Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Images

Below are images celebrating Halloween or the Pagan holiday, Samhain, from movies, television, amusement parks and art:

Monday, October 29, 2007

"CAPOTE" (2005) Review

”CAPOTE” (2005) Review

I finally got around to watching the first of two movies about writer Truman Capote and his work on the non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”. This particular movie, “CAPOTE”, starred American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who eventually won a SAG award, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for his performance.

Penned by actor Dan Futterman and directed by Bennett Miller, “CAPOTE” turned out to be a more somber affair than its 2006 counterpart, “INFAMOUS”. Miller had once commented that he wanted to create a more subtle portrait of the flamboyant author in order to emphasize on Capote’s lonely and alienated state . . . despite his relationships with authors, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood); and his popularity with New York high society. This subtle approach not only permeated the movie’s tone and pace, it also affected the cast’s performances – especially Hoffman and Clifton Collins Jr., as Perry Smith.

I do not know if I would have automatically given Philip Seymour Hoffman that Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote. I am still inclined toward Heath Ledger receiving the award for his performance in “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. But I must admit that Hoffman certainly deserved his nomination. He managed to skillfully portray Capote’s ambition and determination to create a literary masterpiece from the real life murders surrounding the Herb Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Hoffman also revealed how Capote used his charm to manipulate others . . . especially Perry Smith.

Catherine Keener earned both BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for her warm portrayal of “To Kill Mockingbird” author, Nelle Harper Lee. Granted, she deserved her nominations and I especially enjoyed how she managed to project a mixture of friendly warmth, reserve and moral fortitude in her performance. But I could not help but wonder if she could receive acting nominations, why not Clifton Collins, Jr.?

It seemed a shame that more praise had not been heaped upon Clifton Collins’ shoulders for his portrayal of the intense and soft-spoken convicted murderer, Perry Smith. His scenes with Hoffman gave the movie an extra bite of emotionalism that saved it from being too subtle. Like Daniel Craig’s performance of Smith in “INFAMOUS”, Collins brought an interesting balance of soft-spoken politeness and intense danger in his performance. Well . . . almost. One of the real KBI investigators in charge of the Clutter case, Alvin Dewey, had once described Perry Smith as a quiet, intense and dangerous man. In “CAPOTE”, Smith’s own sister had warned Capote that despite her brother’s quiet and polite demeanor, he was easily capable of committing the crimes against the Clutters. And yet, I never did sense any real danger in Collins’ performance. Not quite. Except in two scenes – namely his confrontation with Capote over the “In Cold Blood”title; and the flashbacks revealing the Clutters’ murders. The ironic thing is that I suspect that Collins was not to blame. I suspect that Miller’s direction and Futterman’s script simply did not really allow Collins to reveal Smith’s more dangerous aura.

All of this led to what became my main problem with “CAPOTE” – namely the somber subtlety that seemed to permeate the production. Not only did the director’s desire to create a subtle film seem to mute Collins’ potential for a more balanced portrayal of Perry Smith, it also forced Hoffman to hold back some of Capote’s more flamboyant traits. I am quite certain that this was both the director and the screenwriter’s intentions. But I also feel that this deliberate attempt at subtlety may have robbed both the Capote and Smith characters of a more balanced nuance. It also denied the audience a deeper look into Capote’s New York lifestyle and bogged down the movie’s pacing in the end. During the last thirty or forty minutes, I found myself begging for the movie to end.

But despite the movie’s “too somber” mood and pacing, “CAPOTE” is an excellent movie and I would highly recommend it for viewing.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

"The Best Man" (PG) - 2/2

Here is Part Two of my Alternate Universe "PEARL HARBOR" story:



'How long does it take to walk down the aisle?' Captain Danny Walker pondered silently.

As he waited for his bride in front of the chapel's altar, an assortment of emotions besieged him. One, Danny felt nervous as hell. After all, he was about to become a married man - and a father in less than two months. A father. He could not believe it! Somehow, he and Evelyn managed to create a new life during that passionate evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field.

Recalling that particular event brought upon another emotion. Happiness. Danny felt as if he could walk on air. Evelyn Johnson was about to become his wife - Mrs. Daniel Walker. Never did Danny imagine he would find someone special in his life. Especially someone as kind and beautiful as Evelyn. And to think that it took a sad period . . .

Danny's thoughts came to a screeching halt. The happiness he felt gave way to anxiety. Seeing Evelyn's slightly pregnant form, Danny began to wonder how she really felt about him. Did she really love him? Or had she merely agreed to marry him, because of the baby? Danny fervently hoped the former. Yet, a small and dark suspicion niggled in the back of his mind. A suspicion that his bride might still harbor feelings for her former love . . . and his best friend.

The idea induced Danny to give the best man a quick glance. Rafe seemed . . . well he seemed fine. Calm. Danny frowned at the other man's expressionless face. An odd expression for someone to have at a wedding. But this was Rafe. Who was about to witness the marriage between his best friend and former girlfriend.

A wave of guilt washed over Danny. He tried to fight the feeling, but the guilt refused to vanish. Okay, so he had pursued Evelyn. Danny did not believe he had committed a crime. After all, Rafe had been dead. 'Yeah, for only three months.' With a single-minded ruthlessness, Danny squelched the silent retort. This was no time to feel guilty over certain events that he had no reason to feel guilty about.

His eyes focused upon the woman who glided down the aisle with the Naval officer. Despite being over seven months pregnant, Evelyn looked downright beautiful in her cream-colored gown. Considering her present physical condition, it would have been ludicrous for her to wear white. Danny quickly dismissed the thought. He only wanted to focus upon the moment. And on the bride. Her flushed skin and glittering dark eyes. Danny felt thrilled that she seemed to be as focused upon as he was upon her. Ever since Rafe's return, he had feared . . .

Danny shot another glance at his best man. Like everyone else, Rafe seemed focused upon the bride. Yet, the glance revealed that Rafe was not looking at Evelyn, but past her shoulder. At the pew, beyond. Danny did not know whether to feel relieved at not detecting any embarrassing emotions in Rafe's eyes, or annoyed that the latter was deliberately ignoring Evelyn. And what about Evelyn? Was she straining not to sneak a glance at her former love? If one could regard Rafe as former. But the moment Danny clapped eyes upon Evelyn, he could see that she had eyes for no one but him. His body nearly sagged with relief.

That relief soon became anticipation as the bride finally reached the altar. Commander Hayes handed over Eveyln's arm to Danny. The latter smiled at his future wife. She returned the smile. Evelyn's dark eyes glittered with the same anticipation that he felt. Then Danny shot a second glance at the best man. Rafe's eyes had shifted from the pew to the altar. Again, those eyes avoided Evelyn. Squelching another flash of guilt that threatened to overwhelm him, Danny focused his attention to the minister, who began the ceremony. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God, and of this company . . ."

The minister droned on about love and marriage during perilous times. Obviously, the man had decided to ignore Evelyn's pregnant state. Finally, the minister came to the first important question. "Daniel Walker, do you take Evelyn Johnson to be your wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love her, to honor and cherish her, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to be to her in all things a good and faithful husband as long as you both shall live?"

Danny stared deeply into his bride's dark eyes. "I do." His voice resonated throughout the small chapel.

Then it became Evelyn's turn to answer the same question. For a second, Danny feared an embarrassing pause that would follow - indicating the bride's doubts and possible true feelings about this wedding. But she did not hesitate. Evelyn quickly and firmly answered, "I do."

Collective sighs filled the chapel. Repeating the minister, Danny added, "I, Daniel Walker, take thee, Evelyn Johnson, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. According to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge thee my faith." Evelyn, following the minister's words, pledged the same vow.

The minister continued with a wedding prayer, as his voice filled the chapel. When he finished, he turned to Rafe. "The ring please?"

Danny watched Rafe dig immediately into his trouser pocket for the wedding ring. The older man's hand trembled as he handed it to the groom. Despite the blank, almost bleak expression on his face.

"Repeat after me," the minister said to Danny. "With this ring, I thee wed. With my body, I thee honor. With this ring I give to you in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love." Danny repeated the minister's words. He smoothly placed the ring on Evelyn's finger. Then he watched as she retrieved a ring from Barbara and repeated the same words. Her hands trembling, she inserted the second ring on Danny's finger.

The minister concluded, "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as Daniel Walker and Evelyn Johnson have consented together in holy matrimony, and have witnessed the same before God and this company and have pledged their love and loyalty to each other, and have declared the same by the joining and the giving of rings, I, therefore, by the authority of the state, pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." He gave Danny a flourished smile. "The Groom may now kissed the Bride."

Danny stared deeply into Evelyn's eyes. She smiled. Then he leaned forward and kissed her with as much passion as he could muster. Once their lips parted, everyone inside the chapel rushed forward to congratulate the newly wedded couple. Everyone, except for the best man.

* * * *


"Congratulations . . . Mrs. Walker," the Army pilot said with a cheerful grin. "Danny is sure one lucky guy."

Evelyn smiled at the latest well-wisher, as she shook his hand. "Thank you, uh . . .?"

The grin became wider. "Adam. Lieutenant Adam Zelinski. I'm with your husband's squadron."

"Oh yeah."

Lieutenant Zelinski shook Evelyn's hand one last time before moving on. She sighed with relief. He was the last one to come up to Evelyn to give his congratulations, thank goodness. With another heartfelt sigh, she glanced around the living room. She had just given the performance of a life time and did not have an award to show for her efforts.

Evelyn now looked forward to some refreshments after a long and difficult day. Actually, the day was not over yet. The clock on the wall only read 1:55, in the afternoon. With all of the wedding preparations and emotional turmoil she had endured, the day seemed to have dragged since the moment the alarm clock woke her.

The phonograph inside the beach house that she now shared with Barbara, Sandra, and Martha, blasted "Blueberry Hill". Evelyn winced. Not exactly one of her favorites, especially in her present mood. But the song happened to be a favorite of Sandra's. Which meant that after today, Evelyn would no longer be forced to hear it whenever the urge hit the red-haired nurse.

Tonight. The implications of that word finally hit Evelyn. Starting tonight, she and Danny will share a bed together for the first time as husband and wife. Dear God! Evelyn closed her eyes for a brief moment. How did she ever get into this predicament? What had she been thinking during that evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field?

"Evelyn!" Barbara's voice cut into the bride's thoughts. "Honey, why are you standing around like a lamp post? Shouldn't you be mingling around? Having a good time?"

Evelyn took a deep breath. "I am having a good time. After all, I'm a married woman, now. Right?"

Barbara gave the other woman a hard stare. "Yeah," she said in a lackluster tone. "Right. Say, why don't we try . . .?"

The sound of a giggling female caught the attention of the two friends. They glanced at the direction from where the sound originated. Barbara frowned. Evelyn's heart leapt about ten inches. Next to the refreshment table stood one of the Navy nurses who had been invited to the reception - Ensign Lara McColl. And the very attractive nurse seemed to be enjoying the attention of one Captain Rafe McCawley. The best man. Even worse, Rafe seemed to be enjoying Ensign McColl's company, as well. Another fit of giggles left Ensign McColl's mouth. Evelyn struggled to fight the rising anger and despair within her. And the urge to punch the young nurse in the jaw.

"I wonder what they're talking about," Barbara muttered.

Evelyn tried to sound nonchalant. "Who knows? Knowing Lara's IQ, probably the latest edition of 'The Cat in the Hat'." Unfortunately, her words came out more bitter than she had intended.

Barbara gave Evelyn another one of those long looks. "Ev, honey, you're not jealous, are you?"

"Whatever gave you that silly idea? Or have you forgotten that I'm now a married woman?" Evelyn flashed the gold wedding ring on her swollen finger. "Happily married."

More giggles from the refreshment table punctuated Evelyn's words. She saw Rafe lean forward and whisper into Lara McColl's ear. Hot jealousy rose within Evelyn. Then she saw the silver flask in Rafe's hand. Probably filled with alcohol.

Barbara coughed slightly. "I don't mean to rain on your parade, Ev. But isn't 'happily married' a bit premature? Especially since you've only been married for . . . oh, almost three hours?"

An exasperated sigh left Evelyn's mouth. She shot a quick glare at her friend. "Thank you for pointing that out, Barbara." Glancing at the refreshment table, she added, "I think I need a drink." She started toward the table.

Barbara followed closely behind. "Uh, Ev . . . what are you doing?" But Evelyn did not bother to listen.

The two friends reached the table, where they found Rafe regaling the strawberry blond nurse with tales of his exploits in England, last year. Now, why would anyone find that topic, funny? Evelyn didn't. "Hi," she greeted the pair. Lara nearly jumped two inches off the floor. Rafe gave Evelyn a polite smile. "What are you two talking about?" As if she did not know.

"England," Rafe answered shortly. "I was telling Ensign McColl here, about the time I served with the Eagle Squadron."

The Eagle Squadron. Every time someone mentioned it or England, Evelyn wanted to rant against fate. Scream at the world for snatching away any chance of real happiness, when Rafe volunteered to fight with the RAF. A polite smile formed on Evelyn's lips. "You must have some very interesting stories to tell."

"Yeah, I do." Rafe's dark brown eyes penetratred Evelyn's. A wave of heat engulfed her body. "There's one about me being shot down over the English Channel. Now, that's a real hoot."

Evelyn felt her lower lip tremble. 'I will not cry,' she told herself. 'I will not cry.' Taking a deep breath, Evelyn calmly continued, "Was that the story you were telling Lara?"

"Actually, Rafe was talking about this little pub in England," Lara answered. "Where he met this real wacky guy."

Rafe interrupted, "Tom Finch."

"And this Tom Finch used to tell him some of the nuttiest stories," Lara finished. The young nurse never looked more prettier than she did at that moment, Evelyn brooded. Her green eyes sparkled with delight. And her cheeks flushed deep pink. She made Evelyn feel even more gauche.

"Sounds like a delightful guy," Barbara murmured sarcastically.

Rafe shot her a dark look. "As a matter of fact, Tom was a pretty swell guy," he shot back. "Makes me wish I was back at the Blue Swan." His remark caused further discomfort for Evelyn.

Discomfort became jealousy when Lara patted Rafe's arm. Then she planted a light kiss on his cheek, causing more consternation within Evelyn's breast. "Oh, you don't mean that, Rafe," Lara cooed. "If that had happened, we would have never met. And I would have never heard about the wonderful Blue Swan."

A wry smile twisted Rafe's mouth. Evelyn looked away - and saw Barbara roll her eyes. Which brought a smile on the bride's lips. A figure appeared before the group and Evelyn's smile disappeared. So did Rafe's. "Hey everyone," Danny greeted the four people. "What's going on?" He leaned forward and pecked Evelyn's cheek. Instead of the usual warmth any bride would feel toward the groom, Evelyn only felt acute embarrassment. Especially with everyone, including Rafe, looking on.

Evelyn briefly closed her eyes and heaved an inward sigh. It was time for another performance.

* * * *


Rafe stood in the middle of the living room and raised his champagne glass. The other occupants did the same. "Here's to Danny and Evelyn," he announced in a too cheerful voice. "May they have many happy years to come! To Danny and Evelyn!"

"To Danny and Evelyn!" the others repeated, and everyone sipped their champagne.

Gooz Shannon watched the best man gulp the contents of the champagne glass in one swallow. It seemed like watching a performance, the laconic pilot thought. The too cheerful voice, the wide smile and the warm words to the bride and groom. And yet, Gooz noticed the pain in Rafe's eyes. He shook his head. Poor bastard.

While he continued to sip his champagne, Gooz saw Rafe reach for the bottle and pour more liquor into his glass. That poor bastard had been drinking steadily for the past two days. Even before the bachelor's party, last night. Gooz wondered if Rafe's personal problems would eventually lead him to alcoholism. That would be a crying shame for a talented pilot like Rafe. What the poor bastard needed was another woman. A serious relationship with a woman who could help him forget Evelyn John . . . Walker.

Gooz's eyes strayed toward Ensign Lara McColl. He recalled seeing Rafe flirt with the strawberry-blond Navy nurse. Personally, Lara did not strike Gooz as his first choice as a companion for Rafe. She seemed too vacuous and shallow for the more solid pilot. But she could be that perfect first step for Rafe to recover from Evelyn. If only one could lure the Tennesseean from the nearest bottle.

The bride and attendants started upstairs for the former to change into traveling clothes. It was Red who had discovered a small beach hotel on the other side of Oahu. Both the pilots and the nurses pooled their resources to offer a romantic getaway for the bride and groom to spend their honeymoon. Gooz took this time to approach Rafe. "Hey there, buddy! How you holding up?"

"Holding up?" Rafe gave the other man a hard stare. Then he broke into laughter that left Gooz feeling very uncomfortable. "Am I holding up? Hell, I'm doing just fine and dandy. Can't you tell?"

Gooz could tell. Rafe's voice had begun to slur from too much booze. He cleared his throat, as he contemplated his next words. "Say Rafe, why don't we leave and head back to the barracks. Maybe a little rest would do you some good."

"I'd say a good shot of bourbon or whiskey might do the trick," Rafe slurred back. He wiggled the bottle of champagne in his hand. "This bubbly ain't doing much for me."

Gooz gently removed the bottle from Rafe's hand. "Drinking yourself into oblivion ain't gonna help you forget about Evelyn, Rafe."

The other man shot Gooz a dark look. "What the hell are you get . . .?"

"C'mon Rafe! I'm not blind. None of us are. The Hula-La has been like your second home since we got back from China. Let her go. Evelyn made her choice - even if circumstances forced her to make it. You gotta accept that."

A Latin beat followed the swing number that blasted from the gramaphone. "Perfido". Nice tune, Gooz thought. But it not exactly one of his favorites. "Huh," Rafe grunted. "That's sounds like 'Perfido'. Did you know that it's one of Evelyn's favorite tunes?"

Gooz sighed. Trying to get Rafe to forget about Evelyn seemed like a hopeless task. Then again, he had not been in New York to witness the beginning of the romance. Not until that fight between Rafe and Danny at the Hula-La on the night before the Pearl Harbor attack, did Gooz realize how serious Rafe had been about Evelyn.

A strawberry-blond in a Navy uniform loomed before Gooz's eyes. Perhaps it was time to test that theory about a new woman in Rafe's life. He only hoped that Ensign McColl will not have a problem in dealing with a drunken pilot.

"Say," the laconic pilot began, "isn't that the girl you were talking to, earlier?" Gooz pointed at the beautiful nurse.

Rafe weaved slightly. "That's the beau . . . beautiful Lar-r-r-ra McColl," he slurred. "Well, not as beautiful as Evelyn." Gooz suppressed a frustrated sigh. "Then nobody is more beau . . . beautiful that Ev . . . Evelyn."

Gooz decided to go along with this line of conversation. "True. But at least . . . Lara, is it? At least Lara is available. You know?"

Dark brown eyes bored into Gooz's. For what seemed like forever. As Rafe opened his mouth to speak, someone announced the reappearance of the bride and groom. Both Gooz and Rafe turned around and watched the newly married couple descend the staircase. The guests cheered and threw rice at the pair. Gooz glanced at the happy couple. Well, the groom looked happy. Not even the sun has ever looked as bright as Danny's smile. When Gooz stared at Evelyn, he noticed that her happiness did not exactly match her husband's. In fact, her smile seemed . . . strained. Forced. Then Evelyn's dark eyes fell upon Rafe. If Gooz had not kept his focused upon her's, he would have never caught the flash of deep love and regret. At that moment, he realized that Evelyn's feelings for Rafe matched those of the Tennessee-born pilot's.

"Well I'll be damned!" Gooz muttered under his breath.

Rafe turned to Gooz. "Did you just say something?" Gooz shook his head and watched the couple head for the front door.

Some of the guests followed Danny and Evelyn outside, bombarding the pair with more rice. Neither Gooz or Rafe bothered to follow. Instead, the latter faced the former. A sickly smile stretched Rafe's mouth. "You know what, Gooz? You were right! Lara is a . . . avail . . . able, and I reckon I should ask her to join me for a late night drink."

Gooz watched Rafe take a deep breath and stride toward the strawberry-blond nurse. He shook his head and muttered under his breath, "Life can sure be a mess. Just one big goddamn mess!"


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Return With a Vengeance" [PG-13] - Chapters 1 and 2

Below is the beginning of an Alternate Universe "CHARMED" fan fiction story I had written some time ago. It is a sequel to both "Neighbors" and "Two Thumbs Up!". It is called, "RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE":



Categories: Alternate Universe, Drama
Ratings: [PG-13]
Content Warnings: N/A
Spoilers: N/A
Season: Set in alternate Season 5.

Disclaimer: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeills and Cecile Dubois are my creation.

Summary: The remaining Crozat warlocks from ”Neighbors” seek vengeance against Cole, the McNeills and the Halliwells by unleashing an unknown power that threatens a close friend.


A tall, dark-haired man appeared in front of one of the numerous old buildings on Columbus Street. He sighed, brushed away imaginary dirt from his jacket and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Seconds later, he re-appeared inside the building's fifth floor corridor - in front of a door marked VENDRUM Company. The man cleared his throat and opened the door. The office interior contrasted sharply with the building's old-fashioned exterior. Edward Crozat examined the office with an approving eye. The modern and expensive décor reminded him of his former office in Seattle. In fact, it made him feel right at home.

"Cousin Edward!" A beautiful, statuesque woman with pale skin, dark hair and eyes, strode toward him. "I see that you finally made it. Has the office met with your approval?"

Edward nodded. "Perfect. It's almost as if I had never left Seattle. Are the others here?"

"Yes. They're waiting for you in the Conference Room." Suzanne Crozat led her cousin into another room, mainly occupied by a long table. Three other men sat in seats surrounding the table.

Once Edward and Suzanne occupied the remaining empty chairs, the meeting began. "Cousins, I gather that you all know why we're here. The five of us . . ." Edward glanced around the table, ". . . are the last remnants of the Crozat Coven. Five out of what used to be at least thirty to thirty-five members." He paused, as a frown darkened his countenance. "An absolute sacrilege, in my opinion."

"Your brother Philip, should not have proposed the move from Seattle," commented one Crozat cousin. His name happened to be Henry. He was a stocky man with beady black eyes and thinning hair.

Edward glanced at his cousin. "How can one seize control of the Source’s Realm without the extra powers needed? At least ten witches in the San Francisco Area possessed the powers we had required."

"I assume you are referring to the Charmed Ones?" Henry continued. "The most powerful witches, ever? Exactly how did Philip plan to kill them?

Tension filled the conference room. Edward seared his cousin with a deadly glare. "If you must know, Philip and the others managed to trap the Charmed Ones. And he would have killed them . . ."

". . . if it hadn't been for the McNeill witch," Suzanne finished. "Or should I say . . . bitch?" Her dark eyes radiated hostility. "I saw that she was the one who had discovered the location of our warehouse. In my visions." Edward nodded. He knew about Suzanne's ability to see the past. Unfortunately, her visions did not extend to the future. A minor problem he planned to remedy. Suzanne continued, "The McNeill woman, her telepath brother . . . and Belthazor were the ones responsible for the deaths of our cousins."

Agitated voices filled the room. "Belthazor?" Henry exclaimed. "I thought he was dead, thanks to the Charmed Ones!"

"He certainly was alive the last time I saw him," declared another Crozat. The person who spoke happened to be the youngest in the room. Cousin Rudolf. He also happened to be the son of Edward's late brother. Rudolf added bitterly, "Before he transformed me into a stone."

"Cousins, cousins!" Edward's voice rose above the others. "Please! Now in regard to Belthazor . . . as you all know, the whore of some male witch he had once killed had vanquished his demonic powers about a year ago. Then the Charmed Ones vanquished him again, after he became the Source, last spring." Edward paused. "But now he is back."

Henry asked, "Is he trying to take control of the Source’s Realm again?"

"I have no idea. As far as I know, he has not made any attempts to take control. At least not yet."

The fifth Crozat, a muscular man of medium height named Louis spoke up. "Are you sure? Why else would he help destroy most of our coven?"

Edward glanced at the anxious faces around the table. His eyes rested upon Suzanne, who eventually replied, "Apparently, he was only helping the McNeill witches to save the Charmed Ones. I gather from my visions that he is quite friendly with the female. Olivia."

"Not in love?" Rudolf asked.

A vindictive smile curved Edward's lips. "After Belthazor's experiences with the Charmed Ones, I doubt that romance with a witch is the last thing he wants."

Henry scowled. "Whether or not he is in love with this new witch, we still have to deal with him. Especially if he has the power of the Source."

"He doesn't," Edward replied curtly. He hesitated. "Unfortunately, since his return from the Wasteland, he has become more powerful than ever."

"That's just great!" Henry cried out with his usual pessimism. "Not only do we have the Charmed Ones to deal with, but also a more powerful Belthazor, and the McNeills witches! Quite frankly, I'd rather deal with the Halliwells alone. They may be the most powerful witches, but they're not as . . . cunning and difficult to kill as Belthazor or the McNeills."

Nodding, Edward replied, "And that is why we're here, tonight. To discuss our revenge against those who had killed our family. And take control of the Source’s Realm."

"And how do you propose we do that?"

Edward heaved a patient sigh. Moments like this made him wish Cousin Henry had been among those killed in the upheaval at the Tower Bay warehouse, nearly a month ago. "One," he began, "we will take care of Belthazor on our own. Suzanne will become a new client at the law firm he works for. Lure him to our office or her apartment, before we kill him." Edward paused dramatically. "And we'll kill him after we steal his powers."

Louis frowned. "How do you plan to do that?"

"Using a potion and a spell that I have discovered," Suzanne added. "Unlike the demon Barbas, we won't need a Charmed One to steal his powers. The potion I have created also has a hallucinogenic ingredient that will make it easy to deal with him."

Henry demanded, "What about the Charmed Ones? And the McNeills? I don't exactly relish going up against two powerful covens."

Edward smiled. Slowly. "We won't have to. A friend of mine in Singapore has sent a package that will do the job for us." His smile broadened. "Within a week or two, we'll have vengeance for our kinsmen's deaths. And we'll become the new rulers of the Source’s Realm."

* * * *

A low hum pierced the silence inside Captain McPherson's office. Inspectors Darryl Morris and Olivia McNeill of the San Francisco Police Department sat in chairs in front of his desk and watched him read the report in his hand.

The silence finally ended with a long sigh from the captain. He placed the report on his desk and glared at the two subordinates. "Is this it? This is all you were able to learn about the disappearance of . . . what, twenty-five, thirty people? All of the employees of the Tower Bay Import/Export Company?"

Both Olivia and Darryl exchanged uneasy glances. They knew exactly what had occurred at the Tower Bay warehouse. However, they also knew that the truth would only result in trouble for Olivia and possibly a heart attack for their captain.

Darryl coughed slightly. "That's about the gist of it, Captain," he said. "Olivia and I found no traces of bodies, blood or anything else."

"Except for a scorch mark," Captain McPherson grumbled. Darryl looked away. "Does anyone have an idea what caused the scorch mark?"

A pause followed before Olivia spoke up. "Forensics went over the mark, Captain. As far as they know, it was caused by fire."

"That's it? A fire?"

Olivia responded with a shrug.

The captain's eyes returned to the report. Then he asked, "What about the employees? What do you know about them?"

The two partners paused briefly. Darryl opened his mouth to speak, but Olivia beat him to the punch. "The company was owned by a Seattle-based corporation called MALEHEX. Both Darryl and I checked with Seattle PD. A family called Crozat owns the corporation. And we also learned that the Crozats were in the process of moving the corporation's headquarters down here to San Francisco."

"And?" Captain McPherson insisted.

Darryl took a deep breath. "We haven't been able to track down the remaining members of the family. Including the company's director, Philip Crozat." He paused, wishing he were at home or facing a perp's gunfire, instead of his captain. "It's all in the report."

"Which isn't much," the captain grumbled. He heaved another sigh. "Okay, it looks as if we have another unsolved case on our hands." He shot Darryl a pointed look. "Another one of your 'freaky cases', Morris."

Darryl tried to maintain a calm façade. It would have worked if Olivia had not opened her mouth. "Considering the number of 'freaky cases' that come our way, I'm surprised that the Department hasn't started its own X-Files division." A long, suffering sigh escaped Darryl's mouth. Of all the bad jokes . . . He glanced at Captain McPherson, who glared at the embarrassed Olivia.

"I assume that you two are still working on the DiMatteo case," Captain McPherson added darkly. "Since nothing new has cropped up, I suggest that you get back to work. Dismissed."

Neither Darryl or Olivia hesitated to follow the captain's orders. They quickly returned to their desks and Darryl took the moment to confront his partner. "What the hell was that about?" he demanded.

"What?" Olivia protested in innocence.

Darryl rolled his eyes. "The X-Files joke. Are you crazy?"

"So I forgot that Captain McPherson lacked a sense of humor," Olivia retorted. "So what? It's not the first time." She switched on her computer terminal.

Struggling to keep his irritation in check, Darryl continued, "Sometimes I think you like playing the devil's advocate just a little too much." He leaned forward, his eyes penetrating the red-haired woman's. "You're a first-class cop, McNeill. But you really need to learn when to keep that big mouth of yours, shut."

Olivia sighed. "You know, you almost sound like my aunt."

"Maybe she knew what she was talking about," Darryl shot back.

A grunt escaped Olivia's mouth. Her next words baffled Darryl. "If you knew the real truth about Aunt Rhiannon, Darryl, you wouldn't say that."

What the hell? "What? What are you . . . Oh God! Never mind!" Darryl heaved a sigh. Another thought came to his mind. "By the way, we have heard the last of these Crozats. Right?"

Olivia hesitated. Which did not help ease Darryl's fears. "Well, to tell you the truth," she began, "Cole and I aren't so sure."

Oh Lord! "What?" The word came out of Darryl's mouth like a gunshot.

Olivia then proceeded to tell Darryl about a Crozat warlock whom Cole Turner had transformed into a pebble. The image reminded Darryl of the time that son-of-a-bitch had transformed him into a water cooler. "Cole and I went back to the warehouse to find him," she continued. "Only . . ." She hesitated.

"Only what?" Darryl demanded.

"Only Cole wasn't able to transform him back. We think the warlock might be gone. It seems that a police guard had caught some kids on the property, throwing rocks, two days after the uh . . . incident. There's a chance that one of those rocks happened to be the warlock. And he probably changed back into his original form upon impact on the ground."

Despair overcame Darryl faster than an incoming wave. He visibly wilted before Olivia. "Oh God," he murmured. "That warlock . . . did he . . .?"

Olivia shook her head. "The patrolman and the kids are still alive." She paused. "Unfortunately . . ."

". . . we still have a warlock roaming about San Francisco," Darryl finished through clinched teeth.

If that was not bad enough, according to Olivia, there seemed to be a chance that the McNeills and the Halliwells might have to deal with more than one Crozat warlock. According to her friend from the Seattle Police, someone had closed MALEHEX's Seattle office permanently. When Darryl failed to respond, Olivia added uneasily, "Darryl? Are you okay?"

A long, dry sigh slowly eased out of his mouth. "I was just wondering," Darryl said in a tired voice, "if matters can get any worse."

Before Olivia could respond, a tall, handsome man with dark hair and blue eyes, and wearing an expensive blue suit, approached her desk. Olivia smiled. He returned the smile with a wide one of his own. "Hey Olivia, ready for lunch?"

Darryl groaned. Cole Turner glanced at him, looking slightly concerned. "Hey Darryl. Something wrong?"

A morose Darryl grumbled, "Yeah, I think my day just got worse."




The waiter served the man and the woman, each a chilled glass of martini - with an onion, Gibson style. Then he asked for their orders.

Cole waited as Olivia ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with a salad. He ordered a Quiche Lorraine with ham, mushrooms and spinach. After the waiter disappeared with their orders, Cole took a sip of his martini. "Is it just me, or did Darryl seemed a bit . . . tense?"

Olivia sighed. "He was tense, wasn't he? We just had a meeting with our captain about the Tower Bay Company."

"Oh. That figures." Cole took another sip of his drink. "Poor Darryl. Another 'freaky case' to deal with. You know, I think the FBI could use him for their X-Files division. If they have one."

"Please!" Olivia groaned. "Please don't bring that up the next time you see Darryl. I made a joke about that during a meeting with him and Captain McPherson. Let's just say that neither of them appreciated the joke."

Cole asked, "Did you tell Darryl about the warlock that got away?" The expression on Olivia's face answered his question. "Oh. Hence Inspector Morris' lack of humor, this afternoon."

"I have more bad news about the Crozats," Olivia continued. While Cole finished the last of his martini, Olivia revealed information she had received from her fellow cop and witch from Seattle. MALEHEX, the Crozats' firm, had recently shut down its Seattle office. "Which can only mean one thing."

A grim Cole finished, "There are more Crozats to worry about. And they might be here in San Francisco."

"They were planning to move their operation to this city," Olivia reminded Cole. "And I wouldn't be surprised if they come after us."

A heavy sigh left Cole's mouth. He did not fear any retaliation by the Crozats. But he realized that he could not always be around to help the McNeills or the Halliwells, in case of an attack. Especially Olivia or Phoebe. "Damn!" he hissed. "It always seems as if trouble is never far behind. Don't you have any good news to tell me?"

Olivia's wide mouth stretched into a beautiful smile. "Well, I do have some good news. My old friend, Cecile Dubois, will be arriving within a day or two. I think she's due here, tomorrow."

"Now, that sounds nice." He paused uneasily. "Does she know about . . .?"

A red brow shot upward. "About you?" Olivia's smile broadened. "Well, not everything, but enough. She knows you're a very powerful half-demon, who also happens to be a friend of mine. Don't worry. Cecile is pretty open-minded. After all, she knew that Richard was a warlock. They even became good friends."

Cole's stomach formed a knot. It always did whenever Olivia mentioned her late fiancé, Richard Bannen. "Well," he began in an effort to sound casual, "that's good to know." Olivia gave him a hard stare. "What?"

"Do you realize that you look rather tense at this moment? Is there something wrong?"

A tight smile formed on Cole's lips. "It's nothing. I . . . uh, my stomach is feeling a bit odd. Lack of food." He cleared his throat. "Tell me more about this Cecile."

According to Olivia, she first met her best friend during a family trip to New Orleans, some twenty years ago. While visiting an antiquity shop that belonged to the Dubois family, both Olivia's mother and grandmother discovered that some of them were Vodoun priests and priestesses . . . and Hoodoo practitioners with very strong powers. "Cecile happens to be both a telepath and a seer. Not one of those phony psychics from the infomercials, but the real McCoy. Like Phoebe. And her abilities are very strong."

The waiter arrived with their food. Once he left, Cole asked, "What is she like? Personality wise?"

"In some ways, she reminds me of Prue Halliwell," Olivia replied.

Cole nearly winced at the mention of his late, former sister-in-law. "And you believe that Cecile and I will get along?"

Olivia smirked. "Good grief, Cole! Cecile and Prue were similar, not alike. Besides, Cecile can be a lot more . . . well, open-minded. Nor did she have any of Prue's hang-ups. Just her own."

"Ah! I didn't realize you felt that Prue had hang-ups."

"Good grief! Who doesn't?" When Cole's gaze remained fixed on her face, Olivia continued, "Look, I'm not saying that Prue was an awful person. Or that I'm perfect. Believe me, I can be just as difficult. It's just Prue and I . . . well, our personalities didn't exactly mesh together. But I have to admit, I personally thought she really needed therapy. Badly. She always seemed so tense and unhappy a lot."

Memories of an enraged Prue Halliwell nearly beating that Seeker to death, flashed through Cole's mind. Along with her determination to defeat Death. Yep. Olivia had described Prue perfectly. Poor woman. Cole took a bite of his quiche.

Olivia continued, "Actually, Cecile reminds me more of Mom than Prue. All three of them can be very reserved and bossy. But at least Cecile and Mom aren't so judgmental. And tense. Although Cecile used to be."

"That's good to know," Cole answered. "Once I use the old Turner charm, I'll have Cecile eating out of my hand. Like your mother." He gave Olivia a roguish smile.

The redhead regarded Cole with a sardonic eye. "The old Turner charm?" She shook her head in disbelief and sighed. “Oh dear.” Using her fork, she speared a piece of his quiche and popped it into his mouth. "Here. Why don't you just finish your lunch . . . and work on that sense of humor, while you're at it."

A smirk spread across Cole's face as he chewed.

* * * *

From another table, at the other side of the restaurant, a pair of dark eyes watched the red-haired woman and the dark-haired man with disbelief. Phoebe Halliwell detected her growing jealousy at the sight and ruthlessly tried to squelch the feeling within her. She failed miserably.

"Phoebe?" Her lunch companion's voice interrupted her silent musings. "Hey Phoebe! Aren't you going to order?"

The word came out of Phoebe's mouth like a squeak. "Huh?"

"The waiter. He's waiting for you to order." Phoebe's companion, a fellow co-worker at the newspaper named Gunther Weiss, stared at her with concerned eyes. "Hey, are you okay?"

Phoebe gave Gunther a wan smile. "Yeah, I'm fine. I . . ." Mindful of the waiter standing patiently beside her, Phoebe finally ordered. "I'll have the Greek salad with red wine vinegar."

"Will that be all, ma'am?" the waiter asked.

Ma'am? Phoebe tried not to wince at the term. It made her feel old and she was only three years shy of thirty. She replied tersely, "Other than a glass of your house wine, that will be all." The waiter nodded and quickly walked away.

Gunther continued to stare at Phoebe. "Are you sure that you're all right? I realize that it's been less than a month since your friend Miles' . . ."

"I'm fine!" Phoebe insisted. Realizing that she seemed curt, she quietly admitted, "I . . . it's my ex-husband." She sighed. "He's here. Inside this restaurant."

Curiosity lit up Gunther's eyes. "Really? Where?" He glanced around the dining room. Phoebe squirmed with discomfort, when he finally spotted Cole and Olivia McNeill in a booth, on the other side of the dining area. "Oh yeah, I see him. Who's the redhead?"

Irritation mingled with jealousy within Phoebe. She glared at her companion. "That's Olivia. She's . . . she's an acquaintance. She went to school with my oldest sister, Prue."

"Gee, I wonder how your ex-husband and your sister's old schoolmate ended up together." Phoebe's glare became more pointed and Gunther quickly apologized. "Sorry, I didn't mean to imply . . . well, what are they? Friends or . . .?

Phoebe coldly shot back, "Friends! And quite frankly, I couldn't care less. I stopped caring about Cole some months ago." She took a sip of water, as she tried to calm herself. Another sigh left her mouth. She did not need this. Not now. Not after her powers went haywire due to her emotional turmoil over Cole. And certainly not after Miles' death and the Charmed Ones' close call with the Crozat warlocks.

"Hey Phoebe?" Gunther's voice drifted back into her consciousness. "Maybe we should go somewhere else for lunch."

"No!" The moment the word came out of her mouth, Phoebe realized that she sounded harsh. She should really learn to keep her emotions in check. Aware of Gunther's curious gaze, she continued softly, "I mean, no. It's not necessary. I don't plan to run every time I encounter my ex-husband. He's not worth the effort. Okay?" She gave Gunther what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

Not long after Phoebe had spoken, two figures engrossed in deep conversation approached her table. Cole and Olivia. Phoebe's heartbeat increased as the pair grew closer. She struggled to maintain control of her breathing.

"Speak of the devil," Gunther whispered.

Cole and Olivia finally reached the other couple's table. Olivia's green eyes alighted upon Phoebe and Gunther. "Phoebe!" the redhead politely greeted. "We didn't realize you were here."

Phoebe's mouth quirked into a small smile. "Olivia. Cole. Are you two on a date?"

In an equally cool voice, Cole replied, "No, just lunch between two friends." He glanced at Gunther. His eyes narrowed. "Don't I know you? From Phoebe's office?"

"Yeah. Gunther Weiss," the journalist replied with a nod. "Staff writer." His eyes swept appreciatively over Olivia. "And you are?"

Olivia responded with a cool smile. "Olivia McNeill. Cop. San Francisco Police."

"Hey, a cop! What do you know?" Gunther declared. "Must be very exciting!"


Phoebe nearly cringed at Gunther's overenthusiastic flirting. And Olivia's cool response. Embarrassment became envy when she saw irritation flared in Cole's eyes. Strange, he seemed more bothered by Gunther's flirtation attempt toward Olivia, than her having lunch with the reporter.

"We better get going, Olivia. I have a meeting, this afternoon. Nice seeing you, Phoebe." Cole shot one dark look at her companion. "Gunther."

Her cool smile still intact, Olivia added, "See you, Phoebe." Her eyes swept over the reporter with amusement. "And it was nice meeting you . . . Gunther."

"Same here," Phoebe's companion practically gushed. Olivia cocked a sardonic brow. Cole merely rolled his eyes. Phoebe found herself wishing she could crawl into the nearest hole and die from embarrassment.

* * * *

Piper Halliwell glanced around the dining table with an air of satisfaction. It was a rare moment when her entire family managed to gather for a meal together. Tonight happened to be one of those rare moments.

"Paige honey," she asked her youngest sister, "could you pass the bowl of salad to me?" Paige reached for the salad bowl and handed it to Piper. She also handed over a bottle of French dressing.

With a smile on his face, Leo bit into his piece of fried chicken. "Boy, am I hungry! I haven't had a bite to eat, all day," he declared before swallowing his food. "The Elders held a meeting for all whitelighters, today. I barely had time for a snack, let alone a meal."

"The meeting must have been very important," Paige commented.

Leo nodded. "Yeah, it was." He took another bite of chicken.

Both Piper and Paige exchanged exasperated glances, before the former burst out, "Well, aren't you going to tell us? One would think it was important enough for us witches to know about."

"Piper, you know that I can't talk about my meetings, unless the Elders deemed it necessary." Leo paused, under his wife's withering stare. "Well, okay. I can tell you that we're having trouble with a few whitelighters. They've been a little derelict of duty, that's all."

Paige demanded, "Can't you give us more details than that? Why wasn't I summoned to the meeting? I'm half-whitelighter, after all. And I've already guided a whitelighter-to-be and my own dad."

Leo sighed. "Paige. You know the rules. Besides, I've have some other news for you." The sisters stared at him, as he continued, "I've heard from Olivia McNeill. She thinks we should expect more trouble from the Crozat coven. Apparently, someone has closed the Seattle office of the MALEHEX Corporation. She believes it might be the remaining Crozat warlocks."

"That's good to know," Piper murmured sardonically. She did not know what disturbed her more - hearing from Olivia McNeill, whom she found hard to like, or the fact that there might be more Crozat warlocks to deal with.

Surprising Piper and the others, Phoebe burst out, "I saw Olivia, today."

Piper responded, "Oh? Where did you see her?"

Phoebe answered, "At Morgan's. Gunther took me there for lunch, today." She paused. "She was having lunch with Cole."

A pall seemed to have crept into the Halliwell dining room. "That's nice," Piper said with very little enthusiasm.

However, a snort emitted from Paige's mouth. "I bet Cole wasn't happy to see you with Gunther."

"He didn't seemed to mind," Phoebe coolly replied.

A quick glance told Piper that her husband seemed disturbed by Phoebe's news. And as for Phoebe . . . Piper's eyes narrowed. Was she imagining things or did Phoebe really mind seeing Cole and Olivia together?

"Cole and Olivia." Paige shook her head. "Now, why am I not surprised?"

Phoebe glared at the youngest Halliwell. "What do you mean by that?"

"C'mon Phoebe! You remember how chummy they were during that mess about the Crozat warlocks. And just last week, Dave and I saw them at the movies. Like I said, very chummy."

Leo seemed disturbed by Paige's words. "Wait a minute! Are you saying that Olivia and Cole are dating?" he demanded.

Paige shrugged. "I don't know."

"Cole claims that they're just good friends," Phoebe added tartly.

Silence filled the dining room. Then a solemn Piper asked, "Do you believe him?"

Phoebe sighed. "I don't know. But I certainly don't like what's going on." Piper looked away. "It's not what you think. I'm not jealous or anything like that."

"Honey, then why are you upset?"

Phoebe speared a piece of tomato with her fork. "I'm not upset, Piper. Just concerned. For Olivia. Remember what I had said before? That she could get hurt getting involved with Cole? I still believe that. And I think that someone should warn her about Cole." She stared at Leo.

Who nodded, wearing a concerned expression. "I guess you're right. It's just that . . . well, the last time I tried to talk to Olivia, she wouldn't listen."

Piper gave her husband a reassuring pat on the arm. "Leo, you have to make her listen. You're her whitelighter, after all."

Then Leo murmured, "That's never stopped you from not listening to me."

"What?" Piper gave the whitelighter a pointed stare.


Phoebe added, "Look Leo, whether Olivia wants to listen or not, you have to talk to her. Tell her everything you know about Cole, if you have to."

"That is if you haven't, by now," Piper added under her breath, as she recalled Olivia's already extensive knowledge of the Halliwell family.

Leo frowned at his wife. "What did you say, honey?"

"Nothing," Piper replied, repeating his earlier response. She then returned her attention to the salad and filled her plate.

* * * *

Rudolf Crozat escorted the visitor to his Uncle Edward's private office. The latter whistled with deep appreciation at the lush room inside the two-story villa, located in Palo Alto. "Not bad," the visitor declared. "Must have cost you a pretty penny. How much did you pay for this?"

"We're renting it." Edward rose from his seat behind the desk to greet the visitor. "We hope to purchase it, if the owner is willing to sell." He shook the other man's hand. "Edward Crozat. How do you do?"

The visitor replied, "Ben Mallard."

Uncle Edward smiled. "Ben Mallard, of the United States Customs Office." He added smoothly, "You seemed to have forgotten that little tidbit."

Mallard shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "Yeah. Uh, is there a reason why you summoned me?"

"Yes, there is. Have a seat."

The Customs agent sat down on a plush sofa, located to the left of Edward's desk. The warlock returned to his seat. And Rudolf headed toward the rosewood liquor cabinet. Edward asked Mallard if he would like a drink. The latter ordered a glass of Kentucky bourbon - straight. Rudolf already knew that Edward preferred Napoleon brandy during this time of the evening. After serving the drinks, the young warlock returned to his position near the door.

Mallard took a sip of bourbon. "So, what can I do for you, Mr. Crozat?"

"I'll get to the point, Mr. Mallard. I require your services, as a Customs agent." Edward paused. "I'm . . . expecting a package from Singapore. On the S.S. Enigma."

Nodding, Mallard finished, "And you want to guarantee that it will pass a customs inspection. Am I right?"

"I want you to make sure that a Customs agent never inspects the package. It contains . . . well, an item one could call dangerous." Edward whirled the brandy in the large snifter, before taking a sip.

Mallard's eyes widened. "Dangerous? Uh, you're not one of those . . . I mean, you're not expecting something that the government should be wary . . .?"

Shaking his head, Edward gave the Customs agent a reassuring smile. "No, it's nothing like that, Mr. Mallard. We're not part of some terrorist group or anything like that. I assure you. We're merely expecting a shipment of . . ." Edward shrugged his shoulders. ". . . drugs." His dark eyes pinned the other man's. "Do you have any trouble with that?"

"Oh no!" Mallard immediately replied. He almost seemed relieved. "I thought that . . . never mind." Avarice crept into his eyes. "Uh, exactly how much are you willing to offer for my services?"

Uncle Edward's dark eyes lit up with appreciation. Then he glanced at Rudolf, who immediately removed an envelope from his jacket and handed it to Mallard. "Thirty-three thousand dollars, Mr. Mallard. One-third of the full price for your services. The other two-thirds will be paid upon delivery of the package. Will you prefer cash, or shall I have the sum transferred to your . . .?"

"Cash," Mallard immediately shot back, eyeing the package. He then stuffed it into his jacket, swallowed the last of his bourbon and stood up. "Well, it was nice doing business with you." He started toward the door. "And don't worry, Mr. Crozat, your package will be here as soon as it arrives. I have a contact at the docks." He shot the other two men a smarmy smile and quickly left the room.

Rudolf turned to his uncle. "Why did you hire Mallard? Any one of us could have snatched the package."

"In broad daylight?" Edward shot back. "Without attracting any attention? Besides, that damn ship is already two days late and I have no idea on when it will arrive. In fact, I don't know what this package looks like. This way, I'll have someone official to intercept the package - without one of us hanging around the docks."

Rudolf asked, "And what about Mallard? Shall I kill him once we receive this package?"

Shaking his head, Edward replied, "It won't be necessary. At least, not now. Mallard might prove to be . . ." He examined the brandy and whirled it about once more, ". . . useful. I understand that Mallard had been very useful for the Bannen coven."

"Useful huh? Like the package?"

A sinister smile slid across Edward's face. "The package will prove to be more than useful, dear Rudolf. Useful to us . . . and dangerous to others." He sighed and finished the last of his brandy.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Part Six




Obi-Wan guided the Nabooan skiff to a moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley. After he landed the craft, two figures emerged from the dome-shaped adobe structure. Obi-Wan left the cockpit and disembarked from the ship.

"Good evening sir," a stocky young man in desert robes greeted. "My name is Owen Lars. This is my wife, Beru." He nodded at the diminutive, yet slightly pretty young woman that stood by the farmer's side. "May I help you?"

Obi-Wan bowed formally. "Yes. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I . . ."

Mrs. Lars gasped slightly. Her husband frowned. "Obi-Wan Kenobi?" the latter repeated. "Of the Jedi Order? Anakin's friend?"

The former Jedi Master nearly winced at the last description. "Uh, yes. You've heard of me?"

Mr. Lars hesitated before he replied, "My late stepmother, Shmi Skywalker Lars, used to mention both you and her son, Anakin Skywalker. Apparently, he had mentioned your name in the only letter he ever written to her." His expression indicated slight disapproval of Anakin's lack of communication.

Vaguely, Obi-Wan recalled giving the nine year-old Anakin, permission to write one last letter to his mother. Just before the young boy had began formal Jedi training. "I see," the older man murmured. "Yes, well the reason I am here is I am looking for Anakin."

"He's missing?" Owen Lars' frown disappeared.

A curious Beru Lars asked, "What happened to him? Has it to do with the Empire's edict against the Jedi?"

"You've learned that we now have a new Empire?" Obi-Wan asked.

Lars shrugged his shoulders. "The news had spread pretty fast throughout the planet. We've just learned about the death of Anakin's friend, Senator Amidala."

Obi-Wan merely responded with feigned sadness. "Yes, it was quite a blow. I have known the senator since she was Queen of Naboo."

A long silent pause followed. The Jedi Master found himself growing slightly uncomfortable. The Lars struck him as decent people. Yet, their reticence made it difficult for him to feel at ease. He found it easier to interact with more extroverted personalities like Qui-Gon. And Anakin.

"You said something about Anakin being missing?" Lars finally asked, breaking the silence. "What happened?"

Obi-Wan told the moisture farmers about the events that had recently unfolded. But he left out Anakin's role in the Jedi Order's destruction. And the duel on Mustafar. "All of the surviving Jedi have been on the run, since. I have been trying to locate Anakin. To find out if whether he is dead or alive."

"He's not here," Lars declared. "In fact, Beru and I haven't laid eyes on him in three years. Not since my stepmother's death."

In other words, Obi-Wan silently surmised, Anakin may have returned to Coruscant . . . and Palpatine. He felt slightly disappointed that Anakin's last act on Mustafar may have failed to turn him away from the Dark Side.

"What about Mos Espa?" Mrs. Beru suggested.

Lars glanced at her. "You mean Watto?"

"Who?" Obi-Wan asked. The name sounded familiar. "Wasn't he Anakin's former owner?"

The woman, Beru, added, "And Shmi's."

"Watto is dead," Lars revealed in a matter-of-factly tone. "Remember? He was killed by one of the Hutts after failing to pay back a loan." He turned to Obi-Wan. "If Anakin had went to Mos Espa, he must now know that Watto is dead. Besides, I doubt he would have an easy time finding employment. Most people either own slaves or droids. He would be better off going somewhere else."

Obi-Wan's brief flare of hope quickly died. "Yes, of course. That would make sense." He heaved a melancholy sigh.

Mrs. Lars said, "I don't mean to pry, but do you have anywhere to go? I mean . . ." She paused at her husband.

Lars added, "We're just wondering if you plan to keep looking for Anakin." His eyes glanced downward, as he sighed. "I don't mean to sound blunt, but it looks as if he might be dead. And if he isn't, I don't think that your chances of finding him are all that great. Perhaps you should just . . ."

"Give up?" Obi-Wan finished. Privately, he already had. The Jedi Master had tried using the Force to sense Anakin's presence within the galaxy. He tried and failed. Either Anakin was truly dead (which he doubted), had disappeared, or returned to Coruscant. Obi-Wan feared the latter. It seemed useless to continue his search for Anakin. Perhaps he should do as he had hinted to Master Yoda - find a permanent home here on Tatooine. "Perhaps you're right," he said to the Lars.

Lars asked, "Are you considering a room in Mos Eisley? I'm sure there are plenty of . . ."

"I don't think so," Obi-Wan said with a shake of his head. "Not isolated enough. I don't think it would be wise of me to live in a settled area. Sooner or later, an Imperial presence will be stationed in the cities."

Again, Lars and his wife exchanged glances. "There's a small hut not far from here," the moisture farmer commented. "In the middle of the Wasteland. You can dismantle your starship. Sell the parts. Create a nice, comfortable living for yourself. Of course, you would have to be wary of the Tusken Raiders."

The moisture farmer's suggestion made good sense to Obi-Wan. Any further roaming on his part might lead to capture or death. And if Padme and her children ever found themselves on the run, chances of them seeking refuge here on Tatooine seemed pretty certain. "Yes," the Jedi Master said. "I believe it would be wise for me to take up your suggestion. Could you direct me . . .?"

Lars' wife interrupted. "You should look for it, tomorrow. Tonight, you can share dinner with us and spend the night at our homestead. Right, Owen?"

"You would be more than welcomed," Lars added.

Obi-Wan felt a twinge of guilt for his earlier view of the couple. Reticent or not, they also seemed to be very hospitable and selfless people. What a shame that Anakin never became more acquainted with them. The Jedi Master gratefully accepted the couple's offer and followed them inside the homestead.



The Tantive IV entered Alderaan space and descended toward the planet's capital city - Aldera and the royal palace located at the city's outskirts. The Corellian-made star cruiser slowly landed on the palace's main platform, where a handful of palace aides had gathered.

Inside her cabin, Padme made last adjustments to her outfit. She wore a simple, elegant black gown made from brocade, with a silk black belt wrapped around her waist. A delicately woven black lace veil covered her face - indicating her status as a recent widow. Both Luke and Leia lay in separate baskets. Bail's aide, Sheltay Retrac, had already made arrangements for the removal of Padme's trunks from the cabin.

Padme glanced through the cabin's window. After the cruiser had landed, she saw Bail and his traveling entourage greet the palace aides. A few minutes passed before the entire party strode toward one of the palace's entrances. The cabin's bell chimed. Padme ushered in the cruiser's captain. "Milady," Captain Raymus Antilles greeted with a bow. "It is time to leave."

The Alderaanian picked up Luke. Padme lifted Leia's basket. She and her droids followed the captain out of the cabin. The small party entered the palace and weaved their way through a series of wide corridors. They eventually came upon a pair of wide, double doors. "Senator, this will be your quarters until a more permanent arrangement can be found." Captain Antilles opened the double doors and led the others inside.

"Oh my!" C3-P0 declared in hushed tones. R2-D2 beeped excitedly. Padme understood the droids' reactions. Some would have called her penthouse at the Senate Apartment Complex in 500 Republica as opulent. But her former apartment seemed modest in compare to her new apartments, here on Alderaan. The rooms reminded Padme of her years as Naboo's queen, at the Theed Royal Palace.

Captain Antilles added, "Arrangements are being made to find a nursemaid for the children. Now, if you will excuse me, Milady." He bowed and left the room.

Padme heaved a sigh and said to Threepio, "We might as well begin unpacking." It took the former senator and the droids nearly a half hour to unpack all of her belongings. As luck would have it, Bail or one of his aides even managed to find a pair of cribs for the twins.

Just as Padme and the droids finished their task, Sheltay Retrac appeared with another woman in tow. "Good day, Senator," Sheltay greeted. "I would like to introduce you to Magda. His Highness has asked her to act as your children's nursemaid." She added, "With your permission, of course."

"Permission granted," Padme said with a reassuring smile to the nursemaid. "The children are in the east room." Magda bowed and strode out of the main room.

At that moment, the doors opened and Bail and a third woman entered the main apartment. Padme immediately recognized her colleague's wife - the regal, dark-haired ruler of Alderaan, Queen Breha Antilles-Organa. "Your Majesty," Padme greeted the older woman with a curtsey.

Alderaan's queen greeted the former senator with a warm smile. "Senator Amidala, we are so glad to have you here on Alderaan. Bail has informed me of your recent difficulties. I am so sorry."

"I've been through trying times before," Padme replied, wondering what her former colleague had told his wife. "And survived. I shall survive this."

Queen Breha nodded. "Of course. Where are the children?"

"In the new nursery. The room to the right." Padme hesitated. "By the way, I want to thank you both for giving the children and me refuge here on Alderaan. And for finding a new nursemaid for the twins."

The Alderaanian queen merely nodded. "Magda had originally been hired to act as nursemaid for my . . . our . . ." A heavy sadness shadowed her elegant face.

A slightly stiff Bail added, "The queen and I have experienced difficulty in con . . . in conceiving a child, over the past several years. Recently, Breha had . . . suffered a miscarriage."

The Organas' troubles made Padme forget her own. "Oh. I'm so sorry," she murmured.

"It no longer matters," Queen Breha said, assuming a brave smile. "At least this old place will finally enjoy the presence of children." Her face brightened with hope. "May I see them?"

Smiling, Padme replied, "Of course. I'll have . . ."

"Don't worry," the queen said. "I'll simply find my way to the nursery. Excuse me." She left the main apartment.

Bail turned to his aide. "Do you mind, Sheltay? I would like to speak with the senator alone." The other woman bowed and followed the queen out of the room. Once alone, Bail asked Padme, "How are you feeling?"

With a shrug, she replied, "Fine. I think. Considering the horrors of the past few days. When will the Senate reconvene?"

"Next week," Bail replied. "Rumor has it that our new emperor plans to discuss the fate of the Separatist worlds."

"Somehow, I do not foresee a pleasant future for them."

Bail replied, "I do not foresee one for the entire galaxy. Mon Mothma believes that our old Loyalist Committee should publicly speak out, if the Emperor begins to abuse his new powers."

The news immediately alarmed Padme. "No, Bail. I don't believe that is a good idea. Now is not the time. Right now, you all need to be good little Senators. Mind your manners and keep your heads down. However, there is no reason why you and the others should make plans to oppose the Emperor sometime in the future."

Nodding, the Alderaanian prince said, "You're right. The last thing we need to do right now is attract Palpatine's attention. Especially since he is preoccupied with hunting down Jedi Knights and probably his former apprentice."

"Former appren . . .?" The words took Padme by surprise. "Surely you don't speak of Count Dooku? He's dead."

"No, I speak of Anakin, of course." Bail hesitated. "Your husband. You do know that he's missing, don't you?"

Shock overwhelmed Padme, as she stared at her former colleague. "That's impossible! Anakin is dead! Obi-Wan was forced to kill him on Mustafar. When I asked, he could not even say anything."

It became Bail's turn to look astonished. "You mean to say that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi never told you what happened on Mustafar? During Kenobi's fight with your husband, Anakin had decided to walk away rather than finish the duel. He even left his lightsaber behind with Master Kenobi."

Anger welled inside Padme. "They lied to me!" she hissed in a low voice. "They lied!"

"Padme . . . please," Bail pleaded. "Perhaps they had a reason . . ."

"They had a reason, all right!" Padme retorted. "They wanted to make sure that I would not roam the galaxy, searching for Anakin!"

Bail added soothingly, "Can you blame them? I'm sure that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi wanted to make sure that you and the children will remain safe from the Emperor."

Her anger rising, Padme shot back, "And that's not all! They also wanted to make certain that Luke and Leia will grow up to ensure the continuation of their precious Jedi Order in the future! No wonder Master Yoda wanted the twins separated from me."

Anxiety flared in Bail's dark eyes. "Padme, you're not going to . . .?"

"Search for Anakin?" Padme shook her head. "No. Despite what Master Yoda and Master Kenobi may think, I have enough sense to realize that would be dangerous. At least right now. But they had lied to me, Bail. And for that it might be a while before I can forgive them. If ever."



A despondent Anakin sat inside the tavern's taproom, nursing a glass of Corellian Spiced Ale. Two days had passed since his starfighter had been stolen and he learned of Padme's death. And nothing had been right since.

Padme was dead. He still found it hard to believe. When he last saw her on Mustafar, she had been alive and well . . . despite her unconscious state. His attack upon her must have caused more damage than he realized. The idea sent Anakin into another wave of anger - only directed at himself.

The disappearance of the Jedi starfighter had made matters worse for him. Upon learning of the disappearance, Anakin realized that the Jawas must have come across his ship and stripped it down to parts to be sold. Without his starfighter, he found himself stranded on Tatooine. In fact, he lacked the means to find transportation to the Lars moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley.

Now on his fourth day, Anakin's self-anger had transformed into despair. Padme was dead. His life was over as a Jedi Knight. He no longer desired to return to Sidious and Coruscant. And he lacked the funds to leave Tatooine, let alone find transportation to the Lars' homestead. He also realized that he only had enough Wupiupi for one last meal. He certainly could not spend another night at the tavern. His situation left him with two options - starvation or offer himself as an indentured servant to one of the city's merchants. Despite his despondency, Anakin felt no desire to commit suicide. A small part of him simply refused to give up, just because his circumstances have become nearly hopeless. He only hoped that Bashir Gupa or any other merchant would accept his offer as a servant. How ironic that he seemed to have come a full circle in his life. Thirteen years ago, he had left Tatooine, newly freed from servitude. And now, he has returned, only to be enslaved once more.

Anakin finished the last of his ale, when a robed man marched into the tavern's bar. "Where is he?" he growled at the bartender. "Where's Barcus? He was supposed to be at the Aurelis Hangar, nearly a half hour ago!"

The bartender shrugged his shoulders. "Barcus? You mean that drunken Caridian? Huh! You can find him at the local medical facility. He got into a fight with another spacer. I hate to say it, but your friend drinks a lot better than he fights."

Anakin stood up and strode toward the bar. "How much do I owe you?" he asked the bartender.

"Five Wupiupi," the bartender replied.

While Anakin dug into his pockets, the human stranger continued, "Exactly how bad is he? I mean . . . will he be able to fly out of here?"

A contemptuous snort escaped the bartender's mouth. "Mister, your friend has a broken arm and two broken ribs. He ain't gonna be flying out of here for a long time." Anakin handed him five coins.

"Where am I going to find another pilot?" the stranger cried in despair. Then his dark eyes fell upon Anakin. "Excuse me sir, but are you a pilot, by any chance?"

Anakin sighed. "Actually, I am. Only I have no ship. Sorry."

The man's eyes brightened with hope. "No, this is . . . Listen, would you like to take on a job? I have . . . a . . . shipment that needs to be flown to the Zonju system. No ship is required. I already have one - a Corellian freighter called the Javian Hawk. I simply need a pilot."

After a brief hesitation, Anakin asked, "How much are you willing to pay?"

The man replied, "Five hundred Imperial credits. And I'll have a few more jobs for you, once we reach our destination. My name is Maxmus Tebiki."

Five hundred Imperial credits. Anakin did not need to be convinced any further. "You have yourself a pilot, Mr. Tebiki. I . . . uh, I'll need some money in advance for a change of clothes and a weapon."

Tebiki hesitated. "Can you be ready within two hours?"

"Of course."

Nodding, Tebiki continued, "Good. Meet me at the Aurelis Hangar within two hours. And here are the 20 Wupiupi that you asked for." He handed the money to Anakin. "May I ask who you are, by the way?"

Memories of a certain pilot that he had first met here on Tatooine, flashed in Anakin's mind. "Olie. Ric Olie." He would have to change his name, once his employment with Tebiki ended.

Anakin's new employer shook his hand. "It's a pleasure, Mr. Olie. Truly. And I'll see you within two hours." Tebiki marched out of the taproom.

Feeling elated for the first time in . . . well, in quite a while, Anakin flashed his old cocky grin at the bartender. "Excuse me." Then he marched out of the tavern and into a whole new life ahead.


Friday, October 19, 2007

"The Best Man" (PG) - 1/2

Some time ago, I had come up with this idea for an Alternate Universe story for the Disney movie, "PEARL HARBOR". I began to wonder what would have happened if Josh Harnett's character, Danny Walker, had survived Doolittle's Raid on Tokyo. This is what I had came up with:

FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Various reflections on the best man's reaction to a wartime wedding; Alternate Universe, set about six weeks after the Tokyo raid.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, "Pearl Harbor", belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.



Another beautiful day in Honolulu, Hawaii. Or so Red Winkle told himself. To be honest, the weather was the last thing on his mind. Instead, he harbored on the upcoming wedding between two close friends. And how that wedding would affect the best man.

Red glanced at the figure on the bunk. A tall man with dark-brown hair groaned out loud, before sliding - very reluctantly - out of bed. Red stretched his lips into a grin and cried out cheerfully, "Hey sleepyhead! I see you finally got up!"

Rafe McCawley stared at Red with bleary eyes. Apparently, he had not recovered from last night's bachelor party at the Hula-La Bar. Not surprising, since he practically drank everyone else under the table. "What time is it?" he mumbled in his Tennessee accent.

"Oh eight forty-five," Red answered crisply. Which pleased him. He had only stuttered one word in seven months. Not since he had proposed to . . . The red-haired Army pilot immediately squelched all thoughts of a certain blond Navy nurse. Or that disasterous day in early December. After taking a deep breath, Red continued, "Everyone else is up and having chow in the Officers' Mess."

A heavy sigh escaped from Rafe's mouth. "Jesus! Eight forty-five! That means I have . . ."

"You have at least a little over two hours to get showered, dressed, fed and over to the chapel. Don't forget that the ceremony starts at 011:00."

"Yeah, the ceremony." Rafe's voice sounded mournful. Quite a contrast from the happy-go-lucky soul who had been the life of the party, last night. Once more, he sighed. Red suspected that a lot more will be heard before the end of the day.

The older pilot grunted, as he struggled to rise from the bed. "Having trouble there, Rafe?" Red frowned at him. "Need any help?"

"No, I uh . . . Maybe . . . maybe I do need help."

Red grabbed Rafe's hand and pulled the latter off the bed. Then the redhead led the other man to the bathroom for a shower. Seconds later, Red heard running water. Red peeked inside. "Say Rafe," he added, "don't you think you ought to get out of your skivvies, first?"

An olive-drab T-shirt flew out of the bathroom and landed on top of Red's head. A pair of boxer shorts followed. Fortunately, Red was able to duck in time. While Rafe showered, an enlisted man appeared in the barrack's doorway with a bundle of clean clothes and polished shoes. "Private Jancek, reporting as ordered, sir!" the latter barked. "With Captain McCawley's uniform!"

"Thank you, Private," Red responded. "Place the bundle on the table near the door." Private Jancek did as he was ordered. Just as he was about to leave, Red added, "By the way, is that jeep ready?"

Jancek replied in a crisp voice, "Yes sir, Lieutenant! Uh, do you need a driver?"

"No, that will be all, Private."

Private Jancek gave Red a salute and left the barracks. Two minutes later, Rafe emerged from the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel. "What's that?" he asked pointing at the bundle on the table.

"Your clothes. After we got back, last night, I figured you'd need a fresh uniform for today. Especially since you'll be . . ."

Rafe gruffily interrupted, "You don't have to remind me about today. I remember. Thanks for the clothes." He began to remove his towel.

An embarrassed Red quickly glanced away. The last thing he wanted to see was Rafe in his birthday suit. "Um, when you finish dressing, I guess we can join the others in the Officers' Mess. That is, if they're still there. You weren't the only one who got drunk, last night. Poor ole' Gooz must have drunk so much booze . . ."

"Red." Rafe harshly cut into the other man's conversation. "Don't take this wrong, but could you please shut the hell up? You're rambling."

Red's face immediately matched the color of his hair. "S-s-sor-ry ab-b-bout that. I . . ."

"Hey, forget about it, Red. Apology accepted. And I'm sorry for being such a grouch." Several uncomfortable moments followed. Then Rafe added, "Okay, you can turn around."

Which Red did. To his relief, he found Rafe dressed in his formal uniform - khaki, for the summer. Despite the haggard eyes and mussed hair, Rafe still managed to look handsome and tough. Red felt certain that many women will be all over him, now that he was . . .

'Let's not dwell on that, Winkle,' Red mentally castigated himself.

Ever since Rafe's miraculous appearance in Hawaii nearly six months ago, Red has experienced a lot of guilt. Why? Thanks to his advice, Rafe's best friend had decided to pursue Rafe's girl. And now seven months later, Danny Walker and Evelyn Johnson were about to become man and wife. Even worse, Evelyn was pregnant with Danny's child. And if that did not seem bad enough, Red harbored deep suspicions that Evelyn was still in love with Rafe, and not Danny.

Thinking of Rafe, Evelyn and Danny also reminded Red of Betty. His fiancée of nearly two months. In another year, he and Betty would have married inside the chapel at Hickam. The same location for Danny and Evelyn's wedding ceremony. Only the Japanese attack on December 7 had ruined Red's plans of matrimony. As much as he mourned Betty, he thanked God that he would never have to watch her marry another man.

"Hey Red. You okay?" Rafe frowned at the other pilot. "You look as if you're in another world."

Red responded with a weak smile. "Just thinking about the past. Ready to go?"

One last sigh left Rafe's mouth. "I reckon so. Let's go." He strode toward the door, with Red close at his heels.

* * * *


Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. It was a situation in life that Lieutenant Barbara Kurtz has always dreaded and found herself in. Yet, for once, she felt more than happy not to be the bride. At least not for today's wedding. Hell, she felt downright relieved.

Poor Evelyn. Poor Rafe. Poor . . . Well, perhaps not poor Danny. After all, not only did he barely managed to survive Doolittle's suicidal mission over Tokyo, he was also about to marry the woman he loved - namely Evelyn. And become a father in two months. Then again, Danny was also about to marry a woman who was probably not in love with him. Barbara suspected that Evelyn loved Danny, but was not in love. Loving someone and being completely, down-in-your-guts in love were two different matters. At least to Barbara. And she thanked God that she was not about to marry the wrong man for the right reason.

"Barbara!" Sandra O'Connell's voice screeched in the blond woman's ears. Geez! "Are they here, yet?"

Here meant the little white Army chapel at Hickam Field. The bride, along with her attendants, stood inside a small room, adjacent to the chapel. Barbara's fellow attendants, Sandra and Martha Cole, fussed over the bride's wedding gown. And it was beautiful. Evelyn wore a cream-colored gown with puffy short sleeves and a square neckline. It looked elegant and hid her pregnant form very well.

"Will you all leave her alone?" Barbara groused. "She looks fine."

Evelyn heaved a deep sigh. "Barbara's right. I feel fine. And I'm ready to start. Is the . . . groom's party here, yet?"

"I'll check." Barbara left the small room. She found the groom standing in the back of the chapel, surrounded by his friends. However, two seemed to be missing - Red and Rafe.

Barbara cried out to them. "Hey! Why are you all standing around like suspects in a line-up? Evelyn's ready."

Danny, who looked downright handsome in his full khaki uniform, replied that they were waiting for Red. And the best man.

"What? You mean they're not here, yet?" Barbara demanded. Of course she did not blame Rafe if he decided not to show up. What man in his right mind would want to witness the wedding between his best friend and the woman he loved? Barbara had noticed something else. Evelyn did not strike her as radiant bride. Granted, the former nurse happened to be at least seven months pregnant. But still . . .

The sound of a jeep screeching to a halt caught Barbara's attention. Gooz poked his head outside the chapel's door and announced, "The best man is here. And Red."

Barbara heaved a relieved sigh. "Great. Now, the only person that's missing is Doc Hayes. Let us know when he arrives." She returned inside the chamber. "Hey! Rafe and Red are here."

Evelyn stiffened momentarily at the mention of her ex-boyfriend's name. Barbara noticed. Then the bride-to-be asked in a placid voice, "What about Commander Hayes? Has he arrived?"

"Not yet. I asked Gooz to let . . ." Barbara bit off her words when a head poked inside the room. It belonged to Rafe.

The pilot's eyes met the bride's. Electricity crackled in the air. Even a blind person, Barbara decided, would have noticed the chemistry between the former lovers. And Barbara was not blind.

"Hello Rafe," Sandra finally greeted, cutting the tension. "Is there something you want?" Anxiety filled the eyes behind her gold-rimmed glasses.

Rafe continued to stare at Evelyn. Whose face turned pink. Martha coughed slightly, snapping the pilot out of his trance. "Uh, I just came to tell you that Commander Hayes has just arrived. So the wed . . ." He took a deep breath. "The ceremony will probably start in five minutes."

Silent tension filled the air. Martha finally responded. "Thanks. We'll be . . ."

A second figure appeared in the chamber. Relief flooded Barbara's body. It was the nurses' commanding officer, dressed in a khaki naval uniform. Commander Hayes glanced at Evelyn and smiled. "Is everyone ready?" he asked.

Barbara smirked. "Now that you're here, sir." She nodded at Rafe. "You can tell the others that we're ready."

Rafe tore his eyes away from the bride and left. A deep flush colored Evelyn's cheeks. Barbara sighed for the second time this morning. This promised to be a long day.

* * * *

NEXT - Parts Three to Five