Moving Target

Part 9

Kerry took her time finishing her dinner. She hated wolfing her food, and the cool air and warm leather settled her body down into something approaching comfort.  The reporter was hovering outside, and she realized quickly after he’d arrived that it wasn’t the local guy she’d first spoken to.  Instead, she recognized the Tech TV reporter who’d been retained by Michelle and Shari and frankly Kerry was in a mood to keep him waiting well into the next century if the occasion called for it.

Her techs were sitting in the back of the rental truck munching their own dinners, with a hastily rigged light dangling over their heads plugged into her gizmo along with the power to the telecom gear.

Kerry eased the seat back a notch and propped her knee up against the door, picking up a square of neatly cut potato skin and taking a bite of it.  It tasted of sour cream and cheese and love, a little salty and a touch sweet, this fast food manifestation of Dar’s care for her.

Totally insignificant in substance, and yet that quiet thoughtfulness meant everything to her. Between that, and the words of praise Dar had showered over her, Kerry found herself well able to push aside the aggravations of the day, and watch the anxious pacing of the Tech TV reporter with a sense of contented amusement.

Near the wall, the generators hummed along, their low thrum audible to her through the closed window. The sun had set, and besides the small pool of light from their bulb, the surrounding areas were eerily dark and quiet. It reminded Kerry of the night of the storm, way back when she and Dar had first been getting to know each other.

That scary, magical day. Kerry smiled gently, remembering the moment she’d woken up on Dar’s couch, lying there hardly breathing as she felt the soft folds of a blanket settle over her accompanied by Dar’s distinctive presence.

Where…. Kerry waited for the soft scuff of bare footsteps to move away before she opened her eyes, her fingers reaching out to curl around the feather light covering draped over her. The couch leather had warmed to her body and she let herself indulge in a moment of perfect comfort.

Dar’s house. She moved her head a little and looked around again at it. Her ears, though, were focused tightly on the kitchen where she knew Dar had gone, every sound she detected sending a prickle up and down her spine. After a moment’s hesitation, she sat up and ran her hand through her hair, getting up and wrapping the blanket around her as she went towards the source of those sounds.

Just short of the kitchen she stopped, spotting Dar inside before the taller woman knew she was approaching.

God, she’s gorgeous. Kerry’s eyes drank in the lanky form in it’s covering of thin cotton, her body reacting with a surge of sexual energy that almost shocked her.

Almost mortified her.

Almost. “What’s going on?” Kerry continued on into the kitchen, reveling silently in the moment when Dar turned and met her eyes and a grin appeared, seeming to acknowledge the boundaries they both were knowingly skirting.

Dar pointed. “Tropical storm. Out of nowhere.”

Kerry walked over to stand right next to her, leaning on the counter as she peered first out the window, then up at the television screen. Sure looked nasty.. too nasty for cabs to run, maybe? “What does that mean?’

The blue eyes casually met hers and held there, gaining the faintest of twinkles in their depths. “For one thing, it means you’re stuck here.”

Shucks.  Kerry looked out at the pounding surf as Dar made a call, feeling a sense of deep affection for Mother Nature.

“I was right. Ferries are closed down.” Dar concluded.

“Guess I should have left when I had the chance…”

The twinkle grew perceptibly.

“I just wanted to get the reports done, then I just sat down for a minute… sorry.” Kerry concluded her apology. “How are you feeling?”

Dar’s eyes dropped, and her expression took on a more somber cast. “Fine. Stuff worked great.” Her hand lifted and ran through her dark hair. “Listen, I better get candles out.”

Candles? “What can I do to help?”

Dar showed her the shutters. It didn’t take long, then she was back in the kitchen watching Dar root around in a box full of hurricane supplies.

Including candles.  “What else can I do?”

Cloth in her hands. What else could she do? Change into Dar’s clothing. Holy cow. Is this really happening to me? “Makes sense. Be right back.”

Herself in the mirror, in Dar’s shirt, in Dar’s house. Well, you know something Kerrison? If she’s bringing candles, you’ve got to step up to the plate and do your part.  “Bet she could use a home cooked meal.” Kerry whispered to her reflection. “Make it good enough, maybe she’ll ask you to come back.”


Kerry chuckled softly, shaking her head at her former self with a sense of unreal bemusement. Love had caught her so by surprise, she’d been flattened by it before she even realized what was happening to her. And that had been a wonderful feeling, but she decided she liked the more seasoned, more faceted relationship she had with Dar now.

Though she would always cherish the look on Dar’s face when she’d taken over her kitchen for that very first time. If she closed her eyes, she could still see that look in front of her, half amazed and half shy, the briefest glimpse of her soulmate soon to be.


Ah well. Kerry dusted off her fingers, and neatly wiped her lips with her lurid yellow napkin before tucking it, along with the rest of the wrappings, into her paper bag. She slurped up the last of her frosty and turned the car off, then popped the door and hopped out into the warm muggy night.

The reporter spotted her and headed her way. Kerry debated on ignoring him, then she altered her steps to intercept his path and halted when she met up with him, tilting her head to one side and waiting in silence.

“Ah, Ms. Stuart?” The man readily started the conversation. “We haven’t really met but..”

“But you’re Telegenics biographer.” Kerry supplied. “Something you want from me? I think I said everything I had to say in the meeting this afternoon.”

“No, um.. well..”

Kerry eyed the camera. “Is that running?”

“No, no.” The man shook his head. “No, I wasn’t really here to..”

“Watch us succeed?”

The man rocked back on his heels and held both hands up in front of him. “Whoa, take it easy, Ms. Stuart. You’ve got me all wrong.”

Kerry folded her arms across her chest. “Okay.” She was in a mood to be mildly benign. “What can I do for you, then?”

“First off, I’m Ben.” He stuck his hand out. “And yeah, I know I’m working on that whole ship story and Telegenics being the underdog up and comer. Okay? Okay.”


“But you know what?” Ben said. “The real story in that room today, and here tonight is you.”

Kerry hiked an eyebrow at him.

Ben studied her, then grinned a little. “Flattery doesn’t do you, huh?”

“Buddy.. the pond I come from, you wouldn’t even register as a goldfish.”  Kerry told him. “So, if you don’t mind – I’m going to close up shop here and go find myself a nice hot shower, and someplace relatively cool to sleep.”

Ben laughed. “Oo.. now, Ms. Stuart, is that a way to treat the press?”

“No.” Kerry’s eyes twinkled slyly. “But I don’t have anywhere to hide the body here, and it’s too hot anyway. So you lucked out.”

The reporter laughed. “Okay, I get the message.”

“Good. My can of spray paint’s in the back of my partner’s car. Hate to have to go get one just for you.”

Ben laughed harder. “Ms. Stuart, please. Tomorrow, when this crazy nuthouse city gets back to normal…”

“You mean it’s not?”

“When the power comes on.” Ben clarified. “Could you please sit down and let me interview you? I’ve gotten a really one sided perspective of the… well, the competition, and I’m seeing a different story here than what I was put on to start with.”

Hm. “Okay.” Kerry agreed. “Sure. If the power’s not on tomorrow, the meeting Quest called will be canceled anyway unless he wants to have it in our offices. So .. why not?”  It would be a good opportunity to maybe put a screw in Michelle’s plan, and turn the tables a little. “Here’s my card.” She handed over one from her wallet. “Give me a call.”

Ben eagerly squirreled away the card. “Boy, that was easier than I thought it would be.”

Kerry gave him a wry look. “Good night.” She circled around him and went over to the truck, resting one hand on the edge of the deck. “How’s it looking, guys?”

Lot better than it did when we started.” The younger of the techs noted. “Ma’am, you rock.”

Mark chuckled.

Kerry just grinned. “Well for the record, you all rock too, and not only I think that. Dar wanted me to tell everyone how much she appreciates the effort that was put in here tonight. She’s about to go into a board meeting, and you just made her evening a lot more pleasant.

Wheew.” Mark whistled. “Hey, you should get the credit, Kerry. We just did the grunt work.”

“It’s all a team.” Kerry shook her head. “Mark, can you get some people to take turns watching this, and keeping the generators going all night?”

“Already done.” Mark rocked up and down on his heels. “I got twelve guys lined up, three guys every four hours. First bunch’s due here in like, ten minutes to take over from these guys so they can beat ass home.”

“Good.” Kerry looked around into the dark areas surrounding them. “Do we need security?” She lowered her voice. “I can have Matt send some guys over from the office. It’s going to be a long night.”

“Yeah.” Mark agreed. “Good idea.”

Kerry stepped away a little and took out her cell phone, glad the ordeal was, for her, almost over. Then another thought occurred to her and she cursed silently, waiting for the line to connect. It did, and she spoke briefly to the security supervisor on duty, then disconnected and called another number.

“Hey, John? It’s Kerry Stuart. How are… ah.” Kerry could hear the chaos on the other end. “Ferries not running, huh?”  She exhaled, listening to the man’s exasperated tone. “Okay, well, thanks.” She closed the phone and sighed.  “Well, poo.”

“What’s up, boss?” Mark stuck his head around the corner of the truck. “No security?”

“No, they’re on their way over.” Kerry sighed. “But I just realized I have no way to get home. Our ferry system is down.”


“Yeah. Maybe I’ll go sleep on the beach… and poor Chino.” Kerry frowned. “Rats, rats, rats and fruit bats.”

Well, there was always a hotel. Kerry gave the side of the truck a slap. “C’mon, Mark. I’ll drop you back by the office for your car. Sorry about the bike.”

“Couldn’t have given it to me anyway.” Mark climbed down out of the back of the vehicle and joined her. “Garage doors won’t open.”

Hm. Kerry booted a rock out of her way as they headed for the Lexus. Power outages were much, MUCH more fun when Dar was around.

Otherwise, they were just one big pain in the poot.


A fire engine woke Dar up.  She sat up in a confusion of dark strangeness, street lights splashing an unfamiliar pattern across the sheets covering her as she spent a moment remembering where she was. The howl of the siren peaked outside, then slowly faded, piercing through the closed windows effortlessly.

Other sounds intruded after it. A chugging rumble, followed by a crash of metal against metal, some garbage truck, maybe. Then the soft, far off sound of a jackhammer.

Another siren, blaring suddenly to life almost under the window, loud and frightening, and much slower to fade.

“Damn.”  Dar hiked herself up and leaned back against the headboard, raking her fingers through her hair to move it out of her eyes as she waited for her heartbeat to settle back down. The darkness outside reassured her she hadn’t overslept her travel alarm, but now that she was wide awake she doubted she could take advantage of the remaining time to fall back asleep.

At least not without Kerry there. Dar reached for the television remote and shifted to a cross-legged position as she flipped the button on to check the news. They both enjoyed a morning cuddle, and slowly they’d adjusted their schedule to allow that, plus their runs, plus time to get ready for work without making it to the office too disgracefully late.

Sharing a shower helped. Dar grinned slightly. Though occasionally that backfired and threw their schedule off even more when they got the giggles and lost track of time while playing with each other.   Natural now, but she could remember a time when Kerry had been far shyer, still unsure of herself and far from confident in her attractiveness at the very start of their relationship together.

“A beach party?” Kerry circled one denim covered knee with both arms and rested her chin on it. “I don’t know, Col….” She glanced over at Dar, who was sprawled on the couch in Kerry’s apartment, flipping through a Linux magazine. “We’re sort of busy…”

Dar looked up. “What kind of beach party?” She asked. “Laying on the sand getting fried, or something that involves volleyball and barbeques?”

Colleen hesitated, a little doubtful of her friend’s newest friend. “Ah… more to the second, I’m thinking.”

Dar looked at Kerry, raising her eyebrows inquisitively. “You up for it? I can do the beach.”

Kerry was silent for a minute, then she nodded. “Sure.” She agreed. “Um… we’ll bring the drinks?”

“Great.” Colleen patted the couch arm, then she got up and scooted out the door. “See you at Crandon, in two hours.”

The door closed. Kerry frowned slightly, then released her knee and straightened. “Okay, well..I think I have extra towels here..

Dar got up and walked over to her, settling next to her on the loveseat. “You didn’t sound really stoked about the party.”

“Um… no, it’s fine. I like the beach.” Kerry said. “Really.” But there was a furrow in her brow that even Dar could clearly discern. “And the guys here at the complex are really nice.” She got up. “We’ve a few of these sort of parties.” The window seemed to fascinate her, and she walked over to stare out of it, her back towards Dar.

“Uh huh.” Dar studied her new partner. “Seem like a nice crowd. A little on the young, yuppy, gym addicted side, but all right.” She watched Kerry’s eyes shift briefly across the room to the mirror and her own reflection then back. A thought occurred to her.  “You embarrassed to show off your new girlfriend?”

Kerry turned all the way around and looked at her, eyes widening perceptibly. “What?”

Dar shrugged.!”


“So… what?” Kerry answered hesitantly.

Dar felt an uncomfortable sense of awkwardness. “I just get the feelng…” She saw Kerry’s hands tense. “That maybe you didn’t want to go there.”

“Oh.” The blond woman walked back over and crouched next to Dar, resting a hand on her knee.  “Well, no.. it’s just that I’ve just never been much of…” She exhaled. “You’re right. Most of the folks that live here are really buff and into looks and I..”

“Don’t want to upstage them?” Dar inquired mildly. “Doesn’t surprise me. You’re a lot nicer than I am.”

Kerry lifted her eyes and stared at Dar, caught speechless for several very long moments. “What?”

“What what?” Dar responded.

“What do you mean upstage?” Kerry added a short, hesitant laugh. “Maybe you upstage people. I don’t. Her eyes dropped to the carpet and stayed there. “Maybe I don’t want to embarrass *you*”

It was like a door opening up into a sunlit field she’d never seen before, and Dar had to wonder just what Kerry saw when she looked at herself in the mirror.

Well. Dar certainly knew what *she* saw when she looked at Kerry, and so rather than waste time on words, she slid off the couch and knelt beside Kerry, gently capturing her face in both hands and lifting it so their eyes made contact. “Kerry?”

Those big, green eyes were so trusting. “Yes?”

“Don’t be a jackass.” Dar said, smiling in reflex at the expression on her lover’s face. “You’re everything I want in a woman. You care about anyone else’s opinion?” The skin under her fingertips warmed as a blush colored Kerry’s face, making her pale eyebrows stand out vividly. Hm?”

Kerry remained frozen in place for the next several heartbeats. Then she hesitantly lifted her hands and let them rest on Dar’s waist, leaning forward a little as a look of shy, wondering delight grew in her eyes. Nu uh.”

Dar drew her closer and kissed her. “So let’s go to the beach.” She whispered in one still pink ear. “And scandalize your neighbors.”

Kerry didn’t answer. She just put her arms around Dar and squeezed her as hard as she could, robbing Dar of breath, but delivering a message as loudly as yelling would have.

Boy. Dar enjoyed a moment of utter giddiness. Being in love sure was a lot more fun this time around.

Yeah, it sure was. Dar rested her chin on her fist. Being in love with Kerry had brought her more joy than she’d ever considered possible, and that, she acknowledged silently, was what was messing her up so badly right now.

What if it all vanished?

Dar knew there were no guarantees in life. She also knew that sometimes, bad things happened, just like that had to her mother when her father had been lost. But losing Daddy in that way had been totally different than if he’d just walked out of their lives.

She didn’t expect that of Kerry. Her partner had proven to her more times than she could count her dedication to their relationship. But knowing that didn’t stop her from being scared anyway, and Dar wasn’t really sure of what to do about how she felt.

Well. She studied the screen, waiting for any news from home. It would probably pass, if she just chilled out for a while. She’d gotten past it at the very start of their relationship, after all.   Her eyes followed the scrolling marquee, and she winced as it reported the power outage still continuing.  “Crap.” 

With a grunt, she rolled over and retrieved her PDA from the nightstand, flipping it open and scanning the screen.  Not unexpectedly, there were several notes waiting. She clicked on the first one.


Dar, I haven’t slept in my car since the night of my high school prom, and it was a heck of a lot cooler in Michigan than it is here. Can I come to New York?


Aw.  Dar grimaced in sympathy, seeing the after midnight timestamp.  She clicked on the second.

I want my Dar.

Is it selfish to want you to be here with me down by South Pointe at 2am? I am waiting to see if I can catch a ride over home. The HK staff says Chino is okay, but not a happy puppy.


Silently, Dar clicked on the third, posted shortly after the 2nd.

Oo. Have I told you lately how much I love your parents? They just rescued me. Sleep tight, sweetheart. I’ll catch you in the morning.


Dar released a sigh of relief. Not that there was anything she could really do for Kerry, but knowing she was safe and sound in the hands of the two people she trusted more than any other in the world made her feel one hell of a lot better.  She tapped the message and set up a reply, then scribed briefly o\n the screen.


Tell mom and dad I say hi, and thanks for taking care of you.  Board meeting went fine last night – hope your ears were burning because you were the chief topic of it.

Let me know what’s going on with Quest. If the power’s still out in the morning, you might want to extend him a gracious invitation to use our conference facilities.

I’m going to go work out. Damn noise around here woke me up. Hope you slept okay – talk to you in the morning.


Four am. Dar clicked off the television and regarded the clock. She got up and rummaged through the hotel’s directory, flipping the pages until she found the one detailing the properties amenities.  A soft snort sounded when she spotted the hours for the gym. “Nine to ten. When the hell during those hours do they expect anyone to be up there?”

So much for that idea. Dar went back over to the bed and sat down. Too early for breakfast, either.  With a disgusted sigh, she laid back down and curled up on her side, tucking an arm around her pillow and attempting to relax.

I want my Dar.

Dar closed her eyes and ran the words over and over again in her mind with idle pleasure.  Kerry had really done a great job, and after spending all night telling the board that, Dar had even let her own lingering disappointment fade to nothing, trading it for a glow of pride.

As it should be, her conscience reminded her blandly. She doesn’t need you hovering over her every second, does she?

Dar exhaled. And she still didn’t know what it was that Kerry had done. The thing that Dar wasn’t going to like. The thing Kerry would not tell her unless it was in person.

A siren blared again, flashing red through her window.


Dark, sticky webs clung to her, wrapping her tighter and tighter in their embrace as a cruel laughter echoed around her. 

She struggled, but the more she fought, the worse it got, until she could barely move at all and the heavy, stinking threads were starting to wrap around her face.

She screamed into the wind.

The laughter continued, and worse of all, she was starkly, achingly aware of being totally, utterly alone.


Figures approached her, and she was grabbed by rough hands, helpless and unable to break away or protect herself.  She struggled anyway, desperately wrenching herself right and left to keep out of their clutches.

They just laughed all the harder.

But they stopped suddenly, and in all that silence, she heard the thunder of hoofbeats.

Kerry jerked away, heart pounding, her eyes sweeping the darkness as she tried to place herself. A second later, she slumped back onto the compact bed, her eyes blinking at the splattering of moonlight making patterns across the sheets. “Jesus.”

At the foot of the bed, Chino raised her head and whined, then curled back up again when Kerry showed no inclination to get up.

The boat rocked under her. Kerry tried to recall the fragments of her nightmare, but the details were swiftly fading, leaving her with only a vague, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. With a sigh, she pushed the light cover back and got up, circling the bed and making her way out of the small bedroom and into the galley of the Dixieland Yankee.

It was dark outside, but through the main cabin windows, she could see Andy and Ceci’s boat resting in the next slip in the moonlight. Kerry took a small bottle of orange juice from the cooler and walked over to the table, slipping behind it and sitting down as she popped open the lid.

Four am. Her eyes found the travel clock. “Oh well.” She spoke to Chino, as the Labrador appeared from the bedroom. “Two hours is better than nothing, huh, Chi?”


She propped her head up on one hand, hoping the nausea would subside and not force her to lose the few mouthfuls of juice and whatever else was left in her stomach. “Yeah, well… maybe you and I can go for a walk, huh? I don’t think I want to go back to sleep right now.”

Damn it.

Kerry pulled her PDA over and opened it, seeing the stutter of the message waiting flash. Her face creased into a grin as she saw the sender, and she tapped on the message to view it.  After she absorbed the first paragraph, she paused and reread it.

Then she reread it again, as she sipped her orange juice, still grinning.  The smile faded a little as she read the second paragraph, then evolved into a faint scowl as she read the third and checked the time stamp. “At four am? Dar!” She clicked over to a new message and scribed a quick note, then sent it.

You still there?

Moments later, the device flashed.

Yeah. Gym’s closed. You still up?

Kerry shifted her position, moving to the corner of the small couch and curling up into a ball with the moonlight coming over her shoulder . Not still. I had a bad dream. It woke me up and gave me a stomach ache.  And a headache, and a pain in her chest. But no sense in freaking Dar out too much.

Where are you?

Funny, how plain text could take on a concerned tone without any embellishment.  On the Dixie. Mom and Dad are parked next to us. Kerry scribbled.

Wish I was parked next to you.

Kerry felt her chest tighten further. Wish you were too. I hate waking up from nightmares alone.

I know.

Her last nightmare, months prior, had scared her so badly she’d woken up in tears, and Dar had insisted on holding her in her arms the rest of the night to allow Kerry to get back to sleep. 

Not that she objected. Being in Dar’s embrace was very gentle on her soul.

But she hated nightmares. It wasn’t anything graphic, in fact, Kerry hadn’t even remembered what it had been about minutes after she’d woken, but the sheer emotional impact of it had shaken her.

Just like the one tonight had, only she didn’t have Dar’s warm presence to chase the ickies away.  But this odd, disconnected conversation was making her feel better. Glad you’re around to talk to, anyway. She informed her partner. I feel better already.



I’ll always be here.

Kerry stared at the words in silence, hearing the echo of them in her mind. I know.  She wrote back.  You’re the cornerstone of my life.

The boat rocked softly under her, responding to the wake of an incoming vessel. Kerry tore her eyes from the screen to look outside, watching briefly as a huge sailing yacht cruised silently by, heading for the far end of the marina.

She looked back, but the screen was stubbornly silent. Dar?

I’m here. You just make me stop breathing when you write stuff like that sometimes.

Kerry smiled gently. Are we a pair of loons, sitting here at four thirty am writing mushy love notes to each other or what?

Yeah. (chuckle) But I think I can go back to bed now.

Funny. Kerry stifled a yawn. She’d just been thinking the same exact thing. The shadows from her dream had been chased away, and her stomach ache had eased. Me, too.  She got up and headed for the bedroom,  taking her PDA and her orange juice with her.

Inside the room, the moonlight flooded the bed, and Kerry crawled into its silver embrace. She fluffed up her pillow and settled down, curling onto her side and propping her PDA up where she could keep an eye on it. I just took you to bed.  She informed her partner.

(laughing) Ultimate nerd- sleeping with palm pilots.

Kerry started chuckling, too. Would that be your Indian name? Sleeps with Palm Pilots?

Only if you’re changing your name, Palm.

Chino trotted and jumped on the bed, giving Kerry an indignant look for her wanderlust, and for the bubbling laughter that was shaking the surface they were both laying on.  

Thanks, sweetie. I needed the laugh. Kerry finally sent. Me and Chi are going to try to crash.

There was a pause before the answer came.  I am too. Glad you tagged me – it was getting to be a long night.

Kerry let out a small breath, hearing so many levels in what Dar was saying, the written words far more expressive than her spoken ones would have been. For all it’s plain text, the messaging sometimes brought an intimacy that surprised her.  Yeah. Here too. Sleep good, okay? Wish good dreams at me.

You bet. Night, Ker. Love you.

Love you too, Dixiecup. Night.

Kerry tucked her stylus away and put her head down, acknowledging the ache in her chest that missed her partner’s presence. Though Dar had only been gone a few days, she felt a little anxious about her, sensing the rawness in their communication.

But there was laughter too, she argued silently. Dar was okay, just still a little shaken from their confrontation at the show.

A thought occurred to her. Maybe it was for the best that Dar was in New York, leaving Kerry to handle the ship bid.  That kept her away from the source of her upset, and gave her a chance to settle it all out before she came back and got involved.

Yeah. Kerry felt better about things. She would take care of the deal, and take the stress off Dar’s shoulders until it was time to get in there and just do it.  Her partner was working on an intriguing problem, one that she was perfectly suited for, and if Dar could focus on that and resolve it, good things would happen.

She was sure of it.  All she had to do was hold up her end of the deal, and keep Michelle and Shari focused on *her*.  Dar had told her she had complete confidence in her, right?  She’d spent a whole meeting tonight bragging about her, right?

So, Stuart, buck up and start living up to your billing. Kerry wriggled into a more comfortable position and closed her eyes. Shari and Michelle were convinced Dar was the key to winning their bid. It was up to her, then, to drop a smelly dead fish into their plans and force them to adapt to her style instead of her partners.

“I can do that.” Kerry whispered, as the boat’s gentle rock lulled her back towards sleep.


Love you too, Dixiecup.  

Nicknames. Dar wrinkled her nose at the screen. In the time she’d known Kerry, she’d acquired more nicknames than in the previous thirty years of her life. Dixiecup. Tiger. Taz…  She’d always hated people calling her names not her own, but that could have been because her prior monikers were never really that complimentary.

Ah well. Anything Kerry called her was all right, because no matter what the words were, there was always love behind it. So her partner could have called her Cheese Doodle, and she’d have accepted it.

Not that she was going to give Kerry any ideas in that regard, of course.

Dar felt twenty pounds lighter. She pulled the down filled quilt up over her shoulders and spared a glance at the alarm clock, making sure it was set to wake her up in time to get a shower before she had to go meet her German challenge.

She hoped Kerry wouldn’t have any more nightmares.  “Think good thoughts at her, eh?” Dar closed her eyes and concentrated on that, conjuring up images of some of the great times they’d had together, and focusing on the warmth and joy they shared.

In an instant, her body relaxed, and sleep crashed back over her.


Kerry walked out onto the back deck of the Dixie, leaning her weight on the railing as she regarded the start of what appeared to be a beautiful, if powerless, day.  The sun was just rising, and the water took on a luminous sheen as a flock of birds wheeled overhead, looking for breakfast.

“Mm.” She inhaled a breath of salt air, then climbed up the ladder to the flying bridge.  Sitting down in Dar’s usual seat, Kerry carefully set the switches, then turned the ignition for one of the big diesel engines that powered the boat. It rumbled to life immediately, and she adjusted the throttle to idle, letting the engine run to replenish the batteries inside the craft.

After a moment’s listening, Kerry nodded in satisfaction and made her way down the ladder to join a frisking Chino waiting at the foot of it. “Hey, Chi.” She greeted their pet. “How about some breakfast, hm? Want to have toast and coffee with me out here?”


“Okay, a banana, then.” Kerry went back inside and eased into the small galley, setting a teapot on the burner and opening the refrigerator. She’d brought down some staples from the condo last night, and now she selected a cinnamon and raisin English muffin to pop into the toaster. 

If Dar had been there, of course, she’d be hearing the tinkling of Frosted Flakes into a nearby bowl, along with the gentle, knowing bump of contact as Dar maneuvered around her in the tiny space.  Thinking about that made Kerry smile as she took out two slices of cheese and a small tub of soft butter.

“Ah well.” She took one of the mugs from its holder and set up the single cone of coffee over it, looking up  as the boat rocked more than the light surf would have caused it to.  Then a soft knock came at the door, accompanied by a shadow outside whose height betrayed its identify at once. “C’mon in, dad!”

Growf!” Chino scrambled for the door as it opened, and Andrew Roberts ducked inside.  The Labrador rushed over to him, wiggling in happiness as the tall man crouched to greet her.

“Hey, ya furball.” Andy rasped.

Kerry grinned at her father-in-law, who was dressed in his typical pair of shorts and sleeveless blue shirt, and barefoot as Dar would have been. “Morning.”

“Howdy there, kumquat.” Andy got up and ambled over, joining her at the galley’s small counter. “Ah see you’re up fore the gulls.”

“Mm.” Kerry finished her task and turned, opening the refrigerator again. “Want some OJ?”  She offered him a container. “You’re up early too.”

Andy accepted the juice and set it down, opening it with intent, precise motions that were so Dar’s image it almost made Kerry chuckle. “Spent a lot of years getting mah butt kicked out of bed at oh dark thirty.” The retired sailor admitted. “Long habit.”

“Uh huh.” Kerry retrieved her now toasted muffin and placed it on a plate, waiting for it to cool before she buttered it. “So, what’s Dar’s excuse?” She asked. “Because she’s better than a rooster, let me tell you. Minute the sun starts coming up, bing bong.. she’s right there with it.”

“Always been like that.” Dar’s father asserted. “Even as a tot.”

Kerry placed a slice of cheese on each half of the muffin. “Can I get you some breakfast, dad? Since I’ve now been trained to get up at the crack of dawn despite my inclination otherwise?” She gave him a knowing grin. “Especially since I’m going to have to beg for a ride back to the other shore?’

Andrew snorted. “You aint’ got to beg us for nothing, Kerry. It ain’t but a pleasure.” He eased into one of the comfortable chairs bolted to the deck. “But I’ll take one of them there round things if you got an extra around.”

Kerry popped another muffin into the toaster, and reached behind her for the teapot. She poured some hot water over the coffee grinds. “I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning… any word on power?”

Andy made a sound of disgust. “Fellers ain’t got no clue what they’re doing.”

That thought had occurred to Kerry quite a number of times the previous day too, as a matter of fact. “Well, I won’t argue with that. I just… “ Her cell phone rang. “Whoops. Scuse me.” She picked it up and opened it. “Kerry Stuart.”

“Morning, Kerry!” Alastair McLean’s voice was certainly a surprise. “How are you?”

Kerry blinked. “Um.. fine, sir.” She managed to get out. “How are you doing? It’s awfully early in Texas, isn’t it? Something wrong?”  Unconsciously, she ran her fingers through her sleep disordered hair, even though her ultimate boss was a thousand miles away.

“Not at all!” The CEO said. “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your hard work yesterday in getting those circuits up. Brilliant job!”

Kerry made a face, pleased with the praise but a trifle embarrassed at the vehemence. “Well, you know, I had the best teacher.” She demurred. “And really, the generator idea wasn’t mine. It was Dar’s.”

Andy sucked at his orange juice, watching her with gently twinkling blue eyes.

“Well now, you know that just figures, doesn’t it?” Alastair said. “I’m so glad you two make such a good team.”

Kerry’s eyebrows jerked up. “Well, I think so.” She responded cautiously. “I mean, I’m glad Dar knows when she’s tied up helping another client, that I can fill in when something happens and make sure it all comes right.”

“Absolutely.”  He replied. “Well, as I said, great job!”


There was a slight pause. “Ah, listen, while I have you on the line…”

Ah hah. Kerry leaned against the counter and cupped the phone to her ear as Andy’s muffin appeared and she tended to it. “Yes, sir?”

“Oh, Alastair, please. I can’t remember the last time Dar called me sir.” The CEO said.  “If she ever did.” He added, in a mildly bemused undertone.  “Listen, Kerry…I was talking with Dar last night, and you know..  hey, is she feeling okay?”

Kerry’s nostrils flared in surprised, and her eyes widened. “Ah.”

“I mean, you know it’s very hard to make that kind of call over the phone, but I’ve known her for a long time, and you know, she just didn’t sound right to me.”

Walking around the counter, Kerry handed Andy his muffin as she sat down next to him, trying to decide what to tell Alastair.  “Well, I know she was really frustrated with that client.” She temporized. “She wanted to be back here by yesterday, but they weren’t prepared.. now she has to work with their programmer, so yeah, she was sorta pissed.”

Andy’s eyes fastened on her face and his head cocked faintly to one side.

“That wasn’t really…” The CEO hesitated. “But everything’s all right otherwise? Her folks okay? You okay?”

It was amazingly personal, and Kerry realized at some level that Alastair’s query went beyond business. Her prior dealings with the man had given her the impression he genuinely liked Dar, and she could hear a note of honest concern in his voice now. “Everyone’s fine.” She replied. “In fact, her dad’s here right now.” She watched Andrew’s brow crease. “I think it’s just that we had a tough time at that show, and this whole ship bid is really aggravating.”

“Ah.” Alastair said. Telegenics, eh?”

“Yeah.” Kerry said. “She also hates New York.”

A low chuckle sounded through the phone. “I should have remembered that. Yes, you’re right. Well, long as everything’s okay, Kerry. Glad to hear it. You know Dar means a lot to me, right?”

“I know. She means a lot to me, too.” The blond woman said quietly. “Thanks for asking.”

“You take it easy today, you hear? Everything’s up and hunky dory, and I just got a call from Caradyne, and they’re happy as clams to be up. Wanted me to know it, so I thought I’d call and let you know it.” Alastair said, in a brisker tone. “Tell you what.. how about I bring lunch in for everyone? I’ll have Bea take care of it.”

“If you can find someplace whose kitchen has power.” Kerry reminded him. “That would be great.”

“Ah.” A sigh. “Well, everything’s just another challenge. You call me if you need anything, all right, Kerry?”

“I will.” Kerry promised. “Thanks.” She folded the phone up and rested her elbows on her knees, hesitating a second before she turned and met Andrew’s eyes. “Well, that was interesting.”

Yeap.” Andy agreed slowly, drawing the word out. His grizzled eyebrows twitched. “Something goin on with mah kid?”

Kerry thought hard about what to answer, for a totally different reason than she had with Alastair. “She’s okay.” She reassured her father-in-law. “We just had to deal with someone who gave her a really hard time way back when, and it shook her up a little.” She exhaled. “And I think, honestly.. she’s a little restless with the company.”

“Huh.” Andrew took a bite of his muffin. “Someone mess with her?”  He asked, deceptively casual.

She loved Andrew. Kerry felt a smile slowly tugging at her lips. He was forthright and honest, a proud man of unbending will whose adoration of his family was so absolute it touched the very soul.  So she knew his question was meant to ferret out whether someone had hurt his beloved daughter, and if that was so, well then Andy was apt to see what he could do about it.

There was, she acknowledged, a violence to him that could not be denied.  But then, Dar had that same dark thread running through her, though it was far more deeply hidden. “A long time ago.” She told Andy. “When Dar was younger… it was someone she got involved with who didn’t feel the way she did.”

Andrew scowled immediately.

“Yeah, well, I can’t understand it either, but anyway, she was pissed off, I was pissed off… it wasn’t fun. Then they’re part of this bid for the ship contract, so I’m sort of glad Dar’s not here. At least from my perspective,  I just get mad as hell and want to kick them.”

“Huh.” The big ex-sailor grunted again. “World’s full of jackasses sometimes.”

“Sometimes.” Kerry agreed. “But then there’s people like you, so it all balances out.” She rested her hand on Andy’s knee. “I guess it’s time for me to go take a shower and get to work. At least I got some sleep, thanks to you and mom.” 

Andy got up and tousled her hair. “Tell you what, kumquat. Ah’ll go light me some coals under that there boat, and wake up my pretty lady.  You get your gear squared away, and c’mon over when you got a mind to.”

Kerry watched him leave, then she stood up and went back to the galley, to take a gulp of her coffee and a bite of her own, now cool, muffin. She leaned on the counter for a moment, acknowledging the fringes of exhaustion still clinging to her from her lack of sleep.

For two cents she’d stay here and sack out.  Kerry glanced over at her PDA, which chirped. “But I don’t have two cents. So..” She trudged over and retrieved the instrument, glancing at it. A message from Mayte, already in the office.

Miss Kerry, Senor Quest has called, and is wanting to meet with you urgently.

“Kiss my ass.” Kerry exhaled, a little knot of worry now twisting in her stomach from her conversation with Alastair.  She sent a reply back, and put the pda down, turning to make her way back into the tiny head for a hopefully refreshing enough to wake up shower.

She only hoped Dar’s day was starting out better than her own.


The clock outside the hotel clicked to seven am, and as if on cue, the front doors swung open and disgorged a flood of people all heading purposefully out of the air conditioned lobby to somewhere else.

Dar took one look at the traffic in front of her hotel, and decided to walk instead. Accordingly, she turned and headed downtown, the early morning sun not yet oppressive as it splashed over her polo shirt and denims.

She’d settled for coffee and a banana for breakfast, after waking a bit later than she’d anticipated and rushing through a shower and dressing in some of the new clothing she’d purchased the previous day.

Shifting her briefcase on her shoulder, she lengthened her strides and picked her path through a slowly increasing stream of humanity, moving quickly to one side as a man walking a goat passed her going the other direction.

Dar kept moving, resisting the urge to turn and see if she’d really seen a hoofed mammal strolling down the sidewalks of Manhattan.  After all, she’d seen llamas in San Diego and alligators in Miami. What were a few goats?

The foot traffic was also busy,  everyone seeming to want to rush to work early on this Friday morning.  Dar relaxed into her walk, though, glad of the opportunity to stretch her muscles out in lieu of a session in the hotel’s gym.

She spent the time in the walk on deciding how to approach the problem facing her, knowing her first instinct – to simply run roughshod over the German coder – was probably not going to get her anything but a sense of personal satisfaction and a lot of long, screaming arguments.

Not that Dar really objected to long screaming arguments, but the longer the process took, the longer she had to stay here and put up with this noisy, crowded city that conspicuously lacked certain essentials such as her partner.

And she had decided, this morning while peeling her banana, that particular essential was something she intended to regain as soon as humanly possible.  So that meant she had to take a different tack with the programmer and gain his cooperation, if she could.

At least she would try. There was always hours of screaming to fall back on.  Dar’s nose twitched as she caught the scent of strong coffee, and she decided to duck into a nearby shop to take advantage of it, escaping minutes later with a jolt of claustrophobia along with her steaming cup.

Twenty minutes later, she was outside the office building. She applied herself to the revolving door and entered, a flickering grin crossing her face as she caught the expressions of the flannel clad and sweating woman she shared the door pocket with. “Morning.”

The woman merely nodded, and continued on her way once they cleared the entrance. Dar adjusted the strap on her briefcase and followed her towards the elevators, which already had a cluster of waiting bodies in front of them despite the relatively early hour.

The thought of getting into one of those elevators surrounded by all of them made Dar’s guts churn unexpectedly. With a grimace, she looked around for an alternative path, spotting an out of the way door marked ‘Exit’ to the left of the bank of lifts.

Dar checked her watch, and found she still had twenty minutes before her eight –o-clock appointment. Accordingly, she bypassed the crowd and pushed open the door to the stairwell instead. A flight of concrete steps confronted her, along with a nose-tickling musty scent, but she started up anyway, trotting lightly on the treads to an internal rhythm.

Fifteen stories later, she emerged into a typically painted hallway and made her way between rows of weave cubicles into the conference room she’d commandeered the previous day. It was, as of yet, still empty  and she set her briefcase down on the table as she leaned her arms against the wood surface, stretching her back muscles and flexing her legs,

Lousy scenery, she decided, but a nice workout, and no crowds.  As she sat down, the outer door opened and Jason Meyer entered, the VP Ops presenting a slightly harried appearance as he spotted her across the room.

“Oh. Good morning, Dar.”

“Hi.” Dar responded. “Where’s our programmer?”

“On his way from the airport.” Meyer assured her. “My assistant picked him up.”  He walked over, fussing with the pen in his hands nervously. “Listen, I’m glad I got a chance to talk to you before he gets here. There’s something you better know first.”

Dar sighed, and propped her chin up on her fist. “You know something?” She said. “If I had a buck for every time someone said that to me, I’d have retired years ago.”

Meyer sat down across from her. “This really isn’t funny.”

Dar gazed at him dourly. “I have to take my amusement where I find it. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t think this guy’s really going to be able to help you.” The man told her. He had sandy hair and now he scrubbed his hand through it, disordering the strands. “I talked to them when we first started up the servers… they know what the problem is. It would just take too much to fix it.”

“Too much what?”

“Time. Money.” Meyer admitted. “It means they have to rewrite their entire model.”

Dar studied his face. The man must have been in his mid forties. “Then why did you deploy it?”  She asked. “If you knew this going in? To save your ass?”

His eyes narrowed slightly. “We’re in a very competitive business, Ms. Roberts. This software gives us  the edge.”

Mild, blue orbs looked back at him. “Not if it doesn’t run.” She answered. “Know what I think? I think you didn’t give a rats ass about the effect on your infrastructure, because you figured your boss would just ask me to take care of it for you.”

Now his look was watchful. “Well, you’ve got quite a reputation.” He deferred the question. “Let’s hope you can live up to it. Otherwise, I know a couple of companies who’d love to take your place here.”

Ah. Knives were out. Dar allowed a sexy grin to cross her face. “You mean, like the one you own ten percent stock in?” She queried.

“I don’t…”

“You do. And I’d be careful if I were you.” Dar drove the point home over his words. “We public officers have a big spotlight on us these days.” Her ears picked up approaching footsteps.  “You made one bad choice already… want to risk a second?”

Meyer got up. “I’m not the one risking anything. You better be careful you don’t get in over your head.” He turned and walked out, using the back door to the conference room that lead down a short hallway to the executive offices. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving Dar in a momentary peace.

“Well, well.” Dar leaned back, letting the fingers of her right hand drum on the table. “Good thing I took the time to read that damn Wall Street Journal under my door this morning.  Bastard probably didn’t know he was on page thirty two.”

Her PDA bleeped. Dar opened it and tapped the waiting message, hoping she still had a few seconds before she was interrupted again.


Dar’s eyebrows lifted. Cautiously, she tapped reply.  Anything I can do, Ker?

(sigh) No. I’m okay. I just kicked my desk.

Why? Finally got over the color? Have it painted, babe.  Dar joked, though she was a little concerned over the note. Kerry didn’t usually assault her furniture without good reason.

I love the color. I just hate Peter Quest. He invited himself and that whole freaking circus here to our office, Dar! He didn’t even wait to ask!

Dar frowned. Jackass.

Boy, you can say that again. I almost told him to get lost!

Which might have been what he’d been looking for. To see how far he could push them. Did you make him wait?

The sense of smouldering frustration was almost tangible in Kerry’s answer. Yeah. I told them they had to wait until after we had our corporate lunch delivered from Plano.

Dar’s eyebrows shot up. Lunch? Alastair?

Yeah. Thanks for letting me vent.

No problem.  Dar scribbled back, glancing up as she heard the door latch start to work. Gotta go. Wish me luck.

Luck? Kerry’s answer flashed back. Honey, you’re way too good to need luck. Give them heck for me, okay?

Okay.  Dar hit send as the door opened. She set the PDA down and took a deep breath, resting her elbows on the conference table and settling her posture as a young woman entered, followed by a tall, handsome man in pressed khakis carrying a briefcase not unlike hers.

The woman met Dar’s eyes, and smiled briefly. “Okay, well, here we are. Hans, this is Dar Roberts from ILS, Ms. Roberts, this is Hans Erhard, and he’s the chief programmer for Etecknics.” With that, she stepped back. “Let us know if you need anything.”  She added, before she turned and left, closing the door behind her with a sharp snick of the latch.

Dar and the newcomer looked each other over in silence. Finally, Dar indicated the seat next to her, and lifted one eyebrow in invitation. The man agreeably walked over, putting his briefcase down and taking the chair, leaning on his elbows almost mimicking her position. “Hallo.”

“Hi.” Dar responded. “How was your flight?”

He gazed at her in complete incomprehension, just a polite smile on his face.

Dar decided to break out of the ground rules. She amiably repeated the question in German, a little surprised to see the man’s eyes light up. She’d been sure after her conversation with Meyer, that he’d filled their guest in on their plans. But the reaction so far from Hans was one of a pretty blank slate.

Unexpected. Pleasant, but unexpected. Dar didn’t much like surprises.  

“It was very good.” He answered in the same language. “Only too long. I am surprised to hear you speak my language, I thought no one on this side of the Atlantic spoke anything but English.” One hand extended over the table towards Dar. “And I am especially glad because I have heard so much about you, though I think we will not agree on very much regarding this problem.”

Dar took his hand and shook it, pleasantly surprised by his forthrightness. “Well, you never know.” She said. “Why don’t we start at the beginning, and see what we can make out of this mess.”

Hans inclined his head in agreement. “Yes, yes. But I think we should start with some coffee, since it is almost beer time for me right now. Is there somewhere here we can go?”

Well, this was starting out much better than she’d anticipated. Given the hostility she’d had from Meyer, the pleasant courtesy from Hans was duly appreciated, and she figured taking him out of the office to get some breakfast probably wasn’t a bad idea. If she could get his active cooperation, then maybe getting this resolved wouldn’t be as much of an uphill battle as she’d been afraid it would be. “Sure.” She stood up. “There’s a shop across the street. Let’s go over there, and you can start by telling me all about this little program of yours.”

“With my greatest pleasure.” Hans indicated that she precede him. “It is a project that I am very proud of, and never tire talking about, especially talking about it to a very respected colleague who has much to be proud of as well.”

Isn’t he charming.  Dar noted wryly. This might turn out all right.  “Ah.” She reached the outer door and opened it, stepping back to let him through. “Let’s just hope we can get both of these perfect products to work together.”

Hans chuckled as they walked to the elevator. “I did not claim my software was perfect, however.”

“Well, my network is.” Dar issued a faintly teasing challenge. “But I’m sure we’ll work something out.”  She watched his profile intently, but he only smiled easily and laughed. Yeah. This just might turn out all right after all.


Kerry had her hiking boots propped up on her desk, and a Styrofoam plate of Chinese food in her lap as the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. She turned her head and observed the gathering clouds, glad she was inside and cool and relatively comfortable.

With a sigh, she went back to her lunch, deftly picking up a mouthful of the spicy, nutty chicken with her chopsticks and getting it into her mouth without dropping saucy bits of rice over the front of her aqua blue polo shirt.

Casual was casual, but going into a meeting with three other companies and a client with a soy sauced stained shirt just wasn’t something she really wanted to do, and the only extra shirt she had in the office was one of Dar’s.

Conspicuously one of Dar’s, in fact, a company polo from some show or other with her name on it.

Hm. Kerry pondered a sloppy bit of water chestnut, then regretfully put it safely between her teeth.

A soft knock came at the door. She pondered adopting a less casual posture, then shrugged. “C’mon in.”

The door opened and Mayte entered, her slim form also encased in casual denim and cotton. She was carrying a sheaf of papers, and a shy grin crossed her face when she spotted her boss half sprawled over her desk. “Miss Kerry, I have the documents you asked for.”

“Bring em over.” Kerry waved her chopsticks at her. “Did you get lunch?”

Si.” Mayte put the papers down in Kerry’s inbox. “I have it outside. That was very nice of the big office to do for us.”

“Yeah.” Kerry selected a piece of chicken and bit into it. “Is the conference room ready? I told Mark to make sure our visitors get tagged badges so we don’t have to worry about them wandering around pressing their ears to the drywall.” She glanced up. “Sit.” She indicated the chair in front of her desk.

Mayte sat down, raising one hand to push her long, dark hair back behind her ear. “I think everything is ready, yes.” She said. “My mother said some not so nice things about some of the people. Is this a bad thing that is happening here, Ms. Kerry?”

“Could you do me a favor?”  Kerry asked.

“Of course.” Mayte answered instantly.

“Could you please just call me Kerry?” Her boss requested, giving her a hopeful look. “Otherwise I really feel like I’m trapped inside a bad Southern period movie.”

Mayte made a face.

“C’mon, it’s not that hard is it?” Kerry coaxed.

Her assistant smiled hesitantly. “No, it is not hard at all. I just feel that it disrespects you if I do that. You are my boss.”

Hm.” Her boss tapped her chopsticks together lightly. “Why do I think that particular argument might not really hold much water with me?” She inquired, a grave twinkle in her eyes.

Mayte blushed, a deep coral against her tanned skin, but didn’t answer.

Hm. Kerry decided to table the discussion for the moment. “Anyway, back to your original question. These people are part of the cruise ship bid that Dar and I have been working on.  The man asking for the bid invited himself here to have the meeting, because we’re the only ones who have power, apparently. I don’t really mind.. in fact, Dar suggested I ask them, but I don’t like people just assuming things.”

Si.” Mayte had recovered her composure, and now she nodded firmly.

“And… yes, we know two of the people who are bidding against us.” Kerry added, a trifle reluctantly. “One of them is a former client. The other… “ She exhaled. “Knows Dar from way back.”

Mayte blinked at her. “You do not like her.” She hazarded a guess.

Transparent as glass. Kerry sighed inwardly. “No.” She admitted. “But anyway, I’m hoping this meeting won’t be that long. We all presented a bid overview yesterday before the power outage started – I think he just wants to put the cards on the table, and ask for formal pricing.”  She scooped up some rice and a bamboo shoot. “And with any luck, I won’t have to sleep on the water again tonight.”


“I slept on the boat.” Kerry clarified, taking a sip of her herbal tea. “After I had to find a way to get out there… I got lucky and Dar’s folks found me over on South Pointe.”  She eyed Mayte. “How did you manage last night?”

“It was very hot.” Mayte confessed. “We went outside to the porch, we have screening there, and papa made us hamburgers on the hibachi.” She said. “We used candles and we slept outside. It was too hot inside.”

Jesus, you’re a lucky son of a biscuit, Kerrison. You have no idea. “Wow.” Kerry set her lunch down. “Yeah, I remember how hot it gets. Dar and I spent the night in the condo once without power.” Hot and edgy, with the storm raging around them and an even bigger one brewing inside them both. “What a night that was.”

“Papa went and got a generator very early today, when I told him what you did for the customers yesterday. He thinks you are very smart.” Mayte said. “It is much better for mama, too. She did not feel well at all.”

Kerry’s ears pricked up until she swore she felt the hair over them fluffing. “From the heat?” She asked casually.

“I think so.” Mayte replied. “She could not wait to come to work today.” A shy grin reappeared. “Me, either.”

“Well.” Kerry put her plate down and pulled her keyboard over. “If those losers don’t have the power back on by tonight, I’m authorizing all of you to stay here in the building overnight. I don’t want anyone getting sick, especially..” She gave Mayte a direct look. “Your mother.”

It took only a moment to type out the message. Kerry reread it a few times, anticipating the problems and objections to it, then she sent it, remembering to copy Dar visibly. “I know we don’t have cots or anything, but we do have showers downstairs.” She said. “And you and your mother can take over our offices.” She indicated Dar’s photo, sitting on the corner of her desk, then indicated her own chest.

Mayte’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, we can find other places…”

“Ah ah ah!” Kerry mock scowled at her until she subsided in meek silence. “It’s what Dar would want.” She continued in a softer voice. “Your mother means a lot to her, and I know she really appreciates all the support your mom’s given her over the years.”

Si, I know…” Mayte admitted. “I remember when mama came home one time, after there was no air conditioning here.”


Si. But she was so upset, because la jefa had stayed here all night, working so hard to get it all fixed, and the next day she heard so many horrible things about her, it made her very angry.”  Mayte said. “She said it was so unfair.”

Kerry shifted her position, crossing her boots and watching her screen fill with answers to her email, some marked with a  red exclamation point. “Yeah.” She murmured. “But you know what, Mayte? That was the day Dar and I met.”

“Oh! I did not know that!”

A faint smile appeared on Kerry’s face. “I don’t think she remembers the air conditioning any more than I remember her intending on firing me.” She sighed and removed her feet from the desk, sitting up and draining her tea cup.  A glance at her watch told her she was running low on time, but she paused to glance at her mail.

Protests. She’d expected that. People objecting to her opening up the offices, thinking more of propriety than of the simple but basic comforts the building could provide.

Then – “Ah.” Kerry clicked on one mail  at the very end of the list and opened it.

From: Roberts, D.

To: Miami Users All

Cc: Stuart, K.

Damn good idea, Kerry. 


Past that mail, the objections petered out, replaced with acknowledgements, brief, and conspicuously without exclamation marks. Kerry clicked on the reply button and typed a brief, three word, eight letter response and sent it back to Dar alone, then got to her feet. “Okay. I’m going to that darn meeting. If anything blows up here, message me.”

“I will.” Mayte got up as well, and walked with her to the door. “M..” She paused, wrinkling her nose as Kerry cleared her throat. “Kerry, may I ask you something?”

“Sure.” Kerry put her hand on the door handle and leaned on it.

“This person who is coming here, who my mother does not like and you do not like… she did something bad to la jefa, is that not so?”

Kerry nodded briefly.

“Mama heard this woman talks bad about Dar, is that true too?” Mayte asked.

Green eyes took on a hint of steel. “Yes.”

Mayte nodded solemnly. “La jefa means much to my mother as well. She told me this time, if she hears people saying unkind things about her, she will go get the janitor’s broom, and make them fly with it.”

Kerry spared a moment to imagine her lover’s short, feisty administrative assistant chasing Shari down the hallway with a broom and unexpectedly burst out laughing. She leaned against the door and held her stomach, trying hard to catch her breath as the image played itself out over and over again in her mind.

Mayte blinked at her in alarm. “My mama is serious!”

“Oh.. I know.” Kerry slid down the wall and just kept laughing. “But now I gotta figure out how to bug the conference room so she can hear it all and crank the broom up!”

“But…” Mayte sounded very puzzled. “You want her to do this?”

Kerry finally let the laughter run down, and just sat there, one knee raised with her arm resting on it and looked up at her assistant.  “Don’t worry about it, Mayte.” She finally exhaled. “Your mama won’t have to do a damn thing.” 


“No.” Kerry’s voice was quiet and serious now. “Because I’ll do it first.”  She got to her feet and dusted herself off. “They’re on my turf now.”  A breath later, she opened the door and went through it, heading for the conference center with a grimly determined air.