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 might even try to explain it 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. “The new wiz-kid they hired to replace me hasn’t had a single original idea. The company released a license for a new version of our robot’s equilibrium system: it looked like the graphic designer did more work than anybody else on that thing,” he scoffed.
“Focus on pretty packaging and you don’t have to have an original idea.”
“Patel was never a great innovator; there’s a reason he dropped out of MIT. His real gift was charming the investors.”
“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. They need me, and try as he might, Patel can’t force me to sell my shares.” Still, she could tell that this bothered him.
“The business 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 uneasily on the lawn outside. He was speaking with her on the phone. Amos had just notified Brooke that her father had tried reaching the house, however, and she went upstairs to return the call.
“Well,” came Martin’s voice on the other end of the line. He sounded exhausted. “I have good news, and I have bad news.”
The young woman looked on, surprised. “Start with the uh…”
“I’ll start with the good news,” he chuckled. “Which is, that I found her.”
“Not only that, but I met with her.”
The young woman gaped. “No way. How’d you pull that off?”
“Credit goes to her, I guess. Not sure how she did it, but somehow found out that I was working with Ilyin, tracked me down, and came knocking on the door just a few hours ago.” He laughed again. “She’d make a killing in this business with those crystal balls of hers.”
Brooke suddenly had so many questions to ask, she didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, her father sensed this and began to answer them.
“She wouldn’t confirm her legal identity, but she was definitely our witch, no doubt about it. She invited herself in and sat down and we talked for a good hour or so.”
“Talked a lot about herself, really. How disgusted she is by the rich and powerful. By men with “affluenza”. I asked how she got started using magic, told me some story about selling her soul to the devil. She said he lives in New York and looks a lot like Gerard Butler.”
Brooke sighed and laughed a little. Still, she was on edge and wanted her father to hurry up and tell her the rest.
“The bad news is that she wouldn’t tell me anything specific,” he went on. “She knew what she was doing, Brooke. Knew what and what not to say in front of a recording device. An hour of talking and nothing to show for it. However, she did leave me with one last letter for Ilyin.”
“And what’s it say!”
“She instructed me to send it for him to read as soon as the, quote, world sees him for who he really is, but no sooner, or the words will disappear right off the page or something.”
“GREAT,” Brooke growled, slapping her forehead. “Have a copy ready to email me as soon as… whatever happens that she thinks will happen before her little clock runs out.”
“Already on it, sweetheart.”
“Look, dad, I gotta get going… he’s wrapping it up with his lawyer right now and I’m pretty curious what she has to say.”
“I would be too. Keep in touch, alright? I’ll see you soon.”
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 say he felt coerced.”
“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 do that,” she sighed, thinking of the woman’s tactful dodging during the interview.
He shrugged. “Maybe we could set a precedent.”
“Yeah, about that… my dad finally found your spell-slinging perp.” Jack perked up at this. “She came by to hand-deliver one last note for you. Unfortunately, we’re not to open it until you go public about your condition or something.”
The giant growled out a string of profanities. “Great. Just great,” he eventually sighed.
“Look, let’s check on Patel for now and explain what’s going on. There’s not much else we can do.”
“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.
“Shut up, jail-bait.”
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 bed warmer!”
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, 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 your souped-up prototype. Mike and his guys are doing some amazing stuff with the visual recognition, and Scott’s team is killing it with the slang algorithms. Not only are you obsolete my friend, but we’ve got a release date only 24 months out. And their fingers aren’t even too fat to use 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 end for -“
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 throbbing 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.”