Terrors of the High Seas
Kerry felt Dar’s hands come to rest on her shoulders as she stood in the doorway, waiting to spot a table to sit at. The tables here were rough and wooden, and the atmosphere casual and very relaxed. She spied a free table and started easing her way through the crowd, when Dar’s hold on her tightened and pulled her to a stop. Curious, she turned and looked at her. “What’s up?”
“Let’s sit over there.” Dar pointed to a small table near the window.
“There?” Kerry squinted. “Oh.” She recognized the faces at a nearby table as the people they’d seen escorted by the police that afternoon.
Dar led the way over, taking the rearmost seat against the wall as Kerry settled in across from her. She glanced casually at the table next to them, where the five hijacking victims sat. They still looked shaken, and not very happy, but as she watched Dar realized one of them seemed familiar. She leaned back and searched her memory, trying to place the oldest man’s distinctive profile.
“Two of whatever this rum special is.” Kerry told the cute waitress, who had stopped by with her tray at the ready. She put the table tent down and looked over at Dar. “Boo.”
With a start, Dar glanced back at her. “Sorry.” She rested her elbows on the table. “One of those guys looks familiar.” She indicated the next table with a jerk of her head.
Kerry’s eyes shifted. The people at the next table were somber, hands clenched around near empty glasses, and there was a sense of tense shock still about them she put down to their ordeal. One of the women was about her age, also blond, but with tightly curled hair and wide, amber eyes. She seemed to be the most shaken, and even in the low light of the restaurant Kerry could see she’d been crying. “Those people who got hijacked, you mean?” She asked, lowering her voice.
“Mm.” Dar turned her head slightly, studying the other table without really appearing to. Kerry did the same; but none of the men looked familiar to her so she turned her attention back to Dar, lifting a brow in question. “Not to me.”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “I think…” She paused, and then leaned on her chair arm, catching the older man’s attention. “Jacob?”
The man started a little, and then peered at her uncertainly. “I’m sorry, I don’t…” He leaned a little closer. “Good heavens... Dar?” He swiveled in his seat and extended a hand, an honestly pleased expression crossing his face. “Dar Roberts!”
Dar took his hand and returned the grip. “How are you, Jacob? It’s been a long time.” Very long, Dar realized. She’d last seen Jacob Wellen over six years ago, at a technical convention in Las Vegas.
“It certainly has.” Jacob smiled. He was a man of medium height, and build, with wiry gray hair and a close trimmed beard and moustache. “What a great surprise. Here.” He turned to his friends, who had turned to look at Dar. “Folks, this is an old colleague of mine, Dar Roberts.” Jacob said. “Dar, this is my wife Minnie, and her brother Richard, and this is my son Todd and his fiancée Rachel.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Dar replied courteously, and then half turned. “This is my partner, Kerrison.” She introduced Kerry. “Jacob and I survived the last great Reorg you’ve heard so much about.”
Kerry stood and took Jacob’s hand. “My sympathies.” She grinned. “I’ve heard.” Her eyes shifted to the rest of the table. “Hello.” The returning greetings were cordial, if a little restrained. Kerry wasn’t sure if that was due to the circumstances, or her introduction as Dar’s partner, but she gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed the former.
Jacob shifted his chair over. “Why don’t you pull that table over, Dar, and join us.” He suggested. “We have plenty of room.”
The others shuffled their chairs to one side while Dar edged their smaller table over, then everyone sat back down again. “What a coincidence, bumping into you here, Dar.” Jacob said. “You out here on business?” He turned to the rest of his family before Dar could answer. “Dar’s the CIO of ILS now. One busy lady.”
“Nope” Dar replied, lacing her fingers and resting her chin against them as she propped her elbows on the table. “We’re on vacation, as a matter of fact. What about you? Still working out in Australia?”
“Just got back.” He said. “Thought we’d take a tour through the islands before we settled back in the States again.” His face crumpled into a frown. “Bad idea that turned out to be.”
“Dad.” The young woman murmured.
“Why?” Dar asked. “Seems like a nice place.”
“Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving, as many folks found out about you, huh?” Jacob sighed. “Let me tell you what happened to us last night.”
“Dad!” The young man interrupted. “They said not to talk about it.”
“Thanks, kids, but I know what I can say to who I can say it to.” Jacob told them, with a tolerant smile. “Dar here may look about your age, but she’s got more savvy up top than anybody I ever met.”
Dar snorted. “You only say that because I saved your butt in Paris.”
The waitress returned, setting down Dar and Kerry’s drinks. She took in the table arrangement without blinking, then caught Kerry’s eye. “Get you something to eat?”
Kerry glanced over the small menu. “Can you get us two bowls of the stew, two baked yams, and some of this?” She pointed to the bread.
“Sure.” The woman smiled at her, then took the menu and disappeared into the crowd. Kerry turned her attention back to the table, interested to hear Jacob’s side of what had happened. She noticed furtive glances from the younger pair and she returned the looks with mild amusement. Another thing to add to her coincidence list - one of the people the pirates chose to attack just so happened to be an old colleague of Dar’s. What were the odds of that, really? Certainly, ILS had a huge employee base, and they were a worldwide organization, but sheesh!
Jacob rested his arms on the table. “It was like something out of a really bad movie of the week.”
“Been there, done that.” Kerry murmured, under her breath.
“We were out off the big reef just north of here, fishing.” Jacob went on. “It was getting on to dark, so we were about to pack it in and come into dock, when this big, racy boat came up to us.”
“Black?” Dar hazarded.
“No.” Jacob shook his head, with a frown. “White with blue trim, why?”
“Anyway, I figured they needed some help, or their radio was out, you know…”
“Sure.” Kerry nodded. “You want to help people if you can.”
“Right.” Jacob said. “So I let em pull up and tie on, and next thing I know, the damn bastards…” He glanced up. “Pardon me, ladies.” He gave them an apologetic look, and then returned his attention to Dar. “Damn bastards jumped on board, and pulled guns out!”
Dar affected a surprised look. “Guns? For what? What did they want?”
“Everything.” Rachel muttered. “And boy, were they obnoxious about it.” She shook her head. “They scared my mother, pushed us around – it was awful.”
Kerry gave her a sympathetic look. “I bet it was. That’s just lousy.”
“Yeh.” Todd added. “Wouldn’t have been so tough without those guns. They were just punks.”
His tone was sullen, and it was obvious, at least to Kerry, that his pride had taken a beating. “Did they say anything to you? Who were they?”
“Didn’t say.” Jacob took up the story again. “Just told us they were taking the boat, and left us on a sandbar with a handheld radio, and nothing else.” He shook his head in disgust. “Punks. Todd’s right. They were just two bit Johnny’s with a couple of rifles.”
“They took your whole boat?” Kerry asked.
“And everything on it.” Jacob agreed wryly. “Did I feel like a jackass? You betcha.” He sighed, picking up his drink and draining it. “Good thing there was a marine patrol that came by about a half hour, forty five minutes later, and rescued us before the tide came in.”
“Wow.” Kerry murmured.
“Did they say what they were doing it for, Jake?” Dar asked. “Just for money or what?”
The older man shook his head again. “Didn’t say a word, Dar. Just told us to get off the boat, and that they were taking it. No reason, no if’s and’s or but’s.”
The waitress returned at that moment, with a large tray. She set down food for both tables, and the conversation ceased while everyone got their plates.
Dar pulled her plate over, and inspected the bowl nestled beside a steaming baked yam that smelled of vanilla and nutmeg. The waitress put a basket of hot bread in the middle of their table, and then set another round of drinks down for Jacob’s party. Dar held her own glass up, and indicated Kerry’s, and the woman took them with a smile as she retreated back towards the kitchen.
“So.” Dar took a piece of the bread and dunked it into the stew, then bit a piece off and chewed. “What’d the cops say?”
“Ahh.” Jacob waved a hand in disgust. “The usual. Asking us a million questions, telling us how shocked they were, that this never happens, blah, blah, blah.”
Kerry looked up and met Dar’s eyes. One of her pale brows lifted.
“They did, huh?” Dar murmured. “Let me guess. They told you to just file quick as you can with your insurance, and they’d do their best to find the boat before it left the island, right?”
Jacob looked at her with honest surprise.
“Yes, that’s right.” Todd blurted, equally surprised. “How’d you know?”
Dar’s eyes narrowed and a faintly unpleasant smile appeared on her face. “Let’s just call it a hunch.” She said. “So, what’s your plan now? You going to head back to the States?”
Jacob was cutting into a steak, and he put his knife down before he answered. “Nah. Figured as long as we were here, we might as well stick around for a few days; get some fun out of the whole damn thing.” He patted his wife’s hand. “Give Minnie here a chance to get over all the nastiness.”
“It was awful.” His wife agreed softly. “Ms. Roberts, you can’t imagine how awful it was. Those men were acting like it was one big game to them. Like we were just toys.”
Kerry forked pieces of meat out of her stew and ate them as she listened, turning the new information over in her mind. The meal was very good, and she copied Dar in dunking the hot, herb infused bread into its broth. Jacob and his family seemed to be relaxing a little and she guessed that after a few days, the horror of what had happened would probably fade quickly.
The pirates, though seemingly scary, had affected their plan in a very quick, very efficient manner. They hadn’t risked keeping the family on board; they’d just found a convenient spot and simply taken them off, leaving possession of the boat and all its contents to them. She suspected they’d taken the vessel around to some sheltered cove to rummage through it at their leisure.
Quick, efficient, and practiced. It was obvious to Kerry that they’d done the deed before, and had their routine down pat. From Dar’s comment earlier, she suspected her lover had come to the same conclusion. She wondered if there was anything they could actually do about it?
“Jake, you didn’t keep a maintenance log on your boat, did you?” Dar asked, suddenly.
Everyone looked at her curiously.
Jacob finished chewing, and swallowed, wiping his mouth hastily. “Well… not me, no, but my captain did, I betcha. Why?” He asked. “Hey, speaking of – you flew out here, didn’cha?”
Dar shook her head. “No.” She said. “We’re docked out in the marina. Did your captain keep the log on the boat, or back at home?”
“Boy, you better be careful.” Jacob said. “Don’t you be going out far around here, Dar. I’d sure hate to have happen to you what happened to us.”
Kerry had to muffle a smile at the irony. “We’re always very careful.” She said.
Jacob shook his head. “Well, anyway. I think Rick kept the log with his gear, and I can’t be sure if he left that onshore or not.” He said. “Why, Dar?”
“If he’s got part numbers, and the pirates try to sell the boat, it can be tracked.” Dar remarked mildly. “Might take a while, but…”
“That’s a great idea.” Todd burst out, enthusiastically. “Then we can find those creeps!” He turned to his father. “I bet Rick has that book. We should give it to the police!”
“We can’t let those guys just get away with this, Dad!” The young man protested. “That’s what they all want us to do, just go away, and lick our wounds, and forget about it. No way!” He slapped his muscular hand on the table.
“Todd!” Minnie frowned at her son.
“He’s right.” Dar interjected. She waited until all of them looked at her in surprise. “It is what they want. You’re not the first victims, and I’m betting you won’t be the last.” She rested her forearms on the table. “So if you do have that log, it’ll help. But don’t give it to the cops.”
They stared at her in shock for a long moment after she finished speaking.
“Not the first?” Jacob said, hesitantly.
“No.” Kerry took up the conversational ball, giving Dar a chance to eat. “There’ve been a number of hijackings around here recently, but no one wants to talk about it, because it would scare people off.” She explained. “I think that Dar thinks…” She glanced at her lover. “It may be a local gang doing it.”
“Well.” Jacob looked aghast. “Son of a bitch.”
“Look.” Todd leaned closer to Dar. “Whatever you think of doing to maybe stop them, count me in. We need to do something.” He said. “I’m gonna call Rick as soon as we’re done in here, and I’ll see if he’s got that book.”
“Do you really think…? “ Minnie spoke up hesitantly. “Perhaps the authorities would be better to deal with this, wouldn’t they?”
“You heard her. They’re probably in on it!” Todd stood up. “I’m so mad, I gotta go kick something. C’mon, Rach.” He held a hand out and assisted his fiancé to her feet. “Let’s go.”
The two young people threaded their way out of the restaurant, disappearing into the crowd.
“Damn hothead.” Minnie’s brother Richard spoke for the first time, removing his face from his beer mug. “What in hell’s got into that kid, Jacob?”
Jacob shook his head, still visibly upset. “Dar, I can’t believe the people here know this is going on, and they just let people keep coming in. That’s… that’s… “
“Piracy.” Dar supplied, succinctly. “Yeah, well… maybe the cops aren’t in on it, maybe they just don’t want the tourist boat rocked, but something doesn’t smell right to me about the whole thing.” She finished up the last bit of her stew, wiping the bottom of the bowl with a bit of bread and munching it.
“We don’t want any trouble.” Richard muttered “I think we should just leave, and go the hell home.” He looked around. “This place gives me the creeps anyway.”
“That’s cause you can’t cope with any place that doesn’t have slot machines in the bathroom.” Jacob snorted. “Just relax, would you?” He turned to Dar. “Listen, Dar… he’s right about one thing. We’re not looking for trouble here. If the local cops don’t want to stir things up, neither do I.”
Dar leaned her chin on her fist and regarded him.
“Dar, don’t give me that look.” Jacob sighed. “Look, I know what you’re thinking…”
Dar’s eyebrows lifted visibly.
“I’m not a crusader. Never was.” The man stated. “I got my family here, and if that’s the deal, and this is all a scam, then I’m willing to do my part and go file my claim and let em have it. Damn thing leaked anyhow.”
“Damn right.” Richard agreed. “Minnie doesn’t need any more trouble, either.”
Minnie looked profoundly relieved.
Dar rolled her eyes towards Kerry, and they exchanged looks. “That’s okay.” Kerry gave them a gentle smile. “We understand.”
Jacob relaxed a little. “It’s not that I think its right.” He stated.
“Of course not.” Kerry said. “Its better you leave it for Dar and I to handle.”
Jacob blinked at her. “Come again?”
“We’ll take care of the pirates. No need for you to get involved – after all, you’ve been through a lot, and I’m sure you just want some time to rest.”
Minnie leaned forward a little. “Honey, those men are dangerous.”
“Life is, sometimes.” Kerry smiled kindly at her. “But Dar and I have a knack for getting through things.” She looked up as the waitress returned. “Sometimes you just gotta go for it. Can I get two of the Island Volcano sundaes, and another rum punch?”
“Sure.” The waitress beamed at her. “Anything for you, ma’am?” She glanced at Dar.
“I think one of those sundaes is mine.” Dar replied drolly.
Kerry grinned, and then returned her attention to Jacob. “Anyway, don’t you worry about a thing. We can handle this on our own.”
“Now, wait a minute…” Jacob protested.
“No no – we understand completely.” Kerry held a hand up. She sucked the rest of her rum punch down to the bottom, feeling a mild buzz starting. It surprised her, and she tried to figure out how many beers equaled one of the punches. Two? Three?
Yikes. That meant she had already drunk the equivalent of six beers. Maybe she should pass on the next rum punch.
“Well, now, you listen, Dar.” Jacob was saying.
Was it six?
“I know what I said, but if you two really think we should do something…”
Or was it only four?
“You can count on us.”
Heh. Gotcha. Kerry chuckled silently to herself.
An overwhelming smell of chocolate suddenly snapped her out of her musing. Kerry blinked as a bowl of ice cream, fudge, more ice cream, more fudge, a brownie, maybe another brownie, covered in a chocolate shell whose top had a flame coming out of it was put in front of her. “Wow.” She said. “This damn thing’s as big as my head!”
Dar chuckled at her. “I want to do some more checking around, Jake, before we decide on what to do.” She said. “But I’ll keep your offer in mind.”
“You do that.” Jacob said.
Kerry contentedly doused her volcano’s flame, and cracked the chocolate shell keeping her from the ice cream inside. Casually, she glanced around the room, glad not to see the familiar faces she half expected to. Maybe the goons had decided to take the night off.
The waitress set her third rum punch down, and took away the empty. Kerry eyed it, and wondered if chocolate possibly counteracted rum.
Hm. Guess she’d find out.
Dar scrubbed her teeth, flicking the occasional glance into the mirror as she worked. Se rinsed her mouth out, then poked her head around the corner of the bathroom door and peered over at the bed. Kerry was sprawled across it, on her back, looking extremely relaxed.
“Hey. Paladar.” Kerry drawled. “Get over here.”
Ah. Dar sighed. The times I choose to leave my voice recorder at home. She eased around the door and entered the room, settling down on the bed next to Kerry. “Yeees?”
One green eye opened and looked at her. “You let me get drunk. Bad girl.”
Dar grinned at her. “You’re really cute when you’re drunk, did you know that?” She touched Kerry’s cheek, and felt the pressure as Kerry leaned into her fingers. “Besides, you were due.”
“Uh huh. See if you say that when I’m sick as a three day dead toad tomorrow.” Kerry warned her. “Hope you like cleaning up.”
Dar slowly stretched out alongside her. “I’ll take care of you, don’t you worry.” She promised.
“I ain’t worried.” Kerry said, reaching over to play with a bit of Dar’s hair. “I got you.” She watched Dar’s face through half closed eyes. “Y’know how cool that is?”
“How cool what is?” Dar asked.
Kerry turned her head and regarded the ceiling for a few moments. “First time I ever really got drunk was when I moved here.” She said. “I think I went nuts for a while.”
Dar wriggled a little closer and curled her arm around Kerry’s. “After leaving home? Lot of people do that.”
“S'true.” Kerry agreed. “Nobody telling me what to do, who to talk to... where to go. Felt great.” She looked at Dar’s hand, resting casually on her shoulder. “Like I was an animal, out of my cage.”
Dar chuckled softly. “I’m sure you weren’t that bad.”
Kerry met her eyes. “Yeah, I was.” She admitted. “Then… one night... I still don’t remember it a whole lot, but I woke up in my car half on the beach near a tree, and didn’t know how’n the hell I got there.”
Dar’s brows contracted a little.
“Couldn’t remember a thing.” Kerry murmured. “Scared the shit out of me.”
“I bet.” Dar moved closer.
“I remember sitting there, kinda wondering what the whole damn point was?” Kerry shook her head a little. “I felt so empty.” She turned and looked at Dar. “I felt like... if I’d have kept driving, right into the water, no one would have given a crap.”
Dar merely gazed compassionately at her.
“Just another sordid back page story. Senator’s kid, drunk off her ass, drowns.”
“S’true, and you know it.” Kerry smiled sadly. “I had no clue what it felt like to really matter to somebody.” She interlaced her fingers with Dar’s. “Didn’t know what it would be like to be a part of someone’s life.”
“Well.” Dar studied her face. “You do now.”
Kerry grinned easily. “Yeeeahh… I sure do.” She rolled onto her side unsteadily, and pulled Dar’s hand close to her. “That’s what’s so cool.” She said. “I got you.”
“You got me.” Dar agreed, carefully gathering Kerry up into her arms and hugging her. There was no resistance in her lover’s body; Kerry meshed her limbs into Dar’s embrace with total abandon, humming softly in delight as Dar rocked them gently on the bed. “You got me, Ker, I got you, and that’s how that is.”
“Uumrrrmm… I love you so much.” Kerry warbled, her breath warm against Dar’s neck. “You make my life rock.”
Dar was extremely surprised to feel tears well up in her eyes. She blinked, and they spilled out over her cheeks, disappearing into Kerry’s pale hair as she swallowed the lump in her throat. She stroked Kerry’s head and kissed her, knowing a moment of pure joy so intense there were no words for it.
True happiness was, she’d discovered somewhere in the last year, making someone else happy. A damn simple concept, really, that somehow escaped all the laboriously written motivational manuals.
Dar sniffled slightly.
Kerry squirmed around to look up at her. “Hey, BooBoo... “ She reached up and gently wiped Dar’s eyelids. “What’s’matter?”
“Nothing.” Dar’s lips quirked. “Booboo? You been watching too many cartoons again, Kerrison?”
Kerry poked her lower lip out, and grinned sheepishly. She hid her face in Dar’s shoulder as a giggle escaped. “I am so tanked.” She muttered. “I’m channeling an animated bear.”
Dar chuckled. “Tell you what, Yogi, let’s get your clothes off, and get you into bed.”
“Is that a plan or an invitation?” Kerry giggled again, but she eased back and rolled over, covering her eyes with her arm. “Too bright in here.”
Dar started with her sneakers, untying them and tugging them off, then working Kerry’s interestingly striped socks off her feet.
“Ooo.” Kerry wiggled her toes. “Can I get drunk more often? I like being undressed.”
“You do, huh?” Dar slid back up her lover’s body and unfastened the button on her shorts, moving the zipper down. “Well, just so happens I enjoy undressing you, so that works out great.” She eased the shorts off, aided by a helpful wiggle of Kerry’s hips, then pulled them off and tossed them over onto the chair. “Half down, half to go.”
Kerry put her hands behind her head. “Do your worst.” She grinned.
Dar slipped her hands under Kerry’s t-shirt and slid them up, pulling the fabric with them. She leaned over and gently kissed Kerry on the lips, before she bunched the shirt up and eased it over her head, returning for another kiss as she finished.
“Mmm.” Kerry had her eyes closed. “I definitely like being undressed.”
Dar tossed the shirt towards the chair. “I’ll have to remember that.” She slid her hands behind Kerry’s shoulders and rolled her over onto her side so she could undo the catches on her bra. She felt a tug at her waist, and then heard the soft sound as Kerry unbuttoned one of her overall buttons. “Hang on a minute here.”
“Hang on?” Kerry tangled her fingers in the straps and pulled. “Okay.”
Dar chuckled, as she eased her partner’s grip. “Let me get you some water.”
“Water?” Kerry folded her hands on her now bare stomach, watching amiably as Dar removed her half clad body towards the credenza. “We never needed no water before.”
“To drink.” Dar poured from the bottle on the dresser into a glass, and then returned to the bed.
“Is it warm water?”
“No. It’s cold water.”
“I’m cold. Don’t want no cold water.”
Dar set the glass down, then pulled the covers on the bed down and knelt, sliding her arms under Kerry’s knees and shoulders and shifting her over. She pulled the covers up then handed her the glass. “Sweetheart, you gotta trust me on this one. Drink.”
Kerry clasped the glass, studying it seriously. She peered at Dar over the rim, her blond hair partially in her eyes. “Okay.” She finally said. “If you tell me how come you were crying before.”
Dar blinked, not expecting the question. “Oh.” She cleared her throat a little. “It was just... um... you said something that really touched me, I guess.”
Dar nodded. “Yeah.”
“In a good way, right?”
Kerry stuck her nose in the glass and drank its contents, lifting it up and letting the last drop drip into her mouth before she handed it back to Dar. “Now what?” She inquired. “Do I turn into a pumpkin?”
“You turn into a beautiful sleeping princess.” Dar quickly stripped out of her clothing and joined Kerry under the covers.
“Does that make you the frog?” Kerry giggled.
“C’mere.” Dar gathered Kerry into her arms again, and turned the light out. It was quiet for a moment.
“I’m gonna really regret this in the morning, ain’t I?”
“You are too, huh?”
“Eh.” Dar rubbed Kerry’s neck. “We’ll survive.”
“I love you.”
Dar smiled into the darkness. “I love you too, Ker.” She let her eyes close, hoping she could remember her father’s old hangover remedy by tomorrow morning.
Though, she wasn’t entirely sure Kerry would consider it better, or worse than what it was supposed to help in the first place.
Or if they had Bosco syrup on St. John.
Dar prowled through the aisles of the small grocery, one of the few customers so early in the morning. She had a small basket hanging off her arm that already had a quart of milk in it, along with a box of Oreo cookies. She spied a bottle of chocolate syrup and snagged it, studying the label.
Ah well. It would have to do.
She made her way to the soda aisle and selected two bottles, then analyzed her basket’s contents and retraced her steps to the refrigerated case, swapping her quart of milk for a half gallon. Satisfied, she walked up to the single register and set her selections down.
The cashier picked up each item and punched its price into the old fashioned cash register. “Got you some kids, huh?” She smiled at Dar.
Dar peered at her over the top of her sunglasses. “No.” She handed the woman a twenty dollar bill, and accepted her change back. “It’s my breakfast.”
The woman looked at the bag, then at Dar.
Dar pushed her sunglasses back up and took her bags, heading for the door as a young couple entered, stopping short when they recognized her and reacted.
“Hi.” Todd said. “Sorry about last night.”
In an instant, every ear in the place seemed to turn their way. Dar suppressed a wry grin. “Don’t worry about it.”
Rachel put a hand on Todd’s arm. “We’ve heard a lot about you.”
Erf. “I can imagine.” Dar replied. “Take it with a grain of salt.”
“Well, we just came in to get some breakfast.” Todd glanced around. “Maybe if you’re not busy later, we can sit down and talk?”
“Sure.” Dar eased around them and slipped out the door.
Rachel gazed after her. “She’s weird, Todd.”
Todd steered her towards the grocery aisles. “No she’s not. You’re just freaked out because she’s gay.”
“I am not.” Rachel protested, noticing the looks they were getting from the cashier. “Don’t make like I’m some white bread JAP.”
“Oreos on the left there.” The cashier pointed helpfully. “Got lots of em.”
Todd and Rachel exchanged puzzled glances, and then shrugged.
Dar wrapped the handles of the plastic bags around her hands and started on her trek back to the room. She’d left Kerry asleep, after they’d both stirred before dawn, and she’d heard the pathetic moan as Kerry regretted opening her eyes.
It was clouding over, Dar noticed, and far off she could hear a faint rumble of thunder. That was good, because a stormy morning gave her a chance to pamper her ailing sweetie and not have Kerry feel too awful about missing out on any fun.
In fact... Dar glanced up as a faint, first spattering of rain hit her shoulders. She gauged the distance back to the section of the resort they were staying in, and broke into a jog. As she ran, she took a tighter hold on the bags to keep them from swinging, and crossed the expansive grounds at a very fair clip.
She hurdled a hedge, taking it in stride, and then turned towards the building. Halfway there she moved to one side of the path, seeing someone coming in the opposite direction. The tall man, however, saw her shift and moved directly into her way, holding a hand up.
Dar contemplated simply running him down. He was tall, but relatively thin, and she calculated she probably outweighed him. She studied his face as she approached, seeing a chiseled, hawk like visage, clean shaven, with a cap of graying dark hair.
The suit he was wearing, she realized, was silk, and his very attitude projected the fact that he expected her to do whatever it was he wanted.
Dar grinned recklessly, and didn’t slow down. She focused her gaze on the man and kept up her pace, her hands slowly curling into fists almost without her direction.
Daddy had taught her to play chicken right around the time she’d gotten her first bicycle. She got closer, but his expression didn’t change, and he didn’t so much as flinch, so Dar steeled herself for the impact, ready to twist her body to the right and lower her shoulder.
He waited until she knew he could feel the vibration of her footsteps, and then just as it almost became too late, he jumped aside.
Hah. Dar snorted silently, brushing past him without a word. She almost missed the quick lunge as he reached for her, but he’d misjudged his grab, and her speed, and she was already past him by the time he tried to grab her.
She waited until she knew he knew he’d screwed up, and then she slowed and stopped, turning to regard him icily.
He seemed surprised. “You don’t take direction well, do you, Ms. Roberts?”
Dar just laughed. “Not in this lifetime.” She replied. “You want something, or do you just grab women for fun?”
He collected himself and put his hands behind his back. “My name is Jonathan DeSalliers.” He announced. “And I believe we need to talk.”
Dar peered at him, and then glanced up. Rain spattered her sunglasses. “Maybe, but not now.” She turned. “I’ve got important stuff to do.”
Dar looked over her shoulder. “If you want to deal with me, you do it on my terms.” She told him flatly. “Have a great day.” With that, she started off towards the building again, picking up speed as the rain started to come down harder. As she reached the door, the skies opened, and she ducked inside just in time.
Turning, she looked back, and saw a satisfying vision of DeSalliers bolting through the rain, running awkwardly in his silk trousers. “Jackass.” She let the door close with a snick and hastened on her way back to the room.
It wasn’t really the way she’d wanted to approach, or deal with DeSalliers, but sometimes, Dar had learned, you just had to take what life offered, and make the best of it. She slid her key in to the door lock and turned it carefully, pushing the door in and slipping inside.
It was dark. Dar had prudently closed the shutters before she’d left, leaving the room in soothing dimness. She set the bags down on the credenza and took her sandals off, then she walked silently over to the bed and knelt down.
Kerry’s eyes were still closed, and she was sleeping on her side, one arm wrapped around her pillow. Her mussed hair half obscured her face, and Dar only just kept herself from smoothing it back. Instead, she stood up and tiptoed back to the credenza, removing the items from it and trying very hard not to keep the Oreo bag from making noise.
A soft groan came from the bed. “Uugh.”
“Hey, cute stuff.” Dar set a glass down, and opened the milk.
“Ugh.” Kerry lifted her head a little, and peered around. “S’dark in here.” She muttered. “What time is it?”
“Eight.” Dar continued mixing her potion. “I closed the blinds.”
“You’re a goddess.” Kerry rolled onto her back, throwing her arm over her eyes. “Jesus, I feel like a horse kicked me in the head.”
Dar finished mixing and picked up the glass, crossing back over to the bed and sitting down on the edge of it. “I’ve got something to make you feel better.”
Kerry peeked at her, seeing the glass. “Noooooo…” She pulled the covers over her head. “No.. no… not… stuff.”
“C’mon.” Dar gently untangled the covers. “Kerry, honest – it’ll work.”
“Dar, if I try to put anything in my stomach, it, and everything prior to it’s coming up into your lap. Wanna risk it?”
“Yes.” Dar coaxed. “Just take a sip.”
Kerry rolled onto her side, giving Dar a piteous, miserable look. “I can’t.”
Undeterred, Dar put the glass down and eased her into more of an upright position. Then she picked the glass back up and offered Kerry the straw she’d stuck in it.
“What is it?” Kerry stared dubiously at the mixture. All she could see was foam, and dark streaks. “It doesn’t have Worstecier sauce in it, does it?”
“Dar, I really don’t think I can.” Kerry put a hand over her stomach.
Dar studied her, seeing the pale tinge to her skin. “Give it one try.” She requested. “Just one sip. You need to get fluids into you, love.”
Kerry sighed resignedly, and maneuvered the straw over. “How can I resist when you ask me like that?” She held her breath and took the tiniest sip possible, hoping to swallow it before her system had time to analyze what it was.
It was cold and effervescent, and it slid down a lot easier than she’d imagined it would. Cautiously she inhaled, and then licked her lips. The taste was sweet, and rich, and bubbly at the same time, not at all what she’d expected. “What is that?”
Dar was cautiously pleased with the response. “Something my daddy taught me to make.”
Kerry took another sip, swallowing it. “Have I mentioned lately how much I love your daddy?” She felt her stomach settle, and she took the glass, leaning against Dar as she sucked at its contents. “You know what? I don’t care what it is. It’s great.”
Dar grinned in satisfaction. “Glad you like it.” She set to work gently massaging Kerry’s neck and shoulders. “Looks like it’s fixing to storm for a while out there.”
“Mm?” Kerry kept drinking, peering around Dar’s body at the closed shutters. A rumble of thunder rattled them, and she settled back against Dar with a contented grunt. The concoction really was helping, and she felt the aching nausea ease along with the painful cramps that had almost sent her diving for the bathroom. And why wouldn’t it? She reasoned. The glass had been filled with love along with its other ingredients.
Her head still hurt, though. A dull pounding that seemed to thrum through her body and made her resolve never to experiment with rum again. “Stick to beer, Kerry.” She murmured. “Worst thing that does is make you piddle.”
Dar massaged Kerry’s neck, working out small knots she could feel under her sensitive fingertips. “Guess who I met on the way back?”
“Not those scumbucket sneaks?”
“No. Their boss.” Dar informed her. “He wanted me to stop and talk to him.”
“And?” Kerry inquired.
“I had other things to do.” Dar told her. “But I think he’ll be back.”
“Hm.” Kerry finished her drink, sucking the last drops from the bottom of it. She gazed mournfully into the empty glass for a moment, and then looked up at her solicitous partner. “Any chance of another one of these?”
“You bet.” Dar grinned, very pleased with her successful plan. “Coming right up.” She took the glass. “Think you can take some aspirin now for your head?”
Kerry thought about it. “Yeah.” She curled up on her side and watched Dar work. “What’s in the bottle?”
Kerry had to smile. “That’s a chocolate milk soda you just made.”
Dar brought it back to her. “It’s an egg cream.” She explained.
Kerry took the glass. “But there aren’t any eggs in it.”
“Or cream.” Dar agreed, handing her a couple of pills. “It’s kind of like Welsh rabbit.”
“Ah.” Kerry swallowed the aspirin, and then settled back against the headboard. Rain rattled against the window, and she was more than glad to be nestled in the dim room, with Dar to keep her company. “So you think he’ll be back, huh?”
“Yep.” Dar chuckled softly. “Then maybe we’ll get closer to the bottom of this.”
Kerry listened to the thunder, her fingers idly stroking the arm Dar had curled around her. Maybe they would, she agreed silently. But not right this minute.
Lightning flashed, outlining the closed shutters.
It just kept raining. Kerry was actually kind of glad, feeling they both needed a little down time after the excitement of the past few days. She was curled up on the bed, with her neatly bound writing diary in front of her. A half finished poem was scrawled across one page, and nearby, a steaming mug rested on the bedside table.
Dar was sprawled across the couch, one long leg draped along it’s back, the other propping up a book. She had a glass of milk nearby, and the bag of Oreo cookies sat neatly peeled open next to it. On the table, her laptop was busily working, streams of data flicking across the screen at an alarming rate.
Kerry nibbled the end of her pen as she watched Dar read, her eyes tracing down the page, then pausing while long fingers turned it. She was dressed in a pair of soft cotton shorts and a t-shirt, and somehow managed to make even that seem attractively sexy.
How did she do that? Kerry wondered. She cocked her head and regarded her lover with bemused curiosity. What really struck her about Dar, she realized, was just how nicely proportioned she was. Though she was tall, and her arms and legs were long, her body was also and everything just seemed to fit together right.
The white cotton showed off her tan, and as she turned another page, the subtle shift of muscle under her skin was visible to Kerry’s appreciatively watching eyes.
Kerry sighed, and put her chin down on her arm, still feeling a little knocked out from the partying the night before. Her stomach wasn’t in the mood for more than tea, and her head hadn’t quite stopped throbbing. The discomfort was making it hard for her to concentrate on her writing, and besides, it was really a lot more pleasant just to lie around and look at Dar.
She had such a nice profile. Kerry blinked dreamily. It was all angles and clean, sharp planes, with a nice nose and well shaped lips.
And the eyes, of course. Kerry smiled.
Uh oh. “Hmm?”
“What’s that goofy grin for?”
“Was I goofily grinning?” Kerry rolled onto her back and tugged the covers over her pajama clad body. “I can’t finish this poem.” She changed the subject. “I got stuck in the middle.”
“What’s it about?” Dar slipped a book mark into her book and put it down, turning on her side and focusing her attention on Kerry.
Ah, those eyes. Kerry suddenly found herself lost in them, until the rising brow over one made her realize she was staring like a loon. “Sorry, what was the question?”
“You still feeling the rum?” Dar asked, curiously.
Kerry put her head down on her arm. “Maybe.” She admitted. “I just feel a little silly, I guess.”
Dar got up and walked over to the bed. She sat down next to Kerry and rubbed her midriff through the covers. “Want to try some toast or cereal?”
Kerry curled herself around Dar instead, and rested her head on Dar’s thigh. “I think I just want you.” She planted a gentle kiss on the tan skin and closed her eyes.
Dar plaintively wondered if the hotel would charge for having to launder all the sentimental gooshy goop she was presently exuding. She’d never considered herself a sentimental person, but since she’d met Kerry she’d felt like she was living inside a circle of perpetually adorable Golden Retriever puppies all the time.
It worried her sometimes. Dar felt parts of the image she’d always had of herself falling away and disappearing and was a little unsettling to know it was happening and be helpless to stop it.
Ah well. Dar draped her arm over Kerry’s shoulders and resigned herself to it. “Tell you what.” She said. “Let me go get my laptop, and we can take a look at what we’ve got so far.”
Kerry reluctantly released her and sat up. “Okay.”
Dar got to her feet and retrieved the device, then returned. She sat down on the bed and leaned back, resting the laptop on her thighs. Kerry squirmed over and settled next to her. They both looked at the screen, as Dar smoothly keyed in a request.
“Okay.” Dar reviewed her programmatic results. “What I was looking for…”
“Was a link between the piracy and DeSalliers.” Kerry murmured, reaching out and touching the screen. “Nice code, honey. I like that recursive parse.”
“Thanks.” Dar smirked at the screen a little. “Let’s see what it found.” She brought up two screens and locked them into concurrency, scrolling down evenly and looking from one to the other. “Six? There’s been more than two dozen. Damn.”
Kerry was shocked. Two dozen hijackings in the area, and no one had said anything. It bordered on pointing to a definite collusion. “Are those from the police files?” She asked, pointing to the piracy records.
“You’re joking, right?” Dar looked at her. “No. Those are the insurance filings.” She nudged a key. “Ah. Looks like the insurance underwriters are starting to get suspicious. This one’s pending investigation.”
“Hm. So the hijackers will get their money, but the guy they hit might not?”
Dar shook her head. “No, they’ll have to pay out unless they think the owner’s in cahoots with the pirates just to make a claim. Most of these guys, who can buy boats like that wouldn’t bother.” She cross checked something. “I was hoping I’d see a correlation between DeSallier’s salvage operations and the missing boats, but it looks like this is the first time his bunch have shown up in this area.”
“Mm.” Kerry frowned. “Yeah.” She rested her chin on Dar’s shoulder. “Can you plot the piracies graphically?”
Dar studied the data, then she brought up a code screen and started typing rapidly, stopping only to tab to a different window and clip some data before she resumed programming. After a few minutes, she ran the program, and a new window appeared with a somewhat rough outline of the islands, the space around them dotted with ominous little plus signs. “Ain’t pretty, but there ya go.”
“Hmmm.” Kerry studied the graphic, then sighed. “No real pattern, huh?”
“We’re hitting big nulls here, Dar.”
“Yeah.” Dar had to admit.
A knock startled both of them. Kerry felt Dar’s body stiffen, and she put a hand on her arm. “I’ll get that.” She rolled off the other side of the bed before Dar could protest and walked to the door, running the fingers of one hand through her hair self consciously. She peered through the peephole, relieved to see one of the hotel staff there.
“Hi.” Kerry opened the door and issued a inquiring smile.
“Ma’am? I have a note for a Ms. Roberts?” The man held up an envelope.
“I’ll take it.” Kerry extended her hand.
Reluctantly, he gave it to her. “The gentleman said to make sure Ms. Roberts got that note.”
“She’ll get it. I promise.” Kerry pulled her head back inside and closed the door firmly. She turned and nearly jumped right out of her T-shirt when she found Dar standing silently in back of her. “Yipes! Jesus, Dar!”
“What?” Dar took the note. “You didn’t expect me to be in the room? What’s up with that, Ker?”
“I didn’t hear you come up in back of me you fink.” Kerry peered past her shoulder as Dar opened the envelope. It was standard hotel stationary, and the note was written in black ink in a distinctively strong script. “Who’s it from?”
Dar’s eyes dropped the bottom, then lifted. “DeSalliers.” She stated briefly. “Looks like he still wants to set up a meeting to talk.”
Kerry read the note. “Arrogant SOB, isn’t he?”
“I nearly knocked him on his ass outside.” Her partner murmured. “I don’t think he likes me much.”
I will leave out any polite preambles. I have business to discuss with you. I will be available this afternoon to meet with you and determine if this business can be handled between us, or will be remanded to the authorities. Be at my dockside at three.
“You should have knocked him on his head. Maybe it would have let some sense leak in.” Kerry shook her head. “Did he forget he was chasing us?” She added. “Or is this something else?”
Dar folded the note and put it back into the envelope. “Guess we’ll find out.” She remarked. “Though, if you’re not feeling up to it…”
“Ah ah ah.” Kerry clapped a hand over her mouth. “Don’t you even try that.” She said. “You’re not leaving me behind.”
Blue eyes widened above her fingers.
Kerry removed her hand. “Isn’t going onto his boat a little risky though?”
“Might be.” Dar acknowledged. “We’ll have to play it by ear.” She tossed the envelope down on the desk and went to the window, gazing out at the still stormy weather. Was she crazy to be doing this at all? They were away from home, and operating all by themselves. Dar wasn’t stupid, and if she had to look logically at the scenario of two women executives out in the Caribbean playing with fire like this, she’d be forced to admit it wasn’t the smartest idea in the world.
Damn it. Dar knew herself to be a risk taker, and she had a lot of confidence in her judgment and ability to take care of herself. But was this taking it too far? Was she just indulging her own ego?
“You know what?” Kerry had wandered over, and leaned on the sill next to her. “I think we’re just natural troubleshooters.”
Dar looked at her.
“We’re so used to problem solving, we never really stop to think about it even if the problem really should be solved by someone else.”
A little unsettled, Dar turned and folded her arms. She was surprised to hear her own thoughts so eerily echoed back at her. “You think someone else should be solving this one?”
Kerry kept her eyes on the horizon, and nodded slightly. She turned to face Dar. “But the people who should be might be part of the problem.” She said. “That’s what you think, isn’t it, that the cops are in on it?”
Dar nodded. “I think they are, yeah.”
“Everyone’s attitude seems to be to hush it up. Let the fat and happy tourists keep coming, and if a few get hit, well, then that’s okay because most won’t and we need their money.” Kerry said. “They didn’t hit us, so we could go along with that, Dar. Just take our boat, and cruise on out of here. Let them solve their own problems.”
The green eyes glinted. “Fuck that.”
“I lived the first twenty six years of my life maintaining the status quo, Dar.” Kerry said, in a firm tone. “I want to rock boats and make a difference. Even if that means taking a risk.” She pointed at Dar, poking her in the arm. “And you, Paladar Roberts, are a natural born caped avenger no matter how much you deny it.”
Dar rubbed her neck. “I’m not sure I’d put it like that.” She admitted. “But I like to fight the good fight, and win it, if that’s what you mean.” She glanced out the window. “And I don’t trust people to fix things just because they’re supposed to.”
“I know.” Kerry eyed her with gentle amusement. “I always get a kick out of seeing your login checking up on me.” She saw Dar stiffen, and realized she’d caught her flat footed. “It’s like passing a senior exam.” She went on, quickly. “Because I know if you don’t say anything to me, I did it all right.”
Dar turned, her expression a mixture of consternation and sheepishness. “I trust you.” She said. “You just do things so differently than I do it’s…”
“Dar, we’ve had this argument already.” Kerry interrupted her quietly. “It really is okay – you’re my boss, and it’s your job to make sure things happen.” She sensed the upset in the woman next to her, though. “I know you trust me.”
“It has nothing to do with trust.” Dar muttered. “I was just curious.” She sighed. “I like to know how things work, so I was curious as to how you did what you did. So I went in and looked after you were all done.”
Kerry blinked. “You mean you weren’t….”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “I’m sorry you thought that.”
“Oh.” Kerry sat down on the sill, her head cocking to one side as she absorbed this new information. “Wow.”
“I checked up on you the first couple of times, but that was before you went to closure on anything.” Dar said. “So if there was a problem, I could fix it. After that…no.” She sat down next to Kerry. “You didn’t do things the way I would have, but it worked, and that’s all I really care about in the long run.”
Kerry scratched her jaw. “Um.” She cleared her throat. “Sorry for assuming.”
“Sokay.” Dar sighed. “It’s a reasonable assumption to make about me.”
They looked at each other. “I think we got a little sidetracked there.” Kerry admitted. “So are we going to go after this creep?”
Dar exhaled. “Yeah, I think we did get a little off course.” She said. “Let’s go see what he wants. Maybe we can just talk to him and cut through some of the crap.”
Kerry nodded. “Okay.”
They both sat there for a few moments in silence. Then Kerry took a breath. “So, did I…”
“You did great.” Dar cut her off. “You impressed the hell out of me.” She added. “Or, as your boss, I would have said something.”
Kerry kicked her heels gently against the wall. “I figured that. But it’s nice to hear it.”
Dar made a mental note, again, to work on her positive feedback. It was so easy to tell everyone when they did something wrong, and she often forgot to take care of the flip side. Bad mistake. She knew better. “Sorry I didn’t take the time to let you know.” She told Kerry. “I’ll try to do better.”
Kerry peeked at her. “Thanks boss.”
Dar gave her a wry look, then chuckled. “Let’s get dressed. We can go get you some soup for lunch.”
“You’re on.” Kerry leaned over and gave Dar a one armed hug. “Let’s go be crusaders.”
Rolling thunder boomed an enthusiastic response.
Kerry stood just inside the door to the verandah of the restaurant, watching the rain fall. She’d managed a bowl of cream of something bland soup with some crackers for lunch and her body seemed to have settled back down to something near normal.
Dar had been very quiet since they’d left the room, though, and Kerry sensed there was still a little strain between them from their abrupt plunge into the business side of their lives. There were times, she admitted privately, when she wished they didn’t work so closely together.
She didn’t mind having Dar as her supervisor – as far as corporate officers went, Dar was better than most in that department. It was just that as their relationship deepened and evolved, separating their lives at work got tougher and tougher on both of them.
In this case, she knew she’d made Dar feel bad about her assumptions even though Kerry didn’t actually mind if they’d been true. The first time she’d spotted the logon, she’d been a little unsettled, but after that, she’d watched for it with a sense of almost anticipation. ‘Dar’s final checkoff’ became a way for her to put closure on a project and she knew once she’d seen it, she could put that puppy to bed and not have to worry about it coming back to nip her in the butt. It was a very safe feeling.
Kerry sighed. Ick. Though, now that she thought about it, the fact that Dar took the time to review her techniques, evaluating them and learning how she did things was extremely flattering. However, she realized that her thinking Dar was snooping after her wasn’t.
She heard footsteps behind her, and Dar emerged onto the porch, standing quietly as she sucked on a mint candy. Kerry backed up a step and leaned against her, feeling Dar’s body relax as she felt the contact. She curled her fingers around Dar’s and squeezed them, and smiled a little as the pressure was returned.
“You doing okay?” Dar asked.
“Almost.” Kerry replied, turning her head to look up at Dar. “Are you okay?”
Dar gazed back at her with a quizzical expression, then her face relaxed into a smile. “I’m fine.” She reassured Kerry. “But do me a favor, wouldja?”
“Anything.” Kerry replied sincerely.
“Ask me next time.”
Kerry understood what she meant. Ask, instead of assuming. It was a key concept she thought she’d learned from Dar from the very start – she’d just seldom needed to apply it to her very straightforward boss. “I will.” She promised.
“Okay.” Dar gave her a pat on the hip. “You ready to go meet our mysterious adversary?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Kerry felt her guts unknot as they pulled their jackets closed and zipped them. Then they walked together down the steps and into the rain. The drops hit her shoulders heavily, beating a gentle tattoo across them as she kept her head down and kept walking.
Dar threw an arm over Kerry’s shoulders and pulled her casually closer, turning slightly to take the brunt of the rainfall on her taller form. She focused her attention on the approaching docks, spotting the ominous form of the big black boat at the very end of them.
Her pulse picked up.
There were two men guarding the gangplank when they got there. Dar stopped comfortably short of them and put her hands into her pockets. She stared at them until they got uncomfortable, then she pulled the envelope out of her pocket and frisbeed it over to the nearer one, smacking him in the chest with it.
Ten points for style. Dar returned her hand to it’s dry haven and waited.
The guard scrambled for the envelope and snatched it before it hit the floor. He gave Dar a threatening look, then opened it and unfolded the paper. After he read it, he turned away and spoke into the radio clipped to his shoulder.
Kerry rocked up and down gently on her heels, taking the opportunity to study the boat. The bow near the waterline bore fresh paint, and she gauged they’d had to patch at least ten feet of the fiberglass. She chuckled silently, but looked up as she heard the guard coming closer.
“Come with me.” The guard spoke to Dar gruffly. “Just you.”
“Kiss my ass.” Dar replied, in a pleasant drawl. “Tell your boss if he wants to talk, c’mon out here.”
The guard just looked at her.
“G’wan.” Dar shooed him off. “Yes or no, sixty seconds.”
The man snorted, then turned away again and spoke into his shoulder.
“Don’t you get a stiff neck after a while like that?” Kerry whispered to Dar.
“You start doing it even when you aren’t wearing the damn thing.” Dar whispered back. “Like in the supermarket. There ya are, buying milk next to a guy talking to his arm.”
Kerry snickered. “Is that like ‘talk to the hand, buddy, talk to the hand?’ she moved her fingers in a puppetlike motion.
Dar shook her head. “These guys are like cartoon characters.” She indicated the guard approaching them yet again, his bodybuilder physique flexing like a Macy’s balloon.
“Mr. DeSalliers said he doesn’t have time to play games with you.” The guard announced.
“All right.” Dar lifted a hand. “Hasta Manana, Jackass.” She turned and started back down the docks. “If he changes his mind, we’re in slip 30.”
“Bye.” Kerry waggled her fingers at the men, before she ambled after Dar. She caught up to her partner after a few steps, and they strolled along together. “So.” She commented. “Now what?”
Dar glanced down at the keychain watch looped through her belt. “Give it a minute.”
It really was a big game, of sorts. Kerry had gotten used to the delicate and sometimes not so delicate maneuverings of the boardroom. This didn’t seem that different.
“Oo, you’re good.” Kerry clucked her tongue.
Dar paused and looked over her shoulder, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses despite the rain. Ah. DeSalliers himself was trotting down the dock after them, his blue blazer getting spotted with rain. Dar turned fully and waited, having gotten what she asked for. “Yes?”
“Ms. Roberts, Ms. Roberts.” DeSalliers sighed. “You know, I think we really did start off on the wrong foot.” His attitude, completely reversed from the morning’s was almost friendly. “All we do is keep getting more and more hostile. Can’t we turn this around?”
Dar regarded him warily.
“Please.” DeSalliers continued. “Let’s just go inside, out of this blasted rain, and talk.”
The risk seemed acceptable, Dar reasoned, considering everything. “All right.” She agreed.
“Great.” He started to lead the way back towards his boat. “I’m sure we can come to a better understanding of each other, if we just put a little effort into it.” Only then did he seem to notice Kerry’s continued presence. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met?”
“Kerry.” Kerry promptly extended a hand.
“Ah.” DeSalliers took it and pressed it briefly. “And you are…?”
“Dar’s American Express card.” Kerry replied smoothly. “She never leaves home without me.”
Dar had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from smiling. “We’re partners.” She supplied succinctly.
They passed the two guards, both of whom glared at Dar as she brushed by them. Dar ignored their attitude and followed DeSalliers up the long gangplank to the deck of his boat, stepping neatly down after him onto the vessel.
Kerry eased off after Dar, looking around at the big boat’s deck as they moved around towards the cabin. The deck floor was covered in amazingly plush looking all weather Astroturf, and there were two more guards who were braced on either side of the deck, hands clasped behind their backs. They were big, and healthy looking, and reminded Kerry irresistibly of cattle. “Moo.” She uttered, under her breath.
Dar’s shoulders twitched in a silent laugh.
They followed DeSalliers inside the cabin, and found a space as ostentatiously well appointed as the exterior deck suggested. It was full of dark, leather furniture and teak wood, and smelled very masculine. On one side there was a bar, complete with a ceiling mounted glass rack with pivots. Across from the bar was an entertainment center with a circular viewing lounge. Towards the rear was a spacious galley, and behind that a closed door that lead to the more private areas of the boat’s cabin.
The windows were so tinted, light barely penetrated. Most of the illumination was provided by recessed fixtures near the walls, and one searingly bright beam that splashed over the dining room table, highlighting a crystal vase with a single, perfect red rose in it.
“Please, sit down.” DeSalliers said, as he crossed to the bar. “Can I get you both a drink?”
“No thank you.” Kerry replied. She waited quietly near the door, looking around her.
Dar was circling the cabin, examining the oriental themed framed mats on the walls. “Nothing for me, thanks.” She stopped in front of a small painting near the galley, leaning forward a little as she recognized the style. Her eyebrows both rose behind her glasses.
“Nice piece, isn’t it?” Their host spoke up behind her. “I have a much larger one at my home. Truly captures the majesty of the sea.”
Dar straightened. “Very nice.” She pulled her sunglasses off and turned, chewing on the earpiece as she regarded DeSalliers. “I’ll pass your compliments on to my mother.”
The man froze in place. His brows contracted fiercely, giving him an almost comical look as he paused in the act of pouring himself a glass of what appeared to be scotch. “Excuse me?”
Dar gestured with her thumb over her shoulder at the small painting. “That’s my mother’s work.” She replied mildly. “Seascapes are a favorite theme of hers.”
DeSalliers put the glass down, and rested his hands on the bar. “Well, well.” He murmured. “You are the veritable Pandora’s box of surprises, aren’t you, Ms. Roberts?” He picked up his glass and swirled it, circling Dar. “I send out an inquiry expecting at best, some rich brat tooling about the Caribbean and what do I come up with? The CIO of the largest computer services organization in the world.” He paused. “What a surprise.”
Dar shrugged. “We’re even. I go out tooling about the Caribbean on a simple vacation, and what do I come up with? Assholes chasing my boat, breaking and entering my hotel room, and vague, useless threats sent by courier.” She countered. “What a surprise. All I was expecting was reasonable weather and a few spiny lobster.”
DeSalliers sighed. “I thought we were trying to get on a better footing.”
Dar spread her hands out, both of her eyebrows lifting. “I come up from a damn dive, and the next thing I know your half witted goons are chasing my ass down.”
“Now, Ms. Roberts.” The man held a hand up soothingly. “I realize now we came at you the wrong way.”
“You mean, after the intimidation tricks didn’t work, then you decided to find out who you were chasing?” Kerry commented from her spot near the doorway.
DeSalliers shot a glance at her. “Look.” He apparently decided the gracious host scam wasn’t working. “Let’s cut to the chase.”
“Finally.” Dar chewed on her sunglasses again. Then she sauntered over to the nearest comfortable leather chair and sprawled in it. Kerry caught the almost imperceptible signal and joined her, perching on the chair arm.
“Okay.” DeSalliers adapted again, taking the chair across from them. “Here’s the deal.” His entire attitude had changed, becoming tough and businesslike. Almost like Dar, in fact. “I have a piece of ocean that I own the rights of salvage on. You dove that piece of ocean, and removed something from it. I want it.”
“Okay.” Kerry took the lead. “First off, you didn’t mark the salvage site.” She ticked off her fingers. “You didn’t post a buoy, you didn’t put up a diver flag, and there were no tags on the wreck.”
He took a sip of his drink. “We were about to.”
“What’s so important about this wreck?” Kerry asked. “I saw it. It’s an old fishing freighter with more coral than steel.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Then.” Dar picked up the conversation. “For your records, we picked up a conch shell and brought it topside. You don’t have salvage rights on marine invertebrates or their calciferous exterior structures.”
The man’s fingers drummed nervously on his knee, which jiggled slightly with tension. “I’m very sorry.” He remarked quietly. “But I don’t believe you.”
“Why?” Kerry asked suddenly. “Excuse me, but what the hell would we care about marine salvage? We’re nerd sport divers.” She stood up and paced. “That’s what I don’t understand about this entire scenario. What makes you think we give a rats patootie about whatever junk you’re searching for?”
DeSalliers gazed at her through hooded eyes. “Who are you?”
Dar leaned forward and caught his attention. “What are you looking for?” She asked, in a low, vibrant tone. “If it’s what we took from the sea, we’ll tell you.”
His dark eyes bored into hers. They stared at each other for a long moment. “I can’t tell you.” DeSalliers finally said.
Dar started to get up. “Waste of time.”
“Ms. Roberts.” He also stood, and held a hand up. “I mean it. I can’t tell you. Not won’t.”
“You don’t know what it is.” Kerry realized. “You have no idea what you’re looking for, do you?”
DeSalliers relaxed back into his chair with a disgusted sigh.
Dar settled back and crossed her ankles. “I’m not getting this.” She shook her head. “How the hell can you stake a salvage claim on an unknown object?” She asked their host.
He rubbed his temples. “Did you ever get hoisted on your own petard, Ms. Roberts?” He inquired. “Hung out to dry by your own reputation?”
Dar considered the question. “No.” She replied. “Not yet, anyway.”
Kerry walked over and knelt next to his chair, resting her arm near his. “Talk to us, Mr. DeSalliers. Tell us what the heck is really going on. Maybe we can help.” She gave him a quiet, sincere look. “We’re better friends than enemies, believe me.”
He hesitated, then took a breath.
The door slammed open, and one of the guards rushed in. “Sir! Sir! He’s out there! They’re diving the wreck!”
“Shit.” DeSalliers jumped to his feet. “I’ll kill that little bastard. Cast off!” He started to leave the cabin, then apparently remembered his guests. “Sorry. Hope you enjoy the ride.”
Dar and Kerry were both on their feet and heading for the door. DeSalliers popped through it before they could reach it, and the guard slammed it shut, facing them with an air of muscular menace.
“You ladies better sit on down.” The guard said, gruffly.
Dar handed Kerry her sunglasses. “I suggest you move.” She replied to the guard in an even tone. “We’re leaving.”
“Sitdown.” The guard repeated, pointing.
Dar advanced on him. “Move.” She pinned him with an ice cold gaze.
“Lady, I’m gonna break your ass if you don’t sit down.” The guard told her.
“Try it.” Dar didn’t miss a beat. She felt her body react to the danger, adrenaline kicking in and bringing a surge of blood to her skin as she came up over her center of balance. The guard was twice her size, but in that moment she could have cared less. He was between her, and safety for her and Kerry.
He was moving.
The boat engines rumbled to life. Dar’s hands flexed, and she let the dark energy inside her uncoil as she started for the door.
The guard reached for her, cursing. They grappled briefly, then he threw Dar against the wall, coming after her as she bounced off it. His hand extended towards her, his other one curling into a fist.
Dar grabbed his hand and swiveled, lashing out with a side kick that caught him right in the jaw. His head snapped back and she jerked him off balance, then whirled and levered him over her shoulder, throwing him to the floor. With a snort, she grabbed the door handle and yanked it open, as Kerry hopped over the stunned man and joined her.
They looked out to see the dock receding, blue water between them, and it. Two guards were scrambling towards them. “Feel like a swim?” Dar asked, already starting for the stern railing.
“Anywhere you go, I go.” Kerry dodged an outstretched arm and they both bolted across the deck, hearing DeSallier’s yell behind them as they leaped to the railing then dove off together into the churning water.