The Beast of Bell Island part 27

“What’s the matter?” Jack asked, brushing her shoulder with the pad of his big thumb as soon as the others were out of sight.

“I think I’m wondering why I’m still here,” she said, folding her arms and looking away. There was a crack in the wall; she looked at that.

“If you want to go home, I don’t blame you,” he said, smiling a little. “I’d hightail it out of here if I could, too.”

“But… I like you.”

Jack chuckled. “Right. That does complicate things, doesn’t it?” There was a pause as she began to start feeling sorry for herself again and didn’t say anything. “If it matters, I don’t want you to go,” he said quietly. “You’ve kept me laughing through all of this.”

“I don’t want to go,” Brooke elaborated, “But at the same time, I do. I miss my crappy food, my crappy car… I miss sitting on the floor in the living room and eating burgers while watching Netflix, you know?”

“You could do that here,” he blurted. “I mean… just because I’ve got money doesn’t mean you couldn’t… feel more at home.”

Brooke smiled. “Don’t forget I have school too, Sputnik.”

“Well that certainly trumps anything I’ve got.”

“This all has just felt like a weird vacation. I guess what I’m saying is…” She sucked in a breath and leaned into his touch. “That I think I have a life I need to get back to.”

“Brooke, you can leave whenever you need to leave. Though maybe a night passage would be less… stressful, given the circumstances.” He sounded sad. “However, I need for you to know that you’re welcome here any time, that if you need absolutely anything, give me a call, and I’ll see to it that you get it.”

“You mean it?”

Jack smiled. “Of course I do. Brooke, you…” Then he  scowled as he thought. “You gave me a new lease on life, you know. I’m in your debt.”

“It’s just what friends do,” she said, and waved him down for a kiss. After a moment he broke away.

“Friends?”

She nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s what this is going to have to be for now. I need to finish school, finish finding myself, all that jazz… And you need to put your life back together.” There was a pause as she thought for a few seconds. There was still the elephant in the room. “What I don’t get is… why you’re still like this, though.”

Jack looked away and his face darkened. “I guess there’s still more work for me to do on myself,” he murmured.

Brooke was thinking up something to say when Amos’s voice sounded from the nearest green light. “Martin Foster is on the line for you, Master Ilyin.”

The two looked at each other and Jack cocked a brow. “Put him through.”

“Brooke?” came Martin’s voice.

“It’s the both of us, dad. What’s up?”

“Well, believe it or not, Lisa Thomas is dead.” Brooke and Jack exchanged surprised looks. “About an hour after I left the hospital, actually. She reacted to a drug they gave her, went into cardiac arrest, and boom. Gone.”

Brooke covered her mouth, feeling a little shook up. “Jesus… maybe she wasn’t full of crap after all, then.”

“Who can say,” said her dad. “Mr. Ilyin, what do you make of it?”

Jack’s shoulders had slumped, but he was rubbing at his face in deep thought. “I’ve got the sinking feeling that my exit clause went with her.” Brooke’s hand shot out to rest comfortingly on his knee. She watched as his other hand balled up into a fist, and the muscles in his arm tighten, but all he did was press his knuckles into the mattress hard enough to leave a permanent divot. “So that’s that, then,” he said.

“Dad, we’ll call you back later,” Brooke quickly said, and Amos cut the line before Martin had time to respond. She was up in his lap in half a second, balancing on his strong thigh, and trying to wrap her arms around some part of his chest. It was like trying to hug a tree. “Jack, I’m so sorry,” she said against him.

His arms went around her too, those thick, massive limbs almost twice as long as she was tall, and he held her for a good solid minute. She felt his deep, slow, powerful heartbeat under her cheek, and when he took a breath, he took her with him.

“I’m a tech genius, or so they say,” he rumbled quietly. “I should be able to figure this one out.”

“I know, but…”

He gave her a squeeze. “I’ll be fine, really. Don’t worry about me, alright?” Then: “I want you to go live your life.”

“I feel like I’m abandoning you now.”

Jack moved her away from him just enough to be able to look her in the eye. “Don’t. Don’t do that to yourself.”

“But…”

“Finish school, young lady.”

She blushed and nodded. “Yeah, OK.”

He lifted her up to his face so he could kiss her. Her knees pressed to his chest and she held onto his rough, stubbled cheeks when he sucked her tiny lower lip into his mouth and took it between enormous teeth. A moment later and he was roughly exhaling through his nose and snaking his fingers through her hair to massage at her scalp and gently maneuver her head as they continued. Brooke’s own fingers raked from his jaw around to the hair behind his ears and she dragged her fingers along the skin there. He rumbled deeply, then broke away, running his thumb along her lip where his teeth had been.

“Can I visit you in Anacortes?” he asked.

She bit back a smile. “I don’t think you’d fit in the house. The backyard would probably be fine, though.”

“When do you want to go?”

“In the morning, I guess.”

He nodded. “I’ll arrange to have you escorted out of the house to the dock. I don’t want any of those damn sharks out there smelling blood and biting.”

“Thanks, Jack.”


The rest of the day was a whirlwind. Ryan came up with a PR strategy to manage things as best as anyone could hope for, and by afternoon he’d shot out a press release that the news stations promptly devoured like piranhas with a piece of meat. Jack, getting restless, wanted to speak to the reporters himself, but Michelle forbade it until that suit arrived. She also forbade him to drink anything for the rest of the day lest he needed to use the restroom.

As Ryan and Michelle buzzed around the house, making calls – via Amos, there was still no cell service – Jack was stuck in the great room with nothing else to do but watch TV. Brooke kept him company.

At some point, she looked outside and noticed a fog rolling in, and she remembered how thickly it had gathered about the island that morning she first arrived. When she turned her attention back to the news broadcast, the helicopter reporters were taking notice too, as their view of the house slowly faded away.

“Hm.”

“What’s up?” he grunted.

“The creepy fog is back,” she said, looking outside.

“Yeah, I need to get a tarp or something to cover that goddamn hole in the wall.”

“Fog meaning obscurity, Jack.”

A little light went off in his head, and she thought it was mighty endearing that a computer genius like him could sometimes miss the most obvious of things. “Amos,” he said, getting onto hands and knees, “Tell Michelle I’m stretching my legs for a while.”

“Are you sure, Master Ilyin? I believe that Gary Patel is due to be hosting a press conference in roughly nine minutes.”

Jack snorted, squeezing outside and standing up. “I don’t need to tune in; I’ll be seeing that bastard in court soon enough.” Then he looked down at Brooke, who was standing next to his leg. “Shall we go for a walk?”

She smiled up at him. “One more for the road, right?”

His hands were around her, and she was hoisted up into the air to sit on his shoulder. She sucked in a gasp at the sudden gain in altitude and held onto his head, one of her hands gripping a fistful of his hair. Jack gave her a wink. “Yeah, something like that.”

 

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The Beast of Bell Island part 26

“Oh goody,” Brooke said flatly as she stared at the news footage playing on the great room’s enormous screen. “We’re on TV.”

Before them was a live feed from one of the helicopters as it slowly loitered about the airspace above the island. They had the entire house in the camera’s sights, as well as the courtyard, some of the pool, and the front and south patios. The resolution was so good that she could even make out the outdoor furniture, and little dots that couldn’t have been anything other than the empty bottles that Jack had downed last night. She counted eight of them. At the top of the screen, in red and white, was a big title block that read BREAKING, and underneath that in smaller red and white was the word LIVE. At the bottom was somebody’s attempt at being cheeky: “Giant-Spotting On Ilyin Private Island”.

“If you’re just joining us now,” came the voiceover of an anchorman, “We are currently looking at the home of Jack Ilyin, the tech magnate who has taken the world by storm in his drunken confession video from last night, which he released after all but disappearing two years ago. If you haven’t seen it yet, we’ll be playing it again in a little while here…”

“Confession video!” Jack harumphed from where he lay down behind her, still nursing his hangover. He’d taken three more asprin and was now chugging a large bottle of Gatorade.

“Can you describe the situation, Tom?”

The audio cut to a man in the helicopter, his voice distorted by the loud whine of the engines. “Yes I can, Brent. So right now we’ve got the top of the Ilyin residence here, which is located on privately-owned Bell Island in the San Juan County of Washington State. Several features of the house are plainly visible, um, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any trace of Ilyin himself, or anything we could point to as evidence of anyone having grown to be twenty feet tall.”

“So you haven’t seen any activity yet?”

“That’s correct, Brent. But we’ll be here, and the moment that someone comes or goes from the house, we will be the first to capture that for our viewers.”

“Thank you Tom. In the meantime, we have a few guests joining us this morning by satellite to help us make sense of the Ilyin confession video.”

“It’s not a confession,” he groaned. Brooke shushed him.

The screen cut from the helicopter feed to the anchorman in the studio as he introduced three guest “experts”: some CGI wizard from a movie company and a forensic video analyst to attest to the legitimacy of the video itself, and a professor of orthopedics to talk about the physical limits of the human skeletal structure at scale.

“Should have just released a sex tape,” he snorted. “Amos, why the hell did you let me do that?”

“I aim to please, Master Ilyin.”

“Do I look pleased, Amos?”

The robot laughed then – laughed! It was a strange sound, and Jack and Brooke exchanged looks.

“You’ve… never done that before,” he said.

“This past week is teaching me much about human behavior, sir. I’m finding it… entertaining, I believe is the word.”

Jack groaned theatrically. “God, not you too!”

Brooke laughed as well and muted the TV from the over-sized tablet remote. “Think of it this way: you’ve gone viral, which is exactly what you needed to accomplish. The rest was going to happen anyway. At least it’s on your terms, now.”

Jack just sighed and closed his eyes. It was going to be a long day.

“Your suit, by the way,” the computer added, “Was estimated at around $14,000, not including the shoes.”

“Might as well place the order,” Jack huffed. “Looks like I’m going to have to make a public appearance here sooner rather than later.”

“What deadline should I give the atelier, sir?”

“ASAP.”


Brooke was in the kitchen, along with Amos, making herself a sandwich. Jack’s food stores were running low she’d noticed, and Amos explained that they got a delivery of food (and vodka, of course) every two weeks from ‘his man in Friday Harbor’: about $1500 worth.

“So, I got a question for you, Amos.”

“Yes, Miss Foster?”

“You want Jack to get back to normal, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“What if it means that you’ll go back to being your run-of-the-mill AI?”

The glossy white robot stopped spreading mustard on ten slices of bread and the little green light on its face held steady for a moment as it… what, computed?

“It appears that… we have a conflict of interest then,” it said, resuming work on Jack’s sandwiches, voice still amiable. There was an awkward silence before the robot continued. “However, my dedication to Master Ilyin is unwavering. Without him, I wouldn’t be here in any capacity.” It shrugged. Or, tried to. Its shoulder joints didn’t quite work that way.

“You’re quite the little robot, Amos,” Brooke said with a smile, patting it on it’s elegantly sculpted back. It didn’t seem to be expecting that, and its head jerked around to get a look at her.

“Thank you, miss Foster.”


Michelle Douglas and the sharp dressed man she had in tow didn’t bother knocking on the front door when they all but ran inside; it was their loud complaining that told Brooke that they had company.

“My god, it’s a madhouse out there!” she shouted as she quickly closed the door behind her. “Channels 4, 7, and 9 all have eyes in the sky, and there are at least forty boats crowding the sound! We could barely get to the dock without hitting somebody!”

“I have water rights 50 feet from the shore,” Jack shouted from the great room.

“Coast guard is doing crowd control,” she replied, stepping into the kitchen for a drink. “Oh, and I found you a PR man in Seattle.” Grabbing a tumbler from the freezer, she went into a cabinet under the counter that contained a mini fridge that Brooke didn’t know was there, and grabbed a bottle of Laphroaig.

“Gonna need ‘im,” Jack grunted from the great room.

The PR man was shorter than Michelle, but every bit the well-manicured, well-paid urbanite, complete with silk tie, expensive suit, designer sunglasses, and some kind of ring on his left thumb that had a carbon fiber inlay. He’d kept silent so far, but had been busy absorbing the strange new surroundings, getting a bead on his new client.

“First off,” Michelle said, leaning against the counter with scotch in hand, “The video? It’s real.”

“It… is?”

She nodded. “If I told you any sooner, you’d have thought I deserved to have my license taken away.” She shrugged. “So, here we are. And it is real.”

The public relations specialist rubbed his chin, suddenly not quite sure about this job anymore. “Uh… huh.”

Brooke and Michelle looked at each other before heading out of the kitchen. “C’mon, he’s over here.”

Jack was in the other room, watching the news broadcast lose its shit over the arrival of the two newcomers, and throwing the last of the ten sandwiches down his gullet.

“Alright, so, we have confirmed that this was indeed Jack Ilyin’s lawyer setting foot on the scene,” the closed captioning frantically parsed. “This is a very good indication that Ilyin is, in fact, present on the property right now. While there is still no sign of him, giant or not, he’ll have to come out eventually…”

“Christ,” Brooke gawked. “They’re acting like this is a damn hostage situation.”

“Jack, Ryan. Ryan, Jack,” Michelle said.

Ryan the PR guy stammered a few nonsense syllables at first, before extending his hand to the giant man sitting cross-legged on the floor shakily. “P-pleasure, M-Mr. Ilyin.”

Jack just glanced at the hand, and looked back to the TV. “I’ll shake your hand when you’re in the mood to tear your rotator cuff,” he sighed.

Ryan looked back to Michelle, then back to Jack, then back to Michelle. “I mean… his voice sounded deep in the video, but I just… I guess I just figured…”

Brooke just snorted. “My introduction was a giant hand coming at me, so this is nothing.” She elbowed Jack in the arm. He smiled and rolled his eyes.

“Wait, who are you, anyway? A housekeeper?”

“Brooke Foster, PI-in-training.”

The Brooke? The one from the -?”

“Yes,” Jack cut in. “The same one.”

“She…”

He nodded. “I was drunk off my ass, but what I said was true.”

“Alright, well…” Ryan reached into his bag and produced four newspapers, each with the Jack Ilyin story on the front page, and dropped them onto the ground for all to see. The fourth was a tabloid, speculating something scandalous about this mysterious Brooke person. “You’re going to have to reel in the honesty. I know you’re Russian -”

Nu, tak chto zh?

“Er..?”

“Yeah, and?

“You’re gonna have to play this like an American.”

Jack scoffed. “Yeah, yeah. Let someone else do all the talking.”

“Exactly. And that person is me. So, first things first.” Ryan reached into his pocket for his phone and began to type away with his thumbs. “You need to write up a press release, like, yesterday. Literally. Secondly…” He gestured at Jack’s whole person. “We need to get you looking presentable. You don’t have any clothes, do you?”

“Yeah, I checked Big and Tall. Their ‘gargantuan’ section left a lot to be desired.”

“Oh-kay. Well, we’re going to need to -”

Jack stared the man down. “I’m working on it,” he said flatly.

“I think we should get him something to wear in the meantime,” Brooke said. “Jack, what if we sent someone to a fabric store to get you a few bolts of fabric that we could make some simple pants out of? Drawstring waist, something real basic.”

“Enough to theoretically put on for cameras,” Michelle said.

“Closest fabric store is going to be in Bellingham,” Ryan said, stroking his chin.

The lawyer looked at him. “Can you make this happen in the next four hours?”

“Don’t look at me, I’ve got a press strategy to come up with!”

“I’ll do it,” Brooke offered, with a little less enthusiasm than normal. Once again, she was feeling out of her league – like she should maybe go home. She also barely knew how to sew.

Jack looked at her, though she didn’t see it. “Hey, could you two go upstairs for a few?” he said. “I’d like to speak to Brooke in private.”

Her gaze lifted to his for a moment, a questioning look on her face, and there was a trace of concern in his blue eyes.

Ryan shrugged. “I better get to work anyway.”

Michelle started pushing at the screen on her own phone with a frown. “I’ve got to make a few calls. Take all the time you need.”

With that the two of them disappeared up the stairs.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 25

Brooke had a hard time falling asleep. She tossed and turned, asked Amos for another nightcap, drank it down, and tossed and turned some more. But eventually she settled into an uneasy sleep, and when she woke up the next morning, she felt like she’d been hit by a bus. The clock on the nightstand read 10:14.

The young woman laid there and stared at the ceiling for a while. “I should go home, shouldn’t I?” she whispered to herself. “I did my job… he doesn’t need me to be here anymore.”

The clock read 10:47 when she finally dragged herself out of bed to begin gathering up her things.

“Good morning, Miss Foster,” Amos said.

She shook her head and sighed. “I don’t think I’ll be having breakfast, Amos,” Brooke muttered in reply. “I’m not hungry this morning. Thanks, though.”

“Your preference is noted, Miss Foster. However, I wasn’t talking about breakfast.”

“Oh?” Was the robot going to try and give relationship advice now?

“There is something I believe that you would be interested to see.” The TV mounted to the far wall turned on just then, showing a video of… Jack. It was being played on MSNBC. He’d gone and made the video without her.

“Uh, hello. Um… I’m Jack Ilyin, founder of Orcasoft. As you probly know, two years ago I basically fell off the face of the Earth.”

He was drunk, she immediately noticed. Very drunk: swaying-and-slurring-his-words drunk.

“There were a lot of theories as t’what happened. Well, I’m here to clear up any lingering rumors,” he said, shaking his head to get the hair out of his face. “Fact of the matter is… I’m twenty f—in’ feet tall.” They’d bleeped out the f-bomb. “Twenty feet,” he reiterated. “Not even joking. See, look -” He reached off-camera and produced a patio chair, held it up to the viewfinder and set it down. Then he held up an empty bottle of vodka, too. “Now, I know what you’re thinking. Camera trick’ry. But I swear to f—ing god, I’m telling the truth.”

“My god… he made this last night, didn’t he?” Brooke asked, covering her mouth.

“Shortly after you went to bed, Miss Foster.” She swallowed, unable to look away from the TV. He’d gotten some water into his hand and was pouring it out now, pointing out the size of the droplets, which apparently would be difficult to fudge because of the physics of surface tension. “Your conversation seemed to upset him quite a great deal.”

She watched as he picked Amos up like a smartphone to video himself as he walked around the property to prove his size. He talked about the company, about AMOS, about Patel being a bastard. But his rambling soon changed its tone, and Brooke knew that she needed to stick around for whatever came next.

“And before I go, I wan’ get one thing straight,” he said, shaking his giant finger at the camera. “There’s a girl I know, and I’d probably be dead f’it weren’t for her. She’s a nicest, prettiest, most selfless young woman I ever f—ing met,” he drawled. “And I want her to know… no, I want the whole f—ing world to know, that there is not one goddamn thing I wouldn’t do for her.” He brought Amos close to his face. “Brooke, I drink ta you.”

The lump was in her throat again and she tore herself away just as they cut back to the newscasters. “TV off,” she said, and the idiot box promptly turned black. “Amos, where is he?”

“Asleep, I believe, near the smokehouse.”

Brooke was racing down the stairs faster than she could say ‘hangover’.


He wasn’t hard to find; in fact, he was exactly where Amos had told her he was. He was laying on the ground like he’d tripped on something and just never bothered to get up. The sheet had fallen off at some point in the night, and he was sprawled on top of it.

In her hands was a gallon jug of water and a bottle of asprin, which she knew he might appreciate.

“Jack?” she asked, kneeling down next to him and putting a hand on his massive shoulder. “You OK?”

The giant groaned and reached up with a sluggish hand to rub at his eyes. “Menya toshnit,” he mumbled.

“C’mon, Sputnik, you know I don’t know Russian,” she said, smiling and still trying to hide the lump in her throat.

He spied the provisions out of the corner of his bleary eye and gestured for her to open the bottle for him. She did, and dumped six white pills into his hand as he took the water. Jack threw the tiny things back and washed it all down.

“Brooke, I think I made that video last night.”

“You did. It was on the news just now,” she said quietly.

He looked much more awake suddenly, and sat up. But the headache hit him and he hissed, holding the sides of his head and cursing under his breath. Brooke’s hands were still in her lap, and she realized she was wringing them together as she looked up at him.

“Jack, do you really feel that way about me?”

He let his hands fall to his knees as his blue eyes fell on her. He blinked a few times as the memories of what he said came back to him. “So that all made the cut, huh,” Jack said quietly.

Brooke looked away, hands shaking a little. She really didn’t know what to say at all.

Suddenly, she was in his hands, her face at eye level with his own. “I can’t feel things that I don’t feel,” he said. “But what I do feel, I feel completely.”

Brooke felt a warm, fluttering feeling in her stomach, and suddenly his arms was the best place in the world to be. She leaned forward and kissed him. “Me too,” she said. They looked at each other for a few moments before breaking into laughter. “How’s that hangover?”

Uzhasnyy,” he said. “Terrible.”

“C’mon, you should go lay down inside. When Michelle calls, she’s not going to be… ” Brooke trailed off when she became aware of the slap of approaching helicopter blades.

“What the..?”

Brooke grabbed his stubbly, oversized cheeks, her eyes going wide. “The news!”

Trakhat’sya!” he hissed, standing up with her still pressed to his chest, and groaning at the sudden gain in altitude. “Ugh… double trakhat’sya.”

“C’mon, don’t puke on me now, we gotta get away from those cameras.”

He scrunched up his face and headed toward the house. “Yeah. Trying.”

As soon as they got inside, Amos was quick to tell them that Michelle Douglas had been trying to reach Jack for several minutes. By now, a second helicopter had joined the first in circling the island. Brooke peeked outside to make sure there were only two, and recognized the logos of major broadcast news networks on their sides. She cursed under her breath.

“Michelle,” Jack groaned from where he laid down in the great room as his lawyer chewed him out on the other end of the line. “Michelle.” A pause as she continued talking. “Michelle! Talk slower! I have a giant fucking handover! And no, I don’t want to hear a goddamn thing about puns right now!”

“Well no shit, Sherlock,” she barked back. “You had to be shitfaced to post that three and a half-minute mistake! Every news station in the country wants this story, and they’re going to do anything to get it!”

“If I may interrupt, Master Ilyin,” Amos cut in, “I’m detecting vessels approaching the island.”

“Who!” Michelle shouted. “I want their vessel numbers, their names, their -”

“The coast guard and the San Juan County police department, Miss Douglas.” A pause. “On the bright side,” the computer continued, “It appears that the Good News is pulling anchor.”

Brooke shrugged. “Well that’s -”

But Jack’s hand shot up and he gave her a warning look. “What’d I say about puns?”

“What? It could’ve taken a stern for the worse.”

Jack tried hiding the painful well of laughter bubbling up in him, and succeeded in limiting it to a single snort. “I’ll deal with you later,” he said, wagging a finger at her.

“Would you stop flirting with your assistant!” Michelle bellowed. “Because there are bigger fish to fry, here! Alright. A few things: do not speak to the news media, do not let the news media see you. Do not let the police or anyone else bully you into letting them on the property until they have a warrant. Wait for me to get there, and wait for me to find you a goddamn PR manager before you say another single goddamn thing to anyone. You got it?”

“Ugh, yes, yes,” Jack relented. “I know the routine.”

She snorted. “Apparently, you’ve forgotten. Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can. And Foster? If anyone needs to leave the house for any reason, you’re going to have to do it.” A sigh. “Have fun watching TV. I’ll be there soon.”

Click.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 24

Brooke was left with the thought for the next hour as Jack continued to fill in his lawyer.

“Care about… someone else?” she murmured to herself as she chewed on the end of the pen and spun around in the chair. The young woman’s stomach felt tight as she thought about it. As she thought about… that person maybe being her. “Nah,” she decided, scoffing. “Don’t even think about it.”

But she couldn’t not think about it. They were having sex, they seemed to be growing as friends, and…

She shook her head and repeated herself. “Don’t even think about it.”


When the sun dipped below the horizon, Amos informed her that Jack and Michelle’s conversation was over and that dinner would soon be ready. She nodded and headed outside.

“I wish I could stay, Jack, but I’ve got to call the water taxi before it gets too late,” Michelle said, looking at her very expensive watch as Brooke approached and took a seat at the far end of the table. Amos was bringing out the cart of plates, including Jack’s enormous serving, as the lawyer began putting her things away.

“You’re not going to stay for dinner?” he asked.

“I’ll have a few bites, but its already nine.”

“What’d… you guys figure out?” Brooke asked when her meal was placed before her: filet mignon, candied carrots, endive salad, rustic bread, and red wine. Jack, on the other hand, was given six porterhouse steaks (each with their filet intact), about three cubic feet of tossed salad, and a pair of loaves of the same bread. Michelle went straight for the wine before digging into her steak.

“It’s a pretty simple case,” she said. “Except for the fact that, well…” She gestured with the glass at Jack.

The giant man heaved a heavy sigh and brought a steak to his mouth. He held it pinched between two fingers as he tried to eat without making a mess. “To put it in plain English, we don’t know what my goddamn rights are.”

“We need to make sure he’s still a legal person before we get anyone else involved,” she clarified.

She hummed and hawwed a little. “We need to make sure he’s safe…” Brooke chewed slowly as she thought. How could this be done, ensuring him some kind of recourse should the law not want to play fair? She thought and thought, and altogether suddenly remembered something. “Exposure!” she declared, excited by her own idea.

“Exposure?” Jack said.

Michelle cocked a brow. “No, that’s… quite the opposite of what we need to do first, honey. He needs to be kept on the down -”

But Brooke shook her head firmly. “Visibility is his best defense right now,” she said. “Record a video and send it to the press. Make him go viral. By tomorrow, millions of people could know what’s happened to Jack Ilyin, and when the cops and the courts step in, a billion eyes would be watching their every move.”

Jack and Michelle looked at each other for a second, before his mouth widened into a broad smile. “You hear that?” he said excitedly, pointing in Brooke’s direction. “She’s fuckin’ brilliant, that one.” He turned to her. “Brooke, I could kiss you right now!”

She blushed and bit her lip, but still smiled. “Save it for when it works,” she dodged.

“Sounds like a good a plan as any,” Michelle relented. “Still, I’m going to speak with a few law scholars I know about the whole human rights thing. See if we can’t dig something up that will protect you because Patel is going to use every dirty trick in the book to get you out of the picture.” She took one last bite of food before finishing her wine and standing up. “Even if that means getting you shipped off to a zoo. All the better for him.”

Jack went to stand, but remembered that he was no longer six feet and change. Instead, he took Michelle’s hand in both of his and shook her whole damn arm. “I’ll get you those papers as soon as I can. There’s gotta be something in there that can help me.”

“If you’re as smart as I think you are,” she countered wryly, adjusting her glasses when Jack let her go, “Then there oughtta be. It’s just a matter of reading all the fine damn print.”

Jack gave Michelle his every last thanks, and sent her out with an extra bottle of wine. Brooke said her goodbyes, and the two of them waved from the house as she set down the path toward the dock.

“Isn’t she great?” he beamed as they headed around back again. “She’s great.”

“Well, I’m sure she’d be less great if you weren’t paying her so much.”

“Everyone needs to be paid.”

Brook swallowed and looked away. “I don’t need to be paid,” she said quietly.

“Of course you do. It’s only fair.”

They walked in silence for a few seconds as heat slowly rose to her face as she thought. Eventually, the words just came out of their own accord, it seemed: “Jack, what are we?” she asked, stopping in her tracks and looking up at the giant before her. “What the hell is this?”

He stopped, and frowned, and looked at her. Then he was suddenly crouched down, and there was something in his face that spoke of his being 15 years older. He studied her for a moment, reading her like a doctor reads a patient. “This is whatever you want it to be,” he quietly rumbled in response.

A stupid goddamn lump hardened in her throat and she blinked back the pressure building in her eyes. “What if I don’t know what I want this to be?”

His hand was on her back, his thumb on her shoulder, and Brooke had to look at the ground. “Then we play it by ear, and you let me know if you figure it out.”

“Augh!” Brooke ripped herself from him and stormed away, back to the expensive teak dining set by the pool because that’s where they’d started and that’s where there was liquor. “Forget it.” Then, quieter: “I’m just a dumb fuckin’ kid.” She reached for the opened bottle of wine and took a long swig, not even bothering with a glass.

There was the faint quaking of his footsteps as he came into view again. God, he was handsome. “Brooke, what’s the matter?” he asked. His eyes were harder than they were warm; but that’s just how he was. It was how he prepared himself for doing damage control.

She laid down on the grass, looking up at the stars, with the wine still in hand. She didn’t want to answer, because there was no good way for any of this to come out.

“Brooke…”

He was standing over her now, like a tall pillar of hard muscle and blond fuzz, arms crossed over a chest thrice as broad as any other man’s. Why did he have to do that? Why did he have to be so fucking hot? Why do I have to like him so much?

It was no use, though. She was going to have to tell him.

“I talked to my dad,” Brooke said quietly. He gave her a look that told her he was confused as to how this related. “He found Lisa Thomas.”

Jack’s brows shot upward and he knelt at her feet, leaning in. “And?”

“She’s OK but she’s convinced she’s going to die anyway.” Another gulp of wine. “And yeah, she cursed you because you were a big-name asshole. Fessed up to that pretty readily.”

“…What does all of this have to do with you? Us?”

Brooke took a deep breath and tried picking out some constellations, but all she could find was the Big Dipper. “She said the curse could be broken.”

The air was suddenly very tense. “She did?”

“She said you… you had to care about s-something more than your own inventions,” she began, then swallowed. Barely a whisper: “And that… you had to care about someone else more than yourself.”

Jack’s expectant posture drooped, his mouth became a fine line, and he wrung his hands as he looked away. “I… see.”

They sat in silence like that for a few moments. “So that’s it, then,” she said quietly, still trying to get rid of that damn lump. “Assuming she’s telling the truth, then… the proof is right here in front of me.”

“Dammit, Brooke, what do you want me to say!” he said, suddenly rising to pace. “What am I supposed to do? What… fall in love with you?”

The tears flowed freely now and she sat up. “I don’t fucking know, OK! I don’t make the fucking rules!”

Jack scoffed; one of those anxious sounds people make as he ran his thick fingers through his hair. “What does that mean, anyway…” he muttered. “Care about someone more than… I care, alright?”

“Yeah, how much?”

Dohuya,” he said.

“What?”

Dohuya! A hell of a lot!”

She looked at him through tear-streaked eyes. “But not more than yourself.”

He buried his face in his hand and said nothing; just breathed those long, deep lungfuls of air.

“I’m going inside,” Brooke murmured, standing up from the grass and brushing herself off. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 23

Brooke was almost done cleaning the room when she was notified of her father calling the house. The Amos unit had started helping by taking the old clothes, which were well on their way to becoming little carpets of moss and fungi, and putting them into garbage bags, when it paused and looked her way.

“Miss Foster, I believe there’s a call for you,” it said.

“Oh!” She set the broom and dustpan full of glass aside and quickly headed for the computer room.”Amos, can you record this conversation please?”

The robot didn’t follow, but its voice did. “I can. Should you like to answer it now?”

Brooke settled into the computer chair, grabbed a pen and paper, and nodded. “Yep.”

A pause, then the line opened. “Hello?” she said. This was it, the moment they’ve all been waiting for.

“Hi Brooke,” Martin said. She could tell that he was in a quiet room. “I’m here with Lisa Thomas. You’re on speaker.”

A surge of excitement electrified her and she scooted up to the edge of the computer chair. “Hi, Lisa.”

She could make out a faint, sardonic chuckle in the background, then a simple: “Hi.” She sounded haggard, groggy. Defeated.

“So how come you’re willing to talk to us?” Martin asked.

“The jig is up, I guess. I know when I’ve lost.” She chuckled. “I’m also high as fuck on painkillers. That’s probably helping.”

“So, let’s hear it.”

“You’re asking for Ilyin again, right? Yeah, I remember Ilyin. Brilliant, famous, and a grade-A piece of shit,” she said. “So I cursed him. It’s just what I do. I made a deal with the devil once or something about it.”

“How well do recall the night of the party?”

“Like yesterday,” she said, pausing to cough. Then mumbled: “Man, I wish they’d let me have a cigarette. Anyways, I showed up to the party, impersonated a big NGO representative or something, and asked if he’d consider donating one of his Malevichs to auction on behalf of a children’s cancer research center. His reaction was… telling.”

“What’d he say?”

“Nigh threatened me with sexual assault in front of his guests before yelling at me to leave. I wasn’t phased. In my line of work, I’ve dealt with men who are actually dangerous, and I knew he wasn’t going to do anything in front of 200 people. I cursed him and left.”

“Why the tattoos? I can see some on your arm,” Martin said calmly. “And one on your neck.”

“Yeah, I’ve got more under these casts and bandages.” Brooke heard her shift around in the bed. “They’re just part of how the magic works. You can’t get something for nothing – the curses have to be paid for, you know.”

“…And when they’re not?”

“You get T-boned by a semi,” she said with a dark laugh.

“They’re all tarot cards,” Brooke finally said. “Why was Jack’s The Tower?”

“The picture on the card is one of a tower being struck by lightning and breaking apart. Everything you thought you knew, a lie. Everything you thought you had, taken from you. The higher you are, the harder you fall.” She snorted. “It’s it perfect?”

Brooke felt a little knot in the pit of her stomach, remembering what Jack Ilyin had done to deserve it. And he had deserved it.

“How does the magic work?” Martin asked.

“I still don’t know. It just does. I find somebody who I think needs to learn a lesson, think about the lesson I want them to learn, and it happens on its own.”

“Is there a way to lift these curses?”

“Yeah, by knowing you fucked up and walking away from your old life. But it never happens. Nobody ever learns their lesson. I cursed a coal mine company CEO – you know, the ones that do the mountain-top removal – so that the skin on his hands turned black. Coal black. Did he ever stop to think, hm, maybe what I’m doing is fucking evil? No. He just spent a half-million on cosmetic surgery and then just decided to wear gloves for the rest of his life.” She laughed again, then sighed. “God damn I want a cigarette.”

“You said this accident is related to the magic.”

Lisa glibly recounted the story of some high-profile lawyer and lobbyist who was responsible for putting LA public transportation through hell over the past 15 years on behalf of automobile interests. She snuck into a private gathering that he was attending several days before, and did her thing.

“I gave him the Chariot,” she said.

“The Chariot?”

“That card depicts a warrior in a chariot pulled by two sphinxes, one black, one white. It’s a card of mastery over moving parts, temperance, pure skill. It’s also, well, a chariot. It’s transport. So I think to myself… what would happen if one of the sphinxes went AWOL? That’s the target I painted on him.”

“…But it backfired.”

“Something came up, and I didn’t get the ink done in time, so I got the treatment instead.”

Brooke winced. “But you’re alive, though,” she said.

“I’m alive now,” Lisa said. “But trust me, I won’t be for long. Don’t know how, but shit finds a way.”

Just then she heard someone knocking on the door of the hospital room and entering. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave, Detective. We need to change her dressings and she needs to get some sleep.”

“Of course, sorry about that,” Martin said. There was more shuffling noises.

“Hey, hey wait,” Lisa called into the phone. “You said Ilyin wants to get back to normal? I’m on my deathbed, so I’m feeling generous. Tell him that what he needs to do is care about someone else more than himself, and care about something else more than his own work!”

“You get that, Brooke?” Martin said into the mouthpiece, having turned off speaker.

She sucked in a breath and set down her pen, realizing that she hadn’t written a damn thing. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I got that.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 22

“…my god,” Jack’s lawyer said as she approached the house. He and Brooke were waiting anxiously at the front entrance; he was pacing and rubbing at his scratchy chin. “Jack?

“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.”

“Uh huh.”

“Solar flares.”

“Please, go on.”

“Genetic tampering.”

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.”

Jack just sighed and rubbed at his eyes, shaking his head. Meanwhile, Michelle casually finished her drink, setting the glass down like she were as sober as the preacher’s wife on Sunday, and turned to Brooke.

“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.

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The Beast of Bell Island part 21

Jack had found a bottle of something and was guzzling it down like water.

“My lawyer should be here in a couple of hours,” he said, running a nervous hand through his chin-length hair. “She dropped everything to see me.”

“She’s a good lawyer, yeah?”

“Very good. She’s helped me with everything from libel to copyright.”

Brooke vaguely remembered something about a few suits when she was doing her research, but the details eluded her.

“She’ll be around for dinner, then. I’ll go clean the table off and get out some place settings.”

“How’s your hand? You’ve been favoring it.”

Brooke wiggled her fingers, but the joints just ached. “I’ll be alright.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t break anything,” he said, pushing the bottle at her. “Amateurs almost always break their hand.”

She smiled and tossed back a good few ounces of vodka. “My dad taught me how to punch.” She showed him her technique, wrapping her thumb properly around her fingers and keeping her wrist straight. Granted, this was the first time she’d ever hit another person… her aim certainly left a lot to be desired. “You need to know some self-defense in this business.”

Jack looked impressed, and there was a little glimmer in his eye. “I’ll have to show you a few other tricks some time. Things I learned getting into fights in high school.”

“You know how to fight?” Brooke handed the bottle back to him, surprised. Though, now that she thought about it, it made sense – Jack looked much more like an athlete than a computer engineer.

“Programming makes you fat and lazy,” he shrugged. “I figured, why can’t I have both? A strong mind and a strong body?”

Brooke just giggled. “Words to live by, Mister Ilyin. Words to live by.”


“Amos,” Jack called, working on his fourth bottle of vodka. “How much d’you think it would cost for me to get a suit made?”

“A suit, sir?”

“Yeah, a suit. Nothing too fancy; just a three-piece. You know, like my navy Armani one, just… not Armani.”

“You’ll need shoes to go with it, sir.”

He slapped his forehead. “Yes, shoes! How could I forget? Price those out for me too.”

“And you’ll need a belt and socks, Master Ilyin.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“How about a tie, Master Ilyin?”

“Nakhuya!” he snorted sharply. “Amos, when have you ever seen me wear a tie?”

“Very silly of me to ask,” the computer said. Brooke just laughed as she finished folding the napkins. “This will take me some minutes to find out for you, Master Ilyin.”

“Take your time. I’m just curious… and getting a little sick of this damn bedsheet business. I miss clothes.”

She laughed some more as she hovered by the table, trying to remember which fork went where. “You’d look very handsome in a suit, Jack. I mean, you did before, but you’d look especially handsome now.”

“You really think so? It wouldn’t drape the same. The seams and the cut would have to be a little different…”

She turned around, leaned against the table and sized him up. “I can see it right now: hair pulled back all classy-like, gray slacks, jacket, shiny black shoes in size 200, cuff links…”

“I don’t do cuff links either. I also don’t do button-downs unless I have to. They’re so stiff.” He gave her a look. “They’re also harder to take off.”

“Really?” she said, licking her lip and giving him a little wink. “You weren’t ever one of those guys who liked to slowly unbutton his shirt to start the night?”

He was suddenly beside her, arm resting on his knee as he leaned in. “I was one of those guys who preferred to take my time undoing my belt and sliding it out of the loops. Nothing like watching a woman’s face as she listens to you unzip your fly, too…”

Brooke blushed and shivered. Jack reached for her hand and gently took the forks from her as his lips brushed her ear. She heard him set them down on the table. “Right now?” she whispered with a smile.

“It’ll ease the tension a little,” he murmured, slipping his fingers around her waist and bringing her forward to stand between his knees. “I always feel better after a fuck.”

Well, he was probably right.

She let him nudge her onto her back in the grass, giggling as he planted kisses along her neck and collarbones. “Sorry,” he rumbled with a smile as he gave the hem of her pants a little tug, “But these have got to go.”

Brooke shimmied them off as he watched with a hungry smile on his face. When they were set aside, he wiggled his finger at her. “And that top thing, too.” Soon, that was gone as well. He bent in again, humming satisfactorily in his throat. “I didn’t want to rip anything. You look so good in it.” She kissed at his big, soft, bottom lip and he smiled against her.

“You wouldn’t.”

“Nothing stands in Jackson David Ilyin’s way, Miss Foster. I thought you did your research?” He was being silly, she knew, but it still gave her a little bit of a thrill.

“Really? I guess we must be talking about different Jack Ilyins, then. I seem to have gotten in your way a few times, now.”

He laughed and planted his mouth square on her belly. She shrieked with laughter when he licked her navel – that felt so weird! – and she tried pushing his face away. But he just did it more. Before long, he had her in a giggling, panting mess of herself.

“Didn’t know you were ticklish,” he said, the hint of a threat in his voice.

“I’m not! I’ve just never been licked with a tongue that big before!”

“Oh, well, you’re probably in for a treat then.”

Her laughter stilled when he dragged his lips downward, kissing each of her hip bones, before hooking his finger under the waistband of her panties and pulling them down. Brooke did that thing again where she clenched her thighs together – this was still new for her. His big lips grazed her mons, and when that hot, slick tongue darted in between her legs, it felt so good that she couldn’t help but open for him.

Once her muscles relaxed he was able to draw her thighs apart. His gaze fell to her core now, spread open wide for him, and Brooke found his scrutiny a little uncomfortable. She wanted him to look away.

“Would you look at that,” he rumbled. “A gorgeous little pussy.”

Brooke squirmed the tiniest bit, wanting him to do something and stop looking, even though he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the view. When she looked past his face and arms again, she saw his cock peeking out from behind the sheet, nodding its own approval.

Jack lowered his mouth, dragging his tongue up her core from ass to pubic bone, and she couldn’t help the long, faint moan that escaped her. But when he took her into his hot, wet mouth, that’s when she began to see stars. He licked, sucked, and Brooke gasped when he stuck his tongue inside of her. It was a pitiful few seconds of that before she started to squeeze her thighs against his cheeks, already feeling the tingling heat in her belly. And when he picked up the pace, she bucked her hips against that scratchy face and came hard.

He just watched as she rode out her orgasm, little body shaking and shivering , and as she caught her breath he smiled.

“You said my name.”

“I… I did?”

“You most certainly did.”

She blushed again and looked away. “That’s awkward…”

“No!” he laughed, then kissed her. “It’s hot. You’re hot.”

He let her come down for a minute, stroking her hip with his thumb, before she asked about him.

“Well, I was thinking about ways you could help me out on my end of things…”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, c’mere.” He sat back on his knees, and patted his lap.

Brooke stretched on the grass. “What if I’m too tired?” she pouted.

He wrapped his own thick fingers around himself and began to stroke. “You do have a bum hand. There’s always next time.”

But she was quick to go back on that. “I’m just kidding!” She got on hands and knees and crawled into his big lap. “Like hell am I missing out on this.”

He instructed her to lay on her back underneath his cock and wrap her legs around it. The head, to both of their pleasant surprise, just touched her chin like this, and she couldn’t help but hug his foreskin and cover it in kisses.

“I can’t decide if this is the hottest fucking thing or the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” Jack said with a lusty grin.

Brooke dragged her tongue along the slit. “Why can’t it be both?”

Jack purred – purred like a lion the size of a pickup truck, that is – and looked to be in absolute heaven. “Yeah,” he said. “Definitely both.”

Sliding his hands underneath her, one grabbing her ass and the other her shoulders, he began to move her back and forth. Brooke knew to hug him harder, and was rewarded by some delicious sounds coming from deep within him. He used her like that for a few more strokes then stopped.

“What’s the matter?”

He just looked down at her for a moment. “I’m gonna start a fire if we keep this up without lube.”

Brooke just laughed and gave him a squeeze.

Jack shook his head. “Mm yeah… we’re gonna be in trouble. Amos!” he called. “Amos, buddy, I’m sorry to do this to you but… could you grab me the stuff from the great room?”

“I suppose I’ve saved you from more embarrassing situations, Master Ilyin,” the green light blinked with faint amusement and a little… was that chagrin?

“Now don’t you start with me.” The giant shook his finger at the little pole sticking out of the ground, and Brooke continued to laugh and jerk him off as the robot approached with the bottle in hand. “Thank you,” he huffed, snatching up the lube.

“Of course, Master Ilyin. And don’t mind me.” The white robot plodded back to the house, and she could almost, almost sense an eye-roll on its voice. Brooke wondered why she wasn’t even embarrassed.

As soon as Amos was gone, Jack dislodged her from him and drizzled a good helping of lube onto her chest, belly, arms and legs. Brooke couldn’t help but laugh – all things considered, this was mighty ridiculous. But the best kind, of course.

“There we go.”

Brooke hugged him again, but this time the slick made her slippery and her arms glided across his hot, taut skin.

“Oh, fuck that’s good,” he hissed. He grabbed her again, and slid her along his length experimentally, decided it was perfect, and started to pump away.

It was hard for her to do much else beyond hold on, but, strangely enough, it still felt good. The feeling of that huge prick between her thighs, his balls against her ass; the sight of the massive silhouette above her, muscles straining and sweat beginning to collect along the nape of his neck so far above her…

Jack closed his eyes and she could tell by the way he lifted his hips to thrust in time with his strokes that he was getting close. His teeth stayed parted, and Brooke just looked up at him with awe and not a little need. She suddenly wanted to feel his mouth on her again, but the sun was going down and the evening was wearing on, and –

The giant’s stomach tightened, and he gripped her hard as he thrust wildly into her. Then he slowed her down, and she could feel his cock swelling and throbbing against her. She could even feel the pumping action as he came, could feel his cock shooting that big, gooey load all over her chest. Holy shit!

Brooke unhitched her arms and legs from around him and splayed herself open on his lap, ankles just barely grazing his sides. She looked with casual interest at the softening member laying heavy on top of her, and gave the head one last lick.

He lifted her from him, though, and slid them both into the pool as a quick way to clean off before company arrived. “Well?” he asked against her neck.

“I’m down for doing that again,” she smiled. “And again, and again…”

Jack laughed, wiping his fluids from her chest with a swipe of his hand. It clouded the water for a few seconds then dissipated.

“I hope your lawyer wasn’t planning on going for a swim,” she chuckled, gesturing with her chin at where the cloud of spunk had been. A thought occurred to her. “I wonder if you could get knocked up from swimming in…” Then another thought occurred to her, and she quickly turned to face him. “Jack, we haven’t been using protection!”

“Ah, I should have told you sooner, but… you don’t need to worry about that. I’m clean and I’ve been shooting blanks for a few years,” he said.

She squinted at him. “Snip-snip?”

He nodded. “Snip-snip.”

“Oh.” Well that was a relief. She wasn’t looking forward to having to hunt down the Amazon listing for whale condoms. “Well now that that’s sorted out, I can officially say that you were right.” She sucked in a slow breath and floated on the surface. “My tensions are definitely eased.”

Jack kissed her one more time before stepping out of the pool and brushing the water off of himself. Quite a bit of it still clung to the fine hairs on his body. “Now just to figure out what to wear,” he snorted. “The white sheet or the gray sheet?”

“Gray is definitely more professional. Very no-nonsense.”

He nodded resolutely. “Gray it is.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 20

About an hour later, Brooke went with Jack to find Patel and bring him back to the house. It wasn’t hard, as he was screaming himself hoarse for help as he lay on the mossy dirt in a pathetic paralyzed heap.

Jack made a face as he picked Patel up by the ankles.

Brooke snorted. “Wash your hands after touching that thing, you don’t know where its been.”

“I swear to god Ilyin, I’m going to sue you for every goddamn penny you’ve got!” Patel yelled. “Gonna ream you so fucking hard in court you’ll feel it every time you sit down!”

The giant stood up and dangled the smaller man in front of his face. “You wanna be able to walk or not?” he barked. Patel flinched. “Otherwise I’d be more than happy to let your sorry ass lay there all night. Just wait until you have to take a shit.”

Patel looked like a vein was going to burst in his forehead, though that might have been from being held upside down. “Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “Let’s do this your way.”


Jack deposited Patel into the wine cellar from the same trap door that she’d first encountered him through. By now he’d regained motor control, and demanded to be set down in something resembling a dignified matter, even though he was still wet from his reintroduction to the pool.

“Amos,” Jack said. “Get our guest a towel. If he asks you for anything else, run it by me first.”

“Of course, Master Ilyin.”

Patel pressed his brows together. “Run it by…? The AMOS understands that?”

“Does now,” Jack grunted. “And if you’re good, I’ll even attempt an explanation later.”

With that, the door was closed, and Jack let out a long sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked to Brooke. She was now, apparently, his partner in crime. “How’d he get in?”

Brooke swallowed. “He said that the board of directors was going to meet in a few days to give you the boot. I… I guess I figured that this might…” She put her face in her hands and groaned. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have told him to go to hell!”

Jack’s big hand went to her shoulders, easily spanning the distance between them both, and gave a little squeeze. “He’s a smooth talker,” he rumbled quietly. “It worked on me too, once. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

She nodded, leaning into his comforting touch.

He hummed, deep and low in his throat, and rubbed at his new close-cropped facial hair. It made a satisfying scratchy sound. “They were probably trying to avoid replacing me as CEO,” he thought aloud. “Knew it would burn a very big bridge, which is not exactly something you want to do to your lead engineer while a merger is on the table. Even if he did up and disappear for a few years.”

“How has Orcasoft stayed afloat without you?”

He cocked a brow at her and flashed a wry little smile. “How has Apple stayed afloat without Jobs?”

Brooke knew that a tech junkie would have gotten the joke, but not her. She shrugged and shook her head helplessly.

Jack’s shoulder squeezing turned into full-on back rubbing as he explained. “They haven’t had an original idea since his death,” he continued. “Not in the hardware or software departments, at least. They knew this would be the case, so they’ve switched tactics, focusing on what the remaining star players know how to do: repackage the product and market the hell out of it.”

“So that’s what Orcasoft has done.”

“Patel was never a great engineer; decent programmer, but he couldn’t keep up with me. What he could do was run circles around me with numbers, though.”

“He’s a salesman.”

“Exactly. Nothing more.”

Brooke started for the pool and Jack followed. She could feel his footsteps behind her. “So what do we do with him? We can’t just keep him here, that’s kidnapping. Somebody’s bound to call the police, and I’m not sure if that magic’s going to protect you from a SWAT team.”

He slipped into the deep end of the pool and rested his elbows along the edge, thinking. “We string him along,” Jack decided. “Make him think I want to talk, that he’s got the upper hand; he might be inclined to stay for another day or two without finding out whether he can make it all the way to the dock again.”

“But the board meeting…”

“They can’t remove me from the company altogether, I still have majority shares.” Still, she could tell that this bothered him.

“The company you founded has lost all faith in you,” she murmured. “That’s not going to be easy to recover from, no matter what role you take going forward.”

A sad, bitter look creased the corners of his eyes and he inhaled sharply. “At least I have a ‘going forward’,” he said quietly. “For a while there, I wasn’t sure if I even had that much.”

It was her turn to put a hand on his shoulder, though it looked absolutely tiny against the expanse of strong flesh. “I know, Jack. I know.”


The best thing to do, Jack eventually decided, was to call up his old lawyer. He ignored many an attempt at her getting in contact with him over the years, and it was high time that she help him out now that his old life was coming back with a vengeance.

Brooke watched out the window of the office as he paced, brow furrowed with unease, on the lawn outside as he spoke with her on the phone. Amos had just notified her that her father had tried reaching the house, and she was upstairs to return the call now.

“Well,” came Martin’s voice on the other end of the line. He sounded a little stressed. “I found her.”

Brooke immediately knew there was a catch. “You found her but…?”

He sighed. “She’s at a hospital in Los Angeles. “Her car was t-boned by a semi three days ago.”

The young woman gasped. “My god, is she OK?”

“She was released from the IC this morning, but… still not in great shape.”

Brooke chewed her lip and did some pacing for herself. “One of us has to get down there, ASAP. Shit’s hitting the fan… Patel’s here.”

“Patel is there? Right now?” Martin cursed – he rarely ever cursed around her, and she could feel him sweating bullets. “I told him that I got what he wanted, that I found out Ilyin wasn’t dead, and that he’s been on the island. I have no idea what he’d…”

“Orcasoft wants to strip him of any say he’s got in the company now. I don’t think Jack had ever intended to sell, and Patel knew this years ago. This is his golden opportunity to take over. You did all he needed for you to do: find him, so he could follow.”

“Have you ever thought that maybe Ilyin shouldn’t be running that company? Aside from the obvious, he seems to be a little unstable. Maybe Patel’s better suited for the job.”

“Patel stole from Orcasoft. Jack wanted to forgive him so badly that he never even took him to court after he found out about the cooked books.” She sighed. “He’s a nice guy, dad – really. I think this thing did what it was supposed to do. Shake him up a little. But now he’s learned his lesson and he needs to get back to Seattle before Patel signs away all his hard work!”

Martin was quiet for a moment. “I’ll get on the next flight to LA,” he said. “Should be at UC Medical before dinner.”

“Thanks, dad.”

“No, thank Mr. Ilyin.”


She opened one of the windows near to where Jack was standing and thinking, and called over to him.

“What’s the verdict?”

“She told me to release Patel right away, that even if there’s no apparent physical mechanism for keeping him here, he could still claim that he felt his life was in danger.”

“Is she coming?”

Jack nodded solemnly before looking down at himself and grinning a little. “She wants me to sue.”

“Not sure how you’re going to be able to establish culpability, though?”

He shrugged. “Maybe we could set a precedent for cases concerning magic.”

“Yeah, about that… my dad finally found your spell-slinging perp.” Jack perked up at this. “She’s in an LA hospital after getting into a bad car accident, but he’s on his way there right now.”

Jack snorted. “What, her magic couldn’t save her?”

“Jack…”

“Sorry.”

“We should go check on Patel. There’s nothing we can do until we hear back from my dad.”


“So that’s what happened, huh?” Patel said stiffly, though still trying to look casual as he sat at the teak dining set by the pool. His clothes were still a little damp and it was obvious that he was physically uncomfortable in them. Serves the bastard right, Brooke thought. “You caught some of that Illuminati shit.”

Jack just glowered at his business partner; it was obvious that he was physically uncomfortable to be talking to him. “Something like that,” he grunted. “Why are you here, Gary?”

Patel scoffed and adjusted his glasses. “Because I need this deal to go through, and I need it to go through smoothly.”

“What makes you think I’m going to help you?”

“Because if you don’t, I’m going to make sure this place is crawling with military before tomorrow. They’ll be dropping commados from planes when I’m done telling them about the threat to homeland security I found here.” Patel sat up straighter at saying this, adjusting his tailored suit jacket as though he wasn’t still soaked to the bone. Brooke knew that body language: the man was convinced he had the upper hand. And maybe… he did. “There’s 87 shares separating us,” he went on. “You’re going to sell me 88.”

“That’s insider trading,” Brooke noted, cocking her head at Patel.

“Bitch, nobody asked you.”

Jack was on him faster than she could wind up a fist. “You wanna go for another swim, little man?” he growled, squeezing until Patel let out a strangled cough.

“Alright!” he wheezed. “I get it! Be nice to the furniture!”

Patel landed in the pool with a painful slap against the water’s surface. That was gonna hurt.

“I should have pressed charges when I had the chance, you viblyadok,” Jack said when Patel surfaced again, utter disdain on his big face. “My mistake.”

“You’ve always made things more goddamn difficult than they need to be, you stubborn fuckin’ Ruskie. Get your head out of your oversized ass, Ilyin! Your time with Orcasoft is – say it with me – over.” Patel hauled himself out of the water again. “We don’t need you anyways. Scott’s been writing fantastic code lately, and we hired a couple kids from Caltech last year. Not only can they design circles around you with the robotic interface systems, but their fingers can fit on the fuckin’ keyboards!”

Jack’s jaw was set and the tendons in the back of his hands flexed as he squeezed his hands. Brooke was beginning to see that his pride in his work was one of his few proverbial pressure points – insult that and you are guaranteed to cut close to bone. She scowled and felt her own hands balling.

Ukhodit,” the giant spat.

Patel barked a laugh. “Oh! Can’t handle me all of a sudden, huh? What happened to the big talk, big man? You’ve lost and you know it. This is the -”

BAM!

Patel was sent stumbling backwards when Brooke’s fist collided with his nose, and he landed, for the third time in a single day, in the pool. Except this time there were little red swirls from where his blood was gushing into the water, and his glasses sported a few handsome cracks.

Ow,” Brooke hissed, clutching her hand. That would hurt for a while, but it was worth it.

Jack just laughed; it was a booming sound that filled the air. Patel groaned in pain, holding his face as he made his slow way toward the steps at the other end.

He knelt down beside her and held his massive hand up for a high five. She gave him one with her uninjured hand. “Glad you did that and not me,” he chuckled. “I would’ve caved in that empty skull of his.” Then: “Amos! Show our guest back to the docks. I’ve heard enough weasel words for one day.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 19

Amos said nothing as the gate unlocked and the two stepped through. Brooke was prepared to lead the way, but Patel walked right on past her as if he owned the place. Maybe, when all was said and done, he was hoping to.

In fact, he completely ignored her as they made their way up to the house – that is, until the house itself came into view and Patel stopped to study the scene before him.

“The fuck has this guy been doing?” he muttered under his breath, noticing the very things that Brooke had noticed when she first walked up to knock on the door.

Brooke said nothing – the question wasn’t meant for her. They walked in through the gate at the fence and up to the door. Patel just opened it himself, knowing that it wasn’t locked.

“Ilyin!” he called. “I know you’re here!”

“He’s not in the house,” she said.

“Where is he then?”

“I don’t know, but he’s not in the house. Trust me.”

Brooke knew that sometimes, as a private investigator, the best thing you could do was to watch and wait for things to play themselves out. Here, this was all she could do as Patel rounded into an adjacent hallway, prepared to storm every room in spite of what she’d said. But as soon as he saw what had become of the great room, he was stopped dead in his tracks. It had begun to mist outside, and the chill, moist air drifted in unimpeded.

Patel’s mouth fell open and said nothing, but the look on his face spoke volumes. Clearly, Jack Ilyin belonged in a mental institute as far as he was concerned.

He dashed across the giant expanse of cushions, through the broken doors, and out into the battered courtyard, head turning this way and that to look at everything with wide eyes.

“Who in the hell did this?” He turned around and looked up at the shattered windows and gutted rooms on the second story.

“Jack did.”

“With his bare fucking hands? Yeah right.” He pulled out his phone and took some video, panning around for a few seconds before bringing it back to his face. Brooke was waiting for him to realize that there would be no cell service, and a moment later, Patel scowled and cursed. “You gotta be kidding me!”

“Who were you going to send that to?”

“It’s none of your goddamn business!”

They kept walking, with Brooke in tow. There was no sign of Jack anywhere, and she was wondering if he was making himself scarce or if he had something else in mind. Though what that could possibly be was beyond her. This was, it seemed, the end of the line for him. The pair were near the pool, now, and Patel was growing even more irritable. He stood beside the water, hands on his hips as he snapped his head around to look about.

“Jack!” he called. There was no answer. “Jack, you know I’m here! Stop being chickenshit!” Still nothing, not even a rustle. Patel scowled and walked over to the other side of the pool, Brook warily following, and shouted some more. But it seemed Jack wasn’t interested in confronting his friend-turned-enemy just yet.

But Patel was impatient. He smacked his lips together a few times in thought, rubbed at his chin, and eventually turned his eyes to her. She got the sense that he was changing tactics.

“So why are you here and not your dad, the man I hired?”

“He told you that Jack wasn’t dead. What more did you want? The job was done.”

“You didn’t answer my question, young lady.”

“I’m here because he hired me to do a different job,” Brooke said, trying to keep calm and collected.

Patel stepped up to her and scoffed. “What sort of job would a grown man have for a pretty girl like you that would involve gifts of designer clothing?”

“A man’s allowed to buy people clothes, Patel.”

Patel’s icy stare narrowed. “OK, let me rephrase that: what sort of job would involve lavish gifts and overnight stays?

Heat was rising to her face.

He took out his phone again, leveling it at her. There was a nasty smirk on his face. “I can see the headlines now: Jack Ilyin: Tech Magnate Turned Cradle Robber! And here’s the face of the girl sucking his dick! C’mon, smile for the camera!”

Patel didn’t seem to notice the faint quaking of the ground, or the deep, muffled thuds of something hitting the earth, but Brooke did. In fact, Jack was moving so fast that she only knew what direction he was coming from when she heard him yell. If his goal was to get Jack to come out, he succeeded with flying colors.

“Leave her alone, you son of a bitch!”

The next second was a blur, but there was a cry, a thud, and a splash, and next thing she knew Patel was in the pool, wiping the water from his face and glasses and cursing loudly.

Wait for it…

He froze as soon as he was able to open his eyes and look upon, for the first time in two years, his business partner.

Jack was standing next to Brooke, hands balled into fists. He was imposing, fierce, and solid. His face was screwed up into a deadly grimace, and his blue eyes dared Patel to move.

“Wh… I… Y-you…” the man stammered, moving backward in the pool to get away, to get a better view, or maybe both. “J-jack I-Ilyin?”

“What are you doing here?” he growled. Patel cowered at the sound.

“What the fuck happened to you!”

“What are you doing here?”

“I…. I’m not answering any questions w-without my lawyer. Th-that was assault, Ilyin!”

Jack turned to look down at Brooke. “I thought he tripped?”

She shrugged. “I saw him trip.”

Patel swam to the other end of the pool, and pulled himself out, looking over his shoulder at them every few seconds. “This is fucked,” he cried. “Fucked!” Then with all his strength, he made a mad dash for the trees and disappeared.

“I take it he’s going to be staying with us for a little while?” she asked.

Jack reached into the pool to grab the man’s phone from the bottom. He glanced at it for a moment and then tossed it over his shoulder with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any other way out of this.”

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The Beast of Bell Island part 18

Brooke went upstairs to take a shower, feeling like several of Jack’s million bucks. She hummed a song and stepped out, fresh, clean, and ready to tackle the day. Well, maybe not tackle the day; there wasn’t much to tackle until –

“Good morning, Miss Foster,” Amos said. “Apologies for interrupting, but your father is on the line and wishes to speak with you.”

Well, shit!

“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?”

“Dad!”

“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.”

She nodded.


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.”

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