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 musty carpets of moss and mold, and put them into garbage bags. Then it paused and stood up to look her way.
“Miss Foster, your father’s calling,” it said.
“I wonder what it could be,” Brooke muttered. She set the broom and dustpan aside and quickly headed for the office. “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 out of habit, and nodded. “Yep.”
A pause, then the line opened. “Hey dad, what’s up?” she said.
“I’ve opened the letter,” he said.
The young woman’s eyes went wide. “You what? Dad, she told us not to or -!”
“Miss Heindel called me 10 minutes ago and told me to do it.”
Brooke went quiet, waiting for elaboration.
“You remember that Irish pub next to the museum, The High Horse?”
“Well, as it so happened,” he said, and she could tell he was trying not to laugh. “She was killing time while waiting for the ferry, walking around town, when the sign fell off the building and landed on her.”
Brooke was dumbstruck, not quite able to figure out how this was relevant. “Is… she OK?”
He openly laughed now. “A few bumps on the head, but she’s fine. But she called to tell me that she was witch enough to take a hint. Evidently, she believes that the universe wants her to be nicer to Ilyin, and this is her idea of throwing him a bone.”
Brooke was of the mind to call Miss Heindel a few choice names, but she exercised restraint. “I can only imagine the things that go on in that head of hers,” she grumbled instead. “Anyways, did you read it already? What does the letter say?” Already Brooke was imagining what it might be like to see him break the curse and shrink back to normal. Would it be a dazzling spectacle or a more gradual process? Would it hurt? Would he be weak, like astronauts when they come home from the space station? Would he somehow retain all of those physical peculiarities that came with the change?
…Would his dick be able to fit in her?
“Let’s find out.” She heard some crinkling of paper on the other end of the line, and then her father began to read. “My dear Mr. Ilyin: You should be honored to know that cursing you has been one of my most difficult and long-running experiments, truly the highlight of my magical career. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all that you’ve taught me in the art of malefica, and for making me a better defender of the common man.
“In the years since we last met, I hope you’ve come to see that what I did was necessary for your own well-being, as well as the well-being of those around you. Frankly, Ilyin, you had it coming. But better me than a jilted lover or murderous employee, right?”
Brooke suppressed a groan.
“Either way, the game is soon coming to an end, and I’m sure you’d appreciate me telling you how to win. The rules were simple all along, but perhaps its my fault for believing that a crudely left-brained man such as yourself could discern them from my correspondence. No, you need things spelled out, like the instruction manuals for your robots or the code base for one of your little algorithms. So I’ll spell it out for you.
“All you ever needed to do, Ilyin, was to give a damn. To set aside your prideful obsession with computers and care about someone or something more than yourself. And if you couldn’t manage that much after a few years, then maybe there was never any hope for you after all.”
Brooke had a snarky comment at the ready, but as the letter went on something in her became uneasy. In spite of Heindel’s staggering arrogance, her words had begun to sting. Just a little at first, then more as she drove the knife deeper, until Brooke realized that the witch was speaking more truth than lie.
And the truth was that Jack hadn’t learned that lesson yet, had he?
“What the hell kind of instructions are these?” Martin huffed. “She sure spelled things out, alright. Clear as mud.”
The young woman just sat there, staring at the still-blank sheet of paper in front of her.
“You can… read the rest.”
“Just says, ‘The ball is in your court. Just remember that if you lose, I win. And if you win… I still win.’ Yours truly, Astarte.”
“You should send me a copy as soon as you can. I’m sure the lawyer will want to read it.”
“Sure thing,” he said. She heard him shuffle some papers around on his desk. “And is everything OK?”
Brooke was nervously chewing on her lip as she felt a clamminess settle into her hands. “It’s fine, dad. Fine. Things just got… a little complicated, is all.”