Terrors of the High Seas
Dar whistled softly as she worked on the stern deck, tidying the boat up from their ordeal the day before. It was about an hour past dawn. The sunlight poured over her swimsuit clad body, warming her shoulder blades and allowing her to appreciate the brisk breeze.
Kerry was tucked in bed, with a cup of hot tea for her still sore throat. Despite that, the blond woman had seemed much more chipper when they’d woken up and Dar suspected Kerry would not stay in bed that long.
But that was okay. With a grin, Dar finished her task and re-entered the cabin. The scent of fresh coffee greeted her and sure enough, behind the galley counter she found one of Santa’s own little elves making it. “Ah hah.”
Kerry looked up, producing a sunny smile for her partner. “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, honey.”
“Thought you were resting.” Dar prowled into the galley behind her.
“I was.” Kerry replied. “Now I’m cooking. It’s a serial processing kind of thing.” She tapped Dar’s chest with a mixing spoon. “I feel a lot better. Now go over there and let me finish my pancakes.”
“Pancakes?” Dar’s voice rose in surprise. “Mmm.” She inclined her head and kissed Kerry on the lips.
“It’s a tradition.” Kerry put a hand up and touched Dar’s cheek. “Now scoot.”
Instead of obeying, Dar slipped her arms around Kerry’s body and caught her up in a powerful hug, lifting her up off her feet.
“Urgh.” Kerry reveled in it, enjoying the unexpected side effect of feeling her spine relax and realign itself. “Oo... thank you.” She felt Dar’s hands rub her back briskly as she was set down again. When she leaned back and looked up, she was glad to see Dar’s face completely open and happy- missing the worried tension of the previous day.
She patted Dar’s belly through the thin swimsuit fabric, and gave her another hug, then gently nudged her out of the galley so she could finish making breakfast.
Dar reluctantly retreated to the couch and dropped into it, stretching out on her side and crossing her ankles. “So. Are we in agreement in ditching DeSalliers and company?”
Kerry pushed a bit of hair out of her eyes. “You mean, just take off and let them all sort out their own problems?”
“Yeah.” The blond woman nodded. “I mean, there’s really nothing we can do, is there?”
Dar examined a faint scar on her upper thigh. “Not really.” She said. “Sometimes it pays to know when to just close the books and walk.” She gave Kerry a rakish grin. “Besides, that family feud sounds ugly.”
Kerry had occasion to know more about that than most people did. She merely grunted in agreement as she poured pancake batter onto the small griddle, getting the temperature just right for the creamy substance to start bubbling at its edges immediately. She reached over to a dish and removed a handful of chips, sprinkling them into the batter evenly.
She could only imagine her mother’s reaction to her choice of breakfasts. For more years than she could count breakfast at home had been dry toast, perhaps an egg white, and a bowl of healthy cereal with skim milk. Of course, that had only spurred her into find a way to grab a candy bar before first period at school and resulted her developing an intense dislike of Grape Nuts.
Living with Dar was definitely different. If she felt like having a milkshake for breakfast, the only comment she’d get from her partner was likely to be ‘where’s mine?’. Dar had a very secure and relaxed attitude towards her own body and that extended to Kerry’s as well, easing Kerry’s initial shyness considerably.
To be fair, most of the time she and Dar ate relatively healthily, and somewhat to her surprise the last time Dr. Steve had checked her cholesterol, it had actually come down forty points. She suspected all the extra time in the gym was responsible for that, but she wasn’t about to argue with it. Not when she was finally getting to indulge herself and not have to worry about comments around the dining room table.
Ah well. She turned her attention back to her task. Pancakes took practice. Kerry maneuvered the paper thin flipper under the cakes and expertly turned them, exposing nicely golden bottom sides. The scent of the cooking batter, along with the melting chocolate filled the air, and she felt her mouth start to water in response.
Well, at least her appetite was back. That was a good sign. Kerry reached over and turned a few slices of bacon that were sizzling nearby. Her throat was still bothering her a little and she still felt ‘off’ – her body ached and her head felt slightly stuffed. But she had no fever and she was hungry enough to eat a raw fish, so she figured she was probably getting better.
Besides, it was Dar’s birthday. Kerry found herself smiling as she remembered her gift giving the night before. She glanced over at the couch, charmed to see Dar studying her new watch, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth as she turned it over in her fingers.
She turned back to the griddle and got a plate ready, neatly transferring four of the hotcakes to it and several slices of bacon. She set it to one side and put the rest of the food on a second plate, then turned off the heat and set two covers on the plates. “Dixiecup, can you come over here and give me a hand?”
Dar chuckled as she set aside her watch and strolled over. “You know, if anyone had told me before I met you that I’d ever put up with someone calling me that, much less liking it, I’d have clocked them.”
Kerry gave her a charming smile, and handed her the plates. “Let me get the biscuits and the coffee.”
“And the syrup.” Dar reminded her, setting the plates on the table and returning to duck past Kerry and retrieve a jug of juice from the refrigerator.
They sat down together and Dar lifted the cover off her plate, inhaling the scent of the chocolate chip pancakes. “Mm.”
Kerry drizzled a little syrup neatly over her stack and separated a forkful. “You know, if anyone had told me before I met you that I’d be scarfing down pancakes and bacon without any guilt, much less enjoying them I’d have just laughed.” She said. “So I think we’re neck and neck for making positive changes in each other’s lives.” She winked at Dar.
Dar slid closer, and they traded forkfuls of breakfast. Kerry licked a bit of syrup that had somehow ended up on the tip of her nose, and they toasted each other with coffee.
“Okay, so if we’re not crusading and me sticking my head under water isn’t a really good idea, what did you have in mind for today?” Kerry asked, after a few minutes of peaceful munching. “Shopping?”
A nice quiet stroll through some of the eclectic shops of St. Thomas? Dar suddenly found that appealing, if for no other reason than that it provided an activity they could do that wouldn’t compromise Kerry’s health. “All right.” She agreed. “I’ll run up and just tell Bud and Charlie so long when we’re done with breakfast, and we’ll head out.”
“Oo... you’re letting me take you shopping on your birthday. You’re in so much trouble, Paladar.” Kerry chortled, crunching a piece of bacon between her teeth. “I’m going to spoil you to within an inch of your life.”
“Uh oh.” Dar covered her eyes. “What have I gotten myself into?”
Dar strolled up the beach towards Bud and Charlie’s place, feeling mellow and a little lazy after her favorite treat despite the threat of shopping hanging over her head. The island was very quiet – only a few seagulls noted her presence as she climbed up the slope to the restaurant. She stepped up onto the porch, and peered inside the screened door.
Inside, the restaurant was silent and still – chairs were upended on tables and the floor mats piled near the door.
It was still very early, though, so Dar didn’t consider that unusual. She pulled the iron handle experimentally, a little surprised when the door readily opened towards her. “Hello?”
Her voice echoed in the empty room, but there was no answer to her call. With a slight shrug, Dar entered and crossed the wooden floor, pushing the kitchen hatch open and peeking inside.
The place was also empty – pots hanging spotless and empty on ceiling hooks, and stoves standing cold and barren. Dar crossed through the somewhat cramped space and through the doors in the back, finding herself in a small corridor with closed rooms to either side. She knew Bud and Charlie lived in the back of the restaurant, and now, suddenly, it occurred to her that maybe they’d closed the restaurant for the holiday and were sleeping in.
“Whoops.” She ducked back inside the kitchen, looking around until she found an ordering pad with a pencil tied off to it. She picked it up and bent her head over it, writing for a few minutes before she studied the results, then tore the top page off the pad.
Leaving the pad where she’d found it, Dar went to the inside door and stuck the note on it, facing in towards the inner rooms. Anyone coming into the kitchen would see it, and she felt reasonably sure either Bud or Charlie would do just that sometime that morning.
She regarded the note with a touch of bemusement, remembering certain rainy days when she and Kerry had played hooky from work. Okay, maybe sometime that afternoon. With a smile, she turned and walked back through the restaurant and out the back door.
Kerry regarded the charming streets of Charlotte Amalie with a grin, enjoying the colors and the displays of local handicrafts. She had on a pair of dark mid length shorts with more pockets than was really safe and a crisp white shirt tucked into them, and she felt properly touristy and ready to shop.
Dar ambled along next to her, sporting snug fitting black bicycle shorts and a bright red muscle t-shirt. With her sunglasses, and her dark hair tied back in a tail, she looked like a walking advertisement for a bad attitude.
Kerry loved it. She kept catching people looking at Dar, who strode through the crowd with an air of cool disregard. She had a light backpack on, which had the laptop and their cell phones in it, since the marina wasn’t what Dar considered very secure, and the straps pulled the fabric of the shirt taut against her muscular body.
Very butch. Kerry’s grin wrinkled her nose up, and she suppressed a chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Dar inquired, peering at her from over the tops of her wraparound sunglasses.
“Nothing.” Kerry assured her. “This place is so cute.” She indicated the market. “Want to see if we can pick up some of those straw baskets? I think your mom would like them for her painting stuff.”
Dar regarded the stacked wares. “Lead on.” She replied. “Hey, maybe I can pick up a pair of pearl earrings while we’re here.”
Okay. Kerry linked arms with her. Not so butch. “How about some of those nice miniature seashell ones? They’d look pretty on you.”
They ended up in a little outdoor café on the street overlooking the harbor after a tough afternoon’s shopping. Dar’s backpack had gotten heavier by several packets, and Kerry had a woven hemp bag resting at her feet. “This is nice.” Dar commented, sipping from a cup of fragrant cappuccino. The breeze was coming inshore, and she stretched her long legs out and enjoyed it.
Kerry had both hands clasped around a cup of hot tea. “It sure is.” She agreed. “Hey, you want to spend the night up there, at that Blackbeard’s Castle? It looked really cute.”
Dar tipped her head back and looked up at the hill above them. “Yeah.” She smiled. “That did look like a fun place. Sure.” She turned back to look at Kerry, spotting the imperfectly masked sigh. “Running out of steam?”
Darn. Kerry cleared her throat. “My bug is still bugging me, I guess.” She admitted.
“To the inn with you then.” Dar put a bill down on the table, and extended her hand. “Let’s grab a cab, and get us a room up on that there hill.” She caught a motion out of the corner of her eye, but as she turned, several men brushed by and distracted her and by the time she refocused on the spot there was nothing there.
Probably was just the waiter. Dar considered, shouldering her pack and pushing her chair in. She pulled out her cell and checked it, seeing no activity, and her brows creased. “Don’t tell me they’re still in bed.”
“Huh?” Kerry cocked her head.
“I asked Bud to give me a shout when he got up. I need to ask him something.” Dar explained. “He hasn’t called.”
“I thought they didn’t have a phone?” Kerry commented, as they walked along the street towards the crossroad. “That’s what they told Bob.”
“That’s what he told Bob.” Dar repeated wryly. “They’ve got a cell. They just don’t like using it. They pay by the minute.” She shook her head, then looked up a number in her cell’s memory and dialed it. It rang several times, and then politely informed her that the cellular customer she was trying to reach was unavailable. Dar closed the phone. “Probably has it turned off.”
“What did you want to ask him?” Kerry inquired, as they stopped and she lifted a hand to hail a cab. Incredibly, the car slowed and pulled over, its driver sticking his head out and regarding them with a very cheerful expression. “Hi.” Kerry greeted him. “We’d like to go up the Castle?”
“Anywhere you lovely ladies want to go, I take you.” The man replied immediately. “Come, come.”
“Thanks.” Kerry eased the back door open. “I think.” She added, under her breath.
Dar merely pushed her sunglasses up a little and followed. As she closed the door behind her, she caught something in the corner of her eye again, and this time turned quickly to see what it was.
Nothing. The street corner behind her was empty. Dar frowned and faced forward, crossing her arms over the pack she’d taken off her back and wondering if the rum smoothie she’d drunk at the last shopping stop was making her see things.
Or imagine them.
“Oh, this is adorable.” Kerry looked around their small room approvingly. “I’m glad they didn’t have room in the big resort, Dar – this is much, much cuter.” They were staying in the small inn that circled the tavern, with a view that overlooked the harbor. Kerry walked over to the plush, four poster bed and sat down on it, bouncing a little, then falling back and spreading her arms out. “Whoof.”
Dar set her pack down and put her hands on her hips as she inspected their assigned quarters. “Nice.” She agreed, with a smile. “Tell you what. You hang out here and relax, and I’ll run down to the boat and pick up a change of clothes for the both of us.” She said. “Order up some hot tea, and enjoy the view.”
Kerry considered arguing. Then her better sense took hold and she waggled her fingers at Dar in peaceful acquiescence. “You rock.”
With a please smile, Dar waved back, and then she turned and slipped out the door and closed it behind her.
“Ahh.” Kerry exhaled, glad to be lying still. As the day had progressed, her body had protested more strenuously even though she’d enjoyed their shopping trip. Now she had a quiet night in this cute, snug little room to look forward to. It had a small balcony with a table, and she suspected a light dinner, a bottle of wine, and the two of them were just the right size to fit at it.
A nice end to Dar’s birthday, she decided. A smile crossed her face as she thought about her partner, and how much she’d enjoyed their day rambling around together.
Maybe if she felt better tomorrow, she fulfill her part of the bargain, and they’d go horseback riding up in the hills. She’d seen advertisements for a nice looking stable at the hotel’s check in desk.
Yeah. A nice ride, maybe a picnic together… maybe they’d find a nice quiet spot and she’d write a poem about it. Kerry imagined a patch of green, fragrant forest, with birds singing around her. She could almost smell the rich scent of the earth.
With a yawn, she rolled over and crawled to the edge of the bed, retrieving the leather covered room service menu and opening it. “Ah.” She spotted the tea section, pleased at having more than one choice. “Mango. Let’s try that.” She picked up the room phone and dialed.
Dar decided to forgo a cab, preferring to jog down to the boat instead. The crowds were thinning out as sunset approached and the cafés she passed were starting to gear up for dinner. The air held hints of an eclectic mix of foods, hickory smoke mixed with a dash of tomato and garlic, crossed with a jolt of jerk spices. Dar took an appreciative breath of it, and acknowledged she was damn glad they’d decided to cut out and leave Bob and his family problems behind.
DeSalliers had annoyed her, true. Dar admitted privately. It wouldn’t have bothered her to knock him off his pedestal, but the man had been hired to do a job, and while she didn’t particularly like his style or his attitude, his methods were efficient and very business oriented. And, Dar, admit it. That’s how mostly everyone describes you, isn’t it? She chuckled a little in wry self-knowledge.
Bob’s story had seemed a little too pat to her, she decided, as her path took her down a fairly steep decline towards the dock. Did she really buy that convenient emergence of a clue after all this time? It seemed a lot more likely to her that Bob had run out of cash, and had gotten together with all the other family wannahaves and cooked up a plot to cause trouble. He was probably banking on a settlement of some kind, if he could stir up enough chaos.
Of course… Dar dodged a man on a moped. It could also be that she didn’t like Bob because he tried to hit on Kerry. She wondered briefly if he simply had seen a cute girl he was interested in, or if he was interested in Kerry because of her obvious financial resources.
She turned a corner and jogged between two buildings. As she passed a garbage dumpster, a flash of motion made her turn her head, but before she could react a body hit hers and drove her into the wall. “Hey!”
Hands grabbed her and threw her against he wall again, and then a heavy weight pinned her, and she got a blast of not very nice breath in her face. “All right, you bitch. Don’t move.”
Dar blinked, and a heavy, pocked marked face swam into focus. Her attacker had his forearm pressed against her throat, and his weight holding her against the wall. Her senses, at first shocked, recovered and she felt her wits settle back into place. “Who the hell are you?” She asked.
“Shut up.” The man shoved against her throat, cutting off her air. “I ask, you answer.”
A wash of red swam unexpectedly over her vision, and Dar felt her temper snap before she could get a handle on it. A low snarl erupted from her throat and her body convulsed, shoving against the wall and arching with all her strength. She got her hands up against the man’s chest and pushed hard, getting him off her just long enough for her to take a bouncing step forward.
He cursed and grappled with her, grabbing her throat with both hands, but made the mistake of letting Dar lean forward at the same time as he was spreading his legs for balance. Dar immediately brought her knee up with explosive force, slamming her kneecap into the pit of his groin.
He choked and released her, reaching down in pure reflex to protect himself. Dar took the opportunity to duck past him and whirl, then turn sideways and kick out, catching him in the buttocks and sending him hurtling into the wall head first.
She whirled as she sensed someone else coming, and her hands came up into fists at shoulder level as she spotted another man close by.
He held up his own hands, but they were palm out. “Whoa, tiger.”
Dar glared at him. “Don’t you know when the fuck to leave people alone?” She asked. “What the hell does it take, DeSalliers? A damn court order?”
“Well, damn it, Roberts. You keep showing up in my business, what the hell am I supposed to do?” DeSalliers answered. “If you’d mind your own, and get the hell out of my way, I’d be glad to never set eyes on you again!”
Dar put her hands on her hips. “You’re nuts.” She stated flatly. “You want your spot on the ocean? Fine. We left. We came over here, and haven’t thought about you all the damn day long. So what are you talking about?”
DeSalliers eyed her suspiciously. “You’re searching the shops for what I’m after.”
Dar rolled her eyes. “We were searching the shops for pearl earrings. You into that? I never woulda guessed.” She backed a step, to keep the other man in her sight, since he was now getting to his feet.
“You’re a jerk. I guess we’re even.” Dar shot back. “Now get the hell out of my way before I call the cops.” She pointed at him. “We don’t want any part of whatever the hell you’re after.”
“How much did he offer you?” DeSalliers countered, as though he hadn’t heard a word she’d said. “I’ll double it.”
Dar glared at him. “You’re really pissing me off.” She warned.
“Triple it. What will it take?”
It got to the point where it became, oddly, funny. “Okay.” Dar held up her hands. “I give.”
DeSalliers folded his arms. “I knew I could find your price.”
“English isn’t working.” Dar went on. “What language would you like me to tell you to fuck off in next, which you’ll understand?” She asked. “Sprechen Sie Deutsches? Usted habla español? Parlez-vous français?” She held up her left hand, middle finger extended. “American Sign Language? What?”
With a sudden motion, she closed on him and grabbed his shirt, twisted her hands in it before he could jerk away. She lifted up, surprising him with her strength, and pushed him against the garbage disposal. “I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU OR YOUR BUSINESS!!!” She bellowed at the top of her lungs. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME MISTER??”
His eyes were as big as saucers. Carvel flying saucers, in fact. “Roberts, I don’t think you want to do this.”
“All I want to do.” Dar’s voice dropped to a low rumble. “Is go get some clothes, go back to my hotel, and spend the night necking in the moonlight with my partner.” She got nose to nose with him. “And you, mister, are all that’s between me, and what I want.” She shook him. “YOU.. are the one who doesn’t want to do this. Trust me.”
“Boss, you want me to shoot her?” The thug behind her spoke in a voice was a touch hoarse.
“Put that away, you idiot.” DeSalliers snapped nervously. “She can probably catch the bullet.”
Dar snorted. She released the man’s shirt and let him up off the garbage dumpster. She looked over her shoulder at the thug, who was uncertainly juggling a small handgun. With a shake of her head, she returned her eyes to DeSalliers. “What will it take to convince you I don’t want any part of this?” She asked, in a normal tone. “We got involved by accident. I got uninvolved on purpose.”
He studied her. “All right.” He said. “Explain why you had your people jump my men out on St. Richard last night, and maybe I’ll believe you.”
“My people?” Dar stared at him.
“Pity we had to hurt them.” DeSalliers gave her a thin smile. “They didn’t get what they were after. Maybe you.” His long finger poked Dar in the chest. “Should take a lesson from that.” Now his tone turned dark. “You listen to me, Roberts. Keep out of my way. If you get in it again, I’ll take you out. Permanently.”
With that, he turned and stalked off, his thug trotting behind him.
Dar stared after him. “My people?” She whispered. “What in the he…”Her mind went back to an empty restaurant, and a quiet, still home that morning. She pulled out her cell phone and recalled Bud and Charlie’s number from memory, then dialed it.
It rang three times, then went to voice mail. Dar waited for the beep, then spoke. “Hey. It’s Dar. Give me a ring when you get this – I need to talk to you guys.” She hesitated, then hung up, closing the phone and tapping it against her chest. “This is getting to be like a bad episode of Twilight Zone.” She muttered.
After a moment of indecision, she headed towards the boat. She’d pick up their clothes, then go back to the hotel and let Kerry in on what had happened.
Christ. Dar shook her head in honest bewilderment. Who the hell knew what then?
Kerry didn’t really remember falling asleep. One moment, she was looking at the little area guide book she’d found in the inn room, then next moment she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She rolled over and blinked up at Dar. “Oh. Jesus. Did I conk out?”
Dar sat down on the bed next to her. “Apparently.” She smoothed Kerry’s hair back and felt her forehead. It was cool. “Might have been better if I’d stayed her and joined you.”
“Uh oh.” Kerry gazed up at her, seeing the turmoil in Dar’s expression. “Now what?
“Again? What the hell is it with that guy?”
Dar collapsed next to Kerry and spread her arms out across the covers. “He’s a self absorbed, megalomaniacal moron.”
“Well, yeah, but besides that.”
“He and one of his goons chased me down on the way to the boat. He still thinks we’re part of this stupid game he’s playing.”
“Chased you down?” Kerry sat right up, wide awake, her eyes going big and round.
“Easy, slugger.” Dar drawled, faintly amused at the always surprising ferociousness Kerry displayed on her behalf. “Yeah, we yelled at each other, and he left.” She sighed. “Problem is, he also hinted that he’d run into friends of ours, and they’d gotten hurt.” She lifted her phone. “I left a message for Bud, but there’s no answer on the line.”
“Yikes.” Kerry became concerned. “Dar, this isn’t funny. I think it’s time we called in the cops.”
Dar nodded. “Me, too.” She said. “I stopped by the police station on the way up here.”
“And?” Kerry settled back down next to her.
“It’s Christmas Day.” Dar gave her a wry look. “There was only one man in the place, and he was cleaning it. I think the rest of them are out on patrol.” She paused. “At least, I hope so.”
“Crap.” Kerry frowned. “Is there anyone else we can call?”
“All the US offices are closed.” Dar drummed her fingers on the covers. “I don’t know if there is anything we can do before tomorrow. I wish Bud would call me though. “
Dar’s eyebrows lifted. “He’s not that bad.”
“I meant DeSalliers.” Kerry scowled. “Should we go back to Bud and Charlie’s island? What about Rufus?” She eased over onto her side. “Dar, this sucks.”
“I know.” Dar gazed at the ceiling, considering. “We could go back there, but what if they didn’t? It’s a big ocean, and there’s dozens of islands around here.”
Kerry sighed. “No, it sucks because damn it, I wanted to celebrate your birthday with you tonight.” She complained, plucking at the fabric underneath her . “God, that sound so selfish, doesn’t it?” A faint laugh was forced out of her.
Dar reached over and scrubbed Kerry’s back with her fingertips. “Nah.”
“Urmph.” Kerry arched her neck. “Yes, it does.” She grumbled.
“Well.” Dar snuggled closer, and nuzzled the side of Kerry’s face. “It’s on my behalf, so you’re excused.”
Kerry slid her arms around Dar’s body and drew her closer, detecting a hint of wood smoke on her clothes. She tucked her head into Dar’s shoulder and exhaled, simply wanting the comfort of her lover’s presence.
Dar was more than glad to oblige. She gently rubbed Kerry’s lower back while she gazed at the ceiling, trying to figure out what to do next. It was almost dark outside, and with only the dim bed light on, the room settled into a peaceful twilight.
So quiet, that Dar’s cell phone going off nearly caused both of them to jump right off the bed. “Shit.” Dar scrabbled for the ringing cell. She flipped it open and held it to her ear. “Yes?”
Kerry put her head back down on Dar’s shoulder, willing her heart to stop trying to climb out her ears. She’d been half asleep, in that hazy place just before you went completely out, and her body was feeling a sense of shock at being jerked so rudely out of it.
“Yes.” Dar’s voice was serious. “All right. We’ll be right over.” She folded the phone up and set it on the bed, letting out a long breath.
“What is it?” Kerry asked.
“Charlie.” Dar murmured, after a moment. “He’s in the hospital, here, on St. Thomas.” She turned her head and looked at Kerry. “It’s not pretty.”
Kerry could easily have lived her entire life without seeing another hospital. She gave Dar’s side a pat, and hitched herself up on an elbow. “Let’s get going, then.” She said. “Like it or not, we’re buying into this, aren’t we?”
Dar sat up. “Looks like it. Yeah.” She got up off the bed and clipped the phone to her waist band. “You can stay here if you want, Ker. If you’re not feeling well, no sense in both of… ah.”
Kerry had gotten up and was running her brush through her hair. “Sweetie, if I can’t spend the night with you in that bed, then I’ll take what I can get.” She tossed the brush to Dar. “Besides, I like Charlie. I hope he’s okay.”
Dar brushed her hair, hoping the very same thing.
The hospital was busy. It was a relatively small set of buildings, not far from the town they’d been staying in. Dar lead the way inside and they went to the front desk. Giving Charlie’s name, they were directed upstairs.
Exiting onto the third floor, Dar spotted Bud near the end of the hall. She called out in a low voice, and he turned, closing the cell phone he’d been talking into and walking towards them.
Kerry drew in a breath. Bud’s face was half covered with an ugly bruise, though he appeared oblivious of it. His shirt was ripped, exposing his shoulder, and the back of one hand was scraped raw.
“What happened?” Dar asked quietly.
Bud looked up and down the corridor, then motioned them over to a bank of chairs. He sat down in one, and let his elbows rest on his knees. He studied the floor as Dar took a seat next to him. “You ever hear of something being too stupid for the Navy?”
Dar stifled a wry chuckle. “Heard that around my house growing up a time or two, yeah.”
“Well.” Bud’s voice was very soft. “I done something too stupid for the Navy.” He glanced at the back of his hand. “I stuck my mug someplace it didn’t belong, and got Charlie hurt for it.”
His pain was very evident. Kerry settled in the chair on the other side of him, and put a hand on his back, rubbing it sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”
“Not half as I am.” Bud said. “And you know, it kicks my ass to admit being this stupid.” He turned his head and regarded Dar. “Shoulda taken you up on your offer. Worst that’d caused is givin me a week’s heartburn.”
Dar managed a relatively sympathetic look. “What’d you get into?”
Bud appeared to struggle with himself for a moment longer, then he shook his head. “That damn kid offered us a chunk of change to go on and dive that site. We did.”
“The wreck?” Kerry asked. “The kid.. you mean, Bob?”
Bud nodded. “It was a dark dive, get in, get out… didn’t seem too dangerous to me. No big deal.” He said. “They caught us out there, but we got on the boat and headed out.”
“They followed you?” Dar hazarded.
“Chased our asses all the way back here.” Bud nodded. “We didn’t want to go back home.” He exhaled. “They caught us.” His eyes lifted towards a set of doors. “They had pipes and bats. Charlie’s got a busted kidney. He couldn’t get away from them, cause of his leg and I…”
“Stayed with him.” Kerry said.
“Something like that, yeah.” Bud admitted. “That pissant kid ran. Left us there, and took the boat.”
Kerry’s eyes narrowed. “That skunk.”
Dar rubbed her temple. “How much did he offer you?” She asked quietly.
“Doesn’t really matter.” Bud muttered.
“HOW MUCH.” It was amazing how much force Dar could project in her voice, without raising its volume.
Bud blinked. “Ten grand. Why?”
“That what the nut is on your place?”
Dar checked her watch, then dialed a number on her cell phone. She waited for it to connect, then she started punching in numbers, leaning back and concentrating on what she was doing.
“So, how is Charlie?” Kerry asked.
Bud turned his eyes from Dar’s simmering form. “He got hit all over. They ripped his prosthesis off. Belted him in the kidney. That’s the bitch. He’s had problems with that one.”
Dar tapped him on the knee. “This place taken care of?” She indicated the hospital.
Bud straightened. “I ain’t looking for no handout.” He snapped at her. “We’re fine.”
Dar leaned closer to him and narrowed her eyes. “If I have to, I can dial into this place and find out if you’ve got insurance or not. So just answer the damn question and don’t give me a hard time.”
Bud’s eyes dropped.
“That’s what I thought.” Dar stood up. “Okay. I’ve had it. That stupid mother bastard DeSalliers is so damned convinced I’m a part of this, he’s gonna get what he asked for.” She put her hands on her hips. “Can we see Charlie?”
Bud looked like the subject changes were giving him whiplash. He put his hand on his jaw. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Good.” Dar said. “You got a place to stay out here?”
Bud shook his head.
“Rufus taken care of?”
“Yeah. He’s staying with a buddy.”
Kerry pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket and got up, heading for a nearby pay phone. “I’ll call the hotel.” She told Dar. “You want me to start calling around to find our friend Bob?”
“Wait till we get back to the room.” Dar told her. “I need my laptop.”
Bud looked between the two of them, a little taken aback. “What are you doing?”
“We.” Kerry told him, covering the mouthpiece of the phone. “Are doing what we do.” She glanced at Dar’s fierce expression, then went back to the phone. “Yes? Yes. We have a room, I know. I’d like a second one.”
Dar waited for Kerry to finish. They entered the room where Charlie was, walking quietly into the softly blinking machinery that surrounded him.
Dar closed her eyes. The beating her friend had taken was hideous. DeSalliers, you bastard. You don’t know what you just stirred up. She laid her hands on the iron rails, and gazed at Charlie’s battered form. “Hey.”
His eyes were mere slits. But they opened a little on seeing Dar.
Bud gently clasped his hands around Charlie’s, chafing them. “Called in the Marines, Punky.”
A faint hint of a smile pulled at Charlie’s lips. “So I’see.”
“Take it easy.” Dar leaned on the rails. “I’m in charge now, and I make the rules.” She said. “They giving you good drugs?”
Charlie nodded slightly.
“Good.” Dar wrote her cell phone number on a pad sitting on the small bedside table. “You need anything, call.” She put the pen down. “I’m going to see the desk when I go out. You’ll get taken care of.”
“B..” Bud straightened.
Dar just looked at him. Bud subsided, with a tired sigh. “I’ve got a wire transfer coming in tomorrow.” Dar went on. “We’ll get your Uncle Guido taken care of, then I’m gonna go after DeSalliers.”
“What are you gonna do?” Bud asked.
“Find out the truth first. Then I’m gonna give him exactly what he asked for.” Dar said. “You staying here for a while” She asked Bud.
“Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle. We’ve got a room for you.” Dar told him.
Charlie made a muffled sound that was suspiciously like laughter.
“You hush.” Bud growled at him. “I can stay right here.”
Kerry leaned over and gave Charlie’s arm a squeeze. “Chase him out, okay?”
Charlie nodded, still chuckling. “Runnin some tests or suchlike on me. Checking my guts out.” He explained. “Hell, if they get their asses done, I’ll drag him over there m’self.” His bruised eyes went to Dar’s face. “Damned if you don’t’ sound just like your daddy.”
Dar straightened. “Thanks.” She gave him a gracious nod. “C’mon, Ker. Let’s go light some fires.”
Kerry’s eyebrows went up. So did Bud and apparently Charlie’s, but it was hard to tell.
Dar cocked her head. “What?”
Kerry circled the bed and took Dar’s arm. “You can light my fires anytime, honey.” She assured Dar. “But you don’t’ need to brag about it.”
Dar opened her mouth to answer, and saw the smirks. She closed her jaw, and gathered her dignity, sweeping it around her like a cloak as she followed Kerry’s lead out of the room.
Bud glared at the door for a minute, then he released a sigh. “Son of bitch, I hated doing that.”
“Buddy, Buddy, Buddy…” Charlie squeezed his hand. “She’s a friend, yeah?”
Bud stared at the bleached linen.
“We got any other friends who’d do what she’s doing?”
“It twists my shorts.” Bud ground out. “I ain’t a charity case!”
“Bud.” Charlie’s voice gentled, and he stroked Bud’s cheek. “For her, it ain’t charity.” He said. “She’s Navy. She’s family. That runs deep, you know it. If anyone from back then asked, and we could – wouldn’t we do it?”
“Almost anyone.” Bud muttered. “But…” He slumped a little. “Yeah.”
Charlie ruffled his hair affectionately. “Well, then they gotta let me outta here, cause damned if I ain’t gonna stay with you in Blackbeard’s Inn.”
Kerry put the phone down into its cradle, and closed the room service menu. Dar was seated across from her with her laptop open on her lap, its cellular antennae poking up along the side. “Hey, sweetie?”
“Uh?” Dar looked up, blinking at her.
“Could I bribe you to do that from here?” Kerry patted the bed next to her.
“Sure.” Dar got up and carried the laptop with her, dropping down onto the bed and waiting, as Kerry fluffed the pillow up behind her. She leaned back and was rewarded with not only a backrest, but body pillow that propped up her arm and twined between her legs. “What’d ya order?”
“It’s a surprise.” Kerry put her head down on Dar’s shoulder and examined the screen. “What’s that?”
“Police reports.” Dar scanned them. “Not that I really know what I’m looking at. I need a lawyer.”
“Sorry.” Kerry stifled a yawn. “Though, that was actually one of the acceptable alternative careers my family would have allowed me.” She reviewed the cryptic comments on the screen. “They were hedging their bets. I think they knew Mike wasn’t going to cut it.”
Dar rubbed the side of her thumb against the laptop, trying to imagine Kerry as a lawyer. “What kind of lawyer would you have been?” She asked curiously.
“No kind.” Kerry informed her. “I never even considered it.” She scrolled with the thumb pad and clicked. “First thing I wanted to be was a fireman.”
Dar held back a chuckle. “That shoulda told them something.”
“Mm.” Kerry did chuckle softly. “Yeah, now that I think about it.” She agreed. “Then I wanted to be a research scientist, but I realized in high school that I didn’t have the aptitude for it.” She clicked again. “Then I found computers, and went.. ah hah!”
“Ah hah.” Dar examined the screen. It was a complaint filing, apparently by Bob’s grandmother, at the time of his grandfather’s death. In the stark, impersonal language used by the police, the complaint involved the woman feeling that Bob’s uncle had somehow been involved in the sinking, and detailing why.
Threats, apparently, had been made. The police had not been impressed, and merely had noted the complaint along with the comment that the woman had been extremely ‘emotional’ when it had been taken.
“Hm.” Dar drummed her fingertips on the laptop keyboard. “What do you think?”
“Well.” Kerry exhaled. “At least it wasn’t just some bs story Bob made up on his own.” She said. “Which does not excuse him from skunkhood for leaving Bud and Charlie behind.”
“Mm. Think you can find him? Where do you figure – he went back to St. Richard?”
Kerry rolled over and squiggled across the bed, reaching for the island directory. The squiggling intrigued Dar, who enjoyed it as she squiggled on back and opened the book. “I’m betting he’s here in St. Thomas.” She said. “It’s bigger and busier here than St. Richard.” Her finger traced a column of hotels. “Let’s see if we can find the little stinker.”
Dar watched in bemusement as Kerry selected a number and dialed it on the room phone. “He’s probably not registered under his real name.” She commented.
“Last name, no.” Kerry agreed, waiting for an answer. “Hello.. hi, um… “Her voice shifted to a slightly different tone. “This is kind of crazy, but I met this guy today, yeah… I’m trying to find him again, and I only know his first name. Can anyone help me?” A pause. “Oh, thanks. You’re wonderful.”
Dar folded her arms over her chest.
“Hi, yeah. No, his name’s Bob, and he’s really cute…oh, right, um.. he’s got blondish like hair, and he’s really well built… yeah, about that age, yeah…okay, I’ll hold.” Kerry hummed under her breath. “No? Oh, what? Oh, I see… you did? Wow.. thanks!” She hung up. “They’re full. They sent their overflow to a different hotel, and she thinks Bob was one of them.”
“A different hotel?” Dar laughed.
“This one.” Kerry found the name on her list, and proceeded to call it. “Want me to try southern belle, next?”
“Is that how you conned those circuits out of Southern Bell last month?” Dar was still laughing.
Kerry grinned. “No, but… I’ll have to remember that.” She cleared her throat. “Howdy there… ahm lookin for a real cutie I met down on the beach t’day…kin you help me?”
Dar covered her mouth, and continued her scrolling, keeping one ear on Kerry’s best efforts at sounding like Dolly Parton. The information she’d recovered was straightforward enough, but the problem was, it was hard to tell if there was any truth to any of it.
What to do? She really felt in need of an expert to at least look at the case, and give an opinion on who was more likely to be telling the truth, if any of them were. The uncle had answered through a lawyer, in a tone almost insulting in it’s dismissal of the insinuation, and she instinctively favored the grandmother, but….
Grandmothers can be sneaky, too, and maybe she was trying to hold onto her husband’s money. Dar sighed. She checked her address book and looked up a number, then dialed it on her cell phone.
It rang twice, then was answered. “Hello?”
“Merry Christmas, Richard.” Dar said. “It’s Dar.”
“Dar!” Her family lawyer sounded pleased, if a bit puzzled to be hearing from her. “Merry Christmas, and happy birthday, lady!”
“Thanks.” Dar replied. “Listen, I need a favor.” She paused. “More or less a professional one.”
Richard Edgerton’s gears switched. “Well, sure, Dar.” He answered briskly. “You’re not in any trouble are you? Hard to believe.”
“No.” Dar answered without thinking, then considered. “Well, not me personally, that is.”
“Kerry?” He hazarded a guess.
“No.. we’re on vacation.” Dar explained.
Dar could hear rustling, and she guessed Richard was getting a pad to write with. He was a very good lawyer, and he knew estate law like the back of his hand. “Don’t ask me how I got involved in this.. but I am.” She began.
“Uh oh.” Richard chuckled. “Let me hold onto something… this should be a doozy.”
Dar sighed. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“He’s there.” Kerry’s voice interrupted her. “He’s staying in that hotel.”
“Hang on, Richard.” Dar looked at her. “Invite him over for a drink.” She said. “Tell him we’d like to chat.”
Kerry nibbled her lip. “I wont’ let him know we know about Charlie and Bud.”
“Not yet, no.” Dar smiled grimly. “Wait till he gets here.”
Kerry nodded, and went back to the phone. Dar did the same. “Okay, Richard.. here’s the deal. We’re out on St. Thomas…”
“Nice place to spend Christmas.” Richard replied amiably.
“Right. We ran into a guy who told us a horse’s tale about trying to prove his uncle murdered his grandfather to inherit the family fortune.”
Long silence. “Dar, have you been at the rum?”
Dar sighed. “Yes, but not today.” She said. “Listen, if I shoot something over to you in email, will you just look at it, and tell me what you think? It’s a pile of legal crap I don’t have time to figure out.”
Richard chuckled. “Sure, Dar. Send it over – I was stuck watching my second cousin’s vacation video out in Mexico.. it’s a great rescue.”
Dar packed the files into an archive, and sent it. “Thanks… you can call me on the cell once you see what you think.”
“What’s your percentage in this, Dar?”
Hm. Good question. “Like I said, I got dragged into it.” Dar replied. “Now some friends of mine got dragged in too, and they got hurt. I need to know what side the angels are on so I can figure out what to do.”
“Ah! I see.” Richard murmured. “It’s your crusader side coming out, eh?”
“Why does everyone keep calling it that?” Dar whined. “It’s not crusading.. this stupid asshole just won’t leave me alone!”
“Uh huh.” Her lawyer replied. “Lemme take a look, Dar. It sounds like some typical sordid family interfighting over money, but I’ll give you my best opinion on it.”
“Thanks Richard.” Dar smiled. “I owe you one.”
“How about letting me handle your investments?” Richard shot back, with cheerful mercenary humor. “You know, I hate to admit this but you made me a bundle investing in ILS last quarter.”
Dar chuckled. “We’ll talk.” She said.
“How’s mom and dad doing?” Richard asked. “I heard some scandal they were living out on a boat?”
“A sixty foot Bertram, yes.” Dar replied dryly. “Having the time of their lives.”
Richard laughed heartily. “Good for them! I love it!” He chortled. “I’ll have to come down and see it sometime… listen, let me get to this, and I’ll be back to you, okay?”
“Thanks, Rich.” Dar hung up the phone, and turned to Kerry. “Are we set?”
“Hook, line, sinker, and a tin can off the bottom.” Kerry nodded. “He’ll be on his way over in a little while. He’s just finishing dinner.” She scratched her nose. “He sounded really happy to hear my voice for some reason.”
Dar gave her a very wry look. “With the Southern Comfort, or without?”
Kerry stuck her tongue out. Dar obligingly leaned over and caught it between her teeth. She slowly released it, then fastened her attention on Kerry’s lips instead. “Mm.” She drawled softly as they parted. “Much as I want to get this nailed, I’d be lying if I said I wanted it to be tonight.” She tilted her head and kissed Kerry again, then moved her nibbles down Kerry’s throat to feel her pulse thrumming against her lips as she suckled the soft skin.
“Guess you see my point then.” Kerry murmured, her hand slowly gliding beneath Dar’s shirt to explore the warm surface underneath. “About feeling selfish.”
Dar set her laptop on the floor, and then she rolled over, shoving the island guide and phone aside and wrapping her arms and legs around Kerry’s body. “Oh, yeah.” Dar growled, continuing her assault. “Call me selfish. I want you all to myself.”
“Oo.” Kerry felt her heart rate speed up and a flush of warmth tingle her skin. There was a faint pressure at her waistband, then Dar’s touch slid beneath her shirt and traced up her ribcage. She laced her fingers through Dar’s hair and nuzzled her ear, nibbling lightly on her earlobe.
She could feel Dar’s breath against her neck, then the soft, insistent tug as Dar’s teeth undid the top button to her shirt. Kerry cupped her hand along Dar’s cheek, stroking it as her thumb traced Dar’s lip.
Dar unbuttoned her shirt slowly, and Kerry felt the cool air on the room brush against her, raising goose bumps along her belly. Dar’s lips intensified the sensation, and Kerry rapidly lost any thought of their problems.
All that mattered now was the teasing touches on her breasts, and the warm, sun filled scent of Dar’s skin and the need for Dar’s body that made her hands push aside the soft cotton separating them with bold impatience.
“Grrrrrmmlll…” The low rumble tickled her skin. Kerry felt Dar’s teeth close gently, teasingly on the skin around her belly button. “Mine.”
Definitely. Kerry’s back arched, and she wrapped her arms around Dar, feeling the powerful muscles along her spine bunch and move. They pressed together briefly, a jolt of heat before Dar shifted lower and her hand dropped to stroke Kerry’s thigh.
“Thanks.” Kerry signed the check, and shooed the room service waiter out of the room before his eyeballs could skitter out of his head and ramble across the floor. She shut the door behind him and turned, regarding the bed with a wry grin.
Dar was sprawled across it, the sheet just barely covering what was very obviously a naked body. She had the laptop propped on one thigh, but the other was outside the linen, extending its long, tanned length across the white surface.
Shaking her head, Kerry went over to the table and investigated the tray, peeking under one cover and grinning at what she saw. “Hungry, sweetie?”
“Not anymore.” Dar drawled.
“Heh.” Kerry hitched up the edge of Dar’s red muscle T-shirt, which she’d stolen and donned after they’d finished their lovemaking. She perched on the edge of the table, arranging a few of the plates on it. “Well, okay – we’ll start with this, then.” Taking one of the plates, she walked over to the bed and knelt down.
“Happy birthday to you.. happy birthday to you…”
Dar looked up in alarm, to see a beautifully made chocolate something with more chocolate insides and chocolate topping, with berries sitting on the plate. In the center was a single candle. “Awww.”
“Happy birthday dear Dar… Happy birthday to you.” Kerry warbled.
Dar sniffed at the plate, licking her lips appreciatively. “Share?” She blew out the candle with a single puff of air.
Kerry sat down on the bed and picked up the fork, cutting off a gooey piece and feeding it to Dar.
“Ooo.. I like that.” Dar mumbled. “I just got a data dump from Mark.” She informed Kerry. “DeSalliers stats, financial and otherwise. I figured out why he’s so desperate.”
“Why?” Kerry fed her another forkful of cake as she peered at the screen.
“He’s broke.” Dar munched. “He invested in two capital ventures that went belly up, and the banks called in some of his loans when they figured out he had paper that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on in his accounts.”
“Ahhh.” Kerry nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense. So Old Uncle offers a windfall to… to what, Dar?” She asked. “Not bring up something – that’s the last thing he’d want to do.”
Dar gazed at the screen. “No. He’d want him to scuttle the wreck.” She realized. “Jesus… that’s what it is. He’s gonna cannibalize it.”
Kerry had the fork in her mouth. She drew it out and swallowed the rich mouthful. “Are you saying he’s going to wreck something that’s already wrecked? To keep anyone from getting anything out of it?”
Dar nodded. “Yeah, but…” She flipped to another screen. “He’s got a problem. It’s in AVI territorial waters, and he can’t just go in there and set off dynamite.”
Kerry portioned off another forkful and handed it over. “How do you light dynamite underwater, Dar?”
Dar chewed and typed in silence, then swallowed. “Did you get any…”
“Milk? Yeah.” Kerry set the plate down and went to retrieve it.
“I don’t know.” Dar answered the previous question. “You’d have to ask my father. His specialty used to be called UDX. Underwater Demolition.”
As if by some supernatural invocation, Dar’s cell phone rang and when she checked the caller ID, it was familiar. With a tiny, surprised grunt, Dar flipped the phone open. “Hi, Dad.”
Kerry, on her way back with the milk, goggled. “Wow.” She murmured. “Spooky.”
“Hey there, Dardar.” Andrew Robert’s cheerful voice came through the phone. “How’s the vacation going?”
Truth? Dar had microseconds to decide. “Great.” She finally said. “We ran into pirates, we’re involved in a possible murder case, and Kerry got bit by a jellyfish, but other than, that, it’s been very cool.”
It wasn’t often that Andy Roberts was rendered speechless. “Son of a biscuit.” He finally spluttered. “Damn, Dar – what the hell you two getting into out there?”
Dar sighed. It was such a long story at this point…. Kerry took the phone from her and put it to her ear. “Hey, Dad?”
“I’ve got sort of a running diary of it – want me to email it to you on Dar’s computer?” Kerry offered. “I think that’ll be easier than us trying to explain it. I’ll set it to print out on the printer.”
“Ah would appreciate that, kumquat. Mah wife is rattling her eyebrows at me wondering what the hell’s going on.”
Dar took the phone back. “It’s not that bad, Dad.” She explained. “Just… complicated.” She lifted her hands off the keyboard as Kerry crawled into bed next to her and pecked out a few commands.
“Uh huh.” Andrew grunted. “Well, anyhow, you having a happy birthday?”
Dar examined the blonde sprawled in her lap. “Yeah, it’s great.” She replied. “Kerry and I have been shopping and.. um.. relaxing all day.”
“Relaxing?” Kerry murmured. “I certainly wasn’t relaxed… yipe!” She squirmed as Dar pinched her. “Stop that.” She ran a finger along the inside of Dar’s very bare thigh, snickering when she heard Dar’s voice break.
“N.. no, Dad, honest. We’re fine.” Dar cleared her throat. “I’ve got everything under control.” She bit the inside of her lip as Kerry tickled her thigh again. “Almost everything.”
“Wall, you be careful.” Andrew warned. “Hang on.”
The phone rustled, then a lighter voice came on. “Dar?”
“Hi, mom.” Dar said.
“I’m not going to pretend I have a clue about what’s going on, so I’m just going to wish you a happy birthday.”
Dar chuckled. “Thanks.”
“And I hope you’re also having a good annual hypercommercialized forced exchange of personal resources, too.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, mom.”
“Merry Christmas, mom!” Kerry leaned back and called out. “Good Solstice.”
“Tell Kerry I said thanks, and thank her for the card.” Ceci said. “You kids be careful, hear?”
Kerry finished her task, then scooted out of bed and ambled back over to table, before Dar’s close, bare proximity spurred her to further amorous adventures.
“We’ll be fine, mother.” Dar exhaled. “How’s Chino?”
“She’s just fine.” Ceci assured her. “The place is fine, the island hasn’t sank, your stock is up two dollars, and I do believe your father has just opened a bottle of champagne, so I’ll just have to let you get on with your celebration.”
“Have a great night.” Dar told her. “Call us if you need anything.”
“How about you call us if you need anything?” Ceci countered. “G’night, Dar.”
Dar had just closed the phone, when a knock came at the door. “Ah. Bet that’s our friend.” She commented. “Let him in.”
Kerry turned, putting one hand on her hip. She gazed at Dar with both eyebrows lifted.
Dar stared back at her, then realized what she was looking at. “Oh.” She put the laptop aside and stood up, shedding her bed sheets and padding across the wooden floor. She opened her bag and pulled out a pair of shorts and a shirt.
Kerry went to the door and leaned on it. “Just a second.” She called, peeking through the eyehole to make sure it was Bob, and not something even skunkier.
“Okay.” Dar returned the bed and retrieved her laptop, then settled into an armchair instead.
Kerry opened the door. “Hi.” She stepped back to allow Bob to enter. “C’mon in.”
He was dressed in pressed chinos and a neatly ironed polo. “Hi.” He gave Kerry an eager smile, his eyes flicking over her head to Dar, and then back. “Thanks for calling me… I was hoping I could find you guys again. I really need to talk to you.”
“Ah.” Dar murmured. “That’s good, because we need to talk to you.”
Bob walked hesitantly over, and took the seat across from Dar. “I’m sorry, I’m interrupting your dinner?”
Kerry had returned to the table. “It’s okay. We’re used to eating during business.” She examined Dar’s plate, then walked over and handed it to her. “Bob, you know, I’m really pissed off at you.”
Dar set the plate on the chair arm, and continued her work, letting Kerry do the talking as they’d planned.
“M.. me?” Bob sounded very surprised. “What did I do?”
“You left two friends of ours in a really bad place last night.” Kerry gazed seriously at him. “They got hurt.” She sat down on the edge of the window, and rested her elbows on her knees. “Why did you do that?”
For a moment, the only sound was the soft, rapid-fire rattling of Dar’s laptop keys.
“I thought they’d be fine.” Bob finally muttered. “I thought they would go after me, not them.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t mean for them to get hurt.”
Well. Kerry considered. That was actually marginally logical. “Why did you think they’d go after you?” She asked.
Bob got up and paced, visibly nervous. “Why? I’m the one they’re after. I’m the one who keeps trying to get down to that wreck. If we’d gotten anything, it’d been on that boat… sure, I thought they’d go after me.”
“But they didn’t.” Kerry said.
“No, I…” Bob stared out the window. “I thought I got lucky.” He turned. “Hey, it’d be the third time, you know? Besides, those guys looked like they could take care of themselves. What could I have done, anyway?”
Kerry stared steadily at him.
“Hey…I admit it. I’m no hero.” Bob lifted his hands. “I’m not like you. I’ll save my own skin first, and that’s just the truth, okay?”
Kerry looked at Dar. Dar rolled her eyes and shook her had. Kerry sighed, and took a bite of her dinner. “So, why were you looking for us, then?” She asked. “Did you need another diversionary target?”
Bob apparently felt his grilling was over, and that he’d won a point. “No.” He gathered his confidence again. “Look, I realized I was going about this the wrong way. I need resources, and help.” He faced them. “So, here’s the deal.”
Dar rested her elbow on the chair arm, while Kerry leaned forward attentively.
“I want to make you my partners.” Bob said. “Is that a good deal, or what?”
Blue and green eyes met across the inn room.
Kerry sighed. “Bob?”
“Yeah?” He grinned at her. “I know, it’s a big sacrifice for me, but…”
“Did you get dropped on you head a lot as a kid?”
“I should have stayed naked.” Dar commented, shaking her head sadly. “He’d never have noticed.”
“Another explicit reason why stupid people shouldn’t breed.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
“I think we should just tie him up and leave him in the closet.” Kerry decided.
“Okay. Here’s the scenario as I see it.” Dar paced in front of the window, her hands in her pockets.
Bob was sitting in the corner, keeping as far away from Bud, who’d arrived not long prior, as he could. Kerry was seated on the bed cross-legged, and the only thing missing was a whiteboard and markers.
Dar was actually quite a good situational analyst, Kerry had decided some time ago. She tended to toss out all the irrelevant details and concentrate on the core issues and if you were smart you let her finish before you asked any questions.
“But, wait…” Bob spoke up. “Don’t you think I should explain my part of this first?”
“No.” Dar said. “As I was saying… here’s the scenario.” She paused. “We have a ten year old wreck just east of Charlie and Bud’s place, in pretty rough condition. We have one certifiable nutcase trying to bring up bits of it, and another certifiable nutcase trying to blow it up.”
“Hey!” Bob protested.
“Shut up.” Bud drawled. “Or I’ll stick a chair leg down your throat.”
“Nutcase two has the resources to achieve his objective.” Dar consulted a piece of paper on the table, now cleared of its tray. A pot of tea, however, squatted mutely in the center. “He also has the easier task.” She turned to Bob. “Are you ready to tell us what you’re looking for?”
Bob squirmed a little as all eyes fastened on him. “Um.” He swallowed, an audible sound in the room. “Well, you know, that’s a… y’see, I don’t know if I can, um…”
Dar walked over and put her arms on his chair, fixing him with her dourest look. “Kerry risked her life to save your ass. Don’t even think about not trusting us.”
“Uh.” Bob leaned back in the chair. “It’s not that, it’s… just.. I…”
“You don’t know, do you?” Kerry spoke up. “You have no idea of what you’re looking for.”
Dar looked at Kerry, then looked at Bob. The expression on his face told volumes. “Is that true?”
“Um.” Bob gulped. “Sorta.”
Dar straightened and walked over to the window, lifting both hands and letting them drop in eloquent silence.
“Son of a bitch.” Bud snorted. “No wonder you told us to show you everything we done brought up.” He said. “I thought that weird ass story about lookin for pieces of no puzzle.”
“See…” Bob sat up. “I told you I shoulda explained first. Here’s the deal.” He took a breath. “My grandma..”
“She’s not your grandmother.” Dar interrupted. “You’re not even related to her. You’re trying to impress her granddaughter, who you want to marry.”
Bob looked at her in consternation.
“You’re from Ohio.” Kerry added, with a brief smile. “Your family raises alpacas.”
“Who are you people?” Bob asked, looking from one to the other. “Cops?”
Kerry just laughed.
“Okay.” Bob sighed. “Yeah, I’m a fraud.”
“Now there’s a damn news flash.” Bud muttered.
“But it’s in a great cause. Listen.” Bob recovered. “It’s true, about Tanya’s grandpa. He hated his kids like poison. Wanted to find away to screw em over any way he could. So his will…”
“Left most everything to charity and his wife.” Dar broke in. “Except after he drowned, the family brought a suit claiming he was nuts, and had the will invalidated.” She lifted a sheet of paper on the table. “Everything went to the eldest son.”
“Right.” Bob wrested control back of the conversation. “And he’s a jerk.”
“Common problem we’ve been encountering lately.” Kerry murmured. “Maybe it’s the water.”
“He controls everything, and the worst part is, he took all Tanya’s grandmother’s money away from her because he got the courts to say she’s incompetent.” Bob went on. “Tanya helps her out, but it’s really tough. Her uncle says it’s just too bad, since she, Grandma, I mean, supported Grandpa and didn’t want him to leave any money to the rest of them.”
That, Dar acknowledged, seemed to be the truth according to the two page neatly formatted answer she’d gotten from Richard. The uncle, Patrick Wharton, was apparently really the asshole Bob was describing. Richard had added several footnotes in which he’d laid out the players – none of them seemed to be sterling citizens but of them all, Wharton was the worst, and apparently grandma was a witchy, but basically innocent victim.
The fact that Bob was actually wanting to marry into this nest of unpleasant invertebrates sealed his idiocy, so far as Dar was concerned.
“Okay.” Dar sat on the windowsill. “So we don’t even know if this thing, whatever it is, exists.”
“We think it does… well, it did.” Bob said. “The thing is, we’re looking to prove old grandpa Wharton wasn’t nuts, and maybe uncle Patrick had something to do with his drowning.”
“Do you really think he did?” Kerry asked.
Bob shrugged. “I dunno, but he’s the type that coulda.”
Bud got up and messed with the teapot. “Bullshit chase.” He shook his head.
Dar was inclined to agree. “What makes you think there’s anything on that boat that can prove anything? It’s been sunk for a decade.”
At last, Bob smiled. “Cause Putrid Pat thinks so.” He said. “They pulled apart the old man’s house after they shipped the old lady off to a nursing home. Right after that, he went nuts and started hiring DeSalliers to go check out the wreck.” His fingers tapped the chair arms. “Tanya found out, and that’s how the whole thing got started. We figure he must know something or else why bother?”
Kerry propped her chin up on her fist. “That makes sense.” She admitted.
“So DeSalliers must know what he’s looking for.” Dar murmured.
“And he thinks maybe you found it, that first time.” Bud commented. “Maybe that’s why he keeps pestering you.”
Kerry got off the bed and walked over to the table, examining the pages Dar had printed out. “But we didn’t. All we brought up was an old wooden cigar box, falling to pieces. It was so coral encrusted, it looked like a piece of sea garbage. There wasn’t anything there.”
“But… he doesn’t know that.” Dar leaned back against the sill. “And he’s panicking, because unless he can bring back positive proof to Wharton, he doesn’t get paid. He doesn’t get paid, he’s tapped, and I doubt he can afford the gas to get back to the states.”
“Okay.” Kerry joined Dar by the window sill, settling next to her shoulder to shoulder. “So there’s two different things here. I guess the involvement thing is more important to the uncle, but there’s proving he wasn’t nuts. I don’t think that would be something that would be on that wreck.”
“No.” Dar agreed. “We have to figure out why he was all the way down here in the tropics, and what he was after.”
“We were hoping to find his log.” Bob explained. “He kept a diary, but it was a paper book, so… unless someone salvaged it, and it’s in somebody’s house, or in a shop somewhere…”
Bud sipped his tea, glaring at everyone over the rim of the cup. “Can ask around.” He said. “We know the freelance salvagers round here.”
Dar grunted, giving Bud a brief nod. “All right.” She decided. “First thing we do is scuttle DeSalliers. I’ll call Wharton tomorrow, tell him I think I’ve got what he wants, and see what he says about it.”
Everyone looked at Dar in surprise. Dar looked back at them. “What? I’m sick and tired of that bozo smacking my friends around and ruining my vacation.”
“He could freak out.” Kerry suggested.
“He could grow tail feathers and fly to Bermuda, too.” Dar replied. “Meantime, Bud, if you’ll check with your buddies and see if you can find out what this guy’s gig was, maybe we can make heads or tails out of this stupidity and I can go back to windsurfing.”
“Yeah, I can do that.” Bud grudgingly agreed. “They figure on letting Charlie out tomorrow. He’s got a bigger little black book. We can call more then.”
“All right.” Dar folded her arms. “I’ll pull as much regulatory information I can on the old man’s business contracts. I’ve got someone unraveling his public trust filings.” She exhaled. “Meanwhile, we’ll visit the government offices tomorrow and see what they have on record for him, and that damn boat, and what was filed when it sank.”
Bob gazed at her. “Who are you people?” He asked again. “C’mon. I came clean, now it’s your turn. Are you government agents or something?”
“No.” Dar told him, with a severe look. “It’s worse. We’re rampaging techno-capitalists.” She put an arm around Kerry’s shoulders. “Dilbert on steroids, only classier, and with a much cuter dog.”
Kerry snorted, turning and burying her face in Dar’s shoulder. “Honey, stop it.” She uttered.
“He asked.” Dar shrugged.
“Right.” Bob murmured. “Okay, well.. what do you want me to do?”
“Nothing.” Dar told him curtly.
“Really…” Kerry adopted a slightly kinder tone. “We’ve got it covered. If DeSalliers sees you around, it’s just going to complicate things.”
Bob looked at her. “You’re really a spy, aren’t you?” He accused. “Or some international police or something ?” He snapped his fingers. “I got it, are you a DEA agent?”
“No.” Kerry sighed. “I’m a nerd.” She told him, causing Bud to muffle a smirk. “Really.”
“Oh.” Bob still looked very confused. “Like a hacker?”
“NO. Dar’s the hacker. I’m just a nerd.” Kerry was about at the end of her patience.
“You really a hacker?” Bud asked Dar with interest.
Dar started chuckling. “Sometimes, yeah.” She said. “A very, very expensive one.” Her hands drifted over the laptop keyboard. “Okay. I think that’s enough intrigue for the night. Kerry needs to get some rest.” She glanced up at Bud. “You let us know tomorrow how Charlie’s doing?”
Bud nodded. “Yeah.” He fiddled with the room key. “He about chewed that doctor’s arm off when he said he couldn’t come outta there.”
“Know how he feels.” Dar said. “I’ll give you a call in the morning after I call Wharton.”
“What about me?” Bob whined.
“We’ll call you too.” Kerry told him trying not to hear the low growl behind her. “Dar’s right. We should all get some rest. I’m sure tomorrow’s going to be busy.”
She gently herded them out, and shut the door. Then she turned and faced Dar, who had taken a seat in one of the armchairs. “Why do I feel like I’m trapped in a bizarro Agatha Christie mystery novel?”
Dar held a hand out to her, and Kerry crossed over to the chair, sitting on its arm. “I figure, we get rid of DeSalliers, dig up whatever stuff we can here and give it to Bob and get rid of *him*, and then we can get back to having fun.”
Kerry leaned over and kissed Dar on the head. “Sounds like a plan, boss.”
She only hoped it worked.