Read the Excerpt: Device Free Weekend by Sean Doolittle

Device Free Weekend by Sean Doolittle_NovelSuspectsCHAPTER 1

It hadn’t occurred to Stephen Rollins that buying an island was something that anybody, even your old college roommate, could go out and do.

Beau and Lainie said sure, why not? It’s just real estate. There were websites. Will and Perry claimed to know a couple who’d bought their own ghost town, and those people weren’t even all that wealthy. Not Ryan Cloverhill wealthy, certainly. Not cover-of-Time-magazine people, just regular ones.

If he was honest, Stephen supposed he’d never quite fully grasped, even after all these years, that Ryan was cover-of-Time, own-your-own-island people. This was the same Ryan Cloverhill who’d mistakenly filled their apartment dishwasher with regular Dawn and flooded the kitchenette with suds.

But that was a long time ago. Ryan Cloverhill—their Ryan Cloverhill— golfed with presidents now.

And he’d invited them all for Labor Day weekend: Beau and Lainie, known internally as Blainey; Will and Perry, known as Will and Perry; Emma, of course.

And Stephen, who’d spent the last month gravitating between opposing poles of delight and terror. He loved them all, his oldest and dearest friends. But when had they last spent any real time together in person, in the same place, all seven of them? A decade ago?

Closer to two. Would they survive?

“It’s a fair question,” Will said on the phone. “But worth the risk.”

Perry agreed: “Get your ass on that plane, Rollie. The pleasure of your company is cordially required.”

Blainey—predictably—seemed fixated on the numbers. “What did Will and Perry get?”

“A four and a five,” Stephen told them. “I don’t remember who got which.”

“Huh,” Beau said. “We got three and six.”

“I got three,” Lainie joked from the other line. “You got six.”

They’d been referring to their invitations, delivered earlier that week by pri- vate courier: heavy linen cardstock, clean Neutraface lettering, the geometric four-leaf insignia Ryan Cloverhill now used as a personal colophon. On the back of Stephen’s, in a splash of glitz that didn’t quite fit the minimalist design: a large numeral 2 stamped in silver foil.

“I’m sure it’s not a personal ranking,” Stephen told them. Beau laughed. “Easy for you to say, number two.”

“Anyway,” Lainie said, “I guess we know who number one is.” Emma, of course.

Stephen never did manage to connect with her, somehow.

At least not until Denver International, a dozen weeks later, when they found themselves hopping the same connecting flight to Seattle. It was Friday morning, thirty minutes before takeoff. Stephen had completed the list of tasks required to leave his entire life and business in Chicago behind for four days, which consisted primarily of setting out extra food and water for the cat and locking the door to his apartment. The big weekend had arrived.

He saw Emma before she saw him. Stephen waited until she came within earshot, then said, “Of all the boarding gates in all the airports.”

Emma Grant looked up, locking immediately on the sound of his voice. She’d been in hustle mode, joining the queue a touch on the late side, fighting with the zipper of her carry-on with coffee in one hand, her phone in the other. The sudden wattage of her smile hit Stephen with enough force to make his heart stutter; she laughed and headed straight for him, arms outstretched. It looked almost as though she were offering him coffee and an iPhone. “Do you

really see yourself as the Humphrey Bogart of this airport?”

“Good point.” He stepped out of line to meet her, buzzing with adrenaline.

He wasn’t prepared yet. “Ryan probably owns it already.”

“Come here,” she said, and they were hugging tightly, awkwardly, all shoulder bags and elbows and handheld accessories. She smelled like Cinnabon and felt just like Emma; Stephen’s head swam a little as she planted a fat kiss on his cheek. “It’s so good to see your face. You asshole.”

“You, too, Em. Please don’t spill that on me.”

“I should dump it on your head. Let me look at you.”

“Then let me hold something.”

She handed him the coffee, finished situating her bag, then laid her free palm on his cheek, shaking her head in wonderment that seemed to border on anthropological. The guy at the counter called the first group onto the plane, and people around them started to move. “Stephen Adelaide Rollins.” She scratched at his temple. “The gray looks good.”

“Bullshit. I look like my dad.”

“I always had a thing for your dad.”

Same old Emma. “You haven’t aged a single damned day.” “Speaking of bullshit.”

“Speaking of Ryan,” he said, “obviously we have our illustrious host to thank for this meet-up. I’m 3C. Where are you?”

Emma swiped up her boarding pass, grinned, showed him her phone. “3D. Wanna switch?”

“I guess we should have known.” Ryan had taken care of everybody’s travel arrangements. Or had an assistant book it, more likely, but there must have been specific instructions involved. Leave it all to him, he’d said. You guys just do the getting here.

“We would have known,” Emma noted, “if you’d returned any of my calls.” “I know. You’re right. I’m an asshole.”

“Or texts.”

“Sorry, Em.”

“Or emails.”

“Shall we?” he said, gesturing toward the first-class line already trundling into the jet bridge.

They joined the procession, boarded the craft, and stowed their bags in the overhead bins. After settling in to their nice wide seats with extra padding and plenty of legroom, Emma looked over and said, “Hey. What number did you have on the back of your invite, anyway?”

They touched down at Sea-Tac at 12:37 p.m., already swapping stories like a pair of old thieves, perhaps the teensiest bit loopy from the in-flight transition from coffee to Bloody Marys somewhere over the Idaho Rockies.

Emma had relocated back to the Twin Cities after her divorce, which Stephen had known; she’d taken a new job last winter—general counsel to a midsize biotech firm in Minneapolis—which he should have known but didn’t. Her son had started his freshman year at Vassar this fall. It was no Bardsley, haha, go Badger Hounds.

Stephen was still doing his thing in Chicago. Never married, no kids, which she already knew; not seeing anybody seriously at the moment, which she pretended not to know (though he felt reasonably certain that Will and/or Perry had probably been keeping her updated). It didn’t seem important to observe the sad truth aloud: a six-hour drive, or a cheap ninety-minute flight, was really all that had stood between the two of them and a visit these past few years. But they’d always been good with unspoken agreements, him and Emma. Why lament missed opportunities when here they were now?

At baggage claim they were met by a lean, densely muscled fellow in a black T-shirt and aviator sunglasses holding up a sign that read “1 & 2” in sparkly silver glitter.

“Seriously, what’s the deal with the numbers?” Stephen asked him. “Do you know?”

The guy grinned. “You must be two.”

“We call him the Deuce.” The Bloody Marys had been Emma’s idea.

“Mr. Cloverhill asked me to play this for you.” The guy tapped the screen of his own phone and held it out for Stephen and Emma to see. On the screen, an animated green Wicked Witch of the West croaked All in good time, my little pretty, flipped him a double bird, blew a raspberry for good measure, then dissipated in a puff of cartoon smoke.

Emma giggled merrily. Stephen said, “That sounds like Mr. Cloverhill.”

“My name’s Junipero. Call me Jud. The others should be on-site any time

now. Barring the unexpected, you’ll be joining them right on schedule.” He took their suitcases, one in each hand, his sign tucked under one arm. “All set, then?” The schedule, as Stephen understood it, began with a 2:00 p.m. muster at Link Village, Ryan’s waterfront office complex in South Lake Union. A light lunch, followed by a one-hour campus tour, ending in a ferry ride to Sham Rock, which was—of course—what Ryan Cloverhill would name his personal island. He’d be awaiting their arrival, great-and-powerful-style, at the weekend home he’d built himself there. There would be preparatory cocktails, followed by a sunset cruise around the island aboard Ryan’s VanDutch 55, piloted by Ryan himself. Then a chef-prepared meal, at which point, Stephen presumed, they would work together as a group to become properly shit-faced. It was to be a long, lazy, device free weekend: a chance to unplug, catch up, and enjoy one another’s company for the first time in far too many years, free from the kinds of

digital distractions that had purchased all of this in the first place.

“We’re all yours, Your Judness.” Emma looped her arm through Stephen’s. “Show us the yellow brick road.”


They followed their chaperone out of the terminal into a bright blue September day. A parking valet met them outside the terminal in a gleaming black Lincoln Navigator. Jud binned his sign, handed the valet some glitter-flecked cash, and loaded their bags into the back himself. Before long, they were gliding north on I-5 through midday traffic with seemingly preternatural ease.

Alone up front, Jud displayed the aptitude of a practiced executive transpoman, scanning far ahead, anticipating gaps, rarely so much as brushing the brake pedal until it was time to join the crush of downtown traffic. Though his impressive physique could have been acquired at any local gym, his personal carriage—a certain efficiency of movement, a certain relaxed alertness—suggested something more than standard-grade limo driver to Stephen. If he’d been forced to guess, based on a few of the people he’d encountered in his line of work over the years, he’d have guessed ex-military.

“So how long have you known Ryan?” he asked.

“You mean Mr. Cloverhill? About ten years,” Jud said pleasantly. “Started out driving, but I may be rusty. Sorry for the bumps back there.”

Stephen hadn’t noticed any; they might as well have been riding on a cloud. “What do you do now?”

“Most of the time, physical security on campus,” Jud said. “For travel and big events, I head up Mr. Cloverhill’s personal protection team.”

“My, my,” Emma said, nudging Stephen. “Mr. Cloverhill has a team.” Jud chuckled. “Usually it’s just me. But we live in troubling times.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” She continued to engage Jud Bernal in friendly chatter while Stephen drifted, watching the world pass beyond his window, focusing on nothing in particular. As Jud took an exit, Stephen spotted the top of the Space Needle up ahead, hovering just over the tops of the buildings like a flying saucer in broad daylight. Something about the image gave him an odd feeling he couldn’t quite name. Then the off-ramp dumped them onto tree-lined Mercer Street, and the buildings closed ranks around them.

Link Village—Ryan’s aforementioned corporate campus—occupied a thirty-acre strip of shorefront just east of Lake Union Park. It consisted of a four-story headquarters building designed by Rem Koolhass, along with six other main structures, all roughly ring-shaped, laid out in a greater oval. Viewed aerially— which was the only way Stephen had ever viewed the place before now, using internet satellite maps like everybody else—the buildings appeared to form links in a chain, with solar rooftops and winding footpaths and a parklike green space in the middle.

Jud left their bags in the car and led them from the parking facility through a series of badged entrances, still brushing glitter from his dark clothing. They took an elevator to the lobby level. There, he bid them a good lunch, transferring custody to a young woman in a sharp skirt and blouse who introduced herself as Kai.

“Welcome to the Pacific Northwest,” she said, greeting them with handshakes and a pleasant smile. “How was your flight? Everything smooth?”

“A little too smooth,” Emma said. “I should know better than to start tipping this early in a vacation. And on an empty stomach no less.”

Kai laughed. “I think we can help with that. Follow me.”

She took them through the bright, soaring lobby, all glass and steel and bamboo accent panels, her heels clicking along the polished concrete floor. She asked if either one of them had ever been to Seattle before.

“Not since Kurt Cobain was alive,” Stephen said, thinking back to the Sub Pop store he’d spotted in the airport on their way to baggage claim. God, they were all ancient now. “With Ryan, if you can believe it. Sorry. I mean Mr. Cloverhill.”

“Not to worry. He mostly goes by Ryan around here. So! Full circle for you, then.”

“Like links in a chain.”

“God, that road trip,” Emma said. “It was the first time any of us had latte. Do you remember he took that cab to wherever Starbucks had their headquarters and tried to convince somebody to give him a meeting? They didn’t even have a website yet, and here’s this longhair stoner kid from Minnesota talking franchise. What was his idea? The online ordering thing. This was way before anybody felt comfortable using . . .”

Stephen said, “Star bucks.”

“Star bucks! That was it.” She snorted at the memory. “Poor Ryan. He was so outraged when they sent him packing. He griped about that for fifteen hundred miles.”

“And he was never heard from again,” Stephen said, nodding generally at the sleek, ultrahip space around them.

“That,” Kai said, “is hilarious. I’ve never heard that story before.” Stephen chuckled. “Stick with us. We got all kinds.”

They passed through another badged door and out into unfiltered sunlight again, following a path through a small sculpture garden and into the sprawling, vibrantly landscaped central courtyard.

“Wow,” Emma said, breathing in a deep dose of fresh inland air. “Get a lungful of that, why don’t you?”

“We’ve got the right breeze today,” Kai told them. “The lake can smell a little funky sometimes. The whole town, really, if the marine layer gets weird. Ah—there they are.”

Stephen saw four figures grouped together near a freestanding water wall. The feature—a vertical slab of salt-and-pepper granite curtained in what looked like stainless-steel chain mail—lent a cinematic shimmer to the sight of them.

Will. Perry. Beau. Lainie. Immediately, Stephen felt that strange parallax he always felt when seeing someone intimately familiar from a distance—the same thing he’d felt when he’d first spotted Emma at the airport in Denver. Had that really been just four hours ago?

Then the distance was gone, and everybody was hooting and cackling. Kai stood well aside, respectfully granting the others full access so that Stephen and Emma could be appropriately mauled.

“God, it’s really you!” Will said, clapping Stephen on the back, shaking him by the shoulders, then giving long, tall Perry a crack at him, while Emma and Lainie hugged and squeezed hands. Beau stood around grinning with his too-white teeth against his too-tan face, his too-blond mane ruffling in the breeze, until Emma grabbed him by the shirt and they all coalesced into one big hugging huddle. A huggle.

“I hope nobody’s watching this from the windows,” Stephen said. Beau said, “Are you kidding? I hope they’re Linking it!”

Will and Perry groaned. Lainie said, “Lay off, haters. Going viral is better than sex.”

“Sex with him, maybe,” Perry said, making a play for Beau’s hairdo. Beau swatted, everybody laughed.

“I think it’s sweet,” Kai called, somewhere outside the circle. “Two o’clock, gang; who’s ready to eat?”

Lunch was mixed greens and swordfish sliders in the employee food court. The tour, led by Kai, was impressive and informative and featured lots of productive-looking young people in flip-flops, T-shirts, and wireless earbuds. Finally, when it was time, the ferry to Sham Rock, out beyond the Sound, turned out to be a Sikorsky S-76 executive helicopter.

“Holy shit,” Beau said, appraising the bird with unmasked covetousness. He pulled out his phone again and immediately started shooting video. “Now this is how you live.”

Perry said, “Will you put that away?”

“Are you kidding? If we’re going dark all weekend, you better believe I’m getting this while I can.”

The tour had ended on the roof of the main building, which the Linksters referred to simply as “One.” Kai introduced them to their pilot, who turned out to be none other than Junipero “Jud” Bernal. Same shades, same black T-shirt. Much less glitter.

Will looked around, glanced out at the lake, then said, perhaps a little nervously, “Is it even legal to fly this low?”

“Of course it’s legal,” Beau said. “They wouldn’t have a helicopter up here if it wasn’t legal.”

Lainie nodded. “All the bigwigs have helicopters.”

“Sure, bigwigs with skyscrapers. We’re only four floors up. Aren’t there, like, ordinances or something?”

“Mr. Cloverhill’s pretty good with ordinances,” Jud said. “Anyway, downwash radius on this honey is 132 feet, and we’re well clear of the park and the nearest marina. Flight conditions are perfect, I’ve got over five hundred PIC hours, no worries.”

“No worries!” Emma said, patting Jud on the shoulder. “He’s a really good driver.”

“I’ll bet he is,” Lainie said. Beau said, “Hey!”

Jud seemed to take it all in stride. “All set, then?”

They all thanked Kai and loaded in, one by one. Beau and Perry squabbled over the forward-facing window seats like grade-schoolers. Will looked more than happy to take the middle between them. The cabin smelled like leather and, after Jud buttoned them up, seemed almost hermetically sealed. They could carry on yakking at normal volume even as the main rotor began its howling windup directly over their heads. Even beanpole Perry seemed to have enough room for all his limbs.

“Oh, come on, admit it, you grump.” Emma elbowed Stephen lightly in the ribs as they slowly lifted, climbed, then tilted forward over the rippling lake. “This is pretty amazing.”

“Our little Ryan,” Will said. He sounded fine but appeared to be white-knuckling Perry’s knee. He’d never been a great flier.

Perry patted his hand. “I’m so damn proud of him.” Then he glanced at Stephen. “You there. Everything okay?”

Why did everybody keep looking at him? “Who’s grumpy?” Stephen said. “I’m proud of him too.”

It was the honest truth.

Although, looking out his window, he was pretty sure, based on arm gestures, that the tiny guy on the miniature sailboat two hundred feet below was inviting them to cram it as they ascended, up and away.


They followed a narrow channel west from the north end of the lake, out over Salmon Bay, then Puget Sound, Jud occasionally narrating from the cockpit

over the onboard sound system: Whidbey Island starboard—that’s off to our right. Marrowstone coming up port. We’re tracking right along Admiralty Inlet. Then the landmasses drifted away beneath them, and the view from the cabin windows was nothing but shimmering water, calm for miles. Strait of Juan de Fuca, eastern edge. San Juan Islands to the north; Olympic Peninsula to the south. Any fishermen onboard, the halibut run pretty good out here.

“You know, we should get out there and try that. . . ,” Beau started. Will, Perry, and Lainie, in unison: “Please don’t say it.”

“. . . just for the halibut.”

Perry grimaced. “Can somebody please reach over and murder him?” Emma said, “What about fisherwomen?”

Jud, over the speakers: Nice blue water today.

Beau said, “That’s because it’s reflecting the sky. I saw that on the Discovery Channel.”

A lot of people think the water reflects the sky. It’s really the sun. The water eats up the longwave light and sends back the shortwave. That’s the blue.

Beau kept looking out his window as if he hadn’t heard anything, but he casually lowered his phone and placed it facedown on his knee. He wouldn’t be using that take, it seemed. Perry bit back a grin and turned toward the window. Emma said, “I think I’m crushing on Jud a little.” Stephen wondered if the guy could actually hear them up there in the cockpit.

“Ooh!” Lainie said. “I think I see it.”

Jud: Coming right up. Everybody hang tight, we’ll put down in a bit. I’ll fly over first, give us all a good look; then we’ll come back around.

Beau’s phone came right back up again in video mode. Stephen nudged Emma in the middle seat next to him, asked her if she wanted to switch places. It really was quite a view.

“Thanks, but I’m with him,” Emma said, pointing at Will in the seat directly across from her. “I don’t like looking down from up here.”

Will batted his eyes at her, covering his heart with his palm. Stephen knew she was lying through her teeth, and Will probably did, too, but that was Emma: always aiming for solidarity.

As for the view, it more or less matched the overhead shots he’d already seen in Dwell last year. Sham Rock was shaped approximately like a jagged boot print, fatter at the heel, narrower at the toe. There was an upcurved spit at the narrow end, a navigation light tower perched at its tip. A smaller spit jutted out like a cleat near the inside arch of the boot. Lots of evergreen-type trees on top. Rocky cliffs down to the water below.

The main house occupied the fat end of the island: a big L-shape nestled into a clearing, near the cleat, overlooking a dock and boathouse. Stephen saw a rooftop pool and tennis court. Across the island, a smaller, simpler house sat at the narrow end—some kind of guest or caretaker cottage, Stephen presumed. He saw a narrow track of road winding through the trees between the two. A few other miscellaneous outbuildings here and there.

“If I were a Bond villain,” Perry said, “this is exactly where I’d put my lair.”

Emma liked that. She steepled her fingertips and adopted her idea of a villain voice: “Come, come, Mr. Bond. We both know you’ll never leave this island alive.”

“You guys,” Lainie sighed. She’d always felt left out when people started riffing.

They passed over the helipad: a big white square set off from the house, with a high-viz geometric clover in the center. Then over the cottage, then the light tower, then out over the water again. Will looked a little green as they banked and came around, just as Jud had promised. Perry casually took Will’s hand without taking his eyes from the window.

Then they were descending, slow and easy, treetops waving in the rotor wash as if welcoming them back to solid ground.

The first time Stephen Rollins ever laid eyes on Ryan Mitchell Cloverhill had been the week before the start of fall semester, freshman year, at Bardsley College in Stillwater, Minnesota. They’d been assigned as roommates on the second floor of Anders Hall, the campus honors dorm. This had been long before incoming freshmen had the ability to meet and select their future bunkmates through an online portal. In those days, at least at Bardsley, you showed up, saw who you’d gotten stuck with, and went from there.

Who Stephen saw, upon first entering room 205 on move-in day, was a knobby rope of a kid with long, wavy blond hair, a hearty soul patch, and a Fugazi T-shirt that looked at least a size too large for his frame. The first thing he’d thought, seeing the milk crates full of music CDs already taking up valuable square footage, was: We’re gonna get along juuust fine.

The Ryan Cloverhill waiting for them at the edge of the helipad had matured nicely, even photogenically. He cut a sturdy-looking figure in the late-afternoon light, outdoorsy-casual, yet perceptibly well-heeled. He’d dressed for the occasion in hard denim jeans, oiled leather Chelsea boots, and a light canvas jacket appropriate to the air, which smelled like salt and cedar and seemed about fifteen degrees cooler out here than it had back at Link Village. The long hair was gone, but he still had a full head of it. The soul patch was gone, but his face had squared up with age. Overall, he passed convincingly, Stephen thought, for what he was: a middle-aged megabillionaire social media CEO on holiday.

But the moment he saw them all, his face lit up, and the old Ryan resurfaced in a snap. He shot out his arms, shimmied his hips, and dance-walked toward them, grinning like a lunatic.

Emma cried out joyfully, sprinted toward him. Ryan laughed and swung her around, and then it was bear hugs and kisses and feinted gut punches for everybody, individually and in batches.

Stephen brought up the rear, and Ryan saw him coming. More than anything else in his life just then, Stephen did not want to do that thing from the movies where the two estranged old friends stare each other down like gunsling- ers, then suddenly grab each other in a big, manly, backslapping hug, but god- dammit that’s exactly what happened. Because it was Ryan.

Their Ryan. He felt a little bonier under the jacket than he looked from a distance. Like a longhaired cat that was mostly fur. Stephen couldn’t help think- ing of that too-big Fugazi T-shirt. Same old Ryan under there.

“Jesus, man,” Ryan said, a warm hand on Stephen’s neck. “Just. . . Jesus.” His eyes flickered up. “The gray looks good.”

“Ow,” Stephen said, rubbing a spot on his sternum where something hard and sharp had poked him during the clinch.

Ryan grinned. “Oh, yeah.”

He reached inside the jacket and pulled out a CD: Jane’s Addiction’s first album, liner insert faded, jewel case clouded with age.

He handed it to Stephen and said, “You left that in my car.”

They determined, on the tarmac path leading from the helipad down to the house, that it really had been approaching twenty years now since they’d all breathed the same air at the same time: Cape Cod, 2004, Will and Perry’s wed- ding, the same day the marriage law took effect in Massachusetts. This had still been a couple of years before the rise of Ryan Cloverhill and Link Labs, starting with that first humble social networking website and taking over the world from there. The inevitable after-college drift had started a while before that, of course. But their own little postsecondary Pangaea had yet to break apart into wholly separated continents, connected primarily by technology.

“I don’t even know where to start!” Lainie said. “I feel like I want to eat you all up.”

Will said, “Yikes.”

Ryan chuckled. “Well, we’ve got all weekend. Plus there’s lamb chops for dinner, so save some room. Come on, let me show you around.”

Down the path they went, as Jud stayed behind and unloaded their bags: the Stillwater Seven, reunited.

The house at the end of the path was a showpiece, no question, yet somehow— apart from its location—not overly ostentatious, by mansion standards: sixty-five hundred tasteful square feet in the perennially sought-after “midcentury modern” style. Two stories of clean angles and cantilevered planes, constructed of smooth concrete, with entire walls made of windows to capture the stunning 360-degree views.

At the mahogany front door, Ryan said, “I’ll show you your rooms and you can get settled in.” He opened the door, then turned and said, “But first things first.”

“God, it smells good in there,” Emma said.

“You just wait,” Ryan told her. “Luna’s risotto will put you in a coma.” He reached into the warm, golden mystery of the interior entryway behind him and produced a small wicker basket. “Now, my good friends, we come to the uncomfortable matter of . . . your devices.”

“Aw, come on,” Beau said. “Are we really doing that?”

“The sat-fi’s encrypted, and you probably won’t get a regular signal out here anyway, but still: the rules were clearly stated.”

“Yeah, but think of our feed!” Beau laughed, hooking an arm around Lainie, though Stephen could tell he wasn’t completely kidding. “This shit definitely puts us over the top with the people at Netflix.”

“Don’t mind him,” Lainie said, patting Beau’s midriff. “Our agent made us promise to ask.”

Stephen still had trouble getting his mind around it. Lainie and Beau Hemford: bona fide, self-made celebrity Linkstreamers. Having owned and operated a real estate agency in Laguna Beach for many years, they’d been old hands at producing their own local television spots by the time UpLink and Linkstamat came along. Like everyone else, they’d embraced the platforms as a cheaper, easier way to accomplish what had cost them an arm and a leg to accomplish before. But then a funny thing happened: little by little, the Hemfords became more popular as Link personalities than they’d ever been as Realtors.

Three or four years ago, they’d finally gone all in on building their online brand. They now traveled the world, ate a lot of food, wore a lot of clothing, and remodeled a lot of “life spaces” for increasingly well-to-do clients, which they packaged as half-hour episodes for their own UpLink series: ( I )n ( R)eal ( L)ife with Lainie and Beau. Their million-plus followers seemed to love their bantering luxury-couple dolce vita routine: Lainie starring as the long-suffering, sun-bleached, surf-milf shotcaller; Beau as the overconfident, equally sunbleached, know-it-all dunce who couldn’t seem to help falling ass-backward into flowers.

“I’ll make some calls later if it helps,” Ryan said. “This weekend’s just for us.

Fork ’em over.”

Will and Perry laughed and dropped their phones into the basket. Emma followed, then Stephen.

Ryan narrated as they passed the basket around: “Transport yourselves, if you will, to a time before. A time when hashtags were pound symbols. When computer screens, for those lucky enough to possess their own, had nothing but words on them. Bardsley College circa 1991, let’s say.”

The basket finally made its way to Blainey, collectively named’s “Linkstamat Lifestyle Power Couple” for June. Beau dropped his phone into the basket, handed the basket back to Ryan.

“And the watches.”

Beau sighed, trading the basket back and forth with Lainie as they each removed their smartwatches and dropped them in. Again, he extended the basket to Ryan.

Again, Ryan made no move to accept. “And the backup piece.”

Beau stared blankly, then rolled his eyes. “Oh, fine.” He pulled a second phone from his back pocket and dropped that in too. “Happy?”

“Jubilant,” Ryan said. He looked sternly at Lainie. Lainie showed her palms. “I’m clean!”

“Very well. You may enter.”

“All this from the Man Who Linked the World,” Beau said. “Incredible.”

“We’ll handle tablets and laptops after Jud brings up the luggage.” Emma said, “He can search me if you think it’s the wisest course.”

“Me too,” Will said.

“Somebody’s feeling better,” Perry said. “Good grief, when did this crew get so slutty?”

Emma laughed. “Not to worry. Something tells me Jud only has eyes for Kai anyway.”

Ryan said, “Oh? What makes you say that?”

“Just a hunch. But we definitely caught a vibe when he handed us off for the tour.”

Stephen said, “We did?”

“Ooh,” Lainie said. “Workplace romance. I love it.”

Ryan chuckled, tucking the basket full of smart devices under one arm. “I’m sure they’ll self-report to HR when appropriate. Meanwhile, I appreciate you being such good sports. I still can’t believe you’re all really here.”

Emma stepped in and gave him another squeeze. Ryan roped her in with his free arm and squeezed back. Then he stood to one side, opening the threshold for business.

“Welcome to Sham Rock,” he said.

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