Friday, June 29, 2007

Daniel Craig and the Future of James Bond


There has been a great deal of talk about how EON Productions will take the James Bond character in future movies. Many have also speculated on how Daniel Craig will approach the character – especially in the upcoming BOND 22 and BOND 23. I have no idea how the Bond character will be treated in future movies, but I do a few things to say about CASINO ROYALE and Daniel Craig as Bond.

First of all, I don't believe that CR was unique in being the only Bond film that was a slightly realistic spy thriller. Before CR, there was FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. We also had movies like THUNDERBALL and OCTOPUSSY with plots that seemed very probable in the real world (nuclear threats in the name of extortion or/and political manipulation). And there was LICENSE TO KILL that was gritty, but seemed more like a revenge story than a spy thriller. But I do believe that CASINO ROYALE was one of the best movies in the franchise. Aside from one or two plot points (involving Bond's actions in Madagascar), I feel that it was a well-written thriller with complex and three-dimensional characters.

As for Daniel Craig, many have criticized his Bond for acting like a professional and experienced agent at the beginning of the movie, despite being a novice. I have to point out that in this version of CASINO ROYALE, Bond IS NOT a novice spy at the beginning of the story. He already had experience as an intelligence operative for the Royal Navy and as an agent for MI-6. At the beginning of the movie, he was promoted to the "00 Section". He had already been serving with MI6 for some time.

Although I have enjoyed the performances of all six (or should I say eight?) actors who have portrayed Bond, Daniel Craig's performance has appealed to me a lot stronger than the others. I am not saying that I believe that his Bond is the best. I simply prefer his Bond a lot more stronger than I do the others. So far, Craig's Bond is not tinged by Connery's lack of humanity, Lazenby's inexperienced background, Moore's cheeky humor, Dalton's heavy angst factor or Brosnan's bad scripts. This latest manifestation of Bond is a ruthless and athletic man with a sardonic sense of humor, a taste for good living, a penchant for taking chances and allowing his ego to go uncheck. But knowing EON Productions' reputation for sometimes screwing up a good thing, who knows what will happen?

I have heard comments that Craig's Bond had fully become the iconic figure that has become famous during the last 44 or 45 years by the end of CASINO ROYALE. But others have pointed out that the character who shot Mr. White at the end of the movie is the same man who had chased Mollaka in Madagascar. I am more inclined to believe the latter. I believe that Bond's character had regressed due to the heartache he had suffered over Vesper's betrayal and death. Somewhat. After all, Bond did manage to bring down Mr. White without allowing his emotions, ego or trigger finger to get the best of him. Hopefully, EON Productions will allow the audience to see Bond develop beyond the cold-blooded and brutal man who used women to avoid emotional attachments. I hope that by the time Craig films his last Bond film, his character will develop into a somewhat mature man who has learned to balance any emotional attachments he may have formed with the ruthless agent he has to be in order to do his job.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes and Observations on "STAR WARS - EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE


Notes and Observations

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. I hope that you enjoy them:

*Both the Trade Federation and Darth Sidious seemed surprised that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had dispatched Jedi Knights to act as mediators between the Trade Federation and Naboo. Apparently, this discovery had led Sidious to order a premature invasion of Naboo.

*Why were the Trade Federation fearful of the Jedi, acting as ambassadors?

*Why would Boss Nass and the Gungans want Jar-Jar Binks banished for simply being clumsy? Why did his clumsiness bother him so much? Was this an indication of the Gungans’ lack of tolerance toward imperfection? Could one say the same about those STAR WARS fans who dislike Jar-Jar with a vengeance?

*”You overdid it.” – Was that Obi-Wan Kenobi admonishing his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, for making Jar-Jar too relaxed?

*Isn’t it ironic that it was Obi-Wan who led Qui-Gon, Padme and himself to Anakin, by suggesting that the Queen’s ship seek repairs on Tatooine?

*After two attempts, Qui-Gon discovered that the Jedi Mind Trick did not work on Watto and other Toydarians. Perhaps this is why he had failed to free both Skywalkers from slavery.

*Many have complained that Lucas should have shown the Nabooans suffering under the Trade Federation’s invasion. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But after Sio Biddle had sent that message to the Queen about the suffering on the planet, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan expressed suspicion that the message might be a trick to lure the Queen back into the Trade Federation’s clutches. Of course, they were wrong.

*Darth Maul managed to track down the Queen’s whereabouts, via Sio Biddle’s transmission to Tatooine.

*Anakin told Qui-Gon and Padme that he had been working on a scanner to locate the transmitter in his head. As many know, the transmitter will blow up any slave attempting an escape. I wonder what would have happened if Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had made an attempt to get Shmi away from Tatooine.

*Apparently, the idea to enter Anakin into the Boonta Eve Podrace was his own idea . . . supported very reluctantly by Shmi.

*”What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a very long time.” – Obi-Wan’s remark seemed to foreshadow his own fate on Tatooine.

*Qui-Gon’s plan to free Anakin seemed to have been instigated by Shmi’s request that he find a way help Anakin leave Tatooine and slavery.

*If Watto believed that Sebula would win the race, why did he agree to support Qui-Gon’s backing of Anakin? I believe that Watto felt he would get his hands on Queen Amidala’s ship if Anakin had lost. And if the latter had won then he and Qui-Gon would split the victor’s fee. But Watto’s greed and lack of faith in Anakin allowed him to be manipulated by Qui-Gon into betting against his young slave.

*I LOVE the podrace sequence. I love every detail about it. Along with the Battle of Naboo, it is the highlight of the movie.

*Interesting. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Panaka and Anakin had all bowed before Valorum and Palpatine. Yet, both the present and future chancellors did not bow before Queen Amidala, upon the latter’s arrival on Coruscant.

*Amidala seemed certain of Valorum’s support in the Naboo/Trade Federation matter. Yet, Palpatine immediately set out to undermine Valorum in Amidala’s eyes . . . and suggest that a new chancellor be elected.

*Yoda seemed particularly aggressive when questioning Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin might be the Chosen One to fulfill the prophecy.

*Why does Palpatine want Padme to accept the Trade Federation’s control of Naboo? What plans did he have for this situation, once he became chancellor?

*Many have accused The Phantom Menace of lacking in emotion. Yet, there seemed to be a heavy undercurrent of emotion in the movie. In the scene which featured the Jedi Council’s initial rejection of Anakin, Yoda, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi Mundi and other Council members seemed smug and arrogant over their decision. Anakin looked angry at the Council, and Qui-Gon . . . disappointed. But most surprisingly, Obi-Wan looked both surprised and angry at Qui-Gon’s support of Anakin. I suspect that he felt a little rejected.

*Why did Palpatine warn Darth Maul to allow Padme, the Naboo and Gungan forces, and the Jedi to make the first move?

*I never realized that Anakin had saved Padme, Panaka and the Nabooans in the hangar, by shooting at the droidekas.

*So . . . R2-D2 wanted Anakin to return to Naboo, once they had joined Ric Olie and the other Nabooan pilots in their battle against the Federation ships.

*Anakin had ended up inside the Federation ship, because his fighter had been hit. And he had accidentally destroyed the shield generator.

*Before striking down Qui-Gon, Darth Maul seemed frustrated by his inability to kill the Jedi Master.

*If the Jedi Council had finally approved of Anakin’s entry into the Order, why didn’t Yoda use a less strident manner to convince Obi-Wan to allow someone else – someone more mature – to train Anakin? Who knows? Perhaps he may have been more convincing.

*The moment the camera focused upon Palpatine’s face during Qui-Gon’s funeral, you can hear the cheers of triumph that would lead to the victory celebration.

*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan seemed uneasy in each other’s company during the celebration. In fact, Anakin seemed unusually sober . . . until he exchanged a smile with Padme. I suspect that Obi-Wan had noticed that exchange, judging by his expression.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Neighbors" [PG] - Part 4


Part 7

Olivia spent half of the following morning at the police station, waiting for her friend's response to the e-mail message she had sent. And thinking about last night's dinner with Cole Turner.

The half-demon had done more than just tell her about his experience as the Source. Olivia also learned about his life as Belthazor and his experiences with the Halliwells from the past two years. Namely, the deal he had made with the Triad, his attempts on the Charmed Ones' lives, falling in love with Phoebe Halliwell, being hunted by demonic bounty hunters, the death of his mentor, Raynor, those trying months following Prue Halliwell's death, losing Belthazor to a vengeful woman, adjusting to mortality and finally, the circumstances that led to the Source's possession of his body. Cole also talked about being trapped in the Wasteland and acquiring his new demonic powers. Along with his failed attempts to win back Phoebe. Including his part in the recent death of a well-known slum lord.

In all, Olivia felt as if she had relived an engrossing, supernatural saga on good, evil, love and betrayal. Cole's life story would have made a great novel. Or autobiography. She could see the title now - "THE DAEMON FORMERLY KNOWN AS BELTHAZOR". Or perhaps "LIFE OF A DEMONIC ASSASSIN", or perhaps even "WITCHES AND DAEMONS IN LOVE". What amazed Olivia was that Cole and Phoebe's story bore a strong resemblance to her experiences with Richard. Except for the tragic ending. Cole still might have a chance to start over again with Phoebe Halliwell. At least, once she realizes that he had also been traumatized by the Source and the Seer's machinations. And Cole stops trying too hard to win her back.

Olivia contemplated the idea of a reunion between her neighbor and his ex-wife. For some reason, the idea did not really appeal to her. Her gut instinct told her that unless the middle Charmed One learned to accept Cole for himself, there would be no true happiness between them. And Olivia deeply suspected that accepting Cole was something that the Halliwells could not easily accomplish.

"Hey!" Darryl's voice snapped Olivia out of her thoughts. She glanced up and caught her colleague standing in front of her desk. "You've been staring at that laptop all morning. Are you some Internet addict, or something?"

Olivia gave Darryl a cool look. "I've been waiting for a message. From a friend of mine in Seattle. If you must know."

Darryl eased into the chair, opposite the redhead. "Seattle? What's there?"

"I had received a tip on those . . ." Olivia paused and glanced around. She wanted to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. ". . . on those warlocks." Her voice grew soft.

Dark eyes narrowed. "What kind of tip? From Cole Turner?"

Olivia heaved a frustrated sigh. "Oh God! Darryl, you're not going to start another lecture on not trusting him, again. Are you?"

"Look, you have no idea how dangerous he can be."

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Trust me, I have a pretty good idea." She paused, as her eyes returned to the computer screen. "In fact, I have more than a good idea. What would you say if I told you that I was once engaged to a warlock?"

Darryl's eyes flew wide open. "A war . . . What . . . What happened to him?"

Olivia struggled to quell a surge of grief. Her eyes focused on Darryl again, as she quietly said, "Richard was killed, while trying to save my mother and me."

"Oh." Darryl glanced away, unable to meet her eyes. "I'm sorry."

A bitter smile formed on Olivia's lips. "So am I. You know, Cole reminds me of Richard. At least on the surface. They have the same sarcasm. And air of loneliness. Only Richard wasn't as reserved as Cole. And his tastes weren't so . . . I don't know, expensive."

Darryl added, "But I bet your Richard never betrayed you in the end. Did he?"

"No," Olivia replied shortly. "He didn't. But are you so sure that Cole betrayed Phoebe in the end? Or were there other forces involved?"

Despite the chatter that surrounded them, Olivia and Darryl stared at each other in silence. Then Darryl began, "Are you talking about his clai . . .?"

Olivia's computer laptop beeped. "You've got mail," it announced. She immediately tore her attention away from Darryl and concentrated on the computer screen. Using her mouse, she clicked on the new message:

Subject: Malehex Corp.
Date: Mon, _ Nov 2002 09:39:16

Malehex Corp has one holding in Frisco. Check out Tower
Bay Imports/Exports Co at _______ Bayshore Blvd. Phillip
Crozat, company director. Hope this helps.


"Got 'em!" Olivia declared triumphantly. "Tower Bay Import/Export. Now that name sounds familiar. Ever heard of it?" she asked Darryl.

The other inspector frowned. "Yeah. It's an exclusive company that imports and exports stuff like rare antiquities, expensive perishables - mainly food delicacies from other countries, and bond certificates. That sort of thing."

"Rare antiquities, huh?" Olivia became thoughtful. "Great way to distribute certain items to other warlock covens and demonic orders."

Darryl looked shocked. "You mean to say that Tower Bay is owned by warlo . . .?" He paused, as an office clerk walked by. "By warlocks?"

"The Malehex Corporation," Olivia clarified. "Which happens to be owned by the Crozat Coven."

"I better tell the Halliwells about this." Darryl stood up.

Olivia grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute, Darryl. When you do, tell them not to do anything."

"Why not?" Darryl demanded.

"Because I want to find out what we're in for. Reconnoiter the place. Get a layout. From what Cole told me, the Crozat Coven is pretty large. And I'm not in the habit of charging in like some overzealous idiot." Olivia reached for the telephone. Darryl asked whom she was calling. "The one person who can help me, right now. Well, actually there are two, but I don't think Bruce will be available, this afternoon."

Confusion whirled in Darryl's eyes. "So, who are you calling?"

Olivia shook her head. "Don't worry. I'm not calling Cole." She reached for her telephone. "And don't forget what I said. Tell the Halliwells to stay away, until I reach them." Darryl nodded and walked away. Olivia dialed the number to the McNeill manor.

* * * *

"Thanks for helping me out, Dad," Olivia said to her father, as she drove the car along Bayshore Boulevard. "I hope you weren't forced to interrupt anything."

Jack McNeill dismissed Olivia's worries with a wave of his hand. "You didn't interrupt a thing. I had already finished a board meeting. And the only other thing I had scheduled was a golf game with Cameron Douglas."

Olivia frowned. "Cameron Douglas? You can barely stand him. Has this anything to do with Mr. Douglas' sudden desire to retire? And his company?"

"Maybe," Jack replied airily. His blue-gray eyes radiated innocence. "Besides, I like golf. I think I can survive one game with Douglas."

A smirk formed on Olivia's lips. "Yeah Dad. Sure." She stopped the car at an intersection. "The least said, the better. Right?"

Jack's mouth twisted into a knowing smile. "Sometimes, Olivia, I think you know me too well." He glanced around the car's interior. "This isn't a police car, is it?"

The light turned green and Olivia stepped on the gas. "Not quite. I borrowed this from a friend at the U.S. Customs office. I have to return it before someone realizes that it's missing."

"Ah," Jack said, nodding. "You don't want this car traced to the police."

"That's right. If they had sent a warlock after me, they must know I'm a cop. And I don't want them to know I'm on their trail."

Jack continued, "Which is why you asked me to join you, this afternoon."

Olivia smiled. "You know me too well." She spotted a wide, one-story building to her left. Black letters across the top read: TOWER BAY IMPORTS/EXPORTS. "There it is," she commented.

"How did you find out about this place?" Jack asked.

"I traced it through a friend of mine in the Seattle Police. It's owned by a Seattle-based corporation called MALEHEX."

Jack's eyes widened. "Malehex? Of course! I should have known," he groaned. "I forgot that Malehex was owned by a warlock coven. I just didn't know which one. Who told you about them?"

"Cole. He used to be part of the Brotherhood of the Thorn, which has done business with the Crozats."

One of Jack's brows jumped upward. "Really?"

"Does that bother you?" Olivia asked in an anxious voice. "That I had asked for Cole's help?"

Her father shrugged. "Isn't that what Harry had suggested?"

"Yeah." Olivia stopped the car for a second, before she made a left into Tower Bay's parking lot.

Jack continued, "I bet the Halliwells won't be thrilled, when they find out."

Olivia snorted. "Do I look like I care?" She eased the car into a parking space. "I think I had made myself perfectly clear, yesterday."

"You don't like them very much, do you? The Halliwells, I mean."

A gust of breath left Olivia's mouth. "Dad, did I say anything of the kind? Besides, the only two Halliwells I personally knew, are dead. Prue and Aunt Penny."

"Uh-huh. But you don't like them. Am I right?" Jack insisted. He stared at Olivia. Who found it difficult to meet his eyes. "Look, honey, I realize they seem a bit self-righteous. Come to think of it, one could say the same about both Aunt Penny and Patty."

Olivia added darkly, "And Prue."

"Yeah, well self-righteous or not, they're not bad people. In fact," Jack paused, "I'm sure that they can be pretty nice. They must be, or Cole would have never stuck with them for so long."

Olivia switched off the car's engine. "I guess you're right. But we can talk about the Halliwells, later. It's showtime."

Jack nodded. He sat still for a moment. Within a blink of an eye, his body transformed into another body. He went from a six-foot-one man with graying chestnut hair, blue-gray eyes and ruggedly handsome features, to a stocky, forty-something man with gray eyes and blond hair. "How do I look?" he asked his daughter.

"Even better looking" Olivia joked wryly. "It's my turn." Jack leaned toward her and waved his hand in front of his daughter with one swipe. Olivia immediately transformed into a man - a tall, thin man with dark-brown hair and a perpetual frown. Olivia felt a certain physical addition between her legs. She squirmed. "Gee Dad, did you have to change me into a man?"

A smirk appeared on the older man's lips. "What's the matter? Afraid I won't be able to change you back?"

Olivia shook her head. "Sometimes Dad, I wonder how Mom has been able to deal with that sense of humor of yours, for so long. Let's go." Daughter and father stepped out of the car. Olivia handed Jack a phony U.S. Customs badge and the pair proceeded toward the building.

* * * *

Phillip Crozat eyed the new visitors warily. This was the company's second visit from the U.S. Customs in over a month. One visit could be construed as a nuisance. But this second visit . . . The warlock began to wonder if the company had attracted any unwanted attention from the Federal government.

His cousin, Andre wanted to kill the two customs inspectors. In case they discover something. Phillip pointed out there was nothing inside the warehouse to discover - aside from several boxes of stock certificates. Unless some idiot had left traces of the last witch they lured here.

Irritation rose within Phillip. With the exception of the witch they had killed at Candlestick Park, two days ago, the coven has been encountering a great deal of bad luck in acquiring witches' powers. The Charmed Ones prevented Cousin Simone from killing the mother of that unborn witch, last Wednesday. And a witch from the powerful McNeill Coven had killed Cousin Stephen, the following night. Phillip had them marked for retribution. But to go after such powerful witches required more fire power. With the powers of the Charmed Ones and the McNeills, the Crozat Coven could become rulers of the Underworld.

The sulky-looking inspector strode up to Phillip. "Looks like everything's in order," he said with a scowl. The man almost seemed disappointed.

Phillip haughtily replied, "I could have told you that. Tower Bay has been one of the most prestigious trading companies on the West Coast."

A sniff from the Customs inspector was the response. The scowling man added, "That's what George DeMere of DeMere Imports said. Two days before we discovered illegal arms in his warehouse. He was part of a big arms smuggling ring and have reason to believe that another company is involved." He turned to his companion, a stocky man with blond hair. "Hey Dan! Find anything back there?"

Seconds later, the other Customs inspector emerged from the back. "Everything's A-okay, Pete!"

Inspector Peter Zwick rolled his eyes. "Right. Let's get out of here."

To Phillip's relief, the Customs inspectors finally left the warehouse. The warlock ordered one of his minions to follow them and make sure they had left. "Think they might be a problem?" Cousin Andre asked.

Phillip shook his head. "I don't think so. But I want to make sure they really are customs agents." The minion returned inside the warehouse, breathing heavily. "Well?" Phillip demanded.

"I saw . . . them leave in a car with . . ." The minion panted between words. ". . . with government plates. U.S."

Andre said, "I guess they're genuine."

"Maybe so," Phillip replied. "But two visits within a month? And this visit just three or four days after Cousin Stephen failed to kill a witch - who happens to be a cop? I don't know." His eyes narrowed. "But in case they had been sent by that witch, I think we should prepare that trap. Just in case we have more visitors." His lips formed a thin smile.




Part 8

The manor's doorbell rang constantly, luring Piper downstairs to the foyer. She reached the bottom of the staircase, strolled toward the front door and opened it. In the doorway stood a frantic Darryl Morris. "Hey Darryl," she greeted. "What brings you here?"

The police inspector brushed past Piper and into the house. "Where in the hell have you all been?" he demanded. "I've been trying to reach you all day!"

"Well, I've spent the better part of the day visiting my gynecologist and trying to book this new group for the club. Paige went to Sausalito to visit one of her Matthews cousins. And I believe Phoebe has been locked in her office all day, trying to catch up on the letters for her column. You know, now that I think about it, we've all been pretty . . ."

"Piper!" Darryl placed his hands on her shoulders. "Is everyone here, now?"

Seeing the consternation in Darryl's eyes, Piper immediately sensed trouble. "What's wrong? Has something happened?" she demanded. "Has another dead witch been found?" Before Darryl could answer, Piper called for her sisters. "Paige! Phoebe!"

A minute later, the other two Halliwells descended the staircase. "What's wrong, Piper?" Phoebe demanded. "Has something happened?"

Darryl shook his head. "Not yet. But I have some news." He paused to catch his breath. "Olivia McNeill has a lead on those warlocks you've been looking for."

"She has?" Paige demanded. "What kind of lead?"

Piper and her sisters listened with rapt attention, as Darryl revealed Olivia's discovery. It seemed the Crozat Coven owned a corporation called Malehex and one of its holdings was a San Francisco-based company called the Tower Bay Import/Export. "Did she give you an address?" Piper asked.

"Well yeah," Darryl answered, "but she said . . ."

"Never mind that," Phoebe interrupted. "What's the address?"

Darryl sighed. "_______ Bayshore Boulevard. But Olivia said . . ."

This time, Piper interrupted. "Let's go. Paige can orb us there."

"Wait a minute!" Darryl shouted. "Before you barge into there like John Wayne, I better tell you that Olivia said not to go."

The sisters stared at the inspector, as if he had lost his mind. "Why would she say that?" Paige demanded.

Barely containing his patience, Darryl continued, "Look, Olivia said to lay low, until you get a call from her. She also said something about reconnoitering the place, before going after the warlocks. Maybe you should follow her advice."

"We'd love to oblige," Piper commented sarcastically, "but we can't sit around and wait for Inspector McNeill to make plans, when there's a chance that another witch might get killed. Phoebe. Paige."

The three sisters linked hands. Before Paige could orb them out of the manor, Phoebe let out a gasp. Her eyes glazed over for a few seconds. Then she automatically released Paige's hands.

"What is it?" the youngest Charmed One asked.

After a large gulp of air, Phoebe replied, "I just had a premonition. About us. We orbed into the middle of this warehouse and got caught into this trap set by warlocks. We couldn't get out. Even without Piper's combustion power. But they were able to kill us. With daggers."

Both Piper and Paige fell silent. Darryl added, "Now will you wait for Olivia's call?"

Paige was the first to recover from Phoebe's revelation. "I say we should leave now. Like Phoebe said, it's better we go after those warlocks than take the chance of another witch getting killed."

"What about my premonition?" Phoebe asked uneasily.

The oldest Halliwell responded, "Paige can orb us outside the warehouse. Phoebe?" The latter took hold of Paige's other hand. And the Charmed Ones orbed out of the manor.

* * * *

Harry McNeill sat in the middle of his bedroom at the McNeill manor, deep in meditation. Just as his mind visualized himself stepping on that last stone toward the hut - his sacred place - a vision flashed before his eyes. A vision of the Charmed Ones being trapped in a warehouse filled with warlock. He let out a gasp and his eyes flew open.

Did he just . . .? Was that a premonition he had just witnessed? But it was impossible! Harry knew that he did not possess the power of premonition. Like his grandmother Elise, he was a telepath. He read and had the power to control the minds of others. So had he read someone else's premonition?

The only person he knew that had such a power was the middle Charmed One - Phoebe Halliwell. And since that vision involved the Halliwells, Harry could only conclude that they might be in danger. Unless Phoebe's premonition had convinced them to change plans.

Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. If only he could focus upon Phoebe's thoughts again. Or those that belonged to the other Halliwells. After another few minutes of meditation, Harry made a psychic connection to another Halliwell. Piper. The sisters had just appeared outside the warehouse. Which meant there was a good chance they might be in danger, after all.

Fearful of any possible trouble, Harry called for his siblings' former whitelighter. "Leo! LEE-OO!" The whitelighter failed to appear. The twenty-five year-old heaved a frustrated sigh, reached for his telephone and dialed the number to his sister's cell phone.

* * * *

"Are you sure?" Olivia demanded. She stood off to the side of an empty corridor, inside the police station.

Harry's voice replied, "Yeah, I'm sure. I think I might have read one of Phoebe Halliwell's premonitions. That's one of her powers, right?"

Olivia took a deep breath and mentally cursed the Halliwells. They obviously decided not to heed Darryl's message, after he told them about the warehouse. Unless . . . "Maybe we don't have anything to worry about," she said to Harry. "Maybe they decided to wait for me after Phoebe's premonition."

"I'm afraid not, Livy." A pause followed, before Harry spoke up. "I managed to read the thoughts of another Halliwell. Piper, I think. They had decided to go to the warehouse, after all. Despite the premonition. And I can't reach Leo."

Another curse escaped Olivia's mouth. Then she sighed. "Okay. Listen. Get ready to leave and pick a few vials of Mom's vanquishing potions, while you're at it. I'll be there in a few minutes."

"A few . . . How?"

"Trust me, I'll find a way," Olivia quickly replied. "Just be ready." She disconnected the line, before dialing a new number. One that belonged to Cole Turner's penthouse.

After a few rings, Phoebe Halliwell's ex-husband answered, "Hello?"

"Cole!" Olivia declared in breathless relief. "This is Olivia McNeill. I need your help. It's about those warlocks that have been killing wit . . ." A second later, Cole appeared before her, looking concerned. "Wow! That was quick!"

Cole said in a curt voice, "You said something about warlocks. Where are they?"

"Actually, I know where they are. The problem is that Darryl told Phoebe and her sisters about the warlocks and there's a good chance they might be in trouble. We need to pick up Harry, first."

Cole took hold of Olivia's hand. "Okay. Let's go." And the pair disappeared from the corridor.

* * * *

Less than a minute later, Olivia, Cole and Harry reappeared in the parking lot of Tower Bay Imports/Exports. And the Charmed Ones were no where to be seen. "Where are they?" Olivia vented in frustration.

Harry closed his eyes for a few seconds. Then, "Inside. They've just been captured. I wonder just how powerful these warlocks are? I mean, they captured the Charmed Ones?"

A grim Cole replied, "Why don't we find out?" He strode toward the building. The two McNeills followed. Soon, all three found themselves peeking through one of the building's low windows.

The trio glanced inside and saw the Charmed Ones trapped within a dome-shaped force field. Piper Halliwell seemed to be making some kind of effort to break through the trap, using magic. But to no avail.

"It's useless," Phillip Crozat declared triumphantly. "You can't break free. Not even with the Power of Three. We found an old spell that once belonged to the Seer - you remember her, don't you? She had used it to create an inescapable cage. Mind you, our trap is not as powerful as hers - alone. But with the power of the coven, along with those belonging to three witches we've killed - it's impregnable. Even the old Source would find it difficult to escape.

Phoebe shot back, "It's a shame you didn't think of that, some years ago."

Nodding, Crozat added, "You're right about that. But with the Triad, the Seer alive and the Brotherhood of the Thorn breathing down our necks, we could have never created such a trap. Or attempt to grab control of the Source’s Realm. But thanks to you, both the Source and the Seer are gone for good. And the demonic world is in chaos . . ."

Olivia returned her attention back to Cole and Harry. "Okay," she whispered, "does anyone have a plan?"

Both men stared at her in shock. "What are you talking about? Don't you have a plan?" Cole demanded.

"Of course not! I had thought about coming up with something with the Charmed Ones. Unfortunately, they decided to attack head on like Custer at Little Big Horn!"

Cole grumbled, "All right! I get the picture." Then he sighed. "I think . . . I think I might have a plan. Or at least a distraction. If I can . . ."

Harry interrupted with a muted cry. "Someone's coming!"

Sure enough, a figure clad in black appeared from around the corner. Another Crozat, Olivia surmised. She hissed at Cole, "Get rid of him!"

"Like what? Kill him?"

Olivia shot back, "Well do something! Now!"

The warlock finally caught sight of the trio. Before he could do anything, Cole turned into an innate object. A pebble. Olivia sighed with relief and she, along with her two companions, returned their attention to the conversation inside.

A dagger appeared in Phillip Crozat's hand. The same happened with the other warlocks inside the warehouse. They all moved toward the trapped Charmed Ones. "What's that for?" an obviously disturbed Paige asked.

Phillip Crozat's thin lips stretched into an evil grin. "To kill you, of course. And steal your powers."

Piper asked, "How do you propose to do that, with us inside this trap?"

"I forgot to mention." Crozat tossed his athame back and forth in his hands. "Although you're unable to get out, our magic can get inside. Like the Seer's cage." He raised the knife, using telekinesis. The other warlocks followed his example.

Olivia turned to Cole. "I think it's time to use your plan," she whispered. "When do we attack?"

"When I kill a second warlock," the half-demon murmured.

Harry frowned. "A second?"

But Cole blurred out of view before an explanation could be given.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Fans' Views on Connery As Bond

Fans' Opinion on Sean Connery as Bond

“No post-Connery Bond in his debut performance has shrugged off comparisons to his predecessors as successfully as Craig does in Casino Royale: before the movie is even halfway through his Bond is far more his own man than those of Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan were by the end of their first Bond films.”
“A splendid casting choice, Craig has a physicality that only Sean Connery and perhaps George Lazenby could approach.”

“I don't think he (Daniel Craig) can overtake Connery as Bond for me, but he's already running a damned close.”

I am baffled. Are all James Bond fans in love Sean Connery? Are we all expected to accept the idea of him as the best James Bond as a matter of fact? I hope not. Because it is an opinion I have never shared during my thirty-four years of watching Bond movies. While watching a commercial for the recent Bond movie, “CASINO ROYALE”, the announcer declared Daniel Craig as the best Bond. A relative of mine nearly jumped out of his seat and cried, “Sean Connery is the best Bond!” as if it were a matter of fact. I could only look away in amusement.

One reason why I have never accepted Connery as the best Bond is the fact that he was not the first actor I had seen in the role. And if I had, I still doubt I would have accepted him as the best Bond. Although Roger Moore was my first Bond (I first saw him in “LIVE AND LET DIE”), very little time had passed before I saw Connery as Bond television for the first time. From what I had seen of Moore on the movie screen and Connery on television, both seemed to be very effective as James Bond. But only different. To this day, I have never been able to decide between the two who was my favorite Bond. And when movies like “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” and “GOLDENEYE” became popular with me, I found it increasingly difficult to choose any actor as the best Bond.

I am not saying that Sean Connery was a lousy James Bond. He obviously made a very good Bond. But after watching most of the Bond films over the past six months, I simply found it hard to accept the idea that he was the best actor to portray Bond. Quite frankly, I found myself equally impressed with those that followed – George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. For years, I have never had a “favorite Bond”, so to speak, until Daniel Craig’s debut in the role. Do I believe that Craig was the best Bond? No. But he has quickly become my favorite.

As for Connery, I was especially impressed by his excellent performances in “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” and “THUNDERBALL”. He seemed to be at his most human in those two roles. And in 1971’s “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, he seemed to be at his funniest. But honestly . . . I have never viewed him as the best James Bond. I certainly do not believe that his debut as Bond was the best. And I do not think I ever will. In fact, his debut (in “DR. NO”) is my least favorite Bond debut. His performance seemed . . . mixed. Uneven. In some scenes, his performance seemed very smooth and professional. At other times – especially in Jack Lord’s company – he seemed wooden.

He never really came close to the literary Bond penned by Ian Fleming. Both Dalton and Craig deserve that honor. Not that being close to the literary Bond meant much to me. Frankly, I could not care less how an actor portrays the 00 agent, as long as he gives a good performance, deal adequately with the action sequences and create his own style as Bond. Connery had created his own style – a mixture of rugged machismo and a touch of sophistication. But machismo seemed to dominate Connery’s Bond.

I don’t know. Perhaps many Bond fans – which seemed to be dominated by men – feel that machismo is the ultimate expression of a man. Personally, I do not agree. But we are all allowed our opinions. In adopting a machismo persona, Connery immediately created his own style of how to portray Bond. But the reason why I cannot give him credit as the ultimate Bond is that the other actors have managed to create their own style, as well. Why should Connery be given credit for something the other five actors have also managed to achieve?

But why do fans insist upon declaring Connery as the best Bond, as if it were a matter of fact? Some might point out that most Bond fans prefer Connery. I admit that it does seem to be the case that Connery is the most popular Bond actor. But I am the type of person who does not believe in the old term – ‘majority rules’. Especially in regard to art or entertainment. Hell, most Americans in the mid-19th century believed there was nothing wrong with enslaving African-Americans. But just because most accepted this opinion as fact, does not mean they were right. And I must say the same about Connery’s performances as Bond. Even if most fans accept him as the best James Bond, does not mean they are right. In the end, it is subjective. I only wish that many of these film critics and fans stop declaring Connery as the best Bond . . . as if it were a matter of fact. Would it really kill for them to add – “in my opinion”?

Friday, June 1, 2007

"Neighbors" [PG] - 3/6


When Cole had disappeared from the McNeill garden, Phoebe heaved a silent sigh of relief. He had left, thank goodness. For a moment she feared that Cole had deliberately appeared at the McNeill home because of her. Yet, he had not seemed interested in her. In fact, he looked . . . unpleasantly surprised.

"This sandwich loaf or whatever you call it is great!" Paige declared, as she bit into a slice. "Who made this?"

A voice behind the two sisters announced, "I believe that Olivia did." It was Elise McNeill. "Olivia would be pleased that you liked her sandwich loaves. She learned how to make them from Gwen. In fact, all of Gwen's children had inherited her cooking talent. Especially Bruce." Her blue-gray eyes twinkled with interest. "Have you ever been to the Golden Horn restaurant? Gwen owns it, but Bruce is the sous chef, there."

"Uh, no," Phoebe replied. "It's a . . . a little too expensive for our tastes."

The elderly woman blinked. "Oh. Well, what about Morgan's on Powell Street? It's Gwen's other restaurant."

Paige added enthusiastically, "I've been there. Great chow. Especially the Veal Parmagian."

"Gwen would be glad to hear it," Mrs. McNeill replied with a smile. "Why don't you try Bruce's quiche? It's quite . . ."

Her thoughts on her ex-husband and not on the food, Phoebe cut in. "Mrs. McNeill . . ."


Phoebe took a deep breath and continued, "I want to apologize. About Cole. I had no idea that he would show up, like that."

Blue-gray eyes stared thoughtfully at Phoebe. "What is there to apologize for? Olivia's car wasn't working and Mr. Turner gave her a lift. That's all."

"Maybe. But knowing Cole . . ." Phoebe caught herself. A touch of bitterness had crept into her voice and she immediately squelched it. "What I mean is there's a chance that Cole had arranged the whole thing. With Olivia's car."


Phoebe continued, "To see me, today. We were just recently divorced. And Cole . . . well, I think he's trying to win me back."

"Really?" Mrs. McNeill added, "He didn't stay around long enough to try, did he?"

Paige said, "You have to understand my brother . . . uh, ex-brother-in-law, Mrs. McNeill. He can be very obsessive about Phoebe. In fact, she had a difficult time getting a divorce from him."

"Cole didn't know you would be here," a fourth voice said. Olivia McNeill joined the trio near the buffet table. "If he did, I certainly didn't tell him. In fact, no one bothered to tell me." She gave her grandmother a reproachful look.

Innocence radiated from the elderly woman's eyes. "I'm sorry! I didn't find out until this morning. By the way," her gaze returned to the Halliwells, "why did you wait so long to accept my invitation? I had invited you, last Thursday."

Phoebe exchanged an embarrassed glance with Paige. Whose attention immediately returned to the sandwich loaf slice on her plate. Phoebe did not blame her. What could they say? That the only reason they accepted Elise McNeill's invitation, because they needed help in tracking down warlocks? Phoebe suspected that the McNeills, especially old Mrs. McNeill, would be insulted by the truth. So she lied.

"Actually," she replied, "we had other plans for today. But they fell through." God that sounded lame!

The elderly woman's eyes stabbed Phoebe with a piercing stare. It seemed to cut right through the middle Halliwell's psyche. Phoebe had the oddest feeling that Mrs. McNeill had just read her thoughts. "Phoebe," the older woman began.

"Yes?" Did her voice just quiver?

Mrs. McNeill continued, "I should tell you that I'm a telepath." Her eyes continued to bore through the young witch's. "So, could you tell me again, why you took so long to accept my invitation?"

Phoebe took a deep breath. She glanced at Paige, who seemed a little intimidated. No help there. "Uh, actually . . . we decided to accept at the last minute, because . . ." Once again, she looked at her younger sister.

"Because we had hoped that Inspec . . . uh, Olivia would help us track down those warlocks," Paige finally blurted out. Relief practically oozed out of her eyes.

A pause followed. Phoebe glanced at the red-haired police inspector, whose eyes were riveted upon the others in the garden. Phoebe had the strangest sensation that she was attempting to suppress a smirk.

Mrs. McNeill's stare remained steady. "Well, now I wish I hadn't insisted upon the truth. And I thought you wanted to meet one of your grandmother's old friends."

Oh God! Phoebe squirmed with discomfort. The woman could lay a guilt trip with a finesse that would put Grams to shame. Or Prue. Phoebe opened her mouth to respond, but Mr. McNeill came to her rescue. He cried out, "Hey! Are you guys going to hog the food on that table, forever?"

The McNeill matriarch smiled at her son. "Don't worry, Jack. We'll be right there." Without so much as a glance at Phoebe or Paige, she left the table to join the others. And with Olivia close behind her.

Paige whispered to Phoebe, "You know, this little gathering is turning into the brunch from Hell. Now, what do we do?"

"Grin and bear it," Phoebe whispered back through clenched teeth. "What other choice do we have?" The two sisters linked hands and rejoined the others around the patio. Both nearly winced visibly as they overheard Elise McNeill confront Piper and Leo about their visit.

Looking somewhat taken aback, Piper said, "Uh, I'm sorry, Mrs. McNeill. What did you say?"

"I said that I understand that you and your sisters wanted to speak with Olivia about these warlock attacks," Elise McNeill repeated coolly. "Or do you plan to get together with her to find them?"

The stunned expression on Piper's face seemed to have spurred Leo to speak on her behalf. "Well, the girls also wanted to talk about their grandmother . . ." He cut his words short, as Phoebe warned him with a shake of her head.

"That's funny," Olivia said with a smirk slowly forming on her lips, "I could have sworn that Paige had just told us that the reason you accepted Gran's invitation, is because you wanted to discuss the warlocks."

A strained silence fell upon the garden patio. The Halliwells found themselves under an intense scrutiny from the McNeills. There was nothing more embarrassing, Phoebe decided, than being caught in a lie. And since Piper and Leo were too stunned to speak, and Paige had a bad habit of being blunt, Phoebe realized that she better ease the tension.

"Look, I realize that we came here under false pretenses," she began apologetically.

One of Mr. McNeill's brows quirked upward. "Oh?"

Turning to face old Mrs. McNeill, Phoebe continued, "You have to understand. We really would have loved talking with you about Grams. It's just that the last time we visited one of her old friends, she ended up stealing our powers for some warlock. So she could become young, again. I guess we've been wary of 'old' friends, ever since."

"That must have been Gail," Mrs. McNeill said in a sad voice. "I heard about her death from my former whitelighter. I guess her bad health had finally driven her to desperate measure." She then gave the Halliwells a steely look. "But I assure you, I have no desire to steal your powers." The beginnings of a smirk touched her lips. "At least not yet." She sighed. "But since you needed help to track down those warlocks, you came to see us. Or specifically, Olivia."

Blushing furiously, Phoebe nodded. Piper, Paige and Leo also looked equally guilty. Olivia heaved a sigh and asked what they wanted to know.

Relief flooded Phoebe. She said, "We're trying to figure out why we can't locate this warlock coven. If there is a coven behind these attacks."

"Oh, I'm sure it's the Crozat Coven," Olivia replied. "Two warlocks from the same coven? That's just a little too convenient."

Jack McNeill added, "There's a good chance that the warlocks are blocking any sign of their presence."

"With a spell?" Leo asked.

Nodding, Mr. McNeill continued, "Probably. If they're killing off witches, especially powerful witches, they don't want to be discovered."

"Especially if their activities are attracting notice," Gwen McNeill added.

Paige added, "I had considered using a summoning spell, but attracting a coven of warlocks . . ."

Harry McNeill, Olivia's younger brother, made a suggestion that formed a knot in Phoebe's stomach. "Say Livy, why don't you ask that new neighbor of yours? Cole? I bet he could give you some information on this Crozat Coven." His words were met with a stony silence by the Halliwells. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Actually, that sounds like a good idea," Olivia commented. "I'll ask him when I . . ."

"No!" The word shot out of Phoebe's mouth before she could stop herself. All eyes stared at her. She felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound rude. It's just that . . ."

Paige quickly cut in. "What Phoebe meant was that we prefer not to involve Cole in this."

"Why?" Harry demanded. "You think he might have some connection to these warlocks?"

A tight smile barely stretched Piper's lips. "We just prefer not to have anything to do with Cole. Bad memories."

"That's okay," Olivia said. "You don't have to ask him. I will."

The three Halliwells stared at Olivia. Phoebe began to wonder why the redhead seemed so interested in involving Cole in this affair. Or why she was not upset at the idea of working with a demon, let alone becoming friends with him.

"You really think that's a good idea?" Paige asked in her usual blunt manner. "I mean the man is demonic, again. He's evil. Despite what he may feel about Phoebe. I wouldn't trust him with a fish tank, let alone having him help us."

Piper seared her youngest sister with a reproachful glare. "Paige!"

"Well, if you don't trust him," Olivia shot back, "why did you work with him for nearly a year?"

The Charmed Ones glared at their whitelighter. Obviously, Leo had told Olivia a lot about them since they first became witches.

Phoebe coolly answered, "Because we thought we could trust him. And the only reason he was willing to work with us, was because of . . . well, me." Her face grew hot again. "But not even me could prevent him from accepting evil again."

"Are you referring to the period when he was the Source?" Gwen McNeill asked. "How did that happened?"

It was Paige who told the McNeills about Cole's use of the Hollow. Of how he used that particular object to absorb the Source's power to first, help the Charmed Ones vanquish the old Source; and two, assume control of the Underworld and use Phoebe to conceive a son. "So you see," Paige finished, "he really can't be trusted. Despite his recent attempts to prove how good he is. And with those new powers that he has . . . well, you can understand."

The tension that surrounded the garden patio increased tenfold. Phoebe noticed that McNeills seemed to regard Paige's narrative with a touch of skepticism. Why, she couldn't understand. She also found herself longing for the familiar surroundings of the Halliwell manor. And her own private bedroom. Trust Cole to cause further trouble - even without being around.

Olivia's stare became even more relentless. "So, what you're saying is that Cole had deliberately got his hands on the Hollow to become the new Source? Am I right?"

An apologetic Leo spoke up. "We don't know the exact details. Cole claims that the Seer tricked him into using it. He might be telling the truth. Then again, we don't know for sure. And whether he is or not, having him around is a danger . . . to all of us."

"He certainly wasn't a danger to Olivia," Bruce commented. "Cole saved her from a warlock, three days ago.

Olivia smiled thinly. "And he didn't really have to bother, considering we had been at each other's throats just a few hours earlier. Maybe he's not completely trustworthy, but I don't think it would hurt to ask. Besides," her smile disappeared, "I like to cover all possibilities."

Shaking her head, Paige retorted, "Yeah, but you don't know him like we . . ."

"Paige!" Once more, Piper interrupted her sister.

Phoebe remained silent throughout that last exchange. What could she or her family say? They had no say over Olivia's actions. But a small part of Phoebe felt disturbed that the police inspector - who happened to be very attractive - had quickly developed a friendship with her ex-husband.

Gweneth McNeill broke the uncomfortable silence with a slight cough. "Well," she said with a too bright smile, "now that everything's been settled, are any of you ready for my peach torte?"

* * * *

Several hours later, the Halliwells and Leo returned to the manor on Prescott Street with great relief. Leo closed the door behind him and turned to his wife and sisters-in-law. "Well," he said, struggling to maintain a smile, "that was an interesting afternoon."

"Interesting?" Paige scoffed. "More like intense. My God, Leo! How long have you known that bunch?"

Leo heaved a sigh. It was his usual response whenever someone brought up the McNeill family. "A little over thirty years. Since Bruce was born."

"I can't believe they're willing to work with a demon," Paige continued. "Don't they see anything wrong with that?"

Piper reminded the twenty-five year-old that they had worked closely with that same demon for at least a year. "I mean, he was part of the household."

"And he has saved your life on more than one occasion," Phoebe coolly added.

The manor's inhabitants fell into an embarrassed silence. Leo cocked his ear, hoping for a summons from the Founders. Or at least one of his charges.

"But Phoebe," Paige quietly continued, "do you really want to work with Cole, again? After all he had put us through?"

The defeated sag in Phoebe's shoulders answered Paige's questions, effectively. Leo felt sorry for his sister-in-law. Poor Phoebe. Even after six months, the trauma of Cole's betrayal and their experiences with the Source and the Seer had not completely disappeared. Leo wondered if she would ever recover.

"Look," Piper added, reverting to her old role as mediator, "as far as we know, Olivia is only going to ask Cole a few questions. That's all. He might not even have much information on these warlocks."

Leo wished he could agree, but he had his doubts. Past experience with Cole told him that once the half-demon learn about the warlock threat, he would move heaven and earth to protect Phoebe. Evil or not.

Paige shook her head and repeated Leo's exact thoughts. "I hope you're right. But you know Cole, once he finds out about the warlocks, he won't be able to stay away. And as for the McNeills . . ." She shook her head. "All I'm saying is they seemed too eager to get Cole's help. They don't know him as well as we did, when he worked with us. And did you see the way they fawned over him? I mean, even Mr. McNeill seemed to greet him like an old lost friend, instead of someone who nearly killed him, years ago."

"It was Mr. McNeill who nearly killed Cole," Phoebe grumbled. "And can we please stop talking about him, for once? One day can't go by without someone bringing up the subject of Cole! You keep saying that I should get over him, but you're not helping!"

Piper and Paige each mumbled a quiet, "sorry". Leo gave Phoebe's shoulder a quick, comforting squeeze. "Maybe Piper is right," he added. "Maybe nothing will come out of Olivia asking Cole."

"But what if he does get involved?" Phoebe quietly asked. "What if they . . ." She shook her head. "Never mind."

"What?" Piper demanded.

A sigh left Phoebe's mouth. "Well, you saw how Olivia reacted over Cole. She practically defended the man. What if they became close? And . . . and Cole hurts her in the end? I mean, c'mon Leo! Neither she or her family have any real experience in dealing with . . . you know, they don't have any real close experience with people like . . . Cole."

Leo cleared his throat. Might as tell them the truth. "That's not exactly true," he said.

All three sisters stared at the whitelighter. "What are you saying?" Paige demanded.

"Olivia." Leo paused. "She was once engaged to a warlock."

The Charmed Ones' eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "WHAT?" they cried at the same time.




Part 6

Cole guided his Porsche into the parking space assigned to him and stopped. He switched off the engine. A minute passed while he remained in the driver's seat, staring at the view beyond the car's windshield. At the gray wall of his building's underground parking lot. Another minute passed. And another.

The drive up the coast had done nothing to allay Cole's dark mood. In fact, the whole trip seemed to have been a complete waste of time. Perhaps he would have been better off accepting the McNeills' invitation to brunch. Then again, maybe not. Cole doubted that he could have survived an afternoon of dealing with the Halliwells' hostility.

He sighed and opened the car's door. Just as Cole was about to climb out, he heard a voice cry out his name. "Mr. Turner? Hel-lo! Mr. Turner!" Dammit! Cole recognized the voice. It belonged to one of his neighbors, a tenant named Geraldine Boone. Cole could not stand her.

"Mr. Turner! Thank goodness I ran into you!" A forty-something woman with dyed blond hair, jogged up to Cole's side, breathing heavily. He tried to ignore the tight dress that seemed totally unsuited for her. Especially since it accentuated some very unflattering curves.

Cole's mouth stretched into an insincere smile. He said in a polite voice, "Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?" He climbed out of the Porsche and shut the door.

The middle-aged woman tittered. "Why don't you call me Gerry? And I'll call you Cole?"

Fighting the urge to fireball the woman or transform her into an innate object, Cole's smile remained frozen. "So . . . Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?"

Discomfort flickered in her pale eyes. "I . . . uh, I wanted to speak with you about building matters," Mrs. Boone continued. Then her flirtatious attitude returned with a vengeance. "Why don't we return to the building, together, while I tell you all about it." She linked her arm with Cole's and led him toward the parking lot's elevator.

As the elevator rose, Cole thought he would go out of his mind. The urge to use one of his powers on Mrs. Boone, became harder to resist, as she babbled on about the building's superintendent and other matters. Before he could act upon his frustrations, the elevator reached the lobby. The doors slid open and relief appeared in the form of Olivia McNeill. She seemed to be struggling with what looked like aluminum trays in her arms.

"Olivia!" Cole immediately abandoned the older woman and rushed forward to help the red-haired witch. He grabbed one of the trays. "Here, I'll take this."

The younger woman flashed a grateful smile at Cole. "Thanks! I'm afraid that Mom's idea of leftovers is two weeks' worth of food." She spotted a frowning Mrs. Boone in the elevator and stepped inside. "Oh, hi Mrs. Boone! How are you?"

Looking somewhat less than pleased by Olivia's appearance, the older woman murmured curtly, "Fine. I . . ."

"Mrs. Boone was discussing the tenants' problems with maintenance," Cole explained. "She feels we need a new maintenance supervisor."

An auburn brow quirked upward. "Really? I don't recall any maintenance problems. Nor any complaints." Olivia faced Mrs. Boone. "Are you sure you're not exaggerating?"

The older woman's mouth hung open, making her resemble a peroxide fish. Much to Cole's amusement. He wondered if he should give in and transform Mrs. Boone into one.

The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. The doors slid open. "The fifth floor," Cole gaily announced. "I believe this is your stop, Mrs. Boone."

Geraldine Boone - very reluctantly - stumbled out of the elevator. She whirled around and opened her mouth to say something to Cole. But the elevator doors closed shut before she could utter a peep.

Both Cole and Olivia burst into laughter the moment the doors closed. By the time the elevator reached Olivia's floor, their laughter had subsided. Cole, carrying the larger tray, followed his companion out of the elevator and toward her apartment. Once inside, the pair headed straight for the kitchen, where they delivered the trays on the table.

"Thanks for helping me," Olivia said with a smile. "That's the second time today you've come to my rescue."

Cole returned her smile with his own. "Glad to help. Besides, you came to my rescue just a few minutes ago. Consider us even," he drawled. Then his smile disappeared. Did he just flirt with his neighbor?

Then Cole noticed the frown on Olivia's face. "What? Did I say something wrong?"

Olivia replied, "I was about to ask you the same thing. You looked a bit . . . odd there, for a moment."

"It's nothing. I was just . . ."

"Has it something to do with your ex-wife?" Olivia asked. Her green eyes reflected concern.

Cole immediately shook his head. "No. Uh, no it doesn't." He returned to the living room and sat down in one of the chairs.

"Liar." Olivia shot him a look that mixed reproach and sympathy. "I saw your reaction at my parents' house, this morning."

Embarrassment washed over Cole. "Yeah, well, it was . . . it was a shock seeing Phoebe and her sisters. But I guess you were all bound to meet one day. Especially since Leo is also your whitelighter. By the way, how was the brunch?"

Olivia turned up her nose, surprising Cole. "A bit of a disaster, I'm afraid," she replied.

"Oh. Sorry. I guess I shouldn't have . . ."

"Are you always in the habit of taking the blame for everything? Look, you didn't know they were going to be there," Olivia retorted. "And neither did I. Besides, it wasn't all about you. The Charmed Ones had accepted my grandmother's invitation at the last moment."

Cole shrugged. "I see."

"No, not quite." Olivia sighed. "It seemed they had accepted the invitation under false pretenses." Cole stared at her. "Gran thought they wanted to talk about Mrs. Halliwell. We found out that they simply wanted to talk about warlocks."

Now Cole understood. If it were not for his present mood, he would laugh at the idea of the Charmed Ones committing such a faux pas. "Warlocks? You mean the one who had attacked you the other night?"

Nodding, Olivia continued, "And the one whom the Charmed Ones had killed last Wednesday in Lafayette Park." She opened her liquor cabinet and retrieved two martini glasses. "Martini?"

"Thanks," Cole replied.

Olivia then reached for three bottles. "Gin, vodka or vermouth?"

Cole added, "Gin and vermouth. With an onion. I'm a Gibson fan."

A smile touched Olivia's mouth. "Really? So am I." She returned the vodka inside the cabinet and then reached for a martini pitcher. "I recognized the warlock that the Halliwells had killed," she continued. "He was part of the Crozat Coven. And so was the one you had killed." She began preparing the martinis. "The body of a dead witch was found in Candlestick Park, yesterday morning. I had planned to ask you about the Crozats."

Cole frowned. "The Crozat Coven. Sounds familiar." He recalled a trip to Seattle he had made some five years ago. "From Seattle? I think I've heard of them."

Olivia stirred the contents of the pitcher with a long spoon, before pouring it into the two martini glasses. "You've heard of the Crozat Coven?"

Cole explained that the Crozat Coven had business dealings with his former order, in the past. "The Brotherhood of the Thorn. Ever heard of them?"

"Of course!" Excitement lit up Olivia's eyes. She dumped an onion in each of the martini glasses. "Organization of upper level daemons, right? You were one of them?"

Cole nodded. "For over a half-century. Until I betrayed the Source," he added with a bitter smile. His smile disappeared. "I, uh . . . I helped Phoebe and her sisters thwart one of their business schemes."

Holding the two glasses of martini, Olivia walked over to Cole. She handed over one glass. "And the Brotherhood also had dealings with the Crozat Coven?" She took a sip of her martini. So did Cole. He found it delicious.

"Yeah," he continued. "The coven conducted their business under . . ." Cole paused, as he searched his memory. "I believe they used some corporation as a front for their activities. It's called . . . Malehex. And it's based in Seattle."

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. A frown creased her lovely face. Lovely? Cole gave his head a slight shake. This was no time to be thinking about someone else's looks.

"I wonder if they have any holdings in San Francisco," Olivia commented, breaking Cole's thoughts.

He shook his head. "I wouldn't know. I had to go to Seattle to deal with them. And it has been five years." He paused. "Maybe you can check the internet for Malehex Corporation."

Without a moment's hesitation, Olivia placed her martini glass on the table. She stood up and headed for the desk that held her computer laptop. Cole followed. "Let's see," she murmured, sliding into the chair in front of her desk. Then Olivia typed in the words - MALEHEX CORPORATION. The search proved fruitless. The only information given was the corporation's name and Seattle address.

"Damn!" Olivia muttered with frustration.

Cole added, "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I doubt that a corporation owned by warlocks would reveal so much on the Internet."

"But the police computer might have some information," Olivia replied, the excitement on her face growing again. "Or better yet, the Seattle Police. I know a fellow cop . . . who happens to be a witch, up there. I'll send him a message."

While Olivia returned her attention to the computer, Cole took the opportunity to examine her apartment. It seemed small, compared to the penthouse. But it still looked pretty spacious in his eyes. The apartment boasted a large bedroom, a smaller one that obviously served as a guest bedroom, two bathrooms and several closets. Cole also noticed that Olivia had decorated her apartment with tasteful, yet expensive furnishings. Many of them, he suspected, may have come from antique shops. He noticed several family photographs on a Midland cabinet. One particular photograph of a handsome, chestnut-haired man with hazel brown eyes, caught his attention. The man looked very familiar.

"Okay," Olivia said, as she rose from her desk. "I just sent my friend . . ."

Cole held up the photograph of the handsome stranger. "This man looks familiar. Do you know . . .?" He paused at the sight of Olivia's expression. Surprise, followed by deep sadness permeated her green eyes. She practically looked grief-stricken. "Uh, did I say something wrong?"

"No, I . . ." Olivia's mouth trembled slightly. She took a deep breath. "That's my fiancé, Richard. My late fiancé."

Cole murmured a few words of sympathy. "I'm sorry. How did he . . .? Never mind." He placed the photograph back on the cabinet's shelf.

"How did he die? Is that what you were about to ask?" Olivia inhaled once more. "He was killed."

"By a demon? A warlock?"

Olivia quietly replied, "No, by my aunt. My mother's sister, Aunt Rhiannon."

Her answer took Cole's breath away. "Your . . .aunt? Why would she . . .?"

Another gust of breath left Olivia's mouth. She walked over to the sofa and sat down. Then she picked up her martini glass and took a large gulp. Cole sat next to her. "Richard was a warlock," Olivia finally said.

Realization hit Cole like a wet rag. "Of course! I thought he looked familiar. He's from the Bannen Coven! But I heard they had been vanquished nearly two years ago."

"Thanks to Richard." Olivia explained that she had become acquainted with the warlock, Richard Bannen, after meeting him at a exclusive charity party, here in San Francisco. Richard had introduced himself with the full intention to become acquainted with Olivia, romance her and kill her and the McNeill family, in order to steal their powers. "It didn't take me very long to realize he was a warlock, but I kept up a charade of innocence to learn the whereabouts of his coven." She sighed. "Only both of us ended up falling in love. Would you believe it? My family didn't believe it at first, and wanted Richard vanquished. But Harry and Gran learned that Richard's feelings were sincere."

The McNeills eventually accepted Richard as part of the family. Except for one person - Olivia's aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Davies. Gweneth McNeill's sister had endured the death of her husband at the hands of another Bannen warlock. "She never really got over Uncle Antony's death," Olivia continued. And Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she tended to be a little too self-righteous. She never liked Dad. She considered him morally ambiguous and not good enough for Mom. But after Uncle Tony's death, she literally became a one-woman vigilante. You know, obsessed with hunting demons and warlocks - especially if their name was Bannen." Olivia's voice seemed heavy with sadness.

"How did Richard fit into all this?" Cole asked. Olivia's description of her aunt reminded him of Prue. And of Piper, after Prue's death.

Olivia paused. Her face assumed a haunted expression. "Following Uncle Tony's death, several other witches were killed by some of Richard's cousins. As far as Aunt Rhiannon was concerned, Richard was among those responsible. She tried to hunt down the entire coven, herself. She did kill a few, but she also harmed a few innocents, in the process, when she mistook them for warlocks. Both Mom and I tried to reason with her. But . . ." Olivia sighed. Heavily. "Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she snapped and began accusing us of embracing evil." She finished the last of her martini, while Cole waited. "Then she attacked us. She . . . uh, knocked me unconscious and was about to kill Mom, when Richard appeared. Aunt Rhiannon had electrokinesis, like Mom. When she used it against Mom, Richard got into the line of fire and got hurt, instead. Aunt Rhiannon was about to attack Mom again, when Richard struck back and killed her." Her voice choking, Olivia concluded, "And Richard died a few minutes later from his wounds. Right after I had regained consciousness." Tears fell from her eyes.

Cole immediately handed his handkerchief to Olivia. Who used it to wipe her eyes. Her story had been truly horrible. And sad. Granted, being possessed by the Source, and later vanquished by one's wife and sisters-in-law seemed worse. But Olivia's story did strike Cole as pretty damn depressing. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Shaking her head, Olivia wiped away more tears. "Yeah, so am I. It's been about ten months since it happened." She paused. "And it still hurts." Olivia handed the handkerchief back to Cole.

"Something like that . . ." Cole hesitated. "Well, it's hard to get over." He sighed. "I know from past experience."

Personal grief slowly gave way to sympathy in Olivia's eyes. And curiosity. She said quietly, "Are you talking about you being the Source? How exactly did that happened?"

Cole's lips formed a bitter smirk. "Didn't Leo tell you?"

"Well, all I heard was that you had become the Source, betrayed Phoebe and she and her sisters ended up vanquishing you. Leo left out a lot of details." Olivia shook her head. "And I got the feeling that he didn't know all the details. It just seemed too simple . . . especially after all you went through to win their trust. I mean, how did you become the Source in the first place, when you were a human?"

Cole sighed and placed his martini glass on the nearby coffee table. "It's a long story. And I'm hungry. Why don't we discuss this over dinner?"

Olivia responded, "Okay. How about dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant? I'm not really in the mood to cook dinner. And it's my treat."

"Your treat? The Golden Horn is pretty expensive."

A smile - the first one Cole has seen in a while - touched Olivia's lips. "Not for a McNeill. Mom owns the restaurant."

"No wonder it's your treat," Cole murmured sarcastically. He stood up. "Okay. I'll meet you in . . . an hour?"

"An hour's fine. I'll see you then." Olivia's smile broadened. It was the last thing Cole saw before he disappeared from her apartment.