"THE POWER OF ONE"
"What the hell is going on?" Leo demanded, the minute he had materialized in the middle of the room. Chris remained silent.
Paige saw her oldest sister heave a weary sigh. "And good evening to you, Leo," the youngest Charmed One commented. The Elder rewarded her with a glare.
Piper asked, "What do you want, Leo?"
"There's been a disturbance. Detected by the Council," Leo continued anxiously. "Has something happened to Wyatt?"
It was Harry who answered, "He's lost his powers. Actually, they were stolen. By his nanny."
Horror filled both Leo and Chris' eyes. "Oh my God!" the former cried. He turned on his former wife. "Piper, how could you let something like that happen?"
Again, Piper sighed. "I didn't . . . let it happen . . . Leo!"
"You hired her! Couldn't you tell that she was a danger?" the Elder shouted back. "Couldn't any of you sense that?"
Piper retorted, "I'm not a psychic!"
"Well, Phoebe is!" Leo pointed at his former sister-in-law. "And she's empathic!"
The middle Charmed One opened her mouth in protest. "Wha . . .? I mean, I didn't sense anything from her! But I did become suspicious . . ." Everyone stared at her. "I mean . . . I saw her taking samples of Wyatt's hair from his brush."
"And you didn't say anything?"
Phoebe shot back, "Of course I did! But . . ." She broke off, and shot an embarrassed glance at her older sister.
Paige sighed. She would give anything not to be a witness to another Piper-Leo quarrel. Or an inquisition from Leo AND Chris. "Okay, so we weren't that suspicious of Don . . . I mean, Daley Bakker. What can we say, Leo? She was a good actress."
Leo's angry eyes swept over the three sisters. "You just dismissed Phoebe's suspicions?"
"Not completely," Harry replied. "Phoebe didn't have any evidence to back her up. And Olivia was also suspicious, so she checked this Donna or Daley's background." He shook his head with disbelief. "Man! If only you knew the truth about her!"
"What . . .?" Leo's face turned red. "I can't believe this! Phoebe AND Olivia become suspicious of this woman and you did NOTHING?"
Piper finally lost her temper. "For God's sake, Leo! The woman had helped me protect Wyatt from a demonic attack! What was I supposed to think?"
Chris asked, "Isn't this Miss Thompson . . .?"
"Bakker," Cecile immediately corrected. The two whitelighters stared at her, as she glanced away.
Chris continued, ". . . this Miss . . . Bakker a demon, as well?"
Cole replied, "No, she's human. I could tell. According to Andre, she's a bokor."
"A what?" Chris demanded.
Andre explained, "West African name for evil magic practitioners."
Leo cried, "Who cares what she is? Where is she? Isn't there some spell or potion that can be used to return Wyatt's powers to him?" He turned to Chris. "And why didn't you warn us about this Daley woman? You're from the future."
Chris shot back, "No one had ever told me about her! And I haven't been born, yet! Besides," he sneered at Leo, "you had met Wyatt's nanny, this evening. You mean to say that you couldn't tell that she was a phony?"
All eyes focused upon the young Elder. Whose face turned a deeper shade of red. For a moment, Paige wondered if Leo was about to suffer a heart attack. Her former brother-in-law immediately went into a defensive mode. "How am I supposed to know? I'm not a telepath or empathic!"
"It would be useless anyway," Cecile commented. "We think that she has an amulet that protected her from psychic powers or magic of any kind. Including Cole's powers. And we think that Ms. Bakker may have received said amulet from the daemon who had attacked Piper, a few days ago."
Phoebe added, "I think that Donna . . . I mean, Ms. Bakker had arranged that attack to convince Piper to hire her."
Leo's blue eyes went wide with disbelief. "Are you serious? You mean that not even the Power of Three . . . or Cole can overcome this amulet?"
A brief second followed before Cole heaved a sigh and said, "The amulet belongs to a dominion spirit named Caspiel . . ."
"OH GOD!" Despair flashed briefly in Leo's eyes. Apparently, he knew all about dominion spirits. "This . . . woman not only has Wyatt's powers, but the amulet of a dominion spirit, as well?"
Paige replied gingerly, "Well . . . yeah. But don't worry. Cecile and Andre will try to find out which spell or ritual that Donna woman had used."
Cole added, "And Andre and I will be looking into the daemon she may have hired. Perhaps someone can tell us where we might find Ms. Bakker."
Paige saw the disbelief in Leo and Chris' eyes. She understood how they felt. Even if they all found Daley Bakker, how on earth were they all going to deal with a powerful Vodoun bokor in possession of Wyatt's powers . . . and a dominion spirit's amulet? Not even Cole, with all of his powers would stand a chance.
The telephone rang. Paige answered the call. "Hello?" A familiar voice filled her ears. "Oh. Yeah." She handed the cordless phone over to the middle sister. "Uh, Pheebs? It's Jason. He wants to know when you plan to return to the party."
The two men teleported in front of a sprawling, one-story house made from adobe, within the Santa Fe city limits. "This is it," Andre commented. "Esmeralda Ross' home." They strode toward the entrance and Cole pressed the doorbell.
Seconds later, a voice cried out, "Yes? Who is it?"
Cole cleared his voice before he replied, "Santa Fe Police. There's been a disturbance down the road. We need you to answer a few questions."
"I don't know anything!"
Cole rolled his eyes as he continued, "Ma'am, we're questioning all of the neighbors along this road. Please cooperate."
Two or three minutes passed before a woman in her early forties opened the door. Her eyes swept over Cole and Andre with deep suspicion. "You're the police? Where's your ID?"
The half-daemon ruthlessly shoved the door wide open, forcing the woman against a wall. "Hey!" she cried. "Jake, Karl, Vernon . . . get rid of them!"
Three men converged upon the two friends. A tall, burly man with auburn hair thrust a knife at Andre. The latter immediately blocked the attack with a few martial arts moves, before forcing the knife into his attacker's gut. The man sank to the floor with a cry.
Cole found a gust of wind swirling toward his direction. He immediately beamed out of the whirlwind's path and reappeared by the aerokinetic. The gust of wind struck the third man, forcing him back against a wall . . . and what looked like an iron hook. The latter grunted as the hook sank into his back. The aerokinetic's eyes grew wide as he pointed a gun at Cole. He pulled the trigger. The half-daemon used his telekinesis to deflect the bullets . . . back into the man's chest. Like his companions, he also died.
Both Cole and Andre stared at the house's owner, who huddled against the wall with frightened eyes. "Are you Esmeralda Ross?" Cole demanded.
The witch murmured a Latin incantation and an energy ball formed in one hand. She hurled it at Cole, who swatted it away, with his telekinesis. "Oh shi . . . Who in the fuck are you?" she cried.
Using his telekinesis, Cole lifted the witch off the floor. "I'm going to ask you the last time. Are you Esmeralda Ross?"
Andre picked up a pile of mail from the coffee table and examined it. "She's Esmeralda Ross, all right." He glanced around the living room. So did Cole. Half-opened boxes were scattered about. "Looks like someone is planning to move."
Cole returned the witch to the floor - butt first. A grunt escaped her mouth, as he continued, "Okay Miss Ross, you're going to answer a few questions for us."
Miss Ross struggled to her feet. Then she smoothed down her red hair that resembled a dye job. Cole noticed for the first time that Esmeralda Ross also possessed sharp features that nearly made her resemble a weasel. "What questions?" she coolly shot back.
"Like . . . who had hired your former client - a daemon named Nairn - to attack one of the Charmed Ones and her son, several days ago?"
Feign confusion filled Miss Ross' dark eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Andre held out one hand, allowing a ball of fire to hover over his open palm. "This sure is a nice place you've got," he said, glancing around the room in an approving manner. Then his expression hardened. "Be a damn shame that the last thing you'll see is this place burning down . . . around you."
The witch's face paled. "I don't know . . . what . . ."
"Listen to me," Cole ordered in a cold and harsh voice, "we know that you have acted as Nairn's agent for his assassination jobs for the past fifteen years or so. And we know that it was you who had met and made arrangements with Nairn's last client. So, who had hired him to attack the Charmed One?"
Seconds passed before Miss Ross let out a gust of breath. "Okay. All right, I'll talk. It was . . ." A devious light flashed in her eyes. "A coven of daemons had hired me. The Crotona Coven had hired Nairn to attack Piper Halliwell."
For a brief moment, shock overcame Cole. Riggerio led the Crotona Coven. Why would the . . . Then he recalled the devious look in the witch's eyes. He realized that she had lied. Cole slowly walked toward her in a menacing manner, causing her to literally hug the wall. "What do you take us for?" he murmured. "Do you really think we're that stupid?"
Fear now glimmered in Miss Ross' eyes. "I . . ." she began. "I mean, I don't know . . ."
"One of my powers happened to be telepathic suggestion," Cole continued. He now stood inches away from the beleagured witch. "Tell us who had hired your boss . . . or I'll force you to tell me. After that, I'm sure that my friend would be more than happy to burn down this house . . . over your head."
Miss Ross glanced at Andre, who responded with a mirthless smile. "Okay," she squeaked. "I'll tell you the truth."
Cole nodded. "So, who had hired Nairn? Was it a female bokor? Or a male one?"
"Bokor?" Genuine confusion appeared on the witch's face. "You mean one of those Voodoo people? No. Of course not!"
"Don't lie to me!"
Miss Ross cried out in panic, "It's the truth! No bokor or mambo or priest had hired Nairn! It wasn't even a mortal!" She moved toward one of the open windows.
Cole and Andre exchanged confused looks. Then the latter asked, "Are you saying that another daemon had hired him?"
"No, not a daemon!" Miss Ross said with a shake of her head. "I mean . . . not the kind of daemon you're familiar with."
Frowning, Cole added, "But you said that the client wasn't a mortal."
"It wasn't that kind of daemon. The guy wasn't even evil. I swear! In fact, Nairn was instructed not to kill the witch. He only had to make sure that she didn't interfere with him killing the child."
"So, who hired him?"
With fear still flickering in her eyes, Miss Ross answered, "Look I realize that you might not believe this, but it was a . . ." It happened so fast that Cole had not time to react. Just as the witch was about to name Nairn's last client, an arrow zoomed through an open window and struck Miss Ross directly in the heart. She let out a gasp and sank upon the ground.
Andre knelt beside the witch's fallen body and checked her pulse. "Dead," he announced grimly. "Shot right through the heart."
Cole finally recovered from the shock of the witch's death and beamed outside. He stood in the dark, as he attempted to sense the assassin's presence. Whoever had killed Esmeralda Ross had disappeared quickly. The killer had been a teleporter. Cole heaved a frustrated sigh and returned inside the house.
"Did you find anyone?" Andre asked.
The half-daemon shook his head. "Not a soul. Whoever had killed her and hired Nairn definitely was not mortal."
"Which means that Daley Bakker didn't hire him," Andre added.
Cole heaved a sigh. "That's not all."
The half-daemon's mouth formed a grim line. "The killer was NOT a darklighter. Or like Miss Ross said . . . not the kind of daemon I'm familiar with."
Andre frowned. "Then who had killed her?"
With a shake of his head, Cole replied, "Who knows?" Then he sighed again. "Shit!"
END OF PART XV