Thursday, June 21, 2012
"Double Emnity" (R) - Chapter 2
At the offices of Jackman, Carter and Kline, Cole and another client of his – Mark Giovanni – stared in shock at the two men who sat on the other side of the long table, inside one of the conference rooms. "I'm . . . excuse me, but could you repeat what you had just said?" Cole politely asked.
The two men, representatives of the Napa Valley Community Housing Corporation, exchanged quick glances. The older man, a balding fellow with a dark moustache named Mr. Prima, smiled. "The NVCHC would like to coordinate the purchase of Mr. Giovanni's property in Oakville. We see the market value for development in that particular area. The property's development could provide jobs and housing for many citizens."
Both Cole and Giovanni continued to stare at the government employees. The half-daemon wondered why the NVCHC had developed a sudden interest in Giovanni's property.
Before the dark-haired wine grower could reply, Prima added, "Mr. Giovanni, you stand to gain a profit of nine million dollars."
Giovanni inhaled. Cole did not blame him. The NVCHC seemed willing to offer six million dollars more than the Magan Corporation. He wondered if the viner would be able to make such a profit based upon a year's crop production. Cole glanced at his client. He could see the temptation gleaming in the other man's dark eyes. Then to his surprise, a deep resolution replaced the greed. "Thank you gentlemen, but no," Giovanni finally answered. "I have plans for that property."
The other NVCHC representative coughed slightly. "Mr. Giovanni, our organization has made an appraisal of your property. You might earn a profit from producing your wine, but our offer will provide you with a greater profit than what you might expect to earn within the next two years."
A long, silent pause followed. Cole wondered if Giovanni had changed his mind. The latter's next words ended the half-daemon's speculation. "I'm sorry, but the answer is still no. Believe it or not, winemaking is more important to me than any quick profit I could earn by selling my property to you. I hope to create a great vintage from that land."
The two government men exchanged ominous looks. "We're sorry to hear that Mr. Giovanni," Prima said. "Hopefully, you'll change your mind one day." He and his colleague gathered their files and briefcases before standing up. "Good day, gentlemen." Finally, the two men left.
Giovanni heaved a sigh. "We're going to hear from them soon, aren't we?"
Cole began to place his files and paperwork into an accordion folder. "I'm afraid so, Mark. I'm beginning to suspect that the Magan Corporation is behind this latest offer."
The half-daemon explained, "There's a good chance that this NVCH might file a Federal lawsuit to force you to sell your property. Eminent Domain. I've warned you about this, before."
Giovanni frowned. "What?"
"It's a legal power used by governments to acquire property for . . . 'public use'. Chances are that if the NVCH forces you to sell, they might sell the land to the Magan Corporation, if the latter promises to develop the property for reasons other than wine making."
Despair crept into Giovanni's dark eyes. "Can't you stop this from happening?"
Cole advised his client not to worry. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We don't know if the NVCH will file an Eminent Domain suit. And if they do, I'll do everything within my power to ensure they won't succeed." And if that does not work, Cole added silently, there are other ways. He smiled at his client.
The condominium on Bryan Street loomed before Olivia. She had not laid eyes upon it in two years. Not since she had renounced her vows as a witch and left San Francisco. In all honestly, she did not miss it. The location and atmosphere of the Manhattan condo that she now shared with Cole seemed more preferable.
The red-haired warlock heaved a sigh and glanced at her watch. It read four fifty-seven in the afternoon. Plenty of time for her to search her counterpart's apartment. Olivia took a deep breath and entered the building.
"May I help you?" greeted a uniformed concierge politely.
Olivia stared at the man. He looked nothing like the twenty-something Latino who had been one of the building's concierges during the three years she had lived here. "I'm sorry," she finally said with a smile. "Is . . . um, is Ms. Olivia McNeill at home?"
"McNeill?" The stocky, forty-something white man blinked. He diverted his attention to the computer terminal on his desk. "I'm sorry. We have no tenant by the name of Olivia McNeill living here."
"Are you sure?"
The concierge shook his head. "I'm sorry, miss. I've been working here for a year. The name does not sound familiar. And it's not on our list of tenants."
Great! Olivia thought darkly. Either her counterpart had never lived here or had moved over a year ago. She gave the concierge a cool smile. "Oh well, I must have the wrong address. Thanks anyway." Olivia turned on her heels and marched out of the building.
The redhead had not taken five steps when she nearly collided with a dark-haired woman walking from the opposite direction. A fuming Olivia opened her mouth to give the other woman a tongue lashing, when the latter cried, "Olivia? Is that you?"
Her fury dissipated, Olivia stared at the woman and immediately recognized her. "Serena Lund? Wow! It's been quite a while."
"It's Serena Grant," the woman said with a sigh. "I've divorced Gordon and have returned to using my maiden name." Olivia murmured a perfunctory apology, before Serena continued, "What are you doing here? I thought you had moved nearly a year-and-a-half ago."
Olivia quickly made an excuse about receiving a call regarding lost mail. "An old friend of mine from Australia didn't know that I had moved."
"Oh. I see." Then Serena added, "I also heard that you got married. Is that true?"
Married? Realizing that she lacked a wedding ring on her finger, Olivia immediately covered her right hand. "Yes. Yes, it's true," she answered politely. "Some . . . um, time ago." Then she glanced at her watch. "Wow! Would you look at that? It's after five already. I really need to get home." She smiled at Serena. "Perhaps we can get in touch again?" Fortunately for Olivia, the other woman casually acquiesced to the suggestion . . . as if it was an afterthought. The two females said good-bye and went their separate ways.
Married? Olivia's mind reeled from the new knowledge as she strode toward her rented car. When on earth did the other Olivia get married? And whom did she . . . She paused in her tracks as the realization hit her. Cole! Of course! The other Olivia must have married the Cole Turner of this dimension. During her time in Scotland last June, Olivia recalled that the two had been a couple. She also recalled that English warlock's revelations about this dimension Cole being a lot more powerful than her Cole. A sigh left her mouth. This little mission to take possession of that damn staff might proved to be more difficult than she had assumed.
Juggling two plastic grocery bags on her left wrist and Wyatt on her right hip, Piper struggled to unlock the manor's front door. She sighed in frustration. If only she possessed telekinesis like Prue or Olivia . . . or a teleportation ability like Paige, she would not have this trouble getting inside. She glanced at her one year-old son. Perhaps if she could get Wyatt . . . At that moment, Piper, Wyatt and the groceries orbed from the front stoop to inside the manor's foyer. "Thanks," she murmured to her son.
Voices and laughter drifted from the manor's Solarium. There she found Paige and Harry McNeill pouring over several family photo albums. "Paige, what are you doing home so early?"
"What do you mean . . . early?" Paige replied, as she glanced up. "I'm only early by a half hour. It's just a little past six. But if you must know, Barbara had closed the shop a little early, today. She had fainted and I orbed her to the doctor's office. I called Harry and he brought me home, after dropping Barbara off."
Barbara fainted? Piper asked about Paige's employer and Harry's sister-in-law. "Is she okay? What's wrong with her?"
Harry added, "Right now, we don't know. Dr. Palin took a few tests, but she told Barbara that she would get back to her later. The clinic was pretty busy, this afternoon."
"Clinic?" Piper frowned at Paige. "You didn't take her to the hospital?"
Paige shrugged her shoulders. "I started to, but Barbara had insisted that I take her to see this Dr. Palin."
"She's the family doctor," Harry added. "And a witch."
The front door slammed with a bang. "I'm home!" Phoebe's voice cried. "Piper, I've got some ne . . ." The middle Charmed One broke off at the sight of Paige and Harry. "Paige, you just got home?"
The youngest sister opened her mouth to answer, but Piper spoke. "Barbara wasn't feeling well and closed the shop a little early. You said something about news?"
Phoebe flopped down on the loveseat. She revealed that while having lunch with a fellow co-worker, she had spotted Cole entering Quake with Janet Hui and a new client. "Guess who this client is?"
"A demon?" Paige commented wryly.
Phoebe shot a quick glare at the younger woman. "I wish!" she snapped. "His new client is none other than Holly McMillan. You know, the wife of the very murdered Toby McMillan."
The news stunned Piper. "You're kidding!" How could Cole possibly believe that he could get the murderous Holly McMillan exonerated? And why would he even defend that woman?
"Are you serious?" Paige demanded. "Everyone knows that she's guilty. Why would Cole defend her?" She stared at Harry. "Did you know?"
Harry shrugged. "Sure. Cole and Livy told us about a month ago. Why?"
Her dark eyes blazing with outrage, Paige exclaimed, "You've known for a whole month? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Since when do you have to keep tabs on Cole's list of clients?" Harry retorted. "And I forgot. Big deal!"
Shaking her head, Piper demanded, "Why would Cole defend that McMillan woman, anyway? Does he actually think that she's innocent? And what about Olivia? She must be pissed."
With a sigh, Harry quickly dismissed that idea. "If Livy was pissed, she certainly didn't show it. She and Darryl didn't investigate the case. And even she has no say in what cases Cole might decide to accept."
Phoebe began, "Yeah, but . . ."
"Look," Harry said, interrupting Phoebe, "just accept the fact that Cole is now Holly McMillan's defender. She happens to be one of Jackman, Carter and Kline's clients. Cole works for them. Which means that he is just doing his job. And by the way, what ever happened to 'innocent before guilty'? Holly McMillan was arrested over a month ago and already, you three have judged her guilty."
"Who else wanted Toby McMillan dead?" Phoebe shot back.
Harry's next words took Piper by surprise. "I can think of a lot of people. Trust me."
"Toby McMillan was one of this city's biggest philanthropists," Piper reminded Harry. "For a rich man, he was pretty decent."
A derisive snort escaped from Harry's mouth. "Yeah . . . right. Listen, I would hang around and tell you the real truth about Toby McMillan, but . . ." He glanced at his watch. ". . . that's a long story and I have an appointment." The red-haired witch planted a kiss on Paige's cheek. "I'll see you all later." He left the Solarium and eventually, the manor.
Once the door slammed shut, Piper turned to her sisters. "What did he mean by that?"
"Who cares?" Phoebe retorted. "But I'm going to have a talk with Cole about his choices in clients."
Oh no! Piper bemoaned silently.
"I wouldn't if I were you," Paige warned. Piper shot her a grateful look.
Annoyance flickered across Phoebe's face. "Why not?"
Paige continued, "Because you're no longer married to Cole, Phoebe. I sometimes think that you forget that. He's not going to sit around and listen to his ex-wife lecture him about his job."
"If he really wants to be considered good so badly, he can listen," Phoebe shot back. "He seemed to think that he had a right to lecture me about Jason." She turned on her heels and started toward the Solarium's doorway. "I'm going upstairs to change."
The moment Phoebe left the Solarium, Piper heaved an exasperated sigh. Loudly. "Will she ever get over Cole?"
"I don't know," Paige commented. "Maybe. Ever since Jason dumped her and she found out about a possible baby in her life, Phoebe has become . . ."
"Impossible?" The word came out of Piper's mouth before she could stop herself. Paige stared at her. "What? You know I'm telling the truth."
This time, Paige heaved a sigh. "Yeah . . . I know."
The aroma of roasting meat greeted Cole's nostrils, as he entered the penthouse. Olivia must be home, he realized. After dumping his briefcase and coat on the sofa, he spotted his wife's Book of Shadows on the coffee table. He then headed toward the kitchen, where he found Olivia preparing dinner. She stood behind the counter, slicing cucumbers.
"Smells nice," he murmured. Then he leaned forward to kiss the back of Olivia's slender neck. "Steak?"
Olivia replied, "Chateaubriand Marchand de Vin. I came home a little early to finish it."
"Hmmm." Cole buried his face against the side of his wife's neck and sighed.
"Oh, oh," Olivia added. "Hard day?"
Instead of answering her question, Cole said, "I saw your Book of Shadows on the table. What's going on?"
Olivia turned around to give him a long stare. Then she sighed. "I was looking for an old teleportation spell of mine. I haven't used it in years. Not since college. After all, I can't always depend upon you, Paige or Nathalie. I can also use a variation on it to track someone via teleportation. Like your zoltars do."
"Sounds like a pretty good idea," Cole said. "And they were never my zoltars." He paused, recalling his tenure as the Source. "Okay, for a brief period." He rested his chin on top of Olivia's head.
"Aren't you going to tell me about your day?"
Cole removed his chin and murmured, "You know, there are times when I wish I had never given up being a demonic assassin. Of course, life hadn't been any easier back then."
Olivia tossed the cucumber slices into a salad bowl. "What happened?"
Cole told her about his lunch with his newest client, Holly McMillan. "That woman has a past that would make Messalina green with envy. You would not believe some of the stories she told me. Apparently, dear Toby was just as bad." Again, he sighed. "Even worse, I spotted Phoebe and a friend leaving the restaurant. You should have seen the look she gave me."
"Oh," Olivia murmured. "I just remembered that Jason used to be a regular contributor to some of Toby McMillan's . . . charities. This started right before we had broken up. I bet that Phoebe regarded McMillan as a saint."
With a derisive snort, Cole added, "Try the entire city of San Francisco."
Olivia began dicing tomatoes, while Cole sat on an empty stool on the other side of the counter. "Speaking of Holly McMillan," she said, "Jake Synder had confronted me about her becoming your client. I think he's worried that she'll be exonerated."
Concern crept into Cole's thoughts. "Wait a minute. Are you saying that you're being harassed at work because she's my client?"
"No, Jake Synder tried to harass me." A smug smile touched Olivia's lips. "And failed." Her green eyes met Cole's. "Don't worry. I can take care of myself."
Cole allowed himself a knowing smile. "I'm sure that you can." He snatched a sliced cucumber from the salad bowl and ate it. "Besides, not even Phoebe is my real problem. Mark Giovanni and I had a meeting with two men from the Napa Valley Community Housing Corporation. It seems they're interested in purchasing his Oakview property. To develop the area for a new housing community."
"What?" Olivia planted the knife on the counter.
Nodding, Cole continued, "In fact, they had offered an even higher price than the Magan Corporation. Mark said no, but something tells me that we haven't heard the last of the NVCHC."
Olivia glanced sharply at the half-daemon. "You think it might come down to an Eminent Domain lawsuit?" Again, Cole nodded. The redhead's expression grew reflective. "If the NVCHC wins, the Magan Corporation could easily purchase the property from them."
"Precisely," Cole grimly added. "Which is why I suspect that our favorite corporation is behind the NVCHC's sudden interest in the property." He shook his head in mild despair. "You know, I had a feeling that I was in for a shitty week when I woke up this morning. I wonder what else is the universe going to throw at me."
Inside an occult shop called the Red Pyramid, the warlock perused a shelf filled with various crystals and other stones and rocks of magical properties. Olivia wanted a scrying crystal – preferably a quartz – to help her locate her alter ego. And the staff.
Just as Olivia was about to reach for a small quartz that caught her eye, a tall, thin figure loomed in her view. Olivia immediately recognized him as a Khorne Order upper-level daemon named Dhurlac. He happened to be one of his order's top assassins.
An idea came to her. Olivia knew that the Khorne Order – like most top demonic sets within the Source's Realm – maintained a first-class source of information on all possible allies . . . and enemies. The order must have knowledge of the whereabouts of the present Aingeal Staff bearer and her demonic husband.
From afar, Olivia watched Dhurlac make his purchase. Dismissing the quartz from her mind, she followed the daemon outside of the shop and into a deserted alley. The moment he teleported out of sight, Olivia walked over to the very spot where he had last stood. Then she chanted:
"Winds of the North, East, South and West,
From this point of departure.
Trace the one who stood before me
Carry me henceforth to where he went."
A gust of wind surrounded the red-haired warlock before she found herself standing outside of an impressive Tudor-style manor made from red brick. A black iron gate blocked the driveway. Despite the evening's dim light, Olivia saw Dhurlac strode up the driveway before entering the manor. She also came to the realization that the property was located in one of San Francisco's most exclusive suburbs – Palo Alto.
Olivia walked over to the speaker box outside of the gate and activated it. "Yes?" a female's voice demanded sharply.
"Good evening," Olivia greeted politely. "I'm Inspector Olivia McNeill of the San Francisco Police. May I speak to the owner, please?" A video camera mounted near the top of the gate's right side swerved to focus upon her. Olivia responded with a wide, friendly smile.
END OF CHAPTER 2