Sunday, August 9, 2009

"A Family Affair" [PG-13] - 4/8




"A FAMILY AFFAIR"

CHAPTER FOUR

Two days following her meeting with Artemus, Nina Kriegler paid a visit to an old colleague from her days as a whitelighter. Harold Vernoff was a former witch who had crossed over to becoming the very thing he used to fight against. In Vernoff's case - a warlock. A strong telepath, the warlock possessed chestnut-brown hair that fell over his forehead, wide brown eyes and smooth pale skin. Instead of the thirty-six year-old man that he happened to be, he resembled a college student.

The darklighter and the warlock greeted each other with a hug. Then Nina went about explaining the reason behind her visit. When she finished, Venoff's mouth hung opened in shock. "You . . . you want me to do what?"

"Send a vision to a seer," Nina patiently explained. "She's a witch named Phoebe Halliwell. Have you . . .?"

"Ever heard of her?" the warlock finished. "Yeah! She's a Charmed One, Nina! And very powerful!"

Nina sighed. "Yes Harold, she is a powerful witch. But she doesn't possess a telepathic ability." A wicked smile stretched her lips. "And you're strong enough to mess with her mind."

Vernoff continued to stare at his former whitelighter. "Okay, say that I can do it." He paused. "What kind of images will I be sending to her?"

Realizing that the warlock had risen to the bait, Nina pulled out a yellow envelope from her large handbag. "Inside, you'll find photos of those involved in the vision." The darklighter tossed a photograph of a dark-haired man around forty, on Vernoff's coffee table. "He's a mortal named Mark Giovanni. You'll send the witch an image of him being killed by this person . . ." Nina removed a recently snapped photograph of a female in a guard's uniform. "Have her kill the mortal, using energy balls."

"Energy balls?" Vernoff frowned. "What exactly is she?"

Nina replied, "A daemon by the name of Andrea. She's a member of the Gimle Order."

"What the hell is the Gimle Order, and why do you want to have witches go after this . . .?"

Nina brusquely interrupted, "I'll explain later, Harold. Meanwhile, can you do as I ask? There's a great deal of money involved for you."

Nodding, Vernoff replied, "Yeah, I'll do it. How soon?"

"Tomorrow evening."

-------

Phoebe entered the Halliwell manor and slammed the door shut. "I'm home!" she cried and walked into the empty living room. "Hello? Piper? Paige? Is anyone home?"

A voice cried from the kitchen, "I'm in here!" Piper.

After dumping her purse on the sofa, Phoebe headed for the kitchen, where she found her older sister preparing dinner. "Hey! Aren't you home, early?" Piper glanced at the clock. "It's only four forty-five. You're usually home by five-thirty."

Phoebe sighed, as she eased into an empty chair. "I managed to finish most of my work, early, so I left. I didn't feel like hanging around any longer than it was necessary."

"You're not thinking of Cole, are you?"

Piper's question threw Phoebe into a loop. "Huh?" She frowned at the older woman. "What makes you . . .?" Realization struck Phoebe. "Oh, I get it. You've been thinking of Cole. Or should I say, his uncle?"

"No, I haven't." Piper's petulant reply came a little too quick.

"Piper . . ."

The oldest Charmed One finally capitulated. "Okay, maybe I have. I just . . . I don't know, Phoebe. A demon protecting the innocent? Doesn't that sound a little odd to you? And how come we've never encountered one, before?" Phoebe opened her mouth to respond. "Oh, I know," Piper continued. "There was Cole. But he had only done it for you. And now, for Olivia. It's not the same."

Keeping her emotions in check over the mention of her ex-husband and his girlfriend, Phoebe replied, "The McNeills don't seem to find the idea unbelievable. In fact, they've had experiences with demons like Marbus, before. And I've been reading more detailed books on Wicca, lately. It seems Olivia and her family had been right about how Wiccans don't believe in inherently evil beings like demons and such. And after our experiences with Cole, that demon Riggerio, and Cole's uncle . . . maybe they're right."

Piper sighed. "Look Phoebe, can we talk about this, later? It was bad enough finding out that after five years as witches, our knowledge of witchcraft is at best, minimal; and that we haven't really been initiated as witches. Now Cole's uncle shows up and . . . I don't know. Everything seems to be getting more confusing. I just don't want . . ."

A cheerful voice cried from the living room, "Hey! I'm home! Where is everybody?"

"In the kitchen!" Phoebe shouted back.

A minute later, Paige stomped into the kitchen, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Good evening, family!" she greeted happily.

Phoebe stared at her half-sister through narrowed eyes. "What did you do? Take a happy pill?"

"Actually, I've got some good news!" Paige hesitated for a moment. "Your little sister just got a raise, today. After working at Ostera's for six months."

Piper looked surprised. "So soon?"

Paige added, "Well, considering that I had to managed the shop for three weeks, while Barbara and Bruce were on their honeymoon . . ."

"I thought the trip to Europe was your reward?"

Frowning at her oldest sister, Paige complained, "Gee Piper, why can't you just congratulate me? Why did you have to make a fuss over what seems to me, good news?"

"I'm not . . ." Piper turned to the middle sister. "Phoebe, am I fussing?"

Before Phoebe could answer, Paige continued, "Yes Piper, you are. And I think I have a pretty good idea, why. You're jealous."

"I beg your pardon?"

Paige added, "You're jealous of my friendship with Barbara and Olivia. In fact, you had acted the same way, when I told you about the trip to Europe."

Piper snorted with derision. "Please! Why would I be jealous over Barbara? She's your boss." Once again, she turned to Phoebe. "Do I seem like I'm jealous?"

Phoebe began, "Well . . ." A vision struck her before she could continue her reply. She saw a uniformed female approach Mark Giovanni, as he walked across his lawn. The female's eyes flashed red before she killed the wine grower with an energy ball. And just like that, the vision ended.

A gasp left Phoebe's mouth, as she grabbed the table's edge. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Ohmigod! We've got to stop her."

"Pheebs, are you okay?" Piper asked, looking concerned. "What happened? A premonition?"

Breathing heavily, Phoebe replied, "It's Mark . . . Mark Giovanni. I saw him being attacked by a demon. At his house."

"Then, let's go," Piper said, as she ceased chopping vegetables.

Phoebe protested, "Wait a minute, Piper! The attack doesn't happen until dusk. And how are we going to explain ourselves to Mr. Giovanni?"

A sigh left Piper's mouth. "And I need a babysitter for Wyatt."

"Why don't we just tell Cole to take care of this demon?" Paige suggested. "After all, this is his client, we're talking about."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Listen, we don't need Cole's permission to save his client. All we need to do is simply vanquish the demon before he . . ."

"She," Phoebe corrected.

". . . before she can kill this Giovanni person." Piper removed her apron. "First, let's call Leo." She called out her husband's name several times, before he finally appeared.

The blond-haired whitelighter appeared in a sparkle of blue lights. "Is dinner ready?" he asked. When the sisters failed to reply, he added, "Something wrong?"

"We need you to take care of Wyatt, until we get back," Piper replied. "We have a demon to vanquish."

Paige spoke up. "Before we do, shouldn't we check the Book of Shadows to see what we'll be up against?" Phoebe and Piper agreed and Paige teleported the Book of Shadows into her hands. She opened it. "Pheebs, if you see the demon from your premonition, just holler."

Phoebe poured through the Book, page by page. To her consternation, not one demon in it matched the description of the one she had envisioned. "Great!" she finally cried out in frustration. "She's not in the Book and we don't know how to vanquish her."

"Yeah, and it's almost dark," Paige added.

Piper sighed. "Okay, why don't we just go and take care of this demon. If my power doesn't work, we'll use the old 'Power of Three' chant." The other two nodded. "Leo, keep an eye on Wyatt. We should be back, soon." All three sisters joined hands, as Paige orbed them out of the house.

---------

Andrea felt bored. She tried not to be. She tried to remember what Marbus had told her about the mortal she now protected. That the latter was in danger of being attacked by an assassin. Also, she tried to remember that said mortal also happened to be a client of Marbus' nephew - Belthazor. But patrolling the mortal's estate, while wearing this ridiculous outfit, was slowly boring Andrea to tears.

It had not taken much effort for her to win a position as bodyguard on Giovanni's estate. All Andrea had to do was show up and beg for a job. The mortal took one look at her - pretty face, long dark hair, wide brown eyes and curves that would stop traffic - and hired her on the spot.

During the two days since she had joined the Giovanni household, no other daemon had bothered to attack the mortal. Instead, Andrea found herself fending off Giovanni's attempts to flirt with her. The daemon wondered how his wife could endure such a man. Until she came upon the blond, horse-faced woman making advances at the pool cleaner. Andrea sighed. She felt more like a cast member of a daily soap opera, than bodyguard of a prominent San Francisco businessman.

She glanced up from her musings and saw a dark-haired man approaching her with a drink. It was Mark Giovanni. Andrea's body tensed, as she anticipated another advance. "Good evening, Mr. Giovanni," she politely greeted.

A smarmy grin curved the mortal's lips. "And good evening to you, Ms. Duscany. Would you like a drink? It's a glass of one of my finest Chardonnays." He held out the glass of wine.

Andrea responded with a polite smile. "Thank you for the offer, sir. But I'm on duty."

"Oh come on. Just one drink."

Shaking her head, the daemon repeated her answer. "Really sir, thank you, but no. I don't . . ."

Three women materialized behind Giovanni, taking Andrea off guard. Here it is, she thought. A demonic attack.

The oldest woman immediately threw her hands up. For a brief moment, it seemed as if time had frozen. For Mr. Giovanni, it certainly had. Then Andrea broke the spell by moving. She allowed a fireball to form in her palm. "Whoever you are, leave! Now!"

"Oh my God!" cried another woman. "Piper, freeze her!"

The first woman replied, "I can't. My freezing power doesn't work on her! The Power of Three chant!"

The Power of Three? Andrea frowned. The only people she knew who were called that were . . .

The three women began to chant, "The Power of Three will set us free! The Power of Three will set us free!"

At that moment, Andrea realized that she was facing the Charmed Ones. They must think that she was after Giovanni. "Wait a minute!" she cried. "You've got it all wrong! I'm not . . ." Andrea's words fell upon deaf ears, as the witches continued their chant.

"The Power of Three will set us . . ."

Smoke and flames began to touch Andrea's skin. She screamed in pain. So this is how it ends. Killed, while being mistaken for evil. The smoke and flames had now engulfed her. She screamed one last time, before everything faded to black.

---------

"What do you mean she's missing?" Cole demanded over the telephone. "Who are you . . .?" He paused, while he listened to Giovanni's agitated conversation. "Whoa! Slow down, Mark! No, I can't explain how she had disappeared like that. When did you . . . ?"

Giovanni continued his babbling. He had called ten minutes ago with disturbing news. One of his bodyguards had mysteriously disappeared. A guard named Andrea Duscany. A deep suspicion gnawed at the back of Cole's mind. Had this Duscany woman been a member of the Gimle Order? Had Marbus went ahead and assigned someone to guard his client? After this incident, Cole decided he would place a protection spell around Giovanni's house. Especially, now that Marbus' daemon had disappeared. But thank goodness the wine grower managed to survive.

"Look Mark," Cole finally said, "I suggest that you say nothing about this incident. Not to the police, to your staff or even your family. The moment you do, you'll be placed inside the nearest mental ward." He sighed. "Just chalk it up to a mysterious disappearance and leave it at that." Cole paused, while his client continued to ramble. "Yeah, yeah I remember you telling me about the woman who had disappeared from the Mortons', last Saturday." Again, Giovanni spoke. "Yes, I agree Mark. This is all beginning to sound a little odd. Like I said . . . keep it to yourself. Oh, and I would hire another bodyguard, if I were you. Good-night, Mark." Cole hung up and heaved a large sigh.

Seconds later, Marbus appeared at his penthouse. "We have trouble," he declared anxiously.

"Are you referring to the disappearance of a Ms. Andrea Duscany?" Cole's uncle stared at him. "Yeah, I just received a call from Mark Giovanni. He's in a state of panic, right now."

Frowning, Marbus said, "So, you know about Andrea's death?"

"She's dead?"

Marbus nodded. "Definitely. But I don't understand. How was Andrea killed? I thought you had placed a protection spell around Giovanni? How did a daemon or a warlock managed to slip by and kill her? And why spare your client?"

"I don't know why Mark was spared," Cole growled. "And I haven't placed the protection spell around Mark's home, yet. As for you Andrea, perhaps her assassin had slipped through by entering the house, physically. That's how Claudia Della Scalla and her cronies managed to get past the McNeills' protection spell, on Bruce's wedding day."

Marbus hesitated. "Claudia Della Scalla? The succubus? I had heard that her entire coven was destroyed. You?"

Cole shrugged. "Only a handful. Olivia's grandmother, Harry, Paige and a Stregheria witch had done most of the damage." He sighed. "As for Mark . . . well, now I have to find him a new bodyguard. Someone who can get close to him."

"I'll do it," Marbus volunteered.

"What?"

The older daemon repeated his words. "I'll do it. I can't sacrifice another member of the Order, without him or her knowing what's going on."

Cole shook his head. "I can't pass you off as a bodyguard. Besides, aside from morphing into your demonic self, you can't shape shift. I can do it for . . ."

"Don't you bother, lad. Your Mr. Giovanni and I had met, last Saturday. It turns out that he's a fan of my novels. By the time I'm finished with him, we'll be chums."

Why not? Cole felt certain that his uncle would be more than capable of protecting Giovanni. "Okay," he said. "Sounds like a good idea. By the way, why didn't you tell me that you had assigned someone from your order to guard Mark?"

Confusion whirled in Marbus' blue eyes. "Didn't you tell me to go ahead and do it?"

"No, I said I would think about it." Cole sighed. "Never mind. What's done is done. I only hope you would have better luck than poor Andrea."

----------

The bell hanging over Ostera's door rang, announcing a new visitor to the shop. Paige glanced up and saw Harry McNeill enter the shop. "Hi!" she greeted. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to buy some dill weed." Harry paused. "It's for dinner, tonight."

The words came out of Paige's mouth, before she could stop herself. "Have a date with Dana Morton, tonight?" Oh God! Why did she sound like a jealous shrew?

Harry stared at her for a brief moment. "No, I don't. It's for Mom. Besides, if I had a date with Dana, I would have taken her to a restaurant. Why did you ask?"

Paige shook her head. "It's nothing. I'll see if I can find a package for you." She walked around the counter and headed for the far corner of the store.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Harry cried. Paige paused in her tracks. "I found a store where you can buy your magick tools at a bargain price. It's on Ashbury. I'll take you there, myself. Perhaps this evening. I could use a little extra shopping."

Dana Morton forgotten, Paige smiled. "Sounds like a great idea. Why don't you pick me up around seven-thirty?"

"Okay."

"Meanwhile, let me get your dill weed for you." Paige continued toward the back of the store for Harry's request. After a long search, she finally found the herb, and returned to the front counter. There, she found Barbara in deep conversation with Harry.

". . . very anxious over that plant," Barbara was saying. "And I don't blame him."

Harry cried, "You mean to say that Dad hasn't found a way to get rid of that plant, yet? It's been over four months, now."

Barbara sighed. "Your dad thinks he might have to take the plant back to India."

"India?" Harry shook his head. "During the summer? That's like going to Florida. Or New Orleans. Just thinking of all that excessive heat makes me want to sweat."

"Well, your mother certainly wants it out of the house," Barbara said. "And so do I. If Osbourne wasn't already dead, I would strangle him for dumping that plant on . . . oh Paige! You got Harry's purchase?"

Smiling, Paige placed the bag of dill weed on the countertop. "Right here. Are you guys talking about that Soma plant?"

Harry replied, "Yeah, it seems that Dad's latest attempt to get rid of it, has failed. I guess no one wants to deal with a plant that gives immortality. Looks like he's going to India."

"Wow! India during the summer," she said in a sardonic voice. "Sounds like fun." Recalling yesterday evening's excitement, she added, "Hey, guess what happened to us, last night. Well, more like yesterday evening. Piper, Phoebe and I had vanquished a demon. Pretty tough one, too. We couldn't find her in the Book of Shadows."

Barbara asked, "Who was the daemon after? Or what?"

The telephone rang. Since Paige stood closer to it, she answered the call. "Good afternoon. Ostera's Herbal Shop. How may I help you?" When the caller proved to be a potential customer, Paige put him on hold. "Sorry guys, this is going to take a while." She then returned her attention to the telephone call, while Barbara rang up Harry's purchases. By the time the call ended, she glanced up and realized that both McNeills had vanished.

-------

The following morning, two visitors appeared at the Giovanni Winery office on Montgomery Street. Cole and Marbus stood before Mark Giovanni's secretary, Kelson, while Cole announced their presence. A minute later, the two daemons were ushered inside the wine grower's office. Giovanni offered his hand to the younger daemon. "Cole, what brings you here?"

Smiling, Cole answered, "Just checking up on your well-being. Have you hired a new guard, yet?"

Giovanni sighed. "One of my assistants, Kelson, should be handling that little matter, today." He glanced at Marbus. "I see that you've brought your uncle along." He shook the older daemon's hand.

"Yes, uh Miles wanted to see you, today." Cole hesitated. "As you know, he's a writer . . ."

Giovanni smiled. "Who doesn't?" He faced Marbus. "Like I told you, last Saturday, I'm a big fan. What can I do for you?"

Marbus replied, "Well, I'm writing a new novel . . . and part of it takes place in the California wine country. And I was wondering . . ."

"Oh! You want a little background information!" Giovanni nodded. "I would be more than happy to help. "Uh, how about lunch, today? Cole?"

A polite smile appeared on Cole's lips. "Sorry Mark, but I have an important luncheon to attend, today. But I'm sure that Miles would be more than happy to join you." He added, "Who knows? You two just might become friends."

---------

Nina Kriegler strolled nonchalantly into Magan Corporation's executive office and greeted its demonic CEO. Next to Artemus stood his main lackey - Prax. "Well, don't you look like the cat that's swallowed the canary," she commented drolly. "May I assume you were satisfied with Vernoff's job?"

"More than satisfied," Artemus replied. "Your little scheme worked." He turned to his assistant. "Prax, get the lady a drink. Malt Scotch whiskey, I believe?"

Nina smiled. "Excellent memory." As she eased herself into an empty chair, she asked, "So, when do we go after Marbus?"

"Soon," Artemus replied. Prax handed Nina a glass of Scotch. "Perhaps tonight. Prax has delivered some interesting news. According to my spy, Mr. Giovanni had lunch with Marbus, today. Even more interesting, he has invited our favorite daemon to his home for dinner. They've become quite chummy."

After taking a sip of Scotch, Nina murmured, "How nice. Why hasn't this spy of yours finished off Giovanni, himself?"

"Because although he's a warlock, he is also a mortal with no active powers." Artemus leaned back into his chair. "Kelson is not what you would call a skillful killer. The police would be on to him, within a minute. He's a better spy than assassin."

"I see."

The daemon continued, "And thanks to Kelson, I've learned that my former comrade has taken steps to ingratiate himself to his nephew's client." Artemus' smile widened. "It's perfect."

Nina took another sip. "Perfect?"

"Why yes. Your Mr. Vernoff can send a vision of Marbus killing the mortal to the witch. It should be quite interesting to see how the Charmed Ones react, when they believe that Belthazor's uncle is after Giovanni."

The darklighter added, "And when the witch receives this latest vision, she and her sisters will go after him in an instant." She paused. "Are you sure you don't want to wait until tomorrow? What if the witches find out that they have killed the wrong person?"

A sigh left Artemus' mouth. "My dear Ms. Kriegler, that is why I want Marbus dead as soon as possible. Besides, with Marbus having dinner with Giovanni tonight, it would be the perfect opportunity."

Nina finished the rest of her Scotch and handed Prax the empty glass. "As you wish." She gave the daemon a quick nod and teleported out of the office.


END OF CHAPTER 4

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