Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Spells, Lies and Remorse" [R] - 3/9




"SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE"

CHAPTER THREE

In San Franciso's Financial District, Cole sat in a booth next to his former wife, inside the seafood restaurant, Aqua. The pair sat in silence, as they focused upon every detail inside, except each other. Once Cole found the courage to return his gaze upon Phoebe, he noticed something different about her.

"Your hair!" he exclaimed with a slight frown. "You got it cut!" Cole continued to stare at Phoebe's dark-brown hair that fitted her skull like a cap. "When . . .?"

Phoebe's hand flew to her hair. "You like it?" she asked nervously. "I got it cut last week."

Cole smiled. "Yeah. It's nice. Reminds me of the Italian haircut." When Phoebe responded with a confused frown, he added, "Uh, it was a popular hairstyle for women, back in the Fifties."

"Oh." Phoebe nodded. Then she and Cole fell silent . . . again. For the half-daemon, the lack of noise seemed to stretch for eternity. Finally, Phoebe added, "Look Cole, the reason I wanted to see you . . ."

A waiter appeared to take their orders. Cole requested a martini - a Gibson - and a dish called Foie Gras Ravioli. Phoebe ordered iced tea and White Gazpacho. Once the waiter left, Cole asked, "What did you want to tell me?"

Phoebe heaved a long sigh. "Something happened to me a few days ago. Actually, it happened two days ago. I . . ." She paused and glanced away.

Cole frowned. Something had obviously rattled Phoebe. To the extent that she was displaying an openness toward him that he had not witnessed in over a year. "Okay Phoebe, what's wrong?"

"I found your blue sweater," the Charmed One finally blurted. "In my closet, at home."

Now, Cole really felt confused. "Blue sweater?"

Phoebe continued, "Your old powder blue, V-neck sweater. I guess . . . you must have left it behind."

Cole shrugged his shoulders. "O-kay. What about my sweater?"

"When I found it, I . . ." Phoebe hesitated. "I had a vision. Well actually, several visions."

"Premonitions?"

Phoebe lowered her eyes, as if she was ashamed to meet his. "No. Visions of the past. Your past. When you were the Source."

A cold wave washed over Cole. "Oh." Now he wished that he had never accepted Phoebe's lunch invitation. "What about these . . . visions?" he asked in a chilly voice.

"Please Cole, it's not what you think," Phoebe begged. "I saw . . ." She broke of, as the waiter returned with their drinks. Then, "I saw how you had become the Source. How the Seer had convinced you to use the Hollow. I saw how the Source took over your body, after we had vanquished him in our attic. I saw everything, Cole. Including how you had struggled against his control for so long."

Cole finally understood. Phoebe had apparently experienced the same or similar visions that Paige and Cecile had witnessed last December. A part of him - a small part - resented that all of his arguments from the past year could not convince Phoebe that he had never meant to become the Source. He also resented that it took a vision - 'her' vision - to finally convince her. But at least Phoebe finally knew the truth.

"Well," Cole began with a sigh, "better late than never." A mirthless chuckle rose from his throat.

Phoebe gently covered his hand with one of hers. "Oh Cole! I'm so sorry! All that time we had wasted! I guess . . . I guess we can't go back to the way things used to be between us." Her dark eyes pleaded with him.

Images of Olivia popped into Cole's mind. No, he and Phoebe would never be able to recapture their past. And quite frankly, he had no desire to do so. He liked his life, right now. And he was in love with Olivia. More than he had realized. "No, I guess not," he finally murmured. With his free hand, he covered Phoebe's. "But we can try something new . . . like being friends."

A rueful smile graced Phoebe's lips. "That sounds nice. I guess." Cole returned her smile.

---------

The San Francisco Brewery Company had become one of Paul's favorite restaurants since moving to the Bay Area over four months ago. He usually enjoyed the restaurant's warm atmosphere and delicious food. But not today, thanks to his present emotional state.

Paul glanced at his two companions in mild frustration. He had invited the pair with the sole purpose of feeding his potion to Olivia. Unfortunately, the opportunity to slip the potion into her drink had yet to materialize. And his lunch hour was almost over.

"With this trial almost over," Darryl Morris commented, "Olivia and I can hopefully get back to the Kostopulos case."

Olivia smiled. "What's the matter, Darryl? Itching to get back on the street? And I thought I was an action junkie."

"Don't confuse me with you, Livy, the police lieutenant retorted. "I simply want to get this Kostopulos case over with."

"C'mon Darryl! We've just received it, the day before yesterday! Besides," Olivia paused, "Scott, Carlotta and Marcus have already started on the case."

Paul frowned. "Kosta . . . Kos . . . Uh, who are you talking about?"

Olivia faced the ADA. "Stefan Kostopulos. He owns an antiquity shop on Kearny. Or he used to, until someone slit his throat, while burgling the place, two days ago. Darryl had assigned the other members of our squad to investigate - Scott Yi, Carlotta Trujillo and Marcus Anderson."

"What was taken?" Paul asked.

Morris replied, "A little over 2,400 in cash. Probably some two-bit perp had robbed the place. Guys like that are usually careless."

"Hmph." The grunt came out of Olivia's mouth, before she reached for her glass of iced tea.

The police lieutenant frowned at his red-haired partner. "Please don't tell me there's more to this case."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Scott told me that he found it odd that only the money was taken. Especially since there were so many valuable antiquities inside the shop. And why burgle the place in the middle of the afternoon?"

Morris sighed. "You know Olivia, you have a talent for making a mountain out of the smallest molehill. Had it ever occurred to you that the guy didn't have time to grab anything else, beside the money from the cash register?"

"Again, why rob the place in the middle of the afternoon, when it would have been more convenient to do the deed, late at night?"

In a gesture of surrender, Morris raised a hand. "Okay, you've got a point. But I still think that this was nothing more than a simple robbery."

"Really?" One of Olivia's red brows quirked upward. "So why did you order Carlotta and Scott to check the shop's inventory for any missing items?"

Before Morris could reply, his cell phone rang. He removed it from his jacket pocket and answered. "Hello? Oh, Sheila. Just a minute." Turning to Paul and Olivia, he said, "You mind if I take this call in private?" The two witches nodded and Morris left the table.

Paul smiled at the red-haired woman. She smiled back. Yet, he noticed that Olivia seemed slightly uncomfortable in his presence. Showing fake concern, Paul frowned slightly. "Is something wrong? You seem tense."

"Actually, I was about to ask you the same," Olivia replied. "Both Darryl and I had noticed that . . . well, you've been a little tense yourself, these past few days."

Paul's body nearly jerked out of his seat. He had no idea that his anxiety over Leo's project had been so obvious. "Really?" He chuckled nervously. "I didn't realize that I've been . . . uh, tense. I guess I've been a little anxious ever since the case went to the jury." He sighed loudly. "In fact, I still feel nervous."

Olivia gazed at him with sympathetic eyes. "Worried about the sentencing?"

"Well . . ." How in the hell was he going to find the opportunity to slip the damn potion? Paul eyed Olivia's glass of tea. If only he had the power of telekinesis.

Then to his surprise, Olivia stood up. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I have this sudden need for a trip to the Ladies Room. Excuse me." She flashed an apologetic smile and left the table.

Stunned by this sudden development, Paul stared at Olivia's retreating back. He could not believe his luck. Alone at last! With the two partners away from the table, he finally had the perfect opportunity to slip the potion in Olivia's drink.

Paul quickly glanced around to make sure that no one was watching. Then he surreptiously removed the small jar from his jacket pocket and unscrewed the top. After another glance, he quickly poured the jar's contents into Olivia's iced tea. He gave the tea a quick stir with a spoon and slipped the empty jar back into his pocket. At that moment, Darryl Morris reappeared.

"Everything okay?" Paul asked, aware of the increase in his heartbeat.

Morris stared at the attorney for what seemed like a long moment. "Yeah. It was Sheila. She only wanted to remind me to pick up a few things from the store. Uh, where's Olivia?"

"Ladies room." Paul smiled at the police inspector. "So . . . how about some dessert?"

----------

Upon her return to the precinct, Olivia found herself struggling to stay awake. Which struck her as unusual, since lunches rarely had an effect upon her. And today's lunch had been light - Quiche Lorraine, salad and iced tea. Too light to make her feel this groggy.

The telephone rang. Olivia picked up the receiver and answered. "Investigations. Inspector McNeill speaking."

"Olivia?" a familiar voice said. "It's me, Paul. How are you feeling?"

How was she . . .? Olivia frowned. Why would Paul ask her that question? "I'm fine," she lied. "Why do you ask?"

A long pause followed before Paul finally answered, "Well, you had seemed a little tired at the restaurant. I just . . . well, I wondered if you were feeling okay."

Realizing that the other witch had her best interest at heart, Olivia decided to dispense with her lie. "To be honest, I'm feeling a little tired. It couldn't have been the lunch. It was rather light."

"Maybe you should see a doctor," Paul suggested. "You could be coming down with something. Or maybe you should simply go home. Get some rest."

Paul's second suggestion seemed acceptable. Olivia informed him that she would take the rest of the day off and go home. Paul offered to give her a lift to her apartment, but she rejected the offer. "It will only take me twenty minutes or less. I should have no problem."

"If you say so," Paul replied in a reluctant voice. "Take care of yourself. Okay? And call me . . . if you need any help."

Olivia frowned. Why did he seem so suddenly attentive, today? She replied, "Thank Paul. Maybe I will. I'll see you." And she promptly hung up.

Within less than thirty minutes, a still groggy Olivia arrived at her apartment. She dumped her belongings on the sofa and immediately headed for her bedroom. After changing into a blue T-shirt and sweat pants, Olivia laid down on the bed and promptly fell asleep.

---------

Cole drove his black Porshe into the building's underground parking lot and proceeded toward his space. He turned off the engine . . . and remained seated behind the wheel - deep in contemplation.

Today's lunch with Phoebe replayed in his mind for the umpteenth time, this afternoon. He still could not believe that after fifteen months of estrangement, they had finally come to some closure over the whole ugly matter regarding the Source. No more uncomfortable moments or resentful glances, whenever they found themselves in the same room. No more of Phoebe's fearful or hate-filled glances. Granted, they could never return to what they had shared, but at least they had finally found peace in the form of friendship.

After heaving a sigh, Cole grabbed his suitcase and climbed out of the car. He glanced around for any bystanders. When none seemed to be in sight, he beamed out of the parking garage and into his penthouse. The clock on the wall read six thirty-five. Olivia should be home by now. Impatient to tell her about today's lunch with Phoebe, Cole dumped his suitcase on the sofa and beamed into the hallway, outside Olivia's apartment.

The half-daemon rang the doorbell. A minute passed and no one answered. Cole frowned and wondered if Olivia had not returned home. He rang the doorbell for a second time. Two minutes passed before the door swung open. A red-haired figure in T-shirt and sweat pants appeared in the doorway. Cole noticed that Olivia looked tired and slightly annoyed.

"Cole? What are you doing here?" Olivia asked. Her suspicious tone took him by surprise.

After a brief hesitation, he smiled at his girlfriend. "I have some news I think you might find interesting." He reached out to caress Olivia's cheek. She immediately jerked her head away from his reach. This time, Cole frowned. "Uh, Olivia?" he said with a nervous laugh. "What's going on? Are you pissed at me, or something?"

The annoyance in Olivia's green eyes seemed to have increased tenfold. She heaved an exasperated sigh that left Cole feeling like an intruder. "Look . . . Cole, I really don't have time for this. I've been feeling like shit all afternoon, and now you show up, expecting me to be the ever-attentive girlfriend. Now, can you really blame me for feeling pissed?" Olivia punctuated her last words with a hard stare.

Speechless, Cole merely stared at Olivia. He opened his mouth in an attempt to apologize to Olivia, but instead, he ended up stuttering. Something like this had never happened during his 118-year existence. "I guess . . . I mean, uh, I guess I should . . ."

"Leave me alone?" Olivia finished acidly. "And allow me to rest?"

"Uh, yeah."

Olivia regarded him with cold eyes. "Hmmm, good idea." She then slammed the door in his face. Hard. Cole stood in the hallway, feeling like a complete ass.


END OF CHAPTER 3

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