Aren’t Russians supposed to be happy drunks? she thought as she scrounged up some paper and a pen. Maybe if he tried rum instead of vodka…
Brooke went downstairs, going over the questions she had to ask him, swearing up and down that she wouldn’t let him intimidate her. But once she saw the great-room-turned-bedroom, and the damage his bare hands had done to the place, she instead decided to swear up and down that she at least wouldn’t run.
“Hello?” She ventured out into the open courtyard, peering around the half-smashed Japanese maples and overgrown weeds, but there was no sign of him. “Mr. Ilyin?”
Brooke heard the little clicking steps of the robot behind her. “He is at the smoker,” it said, and pointed. “Approximately 120 yards that way.”
Past the pool terraces was another path that disappeared in the thick, tall evergreens. When she looked up, she saw wisps of silver smoke from that direction, mingling with the last strange remnants of fog and disappear. Bell Island was a beautiful place, she had to admit. All the San Juans were – but Ilyin’s private retreat had a kind of haunted, magisterial beauty to it that drew her in more than any of the other islands she’d been to.
Before long she found him, crouched down beside the small structure that must have been the smokehouse, where he was tending to more halved pigs on great wheeled spits. Beside it was another small terrace and seating area, its furniture shoved unceremoniously aside. She stood at the edge of the clearing and watched quietly.
Jack must’ve been a tall and solidly built man when he was of average human stature. In the press photos she saw of him, where he was clean-shaven and with neatly-cropped hair, wearing an expensive blazer over some t-shirt, he was the very picture of confidence and elegant masculinity. But now that she thought about it, that Jack Ilyin seemed bland, in a way: an underwear model, not a real person. This Jack, though, was real. Brooke watched as the muscles moved in time with those massive arms, followed the powerful swell of his shoulder blade, down the curve of his sturdy spine, to his… ah, er…
Brooke must’ve cleared her throat, because he looked over his shoulder to see her standing there.
“Did you… make that yourself?” she asked.
He stood up, in his hand a long metal rod bent in the shape of a hook, and considered the spit for a moment. “It’s the easiest way to cook all the food I need to eat to keep myself from fucking starving to death.” He looked at her again from under those brooding brows. “You’re not vegan or something, are you?”
Brooke emphatically shook her head when the breeze suddenly blew her way. The irresistible smell almost made her dizzy.
“Good. Because I designed a damn good smoker.” He knelt down again to push the spit back inside, and closed the door behind it. He opened another hatch on the side and stuffed in a few cords of wood, dusted off his big hands, and stood up again. “You gonna ask your questions or what?”
“Oh! Uh… yes. Yes I am.” She moved over to a mossy rock and sat down, flattening the papers on her leg. “I’d like you to start from the beginning. Pretend you just met me.” Brooke watched his body language carefully now, and noticed his hand ball into a loose fist.
“You can’t work with what your father learned?”
She swallowed. “It’s my investigation now, I’d like to get my statements straight. And who knows, maybe my dad missed something,” Brooke said, judging that it was not a good time to tell Mr. Ilyin that the letter, their only lead, was a dead end.
Jack let out a long breath through his nostrils and leaned against a tree. “It was May, little less than two years ago,” he rumbled. “I had a good art collection then. Most of it was inherited from my grandfather who worked for the party in the 60’s. Constructivist stuff. You probably saw the ones in the entryway.
“Anyways, I was celebrating my 35th birthday that year. There was about 200 people on the island. I don’t even remember who, now; models, musicians, actors, friends of friends of friends. The usual. As for me, I got good and drunk that night. I didn’t intend on taking any of the guests to bed, but there was one woman who wound up getting my attention. I had no idea who she was or who invited her, but I just couldn’t seem to stay away.” He cleared his throat, a thunderous sound. “Suffice to say, she made me look like an asshole in front of a lot of guests at my own fucking party.”
Brooke ventured a brave question. “How do you know that woman sent the letter? It wasn’t signed with a name.”
“I had AMoS compare the handwriting with the name she wrote in the guestbook. Nearly identical. I’m not a fucking idiot,” he hissed.
Brooke swallowed, jotting it down. “Wh-what were your interactions like?”
“Acted like a flirt all night. Sometime after midnight I was getting ready to take her someplace a little more private when she called an impromptu speech. DJ paused the music, handed her the mic and everything. Then in front of 200 people she asked if I would celebrate my birthday by quote passing it forward unquote and donating a piece of my collection to be auctioned off for some charity that she supposedly worked for. Eyes all on me.“
She watched as his jaw muscles clenched. “Being drunk and blind-sighted, I promptly told her I would if she would hurry up and go to bed with me. She emptied her drink across my suit, I told her to go fuck herself, and the rest is history.”
Brooke swallowed. “When did the, uh, curse start effecting you?”
“After my public humiliation, I did a few shots, got into a sloppy fistfight with one of the guests and a yelling match with another, before passing out on the floor of my bedroom. Woke up 36 hours later to find myself seven feet tall and growing out of my clothes. Eventually I wound up like this.” He spat on the ground. “Fucking bitch.”
Brooke nodded stiffly. This guy was a piece of work, wasn’t he?
“Why do you think she did it?”
Jack narrowed his eyes at her, making a face like she was the simplest girl on the planet. “It was an extortion attempt. She’s a magic-user, Brooke, it’s what they do. I stood up for myself and now look at me. My life is over. I’m never going to conduct business ever again. Poshyol na hui..!” He heaved a harsh sigh and muttered something in Russian.
He looked down at her with those angry, penetrating eyes, chest heaving. Brooke shivered and looked back to her notes. “What… what did she look like?”
Jack turned away to growl. “Long black hair, green eyes, glasses. About… five-five, 120 pounds. Late twenties. Covered in tattoos from head to toe.”
Brooke scrawled the information down, hoping that she could find something. With a sigh she shuffled through her papers, feeling his eyes on her and trying to ignore it. She had one more question as she pictured this Jane Doe in her mind, flipping her long black hair and cackling.
“Do you regret what you did?”
Brooke watched as his huge Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and he answered in a low, dangerous voice that made the hairs of her neck stand on end. “I do now.”
“I… think that’s all I need for now,” she said quietly, slipping off the rock and back to the pathway toward the pool.
Jack wordlessly moved away from where he’d been standing and approached a smaller tree and in one terrible motion, stomped it to the ground with the loud crack of splintering wood.
The young woman bit back a gasp, freezing in her tracks for just a second.
“I hope so,” he growled.