Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 5/14




"DEFENSE OF THE REALM"

CHAPTER 5

A brown folder fell upon Darryl's desk. The police lieutenant glanced up at the man who had tossed it. "What's this?" he asked.

Marcus Anderson, the slender, sandy-haired man who served as the fifth member of Darryl's team, sat down in the chair next to his boss' desk. "File on a possible suspect in the Kostopulos murder. And maybe the Liederhoff case, as well. Check out the photo inside. Matches the description your Miss Newman gave on the perp she had ID yesterday."

"Her name is Miss Newhan," Darryl retorted. "And she's not mine." He picked up the file and opened it. His eyes scanned the material inside. "Huh. Gerry Gallagher. Name sounds familiar."

The other man said, "Remember the Cesar Aviles case, two years ago?"

Darryl nodded. "Pawnbroker on Franklin who had been robbed and murdered. There was a suspect . . ." He paused. "This dude here? Gallagher?"

"The very one," Marcus replied. "Aviles' thirteen year-old daughter claimed she had spotted Gallagher at the crime scene, but the son-of-a-bitch had an alibi. And Miss Aviles was never really sure it was him. Which means that the Aviles case is still . . ."

". . . unsolved." Darryl sighed. "Why don't you and Scott pick up Miss Newhan? You'll probably find her somewhere around Union Square."

Marcus shot back, "Actually, she's here at the station. Olivia took her to Dave's Café for something to eat."

"And Olivia is back." The two men glanced at the doorway and saw the redhead stride into the squad room. "What's up?"

Darryl tapped the file in front of him. "Marcus may have found the perp who matches Grace . . . uh, Miss Newhan's description of the man who killed Kostopulos. Where is she, by the way?"

"Ladies' room."

The two men groaned. "Jesus, Olivia!" Darryl protested. "Couldn't you have shown some consideration for the other women on this floor?"

"She's using the restroom on the first floor!" Olivia retorted. "Besides, she's managed to clean up a . . ." She broke off, as the person in question entered the squad room.

Olivia had been right about the homeless woman. Darryl could not help but marvel at the lack of odor emitting from Grace. Or the lack of grime on her thin face and clothes. And the latter seemed as if they had been purchased at the nearest Goodwill store.

Darryl stared at Olivia, who shrugged. "I thought that Grace could use some cash and new clothes. And a place to live, where she could wash up and sleep. So, I made a few calls at the local Social Services office, yesterday."

"I'm staying at a hotel on Union Square," Grace added proudly. "And I've got a job."

Darryl frowned. "Within a day?"

"I found Grace a job serving food at a local café," Olivia said. "So . . . um, about this so-called perp?"

Marveling at his partner's generosity, Darryl suggested that Grace sit down in the chair now occupied by Marcus. The sandy-haired detective stood up, allowing the no-longer homeless woman to sit in the chair. "Okay Grace," Darryl continued, as he pulled out a tape recorder.

"What's with the tape recorder?" Olivia asked.

Darryl sighed. "Thanks to your generosity toward Grace," he said, "any defense lawyer could accuse us granting Grace a few favors, in exchange for her testimony."

A sheepish expression appeared on Olivia's face. "Oh. Sorry."

"But I'm not doing this because Inspector McNeill got me a job!" Grace protested.

"Yes Grace, we all know that. But no one else does. And I'm just taking extra precautions. Okay? Now, let's begin." Darryl pushed the REC button. "I'm going to show you a picture, Grace." He handed her a photograph of Gallagher. "You recognize this man?"

Grace stared at the photograph, before she cried out, "Oh my God! That's him! That's the guy who killed Mr. Kostopulos!"

"Are you sure?" Olivia asked.

"Of course I am! Look, I may be . . . I mean, maybe I was homeless at the time, but I'm sure as hell not blind! Then or now!" Darryl and Olivia exchanged triumphant looks. Grace added, "When the guy had raised his arm to shoot Mr. Kostopulos, I saw a tattoo on the outside of his wrist. I don't know what kind of tattoo, but I saw something."

Darryl read the physical description of Gallagher. He smiled. "She's right about the tattoo. Gerry Gallagher has one of a hornet on the outside of his right wrist." He slammed the file shut and said to Olivia, "Send out an APB on Gerald Gallagher. I'm sure McPherson will approve it." The redhead nodded and reached for the telephone on her desk. Darryl returned his attention to their visitor. "And Grace, thanks. You've been a great help."

Grace beamed happily. For the first time, Darryl realized that she was not a bad-looking woman. If one could overlook the missing teeth.

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Unbeknownst to passing pedestrians on the Rue Estienne in Paris, several blue lights appeared before they converge into the form of a forty year-old woman with red hair pinned into a chignon and hazel brown eyes. Madeline Pivet glanced around and rang the doorbell.

Two minutes passed before the door opened. An elderly woman with dark, intense eyes opened the door. "Elder Pivet!" Jeanne d'Arcy cried out with pleasure. Speaking in French, she continued, "I was wondering if you would arrive."

Madeline replied, "Yes, well the Council had some last minute business to discuss. But," she beamed happily, "here I am. I could not pass up a chance for my regular visit to my favorite charge."

"Your former charge," Jeanne corrected. "But come in!" The elderly woman swung the door wide open, allowing her former whitelighter to enter the house. The two women exchanged a brief embrace, before they headed for the elderly witch's sitting room. While the Elder sat down on the sofa, Jeanne headed toward an antique sideboard. "I have just finished preparing some of your favorite tea. Cammoline, isn't it?"

The Elder smiled. "Ah, Jeanne! You do know how to warm a whitelighter's heart. Cammiline tea sounds wonderful." A sigh left her mouth. "More than you can imagine. The past week or two has been very trying."

"Trying?" Jeanne set about preparing a cup of tea for her guest. "What do you mean, Madame Pivet? What has been going on?"

Again, Madeline sighed. "Death. New Council members and a lost opportunity."

"Pardon?"

Madeline's first instinct was to keep all matters pertaining to the Whitelighters Realm a secret - as protocol demanded. But the pressure of the latest crisis led the Elder to reveal everything. She told the elderly witch about the Council's fears surrounding the relationship between the American McNeill witch and Belthazor, the growing number of whitelighters rejecting the Council's authority, Mathilda Everard's failed plot against Belthazor and her subsequent dismissal from the Council. And about the latest deaths in the Realm.

"When the Charmed Ones had finally vanquished the Source and his Council over a year ago, we believed that sooner or later, all evil would eventually vanquish. And the supernatural world would no longer be under the threat of the Underworld's evil." Something akin to a snort left Madeline's mouth. "One of our whitelighters thought otherwise. She had told the Council that the Source's demise would upset the balance of good and evil in our universe."

Jeanne frowned. "But I thought the Charmed Ones had killed the Source, because he was trying to kill them?"

"Oh yes." Madeline allowed herself a small chuckle. "The prophecy." Jeanne handed her a cup of tea. "If you only knew the truth, Jeanne. If you only knew the truth." She took a sip.

Jeanne wiped her hands on her apron. "What truth?" Madeline opened her mouth to speak, when the telephone rang. "Pardon, Madame," and the witch left the room.

Madeline continued to drink her tea. It was not long before she began to feel slightly groggy. In an attempt to remain conscious, she rolled her eyes. It did not help. Not only did she become increasingly groggy, her sight began to fade.

"Jeanne? Jeanne!" Panic-stricken, the Elder cried out for her former charge.

The elderly woman rushed back into the sitting room. "Is there something wrong, Madame?"

Madeline struggled to bring Jeanne's wizened face into focus. "Wha . . . what did you put into this tea?"

"Tea?" Jeanne's dark eyes widened. Or so it seemed to Madeline.

"The tea! Yes! What did you . . .?" Madeline found herself feeling slightly breathless. "Mon dieu! What is happening?" To the Elder's horror, Jeanne suddenly transformed into a familiar dark-haired woman with a sneer stamped on her face. "Belinda? Wha . . . Why are you impersonating as . . . Mon dieu! You're a . . ."

A slow, sinister smile spread across Belinda's face. "I'm a darklighter, Elder Pivet. I've been impersonating a whitelighter for the past four years."

"But . . . how . . .?" Pain suddenly gripped Madeline's chest.

Belinda continued, "That's my little secret. Meanwhile, I should warn you that I had put poison from a darklighter's arrow into your tea." Her smile widened. "I hope you enjoyed it."

Struggling to maintain her breath, Madeline demanded, "Where's . . . Jeanne?"

"Don't worry." Belinda glanced at her wristwatch. "You'll soon be joining her." Madeline gasped. "Oh, and Mathilda sends her regard."

Mathilda? At that moment, a pain-filled Madeline realized that her former colleague had been behind the deaths of the other Elders. "Oh . . . dear God! Oh!" She gasped, as a jolt of pain twisted inside her.

Belinda's smile grew wider. "Oooh! Poor thing. That must hurt." Again, she glanced at her watch. "Hmmm. Time to check out. Oh well. Adieu, Madame Pivet. Can't say that it was nice knowing you." The whitelighter/darklighter disappeared just before Madeline drew her last breath.

----------

The news of Elder Madeline Pivet sent the whitelighter community into a state of shock. In a short space of time, four Elders had been systematically murdered. There were many, including Leo, who wondered if the killings would stop with the Council.

In the end, Leo realized that only the Elders were being targeted. If it had been a matter of wiping out all of the whitelighters, there would have been reports of his colleagues being killed by darklighters on Earth. So far, only poor Elder Pivet had been killed amongst the mortals. Which led Leo to wonder if someone in the Whitelighter Realm was responsible.

Not long after Elder Pivet's death, Leo discovered that the Elders Council had a suspect in the killings. He entered Ludmilla Kremilov's office, bearing several parchments. "Here are the latest candidates for . . ."

"We have a suspect," the pale, and thin-faced Ludmilla announced to her subordinate.

Leo frowned. "I'm sorry?"

"A suspect. The Council now knows . . . or has a good idea on who is behind the murders of our Elders." She regarded the other whiteligher with triumphant eyes. "I must say that I'm not surprised. I knew it was her! Only she would be so bold."

"She?"

Ludmilla rolled her eyes. "Yes! Of course, she! I mean . . . her! Natalia Stepanova."

The name took Leo by surprise. "Natalia Stepan . . . Not Mathilda?"

"What?"

"Mathilda Everard," Leo repeated. "The Elder who had been recently dismissed from the Council. She's the reason why I'm working here."

The older whitelighter dismissed Leo's suggestion with a wave of her hand. "Of course not Mathilda! Yes, the Council had originally suspected her, but she has an alibi. Besides, one of the new Elders - Elder Johann Bauer - had discovered that Miss Stepanova was missing from the Realm around the time of Elder Pivet's death." A malicious gleam lit up Ludmilla's eyes. "The Council also discovered that Natalia is behind a movement to depose the current members of the Council. And replace them with new members."

"I . . . I don't believe it!" Leo protested. "Whitelighters against whitelighters? A civil war within the Realm?"

Ludmilla crowed, "A civil war that will soon be nipped in the bud. When Natalia is captured. Hopefully, that will happen in the immediate future.

Leo certainly hoped so.

-----------

A lone figure burst into the circular Council chambers of the Order of Gimle. The leader, a 846 year-old daemon named Rannveig glared at the intruder. "Emnick!" she exclaimed. "What is the meaning of this disruption?"

"Pardon Chairman Rannveig," the young daemon said between deep breaths, "but you have a visitor."

"Visitor?" Rannveig, along with Marbus and the other Gimle Council members, stared at Emnick. "Who is he? Or she?"

Emnick's next words took the Council by surprise. "She . . . is a whitelighter. And she's requesting sanctuary."

While the other members burst into surprised chatter, Marbus silently contemplated Emnick's news. A whitelighter asking a demonic order for sanctuary? Who had ever heard of such a thing?

Rannveig ordered, "Send in the whitelighter."

A few minutes later, Emnick returned to the chamber with the refugee in tow. Marbus nearly shot out of his seat at the sight of the familiar figure in a whitelighter's robe. "Bloody hell!" he cried. "Natalia Stepanova?"

"Marbus!" The Russian-born whitelighter rushed toward the Council's semi-circular table. "Marbus, I need your help! Desperately!"

Rannveig frowned. "Emnick told us that you are seeking sanctuary?"

"Yes, I . . . The Elders Council believes that I am responsible for the recent murders of four of their colleagues. Also, they know about the faction led by Barbara DeVilliers and myself."

"Faction?"

The whitelighter informed the Gimle Council about her faction's fear that the Elders have lost their way. "For the past four or five centuries, they have become obsessed with destroying the Source's Realm. More so than simply offering spiritual guidance to mortals at large, including some witches. This obsession . . . has led to the creation of a prophecy that a trio of witches would eventually destroy the Source."

"The Charmed Ones," Marbus added.

Natalia nodded. "Precisely. This prophecy had sent the Source into a state of paranoia that finally drove him to go after the Charmed Ones. And to ensure that the witches were prepared to kill him, the Elders developed the Warren line so that the Power of Three would exist."

Most of the members of the Gimle Council reacted with shock from Natalia's revelation. But not Marbus. Ever since his confrontation with Lucia Miller, one of Melinda Warren's descendants, he had been suspicious about the Warren line. A fellow council member named Ladira exclaimed, "Are you saying that the Elders had deliberately interfered with the Warren line in order to create the Power of Three?"

"Yes," Natalia calmly replied. "The Elders had made sure that a middling witch named Charlotte Warren would conceive a powerful offspring with a powerful sorcerer named Philip Lacey. Apparently, they had manipulated a meeting between Charlotte and Lacey somewhere in Colonial Virginia. A few days after Melinda's conception, Lacey had mysteriously disappeared. When Charlotte gave birth to Melinda Warren, the Source's Oracle experienced a vision of his death at the hands of Melinda's descendants.

"Some of us in the Whitelighter Realm had been appalled by this revelation. And when the Elders had decided to reward the Charmed Ones for killing the Source - even at the expense of Belthazor, who had been a victim of demonic possession - we could not condone the Elders' actions any further. Our faction has been growing ever since. We also feared that the destruction of the Source's Council would upset the balance in the supernatural universe. Something that had not really concerned the Elders."

Shaken by the news that his nephew had been a pawn of the whitelighters, Marbus asked in a gruff voice, "And it's because of this faction that you're being considered as the main suspect behind the killings?"

"Yes."

Another Gimle Council member asked, "Who do you believe is behind the attacks on your Council?"

The whitelighter hesitated. "The only person I can think of is Mathilda Everard." Marbus bridled at the mention of the ex-Elder's name. Natalia continued, "She had recently been ousted from the Council for her plot to kill Belthazor without their consent."

"Yes, we've heard about that," Rannveig said, shooting a quick glance at Marbus. The latter remained silent.

"And there is also Gideon Elliot," Natalia continued. "He is the headmaster of our school for young witches. Like Mathilda, he is a fanatic for the . . . cause. Of course, he keeps these views to himself. And he has been pre-occupied with his school. Mathilda, on the other hand . . ."

Rannveig shook her head. "I simply find it difficult that a whitelighter would concoct a scheme to kill others."

"I don't," Marbus coolly replied. "Considering that Everard whitelighter had plotted to have my nephew killed, and what Natalia has told us about the Elders and the Source . . . I have no trouble at all."

The older daemon sighed. "All right. We will grant you sanctuary, Miss Stepanova. But not here. If you can orb here, so can other whitelighters . . . accompanied by witches to attack us. We need to find you a place where the Elders and their charges cannot track you."

A grim Marbus nodded. "Don't worry. I know the very place where she can hide. And the right person to protect her."


END OF CHAPTER 5