Kerry finished adding her bathroom doodads to the sink shelf as she listened to Dar ordering them something from room service. The hotel room was big and very nice, but she could really have cared less as long as it had Dar in it, a shower, and someplace for them to sleep.
Even the second thing wasn’t really a requirement, if she was honest.
With a smile, Kerry ducked back into the main room, pausing to lean in the door way and watch Dar as she paced idly back and forth in front of the desk. It was hard to believe she was actually here, but she knew she was because the gnawing anxiety in her guts was gone, replaced by a quiet contentment she’d come to associate with being around her partner.
“Thanks.” Dar put the phone done and turned. “Twenty minutes. Did you get Advil?”
Kerry held up the small bottle she’d taken from Dar’s kit. She uncapped it and removed a couple of the brownish pills, crossing to the pitcher of water sitting on the side table and pouring herself a half glassful. “That’s a nice looking bed there, Paladar.”
“Mm.” Dar came over to her. “Too big for one person, though.” She said. “Had a tough time getting to sleep in it.” She admitted.
“Guess we’ve got the solution to that problem.” Kerry swallowed her pills, dropping her head forward as Dar’s hands gently kneaded her neck. It felt incredibly good, and not just from the warmth. “Know what?”
“What?” Dar’s breath tickled the edge of her ear.
“My life just got really good again.” Kerry’s tone was quietly serious.
Dar leaned against Kerry’s back. “Mine too.” She replied. “I missed you.”
“I felt really lousy when I woke up this morning.” Kerry mused. “I’m glad I’m here.”
“So am I.” Dar sounded just as serious. “So.” She wanted to get this out of the way first, to untie that one knot of uncertainty deep in her guts so she could deal with whatever it was, and get past it. “Kerry.”
“So, Kerry what?” Her partner asked curiously.
“So. What is this thing you did that I’m going to kill you for?” Dar got the words out in a stolid rush, chasing the last one out of her mouth and clamping her jaws down after it.
Kerry turned, letting her hands rest on Dar’s hips as she looked up. “Huh?” She queried. “What did I do now?”
A wrinkle appeared in the skin above Dar’s eyes. “Ah… you.. said you.. the other day?”
“The other day.” Kerry’s gaze slid to one side, as she thought. Abruptly her expression cleared, then took on an immediate look of embarrassed chagrin. “Oh.” She lifted a hand and half covered her eyes. “Yeah, that.”
“That.” Dar repeated, reassured. If Kerry had forgotten all about the damn thing, how bad could it have been? “Which is… what?” She asked, a touch hesitant.
Kerry had completely forgotten ‘that’, and now she felt like an idiot. With a sigh, she took Dar’s hand and lead her over to the bed, sitting down and waiting for her partner to take a seat next to her. “You really are going to think I’m a nut.”
Dar’s eyes fastened on her partner’s expressive face intently. “I am?”
“Yeah.” Kerry rubbed her nose. “I think you are.”
Dar waited, but nothing more seemed forthcoming. “Well.” She cleared her throat gently. “Why don’t you give me a try and see? I mean….” She examined the blond woman. “You don’t usually do nutty things.”
Kerry took a deep breath, and looked Dar squarely in the eye. “I did this time.” She admitted. “I.. um… “ She took another breath. “I got a tattoo.”
Dar’s face remained very still for a long, long moment. Then she blinked several times. “You did?”
Watching her face anxiously, Kerry nodded. “Yep, I did.” She didn’t see the little signals she’d learned were disapproval from her partner, and it gave her the courage to continue on. “You know I’ve been sorta thinking about it…”
“I know.” Dar finally managed to get a few words out of her shocked throat.
“Anyway, after that night with the gang, I was talking to one of the guys about it and he said his friend was a great tattoo artist, so..” Kerry grimaced a bit, half shrugging one shoulder. “So I went to talk to him and I saw his stuff.”
“Nice?” Dar asked.
“Gorgeous.” Kerry admitted. “We got to talking, and I told him what my ideas were and he drew this thing and…” She let the words trail off, sneaking another look at Dar’s face. The pale blue eyes were focused on her face, a look of mild intrigue mixed with curiosity in them
Not disgust. Not disapproval. Kerry felt a little better. “I guess I decided to do it before I thought about it and chickened out.”
Dar absorbed this. Of all the possible things Kerry could have thought she was going to kill her for, this was by far the least of anything she could have imagined. Why would Kerry have thought she’d be upset anyway? “Ker, it’s your body.” She said. “You could paint it orange and I’d be fine with it.”
Kerry didn’t respond to that for a moment. She took Dar’s hands in hers and squeezed them, her eyes fastened on their tangled fingers. “I just thought it was a pretty radical thing for me to do.”
“Nah.” Dar disagreed. “If you’d gotten your face pierced, I might have freaked out. But tattoos… hell, I wanted one when I was a punk. Why not?” She watched a smile appear on Kerry’s face. “So.. um…” The green eyes lifted to hers. “You going to let me see it?”
Kerry nodded. “Sure.”
“Where’d you get it??
Slowly, Kerry released one hand and lifted it, tapping her chest lightly.
Dar winced. “That must have hurt.”
“Eh.” Kerry exhaled, responding to a gentle pressure on her shoulder and lying down on her back on the bed. “This is where I’m supposed to carry on the grand tradition and prove my womanhood by telling you it didn’t hurt, in fact, it felt great.”
“Ah.” Dar brushed Kerry’s hand aside and unbuttoned her shirt, reclining next to her as she started to pull the fabric back.
“But it’s not true.” The blond woman forced herself to relax, letting her arm fall to the bed and focusing on Dar’s face as that warm touch brushed across the skin under her shirt. “It hurt like hell, and I betrayed tough chicks everywhere by screaming like a weasel when he did it.”
Dar chuckled softly, finishing her unbuttoning and pulling aside the left side of Kerry’s shirt, exposing her shoulder and chest. A flash of color met her eyes, and she leaned closer staring at this new and very different thing with intense curiosity.
Kerry held her breath.
“Wow.” Dar murmured. “It’s… beautiful.” She edged a bit closer. “Is that a rope or..”
“No, it’s a. .um… it’s a snake.” Kerry uttered softly. “You know, it’s that Celtic thing, the one with it’s tail in it’s mouth?” She hesitated just an instant. “The one that means eternity?”
“Oh… yeah!” Dar now found the pattern. Each scale of the snake’s body had been outlined and done in a different color, and the effect was truly striking. The snake was winding itself in and out of a darker pattern and Dar had to stare at it for several seconds before her mind resolved what the pattern was.
It was her name. Dar put the word ‘eternity’ and those letters together and slowly lifted her head to stare into Kerry’s eyes.
After a moment of utter silence, Kerry managed a smile. “No offense, sweetheart, but I’m really glad you shortened it.”
It was stunning. Dar felt short of breath. It was overwhelming. She blinked and felt the surprising sting of tears. Her head jerked a little, and the droplets scattered over Kerry’s bare skin, trembling as Kerry drew in a shaky breath.
With a little sigh, Dar just buried her face into Kerry’s belly, giving her mind a little space to absorb this most explicit of messages.
Well, I don’t think she’s mad. Kerry reached up and ran her fingers through the dark hair draping over her middle, scratching Dar’s scalp with her fingertips. In truth, she’d forgotten completely about her anxiety over the damn thing, too, and the sudden stress after the long day was leaving her feeling totally wasted. But it had gone off rather better than she’d expected, so maybe not preparing for it was the way to go.
Anyway. “I know you know how I feel about you.” Kerry ventured. “So it’s not a big shocker, but…” She felt Dar exhale against her skin. “Now I want to find an excuse to wear a strapless gown.”
Dar’s body twitched as a tiny chuckle emerged.
Kerry stroked Dar’s hair gently, loving the feel of it against her skin. The pain, she decided now, had indeed been worth it, and her last doubt drifted away as Dar turned her head finally and their eyes met, and she saw the wonder there.
Yeah. Definitely worth it.
Dar woke mere seconds before the alarm went off and hastily silenced it before it could rattle its way across the nightstand. It was just dawn, and she spent a moment catching her breath from her abrupt wakening before she settled back down and resumed her position snuggling with Kerry.
A roll of thunder boomed over head, and a quick look verified the lash of rain across the hotel room window. Dar regarded the storm peacefully, however, since she was in a place right now that no weather could touch, regardless of the severity.
She didn’t even care that she was in New York. Dar tilted her head and studied Kerry’s profile, trying to remember when they’d fallen asleep last night. The last thing she could clearly recall was sharing a fudge brownie as they lay together watching the news, then….
Then she woke up, a minute ago, crashed in the middle of the big bed with Kerry wrapped around her in her usual way, with her head pillowed on Dar’s shoulder and one arm draped over her as though she was nothing but a big, animated body pillow.
Just how Dar liked it.
Curled up as she was, her new adornment wasn’t visible, but Dar found herself thinking about it anyway. Though still a bit red and not quite healed, she could see the tattoo was, in all truth, a beautiful design. The man who had done it was no question an artist.
Dar was no question flat on her back flabbergasted over it. The thought and emotion behind the tattoo filled her with such a sense of awe, and surprisingly, excitement she found her breathing speeding up again just thinking about it. She was totally thrilled by Kerry’s decision to decorate her body with this particular symbol and now she was halfway wondering…
Well, should she do it too?
Hm. Dar hadn’t seriously thought about tattoos since she’d been in high school. Then she’d wanted.. what was it again? Oh, right. A dagger across her right bicep. She turned her head and regarded the spot introspectively. What could she put there or anywhere that would match what Kerry had come up with?
A picture of Kerry, maybe? Dar felt a tiny snort emerge as she imagined herself taking off her jacket in a high level meeting and revealing *that* with her usual short sleeve silk shirt to the world if she had it done on her arm. As valued as she knew she was to the company, Dar conceded that would cross the line for even the most liberal of the board, and though she really didn’t care what they thought about her, it also would probably embarrass Kerry.
Okay, so not a picture of her. Then what? Or.. maybe she could put the picture somewhere else most people wouldn’t see…
Kerry stirred, and Dar decided to put off her thoughts until later. She tilted her head to watch her partner as Kerry’s eyes slowly blinked open and she took in her surroundings, a smile appearing on her face. “Morning.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry gave her a squeeze. “Boy, did I sleep like a rock.” She admitted. “I don’t think I moved since I crashed last night.”
“Me either.” Dar ran her fingers lightly through Kerry’s sleep mussed hair, sorting the pale locks into their proper sides. “Did you look outside?”
Kerry lifted her head and peeked. “Eew.” She resumed her prior position. “Perfect day to stay in bed. Unfortunately, we’re not home to do it.”
“Mmph.” Dar laid her hand on Kerry’s back, then started rubbing it, muffling a grin as her partner started to produce small purring noises. “Hey, Ker?”
“I really love your tattoo.”
Kerry rested her chin on Dar’s breastbone, her green eyes sparkling happily. “You do? Really?”
“Good.” Kerry rolled over, stretching and arching her back before she peered at her new adornment. “I really was excited about doing it, but then when I got home, and saw it in the mirror… it was just scary.”
“Scary?” Dar traced the outline of the design with her fingertip.
“Yeah. Like, oh my god, how could I have done this?” Kerry laid a hand on her stomach and gazed up at the ceiling. “I was worried about what you’d think, and if I should have talked to you about it first.”
Dar sat up in bed and gracefully half turned, extracting herself from the covers and settling cross-legged in the same motion. She rested her elbows on her knees and regarded Kerry seriously.
“I mean… I knew you wouldn’t hate it.. at least I think I knew that.. but..” Kerry put her hand on Dar’s knee. “I thought about how I’d feel if you just came home with one and hadn’t talked to me, and I didn’t like how I felt about that.”
“Ah.” Dar’s expression moderated to a more thoughtful one.
“Would you have talked to me first?” Kerry asked, curiously.
Dar rested her chin on her fist. “Not if I wanted it to be a surprise.” She said. “And believe me, you putting my name on your chest was definitely a surprise.”
“Hm. Hadn’t thought if it that way.”
“Anyway.” Dar leaned over and kissed the spot gently. “I love it.” She moved up and kissed Kerry’s lips next. “I love you.” She paused, nose to nose with her partner. “You think you could wear a strapless gown to Radio City Music Hall?”
The green eyes widened and brightened. “When?”
“Good question.” Dar chuckled. “I’ll know when the Fedex envelope gets here. Alastair’s sending us a pair of tickets he happened to have around.” She said. “Tonight maybe, or tomorrow… you interested? I have no clue what’s showing there.. guess we’d better check that first.”
Kerry sat up next to her. “Sure.” She agreed, with a grin. “So what’s on the agenda besides that today, boss?”
Dar studied the thick, white covers. “Guess I’ll call Hans… see if his six sturdy young Germans got anywhere with that code. If he did, I’m going to have to hold up my end of the deal and figure out how to get those damn algorithms working.”
“The beta ones?” Kerry asked, in surprise. “I thought you said the problem was on his end?”
Dar got up off the bed and paced over to the window, gazing out at the rain.
Kerry waited, hearing a screeching of tires on the street below and amusing herself with wondering if a naked woman standing at the hotel window had anything to do with it. The dull gray light outside outlined Dar’s body, so Kerry enjoyed the view, admiring the long, graceful lines of her partner’s torso.
Finally, Dar turned back around, and leaned against the window sill. “It is his problem.” She said. “But even if he fixes it, that won’t be enough. We’ll have to do the rest.”
Kerry leaned back on her elbows, extending her legs out and crossing them at the ankles. “Honey, you do realize you’re mooning Manhattan, right?”
Dar’s head inclined slightly and her brows creased. “What?”
“C’mere.” Kerry crooked a finger at her. “Before someone takes a picture of you through that window and you end up on the NY Times front page.”
Dar turned around, stared at the window, and then sheepishly retreated back towards the bed. She climbed across the covers and collapsed onto her side next to Kerry. “Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.” Her voice sounded disgusted. “Story of my life lately, it seems.”
Kerry nudged her with her knee. “What’s that supposed to mean? You haven’t been noticeably less brilliant than usual any time in the near past that I know of.” She consciously lightened her tone. “Have you? Did I miss something?”
Dar shrugged. “No. I’ve just felt out of it lately.” She admitted. “Anyway, you want to have breakfast here, or go downstairs? It’s not a bad little place.” She changed the subject, one hand plucking idly at the covers.
“I’d rather stay here.” Kerry reached out and took Dar’s hand in hers. “Spend some time with you just hanging out, if I’ve got a choice. If you don’t have to go meet that guy, I mean.”
Dar appeared pleased with the answer. “Sounds great to me.” She nodded. “I’ll give Hans a call, you order?” She leaned over and snagged the menu, handing it to Kerry. “Then maybe we can check out that music hall. Not sure what got into Alastair on that one.”
Kerry opened the menu and let her hand rest on a page of it. “He’s a little worried about you.” She told her partner quietly.
Alert blue eyes found hers suddenly. “Me?”
“He thought you sounded a little off the other day.” Kerry explained. “He mentioned it to me when he called.”
Dar frowned. “What did you tell him?”
“Not much.” Her partner said, slowly. “Just that the trade show’d been stressful, and the cruise bid was a bitch. You know. The truth.”
“But not all the truth.” Dar sighed, lowering herself back down and putting her chin on her wrists.
Kerry put a hand out and ruffled Dar’s dark hair. “Honey, I wasn’t going to go into your personal history with him. It’s none of his business.”
“Even though I kind of get the feeling he really, really does like you as a person.” Kerry went on. “And he does care about you.”
Dar peeked up at her. “I know he does.” She sighed. “I just didn’t realize I was coming off as something he needed to worry about.” She extended her hand and cupped Kerry’s knee, stroking the skin over it with her thumb. “It’s frustrating. I just want to kick myself.”
The fact that Dar was talking about it reassured Kerry immensely. “Well, that’s why I’m here. To give you and ear, to give you a hug, or just to give you someone to have dinner with.” She said. “Whatever you need, I’m here.”
Dar studied Kerry’s kneecap pensively. “I’m not used to being needy.”
“I know. It’s usually the other way around, and you’ve always been there for me when I’ve needed you. So.. just think of this as a minor payback.” Kerry coaxed her, encouraged when Dar inched closer and curled her hand around Kerry’s calf. She responded by leaning forward and sliding her hands up Dar’s arms, kneading the thick muscles there with small, gentle motions. “You’re in good hands, aren’t you?”
Dar’s shoulders relaxed and she cocked her head slightly. “The best.” She relented, giving in and squirming closer. “All right. But if I tell you to kick me in the ass, you better do it. Don’t pat me on the head.”
Kerry leaned over and kissed her. “You got it.” She promised. “Now, since you’ve entrusted me with the breakfast order, can I ask if you’re in the mood for sweet or salty?”
“Sweet.” Dar exhaled contentedly. “They have pretty good waffles.”
“Mm… would that be the strawberry covered Belgian ones, or the banana?” Kerry scratched the back of Dar’s neck with her fingertips and watched her close her eyes in reaction. “Can I ask you something else?”
“What’s in that bag over there?”
“The one with the sailor hat sticking out on top.”
One blue eye popped open and regarded her.
Rain or no rain, it was a gorgeous day. Dar finished rinsing the soap off her body and stepped out of the shower, bumping the translucent door closed behind her as she picked up a towel and headed for the sink.
A very wet and disheveled figure looked back at her from the mirror, but she smiled at it as she dried her arms, one ear cocked to listen to the soft humming coming from the other room. Having Kerry around was really making a difference, she realized. She was a lot more relaxed, and the thought of dickering with Hans over his application was now amusing her more than rubbing her temper raw.
The thought of introducing Hans to Kerry was also amusing her, though she wasn’t sure her partner would appreciate being in a room where the other occupants were speaking a language she didn’t know. “Ah.” Dar addressed her reflection. “What the heck, she lives in Miami. She’s used to it.”
“Dar?” Kerry’s voice drifted in. “You say something?”
Dar chuckled softly. “Nah – just talking to myself. Be out in a minute.”
“Well you better… it’s getting pretty boring out here by myself.”
“Uh oh.” Dar toweled her hair dry as she walked out of the steamy bathroom, not immediately spotting her target. “Ker?” She looked around, finding her blond partner in just her own towel standing near the desk leaning over her laptop. “Problem?”
“Eh?” Kerry turned her head. “No, no… I was just picking up my office mail.” She perched on a corner of the desk. “What time do we have to meet at the client’s, eleven, right?”
“Right.” Dar draped the towel over her shoulders. “Anything interesting?”
Kerry skimmed over her mail. “Nah, nah, nah.. whoa.” She leaned closer and clicked on one mail, her eyes tracking over the text. Abruptly she straightened. “Holy cow!”
“What?” Dar put her chin on Kerry’s shoulder and peered at the screen. After a second, she put her hand on the desk and let out a snort. “Am I reading that right?” Her voice rose incredulously.
Kerry slid off the desk and sat down in the chair. “Oh, boy, I hope not.” She muttered. “Oh my gosh, what on earth went on there last night?”
“Only one way to find out.” Dar pulled her cell phone over and dialed the office number. It rang, then was answered. “Morning, Maria.”
A perceptible hesitation. “Oh, good morning, Dar. And how are you this morning?” Maria answered. “Did Kerrisita make it there all right?”
“Just fine, thanks.” Kerry answered for herself as Dar set the phone on speaker.
“That is wonderful.” Maria stated. “I am so glad.”
“And I was doing really great until I opened up my mail just now.” Kerry added. “Does Dar have one of these in hers too?”
Maria sighed. “Si.” She said. “It was not exactly so as they said it, but..”
“Maria, what the hell happened?” Dar interjected. “That damn email from Mariana said you assaulted someone?”
“Jesus.” Kerry muttered, covering her eyes with one hand.
“Jefa, it was not so.” Maria protested. “I did not hurt anyone! It was just that Mayte told me about those two women who were being so mean to you and Kerrisita, and how they were going to be at this restaurant to wait for Kerrisita, and so we went there to tell them she would not be coming.”
“Uh huh.” Dar grunted encouragingly. “And?”
“And that is all! We did not mean to cause such problems!” Her assistant stated. “Here we were doing something so nice, and they were so mean to us as well. They are bad people, Dar.”
“Okay.” Kerry leaned against Dar’s shoulder. “But um… what’s all this about charges, if all you did was tell them I stood them up?”
Maria cleared her throat delicately.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the thoughtfulness, Maria, honest, I do…” Kerry went on. “But they could have stagnated there all night for all I care. I wouldn’t have asked you to go out of your way to tell them anything.”
“Oh, si, Kerrisita, I know that.” Maria said. “It is just Mayte and I thought we would do this on our way home, since we had to go that way a little anyhow.”
“Maria.” Dar took the reins back. “Charges?”
“Jefa, they were very nasty to us. I just went to them and told them about Kerrisita’s trip, and they started saying such nasty things!” Maria replied in protest. “I could not get them to stop! All of the people in that little place were coming to find out what the matter was and so I thought these women would not like to be such a spectacle, so I would do something to keep them from being so loud.”
Dar and Kerry looked at each other. “Like… what?” Kerry ventured.
“I gave them something into their hands to take and make them stop what they were saying.” Maria said, almost audibly squaring her shoulders. “I took the plates of the dinner they had, and put them in their faces!”
“Oh, Jesus.” Kerry whispered.
Dar stared at the cell phone, momentarily speechless herself. “Ah.”
“And it was so hot, the things there, that Mayte was so courteous and kind to them she put the glasses of beer over their heads to cool them off.”
Dar wandered off towards the window, shaking her head as she covered her eyes with one hand. “Anyone get pictures?”
“Jefa?” Maria queried.
“Dar was just wondering if anyone got .. ah.. hurt, Maria. Are you okay? Is Mayte all right?” Kerry asked.
“Oh, si.” Maria sounded a little less stressed. “We are fine, si. My husband, he was very shocked to hear about what his senora and senorita did, but we went very fast home after that, Kerrisita. Yes, we are fine.”
“Well, good. Good.” Kerry pondered what to say next. “Now, ah.. it’s not that we don’t appreciate what you did, ah… but you know…”
“Kerrisita, we could not stay there and listen to those women. They were being so nasty about you, especially.” Maria said.
“Well, I know, but..”
“Hey, Maria.” Dar swooped in from the right and very gently clapped her hand over Kerry’s mouth. “You remember Eleana?”
“DFR!” Kerry nipped at her partner’s palm.
A moment’s silence. “Si! Si, yes I do, Dar. Yes.” Maria said. “Another very nasty person.”
“Did Kerry ever tell you about us meeting her at dinner once?” Dar asked.
“Noo… I do not think so.”
Dar released Kerry, who folded her arms over her chest and smirked, ducking her head in acknowledgement. “Remind her to tell you about that when she gets back, huh?” She slid one arm around Kerry’s waist and tugged her closer. “Anyway, don’t’ worry about it. I’ll take care of Mariana, and tell her to get legal to get this whole pile of bullshit thrown out.”
“Si, Dar. Thank you.” Maria’s voice warmed several notches. “We did not mean to cause you trouble.”
“You didn’t.” Dar stated firmly. “Specially if they were talking trash about Kerry. They’re god damn lucky it was you and not me that was there, because if I’d been there, they’d have gotten a lot more than… what did they have, anyway?”
“The chili, jefa.”
Kerry slowly dissolved into silent giggles, sagging against Dar’s body and hiding her face in Dar’s shoulder.
Dar cleared her throat. “Yeah, well.. waste of beans in my view.” She drawled. “Anyway, Maria, thanks. Don’t worry about the charges. It’s all crap.”
“Si. That is what the man who came to speak with us this morning also said.” Maria agreed. “It is just so aggravating, no?”
“Yeah.” Dar said. “Sorry you had to get involved.”
“I am not.” Her assistant said, surprisingly. “Dar, I have been watching you put your head out for other people for so many years now, and it is good to be standing up for you if I can do that.”
Dar stared at the phone in silence for several heartbeats.
“Me, too.” Mayte’s voice chimed in.
Kerry wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes and let her hand come to rest on Dar’s belly. “Guys.” She said. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“Then you are not mad at us?” Mayte asked.
Kerry looked up at Dar’s still profile, just the hint of trembling moisture on the lids of her eyes betraying her feelings. “No, we’re not mad.” She answered for them both. “But listen, you guys keep out of trouble while we’re away, okay? We’ll take care of that whole situation when we get back.”
“All right.” Maria agreed. “We will be good.”
“Okay, we’ll talk to you later.” Kerry said. “Bye.” She folded the phone shut, then let her head rest again on Dar’s shoulder. “Holy sheep dip, Batman.”
Dar cleared her throat. “Definitely unexpected.” She agreed. “Damn, I wish I’d been there. I’d have paid a month’s salary to see that chili go flying.”
Kerry snickered. “Me too.” She confessed. “I mean.. it’s not really funny, Dar. You know how ratty that’s going to make that next bid meeting for us?” She sighed. “Not that I’m much better than they are. I’m the one who blew them off.”
“Ah.” Dar shrugged. “They can kiss my ass. Let’s worry about it when it happens.”
With a frown, her partner scanned the rest of her mail, then shrugged as well. “Yeah, I guess that makes damn good sense.” She pushed the laptop from her a little and turned back to her partner. “I ever told you how good you look in just a towel?”
Dar sat down in the big easy chair and tugged Kerry down with her onto her lap. She wrapped her arms around Kerry’s towel covered body and hugged her. “Hey.”
“If it stops raining, want to go down to Central Park later and take a carriage ride with me?”
Kerry willingly allowed herself to be distracted. “The ones with the horses?”
It was a charmingly romantic idea, and Kerry liked it very much. “Maybe we could find one of those little cafes and have dinner?” She suggested. “I know Manhattan isn’t your favorite place, but I bet we could have fun here.”
Dar nipped Kerry’s side gently through the terrycloth. She tilted her head up a little as Kerry’s fingers laced through her damp hair and they kissed. She could taste the last hint of grape toothpaste on Kerry’s lips as she explored them, savoring the gentle touch against her cheek as Kerry traced the skin on her face. “Bet we could have fun right in this here hotel room.” She murmured.
“No bet.” Kerry nuzzled her, then went back to kissing. “Noo.. bet.”
The office building seemed quiet. Kerry walked along the hallway taking a quick glance right and left into hushed rooms and stilted, almost empty atriums. Everything was white and gray, and she found it profoundly depressing even by their own office’s standards. “Least I have burgundy walls.”
A woman working at a pristine white desk looked up as she passed, and Kerry got the impression of wide, alarmed blue eyes before the woman ducked her head again and went back to the pad she was writing on.
Another woman, in a severe gray wool suit stopped by the desk, tapping on it’s surface with her pencil before moving on, brushing past Kerry and giving her jeans a very disapproving look. “Are you here to deliver something?” She asked, pausing briefly.
“No.” Kerry replied, with a gentle smile. “I’m working on a computer problem.”
The blue eyed woman at the desk furtively watched the exchange, her fingers fiddling with the pen she’d been writing with.
“Well, you should tell your company to dress their technicians better, then. It’s a shame.” The woman in the gray suit turned and walked away, shaking her head. “Terrible.” She turned again. “What company is it?”
“ILS.” Kerry supplied helpfully.
“Oh, really?” The woman put her hand on her hip. “Never mind then. One of your big bosses is here, and I’ll just tell her that myself.” She marched off in the direction of the conference room, her shoulders fairly twitching with indignation..
Silence closed down over them again. Kerry shook her head and started to turn away, but a hesitant motion from the girl at the desk made her pause. She waited, taking in the short, stylish rust colored hair and the tiny cross earrings with idle interest. “Hi.”
“Sorry you’re going to get in trouble.” The girl said, in a soft voice. “She’s in everybody’s business.”
“It’s okay. I’m not worried.” Kerry reassured her. “Is she your office manager?”
“Yeah. Hannah Meyer.” She hesitated briefly. “So you’re a computer tech, huh?”
A brief twinkle entered Kerry’s green eyes. “No.” She dug her business card from one of her back pockets and handed it over. “My name’s Kerry.”
“Shawna….oh.” The girl studied the card, then looked up at Kerry. “You’re a vice president? Really?” Her voice sounded a touch incredulous. “Wow. That’s pretty wild.” She eyed Kerry’s stone washed crimson short sleeved shirt and button flies doubtfully. “I mean, like, Hannah’s right kind of. You don’t look the part at all.. you do look more like a tech person.”
“Looks can be deceiving.” Kerry advised. “What do you do?” She indicated the spotless white shiny surface of the desk, which contained the writing pad, a cup with two pens in it, and not much more.
“Oh, I.. um.. “ Shawna shrugged one shoulder. “I coordinate meetings. You know, like, schedule the conference rooms and stuff like that.” One fingertip rolled the pencil she’d been using. “I set up lunch, too, and bring in materials. Collate.” The words seemed to trouble her briefly. “It’s a good job, and it’s a great office in here, really smart, you know? My parents really like me working here.”
Kerry felt a very brief moment of resonance with this skewed reflection of one of her own life’s possibilities. “My folks would have liked it for me too.” She told Shawna. “But I’m glad I picked my own path.” She added. “See you later.”
She felt the eyes on her back all the way down the hall, until she turned the corner and pushed open the door to the break room.
Dar stretched, arching her back as she wandered down the wall of windows, peering out of them as the rain continued to roll down. She was alone in the conference room, since Hans was in a smaller private office talking with his programmers, and Kerry was off finding some coffee.
A surge of well being flooded her, and taking a quick look around, Dar took a bouncing step then inverted into a handstand, balancing her weight on her palms as she edged around in a small circle. “Heh heh heh.” She chortled softly. “Haven’t done this in a while.”
Behind her, she heard the door suddenly open, and knew from the clicking of heels that it wasn’t either Kerry or Hans. Caught in the act, so to speak, she decided to pretend walking on one’s hands was a normal act and turned, spotting a short, somewhat squat figure in gray staring at her. “Yes?” She asked briskly. “You need something?”
Without a word, the figure retreated and slammed the door. Dar hastily let her body drop backwards and flipped up, landing a bit precariously on her heels, but rocking forward to catch her balance before she could fall back and smack herself silly.
With a soft, wry chuckle, she walked back over to the conference table, settling back into her chair and spinning around slowly in it.
Kerry gave the two men in the break room a cordial smile as she made her way to the coffee machine. “Afternoon.”
“Ah, Ms.. Stuart, right?” The older of the two came over to her. “Nice to see you again… but I wasn’t aware you were coming out here. Is the problem that complex?”
“Called in the reserves, looks like it to me.” His companion said. “Too much for them, I think.”
“No, Mr. Godson, it really isn’t.” Kerry set two cups down and started preparing them to order. “Or, well.. to be totally accurate, yes, it’s complex, but Dar is more than up to the task of fixing it. I was just in the area visiting another account and thought I’d stop in.” It was an innocuous enough lie, she thought, and one Godson would have difficulty proving one way or the other.
“Ah, well of course.” Godson nodded. “Are they making progress, I hope?”
The other man snorted softly. Kerry correctly deduced his identity and muffled a grimace. “You could say that. The programs being rewritten, and we’re just waiting for the new code to test it. I think we should have this little problem wrapped up by sunset.” She gave them both a smile. “Excuse me.” She picked up the coffee cups and walked past them, making sure she looked Meyer right in the eye as she did. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Disappoint?” Godson followed her eagerly. “Goodness gracious no! That’s fantastic news! Fabulous! See, I told you, Jason. You’re so doom and gloom!”
Kerry hid a grin, hearing the slight choking sound behind her.
“We ready?” Dar asked, as she leaned on one elbow and gave her touchpad a nudge.
“Not just yet.” Hans replied, busy at his own machine. “I am waiting for a last set of libraries.” He spared a quick glance up at Kerry, who was catching up on her mail in the seat next to Dar. “Did your companion have a nice flight?”
“Hm?” Dar brought her attention back from someplace. “Oh, it was fine.” She replied. “I’m going to set up some router policies while we’re waiting.” A softly melodic whistle escaped her as she set to work, her body shifting a little as she locked her legs up behind the chairs.
“Ah hah.” Hans regarded her with mild bemusement. Dar’s entire attitude seemed very different today, he’d noticed. She appeared relaxed and almost friendly, quite a contrast from the edgy, threatening restless woman he’d encountered yesterday.
Was it perhaps that she had been proven right? Hans pondered. That often did put himself in a good mood, just as being wrong often put him in a bad one.
“Hey, Dar. Check it out. Email from your mother.” Kerry reached out and gave her partner’s sleeve a tug.
Dar straightened. “My mother?” She turned and stared at Kerry. “You got my mother to touch a computer?” She leaned over and peered at Kerry’s laptop in disbelief. “No way.”
“Yes way.” Kerry grinned. “It’s not a computer, though. Bellsouth has these little email keypads… so I talked her into getting one.” She opened the mail. “That way we wouldn’t end up having to run down to the marina if she opened a spam virus.”
“Mm… good thinking.” Dar peered at the mail. “How come she didn’t send me one?” She frowned.
“Possibly because you wouldn’t know the recipe for jambalaya?” Kerry pointed out. “I don’t know, maybe she did. Have you checked?”
Dar went back to her own machine, minimizing her network session and opening up her mail instead. She scanned the lines quickly, her eyes lighting up slightly as she spotted the new address. “Heh.. got one.” She clicked on it, then blinked. “But not from mom.”
Kerry grinned a little, watching her partner lean closer to the screen, her head cocking to one side as she read. “Hey, Dar?” She asked after a few seconds. “Did some woman in a gray suit come in here complaining about me?”
Dar slowly turned her head and looked at Kerry. “Huh?”
“Never mind.” The blond woman waved her back to her screen. “Tell dad I say hi.”
Hans looked between one and the other, grunting as an apparent enlightenment came to him. He pecked out a few keys, then pushed the machine back. “All right, my friend, it is time. Are you ready to try this child of ours?”
There was a long moment’s silence.
“Dar?” Kerry reached over and touched her partner’s leg, startling her a little from her intense concentration. “I think he’s ready to test… you okay?”
“Um.. yeah, fine.” Dar seemed a bit embarrassed. “Sorry.” She turned to Hans and spoke to him in German. “Ready to go?”
“Yes. I am ready. I will warn you, we have not tested this fully. If we put this in now and it does not work, I cannot back it out, and they will be crashed. Do you understand this?”
Dar nodded. “Go for it.”
Kerry’s eyes flicked between them, not understanding the words, but seeing by the shifts in Dar’s body posture that something was about to happen.
“Are you sure?” Hans asked. “Do you not want to tell these people what we are doing?”
“And give them a chance to say no?” Dar leaned on both elbows. “You’re the big shot programmer who’s always perfect. You have confidence in your stuff? I’ve got confidence in mine.” She said. “So do it, or admit you blew it.”
Hans frowned at her seriously. “That is not fair.” He muttered. “But I will hold up my end. If it fails, I will point at you and shrug my shoulders.” He attacked his keyboard with a furious rattle.
“Is he doing something?” Kerry asked.
“Putting the new program in.” Dar told her, watching her screen intently.
“In the middle of a production day?” Kerry protested. “Dar!” She half stood, caught by surprise. “What if we take them down!”
Dar set her filters, and waited, her hands flexing lightly over the keyboard. “I’ll risk it. I’m not missing out on a carriage ride and dinner with you for this bunch of nits.” She looked at Hans. “Now?”
With a finishing clatter, Hans touched one last key and lifted his hands. “It is done.”
Kerry settled slowly back in her seat, holding her breath and crossing everything she could that her trust in Dar’s judgment wouldn’t fail her.. fail both of them, in this most public of circumstances.
A few moments only, would tell.
Dar knew she was taking a huge risk. In fact, she knew having Hans replace the running program in the middle of the day was more than a risk, it was a shockingly disruptive action which she’d just ordered him to do.
However, what she’d told Kerry was absolutely true – she had no intention of sitting around in this glass box until after hours just to dump the program when it was least inconvenient to Godson. He was inconveniencing her by having her be here, and she was doing him a favor. Besides, as her note from her father had reminded her –
Do it, and ask forgiveness later.
Dar opened her network session wide and watched both of her routers with a hawk like intensity. She saw the data stream abruptly stop, the packets trickling to absolutely nothing but management traffic. “Program’s restarting.”
“Yah.” Hans folded his arms across his chest. “All the sessions went to the bathroom.” He said. “They will not be happy, that is for sure.”
Kerry laid her hands on the table, drumming it’s surface softly with her thumbs. She could sense the building tension, and after a moment she pushed herself to her feet and went to stand behind Dar’s chair. She laid her hand on her partner’s back, giving the skin under the cotton shirt a little friendly scratch before she focused her attention on the screen in front of her.
Dar didn’t like to be hovered over, but Kerry felt some of the stiffness in her back relax at Kerry’s touch and knew she understood the gesture of support. She watched Dar’s fingers flicker over the keys, the gentle spatter of keystrokes almost rhythmic as the patterns were put in place waiting for the data stream to return. “Should it take that long to restore?” She muttered softly.
“I don’t know.” Dar replied. “Hans…” She added in German. “Do you have to restart the servers?”
“I should not have to.”
“Want to check? I don’t see sessions coming up.”
With an aggrieved sigh, the German programmer bent over his laptop again, just as the door opened and Jason Meyer entered.
“What’s going on? Did you take us down?” The VP Ops snapped. “I’ve got everyone in the building calling me.”
Dar barely glanced up. “You wanted it fixed ASAP.” She said. “We try to give the customer what they want.”
“Are you insane? How could you do that?” Meyer said. “It’s the middle of the business day! Stop whatever you’re doing right now!”
“Hans?” Dar ignored the red faced executive.
“Must you always be correct?” Hans replied in a disgusted tone. “They are coming up at this moment.”
Meyer advanced on them, and Kerry reacted instinctively to intercept him, circling Dar’s chair and putting herself between her partner and the approaching man. “Just give them a minute, Mr. Meyer. It’s almost done.”
“I am not going to give it a minute. This is totally irresponsible.” Meyer responded. “I demand you bring us back up, right now, Roberts!” He tried to move past Kerry but found his way blocked, and realized the space behind the table wasn’t big enough to go around her. “Get out of my way.”
“Mr. Meyer, please calm down.” Kerry stood her ground. “Just let them finish. I know it’s a disruption, but..”
“Get out of my way.” Meyer repeated, ignoring her words. “I’m not putting up with any more of this crap. Now move, or I’ll..” His eyes slid past her, over her shoulder as he cut off his words.
Kerry knew Dar must have stood up behind her. She could almost feel the bristling danger at her shoulder blades, but she kept her gaze focused forward and her tone even. “Mr. Meyer, you’ve been having this problem since you put in this program. Most of your people can’t work during the day anyway, and it’s so slow the rest of them are just so frustrated. Why not give us a chance to change all that? It’s worth ten minutes downtime.”
For a moment, she thought he was going to ignore her. But then he took a half step backwards, his face twitching. He addressed her again, though the shifting of his eyes indicated he was keeping something behind her in his peripheral vision.
“Ten minutes isn’t the question.” He said quietly. “The issue at hand here is the fact you did this without warning us. I don’t find that acceptable, Ms. Stuart. Do you?”
Kerry heard the chair squeak softly behind her, and relaxed just a trifle even though the man’s question was a valid one she had no good answer to. “Well, that’s something we can discuss once it’s fixed.” She conceded. “So why don’t we..”
“They’re up.” Dar’s voice cut in. “I’m resetting the filters now. Let’s see if we can make this warthog grow wings.”
Letting out an imperceptible sigh of relief, Kerry turned, finding her partner once again hunched over her laptop. She took a step forward and let her hand rest on Dar’s back again. “See? Less than ten minutes. More like five.”
Dar felt her heartbeat start to slow as she forced herself to concentrate on the screen. The adrenaline pumping through her body was threatening to make her hands shake, and she laid them firmly on the palm rest as she silently willed her algorithms to work.
Stubbornly, the stream seemed to be resisting them, giving her no real improvement. Stifling a curse, Dar studied the output, suddenly aware of the tense silence around her, and the expectations weighing heavily on her shoulders.
The heaviest of all being the light, gentle touch on her back.
“I doubt very much that anything’s fixed.” Meyer stated. “In fact, I doubt very much you people even know what you’re doing.”
“Dar?” Kerry uttered softly.
“I know.” Her partner answered. “Give me a minute. I’m looking.”
Her eyes spotted an error. With a twitch of her lips, she corrected it, then put the new configuration in place and watched the streams flicker back up, this time to a completely different rhythm. Dar let out a silent breath. The erratic spikes on her gauges dissipated, replaced by much lower, even flow, and the throughput level settled into a comfortingly green pulse.
“Well, unfortunately for you, but fortunately for your company Mr. Meyer, you’re wrong.” Kerry spoke up. “Could you please contact one of your remote offices, and let’s see how it looks from there? It looks pretty good here.”
Hans had gotten up, and now he circled the desk and planted himself over Dar’s other shoulder, leaning down and peering at the screen with interest. “Bah.” He grunted.
Meyer went to the phone on the conference table and hit a few buttons. After a brief ring, there was an answer. “Bob? This is Jason Meyer in New York.”
There was a pause. “Oh.. ah, yes, yes, sir.” Bob answered. “Is there something wrong?”
Meyer’s head jerked back a little. “You tell me.”
With a frown, the VP Ops leaned closer to the phone. “Can you have someone connect to the system and tell me if you see a difference? Not that I expect you to, but we did something here and I’m just checking.” He glanced up as Stewart Godson walked in. “It seems we were taken down without warning, sir.”
“Eh?” Godson walked over. “We were? Didn’t notice.” He glanced curiously at the group at the head of the table. “What’s going on here?”
“Check the system? Oh, okay, sir.” Bob answered. “Hang on.”
Kerry shifted her hand, draping her arm over Dar’s shoulder instead and moving a step closer, so her hip was brushing her partner’s sleeve. She wasn’t worried about the test – she knew from what she was looking at that Dar had done it, but she had to briefly wonder if the risk hadn’t damaged the relationship more than it needed to.
She wondered how Dar felt about it. She could see her reflection in the laptop screen, and for a second, the blue eyes lifted and their gazes met. Kerry grinned a little, and was rewarded with the flicker of a wink.
“I don’t think we’re going to be pleased at all with these results sir.” Meyer shook his head. “And the entire company was disrupted. You know what I think? I think we need to..”
“Sir?” Bob’s voice came back. “I don’t know what you did, but boy, it’s flying here. Wow. The entry people are all pretty excited.”
Dar folded her hands together and smirked. “You need that translated, Hans?” She asked the programmer. “It worked.”
Godson clapped his hands. “Wonderful! Bob, are you in Arizona?”
“Yes, yes.. ah, is that Mr. Godson? Yes sir, we are.” Bob sounded confused, but happy. “Are we a test group? I didn’t get that email.”
“NO one did.” Jason ground out through clenched teeth.
“Of course it worked.” Hans sniffed. “You are brilliant, I am brilliant, it is a wonder the room does not melt with the combined brilliance of us. Can we go have a beer now?”
Kerry felt her entire body relax, and she leaned against Dar quite unconsciously. “I have no idea what else he said, but I got the beer part. I’m up for it.”
“For lunch?” Dar did a subtle little dance of triumph in her seat, shifting her shoulders and bumping Kerry with the left one. “Stewart, can you put a note out to everyone, and let’s get a consensus before we close the books on this. I want to know that everyone’s happy.”
Godson was on his cell phone. “Hello, Harry? Yes.. yes, it’s Stewart… listen, I think I’ve got our performance problem cleared up.. want to give it a go? What?” He listened. “It did? You are? Fabulous! Great to hear… what did I do? Oh, well, you know, it was all a matter of just getting some of the kinks worked out.. you know, new system and all that.”
Dar snorted and rolled her eyes just a little.
“Well, thanks, Harry.” Godson beamed. “Glad you feel that way, and I hope to continue to earn that respect from you. Listen, if you hear any other feedback, just let me know, hm?” He closed his phone and faced them. “Ladies and Gentlemen, so far so good. That was our CFO. He’s been one of the biggest critics… he’s in Boca Raton.”
“We saved his ass.” Dar translated for Hans. “Bet he gets a bonus out of it.”
“Hah.” Hans snorted.
“Well, I’m glad we could get the problem solved, Stewart.” Dar continued in English. “Hans and I figured if we threw the change into production now, we’d know by the end of the day if there were any issues with it – if we did it off hours we’d have to wait till Monday to test.”
Stewart nodded briskly. “Good plan. Well, Jason? Let’s go take credit for this, shall we? I told you it’d all work out. You should have more faith, sometimes.”
Meyer looked like he was unsuccessfully trying to swallow a peeled lemon. “Yes, sir.” He eventually got out. “I guess you were right.” He admitted. “But I think we need to discuss how we put together our outsourcing contracts, to make sure we have more control over what this process is.” He turned and went to the door, pausing to wait for his boss. “I won’t forget how it was accomplished, regardless of the result.”
Godson chuckled. “Jason, lighten up.” He waved at Dar as he left. “Had my girl send out a note, Dar. I’ll let you know what we hear.” He followed Jason out the door and closed it, leaving them in a moment of mutual, thoughtful silence.
The rain had finally stopped, and a pallid sunset was brushing the windows of Stewart Godson’s office as Dar formally ended their visit. The executive was seated behind his desk, his hands behind his head, looking very pleased with himself, and consequently also pleased with Dar. “Well, Dar, I realize it was a tough spot, but it all worked out, didn’t it?”
Dar aligned her forearms on the chairs precisely. “It did.” She acknowledged. “Not the way we like to do things, but the bottom line is it got done and now you can move forward.”
“You bet.” Godson agreed. “Everyone I’ve heard from so far is very pleased, and I think now we can even find a way to really work with Hans’ company if something like this comes up again. So, thanks, Dar. I owe you a big one.”
There were times to gloat, and times when it was better just to be gracious. Dar didn’t much like being gracious, and it was undeniably more fun to gloat, but she’d laboriously gained a small sense of propriety over the years and didn’t like to waste it. “Glad I was able to work it out for you, Stewart.”
He waved a hand at her. “Never doubted it.” Godson said. “I’ve had people come in here, pitching me deals to do what you do cheaper, but I know when my keister’s in a pickle, you people have always come through for me. Means a lot.”
“Well, Stewart, you know we value you very much as a customer.” Dar went through the requisite dance steps stolidly. “So I hope we’ll always be there to come through for you.”
“Me too.” Godson got up and paced a little. “But what in the world did you do to get old Jason so miffed at you? I got an earful the size of the Empire State after we left that room.” He sat down on the edge of his desk and looked curiously at Dar. “He’s really got a problem with what he views as your ethics.”
“My ethics?” Dar indicated her chest with her thumb. “Stewart, the man’s got stock in a competitor of mine, and he wanted us out so he could bring them in. He talks about *my* ethics?” She half shook her head. “You better watch out for him. He’s after this office.”
A furrow appeared over Godson’s brow. “You really think so? He’s a good guy, Dar. Very sharp.”
Dar sighed. “Stewart, he’s a rat. You don’t have to believe me, but at least watch your back because I sure as hell don’t want to be negotiating with him when our contract comes up for renewal. We won’t have a chance.”
Godson looked doubtful, but he nodded anyway. “Well, I’ll keep it in mind.” He answered diplomatically. “You know we all can’t be as friendly working together as you and Ms. Stuart are.”
Dar lifted an eyebrow.
“But then you girls usually are chummier than us fellas are.” Stewart continued. “Anyway, don’t let me hold you up, Dar. I know you’ve got things to do and more people to help. You flying out tonight?”
“No.” Dar got up and extended a hand, gripping Godson’s when he took it. “Us girls are going out for a romantic dinner together then heading for a show at Radio City Music Hall.” She released his hand, watching his jaw drop as he processed her statement. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning. But thanks for asking. Have a great day.”
“Bu…” Godson half stood as Dar turned and walked to the door, his hand still outstretched. “Ah… bye?”
The door closed behind Dar’s tall form, leaving the room far emptier without her vibrant presence. Godson let his hand drop to his knee and snorted, shaking his head slightly into all that silence.
Kerry stuck her hands in her pockets as she waited on the ground floor of the big office building. The tall granite walls reminded her a little of their office in Miami, but she found the slate gray even more impersonal and cold than the copper and bronze shades they used down south.
She was glad the weather had cleared, even though the hazy sun promised a muggy heat, at least they’d be able to go for their carriage ride and find someplace to have a nice, lazy dinner. The show that night was an opera, which neither of them were really partial to but Kerry didn’t care. They had good seats, and Dar had promised to take her strapless gown shopping.
Life was very good. She exhaled. At least, her personal life was very good. Though they’d fixed the problem, she had gotten the feeling that there was trouble under the surface here and she knew for sure Meyer was going to be a thorn in their side from now on.
What would she have done in Dar’s place, she wondered. Played it safe? Involved the client in the decision, and scheduled the testing based on their needs? Would that have been a better long term solution?
Kerry sighed, and leaned against the glass, watching the traffic go by outside. What Dar had told Godson about testing during business hours was quite accurate, in point of fact, and she knew it. But she also knew Dar’s decision hadn’t really been based on that at all – she’d simply wanted the problem over and done with because she had, in her view, better things to do.
From a business perspective, Kerry had issues with that. From a personal one, since she was the better thing, it was hard to argue with it since she really had no urge to spend the night sitting around in this building either.
Rats. Sometimes she really hated the duality of her work life.
Hans cleared his throat slightly, and leaned next to her on the glass, giving her a polite nod.
Kerry nodded back, and added a tentative smile.
“Kerry, yes?” Hans said.
“Right.” Kerry answered. “You did a great job.” She wasn’t sure exactly how much he’d understand, but nice words never hurt anyone regardless of the language. “Thanks for working with Dar on getting it fixed.”
He seemed to get the gist, because his face eased into a smile. “It was much pleasure.” He stated carefully. “Your Dar has strong talent.”
My Dar. Kerry reckoned he didn’t actually mean that in the literal sense, but she was glad to accept the compliment anyway. “Thanks. Yes, she is very talented.”
“Also of good taste.” Hans commented, blinking placidly at her.
Kerry stared at him for a second before she realized he could possibly be referring to her. “Ah.. thanks.” She replied, belatedly remembering the way she’d draped herself all over Dar in the conference room, totally without thinking about it. If Hans had picked up on it, maybe the Meyer and Godson had too, and..
Jesus. Kerry exhaled, her eyes flicking to the lobby elevators as she spotted Dar exiting from one and heading their way. Her partner appeared relaxed as she ambled across the marble floor, her characteristic slightly rolling walk almost succeeding in returning a smile to Kerry’s face.
“We’re outta here.” Dar said, as she reached them, repeating the sentiment in German for Hans. “You ready for that beer now?” She asked Kerry, giving the back of her hair a little ruffle. “We’ve got time for that, before we have to go grab real clothes and head for culture world.”
The touch reassured her. Kerry nodded agreement, indicating the door with one pointing finger. They walked outside, into the moist heat and started off down the sidewalk together.
“I think I embarrassed your girlfriend.” Hans told Dar, in a bemused tone, after they’d walked about a half a block in relative peace.
Dar glanced at him. “She’s not my girlfriend.”
Hans colored visibly, a somewhat startling sight against his pale skin. “Then I have embarrassed myself and I must apologize.” He said. “I assumed…”
“She’s my wife.” Dar draped an arm over Kerry’s shoulders. “You’re not embarrassed by that, right?” She asked Kerry in English.
Kerry shifted the strap on her briefcase, having suspecting she was being discussed. “By what?”
“Being married to me?” Dar repeated the question in German.
She almost stopped walking. “Did you get some hallucinogenic in that last cup of coffee? Of course not.” Kerry replied. “What made you ask *that*, you goofball?” She hooked a finger inside Dar’s belt loop and tugged it, to take any sting from her words. “Just because I don’t have my ‘I’m with her’ shirt on today?”
Dar chuckled. “Hans thought he embarrassed you back there.” She explained. “He assumed you were my girlfriend.”
“So I corrected him.”
“Eh.” Kerry gave her a sheepish look. “Yeah, I was being a little obvious upstairs. Sorry about that. I wonder if those other guys noticed it too.. maybe that’s why Meyer was being so obnoxious.”
Dar cocked her head in a puzzled attitude. “Huh?”
“Oh wait, there’s my t-shirt.” Kerry pointed. “That one, right there.”
Dar peered at the window. “My girlfriend can beat up your girlfriend?” She asked, with a snort of laughter. “Jesus, Kerry.”
“Pick one. I’d rather be Kerry.” Her partner replied.
“Hang on.” Dar slowed down. “What did you mean about you upstairs?” She lowered her voice a little.
Dar hadn’t noticed? Kerry wondered, then conceded she hadn’t either. A bus roared past, spitting the scent of diesel. “Never mind.. We’ll talk about it later.” Kerry bumped her partner with her hip. “Where are we going?”
They stopped at a corner, and waited for the crossing light to change. Hans stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around, then turned inquiringly towards Dar. “Hotel bar is good for you?”
Dar had wandered towards a street cart, sniffing the air. “Yeah, that’s fine.” She called back over her shoulder. “Ker, want some nuts?” She walked over to the stand and examined it’s contents, pointing at the cinnamon covered pecans as she dug a few bills from her front jeans pocket.
Having had nothing since breakfast save several cups of coffee, Kerry found the nuts sounding pretty darn good. “Sure.” She joined her partner at the cart. As they paid for their purchases, a familiar voice trickled through the surrounding bustle and Kerry turned to see Jason Meyer standing at a pay phone nearby arguing into it. She gave Dar a poke and jerked her head towards him.
Dar turned, putting a nut between her teeth as she looked inquiringly in the direction Kerry indicated. “Ah.” She grunted. “Jerk doesn’t even believe in cell phones? Now there’s a technologist.”
It was curious, Kerry knew. Cell phones had become so woven into society it seemed very odd to see a man who had any number of them, and an entire corporate PBX at his disposal using a street side pay phone in the middle of a Friday afternoon crowd in Manhattan.
“Look! I don’t care what you do! Just do it!” Meyer yelled, and then slammed down the phone. With a disgusted look he stalked off, hauling up as he came very close to crashing headlong into Hans. “Excuse me.”
He brushed past and kept going, apparently not recognizing the programmer. Hans stared after him, then looked at Dar and Kerry. He shrugged both shoulders and held his hands out in a universal message, which they returned in equal measure.
They rejoined Hans at the corner, and watched Meyer head back towards the entrance to his company’s building. He shoved rudely ahead of a woman carrying two boxes, and nearly knocked her down, but didn’t even look back as he let the door close behind him.
“What in the heck flew up his butt?” Kerry wondered. “You know, I talked to him a few months ago, Dar. He seemed fine, then. Wonder what happened?”
Dar chewed her nut and swallowed it. “Beats me.” She nudged Kerry in the direction of their hotel. “Who knows? Maybe I happened. He stepped on my last nerve the second I got there and I went off all over him.” She started across the street with Hans at her side, going with the flow of heavy foot traffic. “Maybe he’s just a jerk.”
“Huh.” Kerry followed her, idly nibbling her treat. “Maybe he’s related to Shari. Same kind of backwards jackassedness.”
Dar stopped short and looked at her. “Been talking to my father again, huh?” She drawled, giving Kerry a very playful grin. “That sounds damn bizarre in a Midwestern accent.”
“Heh.” Kerry chuckled under her breath. “I’ll become Southern yet. You wait and see.”