Wednesday, August 27, 2014
"Breath of the Undead" [PG-13] - 4/15
"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
Piper glanced up and saw Paige enter the kitchen. "Hey yourself. How was dinner, last night?"
A grunt escaped from Paige's mouth.
"That bad, huh?" Piper removed two eggs from the refrigerator. "Well, I'll make it up to you with some nice . . ."
Paige heaved a large sigh. "Dinner was fine," she grumbled. "In fact, it was a five-star meal."
Piper felt a small stab of jealousy. "Oh? So, Harry's ex-girlfriend must be quite the cook."
"She can't cook worth a damn," Paige grumbled. "At least according to Harry. Her . . . boyfriend cooked the dinner. Chicken Breast Stuffed with Lamb Mousse."
Piper blinked. "Chicken Breast Stuff With . . . huh. Wow!" Then a thought came to her. "Is this boyfriend a chef?"
"Nope. He's a lawyer. Prosecutor for the Feds."
The older woman noticed the gloomy expression on her half-sister's face. She cracked the eggs into a small bowl. "Let's see. Harry's old girlfriend has her own boyfriend. Who also happens to be a fabulous cook. So . . . why the long face?"
Grumbling, Paige shot back, "I don't have a long face."
"Fine." Piper resumed her preparation of breakfast. "So, what do you want with your omelet? Ham? Cheese?"
A sigh left Paige's mouth. "Cheese will be fine. Along with red and green peppers." Again, she sighed.
Exasperated by her sister's moodiness, Piper slammed an egg-coated fork on the counter. "Okay, Paige! What the hell is wrong? What happened last night?"
"Nothing happened, Piper," the younger woman replied coolly. "Except I had to spend most of last night listening to Harry and the others talk about their careers. It made me realize that I was the only person in that room, making less than thirty thousand dollars a year."
So that was it. Piper let out a gust of breath. "Honey, you don't have anything to feel ashamed about. You're a college graduate from . . ."
"A college graduate, who happens to be a shop's assistant, Piper!" Paige retorted. "Because I had made the stupid mistake of giving up my career!"
Piper realized that appeasing her sister's bitterness might be more difficult than she had imagined. "But you had done it to become a full time witch. Remember?"
"Gee, that's just swell, Piper! Except I've learned that being a full time witch doesn't mean learning sixteen different ways to kill a demon!"
Piper retorted, "Look Paige, you're one of the Charmed Ones. One of the most powerful witches ever. And whether you like it or not that means that you have a duty to be a protector of the innocent!"
Sneering, Paige shot back, "Well, isn't that peachy? That makes me feel soooo much better to hear this speech from someone who, deep down, doesn't give a rat's ass about being a witch!"
That went well. Or not. After taking a few breaths, Piper said in a calm voice, "Paige, I realize that you're feeling a little blue right now. I've gone through this, myself. You're disappointed that your life didn't turn out as you had expected. Hey! I wanted to be a chef and restaurant owner. Instead, I own a nightclub. But . . ."
"But what, Piper?" Paige's sneer grew more pronounced. "Are you trying to tell me that I should be thankful for being a'protector of innocence'? Barbara thinks it's a joke. So do Harry and Olivia, even though they haven't said anything. Or maybe I should be thankful that I have a regular job, despite giving up a better one?"
A long pause followed before Piper quietly said, "Maybe you should be thankful that you have two sisters who love you."
Paige's dark eyes glittered with an emotion that made Piper feel uneasy. "Do you?" the younger woman murmured. "Was that the reason why you had finally invited me stay here in the house? Or why you and Phoebe had convinced me to become a witch? Because you love me? Or because you needed a third sister to replace Prue and revive the Charmed Ones?" She paused and shook her head. "You want to know something, Piper? There are times . . ." Paige broke off and heaved a sigh. "Never mind."
But Piper needed to hear what Paige had meant to say. "Never mind . . . what?"
Rolling her eyes, Paige merely replied, "Trust me, Piper. You don't want to know." She rose to her feet. "You can have my omelet. I'm going to work." She marched out of the kitchen, leaving behind a very stunned Piper.
Darryl turned the police sedan from Mason and into an alley entrance, before coming to a halt. After switching off the engine, he and Olivia climbed out of the car. The redhead glanced up at the sky. "Hmmmm," she commented. "Looks like rain."
"Again?" Darryl frowned. "I thought we had seen the last of the rain for a while."
"This is San Francisco, Darryl. Not L.A. or San Diego." Olivia added, "Of course, for this time of the year, there's usually a lot more rain down there."
Darryl grumbled, "That's comforting."
The duo's colleague, Carlotta Trujillo, broke away from a group of police officials and approached them. "Hey guys," she greeted in a breezy manner. "Looks like we've got ourselves a real winner."
The other woman continued, "His name is Bernard Remar. Found I.D. on him. His body was found inside a half-empty dumpster by two Sanitation Department employees around . . ." Carlotta glanced at her watch. ". . . an hour-and-a-half ago."
Both Olivia and Darryl allowed Carlotta to lead them toward their other colleague, Scott Yi. He leaned against a large, olive drab dumpster. Next to the dumpster laid a Caucasian male dressed in a rumpled gray business suit. The man's pudgy body not only reeked of alcohol, but also contains patches of green mold on his face and exposed upper chest. Olivia frowned. "Mold? Where did that come from? Inside the dumpster?
Scott shook his head. "No. We didn't find moss of any kind, in there. But look at his upper chest."
Darryl knelt beside the corpse. Olivia watched, as he examined Remar's upper chest. It contained slash marks. And the man's white shirt and gray tie had also been slashed. "What in the hell?" Darryl exclaimed. "What in the hell happened to him?"
"It's obvious that someone had slashed him," Carlotta answered. "Someone with a claw. Notice how the slash marks came in fours?"
Olivia noticed. Which led her to wonder if an animal had attacked the victim. But why only slash the upper chest? She expressed this aloud.
Scott added, "Look at his chest, again. There are more than just slash marks on it. Seems to me that Mr. Remar had been stabbed first." He paused dramatically. "With four puncture holes in at least two places. Very odd."
Again, Olivia stared at the victim's chest. Just as Scott had pointed out, Bernard Remar had been stabbed. Before or after being slashed - at the moment, no one knew.
Carlotta shook her head. "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that this Remar guy had been killed by something unnatural. This whole setup . . . it's just strange."
"Unnatural?" Darryl shot an uneasy glance at Olivia.
Olivia sighed. "I hope not. For our sake. And for Captain McPherson's." Darryl's unease increased. She glanced at Scott and noticed the latter's grave expression. As if something seemed familiar to him. A gnawing feeling struck Olivia that she and her colleagues may have stumbled across something other than a simple murder case.
Artemus stared at the human in disbelief. "Did I hear correctly?" he asked softly. "This hu . . . this judge has refused to cooperate? Despite the photographs and everything else?"
Cedric Lloyd's usual self-assured manner seemed to have crumbled. "I . . . it seems that Judge Bourgh is more afraid of facing prosecution for corruption than being exposed as an adulterer to his wife."
"Hmmmm." The powerful daemon leaned back into the large leather chair, inside his corporate office. "And all because of some . . . young prosecutor?"
Nervously, Lloyd nodded. "Yes, Ronald Wong. It seems that Wong is one of the prosecutors for the case that Bourgh is presiding over."
A sigh left Artemus' mouth. "Very well. Thank you, Mr. Lloyd. I'll look a little further into this matter."
"It's really very simple," Lloyd added anxiously. "Just get Wong out of the way. Once he's out of the picture, exposure to adultery is the only thing that Bourgh will have to worry about."
A cool smile quirked the daemon's lips. "Thank you, Mr. Lloyd. I realize that, now." Artemus swiveled his chair around to face the large window that overlooked San Francisco Bay. "Like I said, I'll deal with the matter. Good day." The moment Artemus heard the attorney close the door, he swiveled his chair back around and reached for the telephone. "Prax! Get in here."
Less than a minute later, the daemon's subordinate entered the office. "Yes, Artemus?"
The older daemon heaved another sigh. "I have a problem, Prax." He revealed Cedric Lloyd's situation with William Bourgh. "This problem requires the elimination of someone."
Curiosity gleaming in his eyes, Prax asked, "To whom should I assign this job?"
"I think that a witch . . . or even a warlock would suffice," Artemus replied. "After all, the target is simply another mortal. And I suggest that our assassin use mortal means to eliminate . . . the, uh target. I don't want his death attracting the wrong attention. Like Belthazor."
"Belthazor?" Prax looked confused. "How would this mortal's death attract his attention?"
Artemus scowled. "Because Belthazor's wife is a police officer. If either of them ever gets a whiff of any supernatural connection . . ."
Prax nodded. "I'll see to it, right away." He hesitated momentarily. "Pardon me Artemus, but who is the target? Bourgh?"
"No." Artemus picked up a file from his desk. "We need him alive. The target's name is Ronald Wong. He's a U.S. attorney with the Justice Department. Compose a dossier on him and give it to our assassin."
This time, Prax bowed. "Yes, Artemus." He turned on his heels and strode out of the office. Artemus focused his attention upon the file in his hands.
"Hold the elevator, please!"
Cole glanced at the attractive woman who rushed toward the elevator. He immediately punched the OPEN elevator . . . just in time for the young woman to dash inside.
Once the doors had closed, the woman gushed a breathless "Thanks!" to her benefactor.
"What floor?" Cole asked.
The woman replied, "Twelve." She let out a gust of breath, while Cole pushed the number 12. Then he noticed her dark eyes staring at him. "Oh my God! It's you!"
One of Cole's eyebrows quirked upward. "Pardon me? Do we know each other?"
"Not exactly," the woman replied, her breathless tone still apparent. "I'm, uh . . . I've seen you around. Before. And I've heard of you. Cole Turner. Right?"
His paranoia flaring up, Cole regarded his companion with wary eyes. "Uh . . . yes, as a matter of fact. And you are?"
"Janet Hui." The woman held out her hand. Cole shook it. Reluctantly. "I basically do Criminal Law."
Ms. Hui continued, "And I'm an old school friend of Harry McNeill."
The elevator stopped at the twelfth floor. The doors slid open. Ms. Hui stepped out. Cole followed. "This is your stop?" she asked.
Cole nodded. "That's right. I'm going to the law library."
"So am I."
The pair proceeded to walk along the corridor. The half-daemon continued, "So, you went to school with . . ."
Ms. Hui finished, ". . . with Harry? Oh yeah. At Stanford. In fact, I had just run into him, yesterday. We had dinner, together." Cole shot her a surprised glance. "Along with his girlfriend, whom I believe you know. Paige Matthews. And my boyfriend was also there. Ron. We had even mentioned you." She smiled prettily. "Small world, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Cole responded with his own smile. "Small world."
Olivia and Scott entered the police station's forensics lab. There, they found pathologist, Deborah Liu. "May I assume that you want the report on the Remar body?" she asked in her usual caustic manner.
"You may assume," Scott retorted. "Don't tell me. It's not ready yet."
"Actually . . . it is." Deborah thrust a yellow envelope at Olivia, who grabbed it.
With a sneer stamped on his face, Scott shot back, "Well, this is a record for you, isn't it? It usually takes you two to three days to get a report back to us. Instead of . . ." He glanced at his watch. ". . . four-and-a-half hours?"
The forensics specialist stared coolly at Scott. "Wow! We're really in bitch mode, today. Aren't we?"
"What's in the damn report?"
Olivia opened the envelope and removed a brown folder. Deborah continued, "It seems that your Mr. Remar had died from collapsed lungs. Both of them."
Frowning, Olivia asked, "You mean he had some kind of respiratory disease?"
"Nope," Deborah replied with a shake of her head. "His lungs simply collapsed. That's it. He had no disease, no virus . . . nothing. It's almost as if the oxygen in his lungs had suddenly disappeared."
"Are you kidding?" Scott exclaimed. "But what about the marks on his chest?"
Deborah frowned. "What about them?" The two police officers stared at her. "Okay, look. Yes, Mr. Remar had suffered some blood loss after being . . . attacked. But the slash and puncture marks didn't kill him. His lungs had collapsed. And with the marks and green moss on his body . . ." She paused and shook her head. "I don't know. If I didn't know any better . . . Never mind. You figure it out. I have other bodies to examine." She turned away from the detectives.
Both Olivia and Scott exchanged wary looks. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" the latter murmured.
"Darryl is not going to like this," Olivia added.
"Darryl isn't going to like whom the real killer might be," Scott shot back.
Olivia stared at him. "Please don't tell me that we're about to venture into the world of the supernatural."
"Okay, I won't." Scott turned on his heels and walked out of the Forensics Lab.
"Scott!" Olivia cried, as she rushed after her colleague. "Scott, wait up! Do you know who killed Remar?"
Scott paused in his tracks. "Not who . . . what." Olivia continued to stare at him. "C'mon Livy! I'm surprised that you haven't guessed yet. Sudden loss of oxygen, along with the marks on Remar. The green moss."
Nearly two minutes passed before an unlikely idea came to Olivia. "Oh Goddess! Not the . . ." Her voice dropped to a whisper. ". . . chiang shi?"
END OF CHAPTER FOUR