Brooke tried using her phone to contact her father, but she couldn’t get even the weakest signal here. Must be some part of the magic, she thought.
She flopped backwards down onto the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while, puzzling over the mystery Ilyin was expecting her to solve. Tracking people down like that took a lot more time and resources than he seemed to expect, especially if they had no police file to pull up. If Brooke was going to be honest with herself, she wasn’t even sure this woman would even be possible to find if she had no record, and especially if she was none of what she claimed to be. And that was all ignoring the absolute headache that the added complexity of her apparent knowledge of powerful magic gave to the case. If she could turn Jack Ilyin into a hulking giant, and a household appliance into a charming robot butler, then what’s to say that she couldn’t teleport herself right on out of the country? Or change her own appearance to look like someone completely different? Or… whisk herself away into some parallel dimension? Brooke groaned and rolled over to clutch a pillow. This was going to be an absolute nightmare.
And what then? If Ilyin never returned to normal, would he let her go or would he try to keep her imprisoned here out of spite?
Even with the millions of questions swarming about in her head like the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys, she managed to fall asleep in the big, plush bed, and wound up dreaming, of all things, of giant hands…
Morning came too soon. She woke up for a few minutes, went to pee, and then fell back asleep for who knows how long. When she woke up again, there was a box on the bench at the foot of the bed.
She got up and opened it, gasping at what she saw. Clothes. Beautiful, luxuriously understated clothes. Merino wool, linen, silk; pajamas made from the finest handspun cotton. There were several blouses and skirts, slacks, a cardigan. At the bottom of the box, next to a set of travel toiletries, was several sets of underwear.
“Oh no he didn’t,” she whispered, holding one in the air in front of her.
The problem was that they were gorgeous. And that they felt like they were made from woven spiders silk. And that the colors, a classy set of neutrals, were not something she’d expect a lifelong bachelor and ladykiller to pick unless he was well-familiar with women’s shopping habits. Swallowing, she set the underwear back in the box, and decided to assume that only Amos had enough sense between them to pick these out.
After a few minutes of looking everything over again, quite dazzled by their quality, Brooke got dressed and asked the wall panel if there was anything to eat. Of course there was. She was ushered downstairs to a lavish breakfast spread prepared by Amos before heading back up to Ilyin’s office to get back to work.
It was lunchtime when she began to realize just how futile the effort was. This was worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack – it was more like finding a single atom out of the whole damn ocean. And when dinner rolled around, Brooke knew that something had to give. All she had to show for so many hours of work was countless articles on Jack Ilyin the man rather than Jack Ilyin the brillian entrepreneur. And Jack the man seemed have a long record of being a black mark against humanity. Labor abuses, infidelity, sexual harassment charges… it was all there. The usual stuff. For some reason, Brooke wanted to think that Jack Ilyin had some redeeming qualities that would set him apart from all the other creepsville Silicon Valley megalomaniacs, but it seemed that he stepped right in line with the best of them. Brooke decided that maybe it was time to go home, and let Gary Patel discover for himself what had happened to his business partner.
She printed out her findings and stuck them into a folder for presentation’s sake, and headed downstairs, chin held high and shoulders squared. Under her breath she practiced what she was going to say, but as she ventured outside and was greeted by the sight of the massive man sitting with his feet in the pool and looking over a jerry-rigged touchscreen tablet attached by a thick cable to the inside of the pool house, her courage trickled away.
“…yes?” he grunted impatiently when he noticed her standing there.
Brooke inhaled and threw the file down on the edge of a bench sculpted out of the concrete, like a literal gauntlet. “To be honest with you, Mr. Ilyin, I don’t think this is going to work.”
He gave her a look as though she’d just uttered the most asinine thing in the world. Then he glanced at the file. “It had better work,” he warned, “Because you’re not going anywhere until it does.”
She threw up her arms suddenly and stomped her foot on the ground. “Nobody matches the profile, Jack!” she huffed. “Nobody! I probably wouldn’t even be able to find her if I had a full set of her fingerprints for chissake. Then there’s the glaring little fact that maybe this woman didn’t do anything to you, that it was all coincidence. Or if she did use some kinda hocus pocus, then what makes you think she’s going to turn you back?” A breath, and she took to averting her eyes now for fear of what his face might say. “Because then there’s you. You’re quite the piece of work yourself, aren’t you? Needless layoffs, personal scandal… And now having all the money in the goddamn world doesn’t mean squat because you can’t fit your giant ass into your giant-ass mansion. It’s not like you don’t have the money to afford another island! I think you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with your damn life.”
Jack Ilyin’s face darkened with building anger as she chewed him out. As soon as he lifted his legs from the water, though, and stood up, she knew that she maybe should have kept her mouth shut.
In fact, he grabbed her and brought her in close to that huge, rough-hewn face. Brooke’s breath caught in her throat as soon as his fingers had her by the waist, and had her hard. “You seem to have an issue with me,” he muttered. “Care to enlighten me on what that is?”
Brooke struggled to find her voice. She wanted to push away from that face, from that huge, inhuman grip, but she didn’t want to touch him. He stared her down for a few moments, and she could smell the moss and the leaves and the musk on him. His presence began to overwhelm her.
“You’re a f-fucking asshole is what it is,” she finally said. “And if my name were Zelda DuBoix, I’d have cursed you too.”
His grip on her tightened and Brooke gasped in pain. Jack Ilyin held her like that for a few very long seconds, and she could see it in his face that he was contemplating on how much hurt he was willing to risk dishing out. But he dropped her instead, and she fell to the hard ground in an aching heap of herself.
“Leave,” he growled.
She got up, but too slowly for his liking, and he stomped on the ground beside her.
Brooke scrambled to her feet now, and looked up at him with wild eyes. He took another predatory step toward her, and that’s when she decided to get the hell out of dodge. Something in her told her to run, so she did. She ran around the house, through the twilight of the trees, and when she realized that there was no tinging numbness attacking her limbs, she beelined straight for the water.
The nearest shore was only several hundred feet away; Brooke was going to make a go for it. So when she climbed down over the rocks at Bell Island’s north-western shore, she leapt into the water. The icy waves, small as they were, sucked the air from her lungs and she quickly lost sensation in her fingers. But she kept moving. She had to try – it could very well be her only chance.