The Beast of Bell Island part 10

“Good morning, Miss Foster. Are you feeling better?”

Amos’s genial voice sounded from the panel in the room as she lay in bed and stared out the window. Brooke turned to face the little green light and smiled gently. “Much better, thanks. How’s…” She trailed off, smile disappearing. “How’s Mister Ilyin?”

“I believe that last night upset him more than he let on,” Amos replied. That’s not the answer she was looking for, but… well, she suddenly found herself pondering this.

She got up from bed, and reached for the box of clothes. She slipped on a set of black panties and a black bra, before taking out a flattering pair of form-fitting jeans and a loose tunic top. “This has gotta be at least a hundred bucks I’m wearing,” she murmured to the reflection of herself in the full-length mirror.

“Three-hundred and twenty-seven dollars, actually.”

Brooke grimaced. “Oh my god, why?”

The wall panel made a sound that bore a suspicious resemblance to a chuckle. “We spare no expense here.” Then: “You’d better hurry downstairs, Miss Foster; the water taxi will be coming in an hour to take you back to Anacortes and Master Ilyin wishes to share a meal with you before you go.”

“…He does?”

“He’s downstairs now, at the south patio.”


The south patio was a beautiful layered deck, flowing out from the house and down the steeper incline that this side of the hill provided. The planking of the deck wove around a few old evergreen trees, and planter boxes overflowed with lupines, blanket flower, blue columbine, more Japanese maples and other leafy ornamentals. While disused over the years that Ilyin had been changed, it was spared from his bitter outbursts.

Brooke peered out the door and saw him sitting cross-legged at one end of a gorgeous patio set of redwood burl cleared of pine needles and other plant detritus and set with a single place setting at the other end. He was reading something on his tablet, or doing some kind of work, when he noticed her step out.

“Good morning,” he said, setting the tablet down on the table. “Feeling better?”

She took her seat across from him. “I am. Thank you for, uh… for getting me.”

“I was mad, but I wasn’t mad enough to actually let you swim the channel,” he said with a little smile that creased the corners of his eyes, but the smile faded. “I’m… sorry that this turned out to be such a miserable experience for you.”

Amos came along and served her a plate of pancakes, hash browns, bacon, and poached eggs. A mimosa poured in a champagne glass soon followed.

Brooke stared at her plate, thinking. When she looked to Ilyin, he was looking elsewhere and thinking too. It was a long, tense silence between them, and she started poking at the potatoes with her fork – moving them around more than arranging a bite of food to raise to her lips.

She thought about the case she was supposed to be solving; she thought about this woman, about Gary Patel and Orcasoft. What would happen if Ilyin never returned to normal? Would he be able to go back to his work? Would he be carted off to a military facility someplace and poked and prodded for the rest of his life? When his money ran out, where would he go?

“You’ll be paid the going rate for your work, plus ten percent,” he said. “And everything you’ve been given, take it with you. It’s yours.”

The man has been living alone for two years, surviving off of Amazon and chartered deliveries. Brooke realized that she and Martin were probably the first people he’d spoken with, let alone played host to, since his transformation.

“Amos should have told you that the taxi will be arriving at about ten o’clock,” he continued, still avoiding eye contact with her. “It should be a -”

“I’m staying.”

“What?”

“I can stay for one more week, then I have to go home and take care of my midterms.”

“You’re in school?” He frowned. “You should be home studying. Midterms are important.”

“My dad’s been a P.I. since before I was born,” she replied with her own distantly wistful smile. “I know criminal studies pretty well.”

“So… you’re staying.”

Brooke nodded resolutely and met his blue gaze. His eyes weren’t so hard as before; penetrating, yes, and she supposed that it was a Russian intensity thing. But the anger was gone, and he was trying very hard to be affable for her. “I will. Because I’ve got a job to do here, Mr. Ilyin.”

He flashed his perfectly straight pearly whites, and watched as Amos brought out his breakfast on a push cart: several pounds of potatoes, a half-dozen Kielbasa sausages, and most of a loaf of black bread toast, each slice slathered with butter. “Please, call me Jack.”

“You know, about that… isn’t Jack the guy who climbed the bean stalk, not the guy who lived at the top?”

He cocked a brow at her, grinned, and pointed his spoon – a serving spoon, mind – in her direction as he hunched over the table. “OK, that’s crossing a line, Miss Foster.”

“Brooke.”

“Crossing a line, Brooke.”

She threw her hands up. “It was an honest question!”

They sat and ate for a while in contented silence, trying to hide their smiles. When they were finished, Jack reached up those massive arms, lengthening himself skyward, and let out a long, satisfied sigh. “It’s… good to have company again,” he said. “Real company.”

“You used to be quite the entertainer, didn’t you?”

“It was any excuse to host a party. Everything from wine tastings to private concerts, all right here. Patel used to come over and we’d spend days hashing out this or that thing. We’d talk new hires, tasks, code…”

“Sounds like you and Patel were close?”

“We were both MIT dropouts,” he said, shoving an entire piece of Kielbasa in his mouth. “We knew that voice recognition and machine learning were what everyone was talking about at the time, and so we started working on what would become the AMOS technology. Google has that little box that talks to you – Amazon and other people have them now too – but we had the robot.

“Gary… I caught Gary embezzling money three years ago. He gave me some goddamn sob story about his parents getting sick, so I believed him and decided not to take him to court. He didn’t try anything again, but it wasn’t the same.”

Brooke winced. She’d heard story after story liked this from her father. There were only two reasons anyone committed crimes in this world, he always said: for passion, or for money. While Jack had been a jerk, at least he didn’t do anything unlawful? He didn’t steal, at any rate.. “That sounds pretty rough.”

“I put a lot of trust in him. As a friend, as a business partner, and as a co-creator of the AMOS system.”

“I can only imagine the betrayal.”

Jack narrowed his eyes at the trees. “Betrayal. That’s a good word for it.”


Later, Jack insisted that she take the rest of the day off and enjoy the grounds. He invited her to use the pool, spa, or sauna, but she declined, not having a bathing suit.

“Amos,” he called to the nearest little green light, “Contact my man in Friday Harbor. Have him find a swimsuit for Brooke.”

She found his change of heart agreeable, though there were still doubts lingering in the back of her mind not about how genuine it was, but how emotionally sustainable it was. Jack had spent two years brooding in solitude, plotting his revenge, but simultaneously confined by the helplessness of his… condition. How long would it be before he had another outburst? Before he decided that this was all a waste of his time, or that she was only there to take advantage of his lavish hospitality? Brooke wanted to believe that she’d gotten through to him, especially what with getting him to finally talk about the situation, but at the same time, she wasn’t going to hold her breath. She’d seen it happen too often to count on it this time.

The two of them spent a few hours strolling around the perimeter of the island, cloaked by tree and fog, and talked. She asked about the AMOS system, he asked about the private investigation business; she asked about his Russian grandparents, he asked about her classes at school. He seemed very pleased that she was getting good grades.

“So your art collection came from your grandparents?”

“My grandfather was an art collector in the 60’s, and managed to acquire quite a few Russian pieces in spite of the communism. But it was the communism that eventually forced him to leave for the states – the party wanted to ‘nationalize’ the paintings. He managed to bring a Chagall, an Ivanov, Valetovas… and several Malevichs with him.”

Brooke didn’t know the first thing about art, but it was interesting to her nonetheless. “How much is the collection worth?”

“The last appraisal put it at about two and a half million.”

She balked. “Two and a half… million.”

Jack nodded and stopped. She stopped too and looked up at him; he was rubbing at his beard. “You know, I’ve been thinking if there was something I might do to prove that I am as changed a man as I claim to be. Prove to you, but also… prove to myself.”

Brooke said nothing, just kept her eyes on his face as he sorted through his words.

“Amos!” he suddenly called. “Can you hear me from here?”

They were about thirty feet from the nearest green light, but it still managed to hear.

“Amos, pick a children’s charity – any charity, I don’t give a damn – and tell them they can have one of the paintings.”

Brooke’s eyes flew open.

“Which one would you like to donate, sir?”

“Let them pick.”

“Of course, sir.”

Jack turned back to her with a little twinkle in his eye. “How’s that sound to you?”

“I… Color me surprised!”

He laughed. “You know, that felt good. That felt really good.”

“I’m glad, Jack. I think you’ll find that making amends is good for the soul.”

“You know, you’re damn mature for your age. If I wasn’t your client, I’d…” he trailed off, and rather deliberately it seemed.

“You’d what?”

He waved a big hand dismissively. “Nevermind.”

Brooke eyed him for a second before continuing on alongside him, his great long strides slowed down so he wouldn’t completely out-pace her. But he stopped again.

“How would you like to see the view from up here?”

She remembered when he’d picked her up and slung her over his shoulder, and just how high up that was. She wanted to say no, but something compelled her to say yes. Something equal parts frivolous and risk-taking. When was the next time that she’d get to literally stand on the shoulders of giants?

“I don’t like heights, but… OK,” Brooke relented. “But if I even begin to feel like I’m going to fall, then that’s it.”

Jack just nodded and knelt down. He didn’t grab her this time, but instead set his hand out, palm up in open invitation. She sat down in it, suddenly acutely aware that he technically had his hand on her ass, and hoped that he didn’t realize it either. Soon, though, she was lifted to his shoulder, and with a protective hand pressing her knees to him she looked out through the trees and spied the water.

“Wow…”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 9

Brooke didn’t get very far before it became a herculean struggle to keep herself afloat in the frigid sound. The otherwise gently lapping waves seemed enormous now as her strength was getting sapped from her faster than she’d anticipated. About 150 feet from the shore, and she had to resort to flailing her numb, clothing-ladened limbs.

She was about midway across the tiny channel, and that’s when she knew that this had been a big, big mistake. There’s no way that she would reach the other shore before succumbing to hypothermia, and the only choice now was to try and make it back to Bell island, but even her chances of doing that were growing slimmer and slimmer by the second.

“Help!” she found herself yelling; it had been a purely automatic reaction. “H-help! Some -” Icy saltwater sluiced down into her open mouth and she sputtered, coughing.

There was a loud splash behind her, and a few seconds later, something warm was around her waist.

It was… Jack.

His brows were furrowed in equal parts discomfort and determination as he too fought with the cold water, but he brought Brooke, shivering and altogether rather helpless, to his still-warm body and headed with powerful, expert strokes to shore. He stepped out of the water and rushed through the tall trees to get them back to the house, and it was all she could to to catch her breath and cling to him, pressing her frozen cheek to his chest.

Jack set her down in the middle of his nest of cushions and blankets, and when he quickly began to strip off her clothes, it didn’t even occur to her to argue. Amos appeared with several towels, which Jack snatched from the robot when she was naked, and bundled her up tightly, rubbing vigorously. She still didn’t have the bodily strength to do anything but lay there, nor did she have the mental wherewithal to think of anything to say. Brooke just listened to her breaths, and focused on the feeling of the terrycloth against her skin.

The giant rumbled to himself, studying his handiwork for a second, before apparently deciding that it wasn’t enough. He gathered up a few of the blankets and wrapped them around her too, until she resembled a large ball of fabric with a little face peeking out of the top.

“That water is 49 degrees,” he said quietly. “Not sure what you were thinking.”

“T-trying to protect m-mys-self,” she stammered weakly, trying not to slur her words.

A long silence passed before she heard him sigh and say something she thought she’d never hear: “I’m sorry.”

Brooke just stared at the ceiling, unable to do much else, and feeling curiously drunk, she just started to laugh. She laughed until she didn’t have the strength to laugh anymore.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded.

“You, this place, this situation… me, almost drowning…”

Jack Ilyin considered this, then a faint smile crept across his face. “Gallows humor,” he said, eyes meeting hers. “You sure you’re not Russian too?”

She chuckled, feeling the blood creep back into her extremities and the fog clear from her head. Brooke tested her fingers and toes a little from inside the warm towels and blankets, but they were still awkward and sluggish. Her face deepened into a frown, though, as she remembered their altercation.

“You were a piece of shit, Ilyin,” she said quietly.

“I’m not that man anymore.”

“You sure?”

“…No.” He shook his head and looked away. “I’m not so sure.”

“You’re impatient and you treat people like they’re disposable. There are other ways of getting people to do things for you without threatening or throwing money at them.”

“I know.”

There was more Brooke wanted to say, but she didn’t want to overstep – and besides, now was probably not the best time. She turned her head a little so she could look at him. He looked so real here, too. His wet hair clung to his neck, and the drying rivulets of water gave his powerful form a vibrant, vital sheen as they caught the light from the recessed fixtures. Jack Ilyin sat, slightly bent as he wrapped one elbow around a bent knee, with immaculate posture. He was naked too, she noticed for the first time. The sheet was long gone, probably lost to the waters of the sound when he dove in, and though the swell of his thigh hid most of what hung from between his legs, she still quickly averted her eyes before he caught her staring.

Brooke realized that the blood had returned to her extremities after all.

She decided to use her second wind to get back upstairs and into bed before she fell asleep down here. Shedding the outer layer of blankets and keeping her collection of soft towels, she stood up, swaying a little.

“You’ve warmed up enough?”

“I’m not too keen on nodding off in a strange man’s giant bed, is all,” she said with a nervous chuckle.

“Do you need help getting upstairs?”

Brooke sucked in a breath. “You can help me by putting on some pants.”

“Shit.” She turned and watched as he snatched up one of her blankets and hastily draped it across his lap, holding it in place with his hand. “Sorry, nobody needs that.”

She just laughed again and went to hobble up the two flights of stairs to her room. Brooke was on the landing at the top of the first set when his deep voice carried up to her. “Let me know if you need anything, Miss Foster.”

“I will, thank you.”

Brooke slipped into bed a few minutes later with an extra blanket, and fell promptly to sleep, dreaming this time of big hands, broad chests, and strong thighs…

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The Beast of Bell Island part 8

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.

“Huh?”

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.

Leave!

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.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 7

Seeing him destroy the tree had shaken her, and Brooke took to running back to the house.

“He’s in one of his moods,” Amos said as it stood between the pool and the courtyard, head perked in Ilyin’s direction.

“I knew asking him to talk about it would make him angry,” she said, passing the robot and tiptoeing her way around the nest of blankets in the great room. When Brooke returned to the office, the skin on the back of her neck stopped tingling and she felt like she could relax and get to work. If these upper rooms were left untouched, then there was a good chance that she’d be safe from any more of his potential outbursts, she reasoned.

“Amos, Ilyin said you had a clue for me to look at?”

“I do indeed, Miss Foster,” said the panel in the wall. A few minutes later, and the robot entered, handing her an envelope.

Inside was a tarot card, of all things, which she carefully plucked out by the corner. On the back was a short written note:

Karma’s a bitch.

Brooke blinked a few times and sighed. This woman had a complex, didn’t she?

“What do you think it means, Miss Foster?” Amos asked.

She sat down at the computer and whirled around in the comfortable chair. “I don’t know what The Tower is supposed to signify, but I know this means we’ve got fingerprints.”


By the time her stomach started rumbling again, Brooke had made little progress at all. Well, no progress at all, actually, but finding dead ends still counted for something. Using her father’s login credentials, she was able to get access to a few of the police databases. It took about two hours to find that there were only two people in the entire country named Zelda DuBoix, and both of them were old enough to be collecting social security.

The rest of her evening was spent wracking her brain for other potential leads to investigate before hitting up her dad to handle the fingerprinting. If worse came to worse, they could at least print a bunch of bogus ‘missing person’ posters and see what turned up.

“Miss Foster?” Amos’ voice came from one of the screens, its green light blinking. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but you might be interested to know that dinner is ready.”

Brooke raised her eyebrows. “Dinner?” Her mind went immediately to Ilyin tending the smoker and her stomach rumbled some more.

“I’ve made you a plate of seared wild sockeye salmon, chantrelles sauteed with saged butter, wild rice, and a salad tossed with lemon-strawberry dressing.”

“…you can cook?

“I was designed to do so.”

Brooke leapt up from the chair and dashed down the stairs, trying to guess at how much Google would pay for the AMOS system. “Billions,” she chanted under her breath. “Lots and lots of billions.”

“The dining room is straight on, to the right of the kitchen,” Amos said through one of the panels as she passed it. It was easy to find: a table large enough to seat 16, and more glass walls to make you feel like you were outside, among the moss and the trees. At the far end was her plate, still warm enough to steam, and in front of it was maybe a dozen candles, all lit.

“Oh,” she mumbled, staring at the spread, a little flabbergasted. “I… take it that the ‘master of the house’ won’t be joining us?”

“Master Ilyin prefers to eat alone,” the wall panel said. “Now come, sit before it gets cool.” The robot stepped in as she was sitting down, holding an opened bottle of white wine and a glass. “This is a very good dry Lambrusco. It should pair nicely with the fish.”

Brooke didn’t really know what to do – she was a 22-year old kid from Anacortes whose idea of a good meal was a pastrami sandwich and a can of Rolling Rock. She’d never been to a four-star restaurant in her life, and now that she thought about it, she’d probably never been to a three-star restaurant either. Amos poured her glass and set it down before dimming the lights.

“Is there anything else I may get for you, Miss Foster?”

“I don’t get it,” she said. “How are you so nice while he’s such a… piece of shit?”

“Treating guests well is one of my chiefest pleasures, Miss Foster.”

Pleasures? “Amos, are you… sentient?”

The robot nodded its featureless head. “By human standards, I believe so, Miss Foster. The curse placed on Master Ilyin and this household changed him, but it changed me also. I believe that our Miss DuBoix understood that Master Ilyin would have been in grave, mortal danger without my assistance… and my company.”

Brooke thought this over, deciding to agree with him. If the perp had wanted her target dead, she would have undoubtedly gone about this in a different way. No… she wanted him to witness his life fall apart with the knowledge that there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“He wouldn’t have gotten very far without you, that’s for sure. Especially while trying to stay hidden.”

“Yes…” Amos trailed off, and she wondered what the robot was thinking about. Quickly, though, it turned back to her. “Enjoy your meal, Miss Foster.”

Then she was left alone to eat in silence.


After dinner, Amos showed her to her quarters: on the second floor, it was one of the few guest rooms that had been spared from Ilyin’s rage. It smelled musty, like clothes that had been packed away in a closet for one too many years, but was otherwise just as luxurious and tasteful as the rest of the house. A king sized bed was up against the north wall, and adjacent was an empty dresser above which a large painting hung in reds and browns. One door led to a closet, and another led to a bathroom complete with shower and spa tub. She wanted to wash up, but had no clean clothes to change into.

“Amos, I don’t have any clean clothes. What can I do about that?”

“I can provide you with a robe, but unfortunately that’s all I have to offer until the morning.”

“The morning?”

The little green light on its face seemed to brighten. “You’ll see.”

She wasn’t sure how she felt about wearing nothing but a robe, but she supposed it would suffice if she wasn’t planning on leaving the room.

Brooke went to draw a bath, finding soaking salts and bath bubbles under the sink that smelled nice and relaxing, dumping a good amount of both into the running water. The bathroom quickly smelled irresistible and she started to undress. Well, started, that is, until she remembered that there were also full-length windows in here and no way to cover them.

She stood, clutching her jacket in her arms, weighing the risks. After fretting about it for a few minutes, staring out the windows for any sign of the giant jerk, Brooke decided to throw caution to the wind. She stripped in record time, almost diving into the mountains of bubbles to cover her naked body. See? There – she could have her cake and eat it too.


Brooke almost fell asleep, actually, starting awake when some bubbles went up her nose. “Ow, fuck!” she hissed to herself, frantically blowing out the stinging soap. A clock on the counter read 9:25, and when she looked outside, the trees were black against the pink and purple sky. There was still that strange fog lingering around, but it didn’t interrupt the view much.

The water was getting cold though, and it was time to start thinking about bed. Brooke reached for a towel and stepped out to dry off. She bent over to drain the tub, and didn’t even hear Jack Ilyin approach from the outside and stand to watch for a few moments.

“Nice view,” came the deep, rumbling voice through the window, followed by a tapping on the glass.

Brooke yelped and nearly jumped out of her skin – instead, she just slipped on the wet edge off the tub and went tumbling, askew, to the floor as clumps of suds went flying. She yelled a long string of angry obscenities at him, trying to get up and regain some semblance of composure.

Roaring laughter vibrated the room. “You cuss like my grandfather,” he snorted.

She’d wiped the soap from her stinging eyes and finally saw him, his face illuminated by the bathroom light, leering shamelessly inside. “Go away!” She yelled. “Go, go, go!

He laughed some more, shook his head, and walked out of view.

Brooke angrily snatched up another towel and immediately headed for the bedroom, which was, thankfully, outfitted with curtains to keep out the morning light during the summer. She found the robe and put it on, nice and tight, and sat on the edge of the bed to think.

“I’m putting my foot down,” she said to herself. “He needs to stop being an ass otherwise I’m outta here. No paycheck is worth this shit.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 6

Aren’t Russians supposed to be happy drunks? she thought as she scrounged up some paper and a pen. Maybe if he tried tequila instead of vodka…

Brooke went downstairs, going over the questions she had to ask him, swearing up and down that she wouldn’t let him intimidate her. But once she saw the great-room-turned-bedroom, and the damage his bare hands had done to the place, she instead decided to swear up and down that she at least wouldn’t run.

“Hello?” She ventured out into the open courtyard, peering around the half-smashed Japanese maples and overgrown weeds, but there was no sign of him. “Mr. Ilyin?”

Brooke heard the little clicking steps of the robot behind her. “He must be at the smoker,” it said, and pointed. “Approximately 100 yards that way.”

Past the pool terraces was another path that disappeared in the thick, tall pine trees. When she looked up, she saw wisps of silver smoke from that direction, mingling with the last strange remnants of fog and disappear. Bell Island was a beautiful place, she had to admit. All the San Juans were – but Ilyin’s private retreat had a kind of haunted, magisterial beauty to it that drew her in more than any of the other islands she’d been to.

Before long she found him, crouched down beside the small structure that must have been the smokehouse, where he was tending to more halved pigs on great wheeled spits. She stood at the edge of the clearing and watched quietly.

Jack must’ve been a tall and solidly built man when he was of average human stature. In the press photos she saw of him, where he was clean-shaven and with neatly-cropped hair, wearing an expensive blazer over some t-shirt, he was the very picture of confidence and elegant masculinity. But now that she thought about it, that Jack Ilyin seemed bland, in a way: an underwear model, not a real person. This Jack, though, was real. Brooke watched as the muscles moved in time with those massive arms, followed the powerful swell of his shoulder blade, down the curve of his sturdy spine, to his… ah, er…

Brooke must’ve cleared her throat, because he looked over his shoulder to see her standing there.

“Did you… make those yourself?” she asked.

He stood up, in his hand a long metal rod bent in the shape of a hook, and considered the spit for a moment. “It’s the easiest way to cook all the food I need to eat to keep myself from fucking starving to death.” He looked at her again from under those brooding brows. “You’re not vegan or some shit, are you?”

Brooke shook her head. Actually, her mouth was beginning to water now that the breeze was blowing the right way.

“Good. Because I designed a damn good smoker.” He knelt down again to push the spit back inside, and closed the door behind it. He opened another hatch on the side and stuffed in a few cords of wood, dusted off his big hands, and stood up again. “You gonna ask your questions or what?”

“Oh! Uh… yes. Yes I am.” She moved over to a mossy rock and sat down, flattening the papers on her leg. “Could you just start by telling me what happened?” Brooke watched his body language carefully now, and noticed his hand ball into a loose fist.

“You can’t work with what your father took down?”

“I would prefer to… start from the beginning.”

Jack let out a long breath through his nostrils before leaning back up against a tree and folding his arms. “It was May, little less than two years ago,” he rumbled. “I had a good art collection then. Most of it was inherited from my grandfather who worked for the party in the 70’s. Constructivist stuff. You probably saw the ones in the entryway.

“Anyways, I was celebrating my 35th birthday that year. There was about… 200 people over. I don’t even remember who, now; people made famous by beauty, and people made ugly by fame. The usual. There was only one vaguely interesting woman there, or so I thought at the time. She insisted on going by the ridiculous and utterly transparent name of Zelda DuBoix.” Brooke noted how he said it with the deepest contempt. “She had this way of… moving through the crowd,” he said, clearly reliving that night with a scowl. “She seemed quite magical, all things considered. Turns out I was right.”

“The curse?”

Jack spat on the ground. “She came up to me, gave me some story about how she was a rep from some international children’s fund or some shit. Asked if I would donate a piece of my collection to an auction they were having in New York to fund the…” he thought for a moment and waved his hand dismissively. “Fund the whatever. I noticed she was giving me eyes, so I saw an opportunity and took it. I said she’d get her pick if she’d let me, you know. Take her back to my room.”

Brooke swallowed, nodding. This guy was a piece of work, wasn’t he?

“And?”

He scoffed bitterly. “She was good. Rode me like a -” Jack remembered who he was talking to, looking her way, and quickly ended his thought. “Erm. Like I said, she was good. But it started when we were done, though.” His face darkened and be began to pace around her in frighteningly long steps. “She got up from the bed, and I tried, but couldn’t. I couldn’t speak either. She looked at me, smiled, and told me that she wasn’t with a charity. That she didn’t want a piece from my collection. That she had come to the party with the express purpose of testing my moral fucking compass or some shit and that I’d failed.

“So… the curse.”

Jack stopped and snarled, startling her. “Yes the fucking curse, Miss Foster. My life was over, she said. I wasn’t going to conduct business ever again, I wasn’t going to throw another party ever again, and that the only company I’d have for the rest of my miserable life would be Amos.” He heaved a harsh sigh and muttered something in Russian. “A few mumbo jumbo words later and I passed out. Woke up 2 days later looking like this, and Amos could suddenly tell a good painting from a bad one. Poshyol na hui.

He looked down at her with those angry, penetrating eyes, chest heaving. Brooke shivered and looked back to her notes.

“Amos will give you the only clue she left me with.”

She swallowed, tapping her pen nervously. “What… what did she look like?”

Jack turned away to growl. “Long black hair, green eyes, glasses. About… five-five, 120 pounds. Late twenties. Covered in tattoos from head to toe.”

Brooke scrawled the information down, hoping that she could find something. The tattoos would be a real help, and she was pretty eager to see what ‘clue’ this witchy woman had left. With a sigh she shuffled through her papers, feeling his eyes on her and trying to ignore it. She had one more question as she pictured this Zelda DuBoix in her mind, flipping her long black hair and slinging spells.

“Do you regret what you did?”

Brooke watched as his huge Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and he answered in a low, dangerous voice that made the hairs of her neck stand on end. “I do now.”

“I… better go,” she said quietly, slipping off the rock and back to the pathway toward the pool.

Jack wordlessly moved away from where he’d been standing and approached a smaller tree and in one terrible motion, stomped it to the ground with the loud crack of splintering wood.

The young woman bit back a gasp, freezing in her tracks for just a second.

“Yeah,” he growled. “You better.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 5

Brooke had to wave her father goodbye from inside the tree line as he boarded the small private craft headed for Anacortes. She trudged up the cedar path back to the villa alone and contemplated just what she’d gotten herself into. Her stomach started growling as she stepped back in through the front door. It made her wonder what, and how much, her client ate.

“Amos?” she called, not quite sure what to do now. All she knew was that she wanted to spend as little time around Jack Ilyin as humanly possible, and that surely meant avoiding places where he could fit.

Brooke was not expecting a small, unassuming little panel in the wall beside her, fitted with the same green light, to speak. “What may I get for you, Miss Foster?” it said.

It occurred to her then that Amos wasn’t just the robot, but the whole house. No wonder Google wanted their hands on that tech.

“Is the ‘master of the house’ going to provide meals, or do I need to order pizza?” she deadpanned at the panel.

“The kitchen is down the hall behind you and to the left. Help yourself to anything you find.”

She followed his directions, and quickly found herself in the most beautiful kitchen she’d ever seen. Sparkling white marble floors, counters, and backsplashes lined the enormous space, and in the middle was an island of thick butcher block with its own sink, under-the-counter refrigerator, and stove range. Attached to it was a four-person bar, and Brooke thought that this was exactly the sort of kitchen that a celebrity chef would film their TV show in. There was another full-height refrigerator along the far wall, three ovens, a dishwasher, wine cooler, second stove top with two induction burners, and another, much larger three-basin sink. She pictured lavish parties being held here, with four-star chefs being brought in to cook for the luxurious crowds.

“Everything here is yours to use,” Amos said from the kitchen’s wall panel.

She went to the refrigerator and found all manner of farmer’s market produce, fresh eggs, local meats, artisan cheeses, the finest olives and capers and prosciutto, and…

“If there is nothing there that strikes your fancy, then you may browse Master Ilyin’s stock through that door there.” Brooke closed the fridge and headed for another door off in the corner. A blast of chill air startled her, but the light came on and she saw that it was a walk-in cooler. A huge walk-in cooler. At least twenty feet long and almost ten feet wide, and lined with shelves packed to the hilt with food.

She counted a dozen halved pigs, eight legs of veal, nine whole turkeys, slabs of unsliced bacon, wheels of parmesan, cheddar, and smoked gouda cheeses, entire bushel boxes full of cabbages, potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, lettuces, and other leafy greens, gallons of milks and creams, and at the very end, at the coldest part, were fully stocked shelves of nothing but vodka.

Brooke liked vodka.

She grabbed one – the most Russian-looking one – and headed out.

“You’ve found the master’s collection,” Amos said with a little bemusement on its voice. How did it do that? “I’m afraid that you need more for lunch than vodka, however.”

She snorted and poured herself a small amount in a tumbler. It tasted like the Arctic wind. “My god, this is amazing stuff.”

“It’s imported from a small-batch distillery in St. Petersburg, Miss Foster. I’m glad it pleases you.”

“OK,” she said, setting the empty glass down on the counter and opening up the normal fridge to root around again. “Now I can eat.”


Amos-the-unit (versus Amos-the-system) showed her around the house after she’d made and devoured a humble rye sandwich.

She was indeed shown a guest room, a pool room, and a smoking room, in addition to a study, and sound mixing studio. (One of his college buddies had been a sound engineer and helped him put the place together. Artists from all over the country had come there to have their music mastered, and Amos proceeded to list a few of them off.)

“What happened to some of these other rooms?” she asked, noticing that only the rooms along the outside of the premises remained intact – the ones facing the courtyard had largely suffered violent fates.

“You must understand how terribly Master Ilyin has suffered from this curse,” the robot explained as they passed another gutted space. “The whole of his life had been taken from him.”

Brooke did feel a pang of guilt, but it quickly dissipated. “Uh huh,” she grunted. “Except for the millions in the bank, the private island, the robot butler, and the majority shares in Orcasoft.”

“Yes, well…” Amos trailed off, until they came to a room at the top of some stairs leading to the third story. “Here we are. Master Ilyin’s old office.”

Her eyes just about popped out of her head and rolled across the floor. It was a corner suite, with more floor-to-ceiling windows that gave her a near-unobstructed, 180-degree view of the Wasp Passage, and the islands surrounding. About a quarter mile away she could see the Friday Harbor ferry chugging along in the still waters, leaving a silvery trail of a wake behind it. She could only imagine the views from here come sunset.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Amos said, looking out with that single green eye. She wondered if that was a preprogrammed response or if it had some kind of ability to judge beauty. “This was Master Ilyin’s favorite room of the house.”

“It may be mine too.”

“Now here’s the master’s old computer system,” the robot said, ushering her into the plush, high-backed office chair. As soon as she sat down, the system booted – and she could see why: each of the triptych of screens had a small green light at the very top. So Amos was there, too. After a very quick boot process, a desktop appeared, and then an internet browser was opened for her. “This should be sufficient for you to perform your research. There are printers and a scanner in the closet.”

“Thank you,” she said, pulling up her email account then pausing. “I’ll need to… talk to him before I start, though. How well does he remember the incident?”

Very,” Amos said, “looking” away. Brooke knew what that meant.

“Does he still get violent?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Well I’m not going to do a damn thing until he can promise me that he’ll keep his temper under control.”

“I do wish you well, but…”

It stopped when they both noticed the faint quaking of heavy feet hitting the mossy earth. Then, he came into view outside. Just barely, though, he wasn’t tall enough to be at eye level with the third floor, but he was close. Brooke sucked in a breath because she’d almost, somehow, forgotten that she was dealing with a bona-fide giant. Jack glanced inside before fixing his eyes on the horizon with a brooding look on his face. After a while, he turned and poked at a thin section of window along the floor and it pivoted open.

“I don’t see you working,” he said.

Brooke grimaced at him for a second and stood up to storm over to the window. “I just sat down,” she huffed. “And I don’t even know what I’m looking for yet. I need to… interview you.”

He just stared at her and raised a brow. “Better get down here, then.” He turned and was gone.

Brooke was going to head back downstairs to begin collecting his account of this magic woman person, but stopped and turned to Amos. “What kind of drunk is he, do you know?”

“You will not like him when he’s had a few bottles, Miss Foster.”

Well, so much for the idea of liquoring him up for this.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 4

Jack Ilyin bore little resemblance to the man in the TED Talk video. His face and bare shoulders were ruddy from sun exposure, his dirty blond hair long enough to tie into a sloppy ponytail, and his chin was burdened with a beard that would make the most discerning of Portland wanna-be lumberjacks green with envy.

Of course, there was also the minor detail that Jack Ilyin was inexplicably huge.

“Oh dear,” Amos said.

Martin grabbed his daughter by the shoulder and pushed her behind him as they gawked up at the giant. “Th-this is my daughter, Mr. Ilyin. She w-was just on her way out, OK? She -”

Brooke stared at that face above them, scowling, vaguely suspicious, but mostly, it appeared to her, deeply bitter. All the analysis in the world wasn’t worth squat, however, when he reached down with an arm the girth of a telephone pole, hand ready to grab her. She didn’t make a sound, but she did give into instinct and ran as fast as her feet would carry her. Up the stairs, down the hall, and out the still-open, ten-thousand-dollar front door. Brooke ran down the walkway, out the gate (which was only locked from the outside, it seemed) and down the cedar-planked path through the trees, trying not to trip over her own feet.

The dock and the yacht came into view below, but as she neared the tree line, her legs started numbing. When she couldn’t feel her feet anymore, she stumbled and fell. Brooke cursed under her breath, wondering what the hell was going on, but when she heard the sound of those footfalls approaching from the house, she willed herself to stand. When that didn’t work, she resorted to a crawl, but soon her hands and arms were numbing and weakening too, and not ten feet further down the gentle slope did she collapse onto the ground, sprawled and tangled up in her own limp limbs, and unable to move.

It was all she could do to watch as the giant man approached at a leisurely pace, appearing like a twenty-foot shadow among the fog and the trees. And it was all she could do to keep her heart from exploding when he knelt at her side and cocked his head at her.

“It’s part of the curse, I’m afraid,” Jack Ilyin rumbled flatly. He reached down with both hands and slid his fingers underneath her, lifting her up off the ground with not a little care. Brooke still couldn’t move anything but her head.

“What did you do to me!” she cried, not even trying to sound courageous at this point. “Why can’t I move, dammit! Put me down!”

He tossed her onto his shoulder, still limp as a rag doll, and held her there with his massive hand on the backs of her knees. She glanced down, remembering she was deathly afraid of heights, and bit back a scream: it came out as a long, whimpering moan instead. Brooke tried to close her eyes, but that didn’t last for long. The view of his broad back and his long powerful strides far below was too strange and mesmerizing to miss.

It was a few moments later when they reached the house again, and she felt her strength returning. They went right past the front door, heading around the house to the back. She finally saw just how big the building was, and how, once upon a time, it must have been a gorgeous place to live.

“I used to be able to fit in my own house,” Jack growled. She saw him glance unhappily at his reflection in one of the second-story windows as they walked. They came to the end of the wing, revealing an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the rear of the house surrounded by terraces, hot tubs, a sauna, and pool house. “Used to be able to helm The Carpe Diem,” he went on. She could almost hear him grinding his teeth together. “Fit in my clothes.” Jack knelt down abruptly, sending butterflies shooting from her stomach and up into her throat, but at least she had the means to hold on now instead of loll around helplessly. They were beside the trap door, Brooke noticed as he removed her from him and set her down beside it. “Believe it or not, I used to be normal. Until that bitch came along.”

“Who?” she blurted.

“That’s what Mr. Ilyin has hired me to find out.”

Brooke turned to find her father being escorted out of the great room by Amos. “…Dad?”

“As far as I can tell,” he said sadly, giving her shoulders a squeeze. “Hocus pocus is the only thing that would explain any of this. If I can track down the woman who supposedly did this to him, we might be able to get him back to normal.”

“But what about Patel? And… and the buyout?”

Suchara blyad!” Jack ferociously spat. So there’s where his accent was; the bile of his hate and the deep harshness afforded to him by his size just made him sound all the more Russian. But he continued in perfect newscaster English. “I’m surprised the fucking bastard hasn’t sent someone to poison my food so he could take over the whole company.” He shook his head gravely then gestured to himself. “No. There’s no dealing with that mess until we deal with this.”

Fair enough.

Jack moved over to the edge of the pool and sat down to put his feet in. Even at the deepest end, the water would have come up to his waist. This seemed to relax him a little – Brooke could see a little of the anger and frustration leave him.

“I can arrange for someone to pick you up and take you back to Anacortes,” Jack said.

“Take him up on the offer, Brooke. Please. I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll be…” Martin trailed off, and Brooke noticed that he’d suddenly broke into a cold sweat. Amos was there to grab his arm to steady him before he fell to the ground.

Brooke knew what she was looking at, and it suddenly occurred to her that he would not, in fact, be fine. “…you haven’t taken your medications, have you?”

“Maybe… maybe Mr. Ilyin would be kind enough to… let you get my stuff…”

Brooke frowned. “You’re diabetic, and you have high blood pressure!” she snapped. “No, you’re going home, or you’re going to wind up getting a heart attack or going into a damn coma out here. Or with your luck, one and then the other!”

Martin couldn’t argue.

“Amos, get him some juice or something please.”

“Of course, Miss Foster.” The white robot quickly disappeared inside, and returned a minute later with a glass of orange juice. Martin was breathing heavily when he took the glass and raised it to his lips. Brooke looked on, worried about how many times this has happened since being without his medications. He seemed to be doing a little better when he was done with the juice, but it would still be a few minutes before his glucose levels were back to normal.

“He’s hypoglycemic,” Jack Ilyin idly noted from where he still sat at the pool.

“No shit,” Brooke snapped. “Which is why we need to go home.”

“Nuh uh, nope. He’s not leaving until I get what I need,” he said. “Remember what happened to you when you tried to make a break for it?”

Brooke narrowed her eyes at the giant.

“That’s because nobody leaves the island unless I let them.” A pause. “Unless…” Another pause as he rubbed his beard and thought. “You said you were his assistant?”

Martin struggled to get to his feet, but still had to hold onto Amos to keep from swaying. “Dammit, Ilyin, leave my daughter out of this!”

“Can she do the work?” he suddenly boomed.

Brooke cowed, but was beginning to see that a deal had to be made for her father’s sake. “I… I can get access to the same records and databases as my father can. I’m not licensed, but… I could if I had to.”

“Brooke…”

She swallowed and turned back to him. “Dad, I can do this. I’ve been helping you for four years now, I know how this goes. It’s just research. I can do that. And if we get him back to normal, then he can take care of the Orcasoft affair all by himself.”

Martin Foster nodded, seeing that, perhaps, this wasn’t a death sentence for anybody – just an unusually high-stakes fact-finding case. The giant Jack Ilyin looked on as the two exchanged words, then nodded at his servitor. “Amos, charter something for Mr. Foster so he can go home.”

“Of course, sir.” The little light on his face flickered and blinked for a minute. “The boat will arrive in approximately half an hour,” he declared.

“See him out.”

“Yes, sir.”

Brooke stood there, frowning at her new… client. “So what about me, then? I don’t have any clothes, any toiletries, no computer… How exactly, is this going to work?”

He chuckled darkly. “As my grandparents would say, uspokoysya, durochka. Don’t worry your pretty little head.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 3

The door undid itself with an unassuming click of a latch and swung inward. It was dim, lit only by the natural light filtering through the thinning marine layer of clouds and fog outside, but not dark. The entryway was large and deceiving in its grandeur; Brooke knew money when she saw it, even with plain walls and spartan furnishings. Two large paintings hung in the foyer: if she were to guess, they were probably around 100 years old, and from some early European abstract movement. Surely worth hundreds of thousands each.

The floor was Italian marble, and the only pieces of furniture nearby, a console table and bench, were hand-cast bronze. “Wow,” she whispered. But it was time to gather herself and stop gawking at the scenery. “Hello?” she called, taking a few nervous steps further into the house. “Mr. Ilyin? Dad?” There was a draft, she noticed.

“I’m afraid you won’t be seeing Master Ilyin today,” came a gentle voice from a hall to her left. She recognized it as the same one from the comm at the gate, and –

The folder fell to the floor as Brooke stifled a gasp at the creature standing there. He – it – was about her height, and bore an uncanny resemblance to… well, C-3PO. Except that this android was a glossy white plastic, and had much less of a face than the brassy and sassy, Star Wars droid she spent her childhood laughing at. This thing just had a single green light in the middle of a smooth, featureless field that blinked when it talked.

“Uh…”

“I am AMOS, Master Ilyin’s Autonomous and Mobile Household Servitor. That is, using the ‘O’ in household instead of the ‘H’.”

Brooke eyed the robot, now noticing the Orcasoft logo neatly printed along his left shoulder panel, and below that, the word “prototype”. “You must be what Google wants,” she muttered to herself.

“I’m afraid that such matters are for Master Ilyin to worry about,” the robot said in that lilting warmth of a well-designed AI. “May I interest you in some food or drink?”

Brooke was only half-listening to the robotic servant as she took more tentative steps into the hall and looked around. The end of the foyer was a wall that, once she got closer to it, was simply there to give a sense of privacy to the large great room on the other side. The opposite wall of the great room was windows, floor to ceiling, that gave a breathtaking and intimate view of a courtyard flanked by two wings of the house. What was breathtaking about this view, however, was not its beauty, but the fact that the whole space looked as if it had once been utterly torn apart.

Sliding doors had been unmoored from their tracks and cast aside, the delicate landscaping in the courtyard beyond the glass a trampled mess. The carpet near the doors was dark with moss, and the furniture – expensive couches, coffee tables, side tables, lounges, ottomans – all thrown against the walls to make room for a bizarre pile of blankets, pillows, and mattresses some twenty feet across in the middle of the room. The only thing that appeared to have remained untouched was the 80″ flatscreen TV against the west wall. So that’s where the draft was coming from.

Brooke realized she’d been holding her breath as she stared, and it took Amos to bring her out of her horrified stupor.

“Ah, yes, that,” it said with a touch of embarrassment. “I can assure you that there is a reason for… things being the way they are.”

“Where’s my dad?” she demanded. This was a bad situation. A bad situation and they needed to get out ASAP. “Tell me where he is or I swear to god I will call the police right now.”

The robot seemed startled, if a faceless toy could be startled – its light blinked at her a few times before slumping its shoulders and turning to head down the hall in something vaguely resembling a pout. “Mr. Foster is perfectly safe, I can assure you.” They passed trashed art, guest rooms and pool rooms and smoking rooms (none of which seemed to have been used in years), and rooms with the ceilings apparently caved in and their door frames ripped out. There was water damage, and in some areas, mold creeping up the walls. “And he has, I should note, met the master of the house.”

The way those words came out sent a chill down her spine. Brooke wasn’t sure she wanted to meet Jack Ilyin anymore.

Amos led her to a room that was partially below ground level. It had once been a wine cellar, and still may have been one yet – this space had been given a similar treatment to the others, but much of the wine bottles themselves had been unharmed, and still rested peacefully in their racks, aging and gathering dust. At the far end of the cellar, and below a strangely macguyver’d trap door, sat her father at a table, surrounded by papers. He was reading intently, but cradling his head as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. An empty wine glass was on the table beside him.

“Dad!” Brooke shouted, breaking into a sprint.

Martin Foster, P.I., glanced up from what he was doing and suddenly had the look of a man who thought he’d never see his daughter again writ on his face.”Brooke!” He immediately rose from his chair and hugged her tight. “What in the world are you doing here!” he exclaimed, then remembering something, he repeated himself in a completely different tone. It was nervous and frantic. “What in the world are you doing here?”

“I was about ready to file a missing persons report!” she replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “What are you doing here? We gotta get you home!”

He was suddenly a haunted, hunted man, and looked to the trap door above them as though any minute something terrible might fall out from it. “No, no… you need to go. I-I have a job to finish here.”

“Dad, bring the papers with you. Read them at home. You can call this creep when you finish, and -”

“It’s not like that,” Martin said curtly. “It’s… it’s gotten complicated. I can’t leave now.”

Brooke’s heart began to race and her hands went clammy cold. “Did he threaten you?” she whispered. “He took your phone, didn’t he?”

He just shook his head and pushed her toward Amos. “It’s not like that,” he repeated. “Just go! I’ll be fine here until I finish the job. Now go, before he…”

There was a rumbling all of a sudden, a slow, steady, beating tremor that grew louder. Something was drawing near, and damn well shaking the foundation of the house as it approached. Then it stopped, but just for a moment before the trap door was opened up above them.

Brooke’s eyes lifted skyward and was greeted by a pair of large blue eyes, hard like chips of Siberian ice as they bored into her from high above.

“Who the hell is this?” came the deep, loud, and growling voice.

Brooke screamed.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 2

Brooke made small talk with Andy on the way out from Anacortes, but it was hard over the roaring drone of the runabout’s outboard motor. And she was distracted besides. He asked about her dad, but she didn’t have much to tell him – he just assumed that it was a sensitive case and didn’t press any further.

“There!” he shouted over the sound of the motor, and pointed toward a hump of land ahead as it was beginning to make itself distinguishable from the larger masses around it. The morning fog was beginning to burn off and the chill was being lifted from the air, but she thought it was curious just how much of the silvery wisps still clung to the island she was heading for. She couldn’t make out a single structure this way; just a mass of trees.

“Not sure where the dock is,” she shouted in return. Andy nodded and once they were within a hundred or so yards of the shore they began to head around and see where he might be able to drop her off. Eventually they found one jutting modestly out from the north-western part of the island. The fog was so thick on this side that they almost went right past it, though; it had Brooke wondering if this area had some kind of unique low pressure spot that encouraged such a drastically different microclimate than the sound and islands around it.

A looming white shape came into view as they approached the dock: it was the unmistakable silhouette of a Lazzarra 60-foot yacht. “Holy shit,” Brooke murmured as she gathered up her bag and opened up the front her jacket. She turned to Andy. “Stay here for a minute in case he doesn’t want me coming in.” Her father, while carrying the credentials of a private detective, still didn’t have the authority of a real law enforcement official, and could only set foot on private property by permission. Brooke didn’t even have that much, and was going to play it safe.

She stepped out of the runabout and helped him to loosely tie off on one of the dock’s cleats before pausing to glance at the massive boat sitting in the water on the other side. It seemed… disused. Moss was beginning to grow around the teak-capped railings, dust dulled her tinted windows, and as she walked up the boards toward the shore, she saw that the vinyl lettering adorning the stern of the thing was cracking and faded. Even the ropes holding the boat to the dock were green with moss and algae, and in parts, overgrown with barnacles.

Brooke came to a gate at the end of the dock, and a kind of slim kiosk featuring an input pad, security camera, and video screen. Summoning her courage, she pressed the call button and waited.

“Hello, how can I help you?” a charismatic voice soon answered. It had a faint hint of an accent she couldn’t place.

She brought her mouth to the speaker. “Hi there, my name’s Brooke Foster. I’m the daughter and assistant to Martin Foster, and I’m here to make sure things are going smoothly with Mr. Ilyin.”

There was a long, suspicious silence that didn’t leave her with much confidence in the situation. With a frown, she narrowed her eyes at the camera and spoke clearly. “If you do not let me in or let me speak to my father in person, then I will be more than happy to let the police convince you to do so.”

Brooke started when the gate automatically unlocked with a harsh buzzing and she quickly pushed it open before it locked again. She turned, waved at Andy through the fog, gave him a thumbs up, and watched him pull in the ropes. With a deep breath she turned back to the gate, pushed it open, and headed up the cedar-planked path through the trees.


There was an unsettling sort of quiet about the place, she noticed, and security was high: two-hundred feet of pathway yielded four cameras, and she could feel their electronic eyes on her. The dense tree cover masked whatever water traffic passed the island by; it seemed to mask her own footfalls too. She wondered how far a scream would carry in an environment like this.

Eventually, a house came into view. Well, ‘house’ was an understatement: it was a beautifully designed, sprawling, three-story villa of stark modern design. This, like the yacht, seemed normal at first glance, but the closer she got, the less sure she was. One of the west-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows was cracked, and she could barely make out the silhouettes of upturned furniture inside. The wall around the house, made from more planks of handsome cedar arranged horizontally, sported another gate, which this time just buzzed open as she approached. The pathway was slabs of expensive-looking stone now, mossy in the gaps between them. But there were leaves and pine needles everywhere, and, it seemed, plants sprouting up where no landscaper worth his salt would have permitted.

Brooke only stopped when she came to the mahogany door, inlaid with rough slices of redwood burl. Door alone probably worth ten grand, she thought with raised brows. She sucked in a deep breath, ignoring the camera and viewscreen beside her, and pulled out her own little case file: a few printed articles on Orcasoft, a satellite photo of the island, and some of her father’s insurance information… just in case.

At the top, though, she’d paper-clipped a photo of Jack Ilyin: he was a man in his mid-thirties, with dirty blond hair and blue eyes, and a rugged facial structure that was very obviously of Russian stock. As part of her research she watched a video of him giving some kind of TEDx talk a few years back, and he lacked all trace of a foreign accent. But he’d been very good with his audience – he was a natural. Which, of course, begged the question even more: what could force such a talented, charismatic, handsome man from the tech world’s limelight?

Tucking the folder under her arm and pretending that she had every right to be here, she ignored the call button and simply knocked on the door.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 1

“Did I tell you that they’re sending me to Bell Island?” Martin called from the hallway bathroom where he was doing a last once-over before leaving for work.

His daughter, Brooke, who was reading in the living room of her father’s Anacortes home, looked up from her book. “No. Where’s Bell Island?”

“Just east of Crane Island,” he said, now in the foyer as he gathered his things. “It should be a quick in-and-out, but I’ll have to charter a boat to get there. Probably be gone all day.”

Brooke nodded, brown eyes going back to her forensics textbook. Martin, her old man, was a private investigator often contracted out by the San Juan County police department to look into spurious goings on in their sleepy little corner of the world. Brooke had been raised in it, her mother having passed away when she was younger, and was fully committed on entering into the family business once she was done with school.

Though she wasn’t often privvy to the details of his cases, he had always, always told her where he was going and when he would be back… just in case. You never knew what trouble might find you in such a line of work. Dangerous situations happened.

“What kind of case is it?”

“Private client,” he said, looking for his keys. “Guy wants to know what his business partner is up to… I guess the man dropped off the map a few years ago and still owns half the company.”

“Yikes,” she said non-committaly. “You think he’s dead?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out.” With keys successfully located, he opened the door and stepped out. “I’ll be back before dinner,” he called. “Have a good day!”

She flatly returned the goodbye and promptly went back to reading.


Her father was not, in fact, back before dinner. That in itself wasn’t especially unusual, but what was is the fact that he hadn’t contacted her all evening. She picked up the phone and called the station, but the young detective on the other end of the line hadn’t heard from Martin since the day before. Brooke was beginning to worry, sitting in tense silence over her microwave dinner as she tried to convince herself that maybe his phone was just dead, or maybe he dropped it into the water while on his way over, or…

Her own phone buzzed then: a text message from an unfamiliar number.

Hi honey, looks like I’ll be staying here for a few days

Relief washed over her… for a moment. Brooke looked at the message again, feeling that the wording wasn’t quite right. Her father had never called her honey – and the details were just vague enough to be suspicious. She started to get ready for bed, but sleep would be slow coming until the hamster wheel of thoughts stopped turning in her head.


School over the next two days kept her busy enough. Midterms were coming up, there was lab work to do, and her “side” job of answering the phones for her dad’s PI business distracted her from the fact that she hadn’t heard from him since that night. It all seemed like such a routine job – the guy was either there or he wasn’t, right? One morning she happened to discover that he hadn’t brought his medications with him: they were still on the bathroom counter, where he took them every morning before brushing his teeth. This was not good.

Brooke knew something was wrong, so she sat down at Martin’s desk and began to do her own research about where, exactly, the man had gone.

Bell Island, she found out, was a privately owned piece of land in the middle of the channel and some acres in size. A wealthy, young tech entrepreneur had bought and built on it some six years before, after his AI dev company, Orcasoft, launched a wildly successful IPO. 2 years ago, though, this entrepreneur, a certain Jack Ilyin, had taken an extended leave of absence and never returned, leaving his VP, Gary Patel, to run the whole damn show.

“Well this is interesting,” Brooke muttered to herself as she squinted at a headline showing up on the page of search results: Possible Orcasoft acquisition on the table. Google, apparently, was in talks with Mr. Patel about a buyout. But as Brooke suspected, a deal couldn’t be made until Ilyin could be tracked down – whether he approved or not was anyone’s guess at this point, but either way, the acquisition was dead in the water until they could get the man’s John Hancock on the dotted line.

Brooke sat back in the desk chair and thought. Certainly, she felt a little better now, knowing that her father was not likely in immediate physical danger. This was a high-profile business, run by high-profile businessmen – surely, then, the specifics of Ilyin’s apparent renunciation of society was a tangled mess of financial and legal complications that, truth be told, might be better hashed out in court.

Of course, that’s probably the advice her father was giving to Mr. Ilyin right now, but still… Brooke wanted to make sure everything was alright. And at least take him his medications. She glanced at the clock, and decided to call up a friend of hers at the marina.

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