Thursday, January 8, 2015
"Breath of the Undead" [PG-13] - 8/15
"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
"How is she?" Olivia asked, as she peered over Harry's shoulder. Nearly a half-hour following the vampires' attack, Olivia appeared at Janet Hui's house.
Harry sat at one end of the living room sofa, as he held up the semi-conscious Janet by the shoulders. "Fine," he said. "And alive, thank goodness. I think that Ron or the other guy had stunned her." He attempted to convince his friend to drink a little tea.
"They were vampires," Cole explained. "Chiang shi."
Paige frowned. "You mean there are more than one of them?"
Olivia sighed. "It started out as one chiang shi. We believe that Ron became one, sometime last night. And the corpse that Harry found in the driveway this morning is a neighbor on this street named Jan Alamdar. He must have encountered Ron or the other vampire, last night. Or both."
"I'm surprised that he didn't become a . . . chiang shi," Paige commented.
"I'm not," Harry said. He finally managed to get Janet to take a sip of tea. "A chiang shi cannot turn his or her victim into another vampire."
Confusion whirled in Paige's eyes. "Then how did Ron become one?"
Before anyone else could answer, a low moan escaped from Janet's mouth. Her eyes fluttered momentarily before they flew wide open. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "Was that Ron?"
"Janet!" Harry helped her sit up. Olivia shot a quick glance at Paige, who seemed slightly perturbed by Harry's concern for the young attorney. "Are you okay?"
Janet took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah. I'm fine. I'm . . . Oh God! That was a chiang shi. Or two! I thought it was some myth that my grandmother used to talk about." She stared at Harry with apprehensive eyes. "And one of them was Ron!"
Harry sighed. "Yeah, I'm afraid so. Look Janet, I think you better stay somewhere else for a while. You don't want to take a chance on Ron . . . I mean . . ."
"I understand," Janet said, interrupting. "But that was Ron, right? Are you going to find him?" Her eyes swept from Harry to Olivia. "I mean, the idea of Ron existing as a vampire for the rest of his life . . ."
Surprise permeated Paige's voice. "Why do you think that Harry and Olivia can help track a . . ." She broke off, as apprehension dawned in her eyes. "Oh wow! You know, don't you? About them being witches." The moment she had uttered the last word, Paige clapped her hands over her mouth.
Harry added, "Janet has known since the last quarter of our sophomore year in college." He said to his friend, "And you need to stay somewhere else, until this is all over."
Janet sighed. "All right. I'll stay at your place. If it'll make you feel better. I just need to pack a few things."
At that moment, the doorbell rang. The five people inside the living room exchanged uneasy glances. "You don't think . . ." Paige began.
"Ron?" Janet's eyes lit up with fear and expectation. Again, the doorbell rang. "Should I answer it?"
Cole stepped forward. "I'll accompany you." He escorted Janet to the front door. A minute passed before the two attorneys returned, accompanied by two dark-suited men. Olivia recognized one of them as FBI Agent Lee Alvarez.
"Well, well, well," Olivia commented, as she stepped forward to greet the new visitors. "The FBI." She held out one hand to a pale olive-skinned man with a crew cut. "Lee Alvarez. It's been a while."
Agent Alvarez shook Olivia's hand. "Inspector McNeill. What are you doing here?"
"For the same reason as you." Olivia glanced at the chestnut-haired man that stood next to Alvarez. "And your partner. Aren't you going to introduce us?"
Alvarez sighed. "This is Special Agent Jay Ruhl. Jay, this is Inspector Olivia McNeill of the San Francisco Police."
"Actually, my name is Turner now." Olivia smiled curtly. "I just recently got married. Or didn't you see the ring on my finger?"
A cool smile touched Alvarez's lips. "Congratulations. Who's the lucky guy?"
"He's standing to your left." Olivia regarded Alvarez's startled glance at Cole with amusement. "Gentlemen, my husband - Cole Turner."
Janet added, "Mr. Turner is my colleague and I'm Janet Hui. What does the FBI want with me? Do you guys have any news of Ron?" Olivia could not help but admire Janet's ability to maintain a cool façade toward the agents - despite her current anxiety.
Alvarez blinked several times. "Actually Miss Hui, we're here to talk to you. Do you have any idea why Mr. Wong would disappear?"
"Of course not!" Janet retorted. "That's why I had called the police in the first place!"
"When was the last time you saw him?" Agent Ruhl asked.
For a brief second, Olivia wondered if Janet's tongue would slip, regarding the chiang shi. But those years of college with Harry, along with legal experience, had trained the younger woman to be discreet . . . and lie smoothly. Janet heaved a dramatic sigh. "Around seven-forty, yesterday morning. When he didn't return home, I thought he had stayed at the office for a few extra hours. So, I fell asleep on the couch. But when I woke up this morning, he still had not returned home."
"So, she called me." Harry stepped forward. "I'm Olivia's brother, Harry McNeill."
Alvarez asked, "Why did Ms. Hui called you?"
"Because we're old college friends," Harry explained. "And Olivia is my sister. I had found a body in the driveway and called her."
Olivia smiled at the two FBI agents. "I'm sure that the San Francisco Police had provided you with information on the body discovered this morning."
Alvarez turned to Janet. "What does Mr. Alamdar have to do with you and Mr. Wong, Miss Hui?"
"How in the hell would I know?" Janet retorted. "He was just some neighbor who lived the block. He'd once complimented our front lawn."
Paige asked, "Why are the FBI interested in Ron's disappearance?"
Slowly, the two agents stared at the Charmed One. She squirmed uncomfortably under their gaze. "And who are you?" Agent Ruhl coolly asked.
Wariness flickered in Paige's dark eyes. "The name's Paige Matthews. I'm a friend of Harry's. And Janet's."
"Well, Miss Matthews," Ruhl continued, "Mr. Wong happens to be an attorney for the Department of Justice. He is . . . or was part of the prosecution team for a very important case. Naturally, the FBI would be interested in his disappearance."
Alvarez turned to Janet. "Ms. Hui, if you have any more information regarding Mr. Wong," the agent handed her a card, "please give me a call." The two agents gave Olivia a nod before heading toward the front door.
Once everyone heard the front door close shut, Cole heaved a sigh. "Those two are going to a problem."
Scott guided his blue Nissan Altima into a small parking lot, off Kearny Street. Nearby, pedestrians and vehicles flowed along the Chinatown thoroughfare. Piper frowned at the three-story building that rose next to the parking lot. "What is this place?" she asked.
"Master Chan's store," Scott answered. Both he and Piper climbed out of his car. "He owns a herbal shop, like Barbara. Also, he acts as a kind of healer for the locals. You see, Taoist priests usually live amongst those he serve."
The pair left the parking lot and made their way, inside the building. The shop's cluttered interior featured large drawers and shelves filled with herbal products of all kinds. A beaded curtain divided the front store and the shop's private office. Scott led Piper toward a narrow staircase, which took them to the second floor. The aroma of food cooking filled Piper's nostrils. "Master Chan must be cooking dinner right about now," Scott added.
Piper sighed. "When you say Master Chan, you mean Mr. McNeill's friend?"
Scott knocked on one of the second-floor doors. "Yep. According to Olivia, they first met each other at Stanford, during the 60s."
Seconds passed before the door opened. A middle-aged man in casual dress peered out. Piper immediately recognized Mr. Chan, who frowned at the couple. "Jian Lei. What are you doing here? Miss Halliwell?"
Scott bowed. "Master Chan. Uh, do you mind if we interrupt your dinner? We have a matter to discuss. Supernatural matter."
Master Chan opened the door wide. "Come in." Piper and Scott followed the Taoist priest inside a wide room. Aside from a few pieces of furniture scattered about, Piper noticed a circular table with food and a teapot placed on it. The dinner's aroma struck Piper stronger than ever and her stomach growled in protest. The priest led them to a table. "Would you like something to eat? I have plenty of Beef and Peppers with Black Bean Sauce. How about some tea?"
"Tea would be nice," Scott replied.
Again, Piper's stomach growled. Ignoring her hunger, she decided to follow Scott's example. "Yes, tea," she said with a wan smile.
The couple eased into empty chairs around the table. Master Chan followed suit, before serving tea to his visitors. "Now, what can I help you with?"
Scott cleared his throat. "I guess that you've heard the news . . . or not. But there's a chance that a vampire - a chiang shi - might have been responsible for two or three deaths in the past few days."
A gust of breath left Master Chan's mouth. "I see," he said with a nod. "It's been a while, since I've last encountered a chiang shi." He shook his head in a regrettable manner. "Nasty business, the chiang shi. Are you sure?"
Piper spoke up. "I just received a call from my sister, Paige. She, Harry and Cole had encountered one, earlier this evening. I mean, two of them. Unfortunately, they both got away. But, no one was killed."
"Hmmph." The Taoist priest took a sip of tea. "Killing a chiang shi won't be easy. But two of them?" He shook his head and sighed. "This won't be easy for any of us, Jian Lei."
With a shrug of her shoulders, Piper asked, "Why not? Paige once told me that holy water and a cross won't kill a . . . uh, chiang shi. What about sunlight or fire? Or a wooden stake?"
"Your sister was right about holy water and Christian crosses," Master Chan stated. "But the other methods will kill a chiang shi. Along with a few other methods." He turned to Scott. "Exactly what do you know about the chiang shi?"
Scott took a sip of his tea, while Piper's stomach rumbled for the second time. "Well . . . a chiang shi is also called 'the Hopping Ghost'. Only, it's not really a ghost, but a demon. One becomes a chiang shi, following a violent death, being cursed, or dying in the wrong spot. Moonlight cast upon a dead body will also cause it to become a chiang shi. Since a chiang shi isn't known for rising from a grave like a European vampire, the transformation usually takes place before burial. A chiang shi usually kills its victims by sucking out the latter's breath, instead of their blood. Or its halitosis . . ."
"Huh?" Piper demanded.
"Bad breath," Scott explained. "It's bad breath can kill a person. A chiang shi will either go after members of its family or a loved one first. Like Ronald Wong did with Janet Hui. And it usually has green hair, a green tinge on its skin, red eyes, and claw-like fingernails."
Master Chan added, "You forgot to add that a chiang shi can shapeshift. It can also fly or hop. In fact, its nickname is 'the Hopping Ghost', because it hops instead of walks. It's also blind, which means that it can track a potential victim using his or her breath. Now, if a wooden stake, sunlight, or fire won't kill it, there are other methods."
Piper frowned. "Which are?"
"Decapitation, feng shui mirrors, purity rice, straw and chicken blood. Or a death blessing," the Taoist priest promptly replied. "A death blessing can only be done by a Taoist or Buddhist priest. I would need to write a death blessing on a piece of paper and stick on the chiang shi's head."
With a snort, Piper murmured sardonically, "Good luck with that one. I think I'd rather stick with the stakes and fire."
Master Chan quickly added, "Anything other than a death blessing should be a last resort. We would want to release the host body's original spirit so that the body can be buried properly. For the family and other loved ones."
A perturbed Scott frowned. "You're talking about Janet Hui and Ronald Wong's family, right?"
Piper said, "You said something about purity rice?"
The Taoist priest nodded. "As a distraction. Scattered grains of rice will distract a chiang shi, causing him to stop to count the grains." Piper stared at him. "Please don't ask me why. I think it's something symbolic that's beyond my comprehension. So, please don't ask."
"Maybe we can use the rice to distract the vampires," Scott suggested. "You know, distract it before you can use a death blessing on them."
Piper spoke up. "Why don't I just freeze them?"
The two men stared at each other. "Sounds good to me," Scott said.
Master Chan began, "By the way, about the chiang shi's halitosis . . ."
"That it can kill?" Piper added. "Yeah, I remembered that."
The Taoist priest said, "His halitosis can also paralyze or send a person across the room. We need to be careful."
A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Great," she muttered. "The vampire queen that Cole had killed is looking a whole lot better."
"Oh, you mean Alaria?" Both Piper and Scott stared at the middle-aged priest. "Yes, I have heard of her before. Although, why she considered it necessary to call herself 'Queen of the Vampires' is beyond me." Piper's stomach grumbled once more, drawing surreptious stares from both Scott and Master Chan. "Miss Halliwell," the latter said in a polite voice, "pardon my rudeness, but are you sure that you're not hungry? I would be more than happy to serve you some of my dinner."
Although embarrassed by what had just happened, Piper realized that she could no longer dismiss her hunger. "I guess a little meal wouldn't hurt." She flashed a wan smile, as the Taoist priest stood up to retrieve more plates.
The cell phone on Prax's desk rang. The daemon ignored it and maintained his attention on the portfolio of a company that had attracted the attention of the Magan Corporation. The phone rang three more times before Prax heaved an exasperated sigh and picked up the cell phone. "Yes?" he responded acidly.
"This is Larson," a man's voice answered.
Prax simply demanded, "Is Wong dead?"
A pause followed before the warlock replied, "He's . . . dead. In a way. I had stabbed him to death, last night."
A deep suspicion formed in Prax's mind. "What do you mean 'in a way'? Are you playing games with me, Mr. Larson? Where is Mr. Wong?"
The warlock's next words took Prax by surprise. "I believe that he is now a daemon. Or a vampire. I think that some demonic entity has taken over Wong's body."
For a moment, Prax wondered if Larson liked to play games with his employers. If so, the daemon would have the warlock killed and replaced with another assassin. "Mr. Larson," Prax said in a deadly, "I am not someone you can trifle with. If you had failed to kill Mr. Wong, simply say . . ."
"I am not joking!" The warlock's voice rang with deadly seriousness. "Look, I had killed Wong. Gutted his stomach with my own dagger. I saw him die." A pause followed, as Prax overheard Larson take a deep breath. "And I had left Wong's body in the driveway, so he could be found. But when he failed to be reported dead . . . I went back to his house. Earlier tonight. I saw him . . . in some Chinese robe. He looked different. And he was with another daemon. Both of them leapt . . . or flew away. High into the air."
At that moment, Prax decided that the gods and spirits did not like him. Artemus had ordered him to coordinate the simple murder of a mortal. An act that should have been no problem. Unfortunately, the target - at least according to his hired assassin - had transformed into some kind of daemon. A daemon that flies. Without Ronald Wong's body, Lloyd would never be able to convince William Bourgh to cooperate with the Magan Corporation.
Prax sighed. Long and hard. "Mr. Larson, whatever entity that has entered Wong's body, you will have to get rid of it. And leave the host body intact."
"Me?" Larson protested. "Why don't you simply hire some daemon to . . ."
"Mr. Wong was your assignment, Mr. Larson," Prax reminded the warlock in a hard voice. "He is 'still' your assignment. We've already paid you half of your fee. You're a talented magic practitioner. At least according to your reputation. I'm sure that you can find a way to finish the job."
Before the warlock could protest any further, Prax hung up. He decided to give Larson two days to deal with the Ronald Wong problem. If the warlock fails, well he would have to deal with the matter, himself.
Inside the Turners' bedroom, Cole laid stretched across the right side of the four-poster bed. He watched his wife, perched on a low stool in front of the dresser mirror, rub skin cream from her face. "Was that Scott who had called earlier?" he asked.
Olivia dipped one hand into the jar of cream. She began to rub the cream on her left arm. "Yep. Apparently, he and Piper had paid Master Chan a visit. To learn more about the chiang shi." She turned to face Cole. "It looks as if Master Chan is going to help us. But considering that we're dealing with a Chinese vampire, we're going to need him." She then applied cream on her right arm.
Cole said, "Tarkin and I didn't use a Taoist priest, when we had encountered that chiang shi, back in the Fifties. We used good, old-fashioned fire. Of course, keeping him to stand still became rather difficult." He paused, while Olivia wiped the last of the cream from her arms. "I would be more than happy to help you apply more cream to your body," he said with a slight leer.
Slowly, Olivia turned around and smiled at her husband. "Thanks, but I only use this cream for my face and arms."
"Oh. Too bad." Cole watched Olivia screw the top back on the jar of cream. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't one become achiang shi after suffering a violent death? If this is true, then it means . . ."
Olivia stood up and strode toward the bed. She sat on the edge, next to Cole. "It means that Ron may have suffered from some kind of violent death."
"Or perhaps he was murdered," Cole suggested. "And certainly not by that other Chinese vampire."
Olivia sighed. "Oh God. That means we might have to deal with the Feds. We really don't need them breathing down our necks."
Cole murmured, "Don't worry. I'll deal with them, if they cause any trouble." He stretched out one hand and a bottle of lotion zipped toward him. He shook the bottle. "Is this only good for the face and arms?"
Green eyes widened in surprise, until they shone with realization. "Well . . ." Olivia slid closer toward Cole. A seductive smile curved her mouth. "Why don't we find out?" Cole wrapped his arm around her waist and drew her closer to him.
Dean Corbin stepped out of the elevator. He strode across the parking structure's fifth floor, toward his car. A sigh of relief escaped from his mouth. His client, one Curt Becker, had received a reprieve thanks to the disappearance of one of the Federal prosecutors.
Corbin realized that John Reyes would eventually find someone to replace the missing Ronald Wong. But until that happened, Corbin would have plenty of time to overlook his case for Becker. Yesterday's testimony by Antonio Valez had been costly. The defense attorney needed to find a way to . . .
He stopped in his tracks. For a moment, Corbin thought he had overheard a sound. Possibly heavy breathing. The attorney whirled around and scanned the parking lot. Not a soul could be seen. Deciding that his mind might be playing tricks on him, Corbin resumed his trek to his car.
The moment he reached his car, the attorney felt a gust of cold wind from behind. Once again, Corbin turned around. The sight of a figure in a red-and-gold Chinese silk robe flying toward him took the attorney by surprise. He opened his mouth and let out a final scream before sharp claws dug into his chest.
END OF CHAPTER EIGHT