C’mon, Chi.. in you go.” Dar held the door to the cabin open, allowing the rest of her family to enter before she stepped over the threshold and followed them inside.
It was dark, close to ten pm, and later than either of them had expected them to arrive after traffic and a stop at a tiki hut intervened. But it had been a nice drive even so, and Dar didn’t regret it as she detoured towards the wall switches.
Ah. She turned the lamps on and gazed around appreciatively. Definitely worth the trip.
Kerry dropped her overnight bag on the couch as she headed for the cabin’s kitchen, putting the bags she was carrying down on the stone countertop just inside the door. She whistled softly under her breath as she put away the supplies they’d picked up, listening to Dar ramble around putting on the air conditioning and flipping on the lights.
It felt very good to be here. Kerry opened the cabinet after she finished, taking out a coffee filter and going about the task of putting them up a little coffee after the long drive. The cabin was now finished, and she leaned on the counter as the hot beverage brewed, looking out over the interior with a sense of pleasure.
The living area had a long couch against the wall, it’s ends curving around to make a huge seating pit across from a wood enclosed television set. The furniture was overstuffed and comfortable, butter soft green leather that blended with the stone floors and wooden walls.
There were woven richly colored carpets scattered around, and in one corner a large round dog bed that Chino was busy scratching and snuffling at. On the walls were a few pictures, one piece of Dar’s mother’s art, and some of Kerry’s photography.
Overall, the impression was one of a richly appointed, if very small, hunting lodge, except it had no tacky animal heads on the wall and there was a distinct lack of testosterone.
Kerry turned around in the room she was in. The kitchen had it’s stone countertops, a polished and cool granite, which framed the gas stove and brushed stainless refrigerator, and blue shutters that closed over the window above the sink.
Rustic. Except that there were wireless access points mounted sedately on the walls near the ceiling, the television was a flat plasma display, and the entire cabin was hooked up to a remote monitoring system that could have let her turn on the air and the coffee from the car on the way up if she’d really put her mind to it.
But she hadn’t. Kerry smiled as Dar appeared from the bedroom, having already traded her jeans and crisp cotton blouse for a pair of shorts and an old, ratty tshirt. “Know what?”
Dar walked over and leaned on the other side of the counter from her. “You’re glad we’re here.” She said. “So am I.”
Yes, she was glad. Kerry sighed happily. It felt so calm and peaceful here in the cabin, with the sound of the ocean audible through the sliding doors that opened onto their big porch. Which was a little funny, because their condo on the island was equally quiet, and had an equally close relationship to the sea – and yet, she always felt different when she was here. “I am very happy to be here, yes.” She said. “But what I was going to say was, how about a bowl of designer popcorn, and a movie?”
“You don’t need to ask me twice.” Dar replied instantly. “Tell you what, I’ll fix the coffee up while you go change.”
“You don’t need to ask me twice.” Kerry repeated, doing a little dance as she exited the kitchen, bumping hips with Dar on her way to the bedroom. “Pick something gory.”
“Only if you promise not to use that red candid apple stuff on the popcorn.” Dar took her place in the kitchen, taking down a set of mugs and putting them down on the counter. “Gave me night mares the last time.”
Kerry chuckled as she entered their bedroom, smiling as she bypassed the neatly made waterbed and the mahogany dressers that held the clothing they now left at the cabin all the time. They’d picked ocean colors for the bedroom – blues and greens, with the odd punch of color, fiery orange and red, as though tropical fish had made an unexpected appearance. Over the floor to ceiling windows on both sides were stained glass panels, throwing warm bars of color when the sun slanted through them.
She loved this room. Kerry unfastened her jeans and slipped out of them, folding them neatly and putting them on the shelf inside the closet. She put her hiking boots next to them, and then removed her shirt, hanging it up as she traded it for a shirt of Dar’s, which hung down halfway to her kneecaps.
Chino trotted in to find her, tail wagging as she spotted Kerry and rushed over to bump her knees. “Hi, sweetie.. did mommy Dar send you in here after me?”
“Okay, well here I am.” Kerry reached down to pat the dog’s head. “Are you glad we’re here too?”
Chino wagged her tail even more furiously. The Labrador enjoyed the cabin almost as much as her owners did, her favorite activity chasing the crabs down the beach just outside.
Kerry gave the soft ears one more scratch, then she patted her leg and headed back out into the living room. Dar was just emerging from the kitchen with the coffee cups, and she paused to put them down on the counter as Kerry passed her. “Ker?”
Willingly, Kerry detoured, swinging around and coming nose to nose with her partner. “Yes?”
Dar leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. Then she rubbed noses with her. “I love you.” She rested her forehead against Kerry’s. “Do you care if it rains tomorrow?”
Kerry leaned in for another kiss, then she reluctantly backed off and ducked into the kitchen. “How do you feel about milk chocolate and caramel?” She asked, removing a package of popping corn from the refrigerator.
One of Dar’s eyebrows waggled. “Lose the corn, shortie.” She drawled, in her sexiest voice.
Kerry started laughing.
“Wasn’t the reaction I was going for.” Dar complained.
“I know.” The blond woman got the corn in the popper. “But I was just imagining the godawful mess.”
“Harumph.” Dar took a sip of her coffee.
Kerry looked at her, then left her corn to pop as she climbed up onto the counter and leaned across it, capturing Dar’s lips just as she managed to swallow. “You can drizzle me whenever you want, my love.” She leaned even closer, whispering in Dar’s ear. “But caramel hardens in really, really awkward places.”
Now it was Dar’s turn to laugh, almost making her spill her coffee.
Satisfied with the reaction, Kerry got down off the counter and retrieved the small containers of sweets, sticking them in the microwave to heat up as the corn started popping in the popper. “You know, I’d love it if it rained tomorrow. I would absolutely adore a day to just lay around and be a complete bum.”
“You can do that if it’s sunny.” Dar walked around the counter, handing Kerry her coffee.
“Nah. If it’s sunny, I just have to be outside messing around on the beach, or in the water, or on the bike…” Kerry demurred. “I feel so guilty being a couch potato when it’s pretty out.”
“Eh.” Dar had no such problem, having learned to take her slothdom where she found it. “Well, if it’s nice out, I’ll fish for dinner. How’s that?”
Hm. Kerry removed the corn from the popper, putting into the huge round bowl obtained specifically for the purpose. She drizzled her additives over it and tossed the corn. “I think that sounds spectacular.” She looked over her shoulder at Dar and grinned.
Dar grinned back. They took the corn and the coffee and curled up together on the couch. Kerry leaned back and felt the aggravation of the week dissolve as Dar wrapped both arms around her. Even the tension of the ship, where the wiring had slipped behind schedule eased into that place she reserved for things she had limited control over.
John was going as fast as he could. The conditions in the ship were hellacious, there was intermittent power, and no air, and even Dar had come off the vessel shaking her head.
Kerry could not change the conditions. All she could do is press John to meet his commitment, because time was running short and she had a deadline herself.
Here, she could release all that, putting it aside until Monday. Even in the condo, that was hard to do because all she needed was to walk outside and she could see the ship from there. In the cabin, there was only peace, the sea, and the warmth of Dar’s body pressing against hers.
She picked up a popcorn and offered it to Dar, who accepted it, licking the chocolate drizzle off her fingers as she took it between her teeth. “Can I ask you something?” She looked away from the opening credits of the bare chested hack and slasher her beloved partner had selected and peered back over her shoulder.
“Sure.” Dar opened her mouth and poked her tongue out, looking inquiringly at the bowl.
Kerry placed another corn on the pink appendage and watched it disappear. “I was a lot more pissed off about all the bullpoop talk at the office than you were.”
“Was that a question?”
“Erm.. no. I guess I was just…” Kerry paused. “I guess you’re just used to it, huh?”
Dar’s hold tightened. “No.” She gazed reflectively past Kerry’s shoulder. “I just knew none of it was true, so I didn’t care.”
Kerry’s brow creased.
“The last time I heard stuff like that, it was.” Her partner clarified quietly. “And the time before that, and etc.” Her shoulders moved in a faint shrug. “All I felt was just this sense of relief, honestly. As long as you know the truth, nothing else matters.”
There were faint reflections in the depths of Dar’s eyes. Kerry disregarded the movie and the popcorn, half turning to lay her hand gently on Dar’s cheek. “Nothing else does matter.” She said. “I never thought about that, you know? About how it was before for you.”
“Mm.” Dar blinked peacefully at her. “It sucked.” She said. “Especially the last time. Everyone took a..” She paused a second. “certain glee in our very, very public breakup.”
Kerry rubbed the side of her thumb against Dar’s skin. “Well, if I’d been there..”
“If you’d been there, it’d have been a moot point.”
“Okay, well, if I’d been there and we hadn’t been together…” Kerry restarted.
“You think that’s really likely??”
Kerry shifted her hand to cover Dar’s mouth. “Let me finish my over the top declaration, please.” She scolded. “If I’d been there, and we hadn’t been together, and we were just friends, I would have taken the biggest mallet I could find and gone around whacking all those bastards on the head like moles.” She removed her hand and leaned closer. “Do you believe that?”
“Oh yeah.” Dar agreed instantly. “You have the staff scared spitless. They’d rather spill gossip to me than dare to tell you about it.”
Kerry’s eyebrow cocked. “Really?”
“Really.” Dar kissed her. “So yes, Kerrison, I believe that with all my heart.”
“Oo.” Kerry nibbled a piece of corn. “I feel like such a mercenary.” She let her head rest against her partner’s. “Grr. You bring out the beast in me.”
Dar eyed her, a grin surfacing immediately. “I’d buy that a lot faster if you didn’t have that cute smile, Ker.”
Kerry solemnly stuck her tongue out, then licked Dar’s nose with it.
Dar reveled in their closeness, feeling a simple happiness not only in having Kerry in her arms, but in being here in this place that was so much a part of both of them. The troubles at work niggled at the very periphery of her conscience, but she ignored that, leaving the potential issues for the daylight.
Tonight didn’t belong to work, it belonged to them. Dar poked her tongue out for another popcorn, and they settled in to watch the mayhem.
As it happened, it rained the next day. Kerry was in her glory, lounging in her pyjamas on the couch watching luridly violent, yet curiously satisfying cartoons. Dar was stretched out facing her, the length of the furniture explicitly planned for so that they both could relax on it at the same time.
“Mm.” Kerry wiggled her toes against her partner’s, grinning as Dar responded. While purchasing leather furniture didn’t usually involve measuring for footsies, in their case they’d decided to make everything in the cabin fit them to a T.
Even the chairs outside on the porch did. Hers was a little smaller, with a shorter seat, and Dar’s had a length that fit her long legs perfectly. Precious, perhaps, and a bit pretentious, but as Dar had said at the time, they could afford it and it lasted longer than an ice cream cone.
At least they hadn’t had the towels embroidered with Hers and Hers. “Find anything yet?” Kerry asked.
“Nope.” Dar had her laptop balanced on her thighs. “So far, nada. That MCI router exists, but they swear nothing in it’s got our IP.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry put her head down on the plush leather couch arm. “You they’re covering up, or just clueless?”
“Eh. Let me threaten more people. I’ll let you know.”
Sounded like a fine idea to Kerry. She stifled a yawn as she watched the animated characters thrash and dance their way across the screen, reminded suddenly of her little friend Gopher Dar. “Are you messing with that program a lot more?”
Dar’s fingers stopped moving, and she peered at Kerry over the top of her laptop screen. “That program.” She repeated. “You mean..” She made a face, and chattered.
Dar continued typing for a bit in silence, thinking about the question.
“I thought maybe you were getting a little bored.” Kerry suggested. “So you were using that to keep yourself interested.”
“No.” Her partner shook her head. “Actually, I think I’ve just been lonely.”
Kerry rolled over and looked at her in surprise.
“That’s my way of hanging out with you when we’re both busy.” Dar had most of her concentration focused on her screen, and was unaware of Kerry’s rapt attention. “I’d be sitting in my office.. c’mon, you bastard… and I’d be on this stupid, pointless conference call wishing I was out on the boat with you instead – and all of a sudden some new idea for the damn thing would occur to me. New tshirt, new dance.. I finally got the vocal program working the other day…”
“I noticed.” Kerry replied quietly, now understanding the message it had conveyed.
“Anyway, it’s more interesting than listening to people bicker about their budgets.”
Kerry studied her partner’s angular face, watching the pale eyes flick over the screen with restless energy. “Dar?”
“Hm?” Dar looked up.
“Do you… not like what you’re doing now?”
Dar’s brow creased. She thought for a moment, then cleared her throat a little. “I don’t know, really. It’s not so bad most of the time.”
Kerry got to her knees and scrambled forward, sprawling over Dar’s legs to get closer to her. “You liked what you were doing before though, right?”
Dar shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I took your job.”
The dark haired woman chuckled easily. “No you didn’t. I horsewrangled you into the position over your protest, if I recall correctly.” She set the laptop aside. “Besides, you do it better than I did.”
Kerry crawled up further. “That’s not the point, Dar.” She objected. “Not if you’re not happy because of it.”
“Happy?” Dar took hold of her and pulled her up further, until Kerry was half lying on top of her, their limbs tangled in a warm mess. “I have never in my life been happier.”
Kerry rested her chin on Dar’s shoulder. “That’s not what I..”
“I know. But it’s the truth.” Dar nuzzled her hair.
Perplexed, Kerry fell silent, not really sure of what to say next anyway. Maybe, as Dar had hinted, it was time for her to change, and move on to do something else. The thought made her anxious, though, and she had to admit if only privately that the last thing she wanted from a professional standpoint is for Dar to leave the company.
Maybe they should both leave. Kerry liked that idea better. They’d talked around the idea of forming their own business for the longest time – maybe it was really time to get off their butts and do something about it.
She put her arm over Dar’s stomach and squiggled down between her and the couch, liking the view from this end better anyway. She thought for a bit about her own job, and whether or not she liked it as much as she had when she’d started.
It was okay, she finally decided. The one big problem with it was that it never really allowed a sense of completion of anything. It was always one situation after another, after another, after another. There was never really any time when she could sit back and feel satisfied with where she, and by extention, the company, was.
Would that ever change? Kerry doubted it. She was about to mention her revelation to Dar, when her cell phone rang, as though punctuating her thoughts with eerie precision. With a sigh, she took the instrument Dar handed her, and opened it. “Hello?”
You called my cell phone. Who else did you expect to be answering it, my dog? “Yes?”
“This is Justin in operations, ma’am.” The voice replied. “I’m sorry to bother you on the weekend, but I had note in the log about a file transfer on the financial lines?”
Kerry glanced up at Dar, who was now listening. “Yes. Is it happening again?”
“Well, I’m not sure, ma’am. I’m just seeing a lot of traffic on that line, and it’s sort of unusual for a Saturday, you know?”
Dar picked up her laptop as Kerry straightened to give her room.
“Yes, I understand.” Kerry said. “Okay, we’ll take a look at it, Justin. Thanks for calling me. Did anyone from the bank contact you?”
The tech sounded surprised at the question. “On a Saturday? No, ma’am. They sure didn’t.” He said. “I’ve notified my boss, and he’s checking it out too, but he thought maybe you’d be interested in hearing it also.”
Dar switched off the program she’d been using and opened up her network systems instead. “Got that right.”
“He’s spot on.” Kerry told the tech. “Thanks for calling me, and let me know if anything changes, okay?”
“Yes ma’am, I sure will.” Justin promised.
Kerry hung up and squirmed around so she could see the laptop screen. “I am getting really freaking annoyed at all this crap, Dar.”
“Mm. Sorry.” Dar was typing quickly. “My stupid fault.” She accessed the circuit in question and reviewed it. “Damn it, he’s right.” She sighed. “Same crap as before.. I’m going to just cut it off.”
“Don’t you want to try and trace it?”
Dar’s fingers hesitated. “I don’t think we can risk it.” She admitted. “I don’t know what this is, Ker. It’s too dangerous on the bank lines.” She typed in another command. “I’ll grab what I can, then dump the connection.”
Kerry watched in silence as she completed the action, and the activity in the monitors fell to normal levels. “Why didn’t Mark do that?” She asked, curiously. “Was he trying to track it down?”
Good question. Dar keyed up her messaging program and typed in a question, then hit send. She reviewed the logs of the router, checking the address sources still held in it’s memory. “Hm.” She frowned and reviewed them again, then copied and pasted them to her desktop. “Ker?”
“Yeah?” Kerry peered at them. The list of addresses were mostly of no interest to her, save one. “Isn’t that one of ours? Is that you.. or maybe Mark coming in remote?”
Dar checked her laptop’s configuration. “Nope.. not me.” She probed further. “I don’t think it’s Mark.”
“Another spoof?” Kerry leaned even closer. “But wait, that’s from..”
“Inside our network.” Dar completed the sentence unhappily. “Now I hope it’s Mark.. it’s gone already.” She searched, but found no trace of the offending station. Her machine beeped, and an answer came back from Mark.
I was trying to get a dump. Got a partial.
Dar typed back a question.
No, that’s not me, I’m on the protected security range. Mark typed back. That’s one of the pool addy’s.
“Shit.” Dar sighed again. She typed back. Then we need to find out why one of those pool addresses was inside the bank router. Because it’s one of the sources of that data parse.
The screen was briefly silent. That sucks.
“No kidding.” Kerry felt a sick sensation in her guts. “Someone inside the company is doing this? Is that what we’re looking at, Dar?”
Well, ulterior motives didn’t usually show up on the security checks. Kerry thought back over the recent new hires in their division. “Dar, we haven’t hired anyone for three months. Are you saying someone might have been here for that long, just lying low?”
“Doubt it.” Dar put a series of controls in place. “If it’s a pool, it might not be from IT.” She debated a moment, then exhaled. “I’m going to put my program in all the border routers.”
Kerry winced. “Is it ready?”
“No. But it’s better than nothing.” Dar called up the utility and started transferring it from her laptop to the remote devices. “Worst it’ll do is crash the whole net.”
“I know, hon, but we’ve got very few options.” Dar replied gently. “I’ll take responsibility for it.”
“That’s not my issue.” Kerry protested. “It’s just really hard to fathom having to explain to a zillion customers that they’re down because you crashed us.”
Dar chuckled without humor. “I’ll take the calls if it happens.” She finished transferring the program to the first router, then activated it. “I built the network, I can wreck it, I guess.”
Kerry hid her face in Dar’s shirt. “Can you program it to scream if it crashes? At least we’ll get warning…”
“Hopefully…” Dar finished her work. “Okay, it’s in the number one pair.” She monitored the devices with some anxiety, despite the confidence she had in her own skills. You just never did know when something you never anticipated would interact with a program, and send everything all to hell. “I think it’s okay.”
Kerry peeked at the screen. The gauges were steady, but with the same odd flutter she’d seen the last time Dar’s program had run. “Can you dump the warnings here?”
Dar drummed her fingers. “Yeah, I better. Ops has nothing set up to receive them.” She keyed in the programming change carefully. “Okay… let me get that on the rest of them.”
“Whoops..shoulda warned him.” Dar glanced at the message. Sorry. I’m putting my new code in.
Hey, that address was from inside the office! The server issued it at 2pm. I’m calling security to find out who’s in.
Kerry reached across Dar’s forearms to type on the keyboard. I want to see that list! KS
Dar glanced at her, a grin twitching at her lips. “Should I get the mallet?”
“This is not funny.” Kerry growled. “Dar, if someone inside the office is responsible for that, we need to call the police.”
“I know.” Dar answered. “Let’s just find out what’s really going on before we jump to conclusions though.” She typed further. “Not that there’s any legitimate reason for anyone in our office to be in that router, but I do like to have the facts.”
“Then we can whack em.”
Kerry put her head down on Dar’s shoulder to wait, watching the screen with impatient eyes. Someone inside. Her eyes narrowed. Didn’t that just suck.
Andrew put down the crowbar he’d just been using, and lifted the cover off the crate in front of him. The hold of the ship was thick with workers despite it being a weekend, and he was careful to prop the cover up against the bulkhead out of the way.
It was hot in the hold, and he had to pause to wipe the sweat off his brow, glad he’d picked a tank top to wear to work. The sky was getting overcast and the breeze had dropped, promising rain later but doing nothing to dispel the mugginess.
He hadn’t expected to be called in today. The supervisor had been a touch mad at him for running off the previous day, and Andy had half expected the man to punish him by giving him a few days off without any pay.
That would have been just fine, from his view. There was a nice big ocean right out there waiting for them to be driving over it, and sitting the helm of their boat was a sight nicer than unpacking boxes inside a old metal saunabox.
But the super had gotten a call, and everyone’d been told to come in the next day. So here he was. A quick look over the side of the ship had confirmed that the ship was still leaking oil, and h was pondering what do do about it after Ceci had nearly scared most of the fish out of the harbor when she’d heard about it.
Sometimes, he did forget his wife was one of them environmental types. Andrew scratched his jaw, then shook his head, scattering a few droplets of sweat over the box. Ah well. He’d figure something out.
With a low, melodious whistle, he picked up a shipping invoice and then peered inside the crate, glancing at the sheet for confirmation. The box was alleged to contain boxes for cash registers, and as he pulled aside a thick wad of cardboard stuffing, the corner of stacked gray boxes were revealed. “Yeap.”
A yell outside the ship made him look up, and he heard the sound of air brakes releasing and catching just outside. “Now what?” He muttered, going to the hatchway and looking out.
An 18 wheel truck was parked outside, it’s driver arguing with one of the guards. Andrew glanced inside, watching the crew around him gathering around the coffee pot for a break. He stepped out onto the gangway instead, and crossed over to the road to listen in.
The trucker was a big man, tall, wearing cowboy boots and a big buckle belt with a hat to match, as much a stereotype as Andrew had seen recently round these here parts. Feller even had highway patrol sunglasses on.
“Listen, buddy.” The trucker pointed past the guard. “There ain’t no gate down there big enough to pull this rig in. I just need to go over there, so get outta my way, okay?”
The guard shook his head. “Sorry, buster. My boss said no one goes through here to that pier, period.”
“What’s the big deal? It’s just a damn road.”
“Not to that pier. They don’t want no one going through this pier, to that pier, for deliveries. Forget it.” The guard dismissed him. “So just take off.”
“This stuff’s got a rush delivery!”
The guard, a young man in his mid twenties, smirked. “Aw. Guess they’re just out of luck.” He said. “Rush? Forget it. I don’t care.” The guard said. “My boss said no one, that means no one.”
No deliveries to Dar’s boat, huh? Andrew ambled closer, leaning against a stone post near the truck. “Now, that don’t make much sense.” He drawled. “Feller’s just looking to pull on through.”
The guard looked at him. “Shut up, old man. Get back in there to work. No one asked your opinion.”
No one, least of all Andrew, expected what happened next. The trucker, standing within arm’s reach of the guard, dropped his clipboard and lashed out, slugging the man across the face with one gloved fist, and sending him sprawling to the ground. “Know what I hate worse than a pissass little punk?” The man growled. “It’s a pissass little punk disrespecting people.”
Andrew snorted, covering his mouth with on hand.
The trucker stomped back towards his rig, grabbing his clipboard on the way, shaking his head and muttering as he walked. “Ain’t got the balls to stop me going where I want to go, that’s for damn sure.”
The guard got to his feet, and wiped a bit of mixed blood and spit from his face, then removed the baton from the ring on his belt and took of after the trucker. “Son of a..”
“Wall, now.” Andrew shoved away from the stone pylon and intercepted the guard in two long strides, catching him by the arm and swinging him around. “Son, don’t be a jackass.”
“Let the fuck go of me!” The guard squalled, lashing at Andrew with the baton. “I’ll kick your ass!”
“Boy, don’t you do that.” Andrew warned, reacting out of instincts honed during many years of experience.
The trucker turned, to see his erstwhile attacker being bent into a pretzel as Andrew put him in a restraint hold and lifted him off his feet. He put his hands on his hips and just watched, as the uniformed man was shaken like a rat, bits of his guardly accoutrements bouncing off the pavement and rolling under the truck.
“Ah told you, don’t be a jackass.” Andy told him firmly. “That there feller’s just going to drive that truck over you and make you flatter than a pancake.”
“Let go of me!” The man struggled, to no avail.
Andrew walked over to the waterside with him, and held him threateningly over the edge of the pier. “Ya’ll like salt?” He inquired. “No? Then just shut your mouth up.” He looked over at the trucker, who had climbed inside his rig and started the engine. “Now, don’t you be speeding on this here dock, young feller.” He cautioned the driver, getting a grin in return.
The trucker honked his air horn in appreciation, giving Andrew a big thumbs up as he drove past the ship towards the next pier.
Andy waited for the truck to clear their space, then he released the guard, giving him a healthy shove across the dock to prevent any errant stupidity.
The guard caught his balance, and turned, starting back towards Andrew with an angry expression on his face. “You are in so much trouble, old man.”
“Ah am not in any trouble, son.” Andrew merely sat down on the pylon and waited for him, relaxed and calm. He made eye contact with the guard and held it steadily as the man advanced on him, years of facing danger lending a sheen of ice to his composure. “But surely you will be.” He added, in a soft tone.
The guard slowed as he approached, and then halted uncertainly. Then he backed off, sticking his baton back into his belt. “I’m not going to bother with you.”
“I”ll just get my boss to get your ass fired.” The guard gathered the shreds of his dignity and stalked off towards the small guard house, leaving Andrew in peace on the side of the dock.
Thunder rolled over head, making him look up at the sky. “Ah do think ah just like trouble.” He remarked. “Lord knows mah kid got that from some damn place, after all.” After a brief moment, the ex-seal got up and headed back across the gangway, chuckling softly under his breath.
Dar reached over and picked up her cup of coffee, taking a sip before she offered it to Kerry. They were still squished together on the couch, after an hour of tense work on the laptop had at least given them a measure of security over the situation.
“How long does it take security to figure out who is in that building?” Kerry groused, handing the cup back after taking a swallow. “What did they do, call out the dogs to sniff the Xerox supply rooms?”
Dar watched her gauges, her fingers twitching above the keys. “It’s a big building.”
“Not that big.” Kerry listened to the thunder, and then she returned her head to Dar’s shoulder. “You know, it’s a pity we can’t work like this all the time.”
“From the cabin, or from this couch together.” Dar asked.
“I have a couch in my office.”
“It’s not as comfortable as this one is.” Kerry objected, reaching over to type in a few lines, and hit enter. “And there is just no way I could wear my jammies there, Dar.”
Dar cocked her head and regarded Kerry’s dress, which featured adorable little cartwheeling piglets all over it. It consisted of a nightshirt that was just barely legal, but also had a pair of bottoms Kerry seldom wore. “I could post a policy change just for you.”
“Uh huh. I can just picture me running meetings like this.”
Dar chuckled. “Not a goddamn thing would get done.” She said. “Ah.. here we go. All right.. now that’s looking better.” She was at last satisfied with how her program was behaving. “Okay, I think it won’t crash now.”
Dar now switched to her mail, clicking on a late arrival. “Here’s the trace Mark got.” She reviewed the results. “Encrypted.”
“Can you un-encrypt it?” Kerry asked. “I can’t even read the header.”
“Hm.” Her partner drummed her fingers on the keyboard. “Not without the..” She hesitated. “Let’s wait to see if Mark finds the machine it was coming from. It’ll be easier with the key. I might be able to crack the encryption, but it would take me forever.”
Kerry typed on the keyboard. Mark – what is taking so long for the security report?
Dar slipped her arm over Kerry’s shoulders, and rubbed her back gently. “This is going to be a big issue. I better warn Alistair.”
Freaking all of sales and marketing is here! Mark’s answer came back, brimming with disgust. The whole damn floor is packed with them, and they’ve been sucking dhcp addresses all morning.
“Oh. Crap.” Kerry sighed. “That sucks.”
Dar considered the screen. “Maybe… maybe it doesn’t.” She said slowly. “I wonder how many new people they’ve brought on in the last month.”
“They turnover like..” Kerry started to say, then her voice trailed off. “But Dar, whoever did this was technically very savvy.”
“Uh huh. Where better in our company to hide then, hm? Last place I’d look for a nerd is in those groups.” Dar’s tone was grim. “And you know what else?”
Kerry stared at the screen, then up at Dar. “They’re all around the presentation rooms.”
Kerry gunned the engine of her bike, looking both ways before she eased out onto the still damp road and headed south. The sun had reluctantly made an appearance on it’s journey to the west, and she decided it was a good time to buzz off down to the market and get something for dinner.
The roads were still wet, and she was careful to keep her speed down. Being dumped on her butt on the road wasn’t something she was willing to experience, even if Dar had patiently taught her how to right the bike if she did get overturned.
It wasn’t easy, even though she was stronger than most women her size. Kerry shifted gears and headed through a green light, one of the few traffic stops in the general vicinity. The quiet nature of the town was one of the things she liked most about it, and even now on the weekend, there was little traffic to impede her passage.
The market was just up on the right hand side, a low, wooden building with sun-faded paint and crushed shell pathways leading from the scrubby little parking lot. Kerry pulled in to a shady spot near the door and shut the bike’s engine off, swinging her leg over the seat and removing her helmet.
She tucked the safety gear under it’s bungee and headed for the doors, the still damp breeze brushing over her bare shoulders. Pushing the left door open, she entered the pleasant chill of the air conditioning and removed her sunglasses, tucking them by one earpiece into a belt loop. “Hi, Bill.”
The man behind the meat counter looked up, then waved. “Hi there, neighbor.” He greeted Kerry amiably. “Didn’t know you were down here this weekend.. thought the rain would keep anyone up north.”
“We came down on Friday night.” Kerry picked up a basket and started browsing up and down the aisles. “But it looks like it’s clearing up now. How’s Martha?”
“Oh, she’d doing fine.” The market manager said. “Hey listen, I just got some fresh snapper in.. you want a couple pieces?”
Snapper. Kerry cocked her head slightly. Both she and Dar were quite fond of fresh fish, and a nice broiled filet sounded pretty good to her. “Sure.” She agreed, detouring to the vegetable section and selecting a couple of Yukon gold potatoes, some green beans, and two ears of white corn.
Considering, she then also added a quart of strawberries, and carried the lot of it up to the counter. She could have gotten stuff for tomorrow also, but she preferred to let whimsy control what she picked, rather than planning things out too far in advance. “Wow, that does look nice.” She complimented the fish.
“A cook’d know that.” The manager chuckled. “And I know you’re the cook in that house.”
Kerry accepted the brown wrapped bundle with a slight grin. “I guess Dar’s only buying ice cream, milk, chocolate bars and bananas sort of clues that in, huh?” She handed over her credit card. “But I like cooking. It’s fun.”
“Me too.” Bill pushed the credit card receipt her way for signature. “I get kidded about it by the boys, though. You know how it is.”
Kerry signed her name in a neat script hand and gave it back to him. “Well, not really.” She admitted. “Usually girls are expected to know how, and to like cooking.” Her face creased into a smile. “I’ve never had anyone look crosswise at me for that. For other things…” She waggled a hand.
“Like that pretty tattoo?” Bill asked, with a grin of his own. “It’s new, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Kerry glanced down at the half visible mark, peeking out from around her tank top strap. “I got it a few weeks back. Like it?”
Bill leaned closer, raising his glasses slightly to get a better look. “Nice work.” He complimented her. “I’ve got a pair of dolphins, myself, but it’d take a pair of speedos I die before wearing to show em to the world.”
Kerry chuckled. “That was my second choice of locations.” She picked up her packages and the keys to the motorcycle. “But I think I really wanted people to be able to see it.” Her eyes strayed to the mark, and the letters of Dar’s name visible there for a moment, before she turned and headed back towards the doors. “Have a great day, Bill.”
“You too, Kerry.” The manager replied, sitting back down on his stool. “Drive careful now, it’s wet out.”
Kerry lifted a hand in acknowledgement as she slipped through the door, reaching hastily for her sunglasses as the glare outside made her blink.
“Excuse me… are you Kerry Stuart?”
Kerry pulled up short and turned, finding herself the focus of a well dressed black woman, and a man with a camera. The woman didn’t look unfriendly, but the light was on the camera, and Kerry hadn’t grown up in a spotlight for nothing. “Yes.” She answered slowly. “Can I ask why you want to know?”
“Great. We found you.” The woman smiled. “We’re doing filming as part of the special on the new American Cruise line project, and I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Kerry squared her shoulders, shifting her packages carefully to one arm. “Our office is in Miami. Is there some reason you came looking for me here?” She kept her voice even, but there was little warmth in it.
The reporter looked warily at her. “Well, someone tipped me off you might be down here… so I thought I’d take a chance. Since the other teams are up at the port working, it seemed a little… unusual… that you’d leave the city.”
Anger started to bubble inside Kerry’s stomach. “Well, I guess you just wasted a trip then. I’ve got nothing to say at the moment. It’s my time off.” She turned and headed for her bike, her ears catching the whine of the camera behind her.
“Wait…” The reporter came after her. “Ms. Roberts talked to us.”
Kerry put her packages into the small storage area in the back of the bike and got on it, shifting it over it’s center of balance and putting up the kickstand. “In the office.” She started the engine, and revved it, the low throaty roar making speech momentarily impossible.
“You don’t think it says something about your company, to have you down here on vacation while everyone else is working?” The reporter queried. “Maybe my source was right after all.”
Kerry put her helmet on. “The only thing it says about our company is that we trust our staff to do what we pay them to.” She backed the bike and prepared to leave the lot. “Excuse me.” She tried not to look directly at the camera, the blank gray eye following her every move.
“Is Ms. Roberts down here too? Maybe I can talk to her.” The reporter persisted. “Maybe she can explain it to me, since you’re unwilling to.”
Answering didn’t seem wise. Kerry gunned her engine and headed out onto the road, shifting through first and into second gear as she glanced behind her to see if the woman was following. She was caught between outrage and worry, wondering briefly if she should have played the reporters game and just talked to her for a few minutes.
Dar had, as she’d noted.
Ah well. Kerry shifted into third gear and picked up speed, anxious to get back to the cabin and get the bike under cover before the woman could find out where they lived. Would she knock on the door? The thought made her angry, and she felt somewhat invaded by the idea.
This was a haven for them. To have the reporter come here and shove herself into this part of her world bothered Kerry more than she liked to acknowledge, and she resented it hugely. She leaned into the turn that would take her towards home, and found a moment of utter panic as she felt the bike start to slide out from under her.
Her body reacted uncertainly, not used to the motion and she leaned back the other way out of pure instinct. For a second, it was riding the line, the tire skidding against the wet pavement for an eternity before the traction caught again and she brought the motorcycle back under control.
“Jesus.” Kerry felt her heart pounding in her chest, as she slowed down, ready to make the turn into their driveway. To her surprise, Dar was out in the yard heading for the road, and she jumped the fence as Kerry pulled to a stop in the soft gravel. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Dar joined her, laying a hand on Kerry’s arm. “What’s up? You okay?”
“Yeah. Almost laid the bike down.” Kerry admitted. “Let’s get it in the shed. I had a very unpleasant encounter with your friend from the filming people at the market.”
Dar blinked. “My friend?”
“The reporter?” Kerry got off the bike and started pushing it towards the shed.
“How’d she find you down here?” Dar helped, getting her hands between Kerry’s. “What the hell did she want?” Her voice sharpened.
Kerry got the door to the shed open, and they pushed the motorcycle inside. She pulled the door closed, just as the sound of tires on the road sounded loud in their ears. They both stood together and listened as the car slowed down outside, then, after a long and still moment, drove on past. “Son of a bitch.”
Dar’s jaw tightened. “They get you on camera?” She asked, as Kerry moved to take the bags from the back of the bike.
“Yeah.” Kerry turned, letting her sunglasses slide down a little and peeking at Dar over them. “Don’t worry, though. There’s no way anyone’s going to believe Roger Stuart’s kid is riding a bike down in the sticks with a tattoo on her chest. I’ll just say someone was impersonating me.”
Dar’s lips tensed, then relaxed into a faint grin.
“What are we going to do if she shows up here?” Kerry went on, with a grimace. “It won’t take much, Dar. We’re in the local phone book. All she has to do is look and she’ll have the address.”
“Not to mention my car’s outside.” Dar remarked dryly. “Let’s worry about it when it happens. Did she say what angle she was after?”
“Oh yeah.” Kerry picked up the parcel, and nudged Dar towards the door. “ILS snooty sloths snuggle while minions slave away.” She sighed. “And I joked about it, but I think I just sunk my image big time.”
“Hell with em.” Dar led her back towards the cabin. “If they show up here, I’ll just toss them in the salt. Besides, we are working.” She peeked inside a bag. “Mm… strawberries.”
Kerry allowed herself to be distracted as they walked over to the cabin, and slipped inside. She had a distinct feeling, though, that the reporter wasn’t going to give up that easily, or be dissuaded by even Dar’s rejection.
Not to mention what it all would look like to anyone viewing the film.
Kerry sighed. Muskrats.
They were both surprised when the rest of the afternoon proved peaceful and reporter-less. Kerry retreated into the kitchen to make dinner, while Dar huddled with her laptop, obsessing over the results of her program.
“Hey, with this filming stuff.” Kerry positioned the snapper filets on the broiling pan, dusting them with her jealously guarded mixture of spices. “Don’t they have to get our approval to show any of it? I mean, it’s not a news program, right?”
Dar stretched, lifting her arms over her head and popping her shoulder joints. “Good question.” She said. “I should probably send a note to legal and ask, huh?”
“Might be a good idea.” Kerry put a final swipe of herbed oil on the fish, and prepared to put them in the broiler. She glanced up as Dar entered the kitchen, circling around her and settling her arms around Kerry’s waist and observing as she put dinner up.
“Mm.” Kerry leaned back a little, savoring the solid warmth of her partner’s body. She felt Dar rest her chin on the top of her head and they simply stood together for a bit in silence, swaying lightly to some far off music only their souls could hear.
“Keeeeerrrrry.” Dar warbled, in a high tone that mimicked her gopher’s. “I lloooooooovvveee you.”
Kerry felt like she was going to dissolve into a puddle of blond goo. She wondered briefly if her tattoo would float on top, or merely color it. Slowly, she turned within the circle of Dar’s arms and looked up at her. “Can I tell you something?”
“Could I stop you?” Dar leaned forward a little to rub noses with her.
Kerry tilted her head and they kissed, as her arms slid up and clasped around Dar’s neck. She caught Dar’s lower lip between her teeth and then released her with a soft chuckle. “Well, Paladar, as a matter of fact, yes, you could.” She drawled softly. “Just like that, in fact.”
Dar chuckled along with her, lifting a hand up to brush Kerry’s cheek. “You’re so easy to distract sometimes.”
Kerry leaned into the touch, pressing her body against her partner’s. “Depends on the distraction.” She smiled. “But what I was going to say before I was so pleasantly lead off course was…” Her eyes gentled and warmed. “You’re the best part of my life.”
“I am?” A charmed look appeared on the taller woman’s face. “Even better than ice cream?”
“Aw.” Dar hugged her, tucking Kerry’s head against her shoulder and giving her a healthy squeeze. “Likewise, sweetheart.”
Kerry closed her eyes, and exhaled, welcoming the sweet affection in Dar’s tone. After all the chaos of work and the aggravation of meeting the reporter – she wanted this.
Needed it. She slid her arms around Dar’s waist and returned the hug, and then ran her hands along her partner’s spine giving her a light massage. “I looooooooovvve you too.” She warbled softly. “My little gopher.”
They walked into the living room with their arms wrapped around each other, and got halfway across it before they heard a knock on the door. After sharing a dour look, Dar removed her hold and dusted her hands together. “I’ll go take care of this. Stay here.”
Kerry debated briefly, and then uncharacteristically obeyed, flopping down on the couch and extending her legs along it’s length as she watched Dar stalk towards the back door.
She didn’t envy the reporter, if that was who it was. Dar could, and often was, rude and nasty when she felt the need to be and being on the receiving end of that was really just no fun. Not that Kerry herself knew that from personal knowledge – even when she and her beloved partner disagreed, Dar never went past blunt with her.
In fact, Kerry knew she herself had been by far the nastier of the two of them when they’d first met. She wiggled her toes reflectively, her ears cocked as Dar opened the door.
“Yes?” Dar peered out into the late afternoon sunshine, her body blocking the door open just to her shoulder width.
“Well, hello there, Ms. Roberts. Remember me?” The reporter smiled at her.
“Yes.” Dar responded. “Anything else you need? No?” She started to close the door.
“Wait.. wait. I really need to talk to you.” The woman put her hand out to keep the door from shutting. “Please?”
Dar stared steadily at her. “I’m not on the clock.” She let her eyes drift past the woman, but the camera and it’s operator were nowhere in sight. After a moment, she focused back on the intruder.
“Well, no.. but I’m here, and you’re here, so..” The reporter persisted. “It’ll only take a minute, really.”
It all sounded so reasonable. Unfortunately, Dar wasn’t feeling very reasonable at the moment. “No.” She stated. “I don’t appreciate people who invade my private life. So I’d get my hand off the door if I were you, unless you want a broken wrist out of this.”
The woman took a step back. “Now, I don’t really think we’re invading…”
“Did I give you my address here?” Dar asked pointedly.
“Well, no, but..”
“Did you ask if you could do an interview with me during off hours?”
“That’s not the point, here…”
“It’s exactly the point.” Dar started closing the door again. “And damned unprofessional if you ask me. I think I need to make a call to your production office on Monday.”
The reporter put her hand out again. “Whoa whoa… wait a minute, are you the same person I interviewed a few days ago? What happened?”
“You screwed up.” Dar pulled her head in and pushed the door closed, getting her weight behind it just in case the reporter got any stupid ideas to stop her. “Jerk.” She started to walk away, only to stop when a knock came at the door again.
She put her hands on her hips and looked at Kerry. Kerry shrugged sheepishly. Dar narrowed her eyes and turned, going back to the door and yanking it open. She drew back her other hand near her ear and curled her fingers into a fist, cocking it meaningfully. “I am not playing games with you.”
The reporter stopped in mid speech and blinked at Dar in surprise. “Are you going to hit me?” She asked in an incredulous tone.
“Yes.” Dar said.
“No, I’ve just had my privacy invaded and it’s ticking me off.” Dar narrowed her eyes.
“I don’t get it. You were just the friendliest thing in your office. What’s up with that?” The woman said.
“I’m not in my office.”
Kerry got up and walked over, standing behind the door out of sight and pressing her back against it as she listened.
“Okay, so, how does it hurt to talk to me for a minute?” The reporter said. “What’s the big deal? We had lunch, remember? C’mon.”
“If you want to discuss something, call me during working hours.” Dar kept her patience with great effort.
“Or is it that you’re with your girlfriend now?”
Dar merely stepped away from the door, and allowed Kerry to slam it shut for her. She loudly threw the deadbolt, then turned her back, waiting for Kerry to join her before they mad their way towards the couch again.
“If she knocks again, I’m going to go Republican on her.” Kerry commented. “You actually had lunch with this person?”
“That’s what happens when you leave me to my own devices for a meal.” Dar paused, glancing over her shoulder. “Now I better to hell send legal a note. I can just picture how we’ll come off in their little script.”
Erg. Kerry trudged back into the kitchen. “Should we have been less rude??” She asked.
Dar picked up her laptop and brought it over to the counter, setting it down and seating herself on one of the wooden stools. She rested her head on one fist and studied the screen. “Screw it.”
Kerry turned on a front burner and set a pan over it, putting a little peanut oil and butter in the bottom. As it heated, she removed a colander of green beans from the sink and set it down next to her, grabbing her wooden stirring spoon as she listened to Dar type.
“She was a lot nicer at lunch.”
“Uh huh.” The green beans were sacrificed into the pan, releasing the scent of spices and garlic as Kerry stirred them. “Like she was on your side?”
Pale blue eyes peeked over the laptop screen at her. “Yeah.”
Kerry’s lips quirked slightly.
“Did I get scammed?”
Kerry flipped the beans in the pan expertly, remembering the lectures of her childhood. The press, she’d been taught, were not ever, ever your friends and they never were on your side. “Well..” She hesitated, not wanting to insult her lover. “Dar, I’m sure she’s very slick. Probably, she might have fooled me too.”
Dar sighed. “I thought she was nice.” She admitted. “She did say a lot of things… well, anyway, I guess I took her at face value.” She saw a mail arrive, and clicked on it.
Got the list, here it is, but everyone and their mamma is on it. You want me to pull their security scans? I sorted em by hire date, but there’s no one in there less than three months. I don’t know what the hell’s going on.
“I don’t know what’s going on either.” Dar admitted, with a sigh. “You know what, Ker? I really don’t know what the hell’s going on. I’m losing it.”
Prudently, Kerry merely murmured in sympathy, as she finished the beans and turned off the fire. She got two plates ready, opening up the broiler and retrieving her snapper filets. “I’m not sure I know what’s up myself.” She said, sliding a filet off onto one of the plates and adding some beans along with a baked potato and half a corn to it.
Dar sat there swinging her legs for a minute, and then she got up and came around into the kitchen, reaching around Kerry to take possession of the plates. “Mmm.”
They walked into the living room and sat down next to each other on the couch as Dar set the plates on the burled mahogany coffee table. Knee to knee, they picked up implements of food destruction. “Oh, hang on.” Kerry put hers down and got up again, walking back into the kitchen to get them both a drink.
Dar used her fork to separate a bit of fish and tasted it. “Mm.” She waited for Kerry to return and sit down again. “Good stuff.”
Kerry bumped shoulders with her. They ate quietly, both apparently lost in deep thought.
Andrew slung his tool belt over one broad shoulder and headed off the ship. The sun was blotted out by dark clouds, and there was a heavy smell of rain in the air, even the usually calm waters of the cut picking up a little chop that washed against the hulls of the ships lined up against the pier.
He was halfway across the open space when the door to the guard hut opened and a man emerged, heading in his direction with a distinct sense of purpose. Given the man’s bad taste in suits, and the badge holder hanging from his belt Andrew reckoned he might be his guard friend’s boss, but he waited until the man was obviously intersecting him before he turned his head and made eye contact.
“Hold up there.” The man lifted a hand. “You Roberts?”
Andy slowed, then halted as he came even with the man. “Yeap.”
The man had thick, slicked back dark hair and a trimmed moustache, a bad complexion, and watery gray eyes. They now fastened on Andrew’s face with a cold, stern glitter. “I understand from my man you caused some trouble today, mister.”
Behind him, Andrew could see the punk guard, peeking out from behind the shutters in the little guard shack. He shifted his gaze to the man in front of him. “Do ah look like a feller who’d cause trouble?”
The security manager looked him up and down. “That’s no answer.”
“Young feller there was fixing to get hisself run over by a truck.” Andrew said. “Ah just stopped him.”
The other man looked down the pier to where Dar’s ship was, then he looked back at Andrew. “I had orders not to let any trucks through there. How do you want me to explain why one went through? I’m not taking the heat for it, buddy. I’ll get your ass fired.”
Andrew shrugged. “Aint made no sense to me. What in hell’s the difference if a truck goes on down there?” He figured if he was going to get fired, might as well get any information he could first.
“Doesn’t have to make sense to you. I got my orders…” The man turned as a yell sounded over the docks. “Shit. Now there’s the one giving the orders. You stay here, let me see what they want done with you.”
Andrew looked over the man’s shoulder to see Shari approaching, an angry look on her face. “Wall.” He exhaled. “Don’t that figure. That there woman’s more trouble than a hemmorhoid in a bucket.”
The man swung around and gave Andrew a startled look, an almost smile twitching at his lips. Then he went to intercept his unwelcome visitor.
Andrew hesitated, then he ambled after him catching up as they met Shari halfway across the dock.
“I just got a call, saying you let a delivery go through. I told you no trucks! What’s wrong with you, are you stupid?” Shari yelled at him.
“Wait a minute, lady…” The security chief held a hand up.
“I’m not waiting for anything. I gave a direct order.” Shari overrode him. “I want your bosses name, right now. I’m not putting up with any more of this horse crap.” She pulled out her cell phone. “Give me his number.”
“Just hold on a minute…” The security chief looked around as Andrew shifted. “Roberts, I told you to stay back there.” He said. “Damn it!” He returned his attention to Shari. “Now look, lady. It wasn’t my fault. This guy here got in the way of my guy doing his job and… lady?”
Shari had stopped in mid motion, and was looking at Andrew with a suddenly suspicious expression. She closed her phone. “Roberts?” She asked, gritting her teeth.
Ah well. Busted. Andrew produced a wicked grin.
The security chief looked from one to the other of them. “You know this guy?” He asked Shari. “He’s the one who distracted my guy and let that truck through.”
“I just bet he did.” Shari’s eyes narrowed.
“Sir!” The young guard was calling, from the gate. A group of men and women were standing there, looking impatient. “Sir, you need to come here, please, sir!”
If anything, the chief looked relieved. He edged past Shari and headed for the gate, with a muttered apology leaving the two of them facing each other.
“Didn’t realize Dar had a brother.” Shari snorted, in a disgusted tone. “But now it all makes sense. Let me get that damn stupid supervisor on the phone and get you out of here first.”
One of Andrew’s grizzled eyebrows hiked up. “She don’t.” He rasped. “Save yer breath. I’m leaving.” He shifted his work belt to his other shoulder and started to walk around Shari.
“Oh no, you’re not just waltzing out of here. I’m calling the police.” Shari reached out to take hold of his arm. “Have you arrest..” Shari stopped as a hand far larger than hers closed around her wrist and removed her grip. “Let go of me.”
Andy stared steadily at her. “If you had any smarts, woman, you would count yerself lucky to just turn round and walk away from here.” His voice was soft, but firm. “Mah daughter is real special to me and ah do not take kindly to folks who done messed with her.”
“D..” Shari’s eyes widened. “Oh shit.”
Andrew grinned again, narrowing his eyes.
“Captain! Captain! Get over here!” Shari yelled out in panic. “Help!”
Andrew looked over her shoulder, and saw the guards fully engaged with the new visitors, who were pushing their way onto the pier and forcing the two watchmen back. He released her arm, and wiped his fingers off on his jeans as Shari backed away from him.
She swung around, and spotted the guards busy with the gate, and then she headed for the guard shack, leaving Andrew behind without looking again at him.
“Have a nice day.” Andrew drawled, as he headed for the gates. As he got closer, he could hear the people arguing with the guards, and the word ‘oil spill’ echoed out of the babbling. “Uh oh” He edged carefully around the man in front, a tall, gray haired tower of indignation and escaped out into the front of the pier.
A pickup truck was waiting for him, conveniently enough. He opened the door and tossed his tool belt behind the seat, sliding in next to Ceci and shutting the door after him. “Just got me fired.”
“Really?” His wife inquired.
“Yeap. That there woman figgered out where she done knew me from fin’ly.” Andy allowed. “But ah think them folks right there are gonna be more trouble than me.”
Ceci peered past him. “Ah. The EPA.” She nodded solemnly.
“I sent them.” Cecilia gave the chaos a supremely satisfied look as she put the truck in gear. “C’mon, sailor boy. Now that we’ve caused this much trouble, let’s go paint the town red. It’s Saturday night.”
Andrew stretched his arm across the seat, and leaned back, as they drove away from the port. He wasn’t sure Dar would like the results of the day, but he also knew sometimes you just had to take what you got.
Life sometimes did give ya lemons. Smart fellers learned to take a shining to lemonade.
By the time the last rays of sunset were pouring through the windows, strawberries were at hand and problems set aside for another day. Kerry settled onto the two person bench swing with Dar and pushed gently against the porch support, moving them back and forth.
The surface of the sea lapped invitingly in front of them, bringing a soft swishing roar and the faint tinkle of shells being moved under the waves. “Wanna swim with me tonight?”
Dar blew gently into her ear, then leaned over to nibbled the edge of it. “Sure.” She breathed, barely audible. “We can do that too.”
Kerry allowed a low, throaty chuckle to knowingly emerge.
The air was almost blue with twilight, warm and rich with moisture but lacking the oppressive heat of the day. Seagulls were circling lazily over the water, several landing on the dock which usually held the Dixieland Yankee when they came in by water.
It was quiet, and very peaceful. Kerry leaned against Dar, accepting the berry her partner was holding out before her lips. “It turned out pretty tonight.”
“Mmhm.” Dar settled the bowl of fruit in her lap and extended her arm across Kerry’s shoulders. There were still clouds across the horizon, but they only served to make the sunset glorious. It was pretty indeed, and now all the more so when she considered how their relationship had opened her eyes to the beauty of the world around her.
She’d always found the ocean pleasing, and enjoyed being at the shore in the salt breeze. But she’d never really just sat and watched a sunset until Kerry had come into her life.
The office was quiet, most of it’s inhabitants already gone home for the day. Dar packed up her laptop and got ready to leave herself, hesitating without really knowing why after she put her case on her desk.
Just another day, right? Nothing to really hang out here for.
Dar drummed her fingers on the desk, then she bowed to the inevitable and headed for the back corridor, intending on simply saying goodnight to her new assistant. It was only the polite thing to do, after all, and Kerry made a point of poking her head in every morning to say hello so…
She walked down the corridor and paused beside the door to Kerry’s office, aware of the gentle tickle of anticipation in her stomach. It had been a long time since she’d felt that, and the speeding up of her heartbeat as she thought about those kind, green eyes looking back at her.
She knocked, but there was no answer. Dar felt an immense bit of disappointment, surprised to find herself hurt that Kerry had left without saying goodnight.
Piqued, she opened the door anyway, her mood brightening when she spotted Kerry’s briefcase on her chair. She entered the office and circled the desk, her sensitive nose picking up the scent of Kerry’s perfume with ease.
There was a cup on the desk, and as she brushed her fingers over the side of it, she found it still a quarter full with warm tea. So, Kerry couldn’t be far off, could she? Dar headed for the front door and slipped out of it, looking both ways down the empty corridor.
Right? Left? Dar went left, then turned left at the major intersection that went to the elevators, crossing past them to the other side of the building. Then she paused, and pondered. To one side was marketing, to the other, accounting.
A cleaning woman pulled a garbage bin past her, giving Dar a polite smile as she stood there in the middle of the hallway. “Jefa.”
Dar focused on her. “Did you just come up on this floor?” She asked, in Spanish.
“No.” The woman shook her head. “I have just finished this side. Did you need something done for you?”
Dar looked around carefully, her voice lowering a little. “Did you see a blond woman, about this high…” She held her hand up at shoulder level. “Around in there?”
The woman also looked around before she answered. “Si, she is out on the patio over there, but she told me to say nothing!”
Ah. “Thanks.” Dar headed off down the corridor, arriving at the sturdy glass and steel doors that blocked off the west side viewing platform. Looking through them, she spotted Kerry at once, leaning against the railing and just looking out into space. “What on earth’s she doing?”
She pressed her nose against the glass and watched as the breeze blew Kerry’s pale hair back and fluttered her silk blouse tight against her body. The tickle in her guts became a burn, and she felt a little short of breath as she shoved the door open against the wind and emerged onto the patio. “Hi.”
Kerry turned. Her expression altered from surprised to muted delight in an instant, and she smiled as Dar walked over to her. “Oh, hi.”
“Whatcha doing?” Dar leaned on the railing next to her. Her eyes casually met Kerry’s and held there, as the sunset gilded her profile.
“Um.. not much.” Kerry laughed softly. “Just watching the sun go down.” She indicated the orange orb, which was painting the western sky every shade of bad sherbet imaginable. “It’s so pretty from up here, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely.” Dar said, a moment before she took her eyes from Kerry’s face, and glanced at the horizon. To her surprise, the view was more interesting than she’d imagined, and she stood there in silence as the shifting rays constantly changed the vista as thy watched.
Kerry leaned against the rail next to her, their shoulders almost touching.
Dar wondered if she yelled loud enough, would the world would stop turning so she could enjoy the moment just a little longer? It certainly beat the quiet, lonely drive home.
“Um.. did you… need me for something?” Kerry asked suddenly, hesitating over the words. “I… I mean, were you looking, uh, or were you just…”
Uh oh. Dar felt totally at a loss. Make up a lie? Not answer? Glib answer? Jump over the railing? “I was just.” She finally got out, clamping her jaw shut after that with an audible click.
Kerry looked at her, a tentative grin appearing as she returned her gaze to the sun. She cleared her throat after a moment. “You know, the pre-registration for the networking convention opens up tonight. I was thinking of heading down there early to get my paperwork done.” Her eyes moved back to Dar’s face. “Are you interested?”
A smile formed on Dar’s face, as the sun slipped reluctantly under the horizon. “Absolutely.”
Ah, sunsets. Dar smiled at the memory, wondering why it had taken her so long to appreciate them.
Possibly because the sun never set over the water where she’d been living. They’d deliberately picked the west side of the island when they’d bought the cabin to address just that subject. Kerry loved sunsets over the water and though it made it more difficult to reach the cabin since they had to go round the key, it was worth it.
The breeze carried a brief wisp of citronella to them from the candle burning near the post and for a brief moment Dar found herself wishing intensely that every day could end just like this.
Ludicrous, she knew. Dar sighed, and picked up another berry. Besides, if they were all like this, how could moments like now be special? She rested her head against Kerry’s.
“You know something?” Kerry continued her gentle rocking. “When I was a kid, I used to go down to the lake near my house and just sit there, watching the sun go down. It wasn’t nice like this is, but there always was that little peaceful time when it was happening where everything sort of stood still.”
“I wondered for a long time if I would ever have anyone to share that time with.” Kerry went on in a soft voice. “I was so completely alone surrounded by all those people and my family.”
Unsure of what to say to that, Dar took a safe compromise, and reached out to clasp Kerry’s hand, twining her fingers with her partner’s.
Kerry exhaled, shaking her head slightly. “I am so blessed.”
Dar absorbed the words, finding them even warmer than the residual sunlight. “We.” She put in a slight correction. “Are so blessed.”
“Mm.” Kerry selected a berry and bit into it. “That we are.” She agreed.
They shared a few more berries, and Dar even threw one over to a gull bold enough to traverse the space between the dock and their porch. The bird picked up the offering suspiciously, then bolted it down with a raucous squawk. “Everyone’s a critic.” The dark haired woman commented.
“I don’t think they usually eat strawberries, do they? I thought they eat like.. dead fish and tormented baby turtles and things.” Kerry split a huge berry in half and offered Dar a portion, smiling when it was taken from her fingers and the juice licked off them in the bargain. “Know what I want to do tonight?”
Ah. Easy question. Dar shifted and half turned, curling her arm around Kerry and kissing her on the lips, tasting the sweet tang of the strawberries as their tongues met. “Yes.”
“Hm.. .I could have meant Scrabble.” Kerry whispered, her fingertips tracing the side of Dar’s face with a light touch.
“Or Twister.” Dar teased, kissing her again.
“We could combine the two and I could stick letters on you with peanut butter.”
“Ooo.. romance.” Dar slid off the bench and rose to her feet, holding out a hand to Kerry. “Mix that with some fudge and we could infringe on Reese’s patents.”
“Oo.” Kerry mimicked. “Now doesn’t that sound sexy.” She got up and put her hand in Dar’s, muffling a giggle as she was wrapped up in a pair of long arms and hustled towards the doors to the cabin. “Honey, you can infringe my patent any time you want.”
Dar held the door open and they eased past Chino, trading the languid warmth for the pleasant chill of the inside of the cabin. She put the bowl of berries down and concentrated on Kerry, running her thumbs down her collarbone before lacing her fingers behind her neck.
Kerry moved closer, slipping her hands under Dar’s t-shirt and sliding it up to expose most of her torso. She angled her head and nibbled the curve of one breast, while she reached around to unhook her partner’s bra.
Dar slowly moved them both in a rambling arc, heading for the bedroom. She unbuttoned Kerry’s shorts and they both laughed softly as the garment obligingly dropped around the blond woman’s ankles, nearly tripping her.
She stepped out of them as Dar eased her shirt up over her head and tossed it on top of the shorts, then ducked her head as Kerry removed the t-shirt she was wearing and tossed it even further.
They went through the doorway into the bedroom in each other’s arms, Kerry depending on Dar’s navigation skills to keep them on course as she lost herself in a moment of passionate head rush. She concentrated on the warm skin under her lips and fingertips instead.
Dar did a good steering job, and a moment later they tumbled into the waterbed. She rolled over onto her back and felt Kerry’s thigh slip between hers, their bodies pressing against each other. The surface flexed under them, as Dar ran her hands up Kerry’s sides and eased her fingers between them to cup her partner’s breasts.
“Grrrwow.” Kerry responded, biting her earlobe gently. She nibbled Dar’s pulse point, then worked her way up over the curve of her jaw to her lips. She indulged in a leisurely kiss as she stroked her fingers lightly down Dar’s torso, tracing the bumps and ripples of bone and muscle that shifted under her touch.
The best part, Dar always found, was the look in Kerry’s eyes when they were being intimate. There was such a mixture of desire and joy there, passionate yet loving – it made making love the sweetest of confirmations. She let one hand drop down to Kerry’s bare hip, her thumb running over the line of her pelvis before sliding lower to tickle the inside of her thigh.
The lips exploring hers parted slightly, a gust of air escaping as Kerry exhaled, then drew in a deeper, faster breath. Her body shifted as Dar tickled her again, and they rolled over onto their sides as they slid against each other.
Lying down, her height disadvantage didn’t matter. Kerry felt her guts igniting as Dar teasingly explored her and she reciprocated, working her way down her lover’s long body as Dar placed a series of tiny bites across the back of her neck.
Tingles went everywhere over her.
Her hands went everywhere over Dar.
As she felt warm breath heat the skin over her navel, and heard Dar’s heartbeat hammering in her ear, the rest of the world could have separated and spun off into it’s own orbit and she wouldn’t have given not one little spit.