"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
The young man's voice babbled on and on, while Cole did his level best to patiently listen. "Look, I'm sorry Alonzo but the answer is no. I cannot extend you any money at this time. Not until it's time for your next check. You know the terms of your trust fund."
"But this is an emergency!" Mark Giovanni's son protested.
Cole sighed. "It's always an emergency with you, Alonzo. I'm sorry, but the answer is no. Look, if you need money that badly, why don't you ask your . . " The line went dead. Cole glared at the receiver and hung up. Spoiled little bastard, he thought bitterly.
The half-daemon glanced up and found Veronica Altman standing in his doorway. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
The chestnut-haired woman strode into the office and sat down opposite Cole. "Feldman had just told me the news. You've landed the Macmillan case."
Cole realized that Veronica spoke of his new client, a young Palo Alto socialite named Holly Macmillan. She had been charged with the murder of her much older husband, a wealthy entrepreneur named Tobias Macmillan. "What's to congratulate me about? I didn't ask for the case and everyone thinks she's guilty."
"So what? At least you have a challenging case," Veronica replied. "And guilty or not, the Macmillans are important clients of the firm. If you win this one, the Old Boys will probably make you a partner by the end of the year."
His gaze now focused upon his colleague, Cole quietly asked, "And if I lose?"
Veronica merely responded with a shrug. Then she added, "Didn't Mike Bowers first have this case?"
"Yeah, but he managed to drop out, citing health issues." Cole leaned back into his chair and sighed. "I think he came to the conclusion that Mrs. Macmillan was guilty and lied to the partners to get out of it. Didn't exactly make Jackson or Kline very happy." He paused, as something occurred to him. "Um, do you know the name of the junior associate that was working for Bowers? Kline had mentioned something about one."
Nodding, Veronica answered, "A second year named Janet Hui. She's . . ."
"I think I've met her," Cole said, interrupting. "Yesterday. It turns out that she's an old friend of my brother-in-law's. The younger one."
Veronica frowned. "Wait a minute. Isn't that the one who's now dating your former . . . um, sister-in-law?"
"You mean Paige."
Shaking her head, Veronica quipped, "Don't you find it a tad bizarre that your present brother-in-law is now dating your ex-sister-in-law?"
Cole merely smiled and summoned his assistant. "Eleanor, could you get hold of a junior associate named Janet Hui for me? Thank you."
Minutes passed while Cole and Veronica discussed the current office gossip. Then Eleanor returned his call. "I'm sorry Mr. Turner, but according to Ms. Hui's assistant, she's not in the office, today. Would you like her home phone number?"
Cole sighed. "Yes. Thank you, Eleanor." Then he changed his mind. "No, wait a minute. Ask Ms. Hui's assistant . . ."
"Carl," Eleanor added.
"Yes. Ask him if he could find any files on the Holly Macmillan case in Ms. Hui's office."
The phone line went silent again. Veronica stood up. "I better get going. I have a meeting with a client in . . ." she glanced at her watch, ". . . forty minutes or so. I'll catch you later." She bid Cole good-bye and started toward the door. As she left the office, Eleanor entered at the same time.
Cole stared at his assistant. "Was . . . um, Carl able to find the files?"
"I'm sorry Mr. Turner, but according to him, Ms. Hui had taken her copy of the Macmillan files home with her." Eleanor paused, as she held up a slip of paper. "But I did managed to get her address. If you want it."
Another sigh left Cole's mouth. "Her address will be fine." The assistant strode forward and handed over the slip of paper to Cole. "Thank you, Eleanor." Once alone, Cole sighed for the last time. He had hoped to leave work an hour early in order to begin preparation of tonight's dinner - to celebrate his and Olivia's one-month wedding anniversary. It looked as if a quick trip to Janet Hui's home had nipped his plans in the bud.
The four police inspectors and the forensics expert filed into Darryl's office. Both Olivia and Debbie Hui eased into empty chairs, while the other three detectives remained standing. "So, Debbie," Darryl began, "is there anything we should know about the body found this morning?"
Debbie shook her head in disbelief. "This is getting unreal. Like Kenneth Jai and Bernard Remar, it seems that this . . ."
"Jan Alamdar," Olivia added.
"Thanks," Debbie murmured. "It seems that this Jan Alamdar had died the same way - collapsed lungs. Both of them. And the puncture marks found on his chest weren't responsible. Sudden loss of oxygen. I also found bruise marks on both of his forearms, caused by large fingernails. Or claws."
Both Marcus and Carlotta stared at the pathologist. "What the hell was he doing on Ronald Wong's driveway?" Marcus demanded.
Debbie glared at him. "How the hell would I know? That's your job." She returned her attention to Darryl. "By the way, blood was found on Mr. Wong and Ms. Hui's driveway. And it didn't belong to this Jan Alamdar."
"Maybe it belonged to Ronald Wong," Carlotta suggested. "Maybe Mr. Alamdar had witnessed Wong being attacked or something . . . and was killed himself."
Marcus protested, "But why leave Alamdar's body behind, and not Wong's?"
Carlotta grunted slightly. "I don't know. This case has been strange from the beginning, if you ask me. I think it's more suited for THE X-FILES." She paused and glanced at the others. "Or maybe that crazy old man was right about this being the work of a vampire."
"C'mon!" Marcus exclaimed. Everyone stared at him. "You can't honestly believe that! Do you? Besides, vampires are blood suckers. Their fangs leave two holes on the necks of their victims. I don't recall any of our victims being 'bitten'."
Debbie retorted, "That old man had claimed that Jai was bitten by a chiang shi. A Chinese vampire. A chiang shi doesn't suck the blood of its victims. It sucks the air. Which could explain the collapsed lungs. Right Scott?"
Scott started to open his mouth, but Darryl intervened before the conversation could spiral out of control. "Right now, we have a pretty wild story for McPherson. Let's just keep investigating, until we can find something that makes sense. Something tells me that either Ronald Wong is responsible for the three bodies, or that he might just end up being body number four." He nodded at the pathologist. "Thanks for the info, Debbie. And that's all, everyone."
Everyone else began to file out of his office. Darryl asked Olivia and Scott to wait before they could leave. They sat down. "Okay, you two," he continued. "What do you think is really going on?"
Olivia and Scott exchanged glances. The latter began, "I don't know. I mean, I can understand if the chiang shi had killed Alamdar. But what happened to Wong? He's missing. His car is in the driveway. I just don't know."
"It's possible that Wong is now a chiang shi," Olivia stated. The two men stared at her. "How else can you explain the fact that he's gone and Alamdar was found dead on his drive?"
Confused, Darryl asked, "You mean to say that this . . . chiang shi may have turned Wong into the vampire?"
Scott shook his head. "A chiang shi doesn't turn his or her victim into another vampire. Not like the European vampires."
Olivia continued, "Let me put it this way. The Chinese - and West Africans, by the way - believe that each person has two souls, a superior or rational soul and an inferior or irrational soul. The superior soul could leave a sleeping body and appear as the body's double as it roamed about. It could also possess and speak through the body of another. Now, the inferior soul, or the po . . ."
". . . or p'ai," Scott added.
Olivia nodded. "Right. Well, the po often lingers in the bodies of the dead. Many believe that it can preserve the corpse. If the p'ai was strong enough, it could preserve and inhabit a corpse for a length of time, using the body to serve its needs. Once the dead body becomes animated by the p'ai, it becomes a chiang shi. Chances are that Ronald Wong had died a violent death and became one."
A horrifying thought came to Darryl. "In other words, we might have two of these Chinese vampires roaming the city." He leaned back into his chair and sighed. "Man, I don't know what to say to McPherson about this. I don't know. Maybe we should just do as you had suggested, Livy. Tell him everything. Especially since Debbie seems to believe in this chiang shi." He shook his head in disbelief. "I'm only surprised that she does."
"I'm not," Scott said. "I think you'd be surprised at how many people believe in the supernatural. They just don't want to admit it, because they fear that such beliefs might make them seem crazy. I mean, if people really didn't believe in the supernatural, shows like "IN SEARCH OF" would have died before the end of its first season."
Darryl rubbed both of his temples. "Well, it looks as if we're in for another night of vamp hunting."
Olivia stood up. "I'll give Paige and Piper a call." And another sigh left Darryl's mouth.
Paige parked her lime-green Volkswagen Bug behind Harry's Mazda. The cell phone on the passenger seat rang. Paige answered it. "Hello?"
"It's me, Piper," her older sister replied. "I got your message. How long are you going to be there?"
With an automatic shrug of her shoulders, Paige replied, "I don't know. Until later tonight, I supposed. Harry's been with Janet since this morning."
A long pause followed before Piper spoke. "All day?"
"It's nothing, Piper!" Paige's voice hardened at her sister's unspoken suggestion. "Harry and Janet are friends . . . and nothing else. I saw how she was with her boyfriend, two nights ago. Trust me."
Piper said, "If you say so. I just find it odd that a woman would contact an ex-boyfriend she hasn't seen in years, after her own boyfriend turns up missing."
"If that ex-boyfriend happens to be the brother of a cop, I'd call him too," Paige retorted.
A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Sorry. I should have known." She paused. "By the way, I just got a call from Olivia. She, Darryl, Scott and Cole might end up hunting for that chiang shi, tonight."
"You go ahead and join them," Paige said. "I'll just stay with Harry and Janet."
Again, Piper paused. "Okay," she finally said. "If you say so. I'll see you later. Bye." The older woman hung up, as Paige disconnected her cell phone. Minutes later, the youngest Charmed One climbed the small stoop that led to the manor's porch. Just as she reached out to ring the doorbell, a familiar sensation tingled the back of her neck. It could only mean one thing - danger. Paige turned around and allowed her eyes to scan the semi-dark street. Nothing. So, she went ahead and rang the bell.
A few minutes passed before the front door swung open, revealing a slightly disappointed Janet Hui. "Hi," she greeted the Charmed One. "Glad you could make it." She did not seem glad, but Paige refrained from saying so. She simply returned the other woman's greeting.
"I gather the police haven't found Ron, yet," Paige commented after entering the house.
Janet shook her head. "No, not yet. Harry's been forcing me to drink chamomile tea all day long. I'm surprised I haven't zonked out, yet." She led Paige toward the living room. "By the way, someone else you know is here."
That "someone" turned out to be Cole. Paige greeted her former brother-in-law with surprise. "What are you doing here? Did Harry . . .?"
"I came here to see Ms. Hui," Cole explained. "Regarding work."
"Oh? Like what?" Paige asked without thinking. Cole responded with a questioning stare. "Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean to be nosy."
Harry asked, "By the way, Cole, have you heard anything from Olivia about Ron? Or the guy I had found in the driveway?"
Cole shook his head. "Sorry, but I haven't heard from Olivia all day. I could get her . . ." He paused and cocked his head upward - as if had sensed something.
At the same time, Paige felt a similar sensation that she had experienced on Janet's front porch. It happened to be the same tingling sensation at the back of her neck. She stared at Cole. "Did you just sense . . .?"
The doorbell rang. Janet stood up and started toward the front door. "Maybe that's Olivia." She disappeared into the foyer. Seconds passed before Paige overheard Janet's voice cry out, "Ron? Ron! Where have you been?"
A frown appeared on Harry's face. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "I don't think . . ." He rushed after his friend. Paige and Cole quickly followed. "Janet! Get away from . . ."
A scream filled Paige's ears. When she, Harry and Cole reached the foyer, they found Janet's body sprawled on the floor. Ronald Wong . . . or someone in a red Chinese silk robe that bore a strong resemblance knelt over her. Paige noticed the green tinge on his pale skin, along with his long, claw-like fingernails. "Oh my God!" she cried out in shock. "What happened to . . .?"
Then a second figure dressed in a similar Chinese robe appeared in the doorway. He opened his mouth, and a strong gust of wind sent Paige, Harry and Cole flying toward a bare wall. Ron, or whatever he happened to be, lifted Janet into his arms. Paige cried out, "Janet!" and the other woman beamed out of her boyfriend's grasp and onto the living room sofa.
Ron glared at the trio and joined his companion in the doorway. Cole hurled two fireballs at the creatures. But they both leapt upward and out of view . . . before Cole's fire could inflict any damage.
END OF CHAPTER SEVEN