“Good morning, Miss Foster,” Amos said. “Apologies for interrupting, but your father is on the line and wishes to speak with you.”
“Is there like, a phone, or should I just talk?”
“Just talk, Miss Foster. I’ll connect you now.”
The green light flickered and stilled.
“Brooke! How are you doing?”
“I know you’re not going to believe me, but I’m doing great.”
“How’s… Mr. Ilyin been treating you?”
“Well, I, uh… I put my foot down, demanded some respect, and he honored that. He seems to be a man of his word.”
“Good. Good to hear. Well, I’m calling because I’ve got something for you.”
Her eyes lit up. “Yeah, and?”
“I’m not supposed to tell you this information, but -”
“Dad, we’re never taking her to court. I think Ja – er, Mr. Ilyin – just wants to speak to her himself. No lawyers necessary.”
He sighed – Brooke knew that sigh. “She may take him to court for using unscrupulous methods of tracking her down.”
“Dad, there’s not one courtroom in this country that he’d fit into.”
Martin let out a laugh, as though he’d almost forgotten. “I guess we are dealing with a very different sort of situation here…”
“Well, can you tell me or not?”
Brooke heard a shuffling of papers. “Her name’s Lisa Thomas. Oregon driver’s license – got her home address right on here. Lives in Bend. Or, well, she did two years ago.”
She took a few seconds to think, and began to pace. On her third round back around the room, Jack suddenly came into view through the window. She held up her hand and kept pacing. “Alright, let’s get hold of her. Maybe find out where she works?”
“You’re pretty darn good at this, you know that?” Her father’s smile carried on his voice. “I was thinking the same thing. I’ll let you know what I find, alright?”
“Sure thing. Thanks, dad.”
She reported the good news over breakfast that morning, and Jack lit up at the news. However, the tattoo story intrigued him.
“Do you think that means she’s done this to other people, if she’s got more tattoos to memorialize other similar situations?”
“That may be,” Brooke mused. “I wonder why there was a rush, though…”
“Maybe the ink is part of the magic somehow.” He thought this over for a moment and shook his head. “Magic is not my forte, as you can see.”
“I know you’ve thought about what you’d like to do once you finally found her, but what are you actually going to do? How do you plan on getting her to change you back?”
He shrugged. “I guess I’d always imagined just scaring the shit out of her. Throwing my weight around.”
“…but not anymore.”
“I’m not sure what I’d say now, to be quite honest.”
“Maybe that’s for the best.”
The two of them sat and ate in silence for a few minutes, which was nice. She listened to the shrill cries of seagulls, the chattering of a few local ravens, and the faint and distant sound of water traffic. Brooke looked to Jack, studying him for a second.
“What’s the matter?” he asked when he noticed her staring.
“I think I’d like to cut your hair and beard,” she said. “How would you like to feel clean-shaven again?”
“Hm… it would be nice…”
“If you have scissors..?”
“The beard could definitely use a trim, but I’m not sure about the hair. It’s beginning to grow on me.”
Brooke groaned at the pun, and Jack laughed.
“How about a nice shave, then? We could cook up some hot towels and everything.”
“That,” he said, “Would be great. I’d really owe you one.”
“You really wouldn’t.”
Jack shot her a look. “Brooke, after all the shit I’ve put you through, the least you could do is let me repay you.”
“Your good company is all the payment I want right now.”
Amos brought out steaming towels, scissors, a razor with a few extra blades, a hand brush, and some shaving lather. They decided that Jack should just lay on the ground; that would give Brooke the best access to the whole of his face.
“The nice thing about a mug as big as yours,” she said, surveying the situation from her vantage point on his chest with scissors in hand, “Is that it’ll be easy to hide all my mistakes.”
He gave her a quizzical look. “I thought you’ve done this before?”
She snapped the scissor blades a few times. “I said no such thing. Now hold still, this will only hurt a little.”
Jack sighed and looked up at the cloudy sky as she got to work.
Brooke trimmed the whole of his beard down to about an inch, brushing the hair away as she worked. When she stood back, it looked enough like fine stubble, and it would probably feel as much to him. Next, she grabbed the razor and lather, and attempted to sculpt the edges a little, but it was difficult. Though not too much thicker than a normal person’s hair, his was somehow tougher, and it seemed like each stroke of the blade –
“Ow,” he winced when the razor caught the hair wrong and drew a little blood.
– each stroke of the blade dulled the edge beyond usability.
“Alright, scratch that.”
Brooke used the hot towels to mop up the lather, draping them across his face and letting them rest for a minute before wiping everything away. She trimmed a small spot that she’d missed, and was done.
“Now I can be seen with you,” she declared, jumping off of him so he could sit up.
Jack’s hand went to his face to rub at it. “My chin hasn’t seen daylight in two years,” he said, getting up and walking over to one of the unbroken second-story windows on the house to get a look at himself.
“You clean up pretty good!”
“Guess I do, don’t I?” He turned back toward her with a smile, and she could see now that he had a small dimple on one side. “Thanks, Brooke.”
She started putting the things back away on Amos’ cart. “All in a day’s -”
But Jack had grabbed her and pushed her into the grass on her back with a big hand.
“…work.” She’d be lying if she said her heart hadn’t started racing. “Can I help you, Mr. Ilyin?”
He bent his big head down to kiss her, pressing his big lips to her face. She giggled into the kiss, and found herself running her hands along his freshly-shaven cheeks, which almost scratched like real stubble too. He broke the kiss and dragged his gaze from her eyes down the length of her body, and back up again. “You know, I think you can.” Jack dove back in as his fingers crept up underneath her shirt to massage a breast and she gasped into his mouth, gripping his face harder.
Just as he was reaching back to yank away the sheet wrapped around his waist, though, Amos cut in.
“Uh, I don’t mean to interrupt, Master Ilyin, but it appears that a dinghy has just been launched from the Good News and is heading towards Bell Island.”
Jack looked at her, his face still hovering close, and she saw a flash of fear in his big gray-blue eyes. “Shit!” he hissed, tearing away from her and standing up, though unsure of what to do. “Good news my ass,” he growled. “What a terrible joke that is.”
“Amos, how many people are aboard?” Brooke said, standing up and brushing herself off.
“I’m detecting two, Miss Foster.”
She turned to Jack. “Have you talked to Patel at all about this deal?”
He looked away, almost embarrassed. “He’s been calling and emailing for about six weeks now. On the few occasions where I’ve gotten back to him, I just said that it needs to wait. It’s been three weeks since I last heard from him.”
“He’s fucking pissed,” Brooke muttered. “What are you going to do? You can’t keep putting this off, Jack.”
“We’re so close to finding that woman! I can feel it – we might have an answer from her in just a few more days, and then… then I can figure out how to proceed. Even if it means being stuck like this.”
Brooke nodded. That was all they could do at this point. If there was a chance he could be transformed back to his old self without anyone but a pair of private investigators from Anacortes being the wiser, then he was going to hold out for it.
“I’ll go meet him,” she said resolutely. “I’ll tell him that I’m your housekeeper; say that you’re not here. You haven’t been here in weeks, and I haven’t heard from you.”
“Tell him to come back later.”
Brooke waited by dock and watched, frowning, as the dinghy pulled up and tied off. Only one man got out. He strode up the dock with long, quick strides, looking around, before finally stopping a few feet short of Brooke.
Gary Patel was about Jack’s age, maybe a year or two younger, with black hair styled into a crew cut and a short, neatly-trimmed beard of his own. The black-rimmed glasses he wore accentuated the shrewdness of his sharp eyes, and Brooke immediately knew it was going to be hard to convince this man of anything he couldn’t see for himself.
“Mr. Patel, I’m guessing?”
“You’d be guessing right,” he said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jess, the housekeeper. If you’re looking for Mr. Ilyin, he’s not here right now.”
Patel’s eyes looked up at the path beyond her, beyond the gate behind her, and he rubbed his chin in thought. “Can I come in?”
“I’ve been expressly forbidden to let anyone on the property while he’s away, Mr. Patel. If you come back in another week, he might be home by then.”
He studied her for a moment, looked back to the boat, and then snorted. “That’s good, real good,” he said, smiling. “You learn that one from your dad?”
Brooke’s blood ran ice cold all of a sudden, and she took a step back. “I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Patel.” She could have kicked herself as the words came out of her mouth – that phrase, and its close cousin ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’, were dead giveaways that you knew exactly what was being talked about.
“Your dad, Martin Foster. You know, the PI I hired to find out what the hell was going on over here.” His eyes narrowed at her. “Where the hell is he?”
Brooke swallowed. “It’s just me here.”
“Just you, huh?” He chuckled, like a supervillain being told something he doesn’t want to hear. “Let’s see, how do I put this…” He paused briefly for effect. “You’re a fucking liar.”
“And you’re trespassing,” she said in a low voice.
He ignored her. “Who were you having breakfast with yesterday, Brooke? I saw two place settings at that table on the south patio when we did a flyby with the drone.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to ask one last time: where is Foster, and where is Jack?”
Brooke had backed up far enough to have run up against the bars of the gate. “My dad’s in Anacortes and Jack is… he’s…”
Patel held up his hand and flashed three fingers at her. “That’s how many days he’s got before the board votes his ass out of there. Now he can man the fuck up and speak to me, or we can do this the hard way.”
“Amos,” she murmured to the kiosk, not taking her eyes off of Patel. “Open the gate and let Jack know that his old friend won’t take no for an answer.”