“So.” Kerry glanced sideways at her beloved, if sometimes obscure partner. “This was a good idea, right?”
Dar looked into the rearview mirror, to where Shari and Michelle’s car was parked right behind hers on the ferry. “I have no idea.” She admitted. “It’s just… Ker, if we’re going to really do this, cooperate with them, I think we need to get all the bullshit out of the way first.”
Kerry groaned. “Haven’t we been getting bullshit since Orlando?”
The ferry rocked under them a bit as it traversed Government Cut. Dar tapped her thumbs on the steering wheel of the Lexus and watched the choppy water ahead of them. “Yeah, I know.” She sighed. “But listen.”
“I’m listening.” Kerry tucked her legs up under her and leaned on the center console, resting her head against Dar’s shoulder. She only just kept herself from checking the rearview, where she was sure her comfy position was being noticed behind them.
Dar nuzzled Kerry’s hair, nibbling at a few strands, and planting a kiss on the top of her head.
Kerry waited for a few seconds, then she cleared her throat. “I’m listening.” She repeated.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” Dar said. “The way I see it, the only chance we’ve got to turn this thing around is to take away their big ending.”
“They want this big penultimate finish, right?” Dar stopped speaking, as she felt Kerry’s breath against her ear. “Ker?”
“Are you listening to me?”
“Every word, hon.” Kerry reassured her. “They want a big finish. You’re right. They figure we’ll dog and cat fight to the very end, scrabbling to get everything done.”
“So we’re… going to do what?” Kerry asked, as the ferry nosed up to it’s dock and the ramp started to lower. “I mean, we are done, right? So do we win by default?’
Dar let her head lean against her partner’s. “No, because we haven’t shown Quest anything.”
Reluctantly, Dar straightened up. “Time to roll.” She put the Lexus in gear and steered it carefully up the ramp and through the solicitious water spray that removed the salt from the front of the vehicle. “Let’s see how it goes with them.” She said. “I’ve got a sort of idea, but it’s still raw at the moment.”
“I like raw.” Kerry remained where she was, even though the car was now in motion. “Tell me what you’re thinking, Dar. I hate having to sit there wondering what’s going on.”
Thus prompted, Dar cleared her throat. “Michelle told me they can’t figure out how to get their satellite up. She wanted to pay me to do it.”
Kerry started giggling.
“Yeah, it was pretty funny.” Dar chuckled along with her. “But it gave me an idea.. what if we all decided to help each other?”
“We’ve got no power. She’s got no satellite. From what I hear, Mike’s network backbone won’t come up. Instead of fighting, what if we all worked together?” Dar asked. She turned into the complex that held their condo, rolling down the window and pointing at a visitor’s spot as she headed for her own.
“You mean.. make it a tie?” Kerry’s brow creased. “How does that work out, Dar? Who wins?”
“No one.” Dar turned off the engine. “Kerry, remember this is all a farce. Who really loses is the television people. They’re the ones driving this.”
“Hm.” Kerry opened the passenger door and hopped out. “Okay. Yeah, I lost track of that. I’m still in that ‘win the bid’ mode.” She waited for Dar to come around the side of the car, and then they both waited as Shari and Michelle came up the drive to where they were standing. “Go for it.” She added, softly. “I’ll be in there hanging with you.”
Dar put a hand on Kerry’s back, her thumb rubbing the blond woman’s shoulder blade. “I’m counting on that.” She straightened a little as their two adversaries approached.
“Okay.” Michelle said, briefly. “We’re here.”
“Inside.” Dar turned and headed for the steps. Kerry stepped back and gestured Michelle and Shari forward politely, following them as they all trooped up to the door.
Dar coded it open, and walked inside, pushing the door back to allow the rest of them to enter. “Watch out for the dog.” She cautioned, as Chino bounded up to greet them.
“Ugh.” Shari backed up rapidly. “I’m not into dogs.”
Ah. Now doesn’t that just figure? Kerry continued inside the condo and sat down on the loveseat, allowing Chino to squirm around and greet her. “C’mere Cheebles… who’s my sweetie?” She ruffled the Labrador’s ears.
Dar closed the door and stood there a moment, apparently trying to decide what of her few social skills she’d try to engage next. “Siddown.” She compromised between practicality and grudging politeness. “I’ll put some coffee on.”
Michelle and Shari took a moment to look around, before they took spots on the couch next to each other.
It wasn’t a comfortable moment. Kerry could seldom remember being so uncomfortable in her own living room, in fact. She sat back and regarded the two women, watching their eyes roam around the space in wary curiousity.
They’d worked very hard to keep the entire situation out of their personal space, and now they’d brought it right into the center of their private world and Kerry suddenly realized she hadn’t been prepared for it. “So.”
“So.” Michelle rose to the social occasion. “Nice place.” She peered at the walls. “Someone takes decent shots.”
“That would be me.” Kerry sprawled out a bit on the loveseat. “Thanks.” She responded graciously. “I like our cabin down south better, though. Less busy.” She smiled. “But the view’s nice here.”
Shari looked like she’d swallowed a lemon. She edged back as Chino wandered over to investigate her, jumping as the dog sat down and barked. “What does it want?”
“Relax.” Michelle advised her. “I don’t think those kind bite.”
“All dogs bite.” Kerry cheerfully contradicted her. “But Chino’s pretty peaceful, unless you piss her off.”
“Like you?” Michelle inquired, with a smile.
Kerry considered that. “Something like it.” She agreed. “Yeah. We can both be bitches when we have to be.”
Shari got up and moved away from where Chino was sitting. She circled the room, examining the art, and the pictures on the entertainment center. “Guess old Dar is lucky you took her in.” She commented, giving Kerry a bitingly sarcastic smile over her shoulder. “Nice of you.”
Curiously, Kerry didn’t find herself getting angry. She lifted her hand and rotated her finger in a circle. “Other way round.” She disagreed. “This is Dar’s place.”
“Not any more.” Dar entered from the kitchen. “You own half.” She barely spared Shari a glance as she perched on the arm of the loveseat. The scent of brewing coffee wafted into the living room, attesting to her kitchen industry. “CIO’s of multinational corporations don’t live in two room rentals.”
Shari turned and regarded her. “Oh, right. I forgot you weren’t white trash anymore.”
Dar’s eyes narrowed. “Go to hell.”
Michelle sighed audibly. “Okay, tell you what.” She put on a voice very much like that of a game show hostess. “Dar, I’m sure.. in fact, I’d bet on the fact that you have some boxing gloves somewhere in a closet here.”
Dar’s brow creased. “And?”
“Get them.” Michelle stood up. “Because we’re going to have you two put them on and just get this adolescent whore bitch issue between you out and over with because I AM OVER IT!” She yelled the last three words at full volume. “GROW THE FUCK UP ALREADY!”
Silence fell when she was done. Chino sneezed, and trotted over to press herself against Kerry’s leg.
Shari remained where she was, staring at Michelle in shock.
Kerry slowly turned and studied Dar, looking her over from head to foot. “Well.” She finally broke the silence. “I think Dar’s about as grown up as she’s going to get in this lifetime, so I guess I’d better go get the gloves.” She patted her lover’s knee. “This won’t take long, sweetie.” Her impish grin took any sting from the words. “Try to aim away from the big screen, okay?”
Dar shifted and took a seat on the couch next to Kerry. “Nah.” She extended her legs, crossing them at the ankles. “Michelle’s right. Let’s be grown ups for a change.” She tipped her head back to look at Shari. “So, sit down and let’s save the insults for later.”
Kerry got up. “I’ll grab the coffee.” She disappeared into the kitchen.
Shari stubbornly remained standing for a bit, examining the pictures on the shelves. Then she went back to the long couch and sat back down. “All right.” She didn’t look at Michelle. “Let’s get this over with. What’s your scam, Dar? Just lay it out.”
“Okay.” Dar extended one long arm along the back of the loveseat. “Here’s the deal. None of us is finished with this god damned charade.”
“Not what I heard.” Shari interrupted, but in a mild tone. “Michelle said you were done.”
“We are.” Dar agreed. “But we can’t demo anything because we have no power.”
Shari nodded. “Bad luck.”
Dar shrugged. “Bad luck? At this point, knowing what I know.. I’d be surprised if it was any kind of luck. My guess is someone on the ship was paid off to throw a wrench in.”
Michelle got up, a restless energy emerging. “You really think so?”
“I do.” Dar stroked Chino’s fur. “I think the goal was, to keep everyone even to the very end, then have it be a horse race to finish.”
Michelle paced around, pausing at the entertainment center to look at the pictures also. “Quest.” She turned. “He told us explicitly not to ask or try to stay on the ships when they left. Did he tell you?”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “Never said a word.”
“Wait..” Shari leaned forward. “What did you have to give up to stay on?”
“Dinner.” Dar replied.
“What?” Michelle turned and stared at her.
“Dinner.” Kerry returned from the kitchen, bearing a tray with a coffee pot, cups, and a plate of cookies. She set the tray down on the table and knelt next to it, fixing cups for herself and Dar. “That’s all they wanted. A good meal, and some alcohol.”
Shari sat back, ignoring the coffee service. “Mike said he could have sworn someone cut his fiber.” She said.
“And Albert told one of my guys they were making great progress until someone broke into a container and stole some switches.” Michelle added. “Holy hell.”
“Mm.” Kerry handed Dar her cup and sat down next to her. “It’s been like that. One step forward, two steps back.”
“And all of it with those damn cameras…” Michelle added. “You could really be on to something, Dar.”
“Gee, thanks.” Dar replied. “Glad those several billion brain cells ILS pays a premium for turned out to be good for something after all.”
Shari fell silent. She edged forward and took a cup, keeping her attention on the coffee as she poured herself some.
Michelle tapped her thumbs together pensively. “Okay.” She finally said. “So let’s put the cards on the table. I thought it was a little strange that the filming people latched onto us, but I wasn’t about to turn away that kind of publicity. They wanted angles, I gave them angles. They wanted controversy, I gave them that, too.”
Shari snorted a little.
“So now we’re caught.” Michelle got up and walked over to where Dar and Kerry were sitting. “Either we blow you off and play their game, and look like idiots when they reveal everything, or we cooperate with you in some unknown plan of yours that might, or might not be on the level.”
“Not only that.” Dar smiled. “You’re going to help us get the rest of them onboard too.”
Michelle put her hands on her hips. “Maybe Kerry should get those gloves.” She remarked. “I’ve got a black belt.”
“I’ve got a shotgun.” Kerry replied. “So why don’t we table the issue, and hear what Dar’s got in mind, because frankly, I’ve had it up to here with being manipulated.” She held a hand up near her forehead.
Shari snorted again, and shook her head.
Michelle turned and selected a sugar cube, placing it between her teeth and crunching it. “All right.” She agreed. “Let’s hear it.”
Dar leaned back, and smiled.
Dar had left the cozy sanctuary of the loveseat and was pacing back and forth near the sliding glass doors. “The filming people are expecting a showdown.” She repeated for the third time. “That’s what they’ve based this whole deal on. David and Goliath. A battle for the bid, with Quest dangling either carrots or daggers over our heads.”
“So, what we want to do is turn the story around and make it what we want. Not what they want.” Dar said.
“Do we?” Michelle was munching on some pretzels Kerry had brought out. “Wouldn’t it be easier just to play along with them? If it’s all bogus, who cares?”
“Sure.” Kerry had taken over the loveseat, and was laying across it, with her feet up. “It would be a hell of a lot easier even if we just all left the pier, and let them wander around looking for us and wondering where we all are.”
“Now, I like that idea.” Shari said.
“Actually, so do I.” Michelle agreed. “I bet they’re looking for us now. Wonder if anyone saw us leaving together.”
Dar inspected the late afternoon sunlight gilding the water outside. Was it a better idea to do as Kerry said? It got them out of the situation, and hell, she didn’t even have to go back out there. The idea of Quest and the television team standing there bewildered actually really did appeal to her.
“Yeah.” Dar leaned on the glass. “But it really doesn’t get us any satisfaction, does it?” She turned and faced them, her hands behind her back. “After what Quest put us through, don’t you want to see him get his?”
Michelle leaned back. “You want to hear the absolute truth?” She said. “Sure. I’d like to see him dumped into the ocean off that pier, and wave bye bye as he floats out to sea.”
Dar crossed the room and perched on the arm of the loveseat. “So then the plan is, we get everyone together.” She ticked a finger off. “We find out what needs to be done, and do it.” She ticked another finger off. “We coordinate it so we all finish at the same time.”
“Okay.” Shari folded her arms. “So let’s say we do that. We all finish. Then what? How does that get back at Quest?”
“He’s counting on there being one winner, and the rest losers. If we all win, he has to pay for all four jobs.” Kerry said, quietly. “And that has nothing to do with the filming. That’s in the contract.”
Shari looked at Michelle. Michelle looked at Shari. Both of them made identical thoughtful grunts.
“And, if we all work together, the filming people don’t get their story. That means.. “ Kerry smiled. “I bet Quest doesn’t get the publicity he was banking on.”
“Exactly.” Dar ruffled Kerry’s hair, bemused by the fact that her partner had picked up on her plan without even knowing the details beforehand. Kerry looked up at her, lifting her eyebrows slightly. Dar grinned, and winked. “Nice summation.”
“Thanks.” Kerry’s eyes twinkled. “Do I get a cookie for that?”
“Absolutely.” Dar got up and headed for the kitchen, glad to be out of the intense scrutiny at least for a moment. She figured it would take a while for Michelle and Shari to decide what to do, so she took her time rummaging in the cupboard for just the perfect cookie to bring Kerry.
She had a lot to choose from. Dar gazed at the selection Orange Milanos? Traditional chocolate chip? Some grahams and milk?
“Hon?” Kerry appeared at her elbow and circled her waist with both arms. “Whatcha doing?”
“Picking cookies for you.” Dar replied. “Did you give our guests some space?”
“Uh huh.” Kerry said. “I sent them out onto the porch. You think they’ll go for it?” She rubbed her cheek against Dar’s shoulder blade and exhaled, enjoying the pleasure of the feel of Dar’s body within her grasp.
Dar selected a bag of key lime, white chocolate, and macadamia nut cookies. She closed the cabinet and turned within Kerry’s arms, draping her own over her partner’s shoulders. “I don’t know.” She said. “Still a lot of hard feelings there.”
“I was tempted to just go with your idea.”
Kerry chuckled softly. “As I was saying it, so was I.”
Dar gave her a quick hug, then stepped back. “Milk.” She said. “How about we go sit on the couch and make a spectacle of ourselves when they come back in.”
“How about I hide a dog biscuit in the couch where Shari was sitting and watch the fun when she comes back?”
“You’re a rascal sometimes, you know that?”
“Bet your pooters I am.”
“This is insane.” Shari shook her head.
“I know.” Michelle agreed. She leaned on the railing and gazed out over the water. “But we knew something was going on. You’ve been saying that all week. It was just all too over the top.”
Shari nodded. “I thought she was at the bottom of it all, Still not sure if she’s not somehow..”
Michelle sighed and dropped her head.
“Look, I know you think I’m off my rocker when it comes to Dar. Maybe I am.” Shari turned and looked at her. “But you don’t know her like I do and..”
“Stop.” Michelle held a hand up. “Shari, lets be honest. Do you really think the person inside that million dollar bit of concrete is the same person you knew in college?”
Shari turned and looked back through the glass doors. Inside, she could see Dar walking back in from the kitchen with Kerry next to her, their arms draped around each other.
She tried to remember, really, what Dar had been like back then. Awkward and rough around the edges, definitely. Almost anti-social and cocky as all get out. Sexy, in a very primal way that had appealed to Shari back then, but with an overwhelming complexity of character she had no idea what to do with.
Some things hadn’t changed. Dar still had that earthy sensuality about her, but the awkwardness of youth had been replaced with a rock solid self confidence and while she suspected Dar still wasn’t a social butterfly she handled herself in a far different way now than she had back then.
Back then, Dar’s blunt honesty had scared Shari. She’d been faced with the potential deepening of a relationship she didn’t really know if she’d wanted at all, and her reaction had been…
Okay, she knew she’d been harsh. What she hadn’t expected was to have that be it. The end. Dar had walked out, and she’d never come back. Shari had tried to call her a few times, but never gotten an answer, and eventually, she just found someone else to go with, and tried to forget.
The next time they’d met, she was being fired and she’d taken away the knowledge that one thoughtless brush off on her part had come back to bite her in the ass when she’d least expected it. She’d been so sure Dar would never amount to anything, hadn’t she?
“I think she’s the same person, yeah.” Shari finally said. “I just have no idea who that person was now way back then.”
Michelle pondered that, as she peered through the glass. Kerry was wrapped up in Dar’s arms on the couch, and was indulgently feeding her cookies and milk. It was insanely precious. It was sappy. It was disgustingly romantic.
She sighed. Damn, Kerry was one lucky woman. “Okay. So what the hell are we going to do?”
“We go with them.” Shari said, bluntly. “Because we have no real goddamn choice, and you know it. At least if we play into what Dar’s up to, we come off looking like we have at least six brain cells between us.”
“True.” Michelle agreed ruefully. “I hate looking like an idiot. And you know what? That goddamn Cruickshank played us like a pair of first class ones. I think she really had the hots for her.” Michelle pointed at Dar.
Shari rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t everyone? Jesus Christ I am so tired of hearing every walking dick on that damn port talk about her. You’d think they’d caught a clue already she’s gay and given the hell up.”
“Mm. Well, let’s go and get this rolling.” Michelle tabled the discussion. “I think we need to have a frank discussion with our new colleagues and put a few truths on the table. I don’t mind working this charade with them, but I want to know exactly where we stand first.”
“Right.” Shari agreed. “Let’s clear the air.”
Michelle stopped in midstep and turned. “Does that mean you’re going to cut out the bitch for a while? I think if you do, she will.”
“Me? You’re the one who offered to put gloves on in there.” Shari snorted. “And do yourself a favor and don’t’ wave that belt of yours in front of her. She’s got a couple of her own and she didn’t learn to fight in a gym.”
Michelle shrugged. “She doesn’t scare me.” She started to pull the sliding glass door open. “Now.. on the other hand, Stuart I wouldn’t turn my back on.” She cut the last word off as she stepped inside and gave Dar and Kerry a brief smile. “All right. We’re in.”
“Good.” Dar licked a few crumbs off her lips. “Then let’s get back to the pier. We don’t have that much time.”
“Fine.” Michelle looked at Kerry. “Why don’t’ you ride with me, and Shari can ride with Dar, and hopefully, when we get to the pier, everyone will be alive and capable of working together.”
Kerry felt Dar’s entire body tense. She sorted through her possible polite responses, discarded them, and went on to the rude ones.
Dar forestalled her, however. “All right.” She gave Kerry a pat on the thigh. “Let’s go.” There was only a touch of resignation in her tone. “Get this over with.”
Kerry got up reluctantly, wondering if she could figure out a way to sneak Chino into Dar’s car.
Just in case.
If it was going to happen, at least it was happening on her turf. Dar settled her sunglasses onto her nose as she started up the car, watching Kerry reluctantly enter the passenger side of Michelle’s rental.
Kerry did not like it. Every line in her body explicitly spoke about how much she didn’t like it. Dar found it a little funny, and more than a little comforting to see her partner’s visible agitation on her behalf, and it formed a warm, friendly sensation in the pit of her stomach.
The passenger door to the Lexus opened, and Shari climbed in warily, closing the door with the same reluctance as Kerry had displayed only a moment ago.
In that moment, Dar realized something. She realized that Shari was more intimidated by their being in the same space than she was, and once she’d realized that, everything changed. She relaxed into the leather of the driver’s seat and put the SUV in gear, backing it out carefully and turning for the outer road and the ferry. “So.”
Shari glanced at her, then looked back out the side window. “So.” She repeated. “Looks like you got what you wanted.”
Dar turned into the ferry dock, and pulled up in line to wait for the next boat. “That was the goal.” She leaned her knee against the door and rested her arm on it.
Shari made a small, rude noise. “You know something, you really are an asshole.”
Ah, at least the beating around the bush would stop now. “Sometimes.” Dar agreed. “When I have to be.” She finally turned and regarded Shari through her dark lenses. “But you knew that.”
“I knew that.” Shari confirmed. “When do you intend on letting blondie in on your little secret?”
Dar chuckled. “Kerry saw that side of me first.” She said. “She was a part of a consolidation I did.”
“Guess she slept with you, so she kept her job, hm? Pity you didn’t give me that option.” Shari replied caustically. “I’d have given you a roll to avoid that round of resumes.”
Dar regarded a seagull circling around the security kiosk, searching for dropped tidbits. “Kerry was worth keeping.” She finally said. “You weren’t.”
“Fuck you too.”
It only made her smile. “You’re assuming it was personal. The fact is.” Dar faced her, tipping the sunglasses down to expose her eyes. “I needed more marketing bullshit artists about as much as I needed a case of the hives.”
The ferry pulled in, and Dar put the Lexus into drive, as the ramp started down.
“You’re so full of shit. Business decision? Give me a break, Dar.” Shari replied heatedly. “You enjoyed every damn minute of canning me.”
Dar steered the car onto the ferry, taking the last position on the first lane. She set the parking break to give herself a moment to collect her thoughts. “Sure I did.” She answered. “But the fact is, your position was redundant.”
“You just fired me because I blew off your little declaration of love.” Shari said. “So don’t pull that crap with me, Dar. Lucky for little Stuart she was more receptive.”
Strangely, it didn’t even hurt anymore. “Know what your problem is, Shari?” Dar lazily watched as the next line of cars filled up, her brows lifting as Michelle’s rental pulled in even with them and parked, despite the fact that they’d been right behind Dar, and should have been at the front of the next line.
How had Kerry arranged that?.
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me.” Shari answered sarcastically.
“You’re a bigger asshole than I am.” Dar lifted a hand and waved at Kerry, who waggled her fingers back, then circled her thumb and first finger in an OK gesture and raised her eyebrows. Dar made the same gesture, then twitched her head slightly in Shari’s direction, and switched to a lifted middle finger instead.
Kerry started laughing, inaudible behind the glass.
“Well, I’ve.. “ Shari started.
“You’ve been trying to get me back since then. Give it up.” Dar advised her. “I don’t give a shit. There’s nothing you can do to me, including take over fucking ILS that I would give two cents for.” She turned and faced her again. “Do you understand me?”
Shari stared at her. “No.” She said. “I never understood you. You’re from god damned Mars.”
Dar was unable to stop from producing a wicked smile. “That must make you from Uranus.” She drawled pleasantly. “Are we done now?”
Shari glared at her in silence.
“So.” Michelle sniffed reflectively. “Hard as we tried to kill each other, here we are.”
“Here we are.” Kerry agreed. “In the middle of the biggest piece of horse poop I think I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Michelle digested that. “You know what? That’s true.” She agreed. “I’ve been part of some really screwed up deals before, but this one’s in a class by itself.”
And that was definitely the truth. Kerry ordered her thoughts and tried not to give in to the urge to open the car door and climb into Dar’s Lexus instead. She could see Dar’s shoulders from where she was, and they seemed relatively relaxed.
She hoped things were going okay. It was so hard for her to judge where Dar’s head space was right now.
“And, your little tricks didn’t make it any easier.” Michelle added.
“My tricks?” Kerry looked at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.. unless you mean Andy.” She said. “And that wasn’t a trick. It was just insurance.”
Michelle laughed. “Okay. So – let’s just say you putting a ringer into the loading crew was… insurance.”
“He did a good job, didn’t he?” Kerry countered.
“That’s not the point.:” Michelle sounded a bit testy now.
“It is the point. He did exactly what they were paying him to do.” Kerry said. “And while he was there, he found out about your dirty tricks for us.”
“My dirty tricks?”
“What are you calling putting in duplicate orders?” Kerry asked. “And what are you calling trying to prevent deliveries to our ship?”
Michelle studied the passing cargo yards. “That was strategy.”
Kerry snorted. “Strategy my ass.”
“Insurance my ass.” Michelle countered. “Shall we count that as even?”
Should they? Kerry allowed that the two tricks pretty much counteracted each other. “All right. Fair enough.” She decided. “What about all the rumors being spread around our office?”
Michelle shrugged. “Shari’s idea.”
“She figured she could knock Dar offbalance if she caused trouble between you two.”
Kerry felt herself getting a little lightheaded with anger. Her breathing quickened, and she felt her hands start to twitch, the fingers of them curling unconsciously into fists as they rested on her denim clad thighs. “That’s something I’ll never write off.” She stated quietly.
Michelle looked at her, in some surprise. “Just talk. You must get that.”
Kerry took a breath, and then released it. “Oh, sure, we do.” She said. “But it’s not the talk. It was the intent.” Slowly, she turned and rested her elbow on the console between the seats, looking directly into Michelle’s eyes. “I couldn’t give a damn about this business. About this bid, or about you.”
“But if you or she ever do anything ever again that’s meant to try and destroy our relationship, I’ll come after you, and they’ll have to arrest me to stop me.” Kerry’s voice was dead serious. “Am I coming through loud and clear here?”
“You’re threatening me?” Michelle sounded incredulous.
“Yes.” Kerry answered. “And it’s not idle.”
“You realize how that sounds, don’t you?”
Kerry nodded. “If you think I’m crazy, you’re right. I am.” She said. “Dar means that much to me.”
Michelle cocked her head, her eyes searching Kerry’s face with a new interest. “You know something? That’s the one thing we really didn’t count on.” She said. “And I should have. All along, I wanted to believe that you were just like we were.”
It was Kerry’s turn to look surprised.
“Two dykes, with a common business motive.” Michelle clarified. “Who also like hot sex.” She added. “But that’s not what you two are about at all.”
“Um.. well, actually..” Kerry found herself blushing.
Michelle pursed her lips. “I apologize for the scuttlebutt. That was dirty.”
Progress, at last. “Thanks.” Kerry said.
Michelle was quiet for a second. “Now you can apologize to me for bugging our offices,”
“Stealing our client list?”
Kerry cocked her head in puzzlement. “We didn’t.” She spluttered. “I thought you did that to us!”
They both folded their arms and stared at each other.
They had, apparently, run out of insults and for a few minutes the ride across the water was quiet. If she looked to her left, Dar could see the ships squatting at their piers, and she wondered what they’d find when they got there.
Chaos? Definitely. Her cell phone rang, and she checked the id before she answered it. “Hi, dad.”
“’Lo there, Dardar.” Her father answered. “Got us some good news.”
“Feller here, he got the juice on.”
Ah. Dar gazed at the oncoming ferry dock. “Great.” She said. “I’m on my way over.”
“See ya.” Andrew hung up, with a soft echo of voices fading as his did.
Dar folded her phone up and set it on the center console. She hit the window switch and opened her window, leaning her elbow on the sill as Kerry did the same. “Dad.” She said briefly. “They’re good to go.”
“Ah.” Kerry said. “Does that change our plan?”
“Okay.” Kerry pulled her head back inside the car. “See you in a few.”
Dar closed the window and leaned back. She pondered a moment, then she turned her head and looked at Shari. “We have power.”
Shari looked back at her warily. “So does that mean the deal’s off? You kept us distracted long enough to get what you wanted, I guess.”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “Doesn’t change anything.” A faint, quirky smile appeared. “I just wanted you to know if I really wanted to end this right now…” Pale blue eyes peeked from behind the wraparound shades. “I could.”
Shari folded her arms over her chest. “Fuck you.”
Dar’s smile spread into a charming Cheshire imitation. “Had you chance once. I’ve developed a sense of taste since then.”
Shari’s face twitched.
“At any rate.” Dar relented, deciding there was just so much fun she could stand at any particular moment. “That’s one boat we don’t have to worry about completing. We can concentrate on the other three.” She watched through the window as the ferry docked, glad of her sunglasses as they turned and faced almost due west.
Shari stared at the angular profile, at a loss on how to counter the mixture of cool business and sarcasm Dar was putting out. What else could she say that she hadn’t already? For a month she’d been digging at Dar, poking and prodding and savaging her every chance she got.
It had gotten her exactly no where. For all the time she’d spent with the reporters, smearing Dar’s character, her reputation, and anything else she could think of – here she was at the end of the god damned project and the bitch had still come out on top.
What the hell?
What the freaking hell? She suddenly realized that even if Dar lost the bid, lost the publicity, and lost the business, she’d still come out on top because her god damned son of a bitch charisma would just make everyone not give a flying crap.
God damn it.
God DAMN it.
She glared at Dar, who remained immune to her scathing thoughts, apparently relaxed and content with whatever was going through her mind, her fingers drumming lightly against the steering wheel. One finger held a ring, and for the first time she looked at it, close enough to see the details.
It was a beautiful piece of jewelry that screamed expensive, but in a refined and understated way. Purchased, she was sure, by the well bred Midwestern bitch in the next car who had certainly been born with several silver spoons shoved up her ass.
She’d tried very hard to sell Cruickshank on the idea that Kerry was sleeping with Dar for her career. On the surface, it made perfect sense. But watching Dar’s little bedmate work over the last few weeks made even Shari grudgingly accept that if she wanted to go anywhere else, she could.
Work anywhere else. Live anywhere else. Sleep with anyone else.
Then she’d tried to convince the reporter that Dar was a little psycho, who possessively dominated the smaller woman and abused her.
Why? That was what Cruickshank had asked.
Because Dar was a psycho. Shari had seen enough of her as a young woman to know that. She had a cold, vicious side to her that had scared the crap out of a lot people when they’d gone to school together. Raised on a military base, poor, anti-social…
Dar started whistling softly under her breath, a gently melodic sound that broke Shari’s mental conversation with herself. She had her head turned away from Shari, and in the reflection from the window her expression was visible as she looked over at the other car.
Something had changed. Shari shifted and turned the other way, staring out her own window as the ferry ramp started to lower. Or maybe Dar had simply grown up and out of her past.
Maybe the reporter had been right. Shari had thought she was simply stupid.
Now she was faced with the realization that there was no way she was going to beat Dar. Not in any realm. So. Screw it. Time to get out of this piece of shit situation with anything she could. “Dar.”
“Yes?” Dar turned her head, her pale eyes safely hidden behind her shades.
“Truce.” Shari held up a hand. “I’m over it. If this is going to happen, let’s just have it happen, and get it over with.” She worked at keeping any sarcasm or sting out of her voice.
Dar started the Lexus, remaining silent for the length of time it took her to release the parking brake and put the car into gear. The offer of a truce didn’t fool her any, she knew all Shari wanted was to avoid any more of her wit until she was far enough away to pitch a grenade at her.
But, Dar believed in taking whatever advantage was offered to her, and having some peace and quiet would definitely be an advantage. “All right.” She said. “Truce.”
Shari seemed a little surprised, but she shrugged it off and leaned back as they rolled off the ferry.
It remained to be seen, of course, just how long it would last.
“So, what was that all about?” Michelle asked, as Kerry rolled the window back up. “Or do you two talk in code regularly just to piss people off?”
Kerry leaned back in her seat, stifling a yawn. “Oh, sure. We talk in code. Sometimes Dar builds a fire on her desk and sends me smoke signals, if she’s really bored.”
Michelle eyed her suspiciously. Kerry had extended her legs and crossed them at the ankles, and she didn’t appear to be considering being any more forthcoming than that. The blond woman’s eyes were hidden behind silvered sunglasses and it was very hard for Michelle to tell exactly what it was she was up to.
Maybe she’d be better off not knowing. She decided to return to their prior conversation instead. “So. You didn’t put someone inside our company. That what you’re saying?”
“Wasn’t us.” Kerry agreed. “Now. You tell me about anything you might have left behind in our offices, after that meeting.”
Michelle started the car, her brow furrowed. “Excuse me?”
So. Had Dar been right all along? “We found something inserted into our network after you all left. A piece of spying technology.”
“Really?” Michelle sounded fascinated. “What’d it get for.. whoever it was?”
A smile. “Nothing.” Kerry chuckled. “Dar found it.”
Kerry nodded. “Dar didn’t figure it was.. she said it was too sophisticated.” Zing. “But with everything happening all at the same time, it was a tough call.”
They followed Dar’s Lexus off the ferry and started towards the pier. “Well, after we found out about your little trick with Dar’s father, believe me, lots of things occurred to me to get back at you.” Michelle admitted frankly.
“Like getting our pier supervisor to quit?”
“Huh?” Michelle darted a look at her. “I said occurred. I didn’t say I did any of them.”
Was Michelle telling the truth? Kerry had a feeling she was.
“And after that phone line scam.” Michelle added suddenly. “Not to mention that bait and switch ploy at what you jokingly called a restaurant.”
Kerry sighed, lifting one hand and propping her head up with it, her elbow resting against the car window sill. “It’s pointless for me to bother saying neither of those were planned, isn’t it?”
Michelle snorted. “You’re seriously expecting me to believe you didn’t take up four telephone lines on purpose?”
“No, I did.” Kerry said, jumping a little as a cab nearly cut them off. “I just didn’t know they were the last pairs out of that CO. I put them in every terminal because those bastards wouldn’t assign any specific one to a specific ship.”
Michelle thought about that for a few minutes. “Hmph.”
“Sorry.” Kerry said. “Honestly, at this point, if I’d done it to screw you, I’d just say so. What’s the point in not?”
“Hmph.” Michelle wrinkled her nose. “So you’re telling me you and Blackbeard the pirate over there are total innocents? C’mon.”
Kerry’s lips quirked. “We’re not.” She admitted. “
“We scared the crap out of you both in the Living Seas.”
Michelle almost stopped the car. “What??”
“Dar and I were diving in the tank.”
Luckily, a red light was at hand. Michelle turned and stared at her. “Are you serious?”
Kerry nodded. “Yeah.” She said. “But other than that, honestly, Michelle – we haven’t done a damn thing to you. That’s what pissed me off so much.. because all you’ve been doing since we met in Orlando is coming after us with a hatchet.”
Michelle jumped as a car behind them honked impatiently. She started forward, visibly rattled. She remained silent for a while, then abruptly cursed. “You have no idea what that caused.”
Kerry eyed her warily.
“You have no damn idea.”
Kerry trotted across the tarmac to where Dar’s car was, pulling up short as the driver’s side door opened and her partner emerged. “Hi.” She studied the taller woman’s body language with a touch of anxiety, but relaxed when it was obvious that Dar was.
“Hi.” Dar shut the door behind her. Shari had already left the car, and was headed across the lot to where Michelle was standing, waiting to go inside the administration building. “How’d it go?”
“How’d it go?” Kerry asked at the same time.
Dar muffled a chuckle, and ran her fingers through her hair. “Me first. It sucked.”
“We halfway agreed on a truce at the end, but I think she just wanted me to shut up.” Dar admitted. “You?”
“Bitchfest.” Kerry joined Dar as she started to walk towards the building. “Hard to read, really. I think you were right though.”
Dar glanced at her. “I was?”
“Yeah. You said you didn’t think they were behind a lot of the stuff at the office, and I think that’s true.” Kerry admitted.
“They were behind the crap talk.”
“Well, that figures.” The blond woman wrinkled her nose. “But not the cell thing, or Duk’s little defector, apparently.” She walked a few steps, regarding her scuffed sneakers soberly. “What did they hope to achieve by the crap talk, anyway? I didn’t really get that.”
Good question. Dar moved a little closer as they walked. “I, um..” Don’t know? Not true, since she certainly did know. “Shari was trying to cause problems between you and me.”
Kerry did a little shrug and nod movement. “Duh.” She uttered. “You figured that.”
“She figured if she could break us up, I”d be distracted enough to forget about the bid.” Dar added.
“Is she really that stupid?”
Dar had to smile. “Yeah.” She said.
“I mean, I always knew she was an idiot.” Kerry added. “But apparently she’s lost even more brain cells over the years.”
That was, Dar realized, a not too obscure compliment. “Weeell…” She put her hand on Kerry’s back as they walked up the steps to the admin building. “I can’t say I was much of a catch back then.”
“Dar, I’ve seen pictures. If I’d met you in college, you’d have saved me a week of gender orientation hell on South Beach, let me tell you.” Kerry paused before the closed door.
“Thanks. I think.” Her partner said. “I guess from her viewpoint there was a certain logic to it.” She exhaled, frowning a little.
“You mean, if something had caused a problem between us?” Kerry asked gently.
Kerry kicked at the concrete with the toe of her sneaker, then looked up. “I can’t speak for you, sweetheart, but it would take one hell of a lot more than some bullshit talk for me.” She said. “Because even the thought of that makes me want to start crying.”
Dar stepped forward and put her arms around Kerry, hugging her. “Me too.” She whispered into Kerry’s ear. ‘I’d rather die than lose you.’
Kerry inhaled softly, dismissing the world around her as she buried her face into Dar’s shirt. After a moment, though, she pulled her head back and smiled. “Can we continue this discussion later?”
“Sure.” Dar released her and stepped back, glancing around with a faintly embarrassed look. “My luck they got that on camera somehow.”
Kerry chuckled, giving her a pat on the side. “I hope so.”
Dar graciously opened the door, and stood back to let Kerry enter. As she followed her partner through the outer lobby to the room where Quest had set up his base of operations, she took a moment to consider what she’d have thought of Kerry if they’d met earlier.
Would Kerry have been her type? Did she even know what her type was back then? Dar didn’t think she had. Shari had attracted her more because of her domineering personality than her looks, and Kerry wouldn’t have had that kind of attitude back then.
Or now, for that matter. Kerry wasn’t shy, but she did have an air of gentle reserve in public that often made people assume she was until they really knew her.
She also had a wicked sense of humor that still sometimes caught Dar by surprise.
Kerry was, she realized, completely different than anyone else she’d ever gone out with, as well as being completely different than Dar herself.
Opposites attract maybe? Then what the hell had she been doing with all those other high class Type A’s she’d been going with? Wasting time waiting for the chance to walk in that scruffy little IT manager’s office, apparently.
“Dar?” Kerry was standing near the door, hands on her hips, looking at her. “Hello… earth to Dar?”
“Sorry. Just thinking.” Dar reached for the handle. “C’mon.. let’s get this started.” She was a trifle surprised that Michelle and Shari hadn’t waited for them, but on second thought..
Maybe she wasn’t.
They entered the room, only to find pandemonium inside. Not that they weren’t used to chaos around this project, Kerry mused, but groups of people standing around apparently randomly yelling at each other was new even for them.
Quest wasn’t there. The other bid teams management was, though, and no one seemed happy. The two other bid teams seemed to be yelling at each other, and Michelle and Shari were trying to make them stop. Dar observed the waving arms for a moment, then put her powerful lungs to good use. “HEY!”
Mike turned and pointed at her. “You son of a bitch!” He yelled at the top of his voice.
Everyone else stopped, and shut up, as the words rang in echo for a moment.
“Wrong gender, and if you talk about my mother like that again, I’ll pull your cock off.” Dar replied, in a normal tone. “Assuming I could get a grip on it.”
“You screwed us all over!” Mike dropped his volume considerably.
Kerry perched on one of the tables, crossing her arms over her chest. “Oh, this should be good.” She said. “Wonder what we did now?”
“Okay, hold on.” Michelle gamely stepped in. “Just everyone take it easy. There’s stuff…”
“You shut up too!” The man whirled on her. “You’re just as bad!”
“Hey!” Shari frowned. “Chill out! We didn’t do jack to you.”
Kerry got back up and wandered around the office, spotting some ship diagrams on the back wall and going over to study them. Where was Quest, she wondered? This close to the deadline, she’d have expected him to be crawling all over them, not to mention his filming crew.
So, where was he?
“Okay, if everyone’s done venting hot air, shut up and listen.” Dar’s voice overrode the muttering.
Ah. Nothing like her partner’s own brand of diplomacy. Kerry idly opened the top of a cookie jar sitting on the desk and looked inside. Not surprisingly, it appeared empty. “Y’know, there’s nothing in the world more useless than an empty cookie jar, and that just nails this stupid project to a T.””
“You say something?” Michelle asked her, turning at the sound of her voice.
“Me? No.” Kerry muffled a grin. She closed the jar.
“I’m not listening to crap from you!” Mike said. “Quest told us what you did!”
Kerry turned. “He did?” She inquired.
“Yes.” The man turned and looked at her. “He told us all about you buying off the workers, and sabotaging us.”
Oh, Jesus. Kerry was about to answer, when she felt her cell phone start to go off. She unclipped it from her belt and glanced at it, frowning when it just showed a couple of half numbers. That ran a half bell in her head.
“Get real.” Dar answered for her. “We didn’t do anything to anyone. Let me clue you in on what’s really going on here.”
The cell phone rattled again, and Kerry lifted it to her ear, hearing a sort of popping noise. She studied it in puzzlement, racking her brains to remember where she’d see the device behave in a similar fashion before. Was it in the office? No…
“Like we’d believe you?” Mike responded sarcastically.
“Okay, now hold on.” Shari threw her bra into the ring. “I realize this might be tough to swallow, but you really should listen to what Dar has to say.”
“What??” Both of the other bid teams turned to face Shari. “Have you lost your mind? You told us yesterday she wasn’t anything but a lying twofaced bitch!” Mike spluttered. “Now you’re pitching her bull?”
“Shari’s right.” Michelle stepped up to the plate. “We’ve got some new information. Remember information? It’s the stuff you use to make decisions?”
“Holy crap.” Kerry whispered. “What in the heck..” She started looking around, peering curiously at the items on the desk until she focused once again on the cookie jar. It was set on top of a bookcase behind the desk chair, with an unobstructed line of sight of the whole room. “Huh.”
“Give me a freaking break! I’m not interested in a pack of bullshit!”
She squinted at the front of it, then turned. “Dar?”
Dar looked around, raising an eyebrow at her.
Kerry faced away from the jar, pointed her thumb at herself, then lifted her right hand and made a shutter snapping motion with her index finger and thumb.
Dar’s eyes widened slightly.
“What?” Michelle watched them, her glance going back and forth. “This is no time for charades, guys.”
“Well, you know, you just never can please everyone now can ya!?” Kerry spread her arms wide abruptly, taking a step back as she did so. Her elbow hit the cookie jar and it smacked against the wall, then bounced off and fell from the bookshelf, hitting the linoleum floor and breaking into several large pieces. “Whoops.”
Michelle stepped over and looked at the debris. “Pronghorn antelope in a china shop?” She suggested wryly, then her eyes focused on something. “Whoa… hold on. What’s that?” She leaned over to get a closer look at the pottery shards.
Kerry curled her finger at the rest of the room. She pointed down at the jar shards, then held her finger to her lips. Dar joined her immediately, almost bouncing across the room as the others more reluctantly followed.
Buried in the shards was a small webcam mechanism, with gears and pullies intended to allow it to be controlled remotely. The ornate design in the front of the jar bore a small hole which the lens had previously been subtly poking through.
The lens was now facing down, and as they watched the pullies moved feebly, trying to refocus it. The radio control affecting it made Kerry’s cell phone pop again, and she held it up. “Picks up the weirdest things.”
“Remote?” Michelle mouthed, her ginger eyebrows lifting.
Mike knelt down and picked up a shard, moving the cam gingerly with one fingertip. Shari stood back, crossing her arms with a thoughtful expression. She looked around the room more carefully, her eyes searching the corners looking for something.
“So, what’s the deal?” Mike looked up at Dar. “What are we missing here?”
The attitude had changed so quickly it almost gave Dar whiplash. However given what Kerry had found she had no doubt there were microphones to go with it. “Tell ya what.” She said. “Let’s take a walk outside, and get some fresh air. “
“Good idea.” Shari instantly agreed. “It’s getting stuffy in here. Air conditioning’s out again, probably.” She added. “We can catch a breeze near the water.” She headed for the door with a determined expression. “Coming?”
They all filed out after her into the lobby, which was somewhat conspicuously empty. The closing of the outside door echoed after they left, falling into silence for a brief moment.
Then footsteps rang out and several people rushed across the lobby, entering the office with rapid steps and muffled curses.
They found a place to sit down on the seawall, overlooking the cargo channel on the far side of port. Nothing was around but a few hopeful seagulls, who flapped off in disgust when they discovered there was no sandwich crusts to be had.
The wind was blowing across the pier with some force, blowing offshore and conveniently taking their words out over the water for them. “Okay.” Dar rested her elbows on her knees. “Just do me a favor and listen until I stop talking, then you can tell me how full of crap I am. Deal?”
Dar laid it out for them, in crisp sentences. Kerry merely sat quietly next to her, watching the faces of the two men as well as Michelle and Shari as they listened. No one really wanted to believe her, Kerry could tell. After all, realizing they’d all been played like banjos wasn’t the most pleasant thing going, now was it?
Dar finished her briefing. “So that’s what we’ve got. The last piece you saw yourselves, with that damn camera. I’m sure they had tape running too.. nice scene we were having.”
Mike stared off into the distance, then shook his head. “Well, shit.” He muttered. “I wish to hell I could say you’re just full of crap, Dar.. but to be honest, something hasn’t been adding up. Graham and I were talking about that yesterday.” He indicated the fourth bid member, who so far hadn’t made peep one.
Shari nodded. “We noticed, too.” She admitted. “There was just too much insanity.” Her eyes flicked to Dar’s face, then away. “Even considering everything.”
Mike held a hand up. “But you brought those filming people in.” He objected. “So is this your scam?”
Interesting question. Kerry unconsciously leaned against Dar’s shoulder as she waited for the answer. There was just something amazingly comforting about the solidity of her partner’s presence and she just barely kept herself from putting her head down on that self same shoulder as they sat there.
Michelle stepped up. “The television people contacted me.” She said. “Seemed like a good deal at the time, so I said sure. Free publicity? TV exposure with no outlay? Anyone would have said yes.” She pointed at them all. “You all would have. Even you two.”
“Probably.” Kerry graciously agreed.
“But you bought their line hook and sinker.” Mike reminded her. “They played you good.”
Michelle shrugged. “Just as good as Quest played us all.”
“Excuse me.” Graham spoke up at last. “What is it we intend to do about this?” He asked. “It is almost end of the day. We are not complete in these projects, and it is all apparently to no purpose.”
Now, here was the tough part. Dar glanced at Kerry, and raised her brows slightly, the invitation implicit in the motion.
Good nerd, bad nerd? “Well, we had an idea.” Kerry gamely went forward. “We thought that.. this whole thing was apparently designed to get on film a knock down drag out fight to the finish, right?”
“Yeah.” Shari agreed. “Preferably with the good guys winning.”
“Define good guys.” Mike muttered.
“So, what if no one wins?” Kerry asked. “What if it’s a tie? What if we all join together and level the playing field, and just make sure everyone finishes successfully.”
Momentary silence. “What the hell would that do?” Mike asked.
“Screw them over.” Shari said, bluntly.
Graham rubbed his face with one hand. “You are telling me that we should help each other? Why should we trust you?” He indicated both sets of women. “Why should we trust any of you? You’ve been cat-fighting each other for weeks. Now you are standing here, and you want us all to work together? It’s insanity!”
Kerry glanced past them, to the admin building. She spotted Cruickshank emerging with Quest, both of them looking around. “Uh oh.”
Dar focused on what she was looking at. “We’re out of time.” She said. “Listen – I don’t really give a crap if you trust us or not. The fact is, we’re done.”
“But powerless.” Michelle interrupted her.
“No.” Dar shook her head. “We have power. I could have just grabbed the jackass over there and been done with this if I wanted to.” She stood up as Quest discovered them. “So here’s the plan. We go to our areas, and whatever you need done, call me. If you had your crews bought out from under you, I’ll send people. Got a technical problem – we’ll find a way to fix it. We’ve got two hours.”
They only had seconds to decide. Quest and Cruickshank were headed their way.
“Call you.” Mike looked like his head was going to explode. “This is nuts, Dar.”
“Lose or tie. Pick one, but do it now.” Dar said, as she already started to edge away from the group.
“We’re in.” Michelle said, briskly. “Expect my call about our satellite.”
“All right.” Mike scowled. “I’ll need techs.” He backed off and checked his watch, then turned and hurried off, breaking into a jog towards the pier his ship was in.
Graham stuck his hands in his pockets. “Not sure you can help us.” He commented mildly. “We’re short a bit of gear.. supplier ran out.”
Kerry cleared her throat, loudly. “Hey, Michelle?”
Michelle, halfway turned around to beat a hasty retreat, turned back around to face him. “Call me.” She lifted a hand, and then turned again, heading off in the opposite direction.
Dar and Kerry were left alone, to face the music. Kerry suspected it would be an exceptionally tuneless polka, and she decided maybe retreat was a better option. “C’mon, Dar. We’ve got stuff to do.” She took hold of her partner’s arm and started tugging.
“Roberts!” Quest yelled.
“Ms. Roberts.” Cruickshank moved to intercept them. “Wait… I’ve got some questions for you!”
“Dar, we better get out of here. Anything we say could blow it.” Kerry uttered.
“Right.” Dar lifted a hand. “Sorry.. we’ve got work to do.” She turned and urged Kerry ahead of her, heading down the strip of grass the bordered the seawall.
“Stop! Roberts! Get back here!” Quest called. “Stop!”
“Glad the wind’s so noisy.” Kerry broke into a trot, then a jog. “Did you hear anything?”
“Nope.” Dar loped next to her. “Not a damn thing.”
“Roberts! God damn it! STOP!”
Don’t like it when someone else takes charge, eh? Dar smiled grimly as she let the echoes fade behind her. Well buddy, get used to it.
Kerry was standing in the raised middle platform, central figure in a sea of milling techs. The front doors to the pier building were locked, though she thought she’d seen one of the camera crews loitering around outside a moment ago. “Okay folks.. listen up.”
There was a palpable air of anticipation in the room. Mark leaned on the counter she was standing behind, a look of almost smug triumph on his face. “It took a lot of busting ass, but damn if we didn’t do it, huh boss?”
Yikes. Kerry now faced a completely different dilemma. They’d pushed their team to the limit, and the guys and gals hadn’t disappointed them. Now she had to tell them that basically, their efforts had been for pretty much naught. “Guys, I’ve got something a little difficult to explain here.”
Her team settled down and looked up at her trustingly. Kerry had a moment of flashback, to the day she’d stood in front of a very different team for a very different reason, with much the same looks directed back at her.
Then, she’d saved them from unemployment, and in the process saved herself from going back to a life of oppression at home. This time? Well, this time, she just had to tell them she’d led them down a slightly crooked path. Not really so bad, was it?
“First off, I want to thank you all for all the killer work you’ve done over the past week.” Kerry said. “I appreciate it, Dar appreciates it, and not least, the company appreciates it. You made it all happen.”
“However.” Kerry leaned on the counter, giving them all a very wry look. “There were some things going on here that we didn’t know about.”
“Uh oh.” Mark said.
“So, the bottom line is, now that we’ve gotten our stuff done, we need to help everyone else get theirs done too.”
Everyone stared at her, jaws dropping open a little. It would have been comical, if Kerry wasn’t so conscious of the minutes ticking away. “Guys, please just trust me on this one. I’ll explain later, but we’re almost out of time. I need to split up some teams, and send you all over to the other ships.”
Mark covered his eyes with one hand. “Ohmyfriggengod.”
“Holy crap.” Carlos blurted. “We’re going to help them now?”
“Yep.” Kerry shifted a few pieces of paper. “Once we all finish, I can tell you the rest of the story. It’s quite a story. But Dar wanted me to let you all know – despite what we’re going to have to do, the only real winners in this entire shebang are standing right here in this room.”
The techs fell silent, the buzz in the room dying out as they absorbed the compliment.
“We are the best. We proved that.” Kerry went on. “Now, we have to take it a step further, and take this project to a different level. So.” She exhaled. “Let’s get going. Grab yourselves a pop, and your gear, and I’ll call out names in a minute.”
The techs stirred, and started moving. Mark waited for some space to clear, then he propped his chin up on his fist. “Um… Kerry?”
“I know.” Kerry held a hand up. “Just go with it, Mark. The whole thing’s a farce.”
“It’s fake. It’s a whitewash. It’s not real. The ships aren’t going to sail anywhere..it was just one big charade for the cameras.”
Kerry turned, to find their security guard standing there. “Yes?”
“Those people at the door are not taking no for an answer.” The guard pointed. “They’re starting to get real mad.” Past him, Kerry could see the filming crew, Cruickshank, Quest, and others all clustered near the door, banging on it. “Yikes.”
“Whoa.” Mark blinked.
“Take this list, get these guys over to the ship in slot 12.” Kerry handed Mark a piece of paper. “Hurry.. and whatever happens, tell everyone not to say anything to anyone about what we’re doing. Just keep quiet.”
“Mark, we’ve been in the dark for weeks. Now it’s our turn to pull one over on these people.” Kerry told him. “Got me?”
Mark hesitated, then grinned sheepishly. “Not a clue, boss, but if you say shut up, no problem.” He took the paper and scanned it. “Okay!” His voice rose. “Following names, get your asses over here!”
Right. Kerry ran a hand through her hair. “Okay.” She faced the guard. “Let me just get a mouthful of something and I’ll go take care of those guys. They say what they want?”
“Ms. Roberts.” The guard supplied promptly.
“Well, there you go. She’s not here.” Kerry gratefully accepted a bottle of grape soda from Carlos. “Thank you.” She took a sip of the cold beverage and considered what she was going to tell the reporters. A grin crossed her face, and she chuckled a little. “You want a story? All right. I’ll give you one.”
She stepped down from the platform and headed for the door. “Time for you to chase YOUR tails.”
Continued in part 31