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 from the wall. “I apologize for interrupting, but your father is contacting you now over Skype.”
She raced over to the computer, and Amos connected her.
“Dad! Good morning!” Brooke said to the computer, spinning in the chair a little. “What’d you find?”
“You wouldn’t believe it, but Peter Crocker over at the Island Hopper Express was the second man I called yesterday and he absolutely remembered working that night!”
Brooke’s face lit up at the news. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Peter was an acquaintance of theirs, and had helped her father get to some of the smaller islands on a few previous occasions.
He went on. “Told me he spent weeks fighting another taxi service for the contract and winning by a tight margin, so that weekend is still fresh in his memory. Anyways, one guest, he told me, had specifically requested service to Bellingham for an early morning flight and was prepared to pay him $400 to do it. Her description matches our spell-slinger.”
“Holy crap,” Brooke exclaimed. It was too early to tell, but… did they have her? “What else did you get out of him?”
“Couldn’t give me the transaction records without a warrant, but I did get a name: Amy Heindel.”
“Did he remember where she went?”
Martin sighed. “Apparently her flight was for LA.”
“Aw jeez, we won’t find anybody in that town.”
“We’ll see what the county records office has to say about that,” he chuckled. There was a brief pause as his voice dropped off, and she could tell something was on his mind. “You know, honey, I think it might be a good time for you to come on home now. I’m not sure there’s much more you can do over there – wrapping up this case is going to take a licensed professional.”
Brooke swallowed, feeling a little heat in her cheeks. She frowned, and was glad that she wasn’t on video for him to see it. “I can’t leave yet, dad. There’s still a lot to this case that paper trails can’t help us with,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to get Ja- er, Ilyin back to normal. And besides, he’s paying me really well. I’ll be able to afford to replace the Focus after this!” The girl was referring to her car, which had been running with a ‘check engine’ light for two months now and was probably ready to throw a rod.
“Honestly, Brooke? I still don’t trust the guy. Are you sure you’re OK over there.”
“Absolutely sure. He spends most of his time out brooding anyways, plotting his revenge and figuring out this buyout stuff. He barely has time to talk to me,” she said, trying to keep her voice casual. “Probably forgets I’m here, even! Anyways, I can guarantee he won’t… lay a finger on me.” No, but he sure did put one in you!
Her father just sighed; she could practically hear him shaking his head. “Alright, honey, I trust you. You’re good at taking care of yourself. Just… don’t get distracted by the money, OK?”
She smiled, blushing. “Believe me dad, I’m not here for the money.”
She reported the good news over breakfast that morning, and Jack lit up. Brooke didn’t want him to get his hopes up, though. The odds were still not in their favor, so she redirected the conversation.
“What did you really plan on doing if we found her?” She lifted a mess of hash browns to her mouth. “You’ve had a long time to think about it.”
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.”
He looked surprised. “You’d really do that for me?”
“I’d definitely give it a try.”
The giant smiled to himself, looking a little embarassed. “It won’t be a pretty job. I’d owe 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.” They had covered his face in the towels and let them sit for a few minutes to soften the thick, wiry hair before getting started.
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, will you?”
Jack sighed and looked up at the cloudy sky as she got to work.
Brooke trimmed the whole of his beard down to half an inch or so, 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 much thicker than a normal person’s hair, his was inexplicably tougher, and it seemed like each stroke of the blade–
“Ow,” he winced when the razor caught a hair wrong and drew a spot of blood.
– each stroke of the blade dulled the edge beyond usability.
“Alright, scratch that.”
Brooke used the towels, now cold, to mop up the remnants of lather and bits of hair. She trimmed a small spot that she’d missed, and was as done as she was going to get.
“You’re fit for civilization again.”
Jack’s hand went to his face to rub at it. “My chin hasn’t seen this much 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 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 skipped a beat. “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, however, Amos cut in.
“I apologize for interrupting, Master Ilyin, but it appears that a dinghy has just been launched from the Good News and is heading towards the 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.
“My cameras are 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 trying to contact me for six weeks. I… was putting it off. Which in my defense seemed the reasonable thing to do given my circumstances.”
“He’s fucking pissed,” Brooke muttered. “You have to talk to him at some point!”
“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 even the smallest 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. Countdown or not.
“I’ll go meet him,” she said resolutely. “I’ll tell him that I’m your housekeeper, I’ll 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 Monday.”
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 new 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 told to not let anyone on the property without Jackson’s approval first,” she lied. “If you come back Monday, he should be home.”
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. “So where is he?”
Brooke swallowed. “It’s just me here.”
“Just you, huh?” He chuckled, like a supervillain being told something he didn’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, Miss Foster? 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 my PI, 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 sues 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. “Tell Jack that he’s got… company.”