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.
“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.”