled her. “That’s fine. Thanks.” She heard a click, then background noise came on the line. “Hello?”
“Um.. hello?” A voice came through timidly. “This is Angie. Did you need me to do something?”
Dar had an overwhelming urge to just hang up and walk out, to go somewhere private and give Kerry a call and tell her…
Tell her what? That you don’t trust her? Dar took in a slightly ragged breath. “Ah, yeah.” She answered Angie. “We need you to open up your booking engine, but we need to you make some changes in the setup first. You know where that is?”
“Yes.” The woman’s voice became blessedly confident. “I sure do. What do you need me to change?”
Dar looked at Hans. “Settings?” She asked in German. “For the database?”
He gruffly gave them to her. Dar repeated them in English for Angie’s benefit. While the girl in Tucson was making the changes, Dar half decided she was going to force the ports to show what she needed them to show, and the hell with it.
Get on a plane home, tonight. If she was coming in, Kerry would surely toss up the dinner and come get her, right?
Of course. Dar stared at the screen, unable to suppress the churning emotion.
“Okay, I’m done. Want me to open the program now?” Angie asked.
I don’t care. Dar forced her attention to the screen. I swear I don’t care. I don’t give a shit about any of this. “Go ahead.” She looked up as Hans got up and came to peer over her shoulder at the monitor. On it, she had the production port, which was saturated and blinking red, and the test port, a benign green.
“Now we will see that I am right.” Hans stated calmly. “I am sure of it.”
I don’t care. But Dar called up the router config anyway, making sure the buffers were set to take advantage of the changes, and her priority lists were in place. She watched as the new port showed activity, the traffic statistics building as Angie started it up.
“Hey!” Angie’s voice erupted through the phone.
The port stayed a placid green. Dar exhaled, her vindication meaningless at the moment.
“That was really fast!” The girl from Tucson blurted, in an amazed tone. “What the heck did you do?”
“Shit.” Hans turned and walked away, taking a stack of printouts and throwing them against the wall with shocking violence. He got to the door and yanked it open, slamming it behind with such force the certificates on the wall jumped off and crashed to the floor.
“Hello?” Angie repeated. “Are you there?”
Dar laid her fingers on the keyboard, noticing now that they were shaking. “I’m here.” She answered briefly. “We made some changes. Guess you can see the difference.”
“Wow! I sure can!” Angie sounded very enthusiastic. “It used to take me twenty seconds to move from page one to page two on this database, and now I just clicked it, and it was right there! Fantastic!”
Dar measured the traffic. It had made a difference, no doubt. However, it was just one session, and she realized under full load, it would need more than that. It was a perfect opportunity for her to try out her new intelligent algorithms.
Damn it. But that meant she had to stay here. Just the thought made her want to scream in outrage.
“Are you going to do that with the real system?” Angie sounded excited. “Like, now?”
Dar’s cell phone rang. “Hold on.” She pressed the hold button and unclipped her cell, flipping it open and putting it to her ear without looking at the caller id. “Hello?”
The angry, buzzing bees in her head settled suddenly. “Hi.” Dar replied. “What’s up?”
“Did you get my note?”
Dar settled back in her seat, pushing her laptop back and out of her view. “Yeah.”
“Mm.” Kerry’s voice dropped a note. “You sound pissed. What’s wrong? Didn’t your idea work out?”
She’d only said three words. Could Kerry really tell how she felt based on that? Dar exhaled a little. “Matter of fact, it did.” She admitted. “But god damn it, to make it work in production, I need to throw my beta program in this fucking router after that god damn programmer fixes the whole fucking thing.”
Kerry was silent for a moment. “And… that means you can’t come home.” She ventured. “Is that what I’m hearing?”
Dar sighed heavily. “Sorry.” She muttered.
“How about I ask Col to stay by the house and hop up there?” Kerry asked. “I don’t’ need to be here for legal to review that stupid contract, and we can’t do anything after that until the ships get here. No brainer. Tell you want, I’ll make the reservations. What hotel are you again? The Marriot, right?”
“And miss dinner with Michelle and Shari?” Dar asked.
Kerry just laughed. “Oh, would I love to not only get them down to the burger shack, but stand their obnoxious pig fart butts up in the bargain. Maybe I’ll even call the guys and have them come harass the two of them.”
Dar picked at the seam along the inside of her knee. “Rather have you here than out with them, that’s for sure.” She finally said. “But I can’t ask you to..”
“Why not?” Kerry cut her off. “Do you know how many times you’ve dropped everything and gotten on a plane for me?”
Hm. True. Dar chewed the inside of her lip. She was saved from answering by the door slamming back open, as Hans reappeared and stomped across the carpet towards the table. “Hang on.” She told Kerry quietly. “You finished sulking yet?” She asked Hans in German. “Because frankly, I hate sore losers, and I’d really like you to grow the hell up and just do your damn job.”
“Oo.. that sounds nasty.” Kerry whispered into her ear. “I have no idea what you’re saying, but that language just sounds like you’re cursing.”
“I am.” Dar replied in English to her. “Well?” She barked at Hans.
Fuming, he sat down across from her and let his arms drop into his lap. His pale eyes smouldered as he met her gaze, his frustration written clearly across his face. “Damn you.” He finally said. “I would like to smack you right across the face.”
Dar leaned forward slightly, her own inner turmoil rising back to the surface. “Ohh… please try it.” She growled out in English. “I am so in the mood to kick your ass.”
“Okay. One flight to New York, coming right up.” Kerry said, briskly. “See you in a few hours, sweetie. Keep the sheets warm for me, will you?”
Dar jerked her attention back. “Kerry, you don’t’ have to..”
“Too late. It’s done.” Kerry cut her off again. “You’re stuck with me. Gotta go pack. Talk to you later, okay?”
“Love you.” Kerry’s smile made it easily through the cellular connection. “Call me when you’re finished yelling.. I’ll be on the way home.”
“You must think much of yourself.” Hans said. “But I do not hit ladies.”
Torn between two conversations, Dar decided to abandon one of them. She half turned and focused on her cell phone. “Kerry…”
“Yeess?” Her partner’s voice warbled back at her. “Please don’t tell me not to come there, Dar. I really want to.” She added gently.
The words died on her lips. Dar swallowed, and felt a smile tugging at her lips instead. “See you soon.” She got out. “Thanks.”
“Okay. Love you. My flight’s at eight… so have the hot chocolate waiting, huh?”
“I will.” Dar promised. “Bye.” She closed the phone up and held it a minute, then she sat up and turned the chair around to face Hans.
They looked at each other for a long moment. Then Dar exhaled. “Listen.” She said. “I don’t like being wrong either.” She said in German. “Can we please just get it done?”
Hans leaned forward. “If.” He pointed one long finger at her. “You buy me an expensive dinner, I will consider it.”
Her heart was settling back into it’s normal rhythm, and her body was relaxing again, under a wave of lethargy that followed the easing emotion. “Sure.” Dar agreed. “Buy you a whole damn side of beef if you want. Let’s go.” She stood up, surprised when her knees shook under her. “We can start with a beer.”
“Ah.” Hans shut down his laptop. “Now we are again speaking the same language. It will also help me drown my ego. Let us go, indeed.”
Dar found herself smiling, through a sense of vague embarrassment. She felt very mixed up, and somewhat offbalance, but all in all, she didn’t really care.
Kerry was flying to New York.
That’s what mattered.
Kerry leaned back in her chair and studied the hiking boots she once again had planted on her desk. She knew she had to get moving home shortly, but she took a moment to bask in the sense of pure happiness she felt knowing how her night was going to end.
She had no idea what was going on with her partner. But she knew stress when she heard it, and caution went out the window. Besides, Dar had, in fact, dropped the world several times on her behalf and paybacks in this case were certainly justified.
Now. Kerry folded her hands over her stomach and reviewed her altered agenda. She had to go home, of course, and pack. Colleen had already responded to her email and agreed to come over and sit with Chino, and she’d double checked her inbox to make sure all the creepies were chased out of it.
Not that it would have mattered if they hadn’t been. Kerry eyed her ceiling thoughtfully. Her head turned as her door opened, and Mayte stuck her head inside. “Hey, Mayte. C’mon in.”
“Kerry.” Mayte almost trotted across the floor over to her desk. “They said at Legal it would be Monday for them to finish with their review.”
“Good.” Kerry said. “Since I won’t be here tomorrow anyway.” A grin appeared.
“No?” Mayte watched her face closely. “Are you going to New York, maybe? I think you are.”
“How can you tell?” Kerry inquired, feeling the skin around her eyes crinkle up as her grin grew broader. “Yeah, I am. Tonight, as a matter of fact.” She added. “So, since I’ve got to get out of here and go pack, I declare the office closed. Go home.”
“Yep.” Kerry got up and closed her laptop case. “Power’s on, crisis is over, and I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“You are happy.” Mayte said, shyly.
Kerry lifted her eyes from her case. “Does it show?” She asked in a wry tone.
“Well, I am.” Kerry finished latching the leather catch and hoisted the bag to her shoulder. “Dar’s having some problems with that programmer up there, so I’m going to go up and give her some moral support.” She explained. “Or that’s what my official story is. The truth is, I just miss her and I want to go up there.”
“That is so sweet.” Mayte said. “La jefa must miss you too.”
“Mm.” Kerry started for the door. “I know it sounds a little crazy, since she’s only been gone a few days, but…”
“No, not crazy.” Mayte opened the door for her. “It is beautiful.”
Kerry walked to the outer entrance and paused, leaning a hand on the wall and turning to face Mayte. “You know, it is.” She said. “People say all sorts of things about being in love, but you almost never hear anyone say just how beautiful it is when it happens to you.” With a faint shake of her head, she turned and left, heading for the elevator.
Mayte went to her desk and perched on the edge of it, jumping a little as her mother joined her unexpectedly from Kerry’s office. “Oh, mama!”
“It is me, yes. At last they have stopped calling for Dar’s office with the power and I will have some peace.” Maria said. “Where is Kerrista going? Home I am hoping? She did not get much rest yesterday.”
“No, mama.” Mayte solemnly shook her head. “She is going to New York.”
“Ahhhh!” Maria smiled broadly. “It is about time! I was worried about poor Dar up there in that nasty place all by herself. I am glad Kerrisita is going to be with her.”
“Si.” Mayte agreed. “But mama, I think Kerry forgot something before she left. She was supposed to go with those women to a dinner, and she did not tell them she was going away.”
“Tcha.” Maria folded her hands. “Is this those two perras?”
“Mama!” The younger woman affected to be shocked. “What would papa say?”
Her mother expressed a sound very much like a sneeze. “I do not like those women, Mayte. They cause bad problems for us, and they were not nice to Kerrisita and Dar. I am glad there will be no nice dinner with them. They do not deserve it.”
Mayte merely blinked, giving the solemn pronouncement it’s just due.
Maria folded her arms over her chest. “Where was Kerrisita taking them?” She asked, almost as an afterthought.
“Tail of the Pig.” Her daughter supplied promptly.
“Si.” Mayte shrugged. “That is what Kerry said.”
Maria frowned. “I have not heard of this one. Have you?”
For an answer, Mayte circled her desk and sat down at her computer, accessing her screen with efficient fingers. “No, mama, but I am sure we can find it on the Internet. There is everything on the Internet.”
Obligingly, her mother followed her around and peered over her shoulder. After a moment, they both straightened right up. “Dios Mio.” Maria spluttered. “I do not think Kerrisita is going to THAT place, Mayte. She is very the open minded, but.. what are those two men doing?’
Mayte hastily clicked off it. “I think that is the wrong one, mama.” She continued hunting. “Here is one..oh.” She frowned. “That does not look nice at all, but it is not too far from here.”
Maria looked at the address. “That is near the place where they have their hatboxing lessons.”
“Kickboxing, mama.” Mayte murmured. “Do you think Kerry was going there? The other women were dressed so nice.”
Maria chuckled. “Come, Mayte. I have not yet had lunch. It is time for us to go get the burgers.” She headed for the hallway at a purposeful trot.
Mayte hurriedly locked her screen and grabbed her backpack, hoping mama wasn’t going to cause too much trouble. “I am too young to be arrested, I hope.” She lamented, flipping off the office light as she headed for the elevator.
Kerry whistled softly under her breath as she punched her door code in, and pushed the condo door open. “Hey Chi!” She eased inside. “How are you, sweetie?” She reached down to give her pet a hug. “Chi, you’re going to be very upset with me, because I’ve got to leave tonight but I promise you when I come back I’ll have your mommy with me. How’s that?”
“Growf!” Chino whirled around in a circle, her ears flying.
“That’s how I feel too.” Kerry confided, dropping her briefcase and jumping around in a circle herself. “Whoo!!!” She hopped up and down along with Chino, dancing across the floor with her. “Yeah baby.. I’m gonna go get your mommy.. you like that?”
“Groouf!” Chino bucked around Kerry and retrieved a stuffed toy, presenting it gleefully to her.
“Gimme that cow.” Kerry grabbed the toy and cocked her arm, waiting until Chino scrambled over near the dining room table before she let it fly, clapping when the dog caught it in mid-air. “Good girl! Good catch!” She chuckled, continuing on past the Labrador and opening the back door for her. “Go on.” She waited for Chino to go outside, then she leaned against the kitchen counter, glad the condo had already cooled down.
It felt very nice to be comfortable, and not sweaty. Kerry opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of ice tea, popping the top and taking a sip of it. Inside the box, containers of dry ice thoughtfully provided by the island staff had kept the contents acceptably chilled through the power outage They’d even left a covered plate of fruit, which she removed and uncovered, attracted by the big strawberry in the center.
“Mm.” Kerry glanced at the clock. It was only five thirty, and her flight was at eight. Still plenty of time. She figured to leave for the airport at six thirty, with only her overnight bag getting on the plane shouldn’t be a problem. “Okay.” She waited for Chino to come back in, then headed for the bedroom.
Chino accompanied her, but when she saw Kerry take out the leather overnighter, she gave her owner a pitiful look and went to go lay down on her bed. “Aww.” Kerry put the bag on the waterbed. “You know what this is, don’t you?”
“Now, I told you I’d be bringing your mommy back. Don’t I get points for that?” Kerry unzipped the bag and retrieved her traveling sundry kit, tucking it into one side. “Wish I could put you in here too, Chi… I bet mommy Dar would like to see you, huh??”
Kerry chuckled as she put three pairs of jeans into the bag, neatly folded, and added a few tshirts and one long sleeve silk that refused to wrinkle just in case she needed something a little jazzy. A pair of leather flats along with it, then some socks and a handful of underwear. “There.” She put her hands on her hips and reviewed her choices. “I think that’ll do… unless Dar decides to take me to a Broadway show.”
The thought rambled around in her head, bumping into her other random thoughts. Hm. Kerry wondered if Dar would like to go see a show… maybe she could find something really cool and entertaining to keep her restless partner occupied for a few hours. “And if we do..” She observed thoughtfully. “and it requires spiffy duds, well then, we’ll go buy em.” She snapped the catch on the bag handle. “Right, Chi?”
Kerry walked over and crouched down next to the dog bed. “Aw, c’mon, Chino… it’s only a few days. Your mommy needs me.” She stroked the Lab’s soft head. “You know how important mommy Dar is to me, right?”
Chino wagged her tail.
“You know how much I love mommy Dar, right?” Kerry added, in a soft voice. “I can’t wait till I get there, Chi. I can’t wait till I see her, and I can give her a great big hug.” She leaned over and hugged the dog. “Just like that.. and I’ll give her one for you too, okay?”
‘You know what? I think we might have a good time in NewYork. Maybe we can go to Central Park, and take a carriage ride. “ Kerry straightened a little. “I’d like that.”
Stifling a yawn, she got up and headed back into the living room. Figuring the chances of being fed on an eight pm flight were slim and none, she decided to see what she could toss together for a quick dinner before she left. “C’mon, Chi.. come get food.”
She gave the dog a bowl of mixed kibble with some shredded chicken and got herself a cup of yogurt, a banana, some peanut butter, and the rest of her ice tea. “Mm.” She surveyed her banquet. “But what I’m getting for dessert is worth it.”
Cheerfully, she took the items into the living room and settled on the couch, flipping the television on to the news as she put her feet up and popped the top off her yogurt.
Now, at last, she listened as the power outage and it’s restoral was explained. “Holy cow.” She muttered around a mouthful of vanilla yogurt. “Look at that thing.” A helicopter view of the Turkey Point nuclear plant showed the transformer building that had disintegrated, sending surges in all directions and causing the problem in the first place.
They’d been lucky. Only the transformer building had been affected by the explosion, as yet of unknown origin. Nothing had touched the nuclear part of the facility, but to say the authorities were nervous would be the biggest understatement of the fiscal year.
It was scary to think of what might have happened otherwise. Kerry felt a chill go down the back of her neck. “Tell you what, Chi.” She murmured to the Labrador, who had finished her dinner and was now hopping on the couch to curl up next to Kerry. “I know where I’d like to be if the world blows up.”
“Mm.” Kerry removed the cell phone from her belt and speed dialed, tossing her head to move her hair out of the way before she pressed the phone to her ear. “Hey, sweetie.”
“Hey.” Dar’s voice sounded a half ton lighter than it had. “What’s up? You leaving?”
“Just about. I’m having a banana first.” Kerry told her. “Just wanted to know if you needed anything from here.”
Kerry grinned at the ceiling. “Besides that.” She said. “More undies? Shirts? Anything? I got a little room in my bag.”
Kerry wriggled on the couch. “Okay – I’m heading out to the airport. See you in a few hours.”
“I’ll be there.” Dar promised. “Hey.. what’d you tell the terrible twosome?”
“Nothing?” A laugh. “You stood them up? Really?”
“Sure did.” Kerry agreed. “Fuck em. Hope they get run over by the guys on their bikes, and end up head over keister in Snake Creek canal.”
“Kerrison.” Dar laughed. “You little demon.”
“Yeah.” Kerry said. “Wait till you see my horns. You at dinner?”
“See you in a few, hon.”
Dar chuckled again. “Will do. See you later.”
Kerry folded her phone and hauled herself off the couch, grabbing her banana as she headed for the bedroom. “Little demon.” She repeated to herself, with a slight laugh. “Yeah, what a rebel I’m turning out to be… Dar, you don’t know the half of it.”
The sun twinkled placidly on her bag as she grabbed the handles, and headed on out.
They’d found their way down to Mulberry Street, and into what was, for Manhattan, a relatively spacious and great smelling Italian restaurant by the time the sun was going down.
Dar settled into a seat near the window, eyeing the colorfully decorated walls with a bemused expression. “My partner’d love this place.”
Hans flipped the menu over and then tossed it aside. “I will take your word for it. Do they have something with fish here?”
Dar investigated. “Yes. Grilled Salmon or snapper francese.” She reported. “What’s your poison?”
“If I were French, that would be an excellent joke.” He replied. “I will have the snapper, and if they can please give me the noodles with just some olive oil. I do not like tomatoes.”
Dar leaned back and extended her legs, crossing them at the ankles under the table. She didn’t mind the restaurant, but already her body was twitching with impatience, willing the minutes to go by faster. “You still mad at me?” She inquired.
“Yes.” Hans said. “You have made me too much work.”
Dar merely grinned and played with her fork.
“Why could you not have said this when this program was being written?”
“I wasn’t asked.”
Hans made a face. “This client, yes? He is not so bright.” He grumbled.
The waiter breezed by and simply looked at Dar with a raised eyebrow. “Bier?” Dar guessed, getting a nod from Hans. “Two of whatever imported you have on tap, the appetizer sampler, one snapper with no sauce on the pasta, one veal the same way, and a side of olive oil.”
“Awright.” The waiter grunted, putting down a basket of bread and walking off.
“Very nice.” Hans chuckled wryly. “It is so wonderful to be here in the friendly United States.”
“This is Manhattan.” Dar advised him. “You’re lucky he didn’t throw the bread at you.” She took a piece and nibbled it. “Godson’s all right. He’s no technical genius, but he’s pretty good on the financial side. I thought it was his VP who pushed the project through.”
“Meyer?” Hans frowned. “He came late to the table on it. I think he has not been here that long.” He selected a bread stick and broke it in half, placing one half on the table and chewing the other. “He does not care for you.”
Dar shrugged. “Long line.” She watched the waiter as he returned and put down two frosty looking mugs, dribbling foam down their sides and onto the table. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” The waiter turned and left again.
“He’s got his own agenda.” Dar continued, taking a sip of her beer. “He’s part owner in a network provider. Slight conflict of interest.”
“Pah.” Hans snorted. “Yes, I thought he was something like a player.” He chewed his breadstick thoughtfully. “It could be he knew this was a problem, and did not want to change it.”
“Mm. Could be.” Dar agreed. “He kept telling me that we would just have to take care of the problem, because he didn’t think you would cooperate.”
“Me? I am a businessman.” Hans objected. “I keep to my contract, and the contract says yes, we will make this program work. I do not have to like it, and I do not have to be pleased with having to do so much work, but I am a fair man.” He took a gulp of beer and set the mug down. “If he says anything else, it is not true.”
Dar nodded slightly. The pieces were starting to come together, and she wasn’t liking the picture the puzzle was making. “I don’t think he counted on me speaking German.”
“Well, I did not either.” Hans chuckled abruptly. “To be honest. I have used this to my advantage in this situation many times. It is easier to just accept what is given, and not have to struggle to communicate.” He leaned back. “But, when I arrived, and we spoke, I rearranged my plans, and so here we are.”
“Here we are.” Dar agreed. “And, for the record, I really didn’t want to make you change your whole damn program.”
“I am not.” Hans replied in an unruffled tone. “I have sent the damn thing back in pieces to Germany, and six young healthy boys are right now sweating over changing it while I sit here having reasonably good beer and horrible service in the good old US.”
Dar started laughing. “You fraud.”
“I am not.” He maintained a dignified air.
Dar’s cell phone rang, interrupting their debate. She pulled it out and opened it. “Yeah?”
“Well, hello Dar!” Alastair answered. “How are things? Sounds busy there!”
“I’m in an Italian restaurant.” She answered dryly. “So yeah, it is. Things are all right. We found the problem.”
“Did you? Great!” Her boss said. “Not that I’m surprised. Listen, something’s come up.”
Damn. “Yeah?” Dar responded warily.
“Don’t worry, it’s not a disaster.” Alastair chuckled. “Matter of fact, it’s good news for a change. Bob Alexander just gave me a call. He’s my opposite number for Allied Cruising.”
“He’s been watching the action around our little bid war. He’s interested.”
“In?” Dar inquired. “He want to buy out those little stinkers, and put me out of my misery with the whole damn thing?”
The CEO snorted. “Nothing that simple. He’s been thinking about upgrading his fleet. Eighty seven ships. He says he’s going to look hard at going with whoever wins the little one.”
Dar blinked. “Holy crap.”
“Uh huh.” Alastair agreed smugly. “So those peanuts could turn into gold leaf peanut butter, lady. I knew the big boys were keeping an eye on this whole little circus, but Alexander sounds serious.”
“That’s a big contract.” Dar uttered. “Jesus, Alastair, that’s…”
“This quarter’s catchup. Yep.” Her boss agreed. “And you know what? He called me because he thinks we’ve got a good chance to nail it. So do me a favor, huh? Nail it?”
As if it were that easy. Dar exhaled. “He just put the proposal out.. it’s down in legal being reviewed. Wants each company to do one ship, whichever comes out best value wins.”
“Yeap, Ham called me.” Alastair said. “After he finished calling Quest a skunk, and an ape, and a skunk ape, he cleared it. I had him send it back on down to Kerry’s office.”
“Okay.” Dar gathered her wits. “We’ll talk about it tonight then. She’s on her way here.”
Alastair made a small sound of surprise. “Is she? Thought you said you had everything squared away there.. more problems?”
“No.” Dar said. “I mean, we’ve got the problem here isolated, but it’ll take some work to fix it, but no – she’s just coming up to keep me company.” She knew the words sounded a trifle odd, but Alastair didn’t even miss a beat.
“Good for her. You two take in a show or something, willya? Hey! Wait a minute.. Bea! Bea!”
Dar pulled the phone away a little. giving Hans a mildly apologetic look as the waiter returned with their appetizer platter and set it down on the table, along with some small plates.
"Business is business." Hans half shrugged, taking a mozzarella triangle and putting it onto a plate for himself. “It is nice for me, yes? I left my cellular phone in Germany.”
Dar picked up a deep fried stick of something or other and took a cautious bite. She could hear the faint sound of the main office soothing music in her ear, and made a mental note to have someone hack into the phone switch and change it. After a minute, she checked her watch, wondering if Kerry was at the airport already, and if everything was all right with her flight, and if it was on time, and…
“Dar!” Alastair picked up the line. “Listen, I have in my hot little hands a pair of tickets to Radio City Music Hall. Can I send em up to you?”
Radio City Music Hall? Dar stared quizzically at the phone, ready to refuse. Then she paused. Well, redneck, maybe Kerry would like to go there, you think? “Ah.. sure.” She replied. “Sure, Alastair. I’d love that.”
“Great!” Her boss fairly chortled. “Bea’s sending them now.”
“Hi Dar!” Bea’s voice filtered through. “Have a great time!”
“Thanks.” Dar responded.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to dinner, Dar. Talk to you later.” Alastair said. “Say hi to Kerry for me.”
“Okay.” Dar listened to the click as the phone hung up. “I’ll do that.” She folded the cell up and clipped it back onto her belt. “I’ll certainly do that.”
“Everything well?” Hans inquired.
Dar picked up her beer and took a healthy swallow. “Yeah.” She said. “Pretty much, and the rest will be good in a few hours.”
“When this partner of yours gets here?” Hans hazarded.
“Hm. I see.” The programmer helped himself to another appetizer. “I am much looking forward to meeting this partner of yours. I think my horizons will be very broadened.”
Dar checked her watch again, and drummed her heels on the linoleum floor.
Night was getting longer every damn minute.
Kerry flipped through her magazine for the second time, glancing up as the flight attendant stopped at her side. “Hi.”
“Hi. Can I get you anything? Another drink?” The man asked, with a smile.
“Faster airplane.” Kerry requested seriously. “Can you ask the pilot?”
The flight attendant chuckled. “It won’t be that long now. It’s just a three hour flight.”
“This plane’s call sign isn’t ‘Minnow’ is it?” Kerry joked. “I’ll have another orange juice, sure.” She handed back her glass, then leaned back as the attendant strolled up the mostly empty first class cabin towards the service area.
Three hours really wasn’t long. But she’d been at the airport for an hour that had seemed like forever, and now she just wanted the ride to end. She wondered if Dar would be at the airport to meet her, since her statement about being around wasn’t really specific, and there really wasn’t any need for her to ride all the way out to meet the plane, was there?
No, not really. Kerry hitched her foot up over her knee and smoothed the denim fabric over it with her fingers. No real reason, but she hoped Dar was there anyway. Airports were noisy, depressing places and she really, really wanted to see that tall, lanky frame and those pretty blue eyes waiting for her when she cleared the gangway.
Yeah, maybe. Kerry accepted the new glass of juice and sipped at it. She’d had enough time for a beer and some appetizers at the Chili’s to Go in the airport, but the selection on the plane wasn’t enough to entice her further.
Ah. Kerry paused, waiting. The ghost of a pressure she’d thought she’d felt on her ears returned, and increased slightly. They were going down. She only barely resisted the urge to hop up and down in her seat to make the plane drop faster.
“Jesus, Kerry.” She muttered to herself. “What is up with you? Dar’s only been gone a couple days. You’d think you’d been away from her for six weeks.” She wasted a little time trying to imagine that, being gone for six weeks from her partner, and immediately switched to thinking about something else just from the sheer discomfort of it.
And wasn’t that strange? Two married people should be able to be separate from each other without going crazy, shouldn’t they?
Kerry welcomed the popping in her ears like an old friend. Okay, so she was strange. She was strange, and weird, and through all of it she wanted to be down on the ground and walking out that ramp and falling into those arms.
Because Dar would be there.
Dar leaned against the window, peering out into the taxiway area with enough intensity to hopefully force a large Boeing airplane into existence without further delay. Her breath fogged the glass and she backed off, wiping the moisture off with impatient fingers.
A small cart scooted across the concrete, and she leaned back in, watching it alertly as it parked itself under the jetway connected to the gate she was standing in. A man got out, and he pulled from the back of his belt a pair of reflective wands.
Ah. Good sign. Dar smiled happily. Her attention was caught her reflection in the glass and she drew back, blinking at the brilliant blue eyes sparkling back at her. “Look like a kid at Christmas.” She accused herself. “C’mon, knock it off.”
A soft whine heard in the darkness drew her attention and she peered out again as a number of other little buggies drew up near the jetway. Her undignified glee embarrassed her. What would Kerry think? They’d only been apart for a few days, and now…
Jesus. Dar forced herself to pull back as she spotted the nose of a large white aircraft meandering in. She walked back around in front of the gate agents pedestal and took a seat in the front row of chairs, folding her hands over one knee and affecting an air of unconcern.
The agents paid her little attention, being busy with paperwork. One turned and opened the jetway door, propping it wide with a metal stop before going back to checking something against his computer.
Dar watched the nose of the plane bounce to a halt, and heard the whine of the jet engines as the jetway moved out to meet it. Unaccountably, her heart started to pound, and she took several deep breaths to calm it without much success.
What if Kerry wasn’t on the plane?
The thought suddenly struck her, bringing a sense of shock that made the room fade out just a little. “Don’t’ be stupid.” She muttered aloud. “Of course she’s there, or she’d have called me.” Dar firmly crossed her arms over her chest and refused the look at the cell phone clipped to her belt. Instead, she fixed her eyes on the opening in the jetway.
Of course Kerry was there. Probably right in front, taking her bags down from the overhead, and trying politely not to get in anyone’s way.
Twitching her jeans straight, and running her hand through her hair as she took an impatient breath, waiting to get out.
Dar could almost see her if she closed her eyes, edging past the seats and heading for the door, head a little down.
She opened her eyes and stared at the empty opening, sensing motion approaching.
Hearing the scuff of soft soled shoes on the carpet, in a gentle rhythm she recognized, moments before the opening was filled with Kerry’s familiar sturdy form, her head already moving around as her eyes searched the space before her.
“Let me off this darn plane.” Kerry suppressed the urge to give the flight attendant a poke, and adjusted the shoulder strap on her carryon instead. They’d pulled up to the gate finally, and it seemed like forever to her before they moved the gangplank in and started to get the door open.
She was in front. Usually, she patiently waited her turn, and let everyone else go before her, but not tonight. She’d scooted up past the two other flyers in first class and claimed a spot near the exit, watching impatiently as the attendant worked the door lock and pushed the big door open.
Bounce bounce. Kerry waited for the man to move back, then headed for the opening without hesitation. She’d been watching out her window as they’d pulled up, and she’d sworn she’d seen Dar standing there waiting.
Just a brief glimpse, but that had been enough for her to recognize that tall figure, hands pressed firmly against the glass, watching out for Kerry’s arrival.
“Thanks! Have a great time in New York.” The flight attendant told her, as she whisked on by.
“Oh, I will.” Kerry promised, heading up the slanting ramp towards the terminal. It was musty smelling and rank inside, and she grimaced as she passed a dark spot in the carpet that stank to high heaven.
Hadn’t Dar said the city smelled? Well, here she was, and boy, did it. Kerry saw light at the end of the tunnel and came around the last bend in the jetway, clearing the threshold and looking around her.
Her eyes locked with pale blue ones at once. Dar was sitting not ten feet from the entrance, and Kerry let out a whoop as she bolted across the floor, dropping her bag and throwing her arms around her partner as Dar stood and took a step forward.
“Eeeeyow!!” Kerry let out a soft yodel. “Am I glad to see you!” She buried her face into Dar’s chest and wriggled.
Dar wrapped her arms around Kerry and lifted her off her feet, holding her tight without answering. The warmth of her body felt almost shocking, and before she knew it Kerry had a snug hold around her neck and was leaning up to kiss her.
Spectacle at the airport. Ah well. Worse they could do is toss them out and they were going anyway. Dar shrugged off the concern and responded, brushing her lips lightly across Kerry’s before she made a longer, sweeter contact.
It felt familiar and wonderful, and the tension coiled inside her body relaxed as if by magic as Kerry pulled her head back a little and looked up into Dar’s eyes again.
“Hey, sweetie.” Kerry gazed at her with unmistakable adoration. “Are you ever a sight for sore eyes.”
Dar grinned like an idiot. “Hey.” She cleared her throat slightly. “Want to move out of the way of those folks?” She picked up Kerry’s bag and shouldered it.
“Sure.” Kerry wrapped her arm around Dar’s waist as they moved down the aisle of seats, and away from the gate. She caught a look of disgust from one woman. “Something wrong?” She asked politely.
“Disgusting.” The woman answered, drawing away.
“Thank you.” Kerry replied graciously. “Have a great night. I know I will.” She gave Dar a squeeze, and grinned unrepentantly as the woman hurried past and left them behind. “What a creep!”
“Her loss.” Dar circled Kerry’s shoulders with one arm and rested her cheek against her partner’s soft, fair hair briefly. ‘How was the flight?”
“Took forever.” Kerry admitted. “I just wanted to get here. It was okay, I guess.” She craned her head. “Oh, I like those… are they new?” She plucked at the waistband of Dar’s jeans. “Very sexy.”
“Mmhm.” Dar felt herself relaxing at the casual banter. “Thanks…you hungry? We can stop for something…”
Kerry looked around. “Not in here, honey. I’ve seen scrungier airports, but not by much.” She remarked. “Can we get something at the hotel? I’ve got a headache Bayer would pay for.”
“You got it.” Dar shifted her arm, switching the casual drape for a light grip on the back of Kerry’s neck. She kneaded the tenseness there as they walked, producing a half grin at the little sounds of contentment it drew from her partner. “Long day?”
“Ungh.” The blond woman exhaled. “Long couple of days, and with as little sleep as I got last night, I’m raisin toast.”
“With cream cheese?” Dar nibbled her hair a little. “Glad you’re here.” She whispered, seeing the shift of muscle under skin as Kerry smiled.
“I’m glad I’m here too.” Kerry leaned against her as they walked through the door to the outside, and were greeted with a sultry New York night. “Hm. Almost as muggy as home, but with much nastier scenery.” She wrinkled her nose. “We taking a taxi?”
Dar spotted an alternative, a long, plush looking town car with a diffident looking driver leaning against the side. “Got a better idea.” She steered Kerry towards the car. “You go to Manhattan?” She asked the driver.
The man looked at them, head cocked to one side. “Do I go to Manhattan? Whaddaya think, this thing look like a tour bus? Sure I go to Manhattan. Where ya goin?”
“East side Marriott.” Dar felt slightly sheepish. “Sorry, it’s late.”
“You got it.” The man opened the door with a flourish, and removed Kerry’s bag from Dar’s shoulder. “Gwan, get in there. I got better places to be than Laguardia, that’s for damn sure.”
Kerry scooted in first, and waited for Dar to join her and shut the door before she edged back across the seat and snuggled against her partner with a contented sigh. There was a faint scent of oregano and garlic clinging to Dar’s tshirt, along with the touch of spice that was their mutual body wash. “You smell good.” She commented, resting her head against Dar’s shoulder. “Damn, I missed you. I thought I was going nuts… you’ve only been here a couple days, but I feel like it’s been forever.”
Dar was startled to have her own feelings articulated so precisely. “Yeah.” She uttered. “Just real stressful days, I guess.”
“Mm.” Kerry rubbed her thumb lightly over Dar’s belly. “You know, they really were. Just so much crap, and that damn power outage. Jesus.”
Dar watched the lights of the city flash by, the driver surprisingly silent up front. It was amazing how much friendlier New York looked from the inside of the car, with it’s present occupant wrapped around her. “Well, it’s over.” She said. “And who knows? Maybe we can have a little fun here.”
“I’m having fun now.” Kerry closed her eyes. “Dar?”
“We’re a little nuts, y’know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Do you care?”
“Hell no.” Dar said. “Do you?”
Kerry drew in a lungful of air infused with cotton, and spice and love. “Oh no.” She whispered, a smile pulling at the muscles of her face. “I’ll take crazy anyday.”
They both fell silent, the restrained classical music becoming audible for the first time as the car raced towards a tunnel and the skyline of Manhattan spread out before them.