Friday, January 30, 2009

"Return With a Vengeance " [PG-13] - 6/18



The unmarked police car eased to a stop near the alley's entrance. Darryl Morris switched off the engine and sighed. To be more accurate, he yawned. His partner frowned at him. "That's the fourth time you've yawned this morning, Darryl. Didn't you get any sleep?"

Darryl grumbled, "I would have . . . if I hadn't found a whitelighter inside my bedroom, last night."

Both Olivia and Cecile, who sat in the car's back seat, gaped at the man behind the wheel. "Leo was in your bedroom?"

"Yes," Darryl hissed through clenched teeth. At least they looked clenched to Cecile. "Do you have any idea what a shock that was? Good Lord! If Sheila had woke up . . . or even worse, if we had been . . ." He sighed. "Never mind."

Laughter burst from Olivia's mouth. Cecile struggled to keep her own in check. "Ohmigod!" the redhead cried out, between her laughter. "Now that would have been a sight to see." Darryl glared at her. "Hey, don't look at me! I didn't give him the idea. Nor was I the one who had insisted upon seeing Phoebe."

Darryl heaved another long-suffering sigh. "Look, could you please ask him not to do that again?"

"You tell him. You see him more than I do."

After shooting Olivia one last glare, Darryl opened the car door and climbed out. Olivia followed. Cecile decided to remain inside the car. When she had asked the pair if she could accompany them on a call, she had no idea that it would involve a corpse. And she was not in the mood to face one. Not after last night's scare.

From the back seat, Cecile watched Olivia and Darryl approach a crowd that had gathered in the alley. Minutes passed. More police officials joined the group. Two uniformed cops kept the onlookers at bay. One particular man attracted Cecile's attention. He was a tall, thin young man in his mid-twenties. His height, slender build, dark hair and sleek wardrobe made him stand out in the crowd. But it was his eyes that really interested Cecile. They were intense, dark - almost black and possessed an air of menace. Cecile glanced away for a second. When her eyes returned to the crowd, the stranger had disappeared. Twenty minutes after being in the car alone, Cecile became restless. "Screw this," she murmured to herself, before climbing out of the car.

Cecile tried to reach Olivia and Darryl, but one of the uniformed cops blocked her way. Even worse, she had to stand by and watch a pair from the city morgue carry the sheet-covered body on a gurney. Just as the gurney bumped her leg, a vision struck Olivia. It involved the dark-haired stranger. He approached a Latino man, carrying a dagger. The stranger plunged the dagger into the other man's stomach. Cecile gasped aloud, stumbled backward, and vision disappeared.

* * * *

"The police has discovered the body," Rudolf announced to his fellow warlocks. "In the very place where I had dumped it. That McNeill witch was there with her partner."

Edward nodded. "Good. Now that our little problem has been disposed, we can continue with our plans." He removed the top of the small crate that sat on his desk. Then he reached inside.

"We still have another problem," a belligerent Henry retorted. "Ben Mallard. You should have him killed. Now!"

Rudolf glared at his cousin. "Uncle Edward has made it clear that we might need Mallard for future shipments," he said in a hard voice. "And that he is to remain alive, until he becomes a liability. Understand?"

Henry responded with his own death glare, before he brought up another problem. Namely Suzanne's failure with Belthazor. "Why didn't you give him the potion, like you were supposed to?" he demanded.

"You really are determined to be a pain in the ass, aren't you?" Suzanne shot back. "If you must know, I only met him for the first time, yesterday. And how do you expect me to give him the potion, when his secretary was the one serving drinks? Besides, he had other plans, last night."

"What about tonight?"

Suzanne heaved an exasperated sigh. "I left a message with secretary, but has not returned my call. At least not yet."

Henry suggested morosely, "Perhaps he's on to you."

A sneer marred Suzanne's beautiful face. "You know, Mother was right about you. You are a moaning Minnie."

Edward roared, "Enough!" He pulled an object from inside the crate. It was a reddish-brown urn - or it seemed like one to Rudolf, despite its crude shape. His uncle placed the object on the desk. "Voila!"

The other warlocks stared at it. "What is it?" Rudolf asked.

"An urn, of course. It holds the remains of a powerful 18th century bokor."

Suzanne frowned. "A what?"

"A bokor. A West African sorcerer, who practices black magic." Edward continued, "The fellow inside this urn was named Dako. He was extremely powerful. A Vodoun priest or houngan finally vanquished him nearly 250 years ago. Although Dako's physical remains were destroyed, a friend of mine from Benin - another bokor - managed to summon his spirit and place it in this urn. When I had told him about what happened to our coven, he suggested that I use our new friend to solve our little problem with the Charmed Ones and the McNeills. They will be no match against Dako. All we need to do is find a host body."

Silence filled the office. Then Suzanne asked, "And who will that be?"

"Not one of us. I won't take the chance of Dako taking control of our bodies. However," Edward paused, "that nice police inspector whom Rudolf saw with Olivia McNeill might prove to be perfect. He's expendable, mortal and he has connections to both families."

Henry asked, "If this Dako is so powerful, how do we control him, once he kills the witches?"

Edward removed an envelope from the crate. "With this. My friend William, provided me with a spell to vanquish Dako, once the witches are dead. Of course, Dako's host body will be killed in the process, but . . . who cares?" He smiled.

The telephone rang. Suzanne picked up the receiver and talked for a few minutes. Rudolf and the other warlocks watched. After she hung up, Suzanne faced the others, wearing a smug smile. "Guess who just called."

"Mr. Cole Turner?" Edward guessed.

Suzanne's smile grew wider. "Very good! It seems Mr. Turner has invited me for dinner. Tonight."

* * * *

The two sisters stood in front of the large oak door that led inside the McNeill manor. A green wreath made from evergreen and trimmed with a red ribbon, hung on the door. Piper rang the doorbell.

"Why am I here?" she murmured, half to herself. "Why did I let Leo and Phoebe talk me into this?"

Paige gave Piper's shoulder a reassuring pat. "Because you love them both. And you want to help Leo with his job."

Piper glared at her youngest sister. Finally, the door opened. The McNeills' manservant, Davies, stepped forward. He immediately recognized the visitors. "Mrs. Wyatt, Miss Halliwelll, how may I help you?"

Despite her familiarity with the McNeill family over the past month, Piper never failed to feel slightly intimidated by Davies' appearance. She stammered briefly, before answering. "Uh, is Mrs. McNeill in? Either one?"

"The elder Mrs. McNeill is home." Davies swung the door wide open, allowing Piper and Paige to enter the house. Suitcases were scattered about the foyer. The manservant explained, "Mrs. McNeill is leaving for a trip, today. To Palm Beach."

Paige gave Davies a vague smile. "Oh, Miami. Sounds nice. I guess she'll be visiting friends, huh?"

Davies gave her a long stare. Discomfort flitted across Paige's countenance. "No, her sister. In Palm Beach, not Miami."

Piper allowed a small gust of breath to escape her mouth. Then she and Paige followed Davies into the McNeills' wide drawing room. The found the family's matriarch and her son examining packages.

"I think I might have overdid it with the shopping," Elise McNeill was saying. "Well, it is the Christmas season. But you know your aunt; she'll lecture me about spending too much money on presents. She does it every year."

Davies coughed slightly, attracting the pair's attention. "Pardon me, Mr. Jack, Mrs. McNeill. You have visitors."

'Mr. Jack?' Paige mouthed the words. Piper squeezed her sister's fingers, warning the latter to keep quiet. Then she silently damned her husband for persuading her into this visit, and smiled at the McNeills. "Hello!" she greeted politely.

The McNeills expressed delight at the Halliwells' presence. Piper felt a small semblance of relief. "Well, hello! What are you doing here?" Mrs. McNeill asked. "We haven't seen you in three weeks. And where is Phoebe? Oh, I forgot! She must be working."

"So many questions," Paige murmured.

Piper gave her sister a quick jab in the side and answered, "Actually, Phoebe is on vacation, this week. But she had an errand, today. And as for our visit, well . . ." Piper and Paige exchanged uneasy glances.

"Oh. I gather this isn't a social call?" Jack McNeill asked.

Paige added, "Well, not quite. It has to do with . . ."

"With Olivia," Piper finished. She shot her sister a quick glare for jumping the gun. "And Cole."

The McNeills each gave the sisters a penetrating stare. Mrs. McNeill invited them to sit down on the sofa. Which both did. Piper felt as if she was being eaten alive by the cushions.

"So," Mr. McNeill coolly added, "What exactly is the problem with Olivia and Cole?"

Piper took a deep breath. "Well, Leo has been very concerned about Olivia's friendship with Cole. We've had some . . . uh, some bad experiences with in the past."

"When he was the Source," Paige added.

Again, Piper glared at her sister. "Yeah, and Leo doesn't want the same or something similar to happen to Olivia."

Mother and son exchanged confused glances. "What are you saying? That Olivia might become the Queen of Daemons or something?" Jack McNeill asked. "And why isn't Leo talking to Olivia about all this? Why is he even concerned? He stopped being her whitelighter years ago."

Both Piper and Paige looked embarrassed. "Uh, Leo has already talked to Olivia," the former answered. "And apparently, Olivia saw no reason to be concerned about Cole."

"Well, we trust Olivia's judgment," Mrs. McNeill said. "She's always been a good judge of character."

Piper found the old lady's lack of concern, disturbing. "I'm sure that she is, Mrs. McNeill, but this is Cole we're talking about. He's very dangerous."

"Yeah," Paige added. "I mean, he was the Source of All Evil for two months. He put Phoebe through a lot of hell. And these new powers he got from the Wasteland have made him very powerful. More powerful than the Source."

Mrs. McNeill stared at Paige with cool eyes. "Weren't you the one responsible for stripping those powers from him, back in October?"

Paige looked uncomfortable. "Well, yeah. He wanted to be good . . . and I didn't mind helping him. Both of us were being brainwashed by this demon of fear named . . ."

"Barbas," Mrs. McNeill finished. "Yes, I've known about Barbas for decades. And Cole told us about your last brush with him. Through his memories. Don't forget, I'm a telepath."

Piper spoke uneasily, "But Cole has the power . . ."

"To control the minds of others? Yes, I know. So did Barbas. But neither is powerful enough to keep a strong telepath from reading their thoughts. And if Barbas can manipulate Cole's mind from some daemonic dimension . . ." She paused. "Well, you get the picture, right?"

Again, Piper and Paige exchanged uneasy glances. The oldest Halliwell remarked, "Listen, I realize that all of you view Cole as trustworthy, because he saved Olivia's life. And because he helped her and Harry save us from the Crozats, last . . ."

"Don't worry. We're all well aware of Cole's past," Mr. McNeill said, interrupting. "And we all know about his experiences as the Source. And what happened to Ed Miller."

Piper gawked at the middle-aged man. "And you're still willing to . . .?"

"Give him another chance?" Mrs. McNeill finished curtly. "Why not? Especially since he seems genuine in his desire for another chance." Shocked by the woman's revelation, Piper stared at her in silence. Then Mrs. McNeill added, "May I ask you two a question? Do you know exactly how Cole became the Source?"

Finally, something she could respond to! Piper recovered from her state of shock and replied, "Well, yes. He used something called the Hollow to absorb the Source's powers."

"But he didn't become the Source, until the old one's death. Right?"

A brief silence fell between the two sisters. "What do you mean?" a frowning Paige asked.

Mr. McNeill sighed. "My mother is simply wondering if you knew that absorbing the Source's powers after using the Hollow did not automatically make him the new Source. I mean if that were possible, you would have killed him that night in your attic and not the old Source. After all, the old Source didn't become a Charmed One when he absorbed your powers, did he?"

Even Piper had to admit that the man had a point. "So when did Cole . . .?"

"Become the Source? Probably after you killed the old one. The old Source's essence simply took over his body."

Piper had a deep suspicion what this was leading to. The possibility that Cole had become the Source against his will. That did not change the fact that Cole deliberately used the Hollow - at least in her eyes. And she said this to the McNeills.

Both mother and son stared at Piper in disbelief. Making her feel very uncomfortable. "Excuse me, but you did just hear what Jack said about the Hollow, didn't you?" Mrs. McNeill said in her usual pointed manner.

A sigh left Piper's mouth. She began to feel that this whole trip had been a waste of time. "Mrs. McNeill," she began.

"You must really dislike him very much. Cole, I mean." The old lady sighed. "I guess that is understandable, considering how you all first met." Her blue-gray eyes pinned Piper. "But I get this feeling that none of you really know what happened. I wonder. Did you kill him, because you had no choice? Or because your personal feelings got into the way?"

That was it! Piper decided that she had enough of the McNeills' self-righteousness. Rising to her feet, she coolly announced that it was time for her and Paige to leave. "We've taken enough of your time. Paige." To Piper's surprise, Paige remained glued to the sofa, wearing a stunned expression. "Paige! We're leaving."

"Huh?" Paige finally snapped out of her trance. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Sorry." She stood up.

"I'm sorry that you have to leave so soon," Elise McNeill politely remarked. "It seems that whenever you visit, we never get a chance to talk about your grandmother. Perhaps someday."

In your dreams, Piper silently retorted. She felt a sudden burst of shame. Grams would be appalled by her feelings toward an old friend. Especially a close friend like Elise McNeill. Still . . . Outrage replaced the remorse within her. Old friend or not, Mrs. McNeill had no business making an assumption about her feelings toward Cole.

"Yeah," the oldest Halliwell murmured, "well perhaps. We'll be seeing you. Sometime. Paige?" Piper turned on her heels and strode toward the doorway. She overheard Paige bid the McNeills good-bye and follow her. Leo, she angrily concluded, had a lot to answer for, today. A lot.

* * * *

"Why would anyone go to the trouble of killing a janitor and dumping his body in an alley?" Darryl asked. "The victim had obviously been stabbed. Even if there's no sign of blood or a struggle." His eyes scanned the crime scene.

Olivia shrugged. "Maybe the killer wanted to draw attention away from the real crime scene."

"If that was his intent," Darryl commented, "he or she failed. The killer forgot to remove the janitor's uniform. Which has a name tag."

"And the victim's name?"

Darryl consulted his notebook. "Someone named Alvarez, who worked for the Hopkins Building." He glanced at Cecile, who had returned to the squad car. "I wonder what happened to her. She looks shaken. Think she had one of those . . .?"

Olivia shot back, "I'm sure that we'll find out, soon."

A third figure approached the two partners. Olivia recognized one of the precinct's forensic pathologists, Deborah Liu. "Hey Deb!" she cried. "What have you got?"

"Stab wounds," the pretty, thirty-something woman answered.

Olivia rolled her eyes. "We can see that. Anything interesting?"

"Something odd about the stab wound. And yet, very familiar."

Darryl frowned at the pathologist. "Such as?"

Inspector Liu continued, "Remember those string of murders that hit the city, last month? Bodies that were found in Lafayette Park, Candlestick Park . . ." Olivia knew what she was referring to - murders of witches committed by the Crozat coven. "Anyway, the weapon used on your victim, here, is similar to the one used on those from last month. I think your killer is back." She walked away.

Olivia turned to Darryl and sighed. "Looks like the Crozats are definitely back."

The two partners approached their car. Olivia knocked on the backseat window. Which Cecile rolled down. The latter seemed to be sketching a picture on a sheet of paper. Olivia pointed at the picture. "What are you doing?"

Cecile thrust the sheet of paper at Olivia. "Drawing a picture of the killer. I had a vision of him stabbing the victim, when the latter was being taken away."

Olivia stared at the sketch. With a heavy heart, she recognized the subject. "Oh God," she murmured.

"You recognize him?" Darryl demanded. He leaned over Olivia's shoulder.

"Oh yeah. That's the warlock whom Cole had turned into a pebble, outside the Tower Bay warehouse, three weeks ago. Oh well, at least we now know that he's definitely still alive." Darryl glared at her. "Trust me, that wasn't a joke."


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