Brooke had a very nice conversation with the dot work specialist at Furious Ink. With a little suggestive social engineering, she was able to finally remember such a client.
“It was in the summer, I think? Yeah, summer. I remember she called us first thing one morning, wondering if we had a spot for her that day for a piece that absolutely, positively had to be done before some deadline,” came the smoker’s voice from the other end.
Brooke swiveled absentmindedly around in the chair some. A deadline? “Do you remember what it was?”
The woman sighed into the phone. “Ummm… I think it was a tarot card. I don’t remember which one, but it was like a skyscraper being struck by lightning or something.”
She scrawled that down to look into later.
Brooke perked up, trying to bit back her smile. “Did she say why she was getting it?”
“She said it was to commemorate something. Showed me a bunch of her other tattoos, said they were all tarot-y versions of events in her life. They were all pretty bizarre, I remember that much.”
To commemorate something! “Did she talk more about… oh, I don’t know, magic? The occult?”
“Not sure. I don’t remember too many specifics, I’m sorry.”
“Could you give me her name? Do you keep that stuff on file?”
“We keep that information on file for a few years, yeah, but I can’t just give it to you. I’m sorry.”
“Of course.” Brooke paused and thought for a minute. “You might be hearing from my father soon, then. He’s a licensed professional.”
The call ended amicably, though the tattoo artist did seem to wise up near the end of the conversation and asked if this was a murder or something being investigated. Brooke had certainly hoped not, and assured her that she wasn’t being treated as a suspect in any sort of case.
Martin was relieved to hear from his daughter, and even more relieved that she was being treated well. Of course, Brooke failed to mention her little encounter with hypothermia, but those were the kinds of details that the man didn’t need to hear right now. Maybe when she recounted the story again in a few years.
He was also, apparently, still interested in helping solve the case in any way he could – and if that meant knocking on doors and flashing his credentials, then he would be more than happy to. Especially knowing how much Jack Ilyin was paying them for their services.
“Give me a few days, and I’ll see what I can dig up for you,” he’d said, nervous but his voice still excitable with pride at his daughter’s handling of the situation.
Brooke wasn’t sure that her father should have been that proud of her handling of the situation. Her crush on Jack was becoming cloyingly obvious to her, and it was beginning to make her angry. She’d crushed on teachers before; local civil servants of the uniform-wearing variety; her damn babysitter when she was a pre-teen. They were all cute and harmless, she reasoned – but Jack was neither cute, nor harmless. And unlike her other crushes, who she could bat eyes at from afar, she was living in his house. This was all very unprofessional, unbecoming, and un-
“Miss Foster?” Amos’ ever-agreeable voice tore her from her whirlwind of thoughts.
“Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes by the pool.”
“Thanks, Amos. I’ll… be there.”
There was another outdoor dining area near the pool: a sleek bronze and teak set for six. It was smaller than the one on the south patio, effectively bringing her just that much nearer to his massive silhouette. Brooke decided that she’d have to do a lot of looking around at things that weren’t him tonight.
When she approached, he rose from the table – a dramatic sight if she ever saw one, all twenty some-odd feet of him standing at her entrance – and stepped around to pull her chair out for her like a child seating a doll at a play tea set.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she said, laughing and trying to hide her blush.
“I need to get back into practice.” He returned to his end of the table and sat down cross-legged, tugging the sheet down for modesty’s sake. “Dining etiquette is a big deal in my… echelon of society.”
Amos proceeded to bring out the cart again: this time it was heavily laden with smoked meats of all sorts. Pork, sausages, salmon, potatoes… Brooke’s mouth was watering already.
“My god, that smells amazing.”
“Applewood,” Jack said, clearly pleased with his handiwork. “Please, help yourself.”
Amos served them, and they began to eat.
“How’s the investigation progressing?” he asked, dragging a tiny rib through his credit-card size teeth to clean the meat off of it. He wiped his fingers off on a towel draped over his knee.
“I’ve got a lead,” she said, beaming. Thank god he wanted to talk about the case – it was one of the few things that would reliably take her mind off of him. “I think I may have found a tattoo shop she visited a few days after the party. They might have her ID and release form still on file. Tattoo shops have to make copies of driver’s licenses or whatever before they’ll -”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said excitedly. “When will you know for sure?”
“My father’s going to flash his badge at them and hopefully they’ll give him the info. It’ll be a day or two.”
Jack’s face twisted into a smile, but a smug and distantly vindictive one. She watched as his big tongue darted out to wet his upper lip. “My god, Brooke, can you believe it? I could have my life back in a matter of days! I could take back what that suchka stole from me.” He glanced at her with wild eyes before staring off into the distance. It was clear what was on his mind.
“Jack, I can’t make any promises,” Brooke said carefully. “I can only try to help you find her – I can’t make her do anything.”
The faraway look on his face faded into a frown as he looked back at his guest, then back to his meal. He heaved a breath. “No,” he said in a low voice. “I suppose you can’t.”
“Have you thought about what you’re going to to if you can’t go back?”
Jack paused, and she watched as his grip on the serving spoon tightened hard enough to bend the metal. Brooke swallowed as she began to think about escape routes.
“You mean if she can’t, or won’t change me back?”
“That’s besides the point -”
“Is it?” Jack suddenly shot her a glare, blue eyes icy again.
Brooke stood up from her chair, hands fists at her sides. “You know what? I don’t think you’ve changed one damn bit, Jack Ilyin.”
He dropped the spoon to the table suddenly, and the young woman jumped. Then the giant stood up. “If she doesn’t change me back,” he bellowed, “Fuck the company, the yacht, the parties, all of it. If she doesn’t change me back, I will die on this fucking rock!”
Brooke stood there, frozen to the spot as he grit his teeth together at her, pointing, muscles tense. His chest heaved angry breaths as he stared her down. She was steeling her nerves, preparing for him to break something, or throw the table, or even try to hurt her again. But none of it came. He just glowered at her with those harsh, angry eyes, and slowly, slowly let his hand fall to his side.
She swallowed, letting the fear slowly trickle out of her body as she took stock of herself, their surroundings, him.
It occurred to her, then, like sudden revelation, that Jack Ilyin wasn’t boiling over with hate; Jack Ilyin was scared shitless.
With a growl he turned from the table to storm away into the dusky wild little forest beyond the edge of the terraces. “I knew I shouldn’t have expected a kid to understand,” he harshly muttered under his breath.
It was Brooke’s turn to frown. A second later, and she was chasing him down like a kitten at the feet of a German Shepherd. “Hey,” she called up to him. “Hey!” He was ignoring her, speeding up his steps and quickly beginning to out-pace her. “Hey, you big, stubborn -!”
Jack stopped and stared her down. “If you don’t leave me the fuck alone right now little girl, you’re fired.”
Despite her pounding heart, her shaking breaths, despite the fact that she probably should have done as told and went back to the house, Brooke followed her gut and stepped closer, and as soon as she was able, threw her arms around his hard, muscular calf.
It was a risk, but a calculated one. After all, it seemed to her, sometimes all people like Jack needed was a good damn hug.