Moving Target

Part 12

Kerry glanced at herself in the mirror and grinned impishly, adjusting the strapless front of her dress with careful fingers. The one nice thing about New York was, if you wanted fast, stylish shopping, you had it in spades all around you.  She and Dar had gotten in and out of the stores in under forty five minutes, and now she was reviewing the results.

“Nice.” She complimented herself.  The dress she’d found was a deep, forest green silk with a tiny embroidered pattern, classic and plain, reaching just down to her knees.  It was sleek, and fit her curves nicely, and even the prospect of sitting through opera couldn’t put a damper on her mood. “Hey, sweetie?”

“Yes?” Dar’s voice floated out from the bathroom.

“How about we find us some place to dance after the show?” Kerry asked. “Really just go out and party.. I think we’re due it, after your brilliant solving of the problem here.”

Dar poked her head out of the bathroom. “You consider dancing with me a party?” She asked in a quizzical tone.

Kerry looked over at her. “You are not a bad dancer.” She stated. “So don’t give me that. C’mover here.”

Obediently, Dar eased around the door jamb and came over to join Kerry in front of the mirror.  She was dressed in a snazzy blue number an inch or two longer than Kerry’s, but with much the same cut.  “But sure, if you want to, I’m game.” She picked up Kerry’s brush and started brushing her partner’s pale hair. “That looks really good on you.”

Kerry turned her head and looked up. “Likewise, and thank you.” She smiled warmly. “Shall we go the opera, madame?”

Dar tossed the brush onto the dresser and gestured towards the door with a grand flourish. “After you.”  She picked up the small clasp purse that held her wallet and electronics, and followed Kerry as she half walked, half danced towards the hallway.


Kerry turned as they reached the elevator. “What’s so funny?”

Blue eyes blinked innocently. “Nothing.”

The doors opened. “Uh huh. Go on.” Kerry indicated the opening.

“Oh no. Ladies first.” Dar drawled. “Please.”

Kerry gave her a suspicious look, but she entered the brass and glass lined car and waited for her partner to join her before she pressed the button for the lobby. They started down, and halfway she found herself having to equalize her ears. “Oh, egh.”

“Mm.” Dar pressed her thumb behind her right earlobe. “I don’t like having to do this without getting wet.”  She looked up just in time to see a very devilish expression on Kerry’s face. “What’s that look for?”

Kerry closed the distance between them and leaned against Dar as she laid a hand on her cheek and kissed her on the lips. “Mm.”

Dar forgot about being in a hotel elevator. She slid a hand around Kerry’s side and continued the kiss, allowing the passion to build between them even as the car slowed, and bumped gently to a halt.

They parted just as the doors did, and the echoing buzz of the crowd in the lobby filtered in. Kerry licked her lips and took a step back, taking a steadying breath before she dared look up again.

Dar’s face had a definite flush to it, and her eyes held a dark twinkle that came very close to making Kerry simply punch the button for their hotel floor and forget all about the damn opera.  “Well. Made me forget all about my damn ears.”  Dar commented. “Shall we?”

Kerry half reluctantly exited the elevator, giving the small group of people waiting to get on a polite smile. She waited for Dar to catch up to her, then they both continued on towards the door to the street. “Dar? Have you ever been to the opera?”

Dar simply laughed.

“I went a few times.” Kerry admitted, as they emerged into the warm night air. “I have to admit I missed the popcorn and Raisinettes.”

Dar led the way to the curb, bypassing the hard working door man who was busy getting cabs for people. She fixed her gaze on an oncoming yellow cab instead, making eye contact with the driver and seemingly drawing him to the curb obediently with the power of her will.

The door man gave her a respectful look and hurried over to open the cab door. “Ma’am?”

“Thank you.” Dar responded graciously, ducking inside the cab and scooting over as Kerry joined her. “Radio City Music Hall.” She instructed the driver.

“You got it!” The man responded cheerfully, pulling away from the curb and into the busy traffic flow with little regard to either oncoming cars or the lives of anyone in his own. 

Kerry slid her hand into Dar’s and clasped it, settling happily back into her seat to watch the city go by. “Boy, I’m glad you got that problem cleared up. I’d hate to have been spending the night in that office.”

“Uhm.”  Dar removed a small case from her purse and offered Kerry one of it’s contents. “Even though I took them down in the middle of the day? I saw you squirming over that.”

“Well..” Kerry selected a small candy and put it into her mouth, grimacing a moment later. “Flamingos on a shoestring, Dar.. you could have told me that was sour.”

Dar sucked on her candy contentedly. “Sour tangerine.” She agreed. “They had lemon, too.”

Kerry resolutely swallowed the offending bit of confection. “It wasn’t the choice I’d have made.’ She admitted. “But you know that. I tend to be… a little more conservative than you are.”

“Conservative.” Dar reached up and traced around Kerry’s tattoo, cheekily visible over the line of her dress. “Uh huh.”

“Mm.” The blond woman grinned a little. “But anyway, you’re right. I was squirming. I knew you’d make it come out right, but I really thought you were taking a big risk there.”

And she had been. Dar felt the warmth of Kerry’s fingers curled in hers, and felt herself at peace with her decision.  “I’ve always been a risk taker.” She said. “And to be honest, I didn’t really want to spend any more time there myself. So it worked out.”

“Mm.”  Kerry found she wanted very much to just accept that answer, and not argue the subject. She often made very different decisions than Dar did as part of their daily work life, and they’d come to understand over the years that their approaches to things were, despite their obvious compatibility,  different.

Which was okay. She often learned things from how Dar worked, and she knew sometimes Dar picked up a trick or two from her.   Kerry put her head down against Dar’s shoulder and fell silent, content to watch the bright lights of the city flash past as the cab driver wound his way through the heavy traffic.

Then they were there. Dar had already handed  the driver his fare before Kerry could even so much as grab her wallet, and she reflected that in one area, preplanning, Dar really did have it all over her on a very consistent basis.

They got out and joined a stream of people heading for the doors. The range of dress was amazing, and Kerry found herself almost goggling at the sight of actual mink wrapped around several women’s necks despite the summer heat. “Yikes. I’d croak.”

Dar spotted a counter nearby. “Want a drink?” She offered.

“My turn.” Kerry tapped her on the hip with her purse. “Get us some programs?”

Programs. Dar spotted a woman handing them out, and she headed in that direction. She waited to catch her eye, then accepted two of the handbills. “Thanks.”

“No problem, ma’am.. can I see your tickets? Maybe I can direct you…”  The usher asked helpfully. “It’s a big place.”

Dar tucked the bills under her arm and fished the tickets from her purse. “Yeah, sure.” She handed them over. “That what you’re looking for?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, ma’am, these are easy. Go right down front, and it’s in the very middle of the row. Best seats in the house.” She handed Dar back her tickets. “Enjoy the show!”

“Thanks.” Dar studied the tickets in bemusement before tucking them back in her bag. She took the playbills and headed off, intercepting Kerry who was carrying two glasses of wine. “I’m told we have good seats.” She informed her partner, trading a playbill for a glass.

“Oo.” Kerry opened the booklet. “The Mikado – I’m trying to remember if I’” She read the synopsis. “No, I’ve never seen this one.”

Hearing her name made her look up, to see an older woman approaching them, waving one hand. Kerry had to rack her brains to place her, but fortunately she did just before the woman reached them. “Hello, Ms. Patrick.”

“Kerrison! How amazing it is to see you here! My gosh, it’s been years!”  The woman blurted. She was perhaps in her fifties, with silver gray hair and a sophisticated sequined silver gown. “Are you living up here now?”

“No.” Kerry shook her head. “I live in Miami. I’m just in the city for a few days on business.”  She half turned.  “Ms. Patrick, this is Dar Roberts, my partner. Dar, Ms. Patrick was a professor of mine in college.”

“Nice to meet you.” Dar replied politely. “Professor of..?”

“Computer Science.” The woman supplied. “What kind of business, Kerrison? I know when you graduated you said you wanted to do something in management, but…”

And she’d been quite sure, Kerry suddenly recalled, that Kerry wouldn’t end up in anything like that at all. “I work for ILS.” She tasted a deep sense of pleasure in the words.

“Do you? How marvelous!”  Ms. Patrick looked vaguely surprised. “In what area? I seem to remember you really liked design.”

“I’m the vice president of global operations.”

The woman blinked at her in silence for a long moment. “Oh.” She finally managed to get out. “Isn’t that lovely?”

“I think so.” Dar interjected. “Best vice president we’ve had in years.”

The woman looked up at her in puzzled silence for a moment, then a visible light bulb went on over her meticulously coifed head. “Oh my.. are you *that* Dar Roberts?”

Dar merely looked at her, refusing the dignify the question with the obvious answer.

Ms. Patrick backed away. “Well, isn’t that great.. nice to have seen you, Kerrison. Have a nice time at the show.”

Dar waited for the woman to disappear into the crowd, before she turned to her partner. “Enjoy that?”

“Uh huh.”


They took their drinks and headed into the main hall. Just inside the doors, after surrendering their tickets,  they both had to stop and look around in frank wonder.

“Holy catfish.” Dar craned her neck and peered around at the vast, grand, art deco infrastructure. “This is gorgeous.”

“Uh huh.” Kerry agreed, blinking at the bright sunset themed colors, which reminded her unnervingly of Key West. “C’mon.” She took Dar’s arm and lead the way down the aisle.

They settled into their seats, and now that she didn’t have to worry about bumping into moth ball smelling matriarchs, Dar found herself free to take in the immensity of the theatre from it’s delicate stage arch to the sloping seating.  It was an amazing place, and she found herself looking forward to watching whatever it was that was about to start going on.

The Mikado. Dar studied her program. Ah. Japanese intrigue. Maybe there would even be a sword fight.  She stretched out her legs, pleased to be in the front row with all the extra room.

Life was good. She glanced aside at Kerry, who was merely sitting, her program in her lap, a benignly contented look on her face. “Quarter for your thoughts?”

Kerry chuckled, folding her hands over her stomach and exhaling. “I was just thinking about what my family would give to have front row center seats at Radio City.” She admitted. “Going to the theatre in Manhattan was the be all and end all of anyone’s social agenda where I came from.”

“Ah.” Dar wiggled her fingers. “Getting into the X rated movies for free was where I came from.” She responded, with a droll grin. “I got really good at picking the locks on the movie theatre back door.”

Kerry started laughing. “Do you realize the first X rated movie I ever saw was in your living room?” She whispered, catching the stern looks from their neighbors despite the fact that the show had not yet started. “Jesus, people.. chill out!”

“Well.” Dar leaned closer to her. “Would you be talking about X-rated movies in front of your family?”

Kerry hastily covered her eyes with one hand and bit her lip.

“Didn’t think so.”

A short time later, the house lights began to lower. Kerry tucked her fingers inside Dar’s once more, and settled down to watch, resolving to enjoy the moment, the night, and the sense of occasion, even if opera wasn’t her favorite thing on earth.


It seemed only a few minutes later when the lights were coming back up, and the show was over. “Wow.” Kerry murmured. “That was pretty cool.” She joined the audience in enthusiastic clapping. “What’d you think?”

“I liked it.” Dar agreed. “Funny story, catchy tunes.” She added. “And pretty girls. What more could you ask for?”

Kerry chuckled. “Hm.. with a lead girl character called Yum-Yum, I should have known you’d like it.”

Dar half turned and gave her a mock outraged look, putting one hand on her hip. “Kerrison!”

Green eyes batted their lashes at her with devastating Midwestern innocence. “Yes?”

“Let’s go get ice cream.” Dar stood up and extended her hand to her partner. “I think you need cooling off.”

Kerry accepted the aid, and was lifted gracefully to her feet by a smooth contraction of Dar’s arm. “Why thank you, ma’am. After you?”

They walked out hand in hand, going along with the slow flow of the audience as it filtered through the tall, beautiful entranceways and out into the lobby. There was a buzz of conversation, and Kerry found herself smiling as she took in a size crowd once very familiar to her.  “Honey, I’m going to go use the restroom.. meet you by the bar, there?”

“Nah. I’ll go with you.” Dar laid a hand on her back as they edged through the press of bodies. “Know what?”

“You’re hungry.” Kerry replied without missing a beat. “I hear you growling back there even over this circus.”  She jumped a little as Dar growled in her ear, ending the noise with a rumbling purr. “I’m fairly sure there’s at least one restaurant around this place.”

Dar chuckled, as she pushed the bathroom door open for both of them, extending her arm easily past Kerry’s body. “This was really nice.” She commented. “Remind me to send Alastair a box of cookies or something for it, will you?”

“Sure.”  Kerry found herself a partition and entered. She idly listened to the conversations around her as she went about her business.  She heard Dar’s low, vibrant voice exchange a mutual excuse me, and then a sharp, very New York accented tone complain bitterly about the quality of toilet paper.

Kerry pulled off  a few sheets and examined it.  “Hey, Dar?”

A soft throat clearing nearby. “Yes?”

“You see this here fancy napkins they put in here?” Kerry put as much of a drawl as she was capable of into her tone and was rewarded with a muffled snicker. “I’m going to take me some of these and put them on the table back home.”

“Okay, Forrest.”  Dar  replied through a rumble of laughter. “You do that.”

Kerry finished up and went to the sink, washing her hands while still chuckling under her breath.  She wiped her fingers dry and turned to wait for Dar, exchanging glances with a tall redheaded woman also standing by waiting.

“That’s a gorgeous tattoo.” The woman commented, with a faint nod towards Kerry’s chest.

Kerry blinked, suffering a moment of bewilderment before she looked down at her shoulder and realized the woman was talking about her. “Oh. Thanks.”  She murmured, peering back up with a bit of sheepish look. “Haven’t had it that long.”

“You have it done here?” The woman asked, turning her arm to display the point of her shoulder, which had a cobra on it. “I had this done last month.”

The cobra was nice, but Kerry noticed it lacked the vibrance of her own decoration. “No, I had it done down in Miami.” She replied.  “There’s a guy there who’s a really good artist.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” The woman leaned closer. “That’s very cool.”  Her eyes studied the mark. “Who’s Dar?”

“That would be me.”

Kerry resisted the urge to look up and over her shoulder. The redhead didn’t, however, and she straightened up and took a step backwards when presented with Dar’s towering intimidation.

“Well, anyway, congrats on a nice tat.” The woman retreated further, grabbing a napkin off the counter before she left the bathroom, taking her somewhat disappointed looking cobra with her.

 “Ready?” Kerry gave Dar a smile, as she led the way out of the bathroom with her sauntering lover behind her. “You know, that was nice.”

“What was, the tp? I’ll get you a double case of Charmin at Costco when we get back, okay? You can keep some in your desk drawer.”

“That lady liking my tattoo.” Kerry said. “But I’ll remember that offer.  I don’t know what the heck the facilities people were thinking last month but the stuff they changed to reminds me of grocery bags.”

They walked outside, accepting the shock of going from icy chill to muggy heat as something natural. “What’s your poison?” Dar asked. “I had Italian last night, but I’ll do it again if you want.”

Kerry licked her lips. “Mm… let’s walk down a little bit and see what we find. I don’t know if I’m in the mood for that.”

The streets were busy around them in a way Miami never was. Their home town had no central downtown area, and was in no sense a walking city.  It was far more a huge urban and suburban sprawl, extending up and down the coast for three counties made up of clusters of shopping surrounded by clusters of residential areas.

This was a nice change, really, Kerry thought. It reminded her a little of the trips she’d occasionally made to Chicago with her debating team, when they’d get away for the afternoon and roam the downtown near their hotel, finding anything that didn’t smack to hell of home.

Like Garrett’s popcorn. Kerry licked her lips in memory, even after all these years. Or the pieces of thick pizza they’d shared on the sidewalk, looking up at the huge, towering buildings.  It had been very different than her few trips to Manhattan with her family, that’s for sure.

Ah well.

Dar took her hand again as they strolled along, passing brightly lit store fronts and places that became suddenly familiar to them from television. “Hey, look.” Kerry pointed. “That’s where you always see people standing with signs looking like goofballs on the Today show.”

“Uh huh.” Dar agreed. “Isn’t that where that huge Christmas tree goes?”

“And the ice skating rink, yeah.” Her companion said. “Can you ice skate?”

Dar pondered the question briefly. “Yes.”  She finally admitted. “Chinese?” She directed Kerry’s attention to a storefront one level up. “I could go for something spicy.”

“Sounds pretty darn good to me.” Kerry led the way over to the restaurant. They had just gotten seated when first hers, then Dar’s pager went off. “Oh, pooh.”

Dar removed her device from her purse and keyed it. “Ops center. Never good news.”

Kerry sighed and lifted her cell phone, speed dialing and holding the device to her ear as she listened to Dar order for them both. “Hi, it’s Kerry Stuart.” She said as the line was answered. “What’s up?”

“Oh, hi ma’am.” The voice answered. “This is Jason. Sorry to bother you, but Mark said I should page out. We had a big forced entry attempt here a little while ago.”

Dar’s eye brow cocked up, as she caught the tinny sounding words from the phone Kerry was holding a little ways away from her ear.

“Successful?” Kerry asked.

“Ma’am.” Jason managed to sound politely scandalized. “If it had been, you’d be talking to Mark right now, not me, that’s for sure. No offense.”

Dar snorted softly.

“Does Mark have a culprit?” Kerry asked. “Any ideas, or..”

“He’s got some stuff he’s tracking down. He wanted me to tell you to tell the boss someone was trying to call her bluff.”

Dar’s eyes narrowed, and the planes of her face shifted into a dour expression.

“The boss knows.” Kerry said. “If he finds anything, tell him to call us.”

“Will do, ma’am.”

Kerry folded her phone up and tapped it on the table. “I don’t much like the sounds of that.”

Dar eased back in her seat, giving the waiter a nod as he delivered two chilled glasses of plum wine. She picked one up and sipped from it before she answered. “It was excessively stupid of me to make that damn claim.”

“Oh, well, that’s not what I meant…”

“Kerry, it was.” Dar interrupted her. “Regardless of whether it was true or not, pissing into an open fire hydrant is just plain idiotic. Mark’s going to be cleaning up after that for months.” She glared at her wine. “Bah.”

Kerry patted her partner on the leg. “It got us good press, sweetie. If Mark can keep them at bay, we can get even better press out of it. I have faith in him, and in your infrastructure.”

“Hmph.” Dar looked mollified, however.  “Maybe if he’s got a lead on who they are, I can go back on them and nail em.” She suggested. “That’d be fun.”

“There you go.” Kerry smiled at the waiter, who appeared with two bowls of steaming hot and sour soup. “Mm.. that smells great.”

Dar had removed her PDA from her purse and was scribbling on it.  Kerry watched her, as she picked up a spoon and sipped her soup. “Mark?”


“You know what would be cool?”

“What?” Dar glanced at her.

“If we had software that could not only detect stuff like this, but proactively go out and find the jerks trying it and turn the tables on them.”  Kerry said. “Couldn’t you write something like that, Dar?”

Dar tapped her stylus idly on the edge of her PDA. “I don’t do coding anymore.” She demurred. “I haven’t even looked at some of the newer languages…”

“Sure you do.” Kerry disagreed. “You write little things all the time. My dancing gopher, that program that keeps track of our expenses, that database thing Maria uses… those are all yours.”

A half shrug. “That’s just little stuff, like you said.”  But Dar’s voice lacked real conviction.

“Wouldn’t it be cool?” Kerry repeated. “That would be such a killer app, if you could just have it go out and snag these losers. Find a way through all those backdoor portals and all that masking stuff.”

Dar’s eyes went briefly unfocused. “Hm.” She made a noise deep in her throat, low and thoughtful. “That would be cool.” She admitted. “Might fit in with some of the heuristic stuff I was looking at… maybe I could take a look at what the structure might need…”

Ahh. Kerry smiled inwardly. Caught that mind, I think.  “It would be awesome.”

Dar scribbled several notes, then keyed something, and scribbled several more. Then she hit send and closed the device, folding her hands over it.  “So.” She turned her attention fully to Kerry. “What were were talking about… toilet paper, right?”

“Toilet paper, and tattoos.” Kerry lifted her wine glass, and touched it to Dar’s. “And pretty little girls named Yum-Yum.”

Dar returned the toast, and they both took a sip. “You know..” Dar looked around. “New York’s not so bad after all.”

“Hear hear.”  Kerry agreed, with a smile. “I’m glad I had a chance to play here with you.”

The blue eyes lit as a returning smile appeared. “Me, too.” She replied. “Ker, I really appreciate you coming up here. I… um..” Dar’s gaze dropped briefly, then lifted again. “I just really do.”

Kerry put her glass down and reached over to cover Dar’s hand with her own. “Any time, sweetie. It made me so happy to do it I about did somersaults in the airplane aisle.” She reassured her partner. “I loved being here.”

Dar lifted her glass again, and they touched rims, then impishly, she leaned much closer and twined her arm through Kerry’s. They drank from each other’s glass, and took advantage of the restaurant’s trendy dimness to share a kiss that lasted one heartbeat short of a scandal.

Ah well. Kerry reflected, as they parted and picked up their spoons. If anywhere on earth could handle that, it was New York.

It was big enough to handle just about anything.


It was well after midnight by the time they made it back to the hotel, crossing a much more conspicuously empty lobby and sidestepping an earnestly polishing housekeeper busy getting a purple stain out of the marble flooring.

Kerry peered at the stain, trying to imagine what could have caused it. Grape jelly? Grape wine? Eggplant parmigian?

“You coming?” Dar inquired, watching her with a bemused grin.

“Yup.. yup.. sorry.” Kerry hastened to join her. “What the heck do you think that is?”

Dar observed the stain. “Hair dye.” She dismissed the work and headed for the end of the lobby.

“Hair dye? Dar, it’s purple.” Kerry protested.

“You obviously haven’t been looking around too closely.” Dar remarked as she pressed the call button. “I’ve seen more pink and purple hair here than I’ve seen taxis outside.”

“Hm.” Kerry turned in a circle, shading her eyes and peering at the non-existent crowd. “You think I’d look good in purple hair?”

The doors opened. Dar circled Kerry’s waist with one arm, then lifted her into the elevator. “No.” She replied. “It’d clash with your eyes. C’mon.”


They were alone in the elevator. Kerry waited for the doors to close before she peeked behind her, only to find pale blue eyes close by, as Dar kissed the sensitive spot where her neck sloped to her shoulders.  Without a sound, she let her head drop back to rest against Dar’s warm body, luxuriating in the surge of sensuality the touch brought on.

Just being around Dar made her feel sexy. It was amazing. She could be in a ratty old t-shirt with dirt from the little garden at the condo on her knees, but one look in those eyes, and pow.

Instant tingling gut shot.  Kerry had been attracted to people before she’d met Dar, but this was different, and it had taken a bit of getting used to.  At first it had almost shocked her, this demand of her body that overrode her conservative upbringing with effortless ease. 

But eventually, she’d gotten used to it, and then, she’d found herself really enjoying the frank sexuality she and Dar shared.

It was nice. She tilted her head and they kissed, as Dar’s arms slid around her and began a lazy tracing up and down her sides. It made her feel great.

The ride could have gone on a lot longer. But the car slowed at their floor soon enough, and Dar’s hold shifted to her shoulders as the doors opened to let them out.  Their floor was quiet and empty, and their steps on the carpet sounded loud as they went down the hallway and opened the door to their room.

It was equally cool and quiet inside. The drapes were pulled open to show the city lights, and there was a neat tray on the table containing a silver pot, two cups, and a small note.  Dar walked over to pick the note up and examine it, while Kerry went to the window to look out.

“Hot chocolate. Compliments of the management.” Dar mused. “Takes them three days to realize I’m here?”

Kerry chuckled, and shook her head. “Maybe they just want to stay on your good side.”

“I have one?” Her partner asked mildly, as she wandered off towards the bathroom.

Kerry turned and watched her disappear. “Mmhm.” She nodded to herself. “But that one’s not bad either.” She sat down on the edge of the windowsill and kicked her shoes off, wiggling her toes as they celebrated their freedom from the snug leather.

“Hm.” She got up and snagged the shoes, walking over to tuck them into the outer pocked on her overnight bag.  She was a little tired, but not sleepy, and she straightened up in reflex as she heard Dar emerge again from the bathroom.

“What’re you up to?” Dar asked, coming up behind her.

“Getting naked. Unzip me?” Kerry let out a small sigh as Dar’s fingers touched the back of her neck, then slid down to unzip the back of her dress. “That was an awesome night.”

“Was?” Dar nibbled Kerry’s skin, ending up with her partner’s right earlobe between her teeth.

Kerry’s eyes closed in pure reflex. “Mmm.”  Dar eased the dress off her, and she stepped out of it, turning around to circle Dar’s equally undressed body with her arms and indulge in a nice warm hug. There was still a hint of chocolate fudge on the lips she was kissing, and she felt Dar laugh softly as she gave them a lick. “Okay… so it’s been an awesome night so far, with every indication of getting even more awesome now.”

Dar’s touch eased over Kerry’s ribs, tickling them mischievously. “I had a great time so far too.”  She informed her partner, swaying a little to a rhythm only her inner ear could apparently hear. “I even had fun dancing.”

“So I see.” Kerry let her hands rest on Dar’s hips, as she swayed along with her.  “I don’t know why you always say you can’t dance… you’re a great dancer. You move.. like magic.” She eased closer and brushed up against Dar’s bare belly, putting a light kiss across the top of her breastbone.

“Magic?” The low voice purred. “Are you asking me to pull a rabbit out of somewhere, Kerrison?”

“Hmmm….” Kerry drew a line with her fingertips down the center of Dar’s body. “I can’t think of where you’d hide one, except…Ooo.”

Dar laced her fingers behind Kerry’s neck and tilted her head up, exploring her lips as she gently nudged them both towards the bed. She definitely had a size advantage, but Kerry wasn’t resisting, and in fact now had hold of her by the waist and was pulling her steadily forward.

They tumbled together into the neatly turned down sheets, pausing only to dig the small wrapped chocolates out from underneath them.  Dar chucked them gently over her head. “Remind me to have a word with the front desk tomorrow.”

“Less poky snacks?” Kerry wriggled closer , sliding one thigh between Dar’s and cupping a hand around her breast. “They meant well.”

Dar didn’t bother answering that. She let her fingertips trace lazy lines across Kerry’s skin, feeling the muscles underneath shift and tense.  Delicately, she kissed Kerry’s new tattoo, her sensitive nose detecting just a hint of moisturizer and a strange, faintly spicy smell she figured must be the ink.

It was new, and different, but she decided she liked it. She turned her attention lower, nibbling down across the curve of Kerry’s breast. The surface lifted under her touch as Kerry inhaled sharply, and Dar paused briefly just to lean forward and press her body lightly against her partner’s, letting her skin slide over Kerry’s skin.

Kerry arched up against her, wanting the contact.  Dar was more than glad to oblige, rolling on her side and stroking the restlessly moving body shifting to wrap itself around hers.

God, that felt good.

Dar felt her own breathing speed up as she felt Kerry’s teasing touch slid up her leg, a soft chuckle warm and knowing coming to her ears as her partner nibbled familiar spots and started a gentle, but insistent dance they both knew well.

She’d never been with anyone long enough before Kerry to let them get to know her. Being in bed with someone who was so intimately aware of what she liked and had a sweetly passionate interest in showing it was..

Well, it was a gift.  Dar traced the outline of Kerry’s face with her thumb, enjoying a lingering kiss and the rumbling little purr that escaped from her partner’s throat.  She felt a gentle pressure and gave with it, rolling onto her back to feel the cool sheets warm to her skin.

Kerry mock pounced on top of her, green eyes glinted with seductive glee. “Gotcha.” She growled, ducking her head down to nip Dar’s throat, working her way downward, pausing to nibble at a very sensitive spot. “Mine.”

Dar felt s shiver ripple down her body, a mixture of passion and emotional reaction.

“Grr.” Kerry rested her chin on Dar’s breastbone for a second, her eyes fastened on her partner’s, narrowing a little. “Mine.”  She repeated, with a grin.

The world shifted a little around her. “Body, heart and soul.” Dar agreed, returning the smile. “Always have been.”

Kerry’s eyes simply lit up from within.

Then she repeated her nipping, surprising a low cough from Dar’s chest. “Heh.” Kerry claimed her property without further delay, hearing the echo of a gentle laugh as she pressed her body down, feeling the heat ignite between them.

Outside a siren howled past, accompanied by a crescendo of honking horns, seeming oddly appropriate to the moment.


Kerry woke the next morning to a splash of sunlight. She blinked the sleep from her eyes and glanced at the clock, stifling a curse as she saw the time.  Then her brow cleared, and she relaxed, realizing it was Saturday and they didn’t have to be up if they didn’t want to be.

So she put her head back down, but tilted it a little so she could see Dar’s face as her partner lay sleeping next to her.  Even disheveled in bed, it was a nice sight to wake up to, and she spent a few minutes avidly studying the planed face next to her.

Completely relaxed, the little worried furrow she’d seen over Dar’s eyes was at last erased, and she appeared to be at peace.  A faint twitch moved across her cheek, and her eyes flickered briefly as well under their silken lids.

A dream, maybe? Kerry felt a warm pulse of affection stir within her as she watched in silence. Hope it’s a good one.  The faintest tug at the corners of her subject’s lips allayed her concerns, though and she made a mental note to ask Dar what she’d been dreaming of when she woke up.

If she remembered, that is. Dar often didn’t.

Kerry felt a little of the concern that had been gnawing at her guts ease, and as she lay there tallying up the last few days she felt pretty satisfied with where they both were.

Dar’s problem was resolved. Not in the way she would have done it certainly, but it was resolved and much to the client’s favor. Kerry mentally ticked that one off.  Now, her problem with the cruise ship bid – well -  that was still a big mess.

It would have been more useful if she’d stayed in Miami and worked on resolving some of the problems with it. Kerry knew that. Her walking out on Shari and Michelle, and the startling intervention of Mayte and Maria was going to make the entire situation worse, and she knew that also.

And yet, even knowing all that, she would not have changed her decision if she had the chance to go back and redo it.  Kerry let her hand rest on Dar’s stomach, her thumb idly smoothing over the baby fine down that covered her skin. She just didn’t have any second thoughts.

 A soft sound outside the room made her pick her head up again. Glancing up at Dar’s still peaceful face, Kerry eased away from her partner and slid out from under the covers. She grabbed the do not disturb flag and trotted to the door, only pausing when she had her hand on the door handle and was about to turn it.

She looked down at herself. “Jesus.” She muttered, hastening back to the chair and snagging her sleep shirt from it. She pulled it on over her head, then headed back towards the entrance. 

The soft clanking that had alerted her repeated itself, and as she quickly ducked outside and stuck the placard in place, she spotted the housekeeping cart just one room away.  “Whew.” Kerry shut the door again. “That was close.”

“What was?” Dar’s sleepy voice drifted over. “Where are you?”

“Right here.” Kerry went back to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. “I didn’t want the cleaning people to wake you up.”

Dar was lying on her back with her arms outstretched. She turned her head to look at the clock, then looked back over at Kerry with a wry expression.

“Well…”  Kerry slid back under the covers and snuggled up against Dar’s left side, putting her head on her partner’s shoulder and hugging her. “I was trying to be quiet.”

“You were.” Dar enfolded her with both arms and exhaled happily. “Nice to sleep late for a change.”

“Considering what time we went to bed?” Kerry giggled. “Uh.. yeah.”

“Mm.” Dar’s eyes closed again. “I just had the craziest dream. You were dancing in a clown suit.”

Mental note. Kerry peered over the curve of her partner’s breast. Don’t ask Dar about dreams. “Um…”

“It was really cute.” Dar went on sleepily. “You had this hat on, and…” Her eyes opened and she looked over as Kerry covered her mouth with one hand. “Ermf?”

“I’ve never told you this.” Kerry blinked solemnly at her. “But I hate clowns.”

The dark eyebrows hiked up.

Kerry sat up and leaned over, removing her hand and giving Dar a kiss. “So keep your circus images behind closed doors, okay?” She pointed a finger at Dar playfully. “You want me to book our flights?”

“You hate clowns? Really?”

“Yes.”  The blond woman stretched out on her side. “Flights?”

Dar didn’t immediately answer, prompting Kerry to look over at her in question.

“Yeah, I guess.” The taller woman finally answered.

“You guess?”

Dar shrugged.  “It’s not so bad here, now that you’re around.”

Kerry drew a few little circles on the surface of Dar’s skin. “Hm. I had fun last night… and there’s a few places around here I’d like to see, like the Empire State building, but y’know honey….”

Dar sighed. “I know.” She acknowledged. “But to be honest, there’s a mess back there I just don’t want to deal with.”

Ah. Kerry mirrored the sigh. “I was just thinking about that before I got up.” She confessed. “Crap, what a screwed up thing I did. You should smack me.”

Dar’s eyebrows contracted sharply.

“I don’t want to deal with it either.”

They were both silent for a little while, only the faint sounds of the city filtering through the window audible in the room.  Then Dar curled her arm around Kerry’s body, pulling her close as she gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “Tell you what.”


“I’ll deal with the Mayte and Maria audition for Jerry Springer show…”

Kerry muffled a laugh against Dar’s shoulder.

“You assemble the ops team for the bid.”

“It’s not fair for you to clean up my mess, Paladar.” Kerry stated quietly.

“Life’s not fair. I think I told you that once.” Dar replied, with a touch of humor. “It’ll be easier for me to do it , because I wasn’t there.”



A sigh. “Yeah.”  Kerry reluctantly agreed. “And how about I book us on the last flight out, and we do the typical tacky tourist thing today.”

“What’s left of today.” Dar said. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

Compromise wasn’t always either exciting or perfect. Kerry thought. But if you had a pile of dog poop to carry, it sure made it easier if someone else carried half.  She gave Dar another hug, and reconciled herself to scooper duty, hoping at least they’d remember to bring little plastic bags.


Dar poured herself a glass of juice, then returned to her desk and settled back into her leather chair.  A thick printout in white was already in her inbox, and she lifted it out and plopped it down in front of her as her desktop hummed in the background, collecting her mail.

Security reports. Dar winced slightly as she started reading. “Damn, what a mucking little troublemaker I am.” She shook her head ruefully. “Aye, yi yi yi yah… Mark I owe you dinner at least for this one.” Her fingertip traced one intrusion attempt that had come perilously close to finding a crack, being turned aside at the very last second by the random roaming parser that dipped continually into the datastream and examined the traffic it found there. “Wow.”

The parser had been around since a twenty something year old bored ops manager had put it in place years back, and recently had to defend having it around taking up router cpu cycles. Dar hadn’t really expected to have her stubborn insistence in leaving her code in place vindicated so explicitly, but she was never one to look a gift goat in the ass either. 

She opened a new mail window and typed rapidly. Next time someone tells me we don’t need any of my old programs, they’re fired.  She reviewed it, then hit send and it went on it’s way to Mark’s inbox.  With a satisfied grunt, she went back to reviewing the report.

A soft knock interrupted her a few minutes later, however. Dar put the page down and leaned on her elbows. “C’mon in.”

The door opened and Maria poked her head in. “Good morning, Dar.”

Dar leaned back in her chair and studied her assistant. “Morning.” She lifted a hand and curled a finger, beckoning Maria inside the office. “Siddown.”

Looking slightly apprehensive, Maria did so, taking a seat across from Dar in one of her comfortable visitors chairs. “Si?”

Dar steepled her fingers. “I have a meeting with Mariana in about an hour over your little incident last week.”

Maria sighed. “Dar, I am so sorry..”

“Shh.” Dar waved her off. “Don’t apologize. I only wish you’d gotten some pictures. The two of them were up to no good, and I’m happy Kerry didn’t end up there with them.”

“They were very nasty women, jefa.”

“I know.” Dar said. “The problem is, they’re also a huge honking pain in the ass, and it’s to their advantage to make us look as bad as possible.”

Maria sighed. “We should not have gone to that place. It was a wrong thing to do, Dar. Even if you do not say so.”

Her boss shrugged. “And I shouldn’t have challenged every hacker on the planet. But I did, and here we are.” Dar nudged the stack of papers. “So, what I want you to do is just let me handle it okay?”

“Jefa?” Maria looked confused.

Dar got up and paced around to the front of the desk, perching on the corner of it. “I’ll meet with Mariana, and take care of whatever bullshit she got handed. Kerry’s up to her ears in this damn bid, and I don’t want her bothered with it.”

“Okay, Dar, if you say so.” Maria still looked unsure. “But the policeman came to us on Friday, and I spoke with him. I think it is fine.” She said. “He said to me that what they were was some nuisance?”

Nuisance. Dar chuckled inwardly. “All right. Listen, I’m going to need to schedule a security meeting after lunch. Book the big conference room, and get all the ops department heads in there.”

“One o’clock?”

“That’s fine.” Dar nodded.

Maria started to get up, but then she paused. “Dar, I did not get to ask you – did this thing you were in New York for go all right?”

“It did.” Her boss answered.

“Was Kerrisita a good help for you?”

Dar’s blue eyes twinkled warmly. “Couldn’t have done it without her.”

Satisfied, Maria stood up and headed for the door. “Is good. Mayte will be very glad as well. She was very concerned that everything would go nicely.”

Dar went back to her seat and dropped into it, pulling her report back over to her. A motion on her screen caught her attention and she looked over,  studying the security alert flashing.



Kerry came around the corner of her office entrance and almost plowed into her administrative assistant. “Whoa!” She hauled up short and put a hand out to steady Mayte, who had fairly bounced off her. “Hey, Mayte.”

Mayte’s eyes widened. “Oh, Ms…” She hesitated. “Kerry. Hello. Good morning.” Her expression was a cross between apprehension and concern. “You are here so early.”

“C’mon inside. I want to hear all about our rock em sock em staff.” Kerry grinned, indicating her office door. “I’ve got a staff briefing at ten, but we’ve got some time to talk.”

Mayte followed her inside and closed the door, then came to stand a little awkwardly beside Kerry’s desk. “Kerry, my mother is very upset with us. She said for me to come to you and to apologize.”

Kerry put her tea mug down on her desk and came over to face her assistant. “Why?”

“Because we should not have confronted those ladies.”

“Ah.” Kerry folded her arms. “Well… I’d agree with you, except that.. .remember the story Dar said for you to ask me about?”

“Yes.” Mayte fastened her eyes on Kerry’s face.

“Once upon a time, back when Dar and I first started seeing each other…” Kerry turned and wandered over to the window, peering out. “and we were still keeping it secret from everyone… “

“Excepting my mama.”

Kerry chuckled. “Uher… yeah. Except for her. From everyone else, though.” She amended. “Mariana and Duks asked us out to dinner. We knew Mariana suspected what was going on, so we were trying really hard to pretend we were just friends at the restaurant.”

Mayte merely watched her, fascinated.

“Now that I look back, I doubt we were fooling anyone, but we were trying hard, and we thought we were doing pretty good.” Kerry turned and leaned against the glass. “Until one of Dar’s old girlfriends showed up and started needling her in front of all of us.”

“Oh, that is terrible!”

“Uh huh. It was.” Kerry agreed dryly. “Until I got up and pushed her in front of a tray full of Thai food and she ended up with eel guts up her nose while she swam on the floor in a puddle of peanut sauce.”

“Oh.” Mayte covered her mouth with one hand and tried not to laugh.

Kerry came back over to her. “So, they’re probably pretty lucky.” She admitted. “Because if I’d have been there, and they’d have started talking trash about Dar, I would have done a lot worse to them than dump chili down their shirts.”


Kerry’s face turned suddenly serious. “Yes.” She drew in a breath. “Dar means everything to me. If I wasn’t there to watch her back, I’m glad you two were.”

Mayte looked a touch overwhelmed at that. “Then… no matter what my mama says, I am glad too.” She replied softly. “It did not feel like a bad thing to me.”

“It wasn’t.” Kerry stepped closer, then impulsively held her arms out. “C’mere.”  She enfolded Mayte in a hug, giving her a gentle pat on the back. “Don’t worry about anything. If they make more trouble, Dar will take care of them.” She released the girl,  but clasped her shoulders. “You guys have nothing to worry about.”

Mayte was blushing furiously. “T.. thank you.”

“Okay.” Kerry gave her a pat on the arm, then let her go and perched on the edge of her desk. “Now, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for this ship bid. I’m going to need some rush orders on equipment, I’ll need you to get ahold of Elaine and see what we can do to pressure the vendors.”

“I will call her right away.” Mayte replied softly. “Did… did the jefa’s thing in New York come out.. did you fix the problem there?”

Kerry smiled inwardly at the half nervous stutter. “Oh yeah.” She reassured Mayte. “Dar had it pretty much resolved before I even got there. I just added some moral support for a couple hours and then we spent some time out in the city.”

Mayte’s brow puckered a little.  “You left so quickly I thought…”

“That I was going to save the day?” Kerry went to her chair and sat down, giving her trackball a roll. “Nah. I just went to be with Dar. Sappily romantic, but true.”  She propped her chin in on her fist and gazed at her assistant. “Occupational hazard with us.”

Mayte recovered her composure, and smiled. “I hope to be finding that out someday also.” She said, as she escaped towards the door. “I will set up the meeting with accounting for this afternoon.”

“Thanks.” Kerry watched in mild bemusement as her assistant disappeared, then she shook her head and took a sip of her tea.  She turned to her mail, and studied the newest ones, having cleared most of the weekend’s backlog from home the prior day.  “Ah.”

She clicked on the one from the Port of Miami’s agent and leaned on her elbow, studying the schematics the man had provided. There were four possible places for the four ships to come in at, and she had no idea which spot would be filled with the ship they’d be assigned.

And yet, waiting for that information before she ordered a working circuit was just idiotic. Kerry gazed at the scattered buildings, and pondered her choices. Four docks, four dock buildings, four choices of places to drop a line into.  The agent did not know which dock would be assigned to which ship.

Well, poo.  Kerry sent a note off to Quest, asking him which ship they’d be working on.  If she had that, maybe she could gently nudge the port agent into assigning it a pier, and if that worked, then she could call Bellsouth and drop the circuit.

And, they’d need a satellite. Kerry sent a note off to Mark. They had a regular provider, but she didn’t think they knew anything about marine satellites. However, they might know someone who did.

At least it was a start. They had their work cut out for them, though.

Something chittered at her elbow, making her jerk and look up to see Gopher Dar peeking out from behind her mail window. “Hey!” She chased it with her pointer, and caught it by the tail. “Aha! Gotcha!!!”

“Ooooooo.” The Gopher Dar flopped on it’s back and squiggled, making her release the mouse button as she started laughing. Immediately, the creature bounced to it’s feet and scurried away, wagging it’s finger at her. “Oh, you are so damn twisted.”  She leaned closer, peering at the thing. “Hey. .what tshirt is that?”

Gopher Dar sashayed across the screen now that he wasn’t being molested. It had a tiny white t-shirt on, which bore the words ‘Hackerz suck!’  Kerry sighed, and watched it as it pulled out a magnifying glass from it’s non-existent shorts and started peering around her desktop. 

Apparently Dar had her work cut out for her, too.


Kerry removed her sunglasses as she came to stand near the pier wall, gazing thoughtfully at the concrete structures around her.  It was so hot, the pavement was giving off heat waves, and the place was pretty much deserted here in the noon time sun.

She walked to the edge of the fence and peered through it, spotting a maintenance man or two walking slowly down the empty docks. One was kneeling beside an iron tie cleat painting something on the concrete surface, another drove a forklift towards a stack of pallets with a low rumble.

“Hm.” Kerry turned and walked to the front of the pier building, which consisted of a few glass doors, and a series of garage type roll entrances that went off into the distance. She checked her watch, then blew her already sweaty bangs off her head with a long breath and leaned against the wall to wait.

The humidity was almost overpowering. Kerry debated waiting in the Lexus, then spotted a Miami Dade truck trundling slowly her way and decided to give it a chance to be her port agent inside.

The truck creaked to a halt and the door opened, disgorging a tall, gray haired woman with a clipboard. She came around the end of the truck and approached Kerry. “Ms. Stuart?”

“That’s me.” Kerry agreed. “Are you Agnes?”

“Yes… thanks for coming over.” The woman gestured towards the glass doors. “Let’s go inside.”  She led the way over, opening the doors with a set of keys on her large ring. They went from the muggy heat to a frigid interior as she closed the doors behind them, locking the locks again before she went on. “Sorry – we get so many vagrants out here I’ve got to keep the doors closed or we’d find them under the floorboards.”

“Ah.” Kerry murmured, as they crossed a large open space, and went through two sliding glass doors into a larger room in the back.

“Okay, this is pretty typical of all four piers.” The port agent said. “These are four older buildings we’ve decided to renovate for the next cruise season, so no one’s using them. It’ll be better than using the cargo piers anyway. There’s no space back there, and we’d be moving you every other day.”

“Okay.” Kerry nodded agreeably. “So this is where they put cruise liners normally? The passengers? Because one of the things we’re supposed to do is make it so they can check the passengers onboard while they’re in the waiting area, before they get on.”

The agent brightened. “Well, that’ll work great then. Yeah.”  She led the way over to one side of the room. “Over here is where we usually put the boarding agents, and in here’s a small office I guess you guys could use. Otherwise, it’s pretty open.”

Kerry peered into the tiny room, which bore the scars of many years of administrative use. It was grungy, but it had a lockable door, and..  She peered under an overturned table. Wall jacks. “Okay.” She sighed. “Is there a telco closet?”

“Around the back here.” Agnes led her through two sliding doors she had to shove open by hand, and they emerged into a stifling hot interior garage. “This is where they put the luggage.” She explained. “So customs can get at it.”

“Ah.” Kerry grunted.

Agnes opened a closet at the back of the garage, and they peered in. On the back wall was a punch down block, and the rest of the room was ringed with power panels. There was one black case on the wall near the door, however, that looked a little familiar. Kerry unlatched it and folded the door open, spotting the mounting hardware inside for a network switch. “Ah.”

“That’s for the wiring in the building, but you’d have to put your own equipment in there.” Agnes said. “Now, the problem is, as I told you, we won’t know which ship is going into which pier until they get here.”

Kerry closed the switch case. “Why?” She asked. “I mean, you know they’re coming.. why not just assign them?”

“Wish we could.” Agnes waited for Kerry to leave the closet, then she closed the door. They walked back towards the main building. “But the port won’t, since they’ve never seen these, and they don’t trust the specs we were given. The drafts are really important, because the piers vary.”

“Uh huh.” Kerry could understand that, since she knew what a draft was, and knew there were places in some of the smaller islands she and Dar visited that the Dixieland Yankee had trouble getting into because of hers. “So that’ll be…”

“The day they get here. First one that shows up, will be assigned, and so on.”

Drat, drat, drat. Kerry sighed as she edged through the non-working doors and back into the air conditioning. “Okay.” She put her hands on her hips and studied the space again. “I can’t wait until then to drop circuits.”

“Yeah.” Agnes seemed sympathetic. “I know, the other people that are doing this thing called, and they said the same thing.”

“Really? So what are they going to do?” Kerry asked casually.

“Use cellular.” The port agent replied. “Some kind of new process.”

Some kind of untested, barely adequate process. Hm. “Well, I’d use that for one pc, but not for an office.” Kerry decided. “Okay, I know what I need to do. Thanks for meeting me down here, Agnes. It’s greatly appreciated.”

The woman smiled at her. “Absolutely no problem – having four ships in here in the summer is a big windfall for the port – we’d be glad to do anything we can to make it good for you.”

“Except pre-assign the piers.” Kerry said wryly.


“It’s okay.” Kerry started for the front doors. “We’ll manage it somehow.”

She bid Agnes goodbye at the sidewalk, and crossed behind the port agents truck towards the small parking lot in front of the pier. Her Lexus huddled there in the heat, looking very blue and lonely, and she slid behind the wheel with a grimace as the hot leather hit the back of her legs. “Ugh.”

She started the engine and got the air going, then leaned back and pulled out her pda. She opened a new message and tapped out a directive, then paused, tapping the stylus on the edge of the device as she thought about what she was doing.

It wasn’t really a risk, per se. It was an expense. The question was, should she incur the expense, and accept the cost in order to ensure she had the environment she needed to do the job? Kerry nibbled her lip, counting the days and knowing even if she put the order in today, assuring the delivery by the time the ships arrived was taking a chance.

But. She had leverage with Bellsouth. With a slight nod, she hit send on the message.  Then she put the PDA down and shifted the car into reverse, backing out of her spot, then driving carefully out of the parking lot into the stream of eighteen wheel trucks delivering containers to the container loader docks at the far end of the port island.

She checked her watch again, then opened her cell phone and hit the speed dial. “Hey, sweetie.”

“Hey.” Dar’s voice sounded relaxed. “Just got out of my meeting with Mariana.”

“Ahah. How’d it go?” Kerry asked, making the turn onto Biscayne.

“I don’t think Telegenics lawyer likes me.”

Kerry chuckled low in her throat. “There’s a shocker. Listen, before you tell me more – I’m heading to the Bread Factory.. you want a sandwich?”

“Mm.. chicken curry.” Dar responded instantly. “And that spicy soup if they’ve got it.”

“Okay. Now.. what did the lawyer say?” Kerry navigated carefully through the traffic.  “Are they really serious about pressing charges?”

“Not anymore.”

“Ah.. that’s good.”

“I basically told them since it was off company property, and off company hours, it wasn’t a company problem.”

Kerry blinked. “Um…”

“And if they wanted to pursue it on a personal basis, I’d welcome a suit that explained why his clients were trying to entice my partner out to convince her what a scumbag I was.”

“Ugh.” Kerry winced. “Hon, I don’t’ think that’s exactly what they were up to.”

A shrug could be heard distinctly through the phone. “Doesn’t matter. It was enough to scare him off. Besides, that was the subject matter that made our battling burritos dump the chili bowl, so…” Dar chuckled a little. “Anyway, one less thing to worry about. But listen.. “

Uh oh. “Yeah?”

“Maria just told me Mayte just told her that you got an invitation from Quest to a kick off reception at the port this Saturday.”

“Just me?”  Kerry pulled into the small strip mall that held one of their favorite sandwich shops.

“You and a guest.”

“You and me, then.” Kerry sat back. “Okay, so here we go again. Can I hope maybe that Telegenics will send someone else to do the bid now that it’s on?”  She got out of the car and headed for the restaurant. “I’ve just scoped out the port, Dar. It’s going to be a pain in the ass working here.”

“Uh huh. I figured.”

“I’m dropping lines into all four possible spots we could be. I’ll just cancel the ones that we don’t need.” Kerry said, holding her breath a little as she waited for her bosses reaction. Dar hated.. HATED wasting provisioning, and she knew it.


“Two chicken curry on croissants, provolone, nothing else, two spicy soups, one coffee.” Kerry told the order taker, still listening to the pensive silence on the other end of the cell.  “Hon, I had to. I couldn’t risk not having it, and they won’t tell us where they’re putting the damn things until the last minute.”

Dar sighed into the phone. “Yeah. I know. I just..”

“Hate wasting the money.” Kerry handed over some cash. “I know.”

Dar clucked her tongue a few times. “But you know what, this is your project.” She finally, somewhat surprisingly, said. “So go for it. I’ve got hacker bees flying around my head like gnats, so that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.”

Kerry felt uncertain all of a sudden. “Okay.” She said, slowly. “Are you sure you don’t want to..”

“I’m sure.” Dar sounded confident. “Kerry, my being involved is only going to make it tough on you, we both know it. In fact, why not take Mark to the reception?”


“I’m the problem.” Her partner said, in a reasonable tone.

Kerry frowned. “Can we talk about this later?” She asked. “I need to think about it.”

A bit of silence. “Okay.” Dar said. “Sure.”

“It’s not that I don’t think you’re right…” Kerry said in a rush. “I just… I want to talk to you about it.”

“You don’t want to take Mark?” Dar hazarded a guess. “If you want, I’ll go with you, Ker, I was just trying to make things a little smoother.”

“I know.”  Kerry relaxed a little. “It surprised me, that’s all.”

“Okay. See you in a bit?”

“Be right there.” Kerry nodded. “Just getting the sandwiches. See you in a few minutes.” She folded the phone and tucked it into her belt, waiting for her order while she tried to reassemble her thoughts.  

Dar was right – she knew  that. The core of their problem with Telegenics was the personal issue Shari had with her partner. But now, it might even be more than that given what had happened last week, so would Dar’s stepping out really solve anything?

Or just make it worse?  Kerry gazed off into the distance, facing her own insecurity with a grimace. The truth was, now she didn’t want to face Shari and Michelle alone, and the reasons had nothing to do with business.  She wanted Dar there, antagonist or not.

Despite her big ideas before she’d gone to New York, about how she was protecting Dar from having to be involved.  Despite her confidence.


“Here’s your order, ma’am.” The boy behind the counter handed her the bag courteously. “Have a nice day.”

“Thanks.” Kerry took the bag and headed out the door. “For the thought, anyway.”

Damn, damn damn.


Dar edged past the rows of switches, ignoring the apprehensive looks of the on duty techs in the ops center. She dropped into a seat in the back row, at the master console that wasn’t generally manned and keyed up some views, wrapping her hands together and resting her chin against them as she studied the results.

“Ma’am?” One of the techs got up and faced her. “Can we do something for you?”

“No.” Dar gave him a baleful look. “Just siddown and leave me alone.”

He did so quickly, burying his nose in the console without a backwards glance.

As though she could feel Kerry’s wry look on her, Dar sighed. “Listen up, all of you.”

Four heads turned timidly towards her.

“I’m not trying to be rude, okay?” Dar said. “I’m just working on something, and I know this place better than any of you do. So don’t worry about it.”

The techs relaxed. “Yes, ma’am.” The one who’d approached her said. “We know that…we just wanted to help you if we could.”

“Thanks.” Dar said. “Now siddown, and leave me alone.”

This time, the man grinned a little. “Yes ma’am.” He went back to his reports, and the rest of the techs did as well, but the atmosphere was definitely a little lighter.

Dar shook her head, and went back to her own display. She called up the network topology, and studied it intently.  The main part of the attack had hit them in specific places. Not their external websites – those were bypassed entirely. This had hit them in their tier one interfaces, where the big circuits connected them both to the Internet, and to their global network.

That meant, Dar reasoned, someone had some pretty solid information on their infrastructure.  She didn’t like the idea, but knew that it was almost impossible to prevent some information to leak out, and after all, the telcos were big companies with lots of people making generic wages who could be paid to punch up their provider account and read off circuits and patch points.


If she was going to design a global threat solution, where would she put it? At the network core? Dar’s finger traced a few lines. No, because if the threat got that far, she was screwed. Her fingertip stopped over the exterior access ports. No, it would have to go between their infrastructure, and the outside circuits, and that meant a secure appliance.

However, she couldn’t put a bottleneck in the network. That would negate all the hard work she’d done over the last few years to remove the damn things. That meant that anything she put in place had to be able to parse all the data traffic, and yet, not impede its performance.

It was a huge puzzle. Dar gave the diagram a fond grin. She loved puzzles, and if she could solve this one, not only would she be in a position to solidify their network offering.. she’d  also be off the hook for being the idiot who’d made them a target the size of Antarctica.

She pulled out her pda and tapped a message open, addressing it to their hardware provider. She scribbled a note, then sent it off, her mind running over the possible approaches she could take on the thing’s programming.

It was exciting, thinking about something brand new.  Designing the network had been fun too, but she really hadn’t created anything that hadn’t already been there, just designed the best possible one she could. This was something quite different.

“Ms. Roberts?”

The voice brought her out of her musing with a start. “Yes?” She glanced up sharply at the console tech.

“Sorry ma’am..” The man gave her an apologetic grin. “But you’re being looked for.” He pointed at the door.

Dar looked up to find Kerry in the doorway, holding a bag and grinning impishly.  With a slightly sheepish look, she got up and circled the consoles, heading for her partner. “Ah.. thanks.” She joined Kerry at the door. “I’ll be back.”

As she left, she sent one last look back at the master console, then she grinned and let the door close.

Yeah. She’d be back.


Continued in part 13