By Melissa Good
The operations meeting had been underway for ten minutes or so before Kerry entered, giving everyone a brief, distracted nod before she took her seat at the head of the table and ran her eyes over a freshly printed agenda. The staff started warbling at once.
"Kerry, that circuit you were escalating came in."
"Weve got six mainframes stuck in customs in Mexico, Midwest OPS wants to know if you can help."
"The coffee machine just exploded."
Kerrys head jerked up at the last statement, and she peered across the table at Enid Petrofax, the MIS coordinator. "What?"
Enid scratched her jaw nervously. "Didnt you hear the bang? The machine just exploded. Weve got espresso grinds from the main door to the bathroom."
Everyone was silent, exchanging startled glances. "Ah." Kerry sat back. "Well, have we called the company? How in the hell could that thing explode? I realize its steam powered, but good grief!"
"Well." Mark had entered, and was now approaching the table, his entire shirt front covered in dark brown liquid and grounds. "I gotta tell ya, that was the stupidest thing I ever saw." He held up a piece of round metal. "Damn hot chocolate top musta fallen in the espresso handle. It blocked the steam."
"Ew." Kerry winced.
"That wasnt the stupid part." Mark glared dourly around the table. "We need to find out what technognorp kept pressing the brew button when nothing was coming out."
Kerry covered her eyes. "Oh, good grief." She peeked between her fingers at the muddy looking MIS Chief. "Mark, go change. Enid, call Laurenzo Brothers if you havent already, and put a note out to the building to remind them were a technology company and should act like it."
"Yes, maam." Enid made a note on her pad. "Maria already called Laurenzo Brothers. Shes got a cousin that works there."
"Unbelievable." Kerry shook her head. "Okay, now.. what was that about Mexico? Those arent the mainframes for the university project in Illinois, are they?"
John Byers, their Midwest operations manager, nodded glumly. "Yeah. Youre going to ask me next how they ended up in Mexico, right? I wish I knew. All I can get from IBM is that they were on one of our POs that had that as a freight address." He paused, and reviewed his notes. "I asked them to fax me a copy of it, but the bottom line is, they want a ton of money to release them out of customs and onto the plane to Chicago."
Kerry leaned back, wishing she didnt have the headache she did. The weather, she suspected, was the root cause. "Okay." She steepled her fingers and rested her lips against the tips of them, trying to figure out what Dar would do.
Something tricky, she was sure, because handing over thousands of dollars into government fingers wasnt something Dar would have liked. Hm. She was aware of everyones eyes on her, curious and intent, especially Clarices at the other end of the table.
What would Dar do?
"Okay. This is what youre going to do." Kerry took a breath. "Whats the closest account weve got down there?"
"Tijuana International." Stacia Brennon supplied, her voice curious. "Why?"
Kerry got up and paced, something she knew her partner loved to do. "Call up the delivery executive for that account. Tell him to take delivery of those mainframes." She paused, and turned, leaning her hands on the back of Marks empty chair. "Then write up an inter divisional transfer between the South American SBU and the Educational, and have FedEx International pick them up on our inter-company account."
"Oo." Stacia smiled. "I like it."
John Byers chuckled. "Me too. Stace, you want to call Pedro? Ill get FedEx on the line." His eyes twinkled as he glanced back at Kerry. "Very slick, chief."
Kerry smiled and walked back around to her seat, dropping into it and stretching her legs out under the table as she cradled her tea mug in both hands. Shed hoped the herbal stuff would settle her stomach, which had been in churning upset most of the morning, but so far it hadnt, and Kerry hoped she wasnt coming down with something. "I had a good teacher."
Chuckles traveled around the table. "Thats what we hear." Clarice smiled sweetly at her. "Looks like Dar picked a wonderful successor."
Yeesh. Kerry smiled back at her. "Thank you. I like to think so." She glanced up as Mark reentered the room, and reviewed the rest of the agenda. "Okay, whats next? Mark, did we get all of the equipment requests in for first quarter?"
"Hey Ker.. you up for lunch?" Mark caught up to her in the hallway, on the way back to their offices. "Theyve got some decent looking fried chicken down there today."
Kerry winced, and laid a hand over her stomach. "Ergh I dont Im up to that. Ill go down and have a cup of soup with you, though." She punched the elevator button. "My guts have been in knots since before the meeting."
"Flu, maybe?" Mark hazarded. "Been going around, I hear. "
"Maybe." Kerry agreed, as they entered the elevator and let the doors close. A thought occurred to her, and she shifted her portfolio under her left arm and removed her cell phone from its clip with her other hand. She hit the auto dialer, and held the phone to her ear as they reached the bottom floor, and exited out of the elevator into the huge lobby.
It rang an unusual number of rings, before it was answered, and she heard Dar's voice, a slightly hoarse note in it that immediately worried her. "Hi."
"Hey." The note modulated and deepened, sounding relieved even through the cellular connection. "What's up? Problems there?"
"Um." Kerry racked her brains for a reason to be calling. "Well ah.. I just need to know.." She stopped and took a breath. "Would you believe I just wanted to hear your voice?" She lowered her own, and gave the two passing admins a smile. "Mark, can you grab a table?"
"Sure." The MIS Chief waved at her. "Say hi to the boss for me." He disappeared into the cafeteria, leaving Kerry in relative isolation.
"Sorry. "Kerry returned her attention to the phone, and moved towards the plate glass wall. "Anyway, it was silly. How are you?"
A sigh came down the line. "Tough morning." Dar said. "I think I went over the line for a few minutes."
Uh oh. Kerry found a bench, and sat on it, ignoring the passing crowds on the way to lunch. "What happened? The petty person get to you? I knew I should have come down there and booted her in the behind." Her guts started to ease up a little, and she took a deeper breath. "No wonder my insides are in knots."
There was a little silence. "Are they?" Dar asked. "Really?"
"Yeah." Kerry said. "Have been for a while. Between that and the headache I've got, I thought I was coming down with something. Are you all right?"
"Pretty much. I found a bottle of ice tea and a balcony. I've been standing out here just watching it rain for about ten minutes." Dar answered. "I think I've got your headache's twin sister.. damn, I haven't lost it like that in years, Ker."
"Did you yell at her?" Kerry returned the waved greeting from Duks.
"No." A sigh sounded. "She backed me into corner and started bawling me out. One poke too many, I guess. I took her down and nearly ripped her head off."
Kerry stared at the phone in shocked silence. Apparently Dar realized it, because her next words were rushed, and almost stammered.
"It just happened so fast.. I don't know what she thought she was trying to do, but I.."
"Wait a minute." Kerry interrupted. "Just hold it there."
Dar fell silent.
"She poked you?" The blond woman's voice rose. "She laid a finger on you? Who in the hell does she think she is? That's bullshit, Dar!"
"Jesus! You should call that general buddy of yours and get her butt transferred to the bottom of Hoover Dam!" Kerry went on. "Son of a bitch!"
"Ker, take it easy." Dar's voice had calmed. "I took care of it. I pretty much think she won't try that again."
"Damn straight she won't." Kerry snorted. "Boy, wait till I see her again."
Dar laughed softly. "Oh, sweetheart, you just made my day." She said. "Thank you."
"I haven't done anything yet." Kerry muttered in protest. "Dipwad."
"Why don't you get some warm milk, and go lay down on the couch in my office for a little while." Dar was still chuckling. "I'm figuring on taking off from here in couple hours; there isn't much I can do without the T1, and frankly, I think I'm going to find more when I get everything sucked down and into the analyzers."
Kerry imagined the plush comfort of the couch upstairs, and smiled. "Actually, I feel better now." She admitted. "But be careful, okay? I keep having nightmares of you being buried under the billowing clouds of testosterone out there."
"I will. Talk to you later, cute stuff."
"All right." Kerry replied. "Love you."
"Love you too."
Kerry folded the phone and juggled it in her hands as she leaned back, definitely feeling the knots unraveling in her stomach. Her headache was still there, but the tension she'd felt all morning was dissipating. She stood up and stowed her phone, then tugged her sleeves a bit straighter and made her way into the cafeteria.
Dar braced her boots against the lower railing on the small porch she'd rediscovered near the back end of the training area. There was a small, hard bench built against the wall, and just enough cover to avoid being soaked by the still heavy rain outside.
Ah, Kerrison. Dar sighed silently. What in the hell would I do without you? She'd been thumping herself over her reaction to Chief Daniel, but now she sat back and considered it more objectively. The woman had locked them into a closed place, and come at her in a threatening manner, aggressively shoving her back against a bulkhead.
What was the chief expecting to happen? Had she really expected Dar to break down and blubber, or something? Dar folded her arms across her chest. Maybe that's what Daniel had been looking for, to see how far she could push Dar before Dar pushed back.
Maybe she'd been hoping Dar would take a swing at her, and give her grounds to force the base commander to take action.
Hm. In that case, her response had been appropriate, with just enough force to prove her point, and not enough aggression to get her in trouble. Hey. Dar rubbed her jaw, and had to laugh. Only took thirty years for you to figure out how to balance that act, way to go, Dardar!
With a sigh, she stood up and grabbed her bottle of peach ice tea, draining it before she made her way back through the small door and into the corner cul de sac that opened up onto it. Once upon a time it had been a larger suite, and the porch a perk of some big shot's corner office, but time, and changing needs had forced the navy to throw up wood and plasterboard walls to divide up the space.
Dar put a hand on one of the worn, wooden doorways, and gazed down the hall, debating one what to do next. Her decision was made, however, when Chief Daniel swung out of operations center, and spotted her, turning on her heel and heading towards Dar with a determined look.
Dar chose to remain where she was, and she leaned against the door frame, folding her arms and watching the other woman approach. "Interested in round two?" She asked, as Daniel came within close earshot. A ghostly Kerry poked at her and she squirmed. "Or would you rather just go have lunch?"
Chief Daniel opened her mouth to answer, held it open for a moment, then closed it, and released her breath with a sigh.
"C'mon. I'll buy." Dar straightened up. "We're both grown ups. Let's act like it."
Clearly, the chief had been caught by surprise. She hesitated for a long beat, then lifted both hands a little and let them fall. "What the hell. All right, Ms. Roberts. You're giving me a pain the size of an aircraft carrier, so I might as well get a meal out of it. Lead on."
They found a table in the back of the mess and sat down with trays of open faced turkey sandwiches. Dar opened her carton of milk and drank directly from it, watching her reluctant lunch partner mess with a pile of lettuce and tomatoes.
"So." Chief Daniel neatly sliced her salad into manageable chunks. "You're Big Andy's kid."
Dar cocked her head to one side. "Yes, I am."
The shorter woman looked up, meeting her eyes. "You could have said that right off."
"Why?" Dar shot back. "Shouldn't make a damn bit of a difference."
Daniel snorted, and shook her head. "Can the bullshit, lady. It matters, and you know it does. Did you think you'd have an advantage by acting like a clueless outsider?" She picked up her glass of ice tea and took a sip. "Here I think I've got some dumb civ making my life miserable, and it turns out I've been hauling around some damn smartass navy brat."
"Oh. You mean I could have skipped the howitzer up the ass attitude if I'd told you up front I grew up here?" Dar inquired. "Maybe you should have done your homework, Chief. I have a file on you an inch thick."
The chief stopped eating, and put her silverware down, staring at Dar with a look completely devoid now of humor. "What in the hell do you mean by that?"
Dar merely watched her, sucking on her milk idly. She waited for the veins to start emerging on the ginger haired woman's temples, then she finally replied. "Relax. There's nothing outstandingly scary in it." She actually didn't have that much, but the reaction she got from the comment made her itch to have Mark search further.
Daniel sat there, breathing hard for a moment. "You're a real son of a bitch, aren't you?"
A charming smile appeared on Dar's face. "I can be." She paused. "If I'm forced into it." One finger pointed at the sailor. "So be smart, and don't." She set the milk down and picked up her fork, spearing a bit of mashed potatoes and tasting them.
"Sure you weren't adopted?" The chief shot back.
The corner of Dar's lips quirked. "I've looked in a mirror enough times to know I wasn't." She took a bite of turkey. "But feel free to ask my dad if you want."
Hazel eyes narrowed, and the chief bit down on her fork with a vicious scrape of teeth on metal. Then her face relaxed, and she snorted softly. "No thanks. I don't want my fingers pulled off if he hears I laid one of them on his precious offspring." Her eyes searched the angular, intense features across the table, strange and familiar at the same time. She felt like kicking herself for not realizing who this bitch was before, then she felt like kicking the damn commander for not telling her. Bastard. She bet he and Perkins were laughing their asses off at her.
And what was in that file? The chief was uncomfortably aware of the sharp intelligence behind those blue tinted ice chips that was watching her. Evaluating her. Daniel swallowed, and reviewed her options. She knew Andrew Roberts, and had a healthy respect for him, but she now realized his often spoken of only child was a danger of a much higher degree.
What the hell was she going to do?
The loudspeaker's crackle almost made her jump, and she looked up at the speaker just as Dar did, the younger woman's head tilting to one side as she listened.
"Attention, attention all personnel. We have just received notification that flooding has closed both Card Sound Road, and US 1. Be advised that all deliveries to and from the mainland have been canceled until further notice. If you were scheduled to be transported north today, please see your unit commander immediately."
Groans rose around them. Daniel snorted, and recovered a bit of her balance at the perceptible annoyance in Dar's expression. "Guess you're stuck here. Just our luck." Possibilities, though, started occurring to her.
Dar sighed, ignoring her sarcasm. "I knew I should have stayed in bed this morning." She removed her cell phone from it's clip, and dialed a number, holding the phone to her ear, and turning away slightly.
Yeah. Chief Daniel mused. Maybe you should have.
"Ugh." Kerry dropped into her chair and leaned back, releasing a huge sigh and closing her eyes briefly. Very briefly, since her intercom buzzed a second later. "Yes?"
"Ms. Kerry, my mother says to tell you that they have closed the roads that are going to the Keys." Mayte's voice held a hint of anxiety. 'She is worried about Ms. Roberts."
Oh, crap. Kerry cursed to herself. "She said she was trying to get out of there early, Mayte - I'll call her. I hope she'ss almost back here by now." She reached for her phone, and almost dropped it as it rang at the same moment. "Gah whoops. Hello?"
"Hi." Dar's voice sounded resigned. "Guess where I'm stuck."
Kerry winced in pure reflex. "I just heard about the roads. That totally sucks large rocks, Dar."
"I know." Dar said. "I took care of getting you a ride home, though."
Jesus. I forgot I needed one. Kerry mentally slapped herself. "Honey, you didn't have to do that. I'm sure I could beg a ride from someone here." It was, however, a typically Dar thing for her to do, given her partner's meticulous attention to details. "But thank you."
"Well." Dar chuckled softly. "Don't thank me just yet. It's my dad who's coming to get you."
Eeerup. Kerry winced. "Ah. Did you think my life was lacking some excitement today or something?" She replied. "Maybe he'll let me drive. You think?"
"You can ask. He generally caves in to whatever you want." Dar answered. "Just like I do." She added, with a verbal twinkle in her tone. "Hey, I think Im making some progress with the chief. I tried to do what you'd have done."
Still distracted by the prospect of being picked up by Andy, Kerry almost didn't respond. "Uh oh, did you? What did you do?"
"Took her to lunch."
Kerry smiled. "Good girl."
"Then I told her if she didn't behave, I'd have to really get nasty."
"Oh." Kerry covered her eyes, and laughed silently. "Gotta work on that part, huh?"
"Eh." Dar sighed. "Maybe it won't be so bad down here. A couple of the guys I grew up with just tracked me down.. they wanna take me out to the local bar and trade no shit stories for a while. They found me a bed just in case the roads don't open back up."
"You have your kit, right? I know I repacked it after the trip to the Keys." Kerry drummed her fingers on her desk. "Don't take a chance, okay? If the weather's bad, just stick around down there. I'd kinda be worried if I knew you were driving up Card Sound at night." She paused. "I'll miss you, though. I was looking forward to a hug tonight."
A few beats of silence followed, then Dar cleared her throat. "I'll make it up to you tomorrow, I promise. Okay?"
"Okay." Kerry agreed. "Call me later and let me know what's up. I think I'm done with all my meetings today, now I just have a mailbox to wade through." She glanced at her monitor. "Dar, how did you deal with all this crap everyone sends?"
"Simple. Take everything that isn't immediate operations and reply with "could you please clarify why you're asking me this?'" Dar told her. "I guarantee ninety percent of them won't come back."
Kerry grinned, and examined the ceiling over her head. "Thanks, boss. I'll do that."
"Any time." Dar said. "Talk to you later."
Kerry closed the phone and put it down, indulging in a few moments of daydreaming as she folded her hands over her stomach and swiveled her chair a little. "What a character." She finally murmured, with a helpless chuckle. Her intercom buzzed again, and she regarded it balefully for a moment, before she answered. "Yes?"
"I just talked to Dar, Mayte. I'll call your mom. She's okay, she's just stuck down at the base for now." Kerry responded.
"Si, gracias, but there is a phone call for you, from the car place?"
Car place? Kerry's brow furrowed, then cleared. "Oh. Right. I'll take it. Thanks, Mayte." She released the intercom and hit the phone line. "Kerry Stuart speaking."
"Ms. Stuart? This is Ellen Margoles from Beach Lexus. You sent in a vehicle request from the Internet this morning?"
"That's right. " Kerry agreed.
"Great." The woman's voice was cheerful and friendly. "We had what you wanted right in stock. I've got your paperwork done.. when would you like to pick the car up?"
"Really? Just like that?" Kerry was surprised. "Leather and everything?"
"Absolutely!" Ellen stated. "They're detailing the car now, in fact. Shining it up, and making sure everything's in perfect condition for you."
Kerry turned in her chair and reviewed the rain lashing at her window. "They're washing the car? Have you looked outside?"
"Has to be nice and clean before we turn it over." Ellen's enthusiasm didn't miss a beat. "Would you like to stop by after work? We're open until seven."
"All right." Kerry grinned, finding herself anticipating the new acquisition. "See you before then."
"Excellent! Looking forward to it, Ms. Stuart. Have a great day!" Ellen warbled happily.
"Sure. You too." Kerry bemusedly hung up. She regarded her quiet office for a moment, then idly spun herself around in her chair a few times. "Vroom vroom."
A quiet had settled over the building by the time Kerry finished up her inbox, having sent Mayte home earlier with Maria. She clicked on the last message to send it, then sat back and cupped her hands around her tea mug, sucking down the strawberry scented liquid as she watched her mail program transfer all her finished mail to storage folders.
A relaxed strain of music was coming from her pc speakers, tuned into an Internet radio station that mostly played new age celtic music. She flexed her bare feet under her desk, and sighed, glad the long day was over.
A soft knock sounded. "C'mon in." Kerry looked up, a smile already crossing her face as the door opened and Andy Robert's familiar head poked inside. "Hey dad." She got up and trotted across the carpeted floor as Andy entered. Her father in law was wearing a dark blue rain jacket, with it's hood up, and he pushed the hood back and unzipped the jacket as she threw her arms around him in an unhesitating hug. "Ooo.. it's good to see you."
A smile crossed the ex Navy SEAL's scarred face, unseen by Kerry as Andrew returned the embrace. "Well there, kumquat. It's good t'see you too."
Topping Dar's slightly over six foot height by almost five inches, Andy seriously towered over Kerry by almost a foot, and his large, broad shouldered and still muscular body had the same solid feel. She loosened her grasp and gazed up at him, catching the grin before he could muffle it. Eyes the same shade as her lover's twinkled back at her, set in a face that despite it's very masculine ruggedness, still brought Dar to mind in it's planed cheekbones and angular shape. "Thanks for coming to rescue me."
Andy snorted softly. "Since Dar saw fit to go and abandon you, I figgured it'd be a good idea."
"She didn't abandon me." Kerry gave him a friendly poke. "She's stuck down on that base. I don't envy her, but on the bright side, it gives me a chance to spend some time with one of my favorite people."
"You are just a sweet talking young lady." Dar's father drawled. "C'mon. Fore we have to paddle on out of this here office."
Kerry let him go, and went back to her desk to retrieve her shoes. "I have to make a stop before home, if that's okay." She shut down her pc, as Andrew wandered around her office peering at the décor curiously. "My new car's ready."
"That so?" Andy asked curiously. "Dar told me you got yourself into a pickle last night and banged up that little bitty thing of yours."
"Some crazy person driving down the wrong side of the road on the causeway, thanks." Kerry zipped up her briefcase and shouldered it. "Did Dar tell you she got herself and that brute of an SUV of hers between the nutcase and me?" She fastened her jacket, and turned her desk lamp off.
"No, she did not." Andrew tried hard to hide a dazzlingly proud smile, and completely failed.
"Figures." Kerry took him by the arm and led him out of the office. "C'mon.. we'll get my new buggy, then I'll treat you to dinner how's that?"
Andy allowed himself to be escorted to the elevator, shrugging his hood up into place as Kerry hit the button to call it. "I do believe I can do any of that there treating that's required, young lady." He replied, following her into the elevator.
"Well see about that." Kerry teased, as the doors closed.
Interested eyes watched the empty space for a few seconds, then footsteps retreated back down the hallway, disappearing behind the solid sound of a wooden door closing.
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