"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
The two sisters orbed in the middle of one of Golden Gate Park's pathways. Paige tightly clutched a large wooden stake. Piper, on the other hand, held a large cross in one hand and a bottle of holy water - blessed by her - in the other.
Paige frowned at the objects in her sister's hands. "Holy water and a cross? Piper, we're not after Dracula. We're after a Chinese vampire. Remember?"
"Chinese, Romanian . . . what's the difference?" Piper mumbled.
With a gust of breath, Paige retorted, "The difference is that you can't vanquish a Chinese vampire with holy water and a cross. Didn't you read that article I had downloaded from the Internet and printed for you?"
Piper sighed. "I didn't have time," she retorted irritably. The snap from a broken twig broke the silence that surrounded the pair. Piper glanced nervously over her shoulder. "What was that?"
Paige's eyes cautiously scanned the area. "I don't know. But be careful. Our last encounter with vampires wasn't exactly a walk in the . . ." Another twig snapped. "You know, I have this bad feeling that we're being . . ." She spotted a dark figure between the trees. "Piper, look out!"
Before Paige could do anything, the same figure zoomed in from the right and knocked Piper to the ground. Paige immediately recognized the bestial features and yellow eyes of a vampire. Before the creature could sink his teeth into her sister's neck, Paige orbed the stake in her hand, into his back. The vampire disintegrated into a pile of ash.
"Oh God!" Piper cried. "Get it off me!" She sprang to her feet and began to brush the vampire's remains off her jacket and pants. When she finally removed all of the ash, she turned to Paige. "Is it off me?"
Paige examined Piper's clothes. "Yeah, it's all gone. No more . . ." A scream escaped from her mouth before a fist zoomed toward her face and knocked her unconscious.
A few minutes earlier, Cole teleported himself, Olivia and Scott to another one of Golden Gate Park's pathways. The half-daemon glanced around the wooded area, frowning. "Are you sure this is where the chiang shi can be found?"
"Well," Scott replied, "my Uncle Jen-Hsun managed to track down some vampire activity to this area." The couple stared at him. "Using I-Ching. Divination."
Rolling his eyes, Cole sighed. "Oh God," he muttered.
Scott demanded, "What?"
Olivia heaved an exasperated sigh. "Who cares how Scott's uncle found out about the vampire's location," she retorted. As long as it's . . ." Her cell phone rang. She removed it from her jacket pocket and answered it. "Hello? Oh Darryl." She said to her husband, "He's ready."
"Right." Cole nodded. With a wave of his hand, he teleported Darryl to a spot next to Scott. The police lieutenant weaved slightly on his feet before steadying himself. "Are you okay?"
Darryl blinked momentarily before he nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"First time you've ever been teleported?"
Shaking his head, Darryl replied, "No, not the first time. It's just . . . the sudden change of location, you know? It's hard getting used to."
"Good." Cole handed over a crossbow to his wife's partner. "It's a crossbow, but it allows you six shots without reloading. Very rare and not common here on Earth."
"Thanks." Darryl nodded at the others. "Ready?"
The three humans and the half-daemon proceeded along the path. They had been walking for nearly five minutes when Cole sensed a presence in the trees, above. A demonic presence. He held up one hand. "Wait a minute," he murmured. The others paused. "I think I sense some . . ."
At that moment, a figure dropped from one of the trees and grabbed Olivia by the shoulders. Before Cole could do anything, flames engulfed his wife's attacker, until he became a pile of ash. Then the red-haired witch pointed at her partner. "Darryl! Look out!" The warning came in time. Darryl whirled around and shot an arrow into what looked like a female vampire. She disintegrated into a pile of dust.
More vampires dropped from the trees. Cole incinerated three of them at once. Olivia incinerated one more. Scott used his electro kinesis to decapitate the heads of two vampires, and Darryl shot the last remaining one.
"So much for the chiang shi," Cole grumbled. "Just your standard European vamps. Looks like we had stumbled across a nest."
Scott shrugged his shoulders. "I never said that Uncle Jen was perfect."
"Who?" Darryl demanded.
A woman's scream penetrated the night air. Cole beamed them to the source of the scream. To their amazement, the quartet found Paige sprawled on the ground and the older Halliwell in the grip of a dark-blond vampire.
"Piper, freeze him!" Scott cried.
With fear stamped on her face, Piper merely managed a faint, "Huh?"
"I said . . ." The vampire's exposed fangs hovered above the Charmed One's neck. Panic filled Scott's voice.
Cole moved his hand and both Piper and the vampire froze. Actually, they began to move at a snail's pace. The half-daemon teleported the Charmed One from her captor's grip and placed her next to Scott. Then the vampire's movements returned to normal and he bit into . . . air. Darryl immediately took the opportunity to kill him with the crossbow.
"Oh God," Piper groaned. "That was too damn close. Where's Paige?"
A moan punctuated the night air. Olivia rushed to the younger Charmed One's side and helped the groggy young woman to her feet. "Wha . . . what happened?" Paige asked. A purplish bruise marked her jaw's right side.
Olivia explained, "You must have been knocked out by that vampire. He was about bite Piper, when we showed up. Cole helped Piper escape and Darryl shot him."
Confusion filled Paige's eyes. "Darryl shot a vampire with a gun?"
"With a crossbow," Darryl corrected. "And by the way, what are you two doing here?"
Piper answered, "Obviously the same as you. Looking for that vampire that killed those two men."
"Don't take this personally," Darryl continued, "but this is a police matter and . . ."
". . . and a magical one," Piper finished. "Our territory. You need our help on this one, Darryl."
Darryl regarded the oldest Halliwell with a cool gaze. "Considering that I work with Olivia and Scott, are you sure about that?"
The stunned expressions on Piper and Paige's faces interested Cole. He had never realized until now that Darryl no longer needed the Halliwells' help regarding all supernatural matters. Especially since he now worked with two magic practitioners - Olivia and Scott. It seemed that the Charmed Ones had finally become obsolete for Darryl. But Cole felt certain that the sisters would still require his help sometime in the future.
Olivia's next words eased the tension between her partner and the two sisters. "I don't know, Darryl. So far, we haven't had much luck in tracking down this chiang shi. Perhaps a little extra help wouldn't hurt." Both Piper and Paige regarded her with grateful eyes.
A sigh left Darryl's mouth. "All right. I guess you have a point. But ladies, please remember that this is a police matter. So, don't go half cock around town trying to track this thing. If you have any idea where this chiang shi might be, please let me, Olivia or Scott know. Okay?"
Piper's eyes blinked momentarily, while Paige's remained wide in shock. "Yeah," the older sister murmured. "Uh . . . yeah, we understand."
"Good." Darryl nodded crisply. Then he glanced at his watch. "It's getting late. I guess we all should be getting home. Maybe we'll have better luck, tomorrow night."
Cole exchanged a brief glance with Olivia. Her eyes reflected his own thoughts - a new era has dawned between Darryl and the Charmed Ones. Or perhaps this new era had already existed . . . and no one knew until this night.
The sound of a telephone ringing penetrated Harry's deep sleep. He mumbled a few incoherent sounds and shifted his body before covering his head with one of his pillows. The ringing continued. Realizing that he was fully awake, a reluctant Harry sprung into a sitting position. With a groan, he reached over for the cell phone on his nightstand. "Hello?" he murmured.
"Harry? Oh God! I need your help!" The agitated voice belonged to Janet Hui.
Now fully alert, Harry glanced at the nightstand's clock. It read six thirty-eight in the morning. "Janet? Is there something wrong?"
"It's Ron!" his former girlfriend cried. "He hasn't returned home, yet. I think he's missing!"
Harry sighed. "Maybe he had left for work, early."
Janet shot back, "He's been missing since last night, Harry. Ron is usually home by seven or seven-thirty. He hasn't been home ALL NIGHT! Something's happened. Could you . . ." Janet hesitated. "Could you get hold of your sister for me? Maybe she can find Ron."
Another sigh left Harry's mouth. He had planned to finish a special project before going to the office. But since Janet needed his help . . . "Look, I'll be over within an hour. And then we'll call Olivia. Okay?"
Janet heaved a relieved sigh. "Okay. Thanks Harry."
"No problem. I'll see you soon." The two friends hung up.
It took Harry at least twenty-five minutes to shower and get dressed. Before he could reach the front door, Davies accosted him. "Mr. Harry? You're leaving now?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm meeting someone, Davies. An emergency."
The Welsh-born manservant frowned. "What about breakfast?"
Harry bit back a sigh. Davies could be such a worrywart, at times. "I'll get something along the way." Disapproval crept into the manservant's eyes. "Don't worry. I won't stop at McDonald's or anything like that." Before Davies could respond, Harry bid him good-bye and rushed out of the house.
Another twenty-eight minutes passed before his silver-blue Mazda MPV arrived at Janet's Outer Richmond home. He parked his car several feet away from her house. As he made his way toward the driveway, Harry spotted a figure sprawled on the ground, faced down. Fearing that the body might belong to Ronald Wong, Harry used his foot to turn it over.
To his relief, the body did not turn out to be Ronald. But Harry could not help but wonder over the stranger's true identity.
The judge's assistant poked his head into the former's private chambers. "Pardon me, your Honor?"
Bourgh glanced up. "Everyone is ready?" he asked.
Ross hesitated. "Uh, well sir . . . Someone is missing."
Hope and fear mingled beneath Bourgh's chest, as he held his breath. "Really?" He stood up and donned his robes. Could it be? "Who's missing?"
"I think it might be one of the prosecu . . ." Ross began, but Bourgh had already brushed past him.
The judge made his way into the courtroom and a heavy silence ensued. He glanced at the defense table. The defendant, Curt Becker, and his attorney, Dean Corbin, wore smug expressions. He glanced at the prosecutor's table and noticed that only two of the prosecutors seemed to be present. Both John Reyes and Belinda Gilbert wore anxious expressions on their faces.
A sigh left Bourgh's mouth as he sat down. Then he faced the prosecution's table. "I understand that someone is missing."
John Reyes stood up. His thin face expressed concern for his missing colleague . . . and suspicion toward the defense team. "Yes, your Honor. One of my prosecutors, Ronald Wong, has failed to appear in court. I've called his home, but apparently he's missing."
"Missing?" Bourgh inhaled sharply. Missing? Ronald Wong was supposed to be dead. He was supposed to be found dead. How could he be missing? The judge collected himself and took a deep breath. "I see," he replied, expressing official concern. Then he added, "Are you prepare to continue with the case?"
The two prosecutors exchanged uneasy looks. Bourgh almost felt sorry for them. "I'm afraid not, your Honor," Reyes replied. "Not at this time." Triumph flashed in young Decker and Corbin's eyes. "Mr. Wong's lack of presence is detrimental to our prosecution of this case. And until we can learn of his whereabouts, I move that we postpone the trial until further notice."
Becker's attorney sprung to his feet. "Your Honor, I move that you declare a mistrial, considering that Mr. Reyes obviously does not have enough evidence to convict my client."
"I never said that!" Reyes retorted. "I'm only concerned about the whereabouts of Mr. Wong. And in light of his disappearance . . ."
Bourgh slammed down his mallet several times. "Enough!" He turned to the defense attorney. "Mr. Corbin, your motion for a mistrial is denied." The defense attorney's triumph crumbled. "As Mr. Reyes had pointed out, he is concerned over Mr. Wong's disappearance and not any lack of evidence. Therefore, this trial will be delayed until further notice. Court adjourned." He banged his mallet one more time and quickly left the courtroom.
Once inside the privacy of his chambers, Bourgh whipped out his cell phone and dialed a number. Seconds later, a voice answered, "Cedric Lloyd."
"Lloyd? This is Bourgh," the judge shot back. "I just heard about Ronald Wong."
Sounding pleased with himself, Lloyd replied, "Well, I see that you're ready to cooperate with my client."
"Not quite!" Bourgh retorted. "According to John Reyes, Wong is 'missing', not 'dead'. No body has been found."
"What?" Shock reverberated in Lloyd's voice. "How . . .?"
Bourgh interrupted, "All I know is that Wong is missing. Now, until he is reported dead, the deal is off. Good day, Mr. Lloyd!" He disconnected the line, before the other man could respond.
Later that morning saw Olivia and Darryl standing over a corpse sprawled on Janet Hui and Ronald Wong's driveway. "According to the I.D. found in his wallet, his name is Jan Alamdar," Olivia commented. "He lives in the tan house just several yards away."
"I'm curious," Darryl said, "why are we involved in this particular case?"
After taking a deep breath, Olivia explained about the telephone call she had received from her younger brother. She also learned that Janet Hui's live-in boyfriend had disappeared, last night. "With a vampire on the loose . . ." she began.
"You mean more than one, don't you?" Darryl hinted.
Olivia sighed. "Yes. More than one. Anyway, with our favorite bloodsuckers on the loose, I thought it would be prudent that as members of a special investigative unit, we would get first dibs on this body. As it turned out, puncture wounds were found on his chest, but no slash marks."
"Are these wounds similar to the ones found on Jai and Remar?" Darryl asked.
Darryl turned to one of their colleagues. "Hey Marcus? Have this sent over to Forensics, so that Debbie Liu can take a look at it." He returned his attention to Olivia. "What about relatives? Did Mr. Alamdar have any?"
Olivia shook her head. "As far as we know, he lived alone. He's a financial consultant for a firm, here in San Francisco."
"Hmmm. Let's go inside." He and Olivia entered the two-story manor, where they found Harry trying to console a very anxious Janet Hui.
The moment Janet had spotted the two police officers she sprung to her feet. "Who was that in my driveway?" she demanded. "And what about Ron?"
Darryl calmly replied, "The man in your driveway was a neighbor - one Jan Alamdar." The younger woman gasped. "As for Mr. Wong, he has yet to be found. Normally, a person isn't declared missing until after 24 hours. But considering the circumstances - Mr. Alamdar's body and the presence of Mr. Wong's car in the driveway - we'll put out an A.P.B. on him."
"A.P.B.?" Janet frowned. "All Points Bulletin? Are you . . . are you hinting that Ron is a killer?"
Harry stood up and placed a reassuring hand on Janet's shoulder. "C'mon Jan. You know they don't think that. It's just the fastest way for them to find him."
Nodding, Olivia added, "Harry's right. As soon as Mr. Wong is found, we'll let you know. Meanwhile, perhaps you should stay home for a day or two. Just in case we have more news about . . . Ron."
"Yeah. Okay." Janet turned to Harry with pleading eyes. "Do you mind hanging around for a while?"
Both Olivia and Darryl exchanged wary looks, while Harry replied, "Sure. Mind if Paige joins us, later?"
Janet nodded. "That would be great."
Then Harry shot a cool glance at Olivia. She heard his voice in her mind retort, "Get your mind out of the gutter, Sis. It's not like that between Janet and me."
Olivia responded with a smile.
The intercom buzzed. Keir Larson glanced up from a pile of papers on his desk and stared at it. The intercom buzzed for the second time. He finally answered it. "Yes?"
"Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Larson," his assistant replied. Larson owned a small private security firm in San Mateo, a suburb of San Francisco. He sometimes used it to hide his murderous activities. The assistant continued, "There is a James Bishop on Line 280."
The warlock sat up straight. He immediately recognized the alias that the daemon, Prax, used in the mortal world. "Thanks Greg." Then he picked up the line. "Mr. Bishop," he greeted in a cool voice. "How may I help you?"
Prax's voice answered, "I'm calling in regard to your assignment, Mr. Larson. Is it completed?"
Larson relaxed. This happened to be one question he could answer with certainty. "Yes, Mr. Bishop. It has been . . . completed. I assure you."
"Then why has there been no report of Mr. Wong's death?"
The question threw Larson into a loop. "I beg your pardon?"
After a moment's hesitation, Prax continued, "There has been no report of Mr. Wong's death, Mr. Larson. My people have checked with the media and the local law enforcement." Before Larson could reply, the daemon added, "May I remind you that I had given instructions for you to make sure that his body would be found? And that it would look like a murder committed by a mortal?"
"Which is what I did!" Larson insisted. "In fact, I left his body on the driveway. Someone should have found it."
Prax shot back, "No one did, Mr. Larson. As far as we know, he has been reported missing . . . and nothing else. I suggest that you look into the matter. If it turns out that Mr. Wong is still alive . . . we'll deal with the situation, ourselves. And you might consider returning our retainer." The line went dead.
Stunned, Larson slowly hung up. Somehow, Ronald Wong's body had disappeared. Did this mean that the young attorney might still be alive? And wounded? For the sake of his own well-being, Larson hoped not.
END OF CHAPTER SIX