“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. Aside from a few aches from Jack dropping her on the ground yesterday, she felt right as rain. “Much better, thanks. How’s…” She trailed off, smile disappearing. “How’s Mister Ilyin?”
“I believe that last night upset him more than he was letting on,” Amos replied. “The master did not fall asleep until two o’clock in the morning.” That’s not the answer she was looking for, but it was definitely something to ponder. Maybe she had actually succeeded in knocking something loose in that thick skull of his.
Brooke got up from bed, reaching for the box of clothes. She slipped on a matching bra and panty set before taking out a flattering pair of 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.”
Water taxi? Anacortes? Breakfast? “…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 at least spared from his frustrations.
Brooke peered out the door and saw him sitting cross-legged at one end of a gorgeous patio set of redwood burl cleared of moss and pine needles and set with a single place setting at the opposite 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 saving my ass last night.”
“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 one big mistake. I thought a lot about what you said and you’re right. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way.”
“To be fair, I don’t think there’s much of a ‘right’ way either.”
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 glanced at 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 – keeping her hand busy more than preparing to eat.
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 quietly. “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 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 might’ve been a Russian thing or a CEO thing or maybe just a Jack Ilyin thing. But the anger was gone, and he was trying very hard to be nice.
“I will. Because I’ve still got a job to do here, Mr. Ilyin.”
“You do? I thought you said I was asking for the impossible.”
“I discovered that our Miss Astarte had set a very long countdown with the Amos system the night of your party.”
Jack’s eyes flashed with sudden laser focus before he remembered his food. “A countdown? To what?”
Brooke shrugged. “No idea. But it was a time-frame comprised entirely of sevens.”
“I can’t make any promises, but I can try to figure out what it might mean for your case, Mister Ilyin. See if it might help us find another lead.”
“I appreciate that.” 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. “And please, call me Jack.”
A thought occurred to her then, and Brooke bit back her smile. “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, chuckled, and pointed his serving spoon in her direction. “Jeez, a little soon, don’t you think, Foster?”
“Little soon, 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. His back cracked. “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. In the early days Patel would come over too and we’d spend long weekends hashing out this or that thing, putting in 14, 15-hours for days at a time.”
“Sounds like you and Patel were close?”
“Were. We were both MIT dropouts,” he explained, shoving an entire piece of Kielbasa in his mouth. “We knew that voice recognition and machine learning were going to be the next big thing, 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 a year before this curse thing happened. He gave me some goddamn sob story about needing to move his sick grandparents to the states, 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 wasn’t a liar and a thief. “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. She didn’t doubt that he was being honest, but she doubted his stability. Jack had spent two years brooding in solitude, plotting his revenge, all while 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 case, 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 heritage, 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 thanks to his contacts within the party. Eventually, however, when those contacts disappeared, the communism drove him to the US – the party wanted to ‘nationalize’ the paintings. He managed to bring a Chagall, an Ivanov… and several Malevichs with him. I have some of my own too, though they’re not worth as much.”
Brooke didn’t know the first thing about art, but it was interesting to hear him talk about it. “How much is the collection worth?”
“The last appraisal put it at about three and a half million.”
She balked. “Three 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 write to them that they can have Samovar. Tell them… tell them that I wish to remain anonymous.”
Brooke’s eyes flew open.
“The 1913 Malevich, Master Ilyin?”
“The very same.”
“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.
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.