"THE POWER OF ONE"
Phoebe could not accompany her sisters and the other three to the Halliwell manor, since she had to return to work. But the other four found themselves standing outside the salmon-colored house nearly a half hour later.
The two witches, the Vodoun priestess and the half-daemon entered the house, as Piper cried out Donna's name. When a faint voice responded, the quartet headed toward the Solarium. There they found the nanny on the sofa with her charge, watching television. Donna glanced up and smiled. "Piper! What are you doing here?"
"Oh, uh . . ." The Charmed One became speechless, for Olivia had suggested that they did not directly confront the nanny.
Olivia came to Piper's rescue. "I'm here to borrow some herbs from Piper. We just came back from lunch."
Piper smiled weakly. "That's it. Uh, you remember Olivia and Cecile, don't you? Paige told me that you had met them."
Donna smiled at the redhead and the black woman. "Oh yeah. Nice to see you, again." Then her gaze turned to Cole.
"Oh," Piper added, "and this is Cole. Cole Turner. He's Olivia's boyfriend. Cole, this is Donna Thompson. Wyatt's new nanny." Olivia noted that the Charmed One failed to mention the half-daemon's past link to the Halliwell family.
The nanny smiled at Cole. "Nice to meet you."
"Same here," Cole replied politely.
"So," Piper continued, "how is Wyatt doing?" She reached for her son, who had been sitting in Donna's lap contentedly. As Piper drew Wyatt into her arms, he gurgled happily. "Hel-lo sweetie! How are you? Hmmm. Well, he seems to be doing fine."
Donna added, "Aren't you going to get those herbs for Olivia?"
"Huh?" Piper's eyes widened in confusion. It took all of Olivia's efforts not to roll her eyes at the Charmed One's attempt at deception. She noticed that both Cole and Cecile did not bother suppress their efforts.
Olivia then spied an empty glass of water on a nearby table, and an idea came to her. "While you're at it, Piper, could you get me a glass of water?"
The other witch nodded. "Sure." Then Piper left the Solarium, while Olivia and her other two companions indulged in small talk with the nanny. Cole politely talked about his job at the law firm, and his relationship with Olivia. Cecile talked about Vodoun practices in New Orleans and Olivia regaled the nanny with hers and Cole's experiences in babysitting Wyatt - much to Cole's obvious embarrassment. Eventually, Piper returned with a glass of water for Olivia. And a brown paper bag.
"Thanks," Olivia said to Piper. Then she deliberately paused and glanced at Donna's neck. "Oh by the way, Piper. You should see Donna's necklace. I saw it yesterday, and it's gorgeous. Right Donna?" She smiled at the nanny.
Donna's eyes blinked. "Huh?"
Olivia pointed at the leather strap around the nanny's neck. "Your necklace. The one that you had dropped, yesterday. Why don't you show it to the others?"
Donna hesitated. "Well . . ." The other three stared at her. "I guess. Uh, it's . . ." Slowly, she withdrew the object from underneath her blouse. "I bought it at the Red Pyramid. It's supposed to be some kind of ward against evil. After that daemon had attacked us, I thought it would come in handy."
Olivia peered at the amulet. It took one glance for her to realize that it was not the one that Donna had worn, yesterday. Obviously, the other woman had made a switch. Or the other amulet was somewhere hidden in a pocket or something.
Both Piper and Cecile glanced at Olivia, before gazing at the amulet around Donna's neck. "Very nice," Cecile commented. "Don't you think, Piper?"
The Charmed One added, "Yeah. But . . ." She directed her gaze at Donna. "But why keep it around your neck?"
"Like I said, it's a protection ward," Donna explained. "Don't want to expose it, if I'm attacked."
"Oh." Piper handed the glass of water and paper bag to Olivia. "This is for you."
Keeping her disappointment in check, Olivia began to drink her water. Wyatt picked up a small rubber ball and threw it at Cole, attracting everyone's attention. Olivia glanced at the empty glass on the nearby table, and an idea came to her. While the others continued to focus on Wyatt and Cole, she dumped the rest of her water into a potted plant. Then she placed her glass on the table, whipped out her handkerchief and snatched up Donna's empty glass. As she quickly stuffed the glass into her purse, Cole glanced at her. He frowned. Then Olivia glanced at her watch. "Oh, I better be getting back." The others stared at her. "Say Piper, could you give me a lift back to the store?"
"Uh . . . sure." Piper turned to Cole and Cecile. "You guys need a lift as well?"
Cecile nodded, while Cole replied, "I wouldn't mind." He continued to stare at Olivia.
The four people then bid both Donna and Wyatt good-bye and left the manor. As they marched down the stoop leading to the sidewalk, Piper asked, "Was that the amulet that you saw?"
Olivia shook her head. "Either she had switched amulets, or I was mistaken. It did look similar to the one that she wore, yesterday."
"So much for Wyatt's nanny being a danger," Cecile commented.
"I'm not so sure." Olivia reached the black SUV, first.
Cole added, "I assume you're talking about that glass that you had put in your purse." Olivia smiled at him.
Piper frowned. "What glass?" Olivia explained what she had done with the glass of water that she had received from Piper. And the glass that she now held inside her purse. "You have one of my glasses?"
"Don't worry," Olivia told her. "Just as soon as Forensics check the prints, you can have it back. Meanwhile," the three women and the half-daemon climbed into the jeep, "can you drop me off at the precinct?"
Piper's voice rang over the telephone. "Nothing happened, Phoebe. We all got a good look at Donna's amulet. Especially Olivia. It wasn't the same one that I saw around that demon's neck. And Olivia claimed that she saw a different amulet, yesterday."
Phoebe heaved a sigh, as Piper's words sank in. So much for her suspicion of Donna Thompson. Then an idea came to her. "Wait a minute, Piper. There's a good chance that she may have switched amulets. Especially after what happened between her and Olivia, yesterday."
"Phoebe . . ." Piper's voice hinted skepticism.
"C'mon Piper! Don't tell me that isn't possible!"
Another sigh filled Phoebe's ears, as Piper continued, "Yes, it is possible. In fact," she hesitated, "that's what Olivia thinks. Which is why she had decided to steal a glass that had been used by Donna. She's going to have the police check the prints. She's still concerned about two Donna Thompsons being born on the same day and in the same year."
Phoebe exclaimed, "Thank God someone is showing sense!"
"Thank you very much, Phoebe, for that little reminder. Are you now saying that I'm not showing the proper concern for my son?"
Oh God, Phoebe thought. Time for another round of 'Piper's Defense Mode Number One'. "Honey, I didn't say that."
"Really? Then what?" Piper added, "Look, I'm just as concerned for Wyatt as anyone else. Even more. And at least I haven't abandoned him to fulfill some kind of lame ass destiny." Thoughts of Leo flashed in Phoebe's mind. "Besides, it's been at least three days since I had hired Donna. Why hasn't she done anything yet?"
Phoebe sighed. "I don't know, Piper. Maybe it's like Cecile had said. Maybe she's got some elaborate ritual planned. And what about that demon who had attacked you? Nairn?"
"What about him?"
The middle Charmed One continued, "Maybe we should look into this guy. Find out if Donna had hired him."
This time, Piper sighed. "I knew you were going to say that. I wish I could, Phoebe, but I'm going to be busy, tonight. And tomorrow night, as well. I've booked this local band that's becoming big, and there's a good chance I'll have a large crowd on my hands."
"Well, Paige and I . . ."
Piper interrupted, "Phoebe? You're not going to drag Wyatt all over creation just to hunt down information on some demon that's already dead."
Again, Phoebe sighed. "All right! We'll keep an eye on Wyatt. At home." Then another idea came to her. "Or . . . I can ask Paige to get Harry, so they can look into . . ."
"Phoebe, I wouldn't even bother." Piper hesitated. "Cole said that he and Andre would look into Nairn's background. Olivia and Cecile will be busy tonight. And since it has to do with some coven meeting that Paige told me about, I suspect that Harry will be taking her, as well."
Cole. Well, of course he would be the right man for the job. Phoebe sighed. As she always did whenever she thought about her ex-husband, these days.
"Phoebe?" Piper's voice expressed concern. "Are you okay?"
The younger woman answered, "Yeah, I'm fine. I guess it's been a long day for me and it's not even three o'clock yet."
"Maybe you should leave work early today," Piper suggested. "I'm sure that Elise would . . ."
Someone knocked on the door, causing Phoebe to glance up. Jason poked his head inside her office. "Phoebe, are . . . Oh! I'm sorry to interrupt."
"No, that's okay." Phoebe returned her attention back to her sister. "Uh, Piper, I'll get back to you, later. Bye." She hung up the telephone, before Piper could respond and smiled at her boyfriend. "Jason! Hi! What can I do for you?"
The newspaper magnate returned Phoebe's smile with a suggestive one of his own. "I have something in mind, but I don't think that this is the right moment for it. I missed you at lunch."
"I'm sorry, baby. I had lunch with Piper."
Jason headed toward Phoebe's desk and leaned over. "I came to ask if you'll be free, tomorrow night."
Phoebe frowned. "Tomorrow night? Not tonight?"
"I have a business meeting, tonight," Jason explained. "Something special." He paused. "Well, to be honest, tomorrow night also has to do with business. Jack McNeill is having some kind of cocktail party, which has to do with that deal between McNeill Corporation and Olivia's friend. Cecile. The deal that you told me about."
"But what does that have to do . . .?"
Jason interrupted, "I had asked McNeill if he could get Olivia to re-introduce me to her friend. Instead, he invited me to the party. I must say it was pretty decent of him . . . considering how my relationship with Olivia had ended." He added, "And I was hoping that you would join me."
Disappointed that Jason did not have romance in mind for tomorrow night, Phoebe mumbled, "Cecile's computer software must be that great, if you want to meet her that badly." A thought came to her. "Wait a minute! Haven't you met Cecile before? When you were dating Olivia?"
"Once. But we never really became acquainted. Besides," Jason smiled curtly, "Olivia and I only dated for about two months. I didn't see Cecile again, until a few years later at Bruce's wedding." He paused and gave Phoebe a pleading look. "You don't mind, do you, baby? Joining me for tomorrow night?"
Phoebe stared into Jason's dark blue eyes and sighed. How could she resist? "No, I don't," she finally said. "As long as I'm with you. But on Saturday, you'll take me to some place special. Right?"
"Whatever you say." Jason leaned even further and planted a light kiss upon Phoebe's forehead. "I'll pick you up around seven, tomorrow night. Bye." He blew her a kiss and left the office.
Another sigh escaped Phoebe's mouth, as she leaned back into her chair. She thought about Piper's refusals to heed her warnings; and being forced to sit back and wait, while Olivia and Cole deal with the Donna Thompson situation. And now, Jason wanted to use her as the Token Girlfriend for the McNeills' party, tomorrow night. Despite being a powerful witch and successful career woman, she was beginning to feel pretty useless.
Strains of a jazz band filled Andre's ears, as he and Cole entered the elegant nightclub on Powell Street. The houngan glanced around the establishment, recalling the last time he had visited Vorando's - for Bruce's bachelor party, last spring. He still could not help but admire the nightclub's Art Deco-style interior.
Upon making their way to the bar, he and Cole ordered drinks. Andre asked for a Black Russian, while Cole ordered a whiskey-and-soda. After the bartender served their drinks, Cole added, "By the way, is Riggerio here?"
The bartender's face became mask-like. "Who?"
Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted, "Just tell him that an old friend from Portofino is here to see him. He'll understand."
Looking slightly uneasy, the bartender nodded and headed toward the back of the club. While the pair sipped their drinks, Andre said, "Guess what? I finally bought the ring, today."
"What?" Cole stared at his friend.
Andre sighed. "The engagement ring. For Cecile?" He continued, "Olivia and old Mrs. McNeill had convinced me to go ahead and ask Cecile to marry me." He shot a quick glance at the half-daemon's stoic expression. "I suppose you think that I shouldn't bother."
Blue eyes widened, as Cole protested, "I never said such a thing. In fact, the reason Cecile wanted to break up with you in the first place was because she wanted to get married . . . and thought that you didn't."
The news took Andre by surprise. "What? Do you mean to say that I've been worried all this time for nothing? Damn man! Why didn't you . . .?"
"Hey! We were interrupted," Cole shot back, looking defensive. "When Olivia and Cecile had shown up for dinner. And you kept disappearing on me, after that!"
Andre opened his mouth to protest, but the bartender returned. "Uh, Riggerio can see you, now. Follow me." He led the houngan and the half-daemon toward an inconspicuous-looking door at the far side of the nightclub, and ushered them inside an office.
Although different in color tone, Riggerio's office had also been designed in the sleek, Art-Deco style. The club's owner sat behind a large desk, peering at his computer and obviously enjoying the music that came from the live band. The moment the two visitors stood before his desk, the handsome-looking daemon glanced up and smiled. "Well, look who's here! Andre!" He nodded at the bartender and ordered another round of drinks, before the latter disappeared from the office. "When Frederico mentioned Portofino, I had been expecting only Belthazor." He stood up and shook Andre's hand. "How are you, my friend? I have not seen you in . . . what? Three months?"
Andre smiled. "Actually, four months. Not since you had hired me to find that missing . . . friend of yours. And I believe I had ended up finding his corpse, instead."
Riggerio turned to Cole and shook the latter's hand. "Belthazor. What brings you here? Is the lovely Signorina McNeill with you?"
Cole smiled wryly at the mention of Olivia's name. "The . . . lovely Signorina McNeill is doing fine. Unfortunately, she and her family are attending some kind of meeting for their coven, tonight. Cecile had joined them."
"Ah! The beautiful Signorina Dubois is in town, as well." Riggerio nodded, as he repeated his earlier question. "So, what brings you two here?"
Cole paused, before answered. "Information." Andre noticed how Riggerio's face quickly became businesslike. "Have you heard of a daemon named Nairn? He used to be an assassin."
Riggerio frowned. "Used to be?"
Andre explained, "He was killed a few days ago. While trying to kidnap the Halliwell baby."
Surprise illuminated Riggerio's dark eyes. "Nairn is dead? This is certainly news to me. Did the Charmed Ones kill him?"
"The oldest sister," Cole murmured. "Piper. Along with some Vodoun priestess, who happens to be the baby's nanny."
Riggerio seemed saddened by the news of his fellow daemon's death. And yet, Andre could not help but feel that Riggerio's grief did not seem genuine. "Poor Nairn," the daemon said with a shake of his head. "I knew that his luck would one day run out. I supposed that going up against a Charmed One was a lot more difficult than the head of the Lehme Order. Still, accepting an assignment involving the Halliwell child." Again, he shook his head. "Very dangerous for a mid-level daemon. Even one as skilled as Nairn."
"Did you know that he had protection, all those years?" Cole added. Riggerio stared at him. "Some kind of amulet that blocked the powers of others."
"And yet, he still ended up dead?"
Cole sighed. "That's another story. Right now, we need to know who had hired him."
The other daemon shrugged his shoulders. "How would I know? I did not know that he was dead." He paused, as his eyes hardened. "Not that I mind, to be perfectly honest. That bastard had killed a member of our coven, back in the late 70s. He has been on our shit list, ever since. As to who may have hired him," Riggerio's expression became less hard, "I don't know. But . . . I have a pretty good idea who can provide you with that information."
Andre warily eyed his host. "Exactly how much is this piece of information is going to cost us?"
Riggerio stared at the houngan, before he threw back his head and laughed. "Ah, my friend! You know me too well." He quickly sobered. "Do not worry. This information will cost you nothing."
"So, who is this person that can give us the information we need?" Cole demanded.
Riggerio paused before he replied, "A witch."
Both Andre and Cole exchanged shocked looks, before staring at the daemon in disbelief. "Say that again?" Andre demanded.
"I said a witch." The daemon continued, "After Nairn had killed a member of our coven, we began searching for him. We never managed to catch up with him, but not long ago, one of my . . . colleagues discovered that a witch named Esmerelda Ross had acted as an agent for him. All of Nairn's jobs had been arranged through her."
Andre wondered if he had heard correctly. "You mean to say that a witch is associated with a demonic assassin? Are you sure she's not a warlock?"
Riggerio shook his head. "No, my friend. Signorina Ross is neither Stregheria, Wiccan or a member of any other recognized Pagan religion. She belongs to a sect that . . . well, practices a darker view of mysticism. Which means that she has not broken her oath, as a witch."
"And which is why she's a witch and not a warlock," Cole added. "Is she some kind of Satanist?"
"No, no, no. From what I had learned, her kind - like the Wiccans and the Streghore - does not believe in the concept of Satan."
The bartender returned with another round of drinks for Andre and Cole. He also served a glass of white wine to Riggerio and left. Andre turned to Riggerio and asked, "Where can we find this Esmarelda Ross?"
With a sigh, Riggerio replied, "Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question." He took a sip of his wine. "I have no idea where she lives. I only know her name." The daemon turned to Andre. "But if I were you, il mio amico, I would go back to that little investigation you had done for me. The 'missing friend', whose corpse you had found, was the one who had told me about Signorina Ross. He had disappeared not long after our last conversation."
Andre continued to sip his drink, as he contemplated Riggerio's words.
END OF PART X