“It’s, ah… good to see you, Michelle,” the giant Russian said with a smile that looked a little more like a wince.
The woman, dressed smartly in a pencil skirt and suit jacket with laptop bag slung over her shoulder, was six foot in heels and had cheekbones you could mount on the prow of an icebreaker. Brooke knew immediately that she was one of the few people in the world, except maybe for his parents, who could get away with telling Jack Ilyin what to do.
“What in god’s name happened to you!” she gawked. “Is this why you’ve been in hiding?”
He sighed. “Yeah. And its a long story.”
“Well you’d better be prepared to tell it, because I need to know every damn -” She suddenly noticed Brooke. “Who’s this?”
“My private investigator.”
Michelle gave her a hard look. “I’m going to need to see your credentials.”
Jack was quick to intervene. “She’s… in training. She’s been more like my personal research assistant.”
“My father has been handling most of the case,” Brooke was sure to add. “In fact, we’ll be hearing from him tonight, as soon as he gets in to see the lady that did this.”
The lawyer shook her head and blinked. “Alright, alright. I need to know everything, and I need to know it now. First though, I’m going to need a drink.”
Jack nodded, and started for the back side of the house. “Bourbon on the rocks coming right up.”
“Sounds like you two have been through hell together,” Brooke said, extending her hand for a shake. The woman took it firmly.
“It’s been a long eight years. What’s your name?”
“Brooke Foster. My dad’s Martin Foster, PI.”
“Michelle Douglas. Pleasure.”
“I’d recommend going the long way, Miss Douglas. It might be easier to hear the story before… you see how he’s been living over the past two years.”
She cocked a sharply waxed eyebrow at her, but took the advice and followed in Jack’s footsteps, with Brooke in tow.
“Are you sure?” Michelle said when the story – and dinner – was done. She was nursing a third bourbon, but didn’t even appear buzzed. A voice recorder had been placed on the table as Jack spoke, and the little red light was still on. “I mean… it could be a lot of things that caused this, I’m sure.”
Jack just looked at her like he’d been down this road before. “Like what.”
“Like, uh… radiation poisoning.”
“Please, go on.”
Jack just buried his big face in his big hand and sighed. “Michelle, I’ve had two years to think about this. None of the usual – ‘usual‘ – explanations hold water. I’ve read it all. By the way, this isn’t a 50’s Hollywood monster movie. Radiation doesn’t supersize you, it just fucking kills you.” He threw his hands up in the air. “Magic. It’s gotta be magic.”
“Alright, so let’s say it is magic. And I’m not saying that it is, but we’ll pretend for a minute. Let’s say that it’s magic. How do you establish culpability? We’d need a full admission of guilt from this Lisa Thomas before we could do anything.” She tapped her manicured finger against the glass for a second as she thought. “Unless we ignore the inhuman growth angle and focus on the psychological damages…”
Jack threw his hands up. “I told you, I’m not interested in suing.”
Michelle gave him a deadpan look and took another sip. “Then what are you interested in?”
“Getting back to normal!” he shouted. “You remember? Six-one, two-hundred thirty pounds -”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, with skim milk, two pumps of caramel, and an extra shot. Don’t worry, we’ll get you back to being a grande soon enough.”
“I’m gonna need to speak with my client alone, sweetheart. Hope you don’t mind.”
Brooke rose from the table and nodded. She couldn’t help but feel a little stung, but knew better than that. “By all means,” she said, putting her hand in her pocket and heading inside, but not before grabbing the remnants of her own drink. “I’ll be at the computer.”
She’d found herself standing in the doorway to Jack’s old office, wondering why she felt so strangely jilted, when a thought occurred to her. Brooke turned, remembering another room at the opposite end of the long-abandoned hallway, and followed it to the closed door at the end. She turned the handle and opened it, and what greeted her eyes made her sad.
Before her was a sprawling bedroom, sparsely furnished. Two of the panes of glass from the window-walls were missing entirely, and when the door opened a pair of birds fluttered out in a hurry, startling her. The floor underneath one end of the bed frame was covered in guano, and the wood floor near the gaping hole to the outside world was warped and stained with moisture rot. The bed frame itself was shoved unnaturally up against one wall, which still bore the scars from the metal gouging into it.
Along another wall was a dark, open doorway which looked like a bomb had gone off inside. Clothes were strewn across the floor and spilling out: jeans and shirts, as well as slacks and suit jackets, socks and boxer briefs. When Brooke dared to creep in further, she noticed the bathroom to her left, a cavernous master suite… filled with broken glass. She recognized the shards as belonging to bottles of alcohol, thrown, it appeared, from outside. The mirror above the bathroom sink had long since shattered too; the bullseye hit on a target.
“Master Ilyin’s room,” Amos quietly said. It was so unexpected that she all but jumped out of her skin.
“He would get drunk and trash the place?” she guessed, tiptoeing around the shards of glass.
“The rest of the house, yes,” replied the light on the wall, hanging out of its socket. “It was different with this room.”
Brooke gave the place another once over, rubbing her chin. “Particularly intimate reminders of his old life,” she mused aloud. “The clothes and the broken mirror speak to that.” She studied the bed again for a moment. “He took the cal-king mattress downstairs, probably. But the frame still reminded him of what he used to have, so…” The young woman made a little punching gesture into the air.
“Indeed,” Amos said.
Brooke turned to the robot’s fixture in the wall, tucked the wires back in and finagled the faceplate and green light back into place. Then, wordlessly, she decided to go downstairs and grab a broom to begin sweeping up the glass. Brooke wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like the right thing to do.