Brooke had to wave her father goodbye from inside the tree line as he boarded the small private craft headed for Anacortes. She trudged up the cedar path back to the villa alone and contemplated just what she’d gotten herself into. Her stomach started growling as she stepped back in through the front door. It made her wonder what, and how much, her client ate.
“Amos?” she called, not quite sure what to do now. All she knew was that she wanted to spend as little time around Jack Ilyin as humanly possible, and that surely meant avoiding places where he could fit.
Brooke was not expecting a small, unassuming little panel in the wall beside her, fitted with the same green light, to speak. “What may I get for you, Miss Foster?” it said.
It occurred to her then that Amos wasn’t just the robot, but the whole house. No wonder Google wanted their hands on it.
“Is the ‘master of the house’ going to provide meals, or do I need to order pizza?” she deadpanned at the panel, trying to make light of the situation.
“The kitchen is down the hall behind you and to the left. Help yourself to anything you find.”
She followed his directions, and quickly found herself in the most beautiful kitchen she’d ever seen. Sparkling white marble floors, counters, and backsplashes lined the enormous space, and in the middle was an island of thick butcher block with its own sink, under-the-counter refrigerator, and stove range. Attached to it was a four-person bar, and Brooke thought that this was exactly the sort of kitchen that a celebrity chef would film their TV show in. There was another full-height refrigerator along the far wall, three ovens, a dishwasher, wine cooler, second stove top with two induction burners, and another, much larger three-basin sink. She pictured lavish parties being held here, with four-star chefs being brought in to cook for the luxurious crowds.
“Everything here is yours to use,” Amos said from the kitchen’s wall panel.
She went to the refrigerator and found all manner of farmer’s market produce, fresh eggs, local meats, artisan cheeses, the finest olives and capers and prosciutto, and…
“If there is nothing there that strikes your fancy, then you may browse Master Ilyin’s stock through that door there.” Brooke closed the fridge and headed for another door off in the corner. A blast of chill air startled her, but the light came on and she saw that it was a walk-in cooler. A huge walk-in cooler. At least twenty feet long and almost ten feet wide, and lined with shelves packed to the hilt with food.
She counted a dozen halved pigs, eight legs of veal, nine whole turkeys, slabs of unsliced bacon, wheels of parmesan, cheddar, and smoked gouda cheeses, entire bushel boxes full of cabbages, potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, lettuces, and other leafy greens, gallons of milks and creams, and at the very end, at the coldest part, were fully stocked shelves of nothing but vodka.
Brooke liked vodka.
She grabbed one – the most Russian-looking one – and headed out.
“You’ve found the master’s collection,” Amos said with a little bemusement on its voice. How did it do that? “I’m afraid that you need more for lunch than vodka, however.”
She snorted and poured herself a small amount in a tumbler. It tasted like the Arctic wind. “My god, this is amazing stuff.”
“It’s imported from a small-batch distillery in St. Petersburg, Miss Foster. I’m glad it pleases you.”
“It sure does,” she said, setting the empty glass down on the counter and opening up the normal fridge to root around again. “OK. Now I can eat.”
Amos-the-robot showed her around the house after she’d made and devoured a humble rye sandwich.
She was indeed shown a guest room, a pool room, a smoking room, a study, a home theater, a sound mixing studio and recording space, a small fabrication shop…
“What happened to some of these other rooms?” she asked, noticing that only the rooms along the outside of the premises remained intact – the ones facing the courtyard had largely suffered violent fates.
“You must understand how terribly Master Ilyin has suffered from this curse,” the robot explained as they passed another gutted room. “The whole of his life has been taken from him.”
Brooke did feel a pang of guilt, but it quickly dissipated. “Uh huh,” she grunted. “Except for the millions in the bank, the private island, the robot butler, and the majority shares in one of the leading tech companies in the world.”
“Barring that…” Amos trailed off, until they came to a room at the top of some stairs leading to the third story. “Here we are. Master Ilyin’s old office.”
Her eyes just about popped out of her head and rolled across the floor. It was a corner suite, with more floor-to-ceiling windows that gave her a near-unobstructed, 180-degree view of the Wasp Passage, and the islands surrounding. About a quarter mile away she could see the Friday Harbor ferry chugging along in the still waters, leaving a silvery trail of a wake behind it. She could only imagine the views from here come sunset.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Amos said, looking out with that single green eye. She wondered if that was a preprogrammed response or if it had some kind of ability to judge beauty. “This was Master Ilyin’s favorite room of the house.”
“It may be mine too.”
“Now here’s the master’s old computer,” the robot said, ushering her into the plush, high-backed office chair. As soon as she sat down, the system booted – and she could see why: each of the triptych of screens had a small green light at the very top. So Amos was there, too. After a very quick boot process, a desktop appeared, and then an internet browser was opened for her. “This should be sufficient for you to perform your research. There are printers and a scanner in the closet.”
“How should I start? Did my dad find anything I can work from?”
“All your father had to work with, I’m afraid, is this.” Amos produced an envelope from a small compartment in its chest. Brooke noted that it was worn and creased when she took it. Inside was a letter in even worse shape than its envelope, and she guessed that it had once been crumpled into a ball. It was postmarked from roughly 2 years prior.
“My dear Mr. Ilyin,” she read aloud. “You have made a royal ass of yourself for the last time. By the time you receive this letter, the change will be complete. No more parties, no more business, no more money… and no more power. I hope you’re still civilized enough to appreciate the irony of being stripped bare by your own gigantic ego. Because that ego is all you’ll have left.
“I’ve given you an opportunity to redeem yourself, however. With your gadgets as your only companions in the long days to come, I’ve decided to let them help you about the business of staying alive as you become a prisoner of your own wealth. Enjoy the solitude, Mr. Ilyin. The clock is ticking.”
It was signed “the last woman you will ever humiliate“.
Brooke sighed, collapsing back into the computer chair.
“Wow. No wonder Ilyin recruited my dad; what the hell could the police do about this?” She shook her head. “There’s no prosecutable crime here!”
“That is precisely the master’s predicament,” Amos said congenially. “Your father managed to lift a partial print from the paper itself, but without anyone to legally process it, he was left with very little.”
“Did Ilyin talk to him?”
“Hardly at all. He was expecting to get workable results from processing the letter.”
Brooke twisted up her mouth. “You know, for being a super-genius, he sure doesn’t know much about the limits of forensics. Can’t get much done without questioning anybody,” she chuckled.
“I hope, for his sake, that you might get him to open up, as it were.”
She glanced back at the letter, taking note of the paper, the handwriting, the color of the ink. “And I hope for my sake that he cooperates.” A pause as she pulled up her email account. “How well does he remember the incident?”
“Very,” Amos said, “looking” away. Brooke knew what that meant.
“Does he still get violent?”
“I’m afraid so, though not nearly to the same extent as the early days.”
“Well I’m not going to do a damn thing until he can promise me that he’ll keep his temper under control.”
“I do wish you well, but…”
It stopped when they both noticed the faint quaking of heavy feet hitting the mossy earth. Then, he came into view outside. Just barely, though, he wasn’t tall enough to be at eye level with the third floor, but he was close. Brooke sucked in a breath because she’d almost, somehow, forgotten that she was dealing with a bona-fide giant. Jack glanced inside before fixing his eyes on the horizon with a brooding look on his face. After a while, he turned and poked at a thin section of window along the floor and it pivoted open.
“I don’t see you working,” he said.
Brooke grimaced at him for a second and stood up to storm over to the window. “I just sat down,” she huffed. “And I don’t even know what I’m looking for yet. I need to get your testimony.”
He just stared at her. “That letter should be evidence enough.”
“Well it’s not. You think there’s some kind of handwriting database out there I can cross-check? This stuff doesn’t get done magically, you know. My hands are tied without a police warrant.”
Jack growled and narrowed his eyes at her. “Fine. Better get down here, then.” He disappeared.
Brooke was going to head back downstairs to begin collecting his account of this magic woman person, but stopped and turned to Amos. “What kind of drunk is he, do you know?”
“You will not like him when he’s had a few bottles, Miss Foster.”
Well, so much for the idea of liquoring him up for this.