Saturday, August 16, 2014
"Breath of the Undead" [PG-13] - 3/15
"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
The black Porsche came to a halt near the end of the Giovanni driveway. A three-story gray stone manor rose before them. The couple inside the car heaved long-suffering sighs. "Here we are," Cole announced quietly.
A slight moan escaped from Olivia's mouth. "Must we really go inside? Maybe we can call the Giovannis and tell them that we came down with something. You know . . . lie. Or perhaps create clones of ourselves."
"A lie sounds like a good idea," Cole conceded. He leaned forward. "Now, if only we can . . ."
Before Cole could do anything further, the manor's front door opened. A dark-haired man dressed in a tailored gray suit stepped outside, followed by a manservant. "Cole! Olivia! Welcome! Xavier told me that he had spotted your car."
The couple exchanged brief looks of regret before climbing out of the Porsche. With an expansive smile fixed on his face, Cole greeted his client. "Mark, it's good to see you." He shook the other man's hand. "How was . . . uh, Fiji?"
Mark Giovanni's expression darkened slightly. "It could have been better. If I had been alone." Then his tone brightened. "And how was your honeymoon?"
Cole's smile became more genuine. "Very enjoyable." Olivia briefly caressed his forearm. "For both of us."
Olivia added, "I certainly enjoyed it."
Giovanni took hold of Olivia's hand and shook it. "Mrs. Turner," he greeted enthusiastically. Then he paused. "Or do you prefer your maiden . . .?"
Politely, Olivia interjected, "Mrs. Turner is just fine. What can I say? I'm a little old-fashioned."
The vintner escorted the couple inside the manor. Its interiors almost reminded Olivia of a museum - elegant, expensive and very ascetic. Almost chilly. The manor's décor reflected its mistress' taste and personality to a T. The manservant, Xavier, took Cole and Olivia's overcoats before Giovanni led them to an even more elegant drawing room.
"Pamela, our guests have arrived," the host said to his wife. "You remember Cole Turner, don't you?"
A thin, blond woman with equine features approached the visitors with a brittle smile. "Of course. How could I ever forget? And how is married life treating you?"
Cole returned Pamela Giovanni's polite smile, as he shook her hand. "Very well, thank you. And I'm sure that you remember my wife, Olivia?"
"Miss Mc . . . I mean, Mrs. Turner." Mrs. Giovanni regarded Olivia with chilly eyes. "It's nice to meet you, again."
The socialite then introduced her two children. The oldest Giovanni offspring turned out to be a pretty brunette in her early to mid twenties. Anna Giovanni not only possessed her father's dark looks, but also his warm and easy-going manner.
One could not say the same about the family's only son - Alonzo Giovanni. The twenty-one year-old had obviously inherited his mother's blond hair and angular features. He also possessed Pamela Giovanni's brittle personality. Not long after introductions had been made, Olivia saw Alonzo draw Cole into a private corner for a brief conversation. Apparently, so did Mr. Giovanni. The wine maker kept a surreptious eye on his son and attorney, while discussing the family's recent trip to Fiji.
Judging from young Alonzo's expression, his conversation with Cole must have ended in disappointment. He seemed bent upon projecting his mother's brittle and cold manner toward the half-daemon. On the other hand, the college junior seemed taken by Olivia. She had great difficulty in returning his feelings, given his penchant of "accidentally" brushing his arm against the side of her breast. After the third time, Olivia "accidentally" grounded the 1 1/2 heel of one of her shoes into the young man's foot. Alonzo cried out in pain. Feigning remorse, Olivia exclaimed, "Oh my God! Are you hurt?"
"No! No . . . I'm . . . I'm fine," the blond man muttered with a clenched jaw. "I'm okay."
Olivia added, "Perhaps you should check your foot. In case I'd hit a nerve or something. I mean . . . I had stepped on it pretty hard." Wariness gleamed in the young man's eyes, as Olivia flashed her most sympathetic smile. After he limped out of the room, she turned to the others with a sheepish expression. "I think I may have hurt him. I really should watch where I step."
"Hmmm . . . perhaps you should," Mrs. Giovanni coolly replied.
A smirk briefly appeared on Cole's face, as Olivia met his gaze.
Janet Hui and her live-in boyfriend co-owned a two-story Victorian house in the middle of San Francisco's Outer Richmond neighborhood - not far from the Halliwell manor on Prescott Street. Harry had to admit that he found Janet's home very impressive. She and her boyfriend had decorated the house with tasteful mid-19th century furnishings and antiques that gave it an elegant, yet warm aura.
"This is absolutely beautiful," Harry declared, gazing at a Murano glass vase locked inside a rosewood cabinet. "Where did you get this?"
A satisfied smile touched Janet's lips. "In Venice. Ron and I took a trip to Italy, last September. We managed to get it for a pretty cheap price."
Harry turned to his girlfriend, who remained seated on a nearby sofa. "Say Paige, you should see this." He added to Janet, "She has a real artistic eye. In fact, she's a pretty good artist, herself."
"Really?" Janet glanced over her shoulder to smile at Paige.
The Charmed One merely responded with a slight smile. Harry sighed. For some reason, Paige seemed to feel threatened by Janet's presence. Which did not make sense to Harry. After all, he had informed Paige that his so-called romance with Janet had only lasted one month. After their break-up, the pair remained close friends. And with Janet now involved with her live-in lover . . .
"Okay everyone!" A Eurasian male of medium height and light brown eyes strode into the living room. "Dinner is ready."
The four people started toward the dining room. "Ron happens to be a great cook, by the way," Janet commented. "His dad owns a restaurant on Grant. The Lotus Palace."
The name struck a familiar chord with Harry. He recalled an elegant Chinese restaurant on Grant, near Jackson. It served both Mandarin and Cantonese cuisine. "I think I may have been there a few times," the redhead commented. "Great food." Once inside the elegant dining room, Harry eyed the meal spread out on the table. "And this looks pretty good, too." He sat down, along with the others.
Ronald Wong, Janet's boyfriend, smiled. "Thanks. That's quite a compliment coming from a guy whose mother and brother are world-renowned chefs."
Janet rolled her eyes. "Good grief! Ron, I know I had asked you to be polite, but don't you think you're laying it on a bit thick?"
"I happened to be a big fan of Gweneth McNeill's," Ronald protested. "Remember when I had taken you to the Golden Horn for our second anniversary dinner?"
One of Harry's brows formed an arch. "Second anniversary? I didn't realize that you two were married."
Ronald shook his head. "We're just living together . . . much to my dad's horror. It'll be three years, next July." He paused to pick up a platter of meat. "So, is anyone in the mood for chicken breast?"
Dinner turned out to be a delicious affair - Chicken Breast Stuffed with Lamb Mousse, Marinated Artichoke Hearts and Mushrooms, Chateau Potatoes and a salad. "Wow! This is great!" Paige exclaimed between mouthfuls. "If you're not a chef, you're in the wrong profession."
The compliment seemed to please Ronald. However, he responded with the appropriate modesty. "Thanks. I was lucky to get out of court early to work on this stuff. Especially with a new trial starting. Of course, I doubt that I'm in the same class as Harry's mom and brother."
"You could probably give them stiff competition," Harry commented. "You never thought of becoming a chef?" He took a bite of chicken breast.
Janet chuckled. "If you only knew."
After a pause, Janet continued, "Mr. Wong had wanted Ron to join him in the family restaurant. But Ron didn't want to. Instead, his younger brother ended up becoming a chef."
Paige asked both Janet and Ron, "What exactly do you two do for a living?"
"We're both attorneys," Ron answered.
Janet added, "Only I work for a private firm - Jackman, Carter and Kline." Both Harry and Paige exchanged knowing looks, which Janet caught. "What? Don't tell me that you've heard of the place."
Harry cleared his throat. "My brother-in-law works there. Cole Turner."
Janet's eyes grew wide. "Of course! I had forgotten that he had married your sister. He's one of the firm's star attorneys. Ron, on the other hand, works for the U.S. Government. The Justice Department. He's involved in a high profile case."
Rolling his eyes, Ron protested, "It's not that big. I'm not even first chair on the prosecution team."
"What's the case?" Harry asked.
A paused followed before Ronald finally answered, "The Curt Decker case. Drug manufacturing and trafficking."
Harry whistled loudly. "That's pretty high profile. I was surprised that the law had finally caught up with one member of the Decker family."
"Can we talk about something else, please?" Janet begged. "I've been hearing nothing else but Curt Decker for the past four months."
Silence followed before Paige asked Janet a question. "Can you cook like Ron?"
Recalling his former girlfriend's past forays into cooking, Harry unintentionally snickered aloud. Janet glared at him, while an amused smile appeared on Ronald's face. "Let's just say that cooking was never one of my natural talents," she replied huffily.
You can say that again, Harry added silently. However, he wisely kept such thoughts to himself.
"He's not such a bad guy," Ronald commented later to Janet. Their two guests had just departed for the evening. And the couple retired to the kitchen to clean the dishes. "Harry, I mean."
Janet nodded. "Just as I had told you. The McNeills are what I would consider a rare breed amongst the rich - decent people."
Ron asked, "Then why did you break up with Harry, if he's that great?"
"I'd realized at the tender age of nineteen that I wasn't into narcissist relationships."
Janet sighed. "Harry and I . . . we're too alike."
Ronald nodded. "Oh."
Janet continued, "Besides, he now has Paige."
Under his breath, Ron murmured, "Yeah, but for how long?"
A frowning Janet demanded, "What do you mean?"
"Didn't you notice how uncomfortable she seemed this evening?" Ron continued. "At first, I thought she was simply jealous of your old relationship with Harry. But when we had started talking about our careers, she practically fell silent. I get the feeling that Harry might be a little out of her depth."
Recalling Harry's family secret, Janet sniffed. "Maybe. I hope not . . . for Harry's sake." She opened the refrigerator and peered inside. "Damn! We're out of orange juice."
"I'll get some, tomorrow morning," Ron promised.
The young woman turned pleading eyes upon her boyfriend. "Couldn't you get some, tonight? It's only . . ." She peered at her watch. ". . . ten-forty."
A heavy sigh left Ronald's mouth. "All right. Larkin's Café should still be opened." He reached inside his pockets for car keys. "I'll be right back." Then Ronald pecked Janet's cheek and left the kitchen.
Bourgh paused before the trendy café on Balboa Street before entering. He glanced around the café's dining area, until his eyes fell upon a lone man at one table near the far corner. Slender, the man seemed to be in his early thirties. The latter also possessed thinning brown hair and intelligent sharp eyes peered from a rather bland and pale face.
The judge nervously cleared his throat before making his way toward the stranger. "Excuse me," he began, "are you . . . Cedric Lloyd?"
Sharp gray eyes peered at the judge. "Yes. And you must be William Bourgh." He smiled and held up his hand. "How do you do?"
Bourgh ignored the offered hand and sat down in an empty chair opposite the other man. "So, Mr. Lloyd . . . what do you want from me?"
"Your help." Lloyd took a sip of his coffee. "I need your help regarding a future case."
Frowning, Bourgh shook his head. "What future case? What are you . . .?"
Lloyd cleared his throat. "Let me explain. My client has been interested in a particular piece of property near Oakville. So far, the property has eluded his grasp. As a last resort, I plan to ask the Federal government to declare Eminent Domainover the property. Which is owned by someone you've obviously heard of - Mark Giovanni."
The name struck a very familiar chord to Bourgh. "Mark Giovanni," he murmured. "Of Giovanni Vineyards?" A thought came to him. "Wait a minute! Oakville? As in Santa Rosa County?"
Lloyd smile, looking like the Cheshire cat. "I see that you're familiar with Mr. Giovanni."
"Well, of course!" Bourgh retorted haughtily. "We run in the same circles. In fact, my wife and I had encountered his family in Fiji, last month." He paused, frowning at the other man. "Oakville. That's under . . ."
With a flourish, Lloyd finished, ". . . under your jurisdiction. Yes, I'm well aware of that. Along with some of your transgressions." Bastard.
Bourgh stared at the younger man in disbelief. "Wait a minute! Even if you ask the Federal courts to declare Eminent Domain over Giovanni's property, there is a small chance that the case will end up with me."
A sigh left Lloyd's mouth. "Please, your honor. Let's not play games. We're both aware the chances of this case ending up in your docket are very strong. And when it does, my client and I hope that you will rule in his favor." He paused, as an air of menace surrounded him. "Unless you have other plans?"
Memories of the bills, the photographs and the CD-ROM disk flashed in Bourgh's mind. "No," he murmured. "I don't."
"Good." Lloyd took another sip of his coffee. "My client also assures you that your help will be greatly awarded." Bourgh stared at him. "Let's just say that a share in his company will guarantee you security for the rest of your life."
A share? Bourgh wondered how much this particular stock share would be worth. He sighed and averted his eyes. The sooner this Giovanni matter ended, the better. He only hoped that Lloyd's client would not use this offer of stocks and the material in the yellow envelope for long-term blackm . . .
The door to the café swung open and in walked a nightmare. Bourgh inhaled sharply at the sight of a familiar figure approaching the counter. It happened to be one of the prosecutors of his new case - Ronald Wong. Dammit! He had to get out of here! A panic-struck Bourgh glanced around for another exit.
"What's wrong?" Lloyd demanded, staring at him.
Anxiously, Bourgh replied, "That man. The one who had just walked in. I know him."
Lloyd frowned at the Eurasian man. "Who is he?"
"His name is Ronald Wong." Bourgh released a gust of breath. "He's one of the prosecutors for the new case I'm now presiding over."
At that moment, Wong glanced to his side. His eyes widened with surprise at the sight of Bourgh. "Oh God!" the latter hissed frantically. "He's seen me! Sorry, but the deal's off!"
"Wait a minute!" Lloyd protested. "Not so fast. I doubt that this . . . Mr. Wong will remember you from tonight, once my case ends up before you."
"I can't take the chance." Bourgh rose to his feet. "I would rather my wife find out about my affairs than end up in prison on corruption charges. Sorry." He glanced at the counter. Wong had left. He sighed. "It was nice meeting you, Mr. Lloyd." And the judge walked out of the café before his companion could stop him."
A slightly intoxicated man stumbled out of a bar. Bernard Remar glanced to his left and then to his right. Where could his car be? His befuddled mind suggested that perhaps he had left his car in the nearby alley.
Weaving uneasily, Bernard slowly made his way toward an alley, several yards away from the bar. As he entered, his eyes caught sight of something up ahead. A dark shape. Was it his car? Or . . .?"
Bernard paused in his tracks. He peered at the dark image. Hmmm . . . Perhaps he had been wrong to assume that his car would be in this alley. Instead of a car, there seemed to be a human standing before him. A human that . . . hopped? Bernard peered closer. A human with long hair, long fingernails and red . . .
A scream poured from Bernard's mouth, as long claws stretched forth and grabbed his throat.
END OF CHAPTER THREE