Friday, May 9, 2008
"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 13
Paul glanced around the Golden Horn's dining room with deep approval. "Very nice," he commented. "Just as I remembered it from a show featured on the Food Channel. Actually, it's a lot nicer than I thought."
Olivia responded with a pleased smile. "My mother and older brother would thank you. Both of them take great pride in this place. You know that the BAY-MIRROR is doing a piece on the restaurant's silver anniversary."
"Oh, that's right." Paul paused momentarily. "That's where Phoebe Halliwell works, isn't it? The uh, 'Ask Phoebe' column?"
Olivia shrugged. "For the past year, I believe. In fact, I think she's now one of the country's leading advice columnists."
A wry smile touched Paul's lips. "Ever thought of writing a letter to her, yourself?"
"No, not really. I have my local high priestess to turn to. Or high priest."
One of Paul's brows rose questioningly. "Not your whitelighter?"
Recalling that Leo considered Paul to be one of his prized charges, Olivia hesitated. "Leo hasn't been my whitelighter in thirteen years. I've discovered over the years that my moral code and those of the Elders don't exactly match. Don't forget, I'm Wiccan. Contrary to what they seem to believe, I don't the Elders can say the same. However, Leo has asked me and my brothers for help, every now and then. And we've done the same." A waiter appeared at the table. Olivia and Paul ordered their drinks - white wine for her and a Manhattan for Paul. When he left, Olivia continued, "I gather it's different with you."
Paul nodded. "I don't have a high priest or priestess as my . . . spiritual guide. Leo is doing just fine. Along with my minister, back home in Buffalo."
"Back home in Buffalo? You don't consider San Francisco your home?"
A wide smile illuminated Paul's handsome face. "Not quite. I haven't been here for two weeks, yet."
Olivia nodded. "Really? Has Leo . . ." She paused. "Has he told you about the recent problems in the Whitelighter Realm? About the different factions that have formed since last summer? And the fact that several whitelighters have become darklighters?" The stunned expression on Paul's face gave Olivia her answer. "Hmmm, I guess not."
The waiter returned with Olivia's wine and Paul's Manhattan. He asked if they were ready for appetizers. Olivia suggested they try the duck pate in sherry aspic. As for the main course, she suggested they try Bruce's specialty - Sweetbreads Menniere.
Paul had managed to snap out of his state of shock, once the waiter left. He leaned forward and said, "Leo never mentioned a word about trouble in the Whitelighter Realm. How did you . . .?"
"Find out? From my dad's whitelighter," Olivia replied. "Or former whitelighter. Dad and Oliver haven't really been whitelighter and charge for a very long time. But they're still close friends. Anyway, Oliver told Dad without the Elders' consent. Leo wasn't exactly happy when he found out that we knew."
Paul took a large gulp of his Manhattan. "How did . . . how did this whole mess began, anyway?"
Olivia told her dinner companion about how the Source's final death led to the destruction of his council and chaos in the Source's Realm. She added that many of the whitelighters had become alarmed by the Elders' willingness to reward the Charmed Ones for getting rid of the Source, and unconcern toward the lack of balance between good and evil in the magical world. Others saw the Source's defeat as a sign that the Elders were becoming increasingly complacent and arrogant about the Realm's chaos. And blind to the fact that this very chaos has led to increased attacks by warlocks and daemons, scrambling to become the new Source.
"Last fall, a daemon named Barbas had managed to steal Cole's powers and use them to become the new Source," Olivia continued. "You've heard of Barbas, right? The daemon of fear? Well, he managed to rule as Source for a few hours, but he also wanted revenge against the Halliwells, and in the end that led to his death. A coven of warlocks named Crozat tried the same."
Paul interrupted, "I've encountered one of two of them."
"Well, around last October and November, they were killing powerful witches to steal enough power to grab control of the Source's Realm. And in December, five of them tried to steal Cole's powers. Like Barbas."
The ADA assumed a cool mask. "Belthazor again? Those new powers of his seemed to be a magnet for trouble."
"Meaning?" Olivia asked pointedly.
"Well, first Barbas tried to steal his powers, and then these warlocks . . ." Paul's voice faded under Olivia's unrelenting stare. He inhaled sharply. "I think I better keep my opinion about Belthazor to myself," he finally said. "The last time I had opened my mouth, I ended up with a tongue lashing from Paige." He finished the last of his Manhattan and sighed. "As for this news about the Whitelighter Realm, I can't understand why Leo didn't tell me."
Olivia shook her head. "Poor Leo. Ever since his problems with the Elders over Piper, he's been increasingly less than willing to break the rules." And being married to one of the demanding Halliwells had not helped much, she silently added. "I guess the Elders didn't want the whitelighters to alarm their charges. Fortunately, Oliver felt otherwise."
Paul leaned forward, "You know, for a cop, you sure don't seemed to have any qualms about breaking the rules." A disarming smile appeared on his lips. "But I guess that's why I find you . . . so intriguing."
While Olivia finished her glass of wine, the waiter returned with a duck pate loaf on a tray, along with strips of toasted bread. As the couple began to eat, Paul asked Olivia about the progress of her current case. "Are you and Morris any closer to finding the killer?"
"We have a suspect in mind," Olivia replied. "DeWolfe Mann's replacement at the BAY-MIRROR, Portia Della Scalla. I haven't met her, but I can't help but feel there's something odd about the way she was hired. Her credentials weren't even checked by her editor, and I know damn well that she's not a well-known food critic. And then there was the manner of how Mann's body was found. It was Phoebe and Paige who found his body. And according to Phoebe, she heard voices from inside the apartment, before she and Paige orbed inside.
Paul frowned. "You think there's some magical connection?"
"Cole seemed to think so." Olivia could not help but notice how Paul winced at the mention of the half-daemon's name.
"That's right. I forgot." Paul spread some pate over a strip of toast. "Then I guess that a demon would recognize a fellow bad guy. Or girl."
Olivia shot Paul a dark look. "I don't consider Cole a 'bad guy'."
"Oh, of course. I mean . . ." Paul became apologetic. "Look, I'm sorry. I meant that as a half-demon, he would be able to recognize a fellow demon. That is if this Miss Della Scalla is one."
"Possibly." Olivia poured herself another glass of wine from the bottle left behind by the waiter. "If the Della Scalla woman is supernaturally evil, why did she kill Mann? For his job? Is there someone at the BAY-MIRROR she want dead?"
Paul asked, "Is there?"
After a moment's hesitation, Olivia answered, "I don't think so. From what I've gathered, she mainly keeps to herself. She's managed to stay away from the office during her last two days with the paper. And the only other person she has been in contact with was Bruce."
"The story on the restaurant."
Olivia nodded. "Right. Mann was originally supposed to write the story. But now that he's dead . . ." She stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth hanging wide open. It all came to her. The interview on the Golden Horn. DeWolfe Mann's murder. The BAY-MIRROR's quick decision to hire Portia Della Scalla without bothering to check her references. Jason assigning the Golden Horn story to his newest columnist without raising a fuss. "Of course! She's after Bruce!"
"What? What are you talking about?" a confused Paul asked.
An excited Olivia leaned forward. "Bruce! She's after Bruce! The Della Scalla woman. The question is why?"
"Like you said, she might be a demon or warlock."
Olivia shook her head, dismissing the suggestion. "No, no. Daemons and warlocks aren't in the habit of killing witches for no apparent reason." She stood up, catching Paul by surprise. "I need to speak with Bruce. Now. I have to warn him." Olivia strode toward the restaurant's kitchen.
Inside the Golden Horn's nerve center, she found her brother on telephone, apparently screaming at his fiancée. "For God's sake, Barbara! You've got to be kidding! I'm in the middle of preparing a meal, and you want to scream at me about Portia?"
Portia? Bruce's casual mention of the columinst's name startled Olivia. Judging from Bruce's next words, Barbara did not particularly care for it. "What?" he continued. "What do mean . . .? What the hell's wrong with me calling her Portia? It's her name, isn't it?" Another pause followed before Bruce finally ended the phone call. "Look, Barbara," he said in a voice that usually spelled danger for others, "I don't have time for this shit, right now. I'm busy. If you want to have a fit over some woman I barely know, do it when I'm not working. Other than that, good-night!" And he slammed the telephone on the receiver.
Bruce stalked toward one of the kitchen's stove and continued preparing what looked like sweetbreads. He shouted to one of the cooks under his supervision. "Ramon, I need that parsley! Now!"
Olivia strode up to her brother. "Bruce, I need to talk to you."
"Not now, Livy! I'm busy with your sweetbreads and I have another meal to prepare after that. Talk to me, later." Ramon handed him a bowl filled with fresh parsley.
"Bruce, this is important! It's about . . ."
Looking extremely harried, Bruce shook his head. "Please Livy! Not now! Later!" He paused momentarily to wipe his hands on his apron. "Look, give me a call, later. Okay? I should be home around 11:30 or midnight." He returned his attention to the task before him.
A frustrated Olivia had no choice but to leave the kitchen. She decided that a few hours of waiting would not harm anyone. Until then, her mind harbored on Portia Della Scalla. Was the Italian woman really a daemon or warlock? And why would she be after Bruce?
Olivia's mind had become so fixated on the Della Scalla woman that she failed to remember that she had a dinner companion. It was not until she looked when she realized that she had passed their table.
* * * *
"Belthazor." A handsome, swarthy man with curly black hair and dark-brown eyes approached Cole. The latter sat next to the bar, inside Vornado, a popular jazz club that had recently opened.
Cole whirled his stool around and gave the approaching man a wry smile. "Riggerio. It's been a while. I haven't seen in nearly thirty years."
"Thirty-six years, to be exact," Riggerio corrected in a smooth, Italian accent. "Portofino, February 1967. Our congrega had asked the Brotherhood of the Thorn's help in getting hold of a certain chalice." He eased onto the stool, next to Cole's.
"And as I recall, your coven had to hand over your sigil as payment for our services." Cole's face hardened. "Of course, one of your people tried to double-cross the Brotherhood. Fortunately," his face broke into a smile, "all's well that ended well."
Riggerio shook his head in mild disgust. "That Ornias! He was always such an impetuous fool! Which is why he is dead, of course." He immediately changed the subject. "So Belthazor, what brings you here to Vornado's? Hmmm? You don't exactly run in our circle."
"An old friend had informed me where I could find you," Cole explained. "Imagine my surprise when I found out that you had left Italy for the States. And here in San Francisco, no less."
The other daemon shrugged. "Portofino became . . . a dangerous place to stay. Italy in general, thanks to the Camelli family. Damn witches! So I came here. Opened this nice little club."
Nodding, Cole continued, "And the reason I'm here is for some information. I was wondering," he paused, "if you had ever heard of a witch, a warlock, or possibly a daemon named Portia Della Scalla in the Stregheria world."
A frown darkened Riggerio's face. "A daemon named Della Scalla? Sounds like a mortal's name. Perhaps she is a witch. Or a warlock."
"Perhaps she is," Cole added. "But there are daemons who use mortal names, when among humans." A bartender appeared and asked Cole if he would like a drink. He ordered a martini.
After the bartender stepped away, Riggerio said, "I'm sorry, my friend, but I am not familiar the human persona of every daemon. I do not even know your human name."
"For which I am thankful," Cole said with a smirk. He quickly sobered. "Could you do me a favor? Find out all you can about this Portia Della Scalla. I've already met her once, and there's something about her . . . I don't know. Something seductive. Like a succubus."
Dark eyes grew suspicious. "Why? So you can kill her?" Cole glanced sharply at the other daemon, who continued, "Do not think I haven't heard about the mighty Belthazor. That he had fallen in love with a witch. Helped her fight those of his kind."
Cole's own eyes became chilly. "Then you would also know that I was briefly the Source before I came back from the Wasteland. Stronger." He hesitated; a smug smile curved his lips. "And how long has it been since your coven had possessed the Crotona Ring, your sigil? Nearly forty years? I know where I can get my hands on it. Give it to you, as payment."
Surprise, followed by desire and wariness, flickered in Riggerio's eyes. "How? Your people no longer have a leader, and your realm is in chaos."
"You're right." Cole paused dramatically. "But the ring was in my possession during my brief tenure as the Source. Before I was . . . killed, I discovered where the previous Source had it hidden."
Confusion now darkened Riggerio's eyes. "Killed?"
"Of course. How else did I end up in the Wasteland?" Cole shook his head. "But that's a long story. Right now, I'm more interested in making a deal. I'm the only one alive who knows the location of the ring."
The other daemon paused thoughtfully. "All right, Belthazor. You have a deal." The two shook hands. The bartender briefly returned with Cole's martini, before moving on to another customer. "By the way, are you still with your witch?"
"My wi. . . Phoebe?" Cole shook his head. "No. Not anymore. My reign as the Source had put an end to our marriage. It was she and her sisters who had killed me. After I came back from the Wasteland, she divorced me."
Sympathy reflected in Riggerio's eyes. "I am sorry. Truly. But I am not surprised. I also fell in love with a witch." Cole shot him a startled look. Riggerio nodded. "Yes, but it did not last very long. A warlock killed her." He gave Cole's shoulder a friendly pat. "Enjoy yourself, my friend. I'll see about finding you a table."
"Thanks, but I'd rather stay here at the bar."
Riggerio nodded. "Of course. I'll send someone, so that you can order your meal. I will see you later." And he walked away.
Cole returned his attention to his martini. After taking a second sip, a voice cried out cheerfully, "Hey there, stranger!" Cole glanced to his left and found his former sister-in-law standing by his side. Paige.
* * * *
Blue eyes coolly regarded Paige. Who found herself nearly flinching under Cole's direct stare. Even after nearly a four-month truce, Paige noticed that the half-demon seemed to keep her at an emotional distance. Despite her best efforts to resume their friendship.
"Paige," Cole greeted in a cool, but pleasant voice. "This is a surprise. What are you doing here?"
Paige replied, "I was about to ask you the same question."
"Nothing much. Just enjoying an evening out."
Again, cool blue eyes stared at her. "Is there a problem with that?" Cole asked. He continued before Paige could answer, "By the way, what are you doing here? I didn't think jazz clubs were your style."
"They're not. I'm with someone." Paige pointed out a good-looking man, some five years older than her. "My boyfriend, Nate. His birthday was last Saturday, and we're celebrating tonight."
Cole gazed at her companion. "What happened to Saturday night?"
"He was out of town," Paige answered.
"Uh huh." Cole reached for the martini glass in front of him. "So what is he? A jazz lover?"
Paige replied, "As a matter of fact, Nate happens to like both jazz and rock. Only he wanted to be somewhere other than P3, tonight. So here we are." Paige waved at Nate, who responded with a slight nod. She returned her attention to Cole. "So you're here, all alone? Where's Olivia?"
Something akin to bitterness flickered briefly in Cole's eyes. "Out on a date, I gather," he replied coolly. "With the new ADA."
Paul Margolin. Paige muttered half-heartedly, "I guess she's really interested in this guy."
"You don't sound as if you approve," Cole observed.
Paige shrugged her shoulders. "He's . . . okay. But . . ." She sighed. "I don't know. I don't think he's right for Livy."
"In other words, you don't like him."
Who could argue with the truth? "All right, so I don't," Paige finally admitted. "He's a little too narrow-minded for my taste."
Amusement softened Cole's expression. "Now that's ironic, coming from a Halliwell. I bet six months ago, he would have seemed like the perfect man to you."
"A girl can change," Paige protested. "Although I sometimes wonder if you ever realize that."
Cole drained the last of his martini and faced the younger woman. "Meaning?"
Paige hesitated. "You tell me. Whenever we're together, you seemed to keep me at an arm's distance. I guess that deep down, you haven't . . . I don't know, forgiven me for what happened, last year." There! She finally said it. Got the issue out in the open.
Jazz music blared from the band on the stage, opposite the bar. Cole signaled the bartender and ordered another martini. Paige declined his offer of a drink. "Well," he finally said. "Typical Paige. Blunt as ever. And as usual . . . also right." Cole sighed. "I guess I have been a little distant with you." Paige felt a surge of triumph. And relief. The half-demon continued, "I guess a small part of me felt . . . a little resentful. And you don't deserve it. Especially since you've made a big effort to put the past behind us." Cole stuck out his hand. "Pax?"
"Pax." Paige grabbed Cole's hand and shook it. Her eyes fell upon the man she had earlier spotted with her former brother-in-law. "So, who's the guy you were speaking with?"
Cole hesitated, before he answered, "And old acquaintance."
Old acquaintance? Which could only mean one thing. "He's a demon?"
"Not from my circle," Cole answered, nodding. "But a daemon, nonetheless. He . . . uh, frequents this place. He's a jazz aficionado like myself. I wanted to find out if he had any information on this Della Scalla woman."
Paige frowned. "What do you mean that he's not from your circle?"
Cole sighed. "The demonic world is divided by different factions and dimensions, just like witches who practice different religions." He went on to explain that his faction, ruled by the Source, were basically known to witches and warlocks familiar with Wicca religion, and possibly a few other modern-day Western religions. "Of course, you have Ghede, who is head of the Netherworld, according to Vodoun belief. And he does exist, by the way. So do Din and Umbria, who according to Stregheria practioners, lead the netherworld."
Paige's eyes grew wide at the mention of the word - Stregheria. "Your friend, he's a Stregheria demon?"
"Uh, if you want to put it that way." Cole glanced over Paige's shoulder. The half-witch/whitelighter followed his gaze, which had settled upon a group of women sitting around a table, left of the dance floor. They seemed very interested in the handsome, half-demon. Especially one woman in particular.
Paige continued, "If this demon friend of yours is Stregheria, does that mean Portia Whatshername is, too?"
"I don't know," Cole replied. He returned his gaze to Paige. "Of course, I could be assuming she's Stregheria, because of her accent."
"It's too bad that you didn't ask Nick about her."
Cole frowned. "Who?"
"Nick. Nick Marcano? He's a Stregheria witch." When Cole failed to respond, Paige added, "C'mon! You've met him before. At one of the McNeills' brunches. His aunt is an old friend of Mrs. McNeill's. Carla Bianchi. Nick's the one who has a crush on Barbara."
A pause followed before Cole shook his head. "Sorry, I don't remember the guy."
Paige sighed. "Well, that's Nick, for you. The next time I see him, I'll ask about Portia Whatsherface." A recent memory popped into Paige's head. "Strange. He was acting odd when she came by the store with Bruce and Barbara."
"For crying out loud, Cole! I'm talking about Nick! He was acting strange, when that Portia woman . . ." From the corner of her eye, Paige spotted Nate signaling her. "Oh, never mind. I think the birthday boy is getting restless. I better get back to him." Before she walked away from Cole, she added, "By the way, I think you should get a hold of Nick. He might be able to help you."
Upon her return to her table, Paige gave her boyfriend a small peck on the cheek. "Sorry about that," she apologized.
"No biggie," Nate said. He nodded at Cole. "Who is he, by the way?"
Paige smiled at the hint of jealousy in her boyfriend's voice. She gave him a reassuring pat on the arm. "No one for you to worry about, sweetie. He's merely my ex-brother-in-law. He used to be married to my sister, Phoebe. And he's not my type."
"Well, he's obviously someone's type," Nate commented. Paige glanced at the bar. She saw a leggy, chestnut-haired woman approach Cole. She recognized the woman from the group of friends who had been staring at Cole. Even more disturbing was the fact that the interest between the woman and her former brother-in-law seemed mutual.
END OF PART 13