Coffee and a hacker for breakfast. Dar rattled the keys on her keyboard, her eyes flicking rapidly over the large LCD screen in her cabin office. “Yum yum.” She murmured, watching the attempts at entry into their systems.
It was quiet inside the cabin, save the rattling of her keys, and a similar, softer counterpoint from the next office over. Outside, the breeze stirred the tree branches, and leaves pattered fitfully against the window, but the warm wind didn’t penetrate the walls, and it was cool enough inside for Dar to be wearing a pair of sedate, yet fluffy lambskin booties, one of them cradling her injured foot carefully.
They were perched on her desktop at the moment, and she leaned back in her leather chair, flexing her hands as she pondered her next course of action. The hacker wasn’t that effective, and she didn’t really think he was any danger, but it was the persistence behind the effort that had caught her eye.
It was almost a robotic sequence. A probe on each port, using each service, over and over and over again. Was it mechanical, or some idiot sitting there typing the same thing over and over? Dar leaned towards it being a script, but someone was behind the script, and she wanted to know what they were up to.
She probed the inbound connection cautiously, capturing some packets and examining them with a knowledgeable eye. The originating IP was spoofed, that she was pretty sure of. Last time she checked, Wal-Mart wasn’t a spawning ground of insurgency, though she did appreciate the ghoulish humor.
Chino pattered in, jumping up and placing her paws squarely on the chair arm, licking Dar’s arm with enthusiasm. “Hey Chi.” She greeted the animal with an affectionate grin. “What are you up to? You want to help me watch this loser?”
“Growf.” The Lab inched forward, nuzzling Dar’s neck as she wagged her tail.
Dar put her arm around the dog and scratched her around the neck, typing one handed on her keyboard. “So what do you think, Chi? You like it here?” She asked. “Want to live here all the time?”
“Sounded like yes to me.” Dar drummed her fingers on the keys, watching the persistent signal hammering on her virtual front doorstep. “Look at that guy, would you? Just spewing over and over and over again.. what in the hell’s he trying to do?”
Chino decided Dar’s ear would be tasty, and she licked it, making her owner emit a muffled chuckle.
Her mail chimed, and Dar spared an eye for it, clicking over to her inbox and reviewing the newly arrived message. It was from Mariana, and she opened it curiously.
Heard you were playing hooky today. What’s up?
Well, now wasn’t that refreshingly straightforward. Dar hit reply and typed a response.
Why? Everyone freaking out? If you want to know the truth, I got bitten by a barracuda last night and didn’t feel like lying about it all day long to everyone who saw me.
“What do you think, Chino? Everyone freaking?” Dar gave the dog a kiss on the top of her head.
“Freaking about what?” Kerry responded, entering Dar’s office and putting a cup of gently steaming, milky tea down on the desk. She had a pair of shorts and a sports bra on, along with a mostly relaxed expression. “The budgets? I told you that you scared them all last week.”
“Nah, us.” Dar picked up the cup and sipped it. “Thanks. How’s the ship coming?”
Kerry perched on the edge of Dar’s custom built, cherrywood desk – twin to the one in her own office next door. “Not good.” She admitted. “I just talked to John, and he’s having a very tough time, Dar. He’s only about half done.”
Kerry hesitated. “Any suggestions?” She asked. “I’ve spoken to the people on the ship, and there’s not much they can do, they tell me. Everyone’s fighting for space and time there. We’re all under the gun.” She played with one of Chino’s silky ears. “Apparently all the ships are. Someone lit a fire under them on Friday, and the schedules have all been pushed up.”
“Yeah?” Dar frowned. “You know, we didn’t hear from Dad last night. I wonder if he saw any of that?”
“I wonder what happened with him that the reporter knew about him.” Kerry added, both eyebrows hiking up. “I wonder why he didn’t call?”
Dar reached over and picked up the cabin phone, hitting one of the speed dial buttons. It rang several times, but there was no answer and it switched over to voice mail. “Huh.” She waited for the beep. “Hi dad. Gimme a call when you get a chance. Thanks.”
“Ehm.” Dar dialed another number, the slip phone at her parent’s boat. It rang several times too, and again, went to a polite, mechanical voice mail. “What the heck’s going on up there?” She frowned, waiting again. “Hey mom, it’s Dar.” She paused. “Boy, that was redundant. Anyway, give us a call when you get back. Thanks.”
She put the phone back down and looked at Chino, who had decided her half standing, half lolling position on Dar’s shoulder was the pinnacle of comfort. “Anyway, so they’re behind? Can he put more guys on the job?”
“Honestly, Dar, I don’t think it’d help.” Kerry said. “It’s space they don’t have. He’s trying to put our cabling in the same place the electricians are running new wiring, and the air conditioning people are putting in new ducting.”
“Huh. Yeah. I remember doing a favor for one of my dad’s skippers.” Dar said. “Wanted cat five run from the bridge to his cabin so he could monitor everything from there… damn guy had me doing it the same time they were replacing the comms. What a mess.”
Kerry repressed a smile. “My little cable monkey.” She glanced at Dar’s screen. “What’s all that about?”
“Ah.” Dar put her keyboard down and shifted, lifting one leg off the desk and sliding it around Kerry to trap her. “Some jackass hacker not worth five cents.” She scoffed. “Idiot’s just beating his head against our outer firewall.”
Kerry looked at the monitor window. “Why?”
“No clue.” Dar laced her fingers behind her head and leaned back. “Just to annoy me, probably.”
“Or distract you.” Kerry murmured. “It’s almost like whatever that is – is just trying to draw attention to itself.”
Dar sat up and looked at the screen, and then she looked at Kerry. “A diversion?”
“Do I need to get out of your way?” Kerry hazarded. “But yeah, it seems like that to me. Someone hammering on the front door screaming obscenities at you.”
Shit. Dar’s mind raced. She’s right.
Kerry gently slipped from between Dar’s long legs, and removed Chino from her perch. “Well, let me..”
Dar reached out and put a hand on her wrist. “Tell John to reverse his usual route. Have him pull the cable from the jack end. That’ll clear the closets, and when he’s done there and ready to do the core installs, the other guys’ll be out of his way.”
Kerry opened her mouth, then shut it again. A rueful grin appeared. “Should we switch projects?” She pondered. “Maybe some fresh eyes do help.”
“Maybe.” Dar had to agree. “G’wan. Maybe we can alternate. I’m going to go chase down your idea – though why the hell it didn’t occur to me before I can’t begin to figure out.”
“Ditto.” Kerry turned to leave. “How’s the foot?
“Hurts.” Dar grunted, as she pulled her keyboard back onto her lap. “Maybe I’ll go spearfishing later and get that little bastard.”
Kerry paused briefly in the doorway to watch her partner, then she ducked through and swung around into her own office where a cup of tea already awaited her. She sat down behind her desk and picked up her cell phone, glancing at her screen as she keyed in John’s number.
More mail. She clicked on it as she waited for her contractor to answer, running her eyes over the new arrivals.
“Hi, John.” Kerry scanned a note from the marketing department. “Listen, Dar had a good idea.”
“We could use one.” The wiring man grunted.
Kerry told him the plan. “Anyway, it can’t hurt, and it’ll get you out of the middle of that mess for a while. What do you think?” She clicked on her next mail.
Hey Ker –
Listen, remember when all those weird rumors were going around about you and Dar? I thought it was just random chatter, but I had a potty encounter today and I’m not sure!
“Yeah, it’s worth a try.” John said. “All right, I’ll pull my guys out. At least they got some new foreman on the loading dock, and I’m finally getting all my stuff. “
“Yeah?” Kerry was completely distracted by Colleen’s mail.
“Yeah, here’s a coincidence – his name’s Roberts, just like Dar’s.” John chuckled. “Maybe it’s in the name. Anyway, I’ll give you a call back later.”
I was in the necessary doing the necessary when I heard someone come in. She did a stall check, but I was I the end one and she missed me.. and then she made a cell call to someone and I heard her talking about trying to mess the company up!
This girlie said she’d started telling everyone you two’d had a big fight this weekend out here, and she was going to do worse! Well, let me tell you I came out of that necessary like the Queen Mary!
“Oh, my god.” Kerry murmured.
She ran out – I tried to follow after her, but I got caught up at the door by two of those bloody secretaries trying to get out their bra straps while talking about some television program. I didn’t recognize her, but it was right outside Marketing.
So – watch your back, my friend! I’ll try to find the little bugger again.
Kerry forwarded the mail to Dar, then after a moment, hit reply.
We stayed down here to concentrate on our projects and not be distracted by jerks! Dar got bit by a fish, and neither of us felt like driving back yesterday. Maybe we’ll stay down here for a week. I got more done already this morning than I did the last half of last week.
Can you get a description of this person? We had a security breach…
Kerry paused, and backspaced.
We had a problem this weekend and we narrowed it down to Marketing, but they were all in, so we couldn’t pin it down. Maybe it was the same person. Let me know.
“Damn it, damn it.” Kerry drummed her fingers on the keyboard, then she made a decision and forwarded the message again, this time to Mariana, along with a request to forward the personnel files of anyone who was in the building over the weekend.
It meant a lot of work, and a lot of crosschecking. Kerry took a sip of her tea, the smooth cherry taste of the green tea leaves soothing her. “But I will find you.” She promised the tale teller. “I will find you, and baby, I will make sure you regret ever putting one step into that marble lobby.”
She took another sip. “That, I promise.
Dar sat there, arms folded, hands tucked under her armpits and stared at the network overview she had up on her screen. The picture showed their entire infrastructure, routers and switches winking a reassuring green at her as she tried to figure out where to look next.
Kerry’s remark about a distraction had rang bells with her, but if it was, then what was it distracting her from? Everything else looked normal.
She turned her eyes to a different window, running results from her new program. Every ten seconds, the system reported back to her from each router she had it installed in, a constant running monitor of the traffic it was seeing.
It was rough, and the monitor only a command line, but Dar couldn’t help but feel a sting of pride as she watched it go. She knew it had a long way to run before it could be really used in production, but eventually – with a properly written front end and a ton more robustness – this would be a killer app for them to put on the market.
Even now, with just the barest of kernels running, it was bringing back scraps of information from what it was seeing out there that gave Dar insight into what was going on around them.
It was exciting, in a viscerial way to her. But she was also frustrated right now because there was a piece missing here, and she couldn’t find it. The hacker was still hammering at the front gates, but Dar had scanned each of the border routers, and she could find no other stealthy attempts anywhere on the outside of the network.
Was it just coincidence then? Kerry’s suggestion had made bedrock sense when she’d heard it, but… Dar unfolded one arm and gave her trackball a spin, her brows knit together over her eyes. She rocked forward and braced her elbow on the desk, leaning her head against it as she got closer to the screen.
A message box appeared, nearly startling her half to death. She glanced to one side, then straightened and pulled the keyboard back over to answer Mariana’s hail.
The HR VP answered quickly.
You got bitten by a BARRACUDA?
Dar’s somewhat ghoulish humor surfaced. Family reunion. What can I tell you?
She could almost hear the laughter on the other end of the connection, and had to smile herself.
You got kicked out of the barracuda family when you married Kerry, my friend, and you know it!
Eh, that was the truth. Yeah, well, I was chasing a Frisbee at the time. At least I didn’t get nipped by a goldfish for it. Her eyes flicked to the monitor, taking in a few minutes of reports and not seeing anything remarkable.
Damn it. She turned her attention back to the instant message box. So is everyone freaking out?
There was a hesitation before Mari answered. Just a little surprise at our level, but I heard talk going around, so I thought I’d better ask. Now that Kerry’s sent me the scoop, and the possible culprit, I’ll get on it and see what I can find out.
Huh? Dar felt suddenly lost. “Hey, Ker?” She called out. “C’mere.”
“Hang on.” Her partner replied from the next room. “I’m reconciling a purchase order.”
Dar reread the message, then just shrugged. Okay. Have fun. She ventured, figuring it was a safe answer and that she could get clarification from Kerry later. We may be down here for a few days. I’m getting more done without people barging in my office every five minutes.
Mari’s response surprised her a little. Dar, take whatever time you need, okay? Let me handle the crap in the office.
“What’s up, sweetie.” Kerry ambled in and put her arms around Dar, giving her a quick hug. “More problems?”
Dar scrolled back up in her message box and pointed. “What is she talking about?” She asked, just as the screen underneath, her monitor, began to spit out lines in black on white letters, instead of white on black. “Whoops.. hold it.”
Kerry slid in behind Dar and watched over her shoulder as she typed rapidly. She could see where Dar was going in the system, but she was hitting keys so fast Kerry couldn’t read quickly enough to get a sense of what she was doing once she got there.
And then, just as quickly as she’d started, she stopped, fingertips resting lightly on the keys. The monitor appeared normal again. “What was that?” Kerry asked.
“Good question.” Dar murmured. “For a minute, it looked like something…” Her brow creased and she leaned forward a little. “Maybe the damn program just stumbled. God knows, there’s a lot of rough code in there.”
Kerry put her hands on Dar’s shoulders. She could felt he tension beneath her fingers, and out of habit she started a gentle massage. “What did it seem to be reporting?” She asked. “Was it an attack, or…”
Dar propped her head up on one hand and used the other to scroll the mouse. “No, not… well, it looks like it thought it’s libraries were being accessed. But that’s just a dud error.. there’s nothing touching them.”
“Mm.” Kerry knocked a little of the rust off her own programming memories. “Sort of like.. someone was also using them? Or… something opened the files?”
“Yeah.” Dar agreed readily. “But nothing’s accessing them. Nothing we have even knows the program’s there.”
“Hm.” Kerry kept up her massage. “False reading?”
They both studied the screen in silence for a few minutes. Then Kerry cleared her throat. “Colleen overheard some slimy nitball in the bathroom talking to someone on cell about screwing us over.”
Dar straightened and turned her head to look up at Kerry. “What?”
“Mm.” The blond woman nodded. “Spreading rumors. So I have Mari sending me all the personnel files of the scumbags in marketing.”
One of Dar’s eyebrows quirked. “Why not just get the one who did it?”
“Colleen didn’t recognize her, and she lost her outside in the hallway.” Kerry informed her regretfully. “Anyway… so that’s what’s going on. Can I go finish my paperwork now?”
Dar tilted her head and kissed the back of Kerry’s hand, still resting on her shoulder. “Sure.” She said. “Sorry I dragged you over here.”
Kerry returned the kiss and planted one on the top of Dar’s head. “No problem.” She gave Dar a last hug, then turned and made her way out of the office, leaving behind a faint scent of apricot.
Dar sighed, and refocused her attention on the screen. The alert was now well and over, an no trace was left of the disturbance that had sent her monitor off the scale. She was satisfied with the possibility that it had been a false alarm, but something niggled at the back of her head anyway.
She went over the log in the router that had triggered the alarm. No attacks had been detected from the outside, and she confirmed again that no unusual traffic had been seen. The only thing in the logs themselves was a…
Huh. Dar cocked her head. Tftp requests weren’t uncommon. They had servers that routinely copied the configurations and logs of the devices for safekeeping, but Dar knew something about that which made this one log entry catch her eye.
She checked her watch. It was seventeen minutes past eleven. She’d written that little collection program way back when in the days when she’d supervised the ops center. One of her own peculiarities, generated by her years growing up on a military base, dictated that her timed requests always went off on even fractions of the hour.
Eleven, eleven ten, twenty, thirty… but this request was seventeen minutes after the hour.
So. Dar examined the entry, and found it coming from one of the administrative servers. Cracking her knuckles, she called up a terminal program and accessed the server, her eyes narrowing slightly as she started her hunt.
Andy walked across the pier and up the gangway into his new ship. This one was just as threadbare and full of rusty bolts as the other one, but he felt much more affectionate towards it in any case and gave the side a pat as he walked inside.
The hold was full of boxes, as the last one had been. He noticed one difference, however. On one side of the storage area several pallets were set, neatly laden with boxes of assorted sizes, shrink wrapped, and tagged with invoices. They seemed to be behind a bunch of boxes, though, almost half hidden.
The orderliness of the stack appealed to him. Andrew walked over and scanned the shipping invoices with a knowledgeable eye, catching sight of a familiar company name on the top. “Huh.” He studied the paper, noting the ‘K. Stuart’ referenced on one side. “I do believe I know that little kumquat.”
Unlike the deliveries for the women on the other boat, this here pile had an order to it that had Andrew nodding as he reviewed the list of contents. “Ah do not know which of this here is a leg bone, and which is a foot bone, but I figure this here stack probably makes a whole skeleton and don’t that make sense?”
“Hey, you there.”
Andrew turned, to find a scruffy, sweatshirted man headed his way with a clipboard. He waited for the man to arrive, surprised when the clipboard was held out to him. “What’s this here for?’
“You’re Roberts, right?” The man said.
Andrew allowed that he was.
“Great. The man said you’d be in here to take over for that joker. Here’s the lading list, and this is the stuff we’re expecting in today. Just get it unpacked and moved wherever you can find a place for it, okay?”
Andrew looked down at the clipboard. “Y’all want me to take charge of this here job?”
“Sure, right. Didn’t he tell you?” The man seemed impatient. “C’mon, we’re behind a day already, and everyone’s screaming at me.” He pointed to the stacks of boxes in front of Kerry’s pallets. “Start with this bunch first – get it out of the way. Guys are in the break room, just go grab em when you’re ready, which is like now, right?”
The man left at an almost run. Andrew regarded his back a moment, then shook his head. “Hell of a crazy damn place this is.” He turned and went to the center of the hold, turning in a slow circle, and looking for a suitable place to start.
Andrew turned, but the comment wasn’t directed apparently at him. Two men in coveralls were walking from a just opened hatch towards a stairwell. They didn’t look happy.
“Now we’ve got to get that leak fixed, damn.” One said. “I thought they’d gotten that covered.”
The other shrugged. “Didn’t give em enough, probably. Always the same. Well, they can say what they want, that hole isn’t getting plugged any time soon, not by me.”
The two men disappeared into the stairwell, closing the door behind them. Andrew filed the information away for later study, and headed for the break room to find some bodies to shift them boxes like the feller asked.
But of course he’d start with Kerry’s first.
“Couldn’t find anything, hm?” Kerry asked.
“Program put out the tftp request out of sequence.” Dar folded her hands over her stomach. She was lying flat on her back on the padded bench outside on their porch, with her head cradled comfortably in Kerry’s lap. “Can’t find any reason why.” She added. “And it’s driving me insane.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry leaned back, one hand idly riffling through Dar’s hair. “Could it just be a fluke?”
Dar wiggled her injured foot, which she was putting in the sun for some mysterious and possibly imaginary medical benefit. “I’d rather not think so.”
Kerry eyed her, a tiny, knowing grin on her face. “Because it’s your program?”
One blue orb appeared, sparkling in the sunlight, and its attendant brow hiked up. “What are you saying? That I’m a snob when it comes to my own work?”
“Mm.” Kerry traced the eyebrow with her fingertip, admiring its fine arch. “You’re a perfectionist.” She remarked, smoothing the thin hairs down lovingly.
For a half second, Dar almost looked like she was going to be insulted, then her face relaxed into a grin. “Well, I picked you, so I guess I am.”
A charmed smile appeared on Kerry’s face. “I love you too, honey, but I’m not anywhere near perfect.” She trailed her fingers over Dar’s lips, chuckling a little as they were caught and nibbled.
“To me you are.” Dar answered simply. “So get over it.”
Get over it. Kerry marveled again at just how fortunate she was in life. No matter what troubles they were facing at work, what they had together was, in a word, priceless and she knew it. She’d seen enough of the world to know that the synergy she and Dar shared wasn’t common and needed to be cherished, protected, and nurtured.
They needed these moments. Certainly, Kerry savored them, her ego enjoying the gentle burnishing from Dar’s regard. “Well, takes one to know one.” She sorted Dar’s bangs, running her fingers through them and moving them out of her eyes. “Can I interest you in a shrimp salad sub for lunch? I have a conference call scheduled for an hour from now.”
“Mm.” Dar licked her lips. “It’s your shrimp salad, right? Not that mealy mess the store sells?”
“Mine.” Kerry smiled. “With real, identifiable shrimp in it, not mushy shrimplets. That all right?”
Dar nodded, closing her eyes and exhaling in contentment.
It only lasted an instant, before her cell phone rang. Dar scrunched her face up in annoyance, but unclipped the phone from her pocket and opened it. “Yes?”
“Roberts, is that you?” Peter Quest sounded harried and upset.
Dar debated on denying it, then sighed. “Yes.”
“All right, that’s everyone.” Quest said, a little more briskly. “I’ve got you all on the phone, so I only have to say this once.”
Dar held the phone so Kerry could hear it, half lifting one hand as Kerry looked at her in question. “All right.”
There were soft murmurs in the background, and Dar thought she recognized Michelle’s voice in there somewhere.
“Here’s the situation.” Quest said. “Some asshole called the EPA, who came down and inspected the waterfront. We haven’t done anything wrong, but the bleeding heart fish lovers think they see gas leaking, so they’re forcing the port’s hand.”
“Think?” Kerry mouthed. “They’ve been leaking since they got here.”
Dar put a finger over her lips.
“We’ve got until Friday. The ships have to be finished then.”
Kerry’s eyes popped wide open and so did Dar’s. “No way!” Kerry whispered. “Dar, that’s impossible!”
Dar nodded. “Quest, that’s insanity.”
Two male voices grunted agreement, then Michelle spoke. “It’s a lot more possible for those of us who are actually here, thanks.”
Kerry grimaced and made a rude gesture at the phone.
“I don’t care.” Quest dismissed them all. “That’s the bottom line. Finish by Friday, and turn in your bids. If you can’t do it, fine, but you leave everything in place on board the ships and just walk out.”
“Wait a minute!” Mike Eldridge protested. “You can’t just ask us to leave all that equipment if we’re not going to bid. That’s..”
“Then shut up and finish, because that’s my deal.” Quest cut him off. “And I’ll have my security people enforce it. Now, I have to get off this phone and go deal with some whining liberal, so you’ve got four and a half days. I suggest you get moving, or get leaving. Good bye.”
Dar stared at the now dead cell phone for a long moment. “Son of a bitch.”
“Shit.” Kerry’s eyes flicked to the horizon, going unfocused as she thought about the suddenly mountainous obstacles before them. “Dar, there’s no way.”
“Did the infrastructure come in yet?”
“It was due yesterday, but..” Kerry hesitated. “No, wait – I had a note this morning from the shipping company that it was coming in this afternoon.”
Dar had her eyes closed again. “Okay.” She paused. “Call John. Tell him to bring in however many guys he can get ahold of.”
“You can’t be serious.. there’s no way to..”
“Kerrison.” Dar looked at her.
“Dar, c’mon now..”
“Hey.” Dar reached up and cupped the side of Kerry’s face, drawing her chin down a touch so their eyes were forced to meet.
“Darrrr….” A thousand arguments died before the look in those blue eyes.
A sudden flash of a cold rainy night in North Carolina formed in Kerry’s mind, and she heard Dar’s voice all over again in a cool, angry bark when she’d protested the impossible. This time there was no anger, just a gentle firmness just as effective in it’s own way. “Sorry.” She leaned against Dar’s hand a little. “Go on.”
Dar understood the doubt she saw. “We don’t know we can’t do it, because we haven’t tried yet.” The dark haired woman stated. “So I vote we try, and if we fail we do, but it won’t be because we quit.”
Kerry also knew the tasks ahead of them, and she knew, no matter how much Dar willed it otherwise, they did not have the time to do what Quest was asking.
But – hey. Dar was right, they had to try. Neither of them were quitters. “Okay, boss.” Kerry smiled again. “Guess we better get moving, huh?”
“After lunch.” Dar said. “I’ll call Mark and have him send everyone we have over there. We’ll over run the damn boat with nerds, and maybe everyone in our way’ll just run screaming.”
Kerry cocked her head to one side. “You don’t want to leave right now?”
Dar resettled her hands over her stomach. “Ker?”
Kerry covered Dar’s hands with one of her own. “Trust you? I trust you with my life, my soul, and everything that I am, Dar. It’s not a matter of trusting you, I just want to know what you’re up to.”
A blue eye appeared again. “When I figure that out, you will.”
“Hey there old man.”
Andrew looked up from his bottle of pop to find the cowboy trucker heading his way. “Wall. Howdy there, young feller.” He drawled, exchanging an amused look with the man. In truth, they were probably pretty close in age, and the trucker chuckled as he extended a hand.
“Wanted to c’mover and say hello after the other day.” The trucker said. “I was halfway outta the state, when a company rig broke down and they turned me back. More stuff for this place.”
Andrew looked around the dock, where there were trucks and men unloading everywhere. The pace on the pier had picked up incredibly, and he could almost sense panic from the workers around him. “Wonder what got em all in a hustle?”
The trucker looked surprised. “Didncha hear? Gov’mint tossing them outta here end of the week.”
“Yeah?” Andy said. “Heard something like, but I didn’t figure they’d really do it.”
“Well, if they ain’t, no one’s told my boss. We got ten more trucks headed this way right now.” The man said. “Hope you all got room for it.”
Ten trucks worth? Two for each ship more than likely. Andrew shook his head. The belowdecks area of the ship was a mess for sure, and just trying to keep it all straight had taken most of his day so far. “What you got now?” He asked. “Stuff for this one?” He pointed at the ship.
Obligingly, the trucker handed over his manifest. “You get nailed for messing with that little sissy boy the other day?”
“Naw.” Andrew studied the papers, noting again Kerry’s name on one side. “Got me moved over to this here tub.” He indicated the ship with a motion of his head. “This here all for us?” He asked, flipping through to the last few pages and catching sight of something else. A tiny grin appeared on his face.
The trucker took back the manifest and examined it. “Far as I can tell, yeah.” He agreed. “Where do you want it?”
“Right over there.” Andy indicated a spot on the dock. “I’ll have them boys move it all inside after.”
“You got it.” The trucker agreed. “Man, they got those people all riled up. What a mess.” He watched as a group of ship personnel gathered near the stern of the vessel, along with a couple of suits all pointing and looking at the water behind the ship. “Well, let me get going. Be right back.”
“Yeap.” Andrew finished up his pop and stood there in the shade, considering what to do next. A motion caught his eye and he half turned, surprised to see Ceci pulling up to the curb in the truck. He tossed the pop bottle in the trash and jogged over, leaning down to rest his elbows on the window sill and peer inside. “Hey there.”
“Hi.” Ceci reached and handed him something. “You forgot this, and our child has been trying to get hold of us.”
“Aw, hell.” Andrew took the phone. “You call her?”
“No.” Ceci glanced past him at the chaos on the dock. “I’d have to admit to causing this if I did.”
“Yes, I know. Our relationship is quantum leaps past what it was, Andy, but I’d still rather you did it.” The slim, fair haired woman said. “Uh oh.. I better go. That guy knows me.” She set a pair of wraparound sunglasses on her nose, and ducked behind Andrew’s bulk.
“Lord.” Andy started dialing.
“You knew you married a leftist radical.”
“Yeap, I surely did.”
“Well, it could have been worse, Andy.”
“Yeap. Dar coulda joined t’Army.”
Kerry leaned back in the driver’s seat of the Lexus, watching the somewhat boring bushes go by as they headed north. Next to her in the passenger seat, Dar was rattling away on her keyboard, pausing impatiently as she waited for her keystrokes to catch up with her over the cellular modem link. “What on earth did we do before cell modems?”
“Got lots of speeding tickets.” Dar answered absently.
“Did you?” Kerry adjusted the sun visor to block out the blast of golden light from the west.
“Uh huh.” Her partner admitted. “For a while I almost gave up living in my place and thought about bunking at the office. There was space under my desk.”
“Hm. Is that why you have a couch in your office now?”
Dar chuckled. “Yes, but not if you ask the majority of the small minded.” She eased her leg straight, wincing a little as she banged her foot against the center console. “The sordid events everyone was convinced took place on that couch were legendary.”
Dar paused in mid type, her eyes shifting from her laptop to Kerry’s profile. She could see the curve of her partner’s jawline, and the slight bunching and relaxing of the muscles there that meant the question wasn’t frivolous. “Um…” She tapped the side of her thumb against the wrist rest. “They were all fictional, Ker.” She said. “The only person who’s ever slept on that couch besides me is you.”
Dar muffled a grin of her own and went back to typing.
Kerry’s face tensed into a sheepish grin, as she glanced at Dar. “Boy, do I have a green streak a mile wide, or what?” She sighed. “You know, I never really suspected that about myself until I met you.”
“Well, given all the stories you’ve heard about me in that office, I can’t say I blame you for wondering.” Dar admitted. “But I have to admit that my reputation in that area was way overrated.” She said. “I think it was easier for me to let everyone think I was out there having a wild and crazy time rather than them knowing the truth.”
Kerry thought back to her days in Miami before she’d met Dar. She’d had, she’d thought, a reasonable social life with her friends from the office, and near her apartment. They’d gone bowling, seen movies, played around at Dave and Busters – it hadn’t been bad.
Except. “Nights are a lot more fun now.”
Dar raised both eyebrows at her.
“No, I mean… I was always busy during the day.” Kerry explained, changing lanes to go around a very slow gasoline tanker. “Or around dinner, with the gang. But then I went home.”
“Mm. Dar grunted. “Did your couch have torrid tales?” She asked, a little surprised at the fact that not only was it the first time she’d asked, it was the first time she’d wondered.
Kerry pushed her sunglasses higher up on her nose. “You inaugurated that couch.” She replied straightforwardly. “I don’t think I did anything more risqué than eat crackers and cheese on it before that.”
They were both silent for a while, immersed in their own thoughts while Dar continued pecking away on her keyboard. Outside the SUV, the scrub brush and occasional crab shack slowly gave way to ticky tacky tourist outposts that beckoned the unwary with deals on seashells and cheap t-shirts.
Kerry passed the first few miles of them, then she pulled into one of the next parking lots. “Drink break. Want something?”
Dar put the laptop on the seat behind her. “Stretch my legs.” She responded. “I’ve got a cramp.”
“You going to go out there in your little booties?” Kerry asked.
“Sure. They’re not white socks with black sandals. No one’ll think I’m a tourist.” Dar opened the door and hopped carefully out. The bite on her foot was quite painful and somewhat swollen, and she had to limp to keep her weight off it. “At least not a Florida tourist.”
“No, they’ll just think you’re from New Zealand.” Kerry got out on her side and closed the door, then jogged over to Dar’s side as they walked towards the mini-mart. “How’s the foot doing?”
“Sucks.” Dar grunted.
Kerry gave her a sympathetic rub on the back as they reached the door and entered. The mini mart was very mini, and not much of a mart, featuring a lonely coffee burner with a pot of burned coffee in it, a single refrigerator with Coke bottles, a rack of gum and bags of 1 day old doughnuts on the counter.
Without exchanging even a glance, Kerry veered to the refrigerator case and grabbed two bottles of coke while Dar carefully skirted the doughnuts and examined the sparse choices of packaged snacks.
“Hi there ladies.” The proprietor of the mart appeared from a tiny back room. “Can I get you something? We got a special on these doughnuts.” He nudged one of the bags forward. “They’re pretty good.”
“No thanks.” Dar responded briefly. “We… um..” She paused as Kerry plunked two bottles of coke and two packages of Snowballs on the counter along with a five dollar bill. “have what we need.”
The door opened and let in a blast of warm air and sunlight, along with a tall, burly figure. The newcomer paused as the door closed, revealing an intimidating biker image complete with mirrored shades.
The mart owner regarded him warily. “Howdy.”
The man, however, was far more interested in Dar and Kerry. He pulled off his sunglasses. “Hey guys! What’s the odds, huh?”
“Hey, Tom!” Kerry smiled. “You here on your bike? Dar hasn’t seen it yet.”
“Sure am. How’s the eye?” Their fellow kickboxing student asked her. “What brings you guys down here?” He tossed a five dollar bill down on the counter. “Pump two.”
They walked outside together, and crossed the broken tarmac parking lot to where the gas pumps were. Tom’s new Harley was huddling there in the sunlight, and drew an admiring whistle from Dar. “Nice.” She complimented him. “I love the fish.”
“Me too.” Tom agreed, opening the gas tank and inserting the filler. “Some of the guys though they were too wussy, but you know what? Chicks dig it.”
Well, it was hard to argue on that since both she and Kerry were undeniably chicks, and they both did like them. “Great paint job… how is it to ride?” Dar said. “I rented one a few months back and liked how it handled, but it wasn’t that long distance.”
“I remember that.” Kerry murmured.
“Oh, it’s great.” Tom told her readily. “I thought it was gonna be a little tough on my..uh…”
“Buns.” Kerry supplied.
“Yeah, those too. But it’s been cool.” The man said. “Sure you don’t wanna trade up to one, Ker?”
“Hm.” Kerry regarded the big bike wistfully. “They sure are cool.” Her eyes went to Dar’s face. “They just really pissed us off when we went to go buy one.” She saw the faintest twitch at the corner of her partner’s mouth, and sighed as she leaned against the pump.
“Well, you should go get one at bike week, like I did.” Tom said. “Hey, speaking of, how’d the tat come out, Ker? Didja go through with it?”
Kerry obligingly unbuttoned and pulled down the shoulder of her short sleeve cotton shirt, exposing the tattoo. “I did.” She confirmed. “And you were so lying to me, Tom. It hurt like crazy. I think I made the poor guy deaf from my screaming.”
Tom examined the tattoo, and then gave Kerry a very respectful look. “Well.. uh.. mine was on my arm.” He flexed his bicep, displaying a beautiful parrot. “I think it’d hurt a lot more right on your.. uh..” His eyes dropped to Kerry’s tattoo, then averted, as he blushed slightly. “ You know what I mean.”
Dar reached around Kerry’s shoulder and encircled her with both arms as she re-buttoned her shirt. “We know what you mean.” She said. “And I’ll keep that in mind when I go get mine done.”
Kerry turned and looked up at Dar in surprise.
“Anyway, hey, I’m glad I ran into you guys.” Tom said. “Something sorta weird happened on Friday, and I don’t really know what to make of it.” He put the gas nozzle back in the pump and closed the gas cap. “I was at the bar and some women came up to me.”
“That was weird?” Dar was aware of Kerry’s intense regard, but she merely laid her arm over her partner’s shoulders and addressed Tom instead. “Why? You’re not that bad looking.”
Tom scratched his nose. “Well, this was kinda serious, you know? One of them said they were some kind of reporter or something, and they were asking questions about you guys, or mostly Kerry, really.”
It stopped being funny, and Kerry stopped thinking about tattoos, no matter how startled she was. “What?” She turned around and faced Tom. “Questions about me?”
Tom had the grace to look both abashed and embarrassed. “Um.. about you and me, matter of fact.”
“You and me what?” Kerry spluttered. “You and me in kickboxing class, or drinking beer together?” She was aware suddenly of Dar’s close presence behind her, and felt the warmth of her partner’s hands as Dar put them on her shoulders.
“They had… you remember when I showed you the bike?” Tom seemed a little uneasy. “And we kinda.. you took that picture with me?”
Kerry’s eyes narrowed. “Yes.”
“I guess I was showing it to the guys at the bar, and I guess…” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I got it blowed up and one of the copies sorta disappeared.”
Dar snorted softly, but didn’t make any comment.
“Jesus.” Kerry exhaled. “Where did the reporters say they were from? Was it the Travel Channel?
Tom shook his head. “No, uh.. the Herald, you know? Some kind of story they were doing about the port, and some ships.. and I guess about you.”
“And they have that picture, right?” Kerry covered her eyes.
“I guess. They mentioned it, so..” Tom shrugged sheepishly. “I mean, no one thought much about it, Kerry.. I knew it kinda went walking, but you know, it was a rocking picture, so..”
“Uh oh.” Dar said. “How bad was this photo?”
“Me and Tom on the bike.” Kerry still had her eyes covered. “With me posing as a biker chick.”
Dar sorted through that, and didn’t find anything altogether that dangerous in it. “Okay.” She said slowly. “So.. when was this?”
“When you were in New York.” Kerry sighed.
“Uh huh. Same night you got this?” Dar indicated the tattoo.
“It wasn’t anything!” Tom spoke up suddenly. “All Kerry was doing is giving me an ego shot on the damn bike.. we didn’t do nothing!”
Dar looked at him. “I know that.” She said. “Question is, what is it they’re looking to illustrate using it?”
Kerry put her hands on her hips and stared disgustedly at the broken tarmac. “I’ve had it.” She finally said, turning and heading for the Lexus. “I’m quitting and becoming an itinerant poet. Then maybe no one will give a crap what I do.” She opened the door and got in, slamming it behind her.
That left Dar and Tom facing each other across the Harley. Dar sighed, and produced a brief smile. “It’s been a rough couple weeks.” She said. “Last thing we needed is to drive back to town and be greeted with a front page story.”
Tom stuck his hands into the pockets on his jeans. “Dar, I’m real sorry.”
“Wasn’t anything you did.” Dar shrugged. “What did you tell the reporters, anyway?”
“Not much.” He admitted. “I just couldn’t get what they were after, so they kinda just left when I wouldn’t tell them me and Kerry had been.. um… like, hanging out together or whatever.”
“Yeah.” Dar pushed her sunglasses up on her nose. “Well, thanks, Tom. Nice bike. Don’t worry about the picture, okay?” She lifted a hand to wave goodbye and headed for the car. Circling the back of it, she got in the passenger side and closed the door, half turning in the seat to face the huddled, silent Kerry. “Hey.”
Kerry sniffled, and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. “I’m so sick of this.”
Dar leaned further over the center console, and gently gripped Kerry’s forearm. “Ker?”
Kerry sniffled again. “Yeah?”
“I’m sick of it too.”
Kerry took off her sunglasses and looked at Dar with tear moistened eyes. “I know it’s chickenshit.”
Dar shook her head. “Just human.” She slid her grip down to clasp Kerry’s hand, then drew the hand up to kiss its knuckles. “Let’s just go do what we need to do, then we can sit down and decide where we go from here.”
Kerry looked at her hand, now pressed gently against Dar’s cheek. She gave the fingers clasping hers a squeeze, and exhaled, nodding a little in answer.
“Want me to drive now?” Dar asked. “I can try it left footed.”
“No.” Kerry gathered her wits. “Just open my coke for me, and gimme a Snowball. I’ll live.” She started the car and put it in gear. “Dar, what are we going to do if that does end up on the front page of the Herald?”
“Won’t.” Dar was busy ripping cellophane with her teeth. “You’re not a communist sympathizer. You might make the Business page though.” She removed the soft, fluffy pastry form it’s constriction and handed it over. “And if it does, we just deal with it.”
Kerry bit into the marshmallow top, tearing it apart ruthlessly. “How’s ILS going to deal with their VP ops being a biker chick?”
“About like they did with their VP Ops being a gay redneck.” Dar took a sip of Coke. “We’ll all cope.”
Yeah. Kerry settled into her seat, gazing ahead into the slowly fading sunlight. “Know what I’m going to do if it happens?”
“Frame a copy and send it to my mother.”
It was dinnertime before they pulled into the driveway. Kerry parked the Lexus and opened the door, sliding off the leather seat to the ground and stretching her back out. “Ugh.”
“C’mon, Chino.” Dar got out on the other side and opened the back door, allowing the Labrador to jump to the ground. She shouldered her laptop and waited for Kerry to join her, then she limped up the steps to the front door of the condo.
They had debated stopping at the port. Chino had tipped the balance, since neither of them wanted to leave their pet in the car while they checked on things and bringing her onboard the ship just wasn’t an option.
Dar keyed the door open and entered, waiting for Kerry to pass her by and then shutting the door. “You want to change, and we’ll run over there?”
Kerry dropped her briefcase and overnight bag on the love seat. “You want to hear the politically correct corporately responsible answer or the truth?”
“Me either.” Dar limped past her and went into the bedroom. “Is there really a point? We’re both fond of saying we can trust our people, aren’t we?”
Kerry trudged into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, removing a bottle of juice and pouring herself a glass. “Good point.” She called back into the living room. “How about we commit to being there early tomorrow morning. We can assess what’s going on, and decide what we want to do.”
Kerry took a sip of juice, and cocked her head. “Did you say something?”
Drawn by this odd utterance, Kerry left the kitchen and entered the living room, finding her beloved soulmate sprawled on the couch regarding her injured foot with a frown. “What’s wrong?”
“That.” Dar pointed.
Kerry walked over and sat down, cradling Dar’s foot in her lap and examining it closely. “Oh.” She grimaced. “Ow.”
The foot was swollen and an angry red color. Dar folded her arms across her chest and glared at it. “Stupid god damned fish.”
“Let me go get the antiseptic.” Kerry took hold of Dar’s ankle when she started to pull the injured extremity away. “Or we could go see Dr. Steve.”
Dar sighed, but returned her leg to it’s former position. Kerry slipped into the bathroom and returned, setting the antiseptic bottle and cotton balls down as she prepared to tender first aid. Chino came over and started to help, licking Dar’s face thoroughly with a serious expression.
“That’s it, Chi. You keep mommy Dar busy while I do this.”
Dar reached over the dog and picked up the mail on the coffee table, laying it on her stomach and flipping through it to distract herself. A Hammacher Schlemmer catalog caught her eye, and she opened it, browsing the pages idly. “Want a pair of space socks?”
Kerry tweaked one of Dar’s toes. “No, honey, I don’t.” She wiped around the fish bite carefully with her swab.
“Automatic vacuum cleaner?”
“For?” Kerry looked around. “We have a cleaning service, remember?”
Dar sighed. “How about a train set?”
“You just like buying toys.” Kerry peered at the bites on the bottom of her partner’s foot. “Dar, these really do look bad.”
“I don’t know if Dr. Steve was a horrible idea.” Kerry went on, with a slightly apologetic tone. “I know you don’t like to, but I’d hate to see these really get infected, you know?”
“I’ve had my tetanus.”
It was one of the few things they consistently fought about. Kerry privately admitted. Dar hated doctors, and Kerry both sympathized, and understood why she did. In fact, she wasn’t fond of either thing herself, though in Dr. Steve she’d finally found a doctor she not only trusted, but liked. “Dar.”
Kerry paused in mid breath, taken aback by the unexpected capitulation. She looked at Dar in surprise.
Dar shrugged a little. “It really hurts.” She admitted. “And you’re right – I don’t want it to get worse if I have to spend the next week in hiking boots on the deck of some damn half assed cruise ship.” She said. “So, if you want to give Steve a call, I’ll go feed Chino.”
Kerry gave the long leg wrapped around her a gentle pat. “For being such a good girl, I’ll take you out to dinner after he’s done. How’s that?”
Dar produced a charming smile. “Only if you promise to never, ever, ever tell anyone I was either good, or voluntarily went to the doctor.”
Kerry got up and edged between the couch and the coffee table, leaning over to give Dar a kiss on the lips. She stayed there almost long enough to get a crick in her back, then straightened up and headed for the phone.
Dar ruffled Chino’s fur with one hand, and laid the other across her stomach. Aside from her foot really hurting, she also found herself completely unwilling to argue with Kerry, especially since she knew Kerry was right and she was only arguing because that’s what she always did.
She felt a little adrift. She could feel changes coming, and the thought more excited her than frightened. But first, they did have this damn bid to get through, so she decided to focus on that for now. In the meantime, she would go and get her foot fixed up, and keep Kerry from getting any more stressed than she already was.
“You hungry, Chi? You want some dinner?” Dar swung her legs over the side of the couch and got up, going to the kitchen with a very attentive Labrador now glued to her knee. “Let’s go get you fed.”
Dr. Steve shook his head as he examined Dar’s foot. “Munchkin, between the two of you, I swear I should just tie you up in hammocks for a month and not let you outside for a minute.”
“Long as it’s the same hammock.” Dar replied benignly, her eyes closed and her hands folded over her stomach. “I’m cool with it.”
Kerry was loitering behind the examination table, leaning on her elbows. “Count me in too.”
“Tch, tch. You wild children.” The doctor finished his work and turned around to face Dar. “Honey, I’m going to have to give you a shot of antibiotic.”
“Now, I don’t want to hear all that guff about…” Dr. Steve paused. “Scuse me?”
Dar shrugged. “Go ahead. Anything to make that damn foot feel better.”
Her doctor and old family friend put his hands on his hips. “Who in the hell are you?” He asked. “You ain’t no Dar Roberts I know.” He looked over at Kerry. “You get her drunk before you brought her in here?”
“Nope.” Kerry idly played with a bit of Dar’s hair. “Hasn’t had a drop.. though that’ll change when we get done.” She gave the lock a tug, and was rewarded by Dar turning her head and peering up at her. “Dar’s just come to her senses, right honey?”
“Right.” Dar kept her eyes on Kerry while Dr. Steve prepared the shot, sense notwithstanding she never had liked to watch large pieces of sharp steel enter her body and didn’t figure on starting any time soon, or now for that matter.
She could sense the doctor’s approach. Kerry must have sensed it too, because she slid her hand forward and cupped Dar’s cheek, a welcome warmth in the cool air of the office. Dar let herself get lost in the soft green eyes regarding her, and she didn’t even feel the prick of the needle.
“Okay, there you go.” Dr. Steve wiped the area with a bit of cotton. “I’m gonna give you a prescription, too, you little rugrat. Wish you knew for sure what kind of fishie that was.” He patted Dar’s leg. “But you should be okay, long as you don’t aggravate things.”
Obligingly, Dar sat up and swung her legs off the table, leaning her weight on her hands as she watched Dr. Steve potter about at his table writing her prescription. He was dressed in a short sleeve plaid shirt and Bermuda shorts, and hadn’t bothered to assume his white coat or any propriety for his after hours patients. “Did you look at Kerry’s eye?”
Dr. Steve looked over his shoulder. “C’mere, Kerry.”
Kerry walked over to him and stood in the light, as he tilted her face a little towards him and studied her.
“I’d say her eye was green.” Dr. Steve announced. “Just like the other one.” He grinned at Kerry, who grinned back. “No headaches or anything from it, young lady?”
“No..” Kerry hesitated. “Well, not from that anyway. We’ve had a tough week.”
His eyebrow rose. “It’s Monday.”
Dr. Steve patted her cheek. “Well, you take it easy, okay? Nothing in that crazy world of yours is worth getting sick over.”
“You got that right.” Dar limped over and laid a hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “So, take this stuff, and what else? Don’t tell me to stay off it, Steve. I’ve got a damn ship I have to be crawling over the next couple of days.”
Dr. Steve frowned at her. “Honey, how do d’you expect that thing to heal if you’re stomping all over with it? Any shoe you put on there’s gonna hurt.” He pointed out. “Less you want to go barefoot, like you used to.”
“Still does.” Kerry teased gently. “But I’d never let her do it on that dock.”
Dar sighed. “I’ll figure something out.” She took the prescription. “Thanks. Sorry to pull you out from dinner.” She stuck the paper into her pocket as the doctor lead them to the back door, opening it so they could get out.
“No worries, rugrat.” Dr. Steve patted her on the back and headed for his open topped Jeep. “You take care.” He said. “And keep off that foot!”
Dar got into the car, this time Kerry’s smaller blue one, and shut the door. She waited for her partner to get in on the driver’s side and gave her a look. “I can’t not go.”
Kerry started the car, then leaned on the steering wheel and regarded her. “Didn’t you just agree with him that the job isn’t worth your health?”
Blue eyes blinked unrepentantly. “No.”
“I agreed the job wasn’t worth YOUR health.”
“Not hardly.” Dar set her sunglasses onto her nose. “C’mon. We’ll figure out something.”
“Yeah.” Kerry put the car in gear, and pulled out of the driveway heading towards the beach. “I’m sure we will.”
They ended up going by the port anyway. It was near nine o’clock, but the piers were bustling with activity and Kerry had to steer around several groups of hurrying workmen as she edged her way towards their ship. The air was full of the sound of heavy machinery moving, the clank of cranes, the hoot of warning klaxons as huge pieces of steel swung overhead and the everpresent hiss of welding torches. “Looks busy.” She commented.
“Very.” Dar agreed, peering out the open passenger side window. “Are those protestors?”
“Yeah.” Kerry nodded. “Looks like it.”
Kerry parked near their terminal, and got out, watching with some slight anxiety as Dar hopped out on her side and shut the door. “You going to be okay?”
“Fine.” Dar put cautious pressure on her foot, and immediately regretted it. “Ow.”
“Want to stay with the car, and let me run in?” Kerry circled the Lexus and came to Dar’s side, resting her hand on Dar’s arm.
“No.” Dar stubbornly started towards the pier, limping heavily. “C’mon, let’s get this over with.”
Kerry followed her, trotting to catch up, then walking along at Dar’s side. For once, she didn’t have to stretch to keep up, and halfway there she put her hand on Dar’s back, giving the surface a gentle rub with the edge of her thumb.
“That jerk at the restaurant aggravated me.” Dar said, out of the blue.
“Yeah, me too.” Kerry agreed.
“He had no right to take it out on that waitress.” Dar continued. “It wasn’t her fault he split his pants.”
“I wanted to kick him.”
Kerry patted Dar’s back. “I know, honey, and I know you couldn’t because your foot’s hurt.” She sympathized. “Anyway, I’m sure the karma will come back and bite him in the butt someday.”
Kerry chuckled. “You’re such a crusader. I love that about you.”
“Me?” Dar hobbled up the steps to the terminal and headed for the doors. “I’m nothing of the sort. I just hate jerks.”
Kerry swatted her on the butt as she held the door open and let Dar enter ahead of her, glad when the somewhat clammy but welcome chill of the air conditioning beat back the mugginess of the evening air. The interior of the room was far more active than it had been previously, and they both paused in surprise as the chaos resolved itself. “Holy pooters.”
The inside of the big terminal had been transformed from a dank, empty space to a bustle of activity, filled from back to front with people and gear they both recognized as belonging to ILS. “Well.” Dar exhaled, and started forward, lifting a hand to wave as people began to recognize her. “We did call up the troops.”
“Hey boss.” Mark appeared from literally nowhere, carrying a spool of cable and a switch on one shoulder. “How’s the goldfish nip?”
“Fine.. what’s going on in here?” Dar asked, looking around. Boxes and boxes of gear were stacked against the walls, most unpacked with humming and blinking boxes propped up on every available surface. “Mark, the network goes inside the ship, yeah?”
“Lemme get rid of this.” Mark trotted over and divested himself of his load, handing it off to a harried looking tech. “A ton of our stuff came in, but they ain’t got no space for it yet.”
“Ah.” Kerry walked over to a carton and examined the packing slip. “Yeah, I was expecting this today. Good.” She looked over at Mark. “Guess they came through after all, no matter where they got it from.”
Mark nodded. “Yeah, I talked to our guy today, just checking on stuff. He’s still torked.”
“Too bad.” Kerry put her hands on her hips. “So, you brought it all in here?”
“Nu uh.” The MIS manager shook his head. “I got told it was coming in here, and that I was supposed to do something useful with it.”
Dar cocked her head. “Who in the hell had the balls to tell you that?”
Kerry was already smiling, half covering her face with one hand.
“Your dad.” Mark cheerfully supplied. “I figured I’d better listen to him.”
“My dad.” Dar appeared to have developed a headache, from the way she was rubbing her temples. “Okay, fine. So you are…?”
“Setting up, burning in, and testing the network here.” Mark said. “Configuring it after that, so when they do have someplace to put it, we’ll be ready.”
Dar absorbed that, then nodded. “Makes sense.” She said. “John around?”
Mark pointed towards the entrance to the ship mutely. He watched Dar limp off, then turned to Kerry. “Hey.. um… I got something kinda skanky to show you.”
Kerry tore her own eyes from her partner’s retreating back, and focused on him. “Skanky?”
She followed Mark over to a pallet, which was covered with a gray, dusty tarp. Mark took hold of one end of it and pulled it free, exposing a stack of boxes. “Dar’s old man dropped this over here too. Said it was delivered to us by accident, but we should just keep it hidden.”
Kerry looked at the packing slip. The receiving name was Telegenics. “This isn’t ours.”
“Yeah, I know.” Mark agreed. “It’s the same stuff we ordered, but its for those jerkwads down on the other ship.” He pointed. “Got three more pallets full.”
“The four orders.”
Kerry walked to each pallet, and examined the labels. They were all identical. Proof of Telegenic’s duplicity… or was it? Could that have been done by accident? “Mark, did you ever ask the goofball if they questioned those four orders?”
Mark walked over and leaned an elbow on the boxes. “Yeah, I did. He told me he was told to shut up and mind his own business, and just deliver what was ordered.”
And didn’t that just sound like Shari? Kerry slowly let out a held breath. “Well well.” She flicked her fingers against the cardboard, suddenly aware that she held the fate of the bids in her hands, at least the Telegenics one. There was no way for them to get replacement gear for anything less than truly exorbitant prices if this batch went missing, chiefly because they themselves dried up the channel.
What goes around, comes around. Wasn’t that the saying? Didn’t it serve Shari and Michelle right to have this happen after what they’d tried to do?
It was just good, hard business sense for Kerry to keep these pallets right here, under cover, maybe filing a mis-delivery with the carrier that would take several weeks to resolve, right?
“You have a really funny look on your face, chief.” Mark commented.
“My morals are having a cat fight with my conscience.” Kerry let her hand fall. She turned and spotted a cluster of people near the office. “Now what?” She started towards the group, leaving the pallets behind for the time being.
Mark stood by and watched, until one of the techs came up next to him. “Hey.” The tech said. “You show her these boxes?”
“Yeah.” Mark nodded.
“What do you think she’s gonna do with em?”
Mark scratched his neck. “I dunno.” He admitted. “C’mon, we’ve got shit to do.” He headed back towards the piled gear, shaking his head a little.
Dar limped up the gangway, wincing a little at both the pain in her foot and the glaring spotlights surrounding the pier. She could hear men cursing ahead of her, and suddenly in the rumble of sound she caught a familiar drawl.
She stopped at the top of the gangway, unable to go further due to the cram of boxes, people, gear, and packing material stuffed in the entrance. Briefly she paused, looking for a way around it, then she shrugged and tipped her head back a little. “Dad!” She let out a yell.
One hundred percent of the men inside the hold were men, and a statistically significant portion of them were fathers. However, only one answered. “Dardar, that you?” Andrew yelled back. “Careful of that there mess, will ya?”
“What in the hell is all this crap?” Dar pushed against a box. “You building an ark in there?”
Abruptly a box moved, then disappeared, allowing Andrew to stick his grizzled head into the hole it left. “Lord, I will tell you there are more stupid human beings inside this here boat than I met in all mah years in the Navy.”
Dar leaned against the boxes. “What are you doing here?”
“Long tale, young lady.” Her father said. “Anyhow, them folks are trying to get all this here new stuff up one bitty elevator and it ain’t flying.” He said. “You get them boxes inside? That’s all your stuff, ain’t it?”
“Yeah.” Dar said. “My people are setting it all up and getting it ready.”
“Yeap.” Andy nodded again. “Folks seem like they know what’s up inside there.”
“Of course.” Dar felt a prickle of pride. “Hey, why don’t you put some of this packing crap out on the pier? You’d have more room.”
Her father gave her a look. “Cause them there folks..” He pointed at a sextet of jacketed individuals watching the ship. “Do not want no garbage exiting this here vessel.”
“Ah..” Dar exhaled. “EPA?”
“How in the hell did they get into all this?” Dar wondered.
Andy cleared his throat. Dar looked at him. They exchanged knowing glances. Dar scrubbed her face with one hand, and mildly resented this additional complication to an already complex and morally questionable series of actions. “Christ.”
“Well.” Andy sighed. “Them boats are leaking.”
“I know.” Dar leaned against the side of the ship entrance. “But there are so many questionable things involved with this circus right now, if that gets out… I don’t’ know.” She shifted her weight off her injured foot. “It’s a mess.”
Andrew was watching her like a hawk. “Something hurting you?”
“I got my foot bit by a fish.” Dar answered absently, her mind churning over the possibilities.
“How in the hell did that happen?”
“Long damn story.” Dar turned and put her hands on the gangway railing. “All right, let’s just do what we can, and make the best of it.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Thanks for watching out for us.”
Andy regarded her. “You going inside there? Let you know when a body can move inside this place.”
Dar nodded. “You need anything? Drinks or whatever? I saw our catering truck outside.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Dar turned and made her way back down the ramp, wondering what possibly could happen next to screw up a situation already so screwed up it defied explanation.
Then she figured she’d better stop wondering in case it happened.