"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
"I'm making some tea for Cole. Does anyone else want a drink?" Olivia asked the four guests. Cole glanced around his living room and saw both Darryl and Scott shaking their heads. Both Piper and Master Chan, on the other hand, asked for water. Olivia nodded. "I'll have a bottle of water for each of you," she added. Then she turned to Cole. "And I'll get started on your tea."
Cole frowned at his wife. "What for?"
"After what happened to you this evening, you'll need it," Olivia continued. "You should see your face. You look exhausted." She turned away and headed for the kitchen.
The half-daemon automatically began touching his face. "What did she mean by that?" he demanded. "Do I look tired?"
"A little," Scott answered.
The Taoist priest grunted. "I am not surprised. The breath of the chiang shi can be very powerful."
"But powerful enough to kill Cole?" a confused Piper demanded. "Even for a few seconds?"
With a shrug, Master Chan continued, "Telepathy can affect him. Why not the chiang shi's breath? Not only is it powerful, but insidious as well. Luckily for Mr. Turner, he has a self-healing ability."
"And apparently it's still working," Scott added. "Which would account for the exhausted look on Cole's face."
Cole retorted, "I don't feel tired." Actually, he did. But he had felt annoyed by Olivia's coddling and Scott's immediate observation of his physical state.
Darryl shook his head and said, "I'm still confused by how one becomes a . . . chiang shi. I mean . . . is it the breath of another vampire?"
"Sudden death." An amused Cole noticed that both Scott and Master Chan had spoken at the same time.
The Taoist priest added, "It is like I had explained to Miss Halliwell, every sentient being has two souls - a superior soul or the 'hun', and an inferior soul called the 'po'. You see, the hun or yang energy usually leaves the body upon death. But the po or yin remains active. Especially if the deceased has unfinished business on Earth."
"And Ronald Wong had unfinished business, when he was murdered," Darryl said, nodding. "Okay, I get it." He paused with a frown on his face. "The superior and inferior soul? Now, why does that sound familiar?"
Clearing his throat, Cole explained, "Because Cecile Dubois probably told you something similar, when you were possessed by that bokor over a year ago."
Scott demanded, "What are you talking about?"
Olivia returned to the living room, carrying a tray that held two water bottles and a cup filled with tea. She served the water to both Piper and Master Chan. "Cole is talking about Vodoun or West African beliefs. You remember, don't you, Piper?"
"Not really," the Charmed One remarked dryly.
Recalling what Andre had once told him, Cole continued. "Like the Chinese, Vodoun practitioners believe that the soul has two parts - the gros bon ange, which the Chinese call the hun and the ti bon ange, or the po."
"Now, the gros bon ange reflects the part of the cosmic energy that turns into life force and the ti bon ange reflects the person's knowledge and experience," Olivia added. "The ti bon ange is also responsible for deciding individual characteristics, personality and will and is also the most vulnerable part of the human psyche to sorcery. And when the ti bon ange is dormant - when you are asleep or near death - a person becomes vulnerable to possession." Olivia handed Cole his cup of tea. "Here you go. It's a mixture of thyme, cloves, caraway seeds and peppermint."
The half-daemon rolled his eyes and took a sip of tea. Hmmmm. At least it taste pretty good.
Master Chan shook his head in amazement. "I had no idea that some Chinese beliefs were similar to West African ones. Very interesting."
"What happens to Ronald Wong now?" Piper asked.
Scott shrugged. "His body will be given a proper burial. And since his killer is also dead . . . there's nothing else we can do."
"What about the people who had hired that warlock, Larson?"
Between sips, Cole revealed what he had learned from Hazika. "Now that Curt Decker is dead, his soul now belongs to the Khand Order. Forever."
A silent pause filled the room before Piper continued, "Shouldn't we go after them?"
"What for?" Olivia demanded, as she sat down next to Cole. "Curt Decker is dead. So is Keir Larson. What else can we do?"
Piper muttered, "I don't know. How about we try to save his soul?"
In his most patient voice, Cole explained, "It's too late for that, Piper. Curt Decker had agreed to a contract. Without any coercion by the Khand Order, I might add. Only the Khand Order can break the contract." Piper opened her mouth to speak, but he continued. "If you're thinking of destroying the Khand Order . . . don't bother. The deaths of their members won't change anything. Trust me. A demonic contract usually survives the death of the daemon who drafted it." With a shrug, he added, "What can I say? Loopholes."
"Besides," Master Chan added, "This Mr. Decker had made a deal with 'the devil' - so to speak. Just because he was human does not mean that he can easily avoid the agreement he had made with this demonic order. Human or not, Mr. Decker must pay the consequences for his actions. Even if it means with his soul."
One glance at Piper's face told Cole that she did not care for this resolution. Well, he did not exactly care for it, either. But he knew that the destruction of the Khand Order would not save Curt Decker's soul.
"I have a question," Scott piped up. "For Darryl. What do you plan to do with the surveillance tape from the Diamond Club's parking lot?"
Both Olivia and Darryl exchanged cryptic looks. Then the latter added, "Turn it over to Captain McPherson." His answer produced uneasy looks from the others - including Cole.
"Uh . . ." Scott began uneasily. "What did you do? Change it or something?"
Darryl replied, "Nope. Olivia had convinced me that we might as well leave it alone." Both Piper and Scott opened their mouths to protest. "Don't worry. The tape didn't catch Livy using her telekinesis to grab Larson's sword. And she had turned it off before the rest of you and Harry had even arrived in the parking lot."
"But it still shows the vampire," Cole reminded his wife's partner.
A cryptic smile curved Olivia's lips. "Yes it does. And when McPherson and the FBI finally see it, they will make damn sure that the public will never learn the truth. Trust me."
Just as Olivia had predicted, the FBI paid a visit to her squad room, the following morning. The redhead found herself inside Captain McPherson's office with Darryl, the Captain and two FBI agents. All five people were viewing the video tape that the Federal agents had retrieved from the Diamond Club's parking lot security camera.
Olivia winced, as she watched herself slice off the chiang shi's head. The camera had failed to tape her picking up the sword, using her telekinesis - thank the God and Goddess. Her fellow companions - including Darryl - watched the video images with rapt attention. Fortunately, the video did not include sound . . . which meant that it did not capture any compromising dialogue. Once the tape ended, Special Agent Daniel Archer let out a breathless, "Wow! You really took care of that . . . that thing, didn't you?" He regarded Olivia with admiring eyes. "When did you learn how to use a sword like that?"
Coolly, Olivia replied, "While taking martial arts lessons. It's a form of Kung Fu called Wu Su." She sighed. "I only wish I could have killed him before he got his hands on Agent Alvarez."
The other FBI agent, a stoic, middle-aged man named Langella, frowned. "I thought that Keir Larson had killed Alvarez."
"No, he had killed Agent Ruhl," Darryl replied. "The . . . um, thing had killed Alvarez. Snapped his neck." Captain McPherson shot him a warning glance.
"What thing?" Langella's words drew stunned stares from the others. "As far as the FBI are concerned, Special Agents Lee Alvarez and Jay Ruhl had been killed by Keir Larson. Along with Ronald Wong, Dean Corbin and Curt Decker. The Justice Department had always suspected that other investors had financed his drug operation. Only, we never learned their names. With Wong investigating the money trail, it only seemed natural that Decker's partners wanted the prosecutor dead. And as far as we're concerned, these investors had also decided not to stop with Wong. They hired Larson to kill anyone connected to the case, including Agents Alvarez and Ruhl who were investigating Decker. I wouldn't be surprised if the main prosecutor - John Reyes - was next on the list."
With genuine sarcasm, Darryl asked, "And how do you expect us to explain the deaths of Kenny Jai and Bernard Remar?"
Captain McPherson answered, "Unsolved cases, as far as the Department is concerned." Olivia opened her mouth to protest. "Not now, McNeill."
"It's Turner," Olivia retorted. "And may I assume that the Diamond Club video tape won't see the light of day?"
McPherson shot back, "Unless you decide to start a citywide panic over unnatural beings. And I don't think any of us would want that to happen. Including you."
Olivia expressed silent resentment, although she privately felt relieved. Her first impulse had been to destroy the nightclub's surveillance tape. But she soon realized that neither she, Darryl nor Scott had any excuses for the deaths of Alvarez, Ruhl and Curt Decker. Also, the police and the FBI had arrived just as Darryl and her had finished viewing the tape. With the video tape in Federal hands, agencies like the FBI or the Homeland Security might realize that Darryl had nothing to hide.
Feigning disappointment, Olivia muttered, "No, I guess not." She ignored Darryl's surreptious glance.
Langella nodded. "Good. As far as we're concerned, there were no . . . vampires." He paused. "The one that . . . flew away, no longer exists. "And as for the . . . uh, man or . . . whatever that Inspector Turner had killed last night . . ."
"Vampire," Olivia curtly corrected. "It was a vampire. I had chopped his head off. Then it became . . . human."
The FBI agent sighed. "Has he or . . . it been identified?"
Darryl spoke up. "His name was Saad Yooung, a Chinese-Malaysian building contractor from Singapore. He had been murdered by person or persons unknown. A few days later, his body had disappeared from his coffin, hours before the funeral."
"As far as we're concerned, Yooung's body is missing," Langella stated. "The FBI will be more than happy to make sure that it ends up back in Singapore. Anything else?"
To Olivia's surprise, McPherson asked a question. "What about that blond man in the video? The one who was talking to Decker?"
Agent Archer inhaled sharply. "You mean Alonzo Giovanni? Two of our agents are questioning him, right now."
Cole picked up the glass of water and took a sip. Then he leaned back into his chair and stared at the two FBI agents that sat on the other side of the conference table. Alonzo Giovanni fidgeted nervously in the chair next to him.
"We want to thank you for coming here, Mr. Giovanni," Agent Black said in a polite voice. "I suppose that you've heard about Curt Decker. He was killed last night by a professional hit man."
Alonzo jerked forward. "Professional hit man? I thought he was . . ."
The female agent sharply interrupted him. "It was a hit man, Mr. Giovanni. A Mr. Keir Larson." She glanced at Cole. "I believe that your wife had been present at the scene."
The half-daemon ignored Alonzo's questioning stare and smiled. "And I believe that you have questions for my client."
The FBI agent allowed herself a sardonic smile. "If you insist, Mr. Turner." Then she returned her attention to Alonzo. "Mr. Giovanni, a surveillance tape for the Diamond Club's parking lot has revealed that you had conversed with Mr. Decker, shortly before his death. What did you two discuss?"
Cole spoke up. "Didn't you find out through the video?"
A grimace appeared on Agent Black's face before she answered, "The video didn't pick up any sound." She turned to Cole's client. "Mr. Giovanni?"
Looking as sullen as ever, Alonzo heaved a sigh. "Money."
Cole repeated his client's answer. "Mr. Giovanni said that he and Mr. Decker had discussed money."
Alonzo added, "Curt . . . wanted to borrow money from me. I guess that he's been tight with the cash, ever since his arrest."
"That happened last fall, Mr. Giovanni," Agent Hamill added. He was a stocky man, who happened to be Agent Black's partner. "Are you saying that it took him four months to ask his best friend for money?"
Cole decided it would be best to speak up for his client. "What are you suggesting, Agent Hamill? Are you accusing my client of lying?"
Agent Black sighed. "No, Mr. Turner. We just find it odd that Curt Decker would wait so . . ."
Alonzo interrupted. "If you must know, Curt had first asked me for money after you guys had frozen his assets. But the recent testimony from one of your witnesses and Dean Corbin's death had made him panic. He asked for money, again. I think he was planning to skip town."
Agent Black leaned back into her chair and sighed for the second time. "Okay, Mr. Giovanni. You're free to go."
Cole and his three companions stood up. Then Alonzo took the half-daemon by surprise with his next question. "Ummm . . . what happens to Curt's assets, now that he's dead?"
Both Cole and the agents stared at the blond man. "Why do you want to know?" Agent Hamill demanded.
With a shrug, Alonzo replied, "Just curious. I figured that Curt must have lost a lot of money after he was arrested."
"If you must know," Agent Black said, "Mr. Decker's assets will be confiscated by the U.S. government. I understand that the amount is considerable - over twenty-three million dollars."
Not bad, Cole thought privately. The Federal government manages to make a twenty-three million dollar profit, due to the illegal activities of a millionaire's son. Then Cole glanced at his client. The younger man's face looked deathly pale. Cole wondered how much of that twenty-three million had belonged to Alonzo.
Nearly an hour later, Alonzo arrived at the Giovanni manor. He ignored the family's manservant and rushed upstairs to his bedroom. Once behind closed doors, he whipped out his cell phone and the business card that Curt had given him. Alonzo took a deep breath and dialed the number from the card. Seconds passed before a female's voice answered. "The Twenty-Two Investor Group. May I help you?"
"Yes. I would like to speak to Saundra . . . Gilroy," Alonzo replied. "Um . . . she was recommended by a friend."
The voice asked, "May I have your name, sir? And the name of the person who had made the recommendation?"
Alonzo hesitated. "My name is Alonzo Giovanni. And the person who had told me about your company is . . . I mean, was Curt Decker."
A long pause followed. Then the voice said, "One moment please."
Several minutes passed before another female's voice spoke up. "This is Sandra Gilroy. May I help you, Mr. Giovanni?"
"Um . . . before he was killed, Curt . . . Mr. Decker had recommended your company to help me with a financial matter," Alonzo replied.
Ms. Gilroy hesitated. "Oh. Are you interested in investments?"
"I . . . Does your company only handle investments?"
The woman replied smoothly, "I see. You need to borrow money. Is that it?"
Hope dawned within Alonzo. "I can pay you back," he promised in a slightly wavering voice. "With interest."
Along long pause followed. Ms. Gilroy finally said, "Then I suggest that you pay a visit to my office, tomorrow. It's located at 582 Montgomery Street, Sixth Floor. I'll expect you around . . . ten-thirty."
For a brief moment, Alonzo wondered if he might be making a mistake. After all, the Twenty-Two Group never did help Curt . . . in the end. But unlike his late friend, he did not plan to start a drug operation. Just pay off a blackmailer. "I'll be there," Alonzo quietly replied.
"Good. Good day, Mr. Giovanni."
Alonzo sighed. Somehow, he felt as if he had signed a pact with the devil. "Good day." And then he hung up.
Piper glanced up as Paige entered the manor's living room. "You're home rather early."
The younger woman sighed, as she flopped down on the sofa. "Barbara had let me have the day off. Especially since Harry and I have been taking care of Janet all night long. And this morning. Ron's family had finally arrived just before lunch."
With a nod, Piper added, "I heard from Scott that Ron's body was found this morning."
"Yeah. Two cops came by to tell Janet." Paige heaved another sigh. "This whole thing has been very depressing. I mean . . . why would anyone want to kill Ron?"
"Scott thinks it has something to do with the Curt Decker case," Piper answered. She frowned. "The odd thing is that the guy who had killed Ron was a warlock. At least according to Olivia and Darryl. Olivia plans to look deeper into his background."
Paige shook her head in confusion. "Why would a warlock want Ron dead? He didn't practice magic, did he?"
"Olivia and Cole think that the late Curt Decker had signed a contract with a demonic order. Maybe they had Ron killed to prevent him from finding out about them."
This time, Paige groaned out loud. "Oh God! I've had it with vampires! If you think that dealing with the Queen of the Vampires was bad enough, try dealing with a chiang . . ."
Blue lights appeared in front of the sofa before they formed into the sisters' whitelighter, Chris Perry. "Hey guys!" he greeted. "I'm glad that you're all here."
Piper rolled her eyes. "Oh God! What is it now?"
"Before we start, we'll need Phoebe on this." Chris turned to the other woman. "Paige, could you send for . . .?"
"No, I can't!" the youngest Charmed One retorted. "In fact, I suggest that you fetch Phoebe yourself. I've had enough of demon hunting to last a lifetime!"
Piper regarded her sister with shock. "Paige!"
"Paige what? I'm serious Piper. I've had enough! I'm tired of being nothing more than a glorified demon hunter. There's got to be more to being a witch than that."
Chris mumbled sarcastically in a low voice, "This sounds familiar."
"What do you mean by that?" Paige demanded. When Chris failed to answer, her voice became even more acidic. "Oh, I see. Another secret that you have to keep from us. What's the point of you being our whitelighter, when all you do is . . ."
Chris interrupted, "You know, why is it that all of you had such a bad habit of complaining constantly about being witches?"
Piper's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "We 'had' a bad habit? Had?"
A sigh left the young whitelighter's mouth. "Great! Okay, I didn't want to say this, but . . . In my time, all three of you are dead. The Power of Three is over."
"We were all killed?" Paige demanded. "I thought you had first told us that I was the one who ended up dead in the old timeline. Because of the Titans."
Chris glanced away nervously. "Yeah, well things changed . . . after the Titans were taken care of. This time . . . I mean, in the new timeline, you were all eventually killed. By a great force of evil."
"Who happened to be?" Piper insisted.
Chris hesitated. "You son. Wyatt. He will become a great force of magical evil. All other witches, warlocks, demons and other beings will be oppressed. By him. And you . . . well, Phoebe and Paige will be killed by him." Another pause followed. "After you, Piper, are killed by a demon. Look, the reason I'm here is to prevent Wyatt from turning to evil. He was in danger of becoming evil, even in the old timeline. I need the Power of Three to find the demon who'll turn him." He stared at Paige. "That's why you can't give up on being witches. Your future . . . and Wyatt's future might depend upon you staying the course."
Silence enveloped the living room. Both Paige and Piper stared at each other in shock before directing their stares at Chris. Paige opened her mouth to speak, but seemed unable to say a word. Piper could see that her resolve to give up witchcraft had crumbled under Chris' words. And even the oldest Charmed One felt a new resolve. Chris was right. Until they found the demon who might end up changing Wyatt's life, their lives as the Charmed Ones might end on a premature and tragic note.
END OF CHAPTER FOURTEEN