Brooke tried using her phone to contact her father, but she couldn’t get even the weakest signal here. Must be some part of the magic, she thought. Or maybe Ilyin planned things that way when he built the house.
She flopped backwards down onto the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while, puzzling over the mystery Jackson David Ilyin was expecting her to solve. Tracking people down took a lot more time and resources than he seemed to expect, especially if they had no police record to pull up. If Brooke was going to be honest with herself, she was beginning to doubt that this woman would ever be found if she didn’t want to be. And that was all ignoring the added complexity of her apparent knowledge of powerful magic. If she could turn Jack Ilyin into a hulking giant, and a household appliance into a charming robot butler, then what’s to say that she couldn’t teleport herself halfway across the country? Or change her appearance to look like someone completely different? Brooke groaned and rolled over to clutch a pillow. This was going to be an absolute nightmare.
And what was the countdown? Was she coming back? Was something worse going to happen to him? And if Ilyin never returned to normal, would he let her go or would he try to hold her hostage out of spite?
Even with the millions of questions swarming about in her head like the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys, she managed to fall asleep in the big, plush bed, and wound up dreaming, of all things, of giant hands…
Morning came too soon. She woke up for a few minutes, went to pee, and then fell back asleep for who knows how long. When she woke up again, there was a box on the bench at the foot of the bed.
She got up and opened it, gasping at what she saw. Clothes. Beautiful, luxurious clothes. Cashmere, linen, silk; pajamas made from the finest handspun cotton. There were several blouses and skirts, slacks, a cardigan. At the bottom of the box, next to a set of travel toiletries, was several sets of underwear.
“Oh no he didn’t,” she whispered, holding one in the air in front of her.
The problem was that they were gorgeous. And that they felt like they were made from woven spiders silk. And that the colors, a classy set of neutrals, were not something she’d expect a lifelong bachelor and ladykiller to pick unless he was well-familiar with women’s shopping habits. Swallowing, she set the underwear back in the box, and decided to assume that only Amos had enough sense between them to pick these out.
After a few minutes of looking everything over again, quite dazzled by their quality, Brooke got dressed and asked the wall panel if there was anything to eat. Of course there was. She was ushered downstairs to a lavish breakfast spread prepared by Amos before heading back up to Ilyin’s office to get back to work.
It was lunchtime when she began to realize just how futile the effort was. This was like trying to find a needle in a landfill, not a haystack. And when dinner rolled around, Brooke knew that something had to give. All she had to show for so many hours of work was countless articles on Jack Ilyin the man rather than Jack Ilyin the brilliant entrepreneur. And Jack the man seemed have a long record of being a black mark against humanity. Labor abuses, infidelity, sexual harassment charges… it was all there. The usual stuff. For some reason, Brooke wanted to think that Jack Ilyin had some redeeming qualities that would set him apart from all the other creepsville Silicon Valley megalomaniacs, but it seemed that he stepped right in line with the best of them. Brooke decided that maybe it was time to go home, and let Gary Patel discover for himself what had happened to his business partner. Magic be damned.
She printed out her findings and stuck them into a folder for presentation’s sake, and headed downstairs, chin held high and shoulders squared. Under her breath she practiced what she was going to say, but as she ventured outside and was greeted by the sight of the massive man sitting with his feet in the pool and looking over a jerry-rigged touchscreen tablet attached by a thick cable to the inside of the pool house, her courage trickled away.
“…yes?” he grunted impatiently when he noticed her standing there.
Brooke inhaled and threw the file down on a concrete bench, like a literal gauntlet. “To be honest with you, Mr. Ilyin, I don’t think this is going to work.”
He gave her a look as though she’d just uttered the most asinine thing in the world. Then he glanced at the file. “It had better work,” he warned, “Because you’re not going anywhere until it does.”
She threw up her arms suddenly and ground her heel into the ground. “Nothing,” she declared. “I can’t find anything. All I have is one stupid letter and pictures of a woman who clearly doesn’t want to be found. And magic being magic of course, the police can’t do shit for us because nobody’s pressing charges.”
“Believe you me, I’m pressing as many charges as I can possibly -”
“There’s nothing on the books that will let you!” she boldly interrupted, face growing red. “As far as the law’s concerned, you’re the one who screwed up!” Brooke should have ended it there, but the dirt she dug up on him provided plenty of fuel for her tirade. “Because you’re quite the piece of work yourself, aren’t you? Layoffs so you could line your own pockets, dumping women as soon as they get too comfortable with your money, scandal after scandal after scandal. And now that all your millions won’t help you, it’s suddenly poor Jack Ilyin. And what do you expect from me? The goddamn impossible! I’m a private investigator’s daughter, you jerk, not a miracle-worker!
“You want my professional opinion? Get your act together and get on with your stupid selfish life. I’m sure you can afford it.”
Jack Ilyin’s face darkened with building anger as the words tumbled out of her mouth. The moment he lifted his legs from the water and stood up, however, Brooke knew that she’d made a big, big mistake.
In fact, he grabbed her, lifting her clear off the ground to bring her in close to that huge, stony face. Brooke’s gasped as soon as his fingers had her by the waist, and had her hard. “Care to repeat that, little girl?” he spat. She could see the pink of his gums as his mouth curled into a huge and terrible sneer.
Brooke struggled to find her voice. She wanted to push away from that face, from that inhuman grip, but she didn’t want to touch him. He stared her down for a few moments, and she could smell the moss and the leaves and the musk on him. His presence began to overwhelm her.
“You’re a f-fucking asshole,” she said quietly, wincing at the strength of his hand around her ribs. “A-and frankly, you had it coming.”
His grip on her tightened even more and Brooke gasped in pain. Jack Ilyin held her like that for a few very long seconds, and she could see it in his face that he was contemplating on how much hurt he was willing to risk dishing out. But he dropped her instead, and she went tumbling onto the patchy lawn in a painful heap with a cry.
“Leave,” he growled.
She got up, her wrists and ankles hurting from the impact. But she didn’t get up fast enough, and he slammed his foot down nearby to motivate her.
Brooke scrambled to her feet now, and looked up at him with wild eyes. He took another predatory step toward her, and that’s when she decided to get the hell out of here. Something in her told her to run, so she did. She ran around the house, through the twilight of the trees, and when she realized that there was no tingling numbness in her limbs, she knew he had finally released her and wasn’t going to stick around long enough for him to change his mind. Without a second thought she made a sprint for the water.
The nearest shore was only several hundred feet away; Brooke was going to make a go for it. So when she climbed down over the rocks at Bell Island’s north-western shore, she leapt in. The icy waves, small as they were, sucked the air from her lungs and she quickly lost sensation in her fingers. But she kept moving. She had to try – it could very well be her only chance.