Thursday, February 11, 2010
"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 8
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry, short chapter.
It really was a shock finding his body like that," Paige was saying. "You should have seen him. His eyes were bugged wide open. And his throat slit. He must have lost a lot of blood."
Barbara heaved a sigh. "Paige! Honey, must you go over the entire thing in such graphic details?" The Charmed One's mouth formed a moue.
Nick, who had used his lunch break as an opportunity to visit Ostera's, leaned against the store's front counter. He said to Paige, "And you say that the body was inside a locked apartment?"
"Yep." Paige nodded. "I even had to orb Phoebe and myself inside. Like I had told Barbara, we thought we heard voices from inside the apartment. Before we found the body. I mean, there was no way the killer could have gotten out without being seen by us, unless . . ."
Nick urged her to continue. "Unless what?"
"Unless some supernatural force was involved. Only what demon or warlock would want this guy dead?"
Barbara handed over purchased goods inside a plastic bag, over to Nick. "Maybe they were supernatural gay bashers," she commented.
"Gay bashers?" Nick frowned. "This guy was gay?"
Paige added, "According to Phoebe."
For the first time, Nick understood Portia's failure to seduce the columnist. DeWolfe Mann obviously had no interest in anyone of the opposite sex. Including a succubus. Perhaps her male counterpart - an incubus - would have done the trick. "Who knew?" he muttered under his breath.
Unfortunately, Barbara overheard him. "Knew what?" she asked.
"Uh . . . DeWolfe Mann. I uh, I've heard of him. I just didn't realize that he was . . . you know."
"Honey, this is San Francisco. Location of the biggest gay community in the world. DeWolfe Mann's sexual preference shouldn't have been that surprising. Maybe finding a heterosexual partner in this city."
Nick merely responded with a wan smile. Who could argue with the truth?
* * * *
Employees of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR took the news of DeWolfe Mann's murder with great shock. The portly columnist had seemed like the last person who would meet with a violent death. Mann had struck the others as too remote and disciplined to incite another to kill him. But once everyone had accepted the news, many began to express possible motives behind his murder.
The sports columnist Gunther Weiss, whom Olivia had once met, remembered that Mann had been a homosexual. "Clearly a case of gay bashing," he declared to the redheaded inspector. "Hasn't gay bashing been on the rise, lately? At least that's what I've heard. And Mann had never bothered to hide his homosexuality."
Olivia regarded the sports columnist with a speculative eye. "Gay bashing? Inside his apartment? Hmmm. Perhaps. But such cases usually involve some kind of physical assault or beating. There were no signs of a struggle inside Mr. Mann's apartment."
"But didn't some neighbor report a disturbance inside the apartment?" Weiss asked.
Shaking her head, Olivia replied, "Actually, a Mrs. Patio had reported hearing someone banging on Mr. Mann's apartment door. A woman. She didn't say anything about a disturbance from inside." Yet, despite Olivia's arguments, Weiss seemed convinced that DeWolfe Mann had been a victim of gay bashing.
Another staff reporter, also aware of Mann's sexual preference, offered another theory. That a lover had murdered Mann in a jealous fit. She seemed slightly disappointed when Darryl explained that the dead columnist had not been involved with anyone for nearly a year.
In the end, it was Phoebe who provided the information that they needed. "Paige and I were the ones who were overheard by that neighbor last night," she confessed. Darryl heaved a sigh and surreptiously closed the door to her office. "I had a premonition of Wolfie being killed. Unfortunately," she added in a remorseful tone, "Paige and I didn't get to him on time."
"You and Paige." Darryl frowned. He then shook his head. "So you two had originally discovered his body."
Phoebe nodded. "I think I had heard voices from inside his apartment, before we found him. One of them belonged to a woman, I think. But once Paige and I orbed inside, we only found Wolfie's body and no one else. And in my premonition, I saw a man's hand slit his throat."
"Are you saying there's a supernatural connection to Mr. Mann's death?" Olivia asked.
"How else can you explain voices from behind a closed door? And just before we found his body?"
Before Olivia could reply, the door swung open and in walked Jason Dean. "Phoebe, are you free on . . .?" He took one look at the visitors and paused. "Oh. I see you're with the police."
Olivia greeted her former boyfriend with a polite smile. "Hi Jace. It's nice to see you, too." To her amusement, the young publisher stiffened with discomfort.
Tension filled the office like thick fog. "Jason," Phoebe began, "you remember Olivia, don't you?"
Jason nodded uneasily. "Yeah, it's nice to see you, Olivia." He glanced at Darryl. "And you're Darryl, right? Darryl Morris?"
Darryl warmly shook the other man's hand. "Nice to see you, again."
The publisher suddenly became more business-like. "So, what can you tell me about this murder?"
Maintaining a polite smile, Darryl explained that he and Olivia had just been assigned to the case, this morning. "And I'm afraid that we can't disclose any information without the Department's authorization, at the moment. Or without Ms. Mann's."
A frown darkened Jason's countenance. Olivia recognized that look. It usually hinted Jason's stubborn inability to accept that some matters were beyond his control. "But as Mr. Mann's employer, surely I have a right . . ."
Olivia heaved a long and frustrated sigh. Out loud. "Jason. Please accept the fact that we cannot tell you everything. You'll just have to wait until we make our knowledge public like everyone else."
Jason struggled to hide his disappointment. And Olivia struggled to keep from smirking. God, she must really be evil. Finally, Jason assumed a polite mask. "Well. I guess I will. Excuse me." He started to turn away.
"Before you leave, Jace," Olivia said, barely keeping her amusement in check, "we have a few questions to ask you about Mr. Mann. Is there a time when you'll be available?" She gave him a sweet smile.
"Uh . . .questions?" Jason shook his head. "What can I tell you? Mann was a columnist and I'm the paper's publisher. I usually don't deal with my writers." Both Olivia and Darryl glanced at an uncomfortable-looking Phoebe. "Except on a personal basis, of course."
Olivia and Darryl's eyes met. "Uh, Mr. Dean," Darryl began, "I understand that you tend to be a hands-on publisher. You know, deal with your staff, personally." From underneath her lashes, Olivia's noticed Phoebe's growing discomfort.
"Who told you that?" Jason demanded.
Darryl hesitated before he coolly answered, "Mr. Mann's sister. And his attorney."
"Cole?" Phoebe said, sitting upright.
Nodding, Darryl continued, "Actually, both he and Ms. Mann had informed us about Mr. Dean's direct involvement in the paper's editorial process." He faced Jason. "Which apparently had led to clashes between you and Mr. Mann. So much so that according to his attorney, Mr. Turner, he had made plans to leave this paper."
"He can't!" Jason protested. He flushed slightly, obviously realizing he had spoken in the wrong tense. "What I meant was Mann wouldn't have been able to leave just like that. He had a five-year contract and had only been with the BAY-MIRROR for three years."
Olivia spoke up. "But according to . . . Mr. Turner, Mr. Mann was only obliged to work for three years. After that, he had the option to leave if and when he wanted. Apparently, Mr. Mann had been approached by the CHRONICLE." Poor Jason. He looked as if an oncoming truck had struck him without warning. At least Deborah Mann had been wrong about his possible knowledge of Mann's attempted defection.
"Jason didn't know about this," Phoebe cried, coming to her boyfriend's defense. "Isn't it obvious?"
Darryl calmly replied, "We understand, Phoe . . . Ms. Halliwell. We simply have to explore all possibilities in this investigation." He said to Jason, "And I'd like to add my thanks, Mr. Dean, for your cooperation."
A grunt left Jason's mouth as he nodded. Then he turned on his heels and left the office. Probably to check the contracts of his surviving columnists, Olivia sourly surmised. She and Darryl found themselves facing another outburst from Phoebe. "Was that really necessary?" she demanded angrily. "Attacking Jason like that?"
"C'mon Phoebe!" Darryl protested. "We were only doing our jobs."
Olivia added, "So far, Jason is the only one who seems like a potential suspect."
"And I bet that Cole was more than happy to give you that little information about Jason and Wolfie," Phoebe spit out.
Darryl sighed. "Actually, he only told us about the contract and the job offer. It was Deborah Mann who told us about the bad blood between Mann and Jason."
Phoebe insisted, "He didn't do it. Jason, I mean."
Gee! Talk about standing by one's man. "Phoebe, we realize that now," Olivia reassured the Charmed One. "Don't worry." She paused. "However, we . . . well, I was wondering if you and Paige would return to Mann's apartment. See if you can get a premonition of his killer."
Darryl stared at his partner in horror. "Are you kidding? How in the hell do you expect us to explain that we solved the case using magic? Especially if this comes to trial?"
"Look Darryl, I'm sure that we'll find a way. It's just . . . well, haven't you noticed something odd about this case? The body was found in a locked room. And Phoebe heard voices - including a woman's voice - before she and Paige had orbed inside the apartment. I don't know about you, but I find that very odd."
Phoebe added, "But it was a man who had killed Wolfie. At least a masculine hand."
Olivia nodded. "Right. Look, if Phoebe can find out who did it, all we have to do is collect the evidence to convict . . . him."
"But we have the button," Darryl protested. "That would easily convict the guy."
"Unless he turns out to be supernatural." Olivia paused. "Instead of arresting him, we might have to vanquish him."
Darryl's eyes rolled northward. "Great! Whatever happened to the good old days of a simple homicide?"
* * * *
Two days later, Nick burst into his apartment in a state of giddiness. "Eureka! Guess what I have?" he said to his guest.
A bored-looking Portia glanced up from the glossy fashion magazine she was reading. "Anything that will get me out of this dreadful place, I hope."
Ignoring the barb, Nick thrust another magazine into her face. A magazine titled, "JOBS TODAY". It was a weekly periodical that advertised white-collar jobs in the Bay Area. "Turn to page 12," he suggested.
Portia frowned at the Streghore, before flipping through the magazine. "What are you talk . . ." She paused. Her eyes grew wide. "Oh. A position is being advertised."
"That's right," Nick added. He sat next to Portia. "A position as food columnist for the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. DeWolfe Mann's old job is being offered. And you can apply for it on Monday."
"Why not tomorrow?"
Nick quickly replied, "Tomorrow is Saturday. Mann's editor probably won't be there, until Monday."
The succubus leaned back against the sofa and sighed. "Finally! I was beginning to fear that I would be stuck here, forever." Nick tried not to look crestfallen. And as usual - when faced with personal criticism - he failed. Portia noticed. "Oh please! Do not take my words, personally. I am simply not used to such . . . cramped living conditions. I need a bigger place to stay. Like a hotel suite." Her eyes brightened. "I know." She snapped her fingers.
Within an instant, Nick found himself standing in an alley, next to a tall building. Along with his suitcase. "What the . . . where are we?"
"Outside the Omni Hotel on Nob Hill," Portia explained. Three suitcases surrounded her. "I've decided to stay here during the remainder of my stay in San Francisco."
Nick cried out, "Are you . . . how in the hell do you expect me to pay for a room at the Omni? It's one of the city's most exclusive hotels!"
Portia rolled her eyes. "For heaven's sake! I will deal with the payment. Now, pick up my bags and we'll check in."
"But . . ." The succubus gave him a warning look. "Never mind." Nick sighed and picked up all four suitcases with a great deal of difficulty."
"Here, I will help you." Portia plucked one suitcase - the smallest - from Nick's grasp. "Cheer up," she continued. "Once we've checked in, we will do a little shopping. And come Monday, I will go to the offices of this BAY-MIRROR. It shouldn't be a problem. And within a few days, Bruce McNeill will be dead. And you will have your witch."
That was something to look forward to, Nick grumbled silently. And he followed Portia toward the hotel's entrance, while struggling with three suitcases.
END OF PART 8