"A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS"
Act III – Part 3
"Well, look who's here!" Olivia declared, as she greeted the newcomers. "I didn't think you guys would make it."
Sheila Morris replied, "Neither did we. Especially with these two scamps," she glanced at her two sons with deep affection, "giving us trouble. But we got here."
"So when does the ceremony begin?" Darryl asked.
Olivia replied, "Oh, in about another thirty minutes or . . ." She paused, as her eyes caught sight of two people standing near the refreshment table. Cole and Veronica Altman. Olivia saw the half-daemon whisper something in the woman's ear and walked away. "Excuse me," she said. As she began to walk away, Darryl stopped her.
"Wait a minute, Olivia," her partner said. "I've got some news." He turned to Sheila. "Honey, do you mind?" The other woman nodded and steered the Morrises' two sons away.
An impatient Olivia asked, "What is it?"
Darryl took a deep breath. "Look, the other reason why we were late is that I got a call from Scott Yi, this morning. He wanted to talk about our new task force for next month and he ended up giving me a piece of news. Apparently, a male stripper was found dead in front of his apartment building, last night. The corpse was burnt . . . like those two guards from Wednesday night. But a neighbor managed to identify him."
"A male stripper?" Olivia glanced at her partner. "Why would Scott Yi think you would be interested in one?"
With a shrug, Darryl continued, "He didn't . . . until I mentioned the wedding, along with the bachelor party and bridal shower. Get this. The victim's name was Lee Carver. According to Sheila . . ."
"That was the name of the stripper at P3, last night," Olivia murmured. A frown creased her forehead. "When was the body discovered?"
Darryl replied, "Between 8:40 and 8:55 p.m. The neighbor heard a commotion outside the building, before she went downstairs to investigate."
Between eight-forty and eight-fifty-five? Olivia recalled that the stripper first performance had occurred around 9:15. "But that's impossible!" she cried. "Carver had first performed after nine o'clock!
"What are you saying?" Darryl demanded. "That the stripper you saw wasn't Carver?"
Olivia gave her partner a knowing look. "What do you think? Nick Marcano escapes from jail. Claudia Della Scalla has been reported here in San Francisco . . ."
"Yeah, I know," Darryl added.
"Who told you?"
A third voice added, "I did." Olivia and Darryl glanced at the newcomer. It was Cole. "I told Darryl right after Riggerio had informed me. Last night. Warned me, as a matter of fact." His blue eyes bored into Olivia's. "Why? Is there a problem?"
Darryl told him about the circumstances surrounding Lee Carver's death. "And his body was discovered at least a half-hour before he performed at the bridal shower, at P3."
Cole's eyes narrowed. "Hmmm, sounds like the stripper at P3 was a shapeshifter." Then he glanced at Olivia. "So, you actually have male strippers at bridal showers?"
Olivia rolled her eyes in disgust. Darryl heaved a sigh. "Cole!"
"Okay, sorry." The half-daemon paused. "Uh, is there a reason why a shape shifter might be at a bridal party?"
"I have no idea," Olivia snapped. "And since nothing has happened since the party, I suggest that we look into the matter 'after' the wedding."
Cole and Darryl exchanged glances and shrugged. "Speaking of the wedding," the former continued, "when does the ceremony begin?"
Olivia's mouth curled into a sneer. "Getting impatient? Or is Bonnie?"
"Her name is Ronnie. Veronica," Cole shot back.
Olivia quirked a brow. "Whatever. Is she getting impatient?"
Cole smirked. "No. Do you care?"
Olivia glared at the half-daemon. Darryl spoke up. "I think I better get back to Sheila and the boys." He quickly walked away.
The witch and the half-daemon continued to exchange stares, until a voice called out, "Olivia?" It belonged to Paul, who had appeared before the pair. "Is everything okay?" He glared at Cole.
Touching Paul's arm, Olivia replied in a quiet voice, "Everything's fine. Let's get back to the garden." She led the other witch toward the wedding guests, fully aware of Cole's gaze upon her.
Cecile let out an exasperated sigh. No one would describe the McNeill house as huge. But it was certainly large enough for a person to get lost.
After a ten minute search for the greenhouse, Cecile began to realize that after years of visiting Olivia's family, she had never really seen every inch of the McNeill estate. She had visited the greenhouse on a few occasions, but for some reason, she could not remember where to find it. Maybe she should go . . .
"Cecile? Is that you?" A figure emerged from one of the rooms on the first floor. It was Olivia's former whitelighter. "It is you," he added. "I'm . . . do you know how I can get back to the garden? I think I'm lost."
"So am I," Cecile replied. "I'm looking for the greenhouse. Barbara's corsage is there."
Cecile continued, "But if you're trying to reach the garden, go that way." She pointed in the direction from which she came. "You should find the west wing drawing-room. That'll lead you to the garden."
Leo quietly thanked her and turned in the aforementioned direction. Then he paused. "By the way," he added, "Phoebe told me about your premonition. Have you told Olivia?"
The premonition. Oh God! Cecile began to regret that she had ever mentioned it. Andre and Paige had warned her about their revelation to Phoebe Halliwell. It seemed a miracle that neither Olivia, Cole or Paul knew. "No, I haven't," she said.
"Don't you think that you should?" the whitelighter insisted.
Cecile's eyes narrowed. "I'm not sure, yet. I've learned over the years, Leo, that it's sometimes smarter to keep your mouth shut. Especially when it comes to premonitions."
Disbelief shone in Leo's eyes. "Good grief, Cecile! You can't be serious! You've had a vision of Olivia vanquishing Cole! There must be a reason why you got it!"
"I don't know!" Leo continued. "Maybe . . . maybe it's a sign that Cole might be a danger to Olivia and Paul in the future."
"Or, it could be a sign that Olivia and Paul might be dangerous," Cecile snapped back. "May I remind you that I never saw Cole threatening anyone? And I got this vision after shaking Paul's hand! What if he proves to be the dangerous one? Maybe he'll find a way to convince Olivia to kill Cole. From what Paige has told me about him, it's possible."
Leo retorted, "Paul is a good man! A good witch! He would never . . ."
"Go overboard? Turn evil?" Cecile snorted with derision. "Why not? I almost did. So did Olivia. And also your wife, from what Olivia and Paige have told me."
Leo's face turned red. "Now wait a minute . . ."
Cecile continued in a cold voice, "No, you listen. I have no idea what my premonition means. But I'll be the one to tell Livy, not you or anyone else. And I'll decide when. If you open your mouth about this, you'll be having nightmares for the next two decades. I mean it, Leo!"
Silence hung like a heavy curtain, between the pair. Leo's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Fine," he murmured. "You tell her. But if Cole proves to . . ."
"I'll take the chance, Leo," Cecile interrupted. "I'll see you in the garden." She turned her back on the whitelighter and walked away. After another ten minutes had passed, she finally reached a door that led outside and toward the greenhouse. Cecile heaved a relieved sigh and strode toward the structure.
A blast of humid air hit her face, as she opened the door. Cecile hesitated momentarily before she entered the greenhouse. Rows of plants, flowers and various fruits and vegetables, greeted her eyes. Fearing a massive search on her hands, Cecile felt more than relieved when she spotted Barbara's corsage on a table, in front of orchids, hanging from rows of bushes. The corsage consisted of a beautiful combination of white orchids and red azaleas.
Cecile picked up the object of her search and started toward the door. She had not taken three steps, when she heard voices from the other side of the orchids. "The wedding ceremony should take place in another fifteen minutes or so," a woman's voice stated. "After that, the Padronessa should be married to the McNeill witch."
"What happens to the witch at the house?" a man's voice countered. "What's her name? Barbara? What happens to her?"
The woman replied, "The Padronessa has decided to give her to Signor Marcano."
A gasp left Cecile's mouth, before she could stop herself. The conversation stopped. She quickly started toward the door, but found her path blocked by two people. Strangers. "So," she began, "who are you, two? Guests?"
A fireball formed in the woman's right hand. The moment she threw it at Cecile, the latter quickly declared, "Deflect" in Yoruba, creating a magical shield. The fireball bounced against the shield and zinged back toward the woman. Flames engulfed her body, leaving a pile of dust.
"Talia!" the man cried out. His dark eyes narrowed, as they began to turn red. Sensing immediate danger, Cecile used her telepathy to deflect the incubus' attack. The latter's eyes reddened even further. But instead of engulfing Cecile in flames, his face began to smoke, until his entire body incinerated into a ball of fire.
Cecile let out a satisfied sigh. But the satisfaction did not last. Judging from the conversation she had just overheard, the blond-haired woman who was preparing to exchange vows with Bruce, was not Barbara Bowen. She had to warn Olivia, Andre, and Mr. Bowen. With the corsage still clutched in her hand, she continued toward the door, when something hard struck the back of her head. At that moment, everything faded to black.
The middle-aged woman entered Barbara's bedroom, holding a tray. "Good afternoon, signorina. I have lunch for you. I hope you will enjoy it. Fettucini Alfredo. It is the Padronessa's favorite."
"Thanks," Barbara replied morosely. For the umpteenth time in the past several hours, she wished she had her wand.
The servant continued, "And with it, there is garlic bread, and a Caesar salad."
While the woman continued to chatter, Barbara noticed the open door. She also spotted a small marble bust on the tallboy. The servant's attention seemed focused on the tray. ". . . to drink, a nice bottle of white Chianti. It is from the Padronessa's own vineyard. Very nice. And it would go very well with your lunch. I will just open it . . ."
Shooting one last surreptious glance at the other woman, Barbara snatched the bust and struck the back of the servant's head. The woman sunk to the floor. Then the blond-haired witch quickly stole out of the room. She closed the door and quietly locked it. As she made her way toward the staircase, a figure appeared in the hallway. It was a man. "You!" he cried. "What are you doing . . ." Barbara threw the statuette at the man, striking him squarely in the forehead. He crumbled to the ground.
Satisfied with her work, Barbara made her way downstairs to the first floor. A daemon materialized before her. Before he could even open his mouth, her fist struck him in the gut. He doubled over, giving Barbara the opportunity to finish the job with a blow to his jaw. He immediately toppled over.
Barbara realized that it was not safe to linger any longer and quickly rushed toward the front door. Before she could reach it, she heard a click. Glancing to her right, she saw Nick standing in the doorway of another room. Aiming a revolver at her.
"Don't take another step, Barbara," he warned. "Or I'll kill you."
A sneer curled her lips. "Oh really? Gee Nick, I thought you wanted to keep me alive. As your prize."
"I do." Nick strode toward her, his revolver still aimed at Barbara's head. "But letting you escape might possibly mean my death. Or a trip back to jail. I can't have that. So turn around and go back upstairs." Barbara hesitated. He fired the revolver and a bullet struck a vase against the wall, not far from her. "I mean it, Barbara."
Defeat overwhelming her, Barbara slowly turned around and headed toward the staircase. She realized that it was all up to Bruce and the others to save her. Hopefully, they would figure out that the bride was an imposter before it was too late.
END OF ACT III - Part 3