Dar emerged into the sunlight once again, after her sixty second subway ride had drawn itself out to twenty minutes. She had, however, apparently made a friend, since Scuzzy showed no signs of continuing on her way as they exited together from what had appeared to Dar as a maze a minotaur would have run screaming in terror from.
Subway station? Dar glanced behind her at one of the many stairwells burping people up out of the ground. More like a nightmare from some science fiction writer’s imagination.
The heat had gotten a little worse, or maybe she’d just gotten used to the cooler confines of the underground world.
“So, like, Dar. Where ya goin?” Scuzzy interrupted her thoughts. “Jus coming down to see the Square?”
“No. Here.” Dar pulled the brochure out of her pocket and displayed it, turning slightly as she tried to orient herself in the busy street. Buildings rose on all sides, and the roads seemed to run together from all directions.
What the hell?
After a moment of blinking, she realized why the place looked so damn familiar. She’d never been here before that she could remember, and now she took a moment to just stand and look around.
Times Square. Dar cocked her head to one side, realizing she’d always considered the place to be more of a stage set than a real city street. Her gaze shifted.
The marquees raced across the building fronts just like they did on television, and Dar tilted her head back to look up at the post she’d seen the ball drop from on countless New Years Eves. Then she chuckled and returned her attention to finding her way to the Hudson river.
“You like, into that stuff?” Scuzzy had kept right up with her. “Like, guns?” She handed back the brochure.
Dar stopped and looked at her.
“Hey!” The woman held up both hands. “It’s cool! No problem! I’m into that show Gunsmoke too, you like that show? It’s great!”
“No.” Dar figured out what direction to go in and started walking. “My father was in the Navy.” She checked the street numbers, and started down one with some confidence. She was mildly surprised when Scuzzy chose to join her, shambling down the sidewalk at her side. She gave the woman a speculative look.
“I figured I’d make sure you got there okay.” Scuzzy explained. “Then I’m goin back to get the bus.”
Dar stopped walking, forcing the girl to stop as well or else plow into her. She took off her sunglasses and looked her persistent companion up and down, then repeated the exercise on herself. She finally returned her stare to Scuzzy’s face, and lifted both eyebrows meaningfully. “Thanks.” She drawled. “But I’ll get there okay.”
Scuzzy studied her for a minute. “You tryin to tell me something?”
With a faint sigh, Dar returned her sunglasses to their perch on her nose and started walking again, shaking her head. A breeze picked up, puffing fitfully between the buildings and bringing to her the unmistakable scent of water. She glanced at the storefronts she was passing, intrigued by the variety of clubs whose identity changed at almost every stride. “Something for everyone, huh?” She remarked, passing a jazz club next to something she imagined catered to the Goth crowd.
“You say something?” Scuzzy peered at her. “Hey, you ever been here to the city?”
“Yeah, I’ve been here.” Dar finally relented, edging over slightly so the woman could walk next to her and not plow into the trees planted incongruously in the center of the sidewalk. “I’m not really fond of it.”
“Miami’s kinda different, huh?”
Dar looked around her with a wry chuckle. “Like night and day. I wouldn’t trade em for a million.”
“No, huh?” The woman looked around. “Well, y’know, this used to be a really tough neighborhood.” She said. “Times Square, man, you didn’t want to come down around here. But they fixed it up pretty nice now.”
Dar peered at the theatre they were passing, realizing she’d heard it’s name half her life and never realized where the hell it was. “Bad neighborhood, huh?” She asked with interest.
“Oh, yeah, Absolutely.” Scuzzy nodded. “Hookers lined up tits to ass back there, yeah?”
It was hard to picture all those people in mink coats coming to see shows stepping around bums and drug dealers. Dar put the idea away for later study, and ducked to one side as a man walking a Dalmatian hurried by. Or maybe it was a Dalmatian walking the man, as the dog seemed far more relaxed than his owner. “You been here when it was?” She asked Scuzzy. “When it was a bad place?”
Scuzzy seemed delighted Dar was warming up to her. “Oh, sure.” She made a dismissive gesture. “Me and my bro, we used to come down here all the time back then, cause we’d take the bus out to DC to visit my old man.”
“Ah.” Dar murmured. “Must have been scary.”
“Nah. Just different.” Scuzzy peered behind her in the direction of Times Square. “Lotta people usta live over there, y’know? Not no more. I dunno where they went now. The Park, maybe. You gotta have money to live over there now.” Her nose wrinkled a bit. “Ritzy.”
Dar was struck with an unexpected parallel. “Yeah.” She agreed. “That happened down on South Beach, too.”
“Yeah. It used to be retirement hotels for all these older people. Twenty bucks a week, something like that.” Dar said. “Then they put all the money in there and now I think twenty bucks maybe gets you parking for the night. Maybe.”
Maybe. “Sucks sometimes.” Dar admitted. “You pay thirty bucks for a coke and a damn hot dog.”
“That’s right!” Scuzzy agreed heartily. “You got that right, yeah?” She kicked a rock, which rattled head of them and rambled through the wrought iron steps that lead down into someone’s basement. “So where did them old people go?”
Dar slowed, her head tipping to one side a little as she thought. “I don’t know.” She finally responded. “But I remember what it felt like when we lived on the Navy base, and they were talking about closing it.” A ghost of a memory floated into focus for her. “They wanted to sell the place to build a supermarket.”
“Oh, that’s cold.” Scuzzy patted her on the back. “So you lived with all those navy guys huh? That must have been cool.”
“Yeah, it was.” Dar shrugged the memories off. “So where are you going on a bus today, Scuzzy?” She asked, as they reached the end of the street and were faced with a four lane road separating them from the piers. To one side, Dar could see the distinctive shape of the Intrepid, and found a smile forming.
“No place.” Scuzzy shrugged. “Just get me a ticket and ride somewhere and back. I got laid off last week.”
Dar found herself snagged by one of the fits of recklessness that occasionally happened to her. “What do you do?” She asked, turning and leaning against a light pole. “That you got laid off for?”
Taken slightly aback, her erstwhile companion made a nervous motion with her hands. “Oh, you know, just office stuff. I was putting in traffic tickets, callin people. Anything they want me to do, but they got cut sos they had to let me off.”
“You worked for the police?” Dar clarified.
“Yeah, kinda.” Scuzzy seemed abashed. “So like, that’s why I don’t like people getting into trouble, you know?” She cleared her throat. “So whadda you do, Dar from Miami? Like what you get paid for?”
“I work with computers.” Dar removed her PDA from her pocket and opened the flap. She selected a square of white cardboard, then flipped it over and fished her pen out and scribbled on the back of it for a moment.
“Yeah?” Scuzzy perked right up. “Oh, man, you lucked out. I love computers. I got me a internet mail thing at the library last month and I love going to check that out.”
Dar reviewed what she’d written, then held the card up, reverse side forward for Scuzzy to see. “Go there.” She indicated the address on the back. “When you get there, give the guard at the desk this.” She reversed the card, the ILS logo flashing briefly in the sunlight. “Tell them I said to hire you.” She handed the card over.
Scuzzy looked at the card, then looked at Dar. “For real?” She asked, after a long moment. “Like, no shit? If I give them this thing, they’re not gonna throw my ass out and call the cops?”
Dar chuckled. “No.” She spent a brief instant of deliciously evil anticipation on just how much twitching she’d cause the company’s staid Manhattan office. “They’ll take care of you.”
Scuzzy looked down at the card again, and turned it over. “Chief Information Officer.” She lifted her eyes to Dar’s face. “You get good money for that?”
“Yeah.” Dar nodded. “But you’ll do all right too.”
“Yeah?” Now a touch of incredulity entered Scuzzy’s tone. “You know somethin? I woke up today and I knew somethin’ was gonna happen to me.” She carefully tucked the card away in the pocket of her shirt and stuck her hand out. “This is all right.”
Dar took it and gave it a shake. “See ya.” She released Scuzzy’s hand and turned as the light changed and gave her the opportunity to cross over to the pier.
“See yah.” Scuzzy repeated, waiting until the tall figure had disappeared from sight into the pier’s square frontage. “Ain’t that a kick in the ass?” She removed the card and looked at it. “I’m gonna go get me a job, so screw you, momma, saying not to talk to nobody on the subway!”
Turning she sauntered back down the street, heading back towards Times Square.
Dar stopped before she went through the gates into the museum, taking a moment to enjoy the breeze off the water, and the sense that she’d emerged from the close confines of the city at least for a while. She found a bench and sat down on it, retrieving her PDA and opening it up.
To her surprise, a message she hadn’t caught was waiting. She tapped on it.
Have I ever told you just how much I love you?
Dar blinked a few times, then rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes impatiently. Matter of fact, you have. But I never get tired of hearing it.
She could almost hear the sigh in Kerry’s words when she responded.
I’m sitting at a table across from Shari and Michelle, suffering through an endive salad with the prospect of chicken breast over rice pilaf before me.
Ugh. Dar extended her legs into the sun and crossed them. Well, I’m sitting near the Hudson River, and I just sent a vagabond over to the local office to get a job.
(laugh) You call me a troublemaker?
Dar smiled in reflex. Hey, I rode on the subway to get here.
J You did? No fair! I wasn’t there to go with you!
The lump in her throat was getting to her. Dar shifted on her bench, then rolled her stylus in her fingers before she answered. No one was here to see me chicken out!
L But you didn’t.
True. Yeah, specially since the damn thing got stuck three times with me on it. They don’t like me. Dar allowed. Well, I’m going in to see the Intrepid, then maybe I’ll find one of those hot dog stands and get sick to my stomach.
(chuckle) Have one for me, since I’m suffering here with a raunchy vinaigrette. Hey – get a sailor hat so I can see my life sized hamster dance.
Oh, god. Dar started laughing, her humor restored. All right. Take it easy and go grab a burger after the meeting. That’s what I do.
I will. Love you.
Dar felt as warm inside suddenly as she did outside. Love you too. She sent the message and stood up, stretching her back out before she headed off towards the aircraft carrier’s impressive bulk.
Sailor hat, huh? Dar looked forward to some quality shopping, for more than just her partner. New York, she decided, was potentially looking up after all.
Lunch was a sour as the vinaigrette. Kerry wiped her lips on her napkin and returned it to its place on her lap. She hadn’t even bothered with the chicken, it’s dryness evident to her even through the thin, lemony sauce drizzled over it. She stuck to her ice tea instead, and pacified her grumbling stomach with some of the rather benign rolls and butter the table had been graced with.
Long gone were the days, she mused, when she could be satisfied with a handful of carrots and some water. She still liked snacking on them, and had even gotten Dar to eat the little suckers, but they no longer provided a meal for her and neither did this collection of pretentious garden refuse and pseudo free ranging ancient fowl.
Bah. Kerry leaned back and nursed her tea. The small talk at the table was small indeed, and she only half listened to a discussion about an advance release of a new server operating system.
Kerry looked across the table at another of their rivals, though one of the more palatable ones she more or less got on well with. “Hey, Ross?”
“You guys stick to one system? I heard you were a uni-house.”
“Nah.” Kerry shook her head. “We have a little of everything, depending on the application. We support way too many different companies to stick to one system.” She said. “Mainframes, minis, six flavors of Unix, the full range of Microsoft, some Novell, you name it.”
“That must be a support nightmare.” Ross Cunningfurth said, with an easy grin.
“Training’s the biggest chunk of my budge.” Kerry replied easily. “But it’s worth it. We can leverage like crazy – I have six different major support centers that all fall back to each other.”
Kerry spread one hand out in a faint shrug. “International.”
“Shit.” Ross just shook his head with a chuckle.
“Yeah, but how can you even think about giving personal service to your accounts, with that size operation?” Shari’s tone was dismissive. “Just a bunch of cookie cutters.”
Kerry debated on whether she wanted to engage in the debate. Before she could make a choice, Mark spoke up for almost the first time that afternoon.
“It’s not that hard.” The MIS manager said. “We got a system that profiles all the different accounts and systems, so whoever answers the phone gets the whole deal in a couple clicks.” He shrugged. “What matters is you getting the call to someone who’s got the right skill set. That’s the trick.”
“Exactly.’ Kerry picked up the threat neatly. “But you guys all know that. It’s not rocket science.” She added. “We save the rocket science for the solutions teams.”
“So.. what’s the deal with that new system you guys are rolling on?” Ross asked. “Bud here was at the trade show, and he said something like Dar was teaching routers to think?”
Shari laughed in derision. “What a load of bs.”
Kerry looked across the table and caught Michelle’s eye. The shorter women looked away, then visibly sighed and nudged her partner. Shari gave her an outraged face, but Michelle lowered her chin and stared at her until she subsided.
“Dar’s working on a lot of new technology.” Kerry went on after the awkward break. “Most of which I can’t really go into, but it’s fair to say we’re being very aggressive in taking the limits out of our new hardware.”
“Yeah, I can imagine what you’re selling the government with our tax dollars to burn.” Shari stared steadily at Kerry. “How many millions was it for the Navy?”
Bitch. Kerry braced her elbow on the arm of her chair and rested her chin against it. “Well…” She finally addressed Shari directly. “Considering that the systems they were running before we went in there were written by Dar when she was fifteen years old, I just guess they thought they needed an upgrade.” A wicked twinkle entered her green eyes. “That has been a very successful contract for us. I’ve enjoyed working on it. It makes me feel good to know we’re providing the best to the people who defend our country.”
Shari rolled her eyes.
“Well, if we’re done.” Quest appeared, his hair disordered as though he’d been running his hands through it. “Let’s go get the rest of the meeting started. I’ve had some things crop up that need tending to”
Kerry gladly got to her feet and shoved her chair in, dropping her napkin on her mostly untouched plate. “Definitely would be my pleasure.” She motioned Mark to precede her, and evaded Ross’ hastened steps as they headed towards the door.
Outside, she touched Marks’ arm briefly. “Go on upstairs. I’m going to take a pit stop.” She indicated the restrooms.
“Okay.” Mark agreed. “But you are coming back, right?” He asked, with a wry look. “I mean, you want me to call the center and have them broadcast a fake disaster so we can get out of here?”
Kerry narrowed her eyes. “Don’t tempt me.” She muttered, giving him a bump. “G’wan. Maybe Quest’ll give us a break and make this short.”
Mark took off towards the steps, and she turned after a moment and headed for the restroom door. She heard steps catching up to her, and felt the odd sensation of her hackles lifting as she imagined them to be Shari.
Her heart started pounding, and she got the same tingles in her guts that she did when they were sparring in kick boxing class, a response to challenge that made her fingers twitch in sudden reaction.
She reached forward and grabbed the door handle, pulling it open only to find not Shari, but Michelle behind her as she half turned to face her pursuer.
Maybe Michelle got the hint. She stepped back quickly and waited, watching Kerry with faintly alarmed eyes. “Sorry.”
Kerry glanced past Michelle, and ascertained they were alone. “Where’s your traveling jackass?” She asked directly. “Don’t’ you take her with you to critique the toilet paper?”
Michelle sighed, and edged past Kerry through the door she was still holding open. “I’m not going to answer that.” She said. “We all have our issues.”
“That’s not an issue.” Kerry followed her inside and headed for a stall. “That’s a brain the size of a walnut and an ego the size of the glades.” She closed the door with a snick. “And a lack of professionalism that makes you look like an idiot.”
Michelle cleared her throat gently. “Gee, Kerry. Tell me how you really feel. Don’t’ hold back.”
“Fuck it.” Kerry snapped. “You two have been on my last nerve for a week. Grow the hell up, would you?”
Kerry amused herself by flipping open her PDA and reading some of her saved messages from Dar, pithy sayings that often brought a smile to her face.
“Well. I see we really did piss you off.” Michelle finally said, into all that silence. “The real Kerry Stuart emerges.” She ran some water in the sink, as the outer walls echoed with a faint announcement. “Look, Shari feels like she’s got a right to blow the gilt off of your reputation when she can. It’s just business, remember?”
“Shari does it because she’s got a hard on for Dar.” Kerry replied evenly. “It has nothing to do with business, and we both know it.”
Michelle cleared her throat gently. “She does have a personal insight.” She remarked. “It’s valid.”
Kerry emerged, leaning against the stall door to face her adversary. “I have a personal insight too.” She reminded Michelle. “Want me to bring out in that meeting how you chased Dar and wanted to get into her skirt? Or how you tried to blackmail her by sending pictures of us to the corporate office? Or how..”
“Okay.” Michelle’s voice was sharp, and hard. “Let’s just relax a minute.”
Kerry waited, keeping her eyes fixed on the smaller woman. After a long moment, when neither of them said anything, she stepped forward. “You listen to me.” She said, her voice dropping a little. “You want this to be civilized? That’s fine with me. I want this to be civilized. I want this to be a tough bid, and the best deal wins. Can we leave all the personal bullshit out of it?”
Michelle shifted and leaned against the wall. “Is that why Dar skipped out? Get too hot for her?”
Kerry rolled her eyes. “Jesus” She threw up her hands. “I give up. Fine. Let it be a bitchfest. Just make sure you know how to duck when I start throwing.” She turned and headed for the door, but Michelle edged around her and put her back against it. “You really don’t want to get in my way, Michelle.”
“Okay – okay – okay.” Graver ran her hand through her hair, disordering it’s fair glossiness. “Listen, just like you have a vested interest, so do I. You may not like the methods, but I respect Shari’s skill at marketing, and she’s been a big part of the progress we made in the last year.”
Kerry put her hand on the door and started to push.
“Yeah, okay –she’s got a bug up her about Dar, but I think it’s mutual, right?” Michelle persisted. “She’s got a beef, and now she’s in a position to screw Dar over like Dar screwed her over way back when. It’s human.”
Kerry stopped pushing. “Michelle.” She said quietly. “Did she ever tell you why Dar screwed her over?”
The smaller woman cocked her head slightly. “Did she need a reason?”
“Dar always has a reason.” Kerry shoved past her, into the bright chaos of the hotel lobby. “You want this to be nasty?” She turned and regarded Michelle. “I can make it nasty. Dar’s just honest and straightforward.” She smiled grimly. “I’m a politician’s kid. Screw with me at your own risk.”
It felt good to turn and just walk away then, sauntering across the lobby well aware of Michelle’s eyes on her back. “Bitch, bitch bitch.” She warbled under her breath, as she started up the steps to the second floor conference rooms. “Y’now, there are some days when I wish I’d taken my family’s advice and become a teacher.” She got to the top of the steps and turned, to see Michelle and Shari standing next to the restroom, obviously in a heated discussion. “Heh. But today isn’t one of em.” She tapped the railing, then continued on her way towards the conference room, whose doors were standing wide open.
And as she stepped across the threshold, every single light in the building blinked out, leaving the room, and the rest of the hotel, in total darkness.
There was just enough breeze for Dar to be able to sit in comfort, allowing the late afternoon sun to drench her with it’s oddly pallid light. She had a delightfully intricate tour behind her, two bags of rampantly tourist flavored purchases next to her, and a bellyful of cherry vanilla ice cream.
Life was good.
The museum had charmed her and she was fairly sure her knick knack acquisitions were going to charm her family.
Her family. Dar had to stop and take a breath, releasing it slowly as she thought about how full of family her life was now. She’d gotten a sub model and a sweatshirt for her dad, and a space shuttle plus a t-shirt that said ‘my husband is in the navy, and all I got was this t-shirt and a pail of seaweed’ for her mom, and a bagful of god only knew what for Kerry. Even Chino had gotten a toy.
It was a radical change for her, having so many people to get things for. Dar removed the stuffed squeaky Apollo capsule she was sure Chino would tear apart in no time and examined it, squeezing it gently with her fingers and listening to the wheezily bright sound.
It certainly made shopping a lot more fun though. Dar grinned. She’d gotten herself a few things, but she’d extracted far more enjoyment in picking stuff out for everyone else, especially the bagful of items for her partner.
Silly things. But Dar was certain Kerry would love them, and that a good number of them would find their way into the office to perch in hopefully inconspicuous spots near her desk. The hours of exploration had restored her good humor, as had the moments of indulgence in old memories that the smell of brass and diesel had called up to her.
In fact… Dar pulled out her conspicuously silent PDA and opened it, scribbling a little note and sending it on it’s way. She waited for a short while, but didn’t get an answer, and figured Kerry was probably either busy with the meeting, or had fallen asleep at the meeting, but probably was doing just fine.
Dar decided she’d had a long enough rest, and after flexing her calves a few times, she stood up and arranged her shopping bags, then started back down towards the city and away from the docks. Now towards evening, the foot traffic was starting to pick up, and the harried looks of the people on the street were relaxing as the workday was ending.
Well, if she was stuck in New York, at least she’d had the afternoon off. Dar strolled down the sidewalk, pausing as a small bar caught her attention. After a moment’s hesitation, she shrugged one shoulder and entered, finding a spot in a quiet area off to one side.
She eased onto one of the high stools and set her bags down by her feet, resting her forearms on the round wooden table as one of the waitresses scooted over to her. “Hi.”
“What can I getcha?” The girl asked, putting down a small, square napkin next to Dar’s elbow.
Milk? Dar glanced around the place, which oozed a tavern atmosphere she could almost feel coating her skin. Hm. Her eyes fell on the beer tap, and spotted a name she knew Kerry liked. “Ah, I’ll take a Killian.” She decided, looking over the chalkboard next to the bard. “And a plate of wings.”
“No problem.” The girl looked approvingly at her. “C’m righ up.” She headed back towards the bar, leaving Dar to appreciate her surroundings more fully.
Bars generally weren’t places she tended to hang out in. At least not by herself. Deferring to Kerry’s fondness for good brew, she equably accompanied her partner into pubs and enjoyed them, but more for the company than for the alcohol.
A television was on above the bar, and she amused herself by watching the basketball game in progress, mildly surprised to find the players female. A news banner ran chattily under the picture, but she steadfastly ignored it until a familiar word caught her attention.
Dar leaned forward and focused on the headline, gritting her teeth and squinting slightly to keep the words in focus.
It didn’t take long. “Son of a bitch.” She uttered, with feeling. “Why the hell didn’t she call me?” Dar removed her cell phone from it’s clip on her belt and hit a speed button, waiting for it to connect and then holding it to her ear.
It rang eight times before it was answered, and then the first sound that came down the line was a rattling noise and a seriously Midwestern sounding curse.
“God bless the milkman.. yes, hello?” Kerry growled into the phone, by her tone very obviously at the end of the chain tied to the ribbon tied to the end of her rope.
Dar waited a moment, then exhaled. “I love you.”
There was a few heartbeats of silence, then a soft grunt came down the line, and the sound Dar recognized as a body Kerry sized landing in the leather chair in her office.
“Jesus.” Kerry exhaled.
“No, just me.” Dar responded. “I just saw the headlines on the television. How’s it going there?”
“Well.” Kerry said. “Entire city has no power. Every single employee in this building is lighting candles of prayer to your image for having a diesel generator big enough to run the air plants. I have a headache the size of the Orange Bowl, and Bellsouth blew their backup power to one CO and a spike blew their OC on the other and we have no telecom in to the building.”
Dar covered her eyes in pure reaction. “Holy shit.”
“I was holding off calling you until I was absolutely positive the only thing you could do was pat me on my head.” Kerry sighed. “I have every critical thing we’ve got loaded on the sat links, but..”
“No. Just me.” Another sigh. “The one bright spot in my day was that piece of moose pooter meeting got canceled.”
The waitress returned, putting down her beer and giving her a bright smile. “Wings’ll be right up. K?”
Dar nodded, picking up the frosty mug of beer and taking a long swallow of it. “Ker..”
“Tell me you’re in a bar having a beer, and I might have to fly to New York just so I can bite your butt for that.”
Dar almost spit her mouthful of beer out across the table, but she managed somehow to swallow it instead. “Um…” She cleared her throat. “Want me on a plane back there?”
Kerry sighed very audibly. “Yes.” She replied in a quiet tone. “There is nothing in the world I want right now more than to have you here right next to me.”
Dar checked her watch, then reached for her pda. “Gimme a minute.. let me get the flights….”
“Sweetheart, hold on.” Kerry said. “I have so many people pissed off at us down here, do we really need another client ticked off because you walked out?”
“Fuck them.” Dar was busy with her flight scheduling.
“In addition to the fact that they all mean jack nothing to me next to you, Kerry, the rest of the company does take precedence over them.” Dar replied, reviewing her options. “You should have called me before now.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kerry’s tone now just sounded tired. “But I like to think I can actually do the job you pay me for sometimes.”
Dar paused in mid tap. She put her pda down and concentrated on the phone exclusively. “Kerry, this has nothing to do with your competence. This is outside anyone’s scope.” She hesitated. “You just want me to butt out and let you handle it?”
There was a very long silence after that. Finally, on the heels of the faintest of sniffles, Kerry spoke up. “Professionally? Yes.”
“Personally, no.” The blond woman went on quietly. “So what should I do? Can you give me some advice so I can make some kind of peace with myself?”
At least that put the problem into a perspective she could more easily deal with. Dar released a held breath, and ordered her thoughts, sipping her beer as she pondered the question. “Okay.” She said. “I’m assuming the big cluster is our lines being down.”
“I’m assuming you’ve already browbeaten and bullied everyone in Bellsouth you can get your hands on.”
“Mmph… yeah. Problem is, emergency services are priority, and we’re not.”
Which was true. “Okay.” Dar closed her eyes and thought. “The blown switch is out of our hands.. but the other CO’s just out of power?”
“Send Mark to Home Depot and have him buy every big generator they’ve got, then just go in there and hijack the bank we’re in and push power through it.”
“They’re not going to let us do that.”
“Don’t ask them.” Dar said quietly. “Just show up, walk in, don’t take no for an answer.”
“They’re going to think we’re nuts.”
“Yeah.” Dar agreed. “But our customers are going to think we’re miracle workers.”
A soft rattling of keys came down the line, along with the ghost of another sniffle. “You were right.” Kerry said, after the rattling stopped. “I should have called you before now.” She admitted. “Damn.”
Kerry had been doing everything humanly possible, Dar was sure. They’d been through enough crises together for her to trust her partner’s judgment implicitly. But sometimes when Kerry encountered the unlikely and was under a lot of stress, thinking way outside the box wasn’t her first instinct.
It was always Dar’s first instinct. “It’s okay, sweetheart.” She tried for a faint joke. “S’why you pay me the big bucks, remember?”
A faint chuckle rewarded her.
“I wouldn’t have called anyone either.” Dar admitted. “Never have been able to do that. So… “
“Hello pot, Kettle here.” Kerry sighed wryly. “Wanna get together for some macaroni and cheese?”
Dar relaxed a little, the knots in her guts easing slightly as she felt her heartbeat start to settle and cease it’s painful pounding inside her skull. “Sounds delicious.”
Kerry chuckled a little. “Do me a favor?”
“Anything.” Dar responded. “I’ve got the flights in front of me. Offer’s still open.”
Kerry was very quiet for a bit, and Dar gave her the space to wrestle with her own conscience. At last, she grunted softly. “Tell you what, partner. If this doesn’t work, I’ll give you a call with your flight information, okay?”
A compromise. Dar accepted it reluctantly. “You know I’m going to be a mess all night, right?” She found herself saying anyway.
“I know.” Her lover said. “But if it works, I’ll take out a full page ad in the Herald and tell everyone what a smart and amazing person I have as my boss.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
At last, Kerry laughed, if only briefly. “Or maybe they’ll get the power grid back online, Dar. Having the entire city down with no ac is putting more pressure on the powers that be than I ever could.”
“Call you back as soon as I know something.” Kerry went on. “Promise.”
“Okay.” Dar sighed. “Hang in there, Ker.”
“Love you too.” Dar closed the phone reluctantly, thoughts running through her mind at a furious rate. She looked as a plate appeared in front of her, meeting the eyes of the waitress.
“Wings?” The girl said.
Wish I had a pair. Dar nodded in response, staring at the crispy golden items before her. With a sigh, she picked one up and turned it in her fingertips, completely uninterested now in everything except for the vanished voice on the other end of her disconnected phone.
Kerry forced herself not to tense up, concentrating on keeping her hands down at her sides and not balled up into fists. “Listen, Barry, you don’t have a choice here.” Already in her shirt sleeves in deference to the dank mugginess of the emergency lighting lit office, she resolutely refused to wipe the sweat off her face as she ordered her arguments.
The man she was speaking with, a tall, gangly station manager with a drooping moustache and desperate eyes slammed his hand on the desk. “Kerry, I can’t do it.” He repeated, for the nth time.
“You can.” Kerry replied inflexibly. “Bottom line is, you have no choice.” Her voice already had a slight rasp in it.
“If I let you do it, I have to let everyone. Do you know how many lines go through this building? To the financial district? Jesus, Kerry, do you think you’re the only one who’s down?”
“We have a contract.”
“THEY ALL DO!” Barry yelled, at the top of his voice in frustration. “Woman, you can’t understand what you’re asking.”
What would Dar do? Kerry took a breath. Dar would just yell louder, until the walls shook. But she couldn’t do that – it wasn’t really her style. “Barry, you have a contract with us to provide diversity. You didn’t. Are all those other companies paying you top dollar for that kind of insurance?”
He stared at her.
“We pay you to make sure.” Kerry inhaled and upped the volume just a little. “MAKE SURE.. that we never go down. NEVER. Not 99 percent, not 99.5 percent, not 99.9 percent. 100 percent, Barry. I can’t afford any less, and you god damn well know it.”
“You can’t just hook this stuff up to a generator.” He replied, after a long hesitation. “It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t fathom the complexity of this stuff, and I..”
Kerry walked right around his desk and grabbed him by the lapels, shocking them both. “I can’t fathom it?? I can’t fathom it? Who in the hell do you think you’re talking to, the operations vice president of Publix? Jesus Christ, Barry! I’ve got more complex technology sitting in my living room than you have in this place!”
His eyes widened. “Hey, now listen. Let go of me!”
Kerry did, but she didn’t step back. Dar’s words were ringing in her head like sea-bells and it was all she could do not to just keep shaking the man until he gave in to her. “Barry, use your head. Get me off your back. Just do it.”
“You can.” Kerry insisted.
“Kerry, for the sake of god, I can’t. It’ll be my job!”
Kerry leaned over him, wishing she had Dar’s presence. “You will.” She nailed him with a look right in the eyes. “Or it’ll be your job any way. I swear it.”
Would he believe her? Kerry forced herself to hold her gaze steady and cold, offering him no compromise. Her guts were clenching inside, and she only hoped it wasn’t showing.
He straightened up and took a breath to answer, only to release it partially as his shoulders slumped. “Kerry, it’s not that easy. C’mon now. You can’t just plug in one of those things to a damn generator. What if it blows the boards? Then what?”
Ah. Kerry felt the success, like that momentary give in a tug of war when you knew your team was about to break the grunting muddy stalemate, and start to move in the right direction. “Then you hand me a bill.” She agreed readily. “I’ll take responsibility for the decision.”
He leaned forward. “You know how much money you’re talking about?”
“Yes, I do.” She tilted her head just a little, and gentled her expression. “C’mon, Barry. Get rid of me. You know I have to do it.”
Barry relaxed in defeat. “What the hell.” He lifted both hands off his chair arms and let them drop. “I’m screwed anyway. I was the dumb bastard who forgot to schedule the maintenance on that freaking backup system.”
Kerry felt sweat roll down the back of her neck, and she spared a moment of tired sympathy for him. “Thanks, Barry. Let me get my guys rolling on this.” She hesitated. “You got anyone else that’s as big a pain in the ass as I am? I can see if we have enough power to share some.”
He shook his head after a second. “I wouldn’t know where to even start.”
“Okay.” Kerry turned and headed for the door, already reaching for her cell phone. She keyed the radio button on it. “Mark?”
“Yeah?” A slightly apprehensive voice answered.
“Go.” Kerry instructed, now at last wiping the sweat off her face with one hand. “Pull the truck around back. No sense in giving the news people something to shoot.” She looked around for the emergency exit, spotting it on the back of one wall in the gloom. It was hot and very stuffy inside the CO, and eerily empty of workers.
No sense, she had to agree. Why pay for techs to stand around and look at non functional equipment? With a deep sigh, she hit the door release and opened it, finding some mild relief in the cooler evening air that brushed against her.
Finding a broken piece of punchdown block handy, she blocked the door open with it and leaned against the back wall of the building, waiting for Mark and her crew to arrive. She kicked a bit of slate with one toe, glad she’d taken the time to change into jeans and a short sleeved shirt before coming.
Even that was too hot, but anything else risked compromising her ability to project her authority in a serious way, and Kerry wasn’t that stupid. She let her eyes close for a minute, the stress of the long day weighing on her heavily.
Then the rumbling of the approaching motor jogged her into straightening up. She brushed off the fatigue and walked to meet Mark as he pulled up close to the building in the rented panel truck, putting the back of the vehicle next to the emergency door.
“Hey, boss.” The MIS manager looked as ratty as Kerry felt. He opened the door and jumped out, circling the truck to open the back and let four other techs out into the muggy night air. “Sorry about the ride, guys.”
“Shit.” One of them rubbed his head. “Oh.” He winced, spotting Kerry. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“Shit about covers it.” Kerry responded. “Okay.” She peered into the truck. “Six. Good.”
“All they had.” Mark explained. “These are the big ones…most of the small ones were gone already. You know how people are. Lucky we’re halfway through the season.”
“Right.” Kerry studied the machines. “How many to run the one switch inside, Mark?”
“Lemme check.” Mark scooted inside the building, pulling out his flashlight as he ducked inside the door. “Holy crap, it’s steaming in here!” He poked his head back out. “Hey… I’m not sure we can run those things even if we do juice em up. They’ll overheat.”
Shit. Kerry thumped against the truck, a sense of sick horror coming over her. “Find out what they’ll need.” She told Mark, to give her a moment to think.
Idiot. Of course they need cooling. She blinked a droplet of sweat from her eyes. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Kerry let her head rest against the metal wall. Maybe she’d gotten too used to letting Dar do her thinking for her?
A draft of cool air blew into her face, and she looked inside the truck, sticking her hand into the dark bay. She stepped back and looked at the side, spotting the boast of an air conditioned truck bed. “You got a flash light?” She asked the tech nearest her.
“Um.. sure.” The curly haired tech handed it over.
Kerry turned it on and flashed it over the interior of the truck, spotting the large air conditioning unit near the ceiling. “Okay.” She saw Mark emerge. “What’s the deal?”
He shrugged. “We can do it with one of these suckers.” He indicated the generators. “No problem, but it won’t stay up more than ten minutes, boss. I…” He hesitated. “I shoulda thought of that.”
“Why? Even they didn’t.” Kerry exhaled, pointing inside. “At least, they never mentioned it. So maybe they figured we’d figure out a way around that, too.”
“Yeah.” Mark frowned.
“So we’ll have to. Listen.” Kerry pushed away from the truck. “Here’s the plan. Mark – set these four up and get them going. Figure out what we need to connect them all in series, but use one at a time so we can keep them running longer. When one runs out of gas we switch to the second, but we can’t drop any power.”
“When you figure out what you’ll need for that, surge boxes or whatever, call me at Home Depot. I’ll be there buying air conditioning duct and duct tape so we can run the truck all night and pipe some air in there.” She pointed. “Okay? Thanks. Call me.”
She turned and headed for her car, knowing she’d left slack jawed employees behind her. Reaching her Lexus, she popped the door locks and hopped inside, starting up the SUV and closing the door as the air conditioning promptly bathed her in a very welcome chill.
Would Mark figure that all out? Kerry wondered. If they didn’t find a way to keep things going, it’d be useless. Dropping the lines every couple hours while they refilled the diesel just wasn’t going to cut it. “One thing at a time, Ker.” She reminded herself, putting the car in gear with a determined expression. “What was that Dar once said? Step at a time and you can eat an entire goat, tail and all?”
She turned the car onto the road carefully, since the signals were out along with everything else. The power outage had been so severe, the power company hadn’t even been able to project a fix for it. Too much damage had been done to too much of the infrastructure when a freak collapse of a transfer station had sent power back the wrong way up the lines into the grid.
So, she had to come through here. They had to come through. There wasn’t any choice – the pressure was building and she’d started getting more and more calls from their clients frustrated with lack of, or slowness of service to their vital resources.
A clog of traffic at an intersection forced her to stop, and she rested her forearms on her steering wheel as the crowd sorted itself out. A queasy roll of her stomach reminded her she hadn’t stopped to have dinner, and though the last thing she felt like doing was eating she knew she was asking for trouble if she didn’t.
She already had a stress headache. With a sigh, she let the brake up a little and crept forward, one hand fishing in her utility well until she found a bit of cellophane. Pulling the power bar out, she used her teeth to rip it open, and took a bite without taking her eyes off the road.
It wasn’t satisfying, but it was banana nut, and it took the edge off. Kerry chewed at it as she got through the dark intersection, only having to honk four or five times to keep other cars from plowing into her SUV’s dark blue sides. “Bah..bah.. Hey! You jerk! Watch it!”
The obviously rental Mustang squirted past her in a blare of horns.
Kerry felt her heart hammering in her chest, and she got past the intersection, heading towards the thankfully nearby hardware store. She got into the parking lot without further incident and headed into the store, regretfully trading the cool leather interior of her car for the heat outside.
The Home Depot was running on generator itself, and it was clammy inside. Kerry found it hard to breathe in, between the sawdust and the smell of generator oil, but she continued on, glancing down the aisles until she found the central air supply row. She paused in front of the compressed ducting and paused, realizing suddenly she had no idea how much to get.
“Jesus.” Kerry slapped herself on the side of the head, unable to believe the stupidity of not measuring the distance first. “I should have had Dar just come back. I can’t handle this.”
But Dar wasn’t there, so after a moment of mentally kicking herself Kerry leaned against the steel shelving and closed her eyes, trying to picture the unfamiliar confines of the telephone building. “Okay.” She sighed. “How many Dar’s can fit with arms outstretched between the truck and the switch, Kerry. C’mon. Think.”
Dar was the easiest thing she could picture, and she knew her partner’s outstretched arms were just over six feet across. Mentally, she positioned that tall, lanky frame, imagining her at the truck, then at the door, then inside, then across the aisle and around the corner, just Dar after Dar after Dar, until she was smiling and she had her answer. “Mm.. ten Dar’s. Lucky me.”
With seventy five feet of ducting to be safe, and four rolls of tape, Kerry loaded up her wagon and then checked her cell phone. It was stubbornly silent, so she pushed the cart over to the electrical section, and started browsing the different devices herself.
What would she need? The urge to call Dar and ask almost overtook her, but Kerry firmly closed her hand away from her cell phone and concentrated on the big boxes lining the shelves. Cables? They had those. Diesel? Mark had stopped for that too. Kerry’s eyes roamed over the choices until it fell on a dust covered box on the bottom shelf labeled GAC Load Control Systems, a lonely looking item one of it’s kind.
Crouching down, she tugged the box forward, releasing a cloud of ancient dust that nearly bowled her over. Stifling a sneeze, she peered at the lettering on the box, trying to make the technical terms fit concepts she was already familiar with. “Hm. Load balancing between two or more generators.” She let her hands rest on the box. “Well, I guess that’s what we’re doing.” With a grunt, she lifted the item and put it on the cart with the rest, going to the front and hauling the flatbed after in a sweaty, dusty pony-like fashion. She was standing at the counter handing over her credit card when three or four men rushed in, dashing past the entrance and heading for the same aisle she just came out of.
Kerry turned back to the cashier as she was presented with a slip to sign, giving the exhausted looking clerk behind the desk an understanding smile. “Long day.”
“Honey, you ain’t kidding.” The woman handed her card back.
“Damn it, they had one this afternoon.” The men came back, obviously frustrated. “Jesus, those damn generators won’t do us a lick of good if we can’t connect em all in series and keep the power up…hey!” He stopped, staring at Kerry’s cart. “She got one! She got it!’
Hey! Kerry echoed in mildly amazed silence. I guessed right! Whoa! “That’s right. Excuse me, gentlemen.” She pocketed her card and started to push her flatbed past them. “Things to do, power to generate, you know how it is.”
“Damn! Hey, can we buy that off you? Pay you double for it!” The man in the lead caught up with her. “C’mon, lady…I really need that!”
“No thanks. Sorry. So do I.” Kerry steered towards her car with a definite purpose.
“You even know what it is?” The man yelled in frustration.
Kerry stopped, turned and looked at him, one hand on her hip.
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” The man waved a hand in disgust at her, shaking his head. “Five minutes too late.”
“That’s right.” Kerry made a shooing motion at him. “Go find another Home Depot. Scoot.” A rumble sounded over head, and she glanced up, dismayed to see storm clouds gathering. “Oh, great. Just what I need.” She gave the cart a shove and headed for the Lexus. “Maybe I should have gotten a tent.”
The thunder rumbled again, as though she was being laughed at.
Dar’s cell phone rang as she entered the hotel lobby, and she found a quiet corner to drop into a leather chair and answer it. “Yeah?”
“Dar!” Alastair’s voice belted through the phone. “Good grief, woman! Where are you!”
“New York.” Dar answered. “Saving one of our client’s asses. Why?”
“Do you know what’s going on down in Florida? Dar! We’ve got half the network down!”
The silent anchors of CNN faced Dar from the bar’s big television, the outline of a darkened Miami prominent in the background. “We’re page one on CNN. Of course I know what’s going on, Alastair.” She snapped. “Kerry’s handling it.”
“What???”Her boss almost squealed. “Dar! This is serious!”
“And I’m 2,000 miles away!” Dar yelled back, only in a soft tone, since three men at the bar had turned around to look at her. “What would you like me to do about it? Jesus, Alastair, calm down!”
“Calm down.” Alastair fumed. “I have an international board meeting in two hours, in case you forgot, Dar. “
Oops. “No kidding. Me too.” Dar replied calmly. “And?”
She could hear the utter panicked frustration in his tone. “Alastair, it’s a power outage. Most of the crits are on the sat, and Kerry’s working on a plan to get more lines up. What is it you expect us to do? Change physics? All the money in the bank ain’t gonna cut any slack down there because they can’t get the damn hospitals working. Guess what? That’s first.”
There was a brief silence. “Kerry’s working on something?”
“Of course.” Dar injected as much impatience into her tone as she could. “I thought we’d gotten past that damned “I picked her for her looks’ thing. What’s wrong with you?”
Alastair sighed. “I’m not used to having to rely on anyone but you. That’s what’s wrong with me.”
“Get you something, ma’am?” A waitress came over to her.
Dar hesitated, debating on the answer, covering the microphone with her fingers. Then she half shrugged. “Got a chocolate milkshake handy?”
The woman smiled. “I can find one for ya. Be right back.”
“Well.” Dar spoke into the phone. “Get used to it.”
Alastair paused, taking an audible breath. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
What was it supposed to mean? Dar wondered bleakly. “I pay her for a reason.” She finally said. “If I didn’t think she could handle it, I’d have already headed back.”
Her boss sighed. “Yeah, I know.” He admitted. “Sorry, Dar. Backhanded compliment, really.”
“Yeah.” Dar agreed softly. “Look, she’ll take care of it. Trust her.”
“Since you do, I will.” Alastair said. “Just got the jitters, Dar. Been a rough couple of months here. Last thing I need is bad press… what the blazes happened to the backup we’re supposed to have down there?”
Dar explained the problem. “So, yeah, it’s Bellsouth’s issue. They screwed up. Doesn’t help us.”
“I’ll get Ham on it.” The ILS CEO stated, his voice now brisk and businesslike. “We can get some cash out of it, anyway. Keep me advised, willya, Dar?”
“I will.” Dar promised. “See you on the conference call later.”
“With good news.” Alastair said.
“With news.” Dar clarified. “Or else I’ll be on a plane headed south. Guaranteed.”
A more contented sigh. “Now I feel better.” He replied. “Thanks, Dar. Talk to you soon.”
Dar folded the cell phone up and clipped it to her pocket. She slid down in the leather chair, gazing up at the finely plastered ceiling until the waitress sauntered back over with her milkshake. “Thanks.”
“Sure you don’t want a shot in that?” The woman asked, with a sympathetic grin. “Looks like you could use it.”
Dar stared at the glass for a long moment, then her eyes lifted to the waitresses. “No, thanks.” She cradled the cold drink between her hands. “Just this for right now.” She handed the woman her room key, then signed the resulting check presented to her from the handheld printer. “Appreciate it.”
“Anytime, okay?” the woman smiled warmly at her. “Just ask for Angie.” She gave Dar a wink, then went on to the next group of older, business suited men seated nearby.
The flirting didn’t even register, really. Dar got up and headed for the elevator, hardly aware of the watching eyes.
Mark met her as she got out of the Lexus, his face a study in anxious consternation. “Kerry, listen, I tried like a son of bitch to figure out what that electrical stuff was but…”
“No problem. I got it.” Kerry said briefly. “I’ll need a hand with the stuff in the back. Got the generators set up?”
“Yeah, but..” Mark pointed at the now very overcast sky. “I don’t know how good they’re gonna be in that.”
“No problem.” Kerry replied again, with a grim smile. “I brought a tent. Let’s go.” She turned and headed for the back of the car, popping the hatch and pulling down the rear gate. “You guys, take that ducting and tape out and start stretching it. Need to go from the air unit inside the back of the truck all the way inside the building.”
“Mark, you get the tent. I’ll get this gizmo up and running and connected to the generators. Then we can fire them up and see what we got.” Kerry finished briskly. “Any questions? Okay. Let’s just do it. I want out of this damned sweatbox.”
“You got it, boss.” Mark pulled the canopy out and threw it over his shoulder, moving aside to let the two other techs get the ducting gear out. He followed Kerry over to the back door and watched as she dropped to one knee in front of the generators and started tearing the box of her gizmo open. “Whoa. Didn’t know you knew the EE side, boss.”
Kerry pulled aside the foam packing and removed the control unit, studying it closely. Four inputs in the back, four in the front, dials, gauges… Jesus. “Yeah, well.. you never know when the odd class in college comes home, huh?” She set the unit down and reached inside for the insulated plugs, connecting one end to each generator and the other end to the back of her unit.
Her hands were shaking. Kerry wiped the back of one across her forehead. “Hey, Mark?”
“Yeah?” Mark finished unrolling the tarp and walked over. “Need me?”
“Can you get my backpack from the car?” She fished in her jeans pocket and removed her keys, handing them over. “I need something from it.”
“Ma’am… you want this on the floor or..??” One of the techs stuck his head out. “It’s kinda wonky.”
Kerry climbed to her feet and peered inside the building, getting a face full of stale air. “Let me see where the boards are.. ah.” She stepped over the unrolled ducting and looked at the switch, squatting in damp silence in front of her. “Okay, there’s the out-take up there, so the intake has to be back here.” She indicated the fan. “So it should pump in right behind that.”
“Run it up here?” The tech queried, touching the top of the unit. “It’s a hard bend.”
Damn it, yes, it was. Kerry looked over her head, taking the flashlight from the tech and examining the drop ceiling. “No, loop some tape over the crossbar, there.. see? Then kind of..”
“Cradle it, like this?” The tech wrapped a piece of tape around the duct and held it up. “Like that?”
“Perfect.” Kerry gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Just suspend it like that out the door, and then we’ll go right to the truck. We got enough duct?”
“Oh yeah.” The tech nodded. “Just right.”
Kerry managed a smile, before she escaped outside and went back to her work. The sun had long since set, and it was getting dark. She looked up as Mark came over with her pack, and set it down. “Thanks.” She dug out another power bar and ripped it open. “How’s the tent coming?”
“I’m a lot better at routers.” Mark said mournfully, gazing at the poles. “But I think I got it.”
Kerry looked up. “You better.” She muttered around her mouthful.
“What if we blow that thing up? These generators aren’t the greatest.” Mark commented, as he got a pole into the corner of the tarp and raised it. “That’s some bitching gear in there.”
“This thing’s got a power massager.” Kerry squinted in the gloom at the directions. She looked up as a warm light bathed her, then gave Mark an appreciative smile. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Mark was holding the flashlight in his teeth, and working the tarp with his hands. “You know how many times I hadta do this last time we moved one of the regionals? It sucked!”
Kerry got everything connected. With a slow exhale, she leaned over and pressed the starter on the first generator, holding her breath until the machine caught and came to life in a shockingly loud rumble. A low hum nearly made her jump out of her skin, until she looked down to see the gauges coming obediently to life on her gizmo. “Last one they had.” Her voice almost cracked. “Had to fight some guys for it.”
Mark peered over her shoulder at the dials, pointing his flash at them. “Wow.” He said in a respectful tone. “Man, you know your shit, let me tell you what.”
The irony made Kerry smile briefly. “Thanks.”
Another bright light suddenly interrupted them, and they looked up to find a television camera pointing it’s round, inquisitive eye at them followed by a reporter stumbling alongside almost losing his footing on the loose shale.
“Uh oh.” Mark muttered. “This aint’ good.”
Kerry exhaled as the reporter headed her way. “Wanna be a Vice President for a day?”
“Didn’t think so.”
“Betcha wish Big D were here.”
The sweat in her eyes felt very much like tears. Kerry had to look down for a long moment and wipe the moisture away with her sleeve before she could pick her head back up and face the music.
Send in the Clowns would be about right.
It was dark in the hotel room. Dar was lying curled up on her side on the bed, her laptop open in front of her and her cell phone resting near her hand.
But the screensaver whirled unmolested, and the cell screen was dark. Dar merely lay there and watched the hypnotic pattern, waiting through what seemed to be the longest night of her life.
It was very quiet, and after a while she lifted her hand and let it drop on the keyboard, bringing the screen to life and exposing the network map she’d placed there. The lines leading into Miami were still mostly dark, and she felt a moment of intense shame as she hoped they stayed that way.
Not for Kerry’s sake. For her own, because if they didn’t come up, the phone would ring, soon, and she’d grab her bag and head for the airport and home.
But as she watched, there was a flicker in the lines, a slow ripple that went from red, to yellow, to green as she blinked and sat up, leaning forward to stare at it. The lights steadied and held, pulsing a healthy color that reflected brightly against the dark background.
She did it. A rogue burst of pride drove aside the gloom, and despite it all, Dar found herself smiling. Unless the power came back but… She checked a gauge. No, the office was still on generator. She released a held breath into a whirlpool of mixed emotions. “Good girl.”
The phone rang. Dar looked at the caller id for a long moment before she answered it, cradling the phone next to her ear. “Hey.”
A long, long, long sigh. “It worked.” Kerry sounded lightheaded with relief. “Oh, my god, Dar. It worked. It worked. We’re up.”
Shoving aside her own ridiculous dissapointment, Dar determined herself to rise to the occasion. “I knew you’d do it.” She said. “Tell me how it went.”
“Hang on, let me sit down.” Kerry was almost out of breath. There was the sound of a car door shutting, then a brief rumble of an engine starting. “Oh god. Sorry. Had to get the AC on in here. I’m dying in this god damned heat.”
Dar closed her eyes and just drank in the voice. “Must be like hell.”
“Oh, honey… where do I start.” Kerry sighed. “Shit, I have such a headache.”
Dar’s fingers twitched in pure reflex, a testament to her natural inclination to answer the comment with a gentle knead of Kerry’s neck. “You take anything?”
Another sigh. “I want to eat first. Otherwise it gets me sick.”
“You haven’t had dinner?” Dar checked the clock.
“I didn’t have lunch.” Kerry admitted. “Just some of my bars. Anyway… they fought me tooth and nail, Dar. No way did they want me to do this, because everyone’s up their butts wanting favors.”
“I’m sure they were.” Dar said. “Where are you now?”
“Outside the CO. Mark and the guys are cleaning up. We’re leaving two techs here to keep filling the gas tanks.”
Dar opened her PDA and tapped out a message, hitting send quickly. “Good idea.”
“Thanks.” Kerry said. “We kept running into obstacles, but everything worked out. I got the generators hooked up together, and we were just going to start the power…”
“Hooked them up together?”
“Yeah. I got a gizmo, a thing that let me connect all of them. You know.. I mean, you must know because you told me to get a bunch of generators, but I didn’t think about how to make them work together and I guess you assumed we’d know so..”
Dar’s eyes widened. “Shit.” She exhaled. “I didn’t even think of that, Ker. I just figured you might need more than one in case our stuff was on more than one switch.”
Kerry was silent for a little bit. “Oh.” She finally said. “Wow. Well, no… I got this thing to make them all work together, so we didn’t have to take the lines down to refill the gas or anything like that.”
“So then I had to figure out how to keep the switch cool.” Kerry said. “I put some air conditioning duct from the switch out the door to the truck we rented… it had ac in the back.”
Dar rested her chin on her fist, a genuine smile appearing on her face. “Uh huh.”
Kerry cleared her throat. “So it was going great. Then the reporters showed up.” She let out an aggravated breath. “Dar, they treated us like a bunch of squirmy hooligans. Like I was cheating or something to get what I wanted.”
“Sweetheart, you were.” Dar told her. “But it’s okay. It’s what you get paid for.”
“That’s what I told him.” Kerry said. “He went away, but I think he’s coming back. Anyway, I got it all going, and plugged the switch in, and we all sort of just held our breath.”
“And it worked.”
“Outstanding job. You went over and above, and I really appreciate that. Well done. Very well done.” Dar said, meaning every word.
Kerry exhaled, and there was a soft sound as though she’d let her head rest against the glass window. “Thanks, boss.” She replied simply.
They were both quiet for a little while. Then Dar shifted the phone from one ear to the other. “I’m damn proud of you.”
A faint sniffle traveled down the cellular link. “Even though it meant you didn’t get to come riding to the rescue?” Kerry asked, making a wan joke.
Kerry made a small sound of contentment, but then she sighed again. “Know something?”
“I was just thinking about something you once said to me. About how you felt when you got promoted, that time? And how you just went back home and it was like…”
“It ended up not meaning much, yeah.” Dar said. “What brought that up?”
“Uuugh. Because I just was sitting here thinking that after all this, after this crappy, disgusting, horrible day – all I have to go home to is a dark, hot house and an empty bed.”
Dar was caught speechless.
“I want a hug.” Kerry uttered. “I want you.” Then there was a rustle, and the sound of the car window opening. “Hang on, sweetie.” The sound of wind rushed in. “Hey, Mark…oh.. oh, yeah, um.. that would be great…yeah. Thanks! How… oh, that smells great. Thank you.”
Dar smiled faintly at her distorted reflection in the laptop screen. She waited for the sound of the outside to vanish as Kerry rolled up the window again, and heard the rustling of paper bags on the other side of the line.
“Did you have something to do with this, Paladar?”
“Me?” Dar inquired. “I’m sitting here in New York. What makes you think I had anything to do with having your dinner delivered?”
A very soft, knowing chuckle answered her. “The fact that my Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich has no lettuce, and extra cheese on it, the frosty is large, and the baked potato has no bacon bits. Mark maybe could guess number two, but the other ones had your little fingerprints alllll over them.”
Dar flexed her hand in front of her eyes, studying her fingerprints. Then she let her arm drop to the bed again. “Least I could do.” She conceded. “Since I’m not there to do it myself.”
“Wish you were.” Kerry’s voice was muffled as she chewed. “I can admit that now, since this crappy thing is over.”
“Wish I was too.” Dar echoed softly.
Kerry swallowed, and cleared her throat a little. “Are you okay?” She asked, in a gentle voice. “You sound really down.”
Was she? Dar stared at the screen, with it’s winking green lights. “Yeah, I’m all right.” She answered, after a brief pause. “Worried about you all night, that’s all.”
“Least I have good news for the international board call in half an hour.” Dar made an effort to inject some normality into her tone.
“Call? I didn’t know you had one.” Kerry said.
“Yeah, I forgot too. Alastair reminded me.” Dar admitted. “It’s on my schedule … woulda binged me anyway. Give me something to do now that the crisis is over.”
Kerry seemed to absorb this in silence for a few heartbeats, chewing on her chicken sandwich in a thoughtfulness almost tangible through the phone. “Want some of my frostie?”
“Want me to get on a plane and come to New York?” Kerry asked. “Not for business. Just to keep you company and get my hug?”
“You really have to ask?” Dar responded wistfully. “You know I’d love it. But you’ve got that damn bid, Ker. This won’t take me more than a day or so to straighten out. Then I’ll be back and you’ll get your hug.”
“Mm” Kerry grunted unhappily. “Hell with them.” She said. “Oh, crap. I was right. Here come those damn reporters again.”
“You think they’ll just stay there filming me if I eat my dinner inside the truck and refuse to open the door?”
Dar smiled. “Worth a try, sweetheart.” She said. “Guess I can go order room service now too.”
“Bad Kerry.” Dar responded promptly. “Two of a kind.”
Kerry laughed suddenly, a light, joyful sound that made Dar’s tense neck muscles relax in an instant. “Oh, what a compliment that is. Okay, love of my life.. let me let you go get dinner, and I’ll try not to strangle these reporters. Call you later?”
“Sure.” Dar agreed. “I’ll let you know what the board had to say about my genius VP Ops.”
“Love you too. Later.” Dar closed the phone, feeling better than she had all night. Good enough to make her get up and go to the desk, sitting down and flipping open the room service menu with an acceptable level of interest.