“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (2.16) “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”

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“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (2.16) “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”

About eighteen months ago, I had posted a list of my favorite Season Two episodes from the 1993-1998 syndicate series, “BABYLON 5”. And one of those episodes happened to be (2.16) “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”. For the sake of sentiment, I recently re-watched the episode to see if my views on it had changed.

The series’ second season – titled “The Coming of Shadows” – introduced a new character to the “BABYLON 5” universe. Captain John J. Sheridan first appeared in the season’s premiere episode, (2.01) “Points of Departure” to replace Babylon 5’s first commanding officer, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. Like the latter, Captain Sheridan was a veteran of Earth Alliance’s last major conflict, the Earth-Minbari War, which was fought over a decade before the series’ setting. Sheridan was the only Earth military commander who scored a major victory over the Minbari, who possessed superior forces and weapons. Sheridan was also a married man, who became a widower following the death of his wife, Anna Sheridan. Two years earlier, Anna was killed while serving as a member of a planetary expedition aboard a ship called the Icarus for a mission to explore an obscure planet called Z’ha’dum.

The episode (2.02) “Revelations” dealt with Sheridan allegedly coming to terms with Anna’s death. But the events of “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” proved otherwise. The story began with the arrival of a Human named Mr. Morden to Babylon 5. Following his first appearance in the Season One episode, (1.13) “Signs and Portents”, Mr. Morden managed to form an alliance with Ambassador Londo Mollari of Centauri Prime. Using his connections with an ancient and powerful race of aliens known as “the Shadows” – whose homeworld happened to be Z’ha’dum, Morden helped the Centauri deal with its main enemy, the Narns. During Morden’s latest visit to Babylon 5, Security Chief Michael Garibaldi unintentionally identifies him as a regular visitor to the station during a private conversation with Sheridan. When the captain realizes that Morden had been a member of the Icarus expedition that led to Anna’s death, he has the man arrested and placed in a holding cell. Sheridan becomes obsessed with learning about the details of Anna’s fate; and also the details behind Morden’s survival and failure to inform Earth Alliance. This obsession leads the good captain to break security rules, alienate members of command staff and attract the attention of the Centauri, Minbar and Vorlon ambassadors.

During my latest viewing of “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”, I tried to pinpoint what I did not like about it. I managed to find one aspect that struck me as unappealing. Sheridan’s manipulation of resident telepath Talia Winters’ only meeting with Morden struck me as rather forced. David J. Eagle’s direction and Christopher Franke’s score tried a little too hard in making this scene dramatic by amping up the suspense. The scene’s build up struck me as over-the-top that it almost overshadowed the pay-off of Talia and Morden’s actual meeting. It is a flaw I have spotted in other “BABYLON 5” episodes – even in some of its best.

“In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” may not have be perfect, but I believe it might be one of the best episodes of Season Two . . . and in the entire season. The ironic thing is that hardly any action occurred in this episode, aside from a well deserved slap that Sheridan received from Talia. And yet, “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum not only helped drive the series’ main narrative forward, it also foreshadowed two major story arcs in future episodes – Sheridan’s conflict with the Shadows and Garabaldi’s role as Babylon 5’s security chief. It also foreshadowed a minor plot – namely Morden’s future fate. These story lines are major examples of series creator J. Michael Straczynski’s use of foreshadow in his writing. And as far as I am concerned, no one else did it better other than George Lucas for his “STAR WARS” movie franchise.

However, I believe the best thing about “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” was the development of the John Sheridan character. Many fans had not been pleased when Bruce Boxleitner replaced the late Michael O’Hare, who portrayed Jeffrey Sinclair, as the series’ new leading man. They accused the Sheridan character of being lightweight and dubbed him with the nickname of “Captain Smiley”. Personally, I never had any problems with Sheridan before this episode. But this is the first time the series ever focused upon the negative aspects of Sheridan’s character. And I found it very interesting. “Revelations” had revealed that Sheridan had yet to recover from his wife’s death. “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” revealed that Sheridan’s inability to recover from his grief brought out the worst of him – his temper, his penchant for brooding, his stubborness, his talent for manipulation and most importantly, his ruthlessness. Sheridan’s reputation as “Captain Smiley” disappeared after this episode. For good.

The episode also featured a minor story line regarding the arrival of an Earth Alliance official named Pierce Macabee. The latter represented Earth Alliance’s Ministry of Peace, which served as a security and propaganda machine for President Morgan Clark’s administration. Macabee arrived at Babylon 5 to recruit the station’s crew into Earth Alliance’s new paramilitary organization, Nightwatch. These members were instructed to uncover and report on what they perceived to be “subversive” activities – namely open criticism and defiance of Clark’s Administration. This story line was introduced in such a subtle manner that it almost seemed like afterthought. Almost. It allowed audiences to hear Macabee’s speech about Nightwatch and watch him recruit some of the station’s crew – including Zack Allen, who served with Babylon 5’s security force under Garibaldi. Although Zack joined Nightwatch simply to earn extra credits, his decision will prove to have a major impact upon the series’ main narrative, early in Season Three. The Nightwatch story arc proved to be another example of Straczynski’s talent for using a minor story line as foreshadow. Very few writers and producers seemed capable of using this narrative device with any strong effect. Pity.

“In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” also featured some first-rate performances. Regular cast members such as Claudia Christian, Mira Furlan, Jerry Doyle and Richard Biggs gave strong supportive performances. Although I was critical of the scene featuring Talia Winters’ encounter with Mr. Morden, I certainly had no problems with Andrea Thompson’s performance. The actress did an excellent job in conveying Talia’s horror and later, outrage over Sheridan’s actions. Jeff Conway really made the role of Zack Allen his own in this particular episode. I have always believed that one aspect that made a performer a first-rate screen actor or actress, is his or her ability to react to other characters. Conway was very effective in utilizing this acting tool in his scenes with Boxleitner and Doyle. And his performances in scenes with certain supporting characters struck me as effective and subtle at the same time. Especially in one scene in which Zack arrested Mr. Morden. I also have to commend Alex Hyde-White for his guest-starring turn as Nightwatch recruiter, Pierce Macabee. He did a superb job in projecting the Ministry of Peace’s menace with such subtle charm.

Ed Wasser, who made such an impression as the quiet, yet menacing agent for the Shadows – Mr. Morden – in previous episodes, continued his excellent work in this episode. However, “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” also featured other dimensions to Morden’s personality – fear, surprise and impatience – that Wasser conveyed with great skill. I especially enjoyed his work with both Stephen Furst and leading man Bruce Boxleitner. I have always been a fan of Furst since I first saw him in the 1978 comedy, “ANIMAL HOUSE”. His time on NBC’s “ST. ELSEWHERE” and “BABYLON 5” revealed his talent for dramatic acting. Furst effectively combined his skills for both drama and comedy in one particular in which Centauri Ambassador Aide Vir openly expressed his dislike for Morden. It is one of my favorite moments from the series.

Although the “Captain Smiley” nickname for the John Sheridan character disappeared after “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” first aired on television, Bruce Boxleitner’s reputation as an actor suddenly gained momentum among the series’ fans. I do not understand why. I have seen Boxleitner portray the darker aspects in previous roles very effectively. But I must say that I believe his performance in this episode may end up being regarded as one of his best. Boxleitner was superb as a ruthless Sheridan, obsessed with not only learning the truth about his wife’s death, but also Morden’s survival and revenge. It is a pity that the Emmys rarely acknowledge excellent acting or writing in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy genre.

“In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” may not be my favorite Season Two episode from “BABYLON 5”. But it is definitely my second favorite. And it is certainly one of my favorite episodes of the series. J. Michael Straczynski wrote an excellent episode about the consequences of grief for the series’ main character. Thanks to fine writing, first-rate direction and excellent performances from a talented cast – especially series lead Bruce Boxleitner.

 

 

R.I.P. Stephen Furst (1954-2017)

 

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 7/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART VII

While Cole busied himself with putting the finishing touches to the Lamb Kidneys Madeira that he had prepared, Andre entered the penthouse’s kitchen. “Is everything ready?” the latter asked.

“Yeah,” Cole replied. He picked up the platter of lamb kidneys and carried it over to the dining table. Andre placed a dish of Artichokes Bernaise on the table, next to the kidneys. “I only hope this doesn’t get cold, before the ladies arrive.”

Andre shook his head in disbelief. “Man, how in the hell did you find the time to prepare all of this?”

“Left the office, early.” Cole’s eyes closely examined the table’s settings. He spotted one of the knives out of place and corrected the mistake. “Don’t worry about Cecile. I had dropped her off at Macy’s downtown for some shopping. Olivia should have picked her up, by now.”

Andre shot back, “I didn’t ask.”

“Yet.” Cole glanced at his friend. “So, how was your day?”

The houngan’s mouth opened momentarily. Then he shut it. “Oh, what the hell!” he finally said. “I’ve already told Olivia and her grandmother.”

Cole frowned. “Told them what?”

A brief pause followed, before Andre declared with a smile, “I plan to ask Cecile to marry me.”

After Cecile’s revelation of her plans to dump Andre, Cole realized that his friend’s news came as a great surprise. The half-daemon stared at his friend with a stunned expression. “Say that . . . Are you serious? You really plan to marry Cecile?”

“Well, if she accepts my proposal.” Andre sighed. “I know. You’re a bit surprised. To be honest, I’ve been thinking of marrying her ever since Bruce and Barbara’s wedding. But . . . okay, maybe I was a little afraid over how she would react. You know Cecile. She tends to keep her feelings to herself, sometimes.”

Cole murmured, “No kidding.”

Andre stared at him. “What?”

“Nothing.”

The other man continued, “Anyway, I wasn’t sure if Cecile might be interested in marriage. She always seemed so independent, sometimes. You know – ‘me against the world’.” Andre frowned. “God, I hope I’m wrong.”

Cole replied before he could think otherwise, “Don’t worry. You’re not.”

Once more, Andre stared at the half-daemon. Hard. “Now, what in the hell did you mean by that?”

Realizing that he had nearly broke Cecile’s confidence, Cole shook his head. “It’s nothing. I was just . . . Never mind.”

“No, you were about to say something about Cecile. What?”

Cole muttered a silent oath. For once in his life, he had failed to keep his big mouth shut. Perhaps he was growing soft in his increasing age. He took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t know how to tell you this. But . . . Cecile plans to break up with you.”

“What?” Disbelief shone in Andre’s eyes.

“She plans to break up with you,” Cole repeated. “Cecile’s tired of being a girlfriend. She told me that she wants . . . more. Something better. She then told me that what she really wanted was . . .” The doorbell rang. Cole turned away. “Huh, looks like they’re here.” He walked over to the door.

Andre cried out, “Hey! What exactly does she want?”

But Cole barely heard his friend’s words. Opening the door, he found Olivia and Cecile standing in the hallway – dressed for dinner. “Ladies,” he politely greeted. “Dinner is ready.”

Both women nodded mutely and entered the penthouse. Judging from their expressions, neither seemed to be in a positive mood. Cecile wore a sullen expression. And Olivia looked as if someone had stunned her with a cattle prod. Cole shot a quick glance at Andre and noticed that the latter did not look any happier. The half-daemon sighed. It promised to be a long and difficult night.

———–

Daley closed the book on her kitchen table, with an air of satisfaction. Then she held up the amulet that hung around her neck. She had no idea that the object she now possessed, held so much power. The amulet had been created by a dominion spirit named Caspiel. According to the book she had just finished reading, Caspiel’s amulet blocked the magical and psychic abilities of all beings – aside from fellow dominion spirits. Caspiel had also created a dagger that could kill any being – magical or otherwise with a mere stab wound. That is . . . any being aside from a dominion spirit or deity. Apparently, Caspiel had lost track of both the amulet and the dagger, a long time ago. Daley wondered if he still existed.

The amulet did present one problem. Olivia McNeill had spotted it. And seemed very curious, when Daley tried her level best to make sure that she did not have a chance to examine. The sorceress realized that she had to do something about that. Killing the witch seemed out of the question. At least for the moment. However, replacing the amulet with another that bore a strong resemblance seems like a possible solution. Not only would Daley be able to fake out the curious witch, she could hide the genuine amulet in a pocket.

A quick glance at the calendar on the kitchen wall told Daley that the half-moon would arrive on the day after tomorrow. She had everything needed to perform the ritual – except for one item. A strand or two of Wyatt Halliwell’s hair from his hairbrush should do the trick.

Once she manages to acquire the infant’s powers, one last task was needed to complete the ritual. Namely the baby’s death. Daley winced inwardly at the idea of killing a nine month-old baby. But it had to be done. With Wyatt still alive, the danger of someone reversing the ritual would remain constant. Especially since the baby’s mother happened to be acquainted with a Vodoun priest and priestess. The moment she finally possess the infant’s powers, Daley would have to kill Wyatt. The only question remained was . . . how.

————

Cole woke up the following morning with great reluctance. He would prefer to remain in bed. Especially after last night’s near disastrous dinner. But he had a job to deal with. And there was the conversation that he and Andre needed to finish.

Hardly a soul had exchanged a word, last night. Except to praise Cole’s cooking. Or comment about some recent incident – like Cecile’s business deal with the McNeills or the latest demonic attack upon Wyatt Halliwell. Olivia had brought up the subject of Wyatt’s new nanny, but one glare from Cecile had ended the topic. Yet, not once did anyone discuss the cause of the tension that had sprung up between the two couples. With emotions seemingly at the breaking point, no one dared.

Once Olivia and Cecile had left, Cole had intended to finish his conversation with Andre. Only, the houngan decided that he needed a breath of fresh air and left for a walk. By the time he had returned, Cole was fast asleep.

After the half-daemon took his morning shower and dressed for work, he went into one of the guest bedrooms to talk with Andre. Only the houngan was nowhere to be found. Either the latter had failed to return from his walk. Or Andre had left early to avoid another conversation. Cole heaved a frustrated sigh and continued to finish preparing for work. After gathering his trench coat and suitcase, he beamed to the floor below the penthouse and rang the doorbell to Olivia’s apartment.

The redhead immediately opened the door. “Hi,” she greeted quietly.

“Hi.” Cole flashed a brief smile before exchanging a light kiss with Olivia. “Is Cecile ready?”

Olivia’s expression became strained. “She will be in a few minutes.” Then she stepped aside, and allowed Cole to enter the apartment. Once she closed the door, she added, “Uh . . . I realize that it seemed a bit tense at dinner, yesterday. And the reason is that Cecile had told me some weird ass news. It seems she plans to break . . .”

“. . . break up with Andre,” Cole grimly finished. Olivia’s green eyes widened in surprise. “Yeah, she told me the day before yesterday.”

“What? You mean to say that she told you first?”

Cole sighed. “Olivia, I had noticed that she had been acting weird, so I dragged it out of her.” He paused. “And I just told Andre, yesterday.”

Shaking her head, Olivia commented, “No wonder he seemed subdued, last night. So much for his plans for a wedding.”

“Oh, so he also told you about that?” Cole heaved another sigh. “Hmmm. Well, I guess it won’t happen, after all. Just as well, I guess.”

Olivia stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”

Oh God! “What I mean is . . .” Cole broke off, as Cecile entered the living room.

The New Orleans woman eyed the couple suspiciously. “What’s going on with you two?” she demanded.

“Nothing.” Cole returned her gaze with an innocent expression. He wondered if the Vodoun priestess knew that he and Olivia had been discussing about her and Andre. “Are you ready?”

Cecile murmured in a morose voice, “Yeah. Let’s go.” Before she reached the door, she stopped abruptly and glanced around. “By the way,” she said with a frown, “where’s Andre?”

“He wasn’t in his room, when I woke up,” Cole answered. “I guess he decided to head for Olivia’s shop a little early.”

Olivia added, “It’s possible. He has a key.”

Cecile sniffed. “Hmmm. Well, let’s go.” She started toward the door. Cole followed. “See you, Livy.”

As he followed Cecile into the hallway, Cole overheard Olivia’s voice. “I’ll call around lunch.” But Cecile was already halfway down the corridor.

———-

A quick glance at the radio clock on her night table told Phoebe that it was thirty-seven minutes past eight, this morning. And that she was running late. She bit back a frustrated sigh and continued to dress. Since it seemed obvious that she would not make it to the office on time, she might as well not bother to rush.

Once she finished dressing, the middle Charmed One picked up her purse and briefcase, and left her bedroom. She marched along the hallway, when she heard humming from one of the bedrooms. From Wyatt’s nursery. Phoebe decided that a quick good-bye kiss to her nephew would not hurt. She peeked inside the room and found Wyatt fully awake and playing with a red ball inside his crib. The new nanny sat in a nearby chair, fiddling with Wyatt’s hairbrush.

“Good morning!” Phoebe cheerfully greeted.

Ms. Thompson – or Donna, as she preferred to be called – glanced up with a gasp on her lips. “Oh! Uh . . . good morning. Um . . . don’t you usually leave a little earlier?”

“I’m running a bit late, this morning.” Phoebe strode into the nursery. “That’s a nice tune you were humming. I’ve never heard it, before.”

Donna’s shoulders sagged with relief. Curious. “Oh that,” she replied. “It’s just an old tune that my mama used to sing to me. I think it goes back to the time of slavery.”

“Oh . . . uh, how . . .” Nearly at a loss for words, Phoebe finished lamely, “How historic. Huh. Oh well. I . . . I just wanted to say good-bye to Wyatt.” She approached the crib and lifted her nephew from the crib and into her arms. Then she rocked him for a few seconds, before planting a light kiss on his forehead. “I’ll see you later, young man,” she said in a baby voice. Phoebe returned Wyatt to inside his crib and turned to Donna. “I guess I’ll be seeing you later.”

The nanny responded with a polite nod. Phoebe headed for the door. For some unexplainable reason, she paused and glanced behind her. And saw Donna remove a strand of hair from Wyatt’s brush and place it on . . . something. A handkerchief? A piece of paper? Suspicion welled within the Charmed One. What did Donna want with . . .?

“Phoebe!” Piper’s voice cried from downstairs. “Let’s go! You’re already ten minutes late!”

Donna glanced up. Phoebe shot the nanny a quick smile and disappeared into the hallway. The Charmed One found her older sister in the foyer, donning a suede jacket. “Well, it’s about time!” Piper grumbled. “Next time, learn to set your clock before you go to bed. What the hell happened to you, this morning?”

A breathless Phoebe reached for her coat. “It’s nothing. I . . .” Memories of Donna’s actions continued to tug at her thoughts. “Piper, are you sure that you did the right thing in hiring Donna?”

Piper frowned at the younger woman. “What? Did you have a premonition or something?”

“No, I . . .” Phoebe hesitated, before she proceeded to tell her sister what she had witnessed just a few minutes ago.

A mixture of disbelief and scorn filled Piper’s dark eyes. “C’mon Phoebe! You’ve got to be kidding! You’re suspicious of Donna, because she was cleaning Wyatt’s hairbrush?”

“I think she was placing his hair in a handkerchief, or a napkin or something,” Phoebe indignantly shot back. “Don’t you find that strange?” She donned her coat.

“No. But I do thank her for being neat,” Piper sarcastically replied. “Phoebe, has it ever occurred to you that she was preventing Wyatt’s hair from falling on the floor?”

Phoebe opened her mouth to protest, but could not find an argument to Piper’s suggestion. “I guess not.”

“Okay honey,” Piper said, patting Phoebe’s shoulder. “You’ve had your shot at being Nancy Drew for the day. It’s time for you to be ‘Dear Phoebe’. Let’s get to work.”

A sigh left Phoebe’s mouth, as she followed her older sister out of the door.

———–

The moment that Phoebe Halliwell’s figure disappeared from the doorway, Daley heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. Talk about close call! For a moment, she feared that the amulet no longer worked on the seer.

She overheard the front door slam shut. The sorceress smiled and resumed her task. After removing the last strand of hair from Wyatt’s brush, she placed it on the handkerchief in her lap. Then she folded the piece of cloth and placed it, inside her purse.

Daley’s smile stretched wider. Mission accomplished.

END OF PART VII

Five Favorite Episodes of “UNDERGROUND” Season One (2016)

noahrosalee

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from the WGN series, “UNDERGROUND”. Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “UNDERGROUND” SEASON ONE (2016)

1 - 1.05 Run and Guns

1. (1.05) “Run & Gun” – The attempt by the escapees from the Macon plantation to catch a northbound train out of the state is complicated at every turn; while Tom and Susanna Macon have the remaining slaves – especially Pearly Mae, who was captured while trying to run – questioned about their plans.

2 - 1.09 Black and Blue

2. (1.09) “Black & Blue” – One of the escapees, former house slave Rosalee, is captured in a small Kentucky town and held at a slaughter house, while fellow escapees Noah and Cato plot to rescue her. Underground Railroad agent John Hawkes (who is also Tom Mason’s brother) learns of his wife Elizabeth’s reckless action to save the orphaned escapee Boo from her ex-fiancé and U.S. Federal Marshal Kyle Risdin.

3 - 1.04 Firefly

3. (1.04) “Firefly” – A notorious slave hunter named August Pullman and his son Ben track Noah and Rosalee, following their escape from the Macon plantation at the end of the previous episode. The other slaves involved in Noah’s plot contemplate running, as well. Meanwhile, John and Elizabeth face a lethal predicament, when one of the runaways they are sheltering turns hostile.

5 - 1.01 Macon Seven

4. (1.01) “The Macon 7” – In the series premiere, Noah begins to plot an escape from the Macon plantation to the Ohio River and free states. He contemplates on choosing which slaves to be included in his plan, while dealing with a hostile Cato, who also happens to be one of the plantation field drivers.

4 - 1.07 Cradle

5. (1.07) “Cradle” – This episode featured a collection of vignettes about the younger characters – all children – facing the harsh realities of the world in antebellum America.

St. Paul Sandwich

Below is an article about the dish known as St. Paul Sandwich:

 

ST. PAUL SANDWICH

I am a California girl – born and bred. Yet, a part of me is also a Midwesterner. Most of my family – both paternal and maternal – are from St. Louis, Missouri. And I had spent part of my childhood in the Gateway City.  One of my fondest memories of St. Louis is the collection of various Chinese-American fast food joints spread throughout the city. I might as well say it. Some of the best Chinese-American fast food I have ever eaten was in St. Louis. And one of my all time favorite dishes to emerge from these eateries was the St. Paul sandwich.

The origin of the St. Paul sandwich dates back to the early 1940s, when it was created to appeal Midwesterners’ palates. In fact, the sandwich is believed to be an example of early fusion cuisine. According to legend, a cook or chef named Steven Yuen invented the St. Paul sandwich at an eatery called Park Chop Suey in Lafayette Square, a neighborhood near downtown St. Louis. Yuen named the dish after his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. Food writers James Beard and Evan Jones believed that the St. Paul sandwich was an early variation of another dish called the Denver sandwich, which originated in the Colorado city around 1907.

The St. Paul sandwich consists of an egg foo young patty; which is made with egg, mung bean sprouts, and minced white onions; between two slices of white bread. Included in the sandwich are dill pickle slices, white onion, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. The St. Paul sandwich also comes in different combinations and specials that include chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, and other varieties. Originally, the St. Paul sandwich contained four pieces of white bread with chicken and egg stuffed inside. Later, it simply consisted of an egg and hamburger on a bun.

The dish can be found in St. Louis and other cities in Missouri like Jefferson City, Columbia and Springfield. It can also be found in Chinese-American restaurants in California and Oregon, notably at the Lung Fung in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. It is usually served with regional names like “Egg Foo Young on Bun”. I have eaten Chinese-American fast food in Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington D.C. and Chicago and have yet to encounter the St. Paul sandwich in any of these cities.

Below is a recipe for St. Paul sandwich from the Feast Magazine website:

St. Paul Sandwich

Ingredients

Canola oil, for deep-frying
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
¼ cup diced or thinly sliced onion
2 Tbsp diced green bell pepper
3 small cooked shrimp, peeled
3 Tbsp diced or shredded poached chicken
3 pieces cooked beef (1/8 inch thick, 1 inch wide and 1½ inches long)
1 large egg
¼ tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 slices white bread
Iceberg lettuce leaf
2 thin slices tomato
3 to 4 dill pickle slices

Preparation

Pour about 4 cups oil into a deep-fryer or deep saucepan. Bring to 375ºF.

Break bean sprouts by crushing them lightly in the palm of your hand. Place in medium mixing bowl. Add onion, green pepper, shrimp, chicken and beef. Stir to combine.

Beat egg lightly with a fork in a small bowl. Mix in cornstarch. Pour egg mixture over the sprouts mixture. Stir well.

Place egg mixture in a shallow metal ladle 4¼ inches wide (big enough to hold it all).

Test the heat of the oil by throwing in a bean sprout. The sprout will immediately pop to the top if the oil is hot enough.

When oil is hot enough, gradually lower full ladle into hot oil, but don’t allow top of egg mixture to drop into the oil. The egg patty will cook in the ladle. Some hot oil will seep over the edges of the ladle. Cook until almost done, 2 to 3 minutes, then spoon a little of the hot oil over the top of the patty to finish the cooking.

Transfer egg patty to a slotted spoon. If any egg mixture drips out, return the patty to the ladle and place in the hot oil for an additional minute. The patty should be uniformly browned and sealed.

Spread mayonnaise on one slice of bread. Top with the iceberg lettuce and tomato slices. Slide the cooked egg patty onto the other slice of bread. Garnish with pickles. Close the sandwich. Wrap bottom in waxed paper and serve immediately.

Tester’s note: If you do not have a deep fryer, you can use a skillet, but the texture will not be the same. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a 6-inch skillet; sauté the onion and green pepper over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the shrimp, chicken and beef and then the egg-cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until the egg is scrambled.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

Two years following the success of 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Marvel Entertainment released a new “X-MEN” film set ten years after the previous one. The movie proved to be the fourth one directed by Bryan Singer.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” began in ancient Egypt, where the world’s first mutant, a powerful individual named En Sabah Nur, ruled by by transferring his mind into new bodies. Unfortunately, a group of former worshipprs betrayed En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse” by entombing him alive. They also killed his four lieutenants, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, who tried to protect him. The movie jumped to 1983 Egypt where C.I.A. Agent Moira MacTaggert (last seen in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”) has been investigating a cult in Egypt that worships En Sabah Nur. Her accidental exposure his tomb to sunlight awakened the ancient mutant and produced a shock wave around the globe. Following his awakening, En Sabah Nur set out to recruit four mutants as his new “Four Horsemen”:

*Ororo Munroe aka “Storm” – an orphan and pickpocket from the streets of Cairo, who is able to control the weather

*Warren Worthington III aka “Angel” – a mutant with feathered wings on his back, who has resorted to participating in underground fight clubs in Berlin

*Psylocke – an enforcer for the black marketeer mutant Caliban, who is not only telepathic and telekinetic, but can also produce a purple-colored psychic energy

*Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” – a Holocaust survivor and former friend of Charles Xavier, who has the ability to manipulate metal and control magnetic fields, and who is recently grieving over the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter by the Polish police

Apocalypse’s shock wave also caused Jean Grey, an adolescent student and mutant at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to have a nightmare and momentarily lose control of her powers. When Charles Xavier attempted to investigate the power source he discovered that Moira was involved. Although her previous memories of them together were erased, Xavier meets with her to discuss the legend of En Sabah Nur. But when they become aware of the ancient mutant’s plans to bring about the apocalypse; Xavier and Moira recruit fellow mutants like Raven aka “Mystique”, Hank McCoy aka “Beast”, Alex Summers aka “Havok”, and Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver” to stop Apocalypse’s plans. Xavier students like Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka “Cyclops” (Alex’s nephew) and Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler” also join the campaign to stop En Sabah Nur.

Let me be frank. “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was not well received by the critics and many filmgoers. I am not going to explain why they felt this way about the movie. Needless to say, I do not agree with this pervading view. I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was a great film. It was not. I believe the movie had some problems.

One of those problems is that some of the cast members were obviously too young for their roles. This certainly seemed to be the case for James McAvoy Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne, who portrayed Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira McTaggart. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s and portrayed characters who were in their early 50s (late 40s for Moira, I suspect) . . . with no make-up to convey their characters’ aging. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult portrayed Mystique and Hank McCoy, who were slightly younger than Xavier and Magneto. But “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” gave a good excuse for their slow aging . . . Mystique’s blood. Another cast member who portrayed a character much older than himself (without makeup) is Lucas Till, who is at least 25 or 26 years old, reprising his role as the late 30s to early 40s Alex Summers. And finally, we have Josh Helman, who is barely 30 years old, who reprised his role as William Stryker, who must have been around the same age as Xavier and Magneto. Does Singer have something against aging in his “X-MEN” films? And if he wanted to maintain the same cast, could he have at least consider using aging makeup for at least five members of the cast?

Two, what was the point in including both Stryker and Wolverine in this movie? Why? They were not essential to the plot. Was it really necessary for Singer to convey that Stryker had ended up giving Wolverine adamantium after all? Despite the time change in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”? What was the point? Could we at least have one “X-MEN” film in which Hugh Jackman does not appear? I also see that Singer, along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, decided to include Stryker in this tale as a plot device to delay Hank, Raven, Peter, and Moira from reaching Cairo. Pointless. It was the most pointless moment in this movie. Finally, I had a problem with the “Four Horsemen”. Aside from Magneto, the other three were barely used. What was the point in showing how they were recruited by En Sabah Nur, when Oscar Isaac and Michael Fassbender seemed to be the only ones in scenes featuring the ancient mutant and his “Horsemen”, who had the most lines. It is bad enough that once again, Singer indulged in his penchant for ignoring minority characters like Storm and Psylocke. Then he includes Angel into this movie – who was shown to be younger than Storm, Scott and Jean in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” – and barely give the latter any lines.

And yet . . . I still liked “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”. In fact, I liked it more than I did “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. The 2016 movie had its problems, but it never seemed racked with so many plot holes like the 2014 movie did. Without the cloud of time travel hovering over the movie, the writing for “APOCALPYSE” struck me as a little clearer and a lot more straightforward. I can applause Singer for attempting to tackle something complicated as time travel. I simply believe that he, Kinberg and the other screenwriters did not handle it very well. On the other hand, the more straightforward narrative for “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” seemed to suit both Singer and Kinberg.

I did not care for the minor arc regarding William Stryker and Wolverine. And yes, En Sabah Nur’s plot to retake the world seemed a bit unoriginal. But Singer and Kinberg handled this story a lot better than they did the time travel plot for the 2014 movie. And to be honest, I rather liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that En Sabah Nur’s plot had a surprising twist (well, one that I did not see coming) that did not involved his “Four Horsemen”.

I may not have a high opinion of “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. But the movie did provide some interesting consequences that played out in “APOCALYPSE”. One, both movies allowed Xavier and Mystique to become close again, following their estrangement in “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”. In one of the movie’s more interesting scenes, Mystique discovers that she has become something of a legend to some of the younger mutants, including Xavier’s students. The movie also allowed Jean Grey the opportunity to learn to utilize her “Dark Phoenix” powers with more control . . . and without Xavier trying to suppress her. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those fans who actually enjoyed “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But it was nice to see Xavier dealing with Jean’s powers with a healthier attitude. And although I was not impressed by how Singer and Kinberg pushed Storm into the background – especially during the film’s second half, it was nice to get a peek into her life as a young Cairo pickpocket before she ended up as one of Apocalypse’s minions and later, a student at Xavier’s school.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s productions. I thought Grant Major did an exceptional job in not only re-creating ancient Egypt for the movie’s prologue and for the rest of it, the early 1980s. This is not surprising, considering Major’s work with director Peter Jackson on movies such as “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography contributed to the movie’s epic and sweeping look. Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, along with Geoffroy Gosselin and Anne Kuljian’s set decorations struck me as a solid reflection of the movie’s early 1980s setting. But the two aspects of the movie’s visual style that really impressed me were Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman’s editing, especially in scenes that involved En Sabah Nur’s entombing in the movie’s beginning and the X-Men’s showdown with the ancient mutant. I was especially impressed with the movie’s special effects, especially in the very two scenes that I had just pointed out.

The acting featured in “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” also struck me as impressive. Well, to be honest, there were only a few performances that really caught my notice. However, I certainly had no problem with the other performances. Of the four actors who portrayed En Sabah Nur’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, only one left no impression upon me – namely Ben Hardy, who portrayed Angel. The character barely had any lines and if I am mistaken, I could have sworn that Angel’s character was from a younger generation (that of Rogue and Iceman’s) – at least in the current movie franchise. I can also say the same about actress Lana Candor, who portrayed Jubilee. Not only did the actress barely had any lines, she was also portrayed as an Xavier student from Rogue and Iceman’s generation in a previous movie.

Although Alexandra Shipp, who portrayed Storm, and Olivia Munn, who portrayed Psylocke; were shifted to the background after their characters were introduced; both managed to impress me in the end. Shipp’s portrayal of the adolescent Storm struck me as rather lively and energetic. And Munn was effectively intimidating as the mutant enforcer, who becomes one of En Sabah Nur’s minions. The movie also featured solid performances from Rose Byrne, who returned as C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert; Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as the adolescent Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka “Cyclops”; Kodi Smit-McPhee as the younger Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler”; Lucas Till as Alex Summers aka Havok; Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Hank McCoy aka “Beast”; Josh Helman as William Stryker; and Evan Peters as the always amusing Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver”. If you are careful, you might also spot Hugh Jackman, Zeljko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy and of course, Stan Lee.

Only four performances in this movie really impressed me. One of them turned out to be James McAvoy’s portrayal of Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”. At first, McAvoy’s performance seemed solid . . . almost perfunctory. But once it became apparent that Professor Xavier’s fate was connected with with En Sabah Nur’s scheme, McAvoy skillfully portrayed the telepathic mutant with a great deal of emotion and pathos. Michael Fassbender proved to be equally fascinating as the emotionally battered Erik Lensherr. He did a great job in conveying Magneto’s reactions to the deaths of a family and peaceful life, and to being emotionally manipulated by En Sabah Nur. Jennifer Lawrence continued to impress me with her excellent portrayal of the complex Raven aka “Mystique”. I found it fascinating to watch the 20-something actress portray a character who had become battle hardened and mature after spending two decades fighting on behalf of fellow mutants. Many critics have complained about Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of the movie’s main villain, En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse”. Apparently, they could not get past the actor’s make-up or mask. Well, I could. And I thought Isaac did a pretty damn good job in portraying a villain who was not only something of an egomaniac, but also a world-class manipulator. And he did so with great skill and subtlety.

I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was one of the best movies from the summer of 2016. Nor am I saying that it was one of the best in the “X-MEN” movie franchise. But I certainly do not believe that it was one of the worst. As far as I am concerned, the worst in the movie franchise was released four-and-a-half months earlier. But I thought it was something of an improvement over the convoluted plot that seemed to mar “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and an excellent cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

TV Tropes and Michael Dawson

 

TV TROPES AND MICHAEL DAWSON

While reading the TV TROPES site on Heroic BSOD for Live Action television series, I read this passage about the Michael Dawson character from “LOST”:

“Let’s face it, Michael’s death was the best thing that happened, because, well, his character wasn’t all that useful, other than being an in-universe joke on why some people really shouldn’t be parents.”.

The article earlier made this comment about the fans’ reaction to Michael:

“While we’re on the subject of Lost, let’s mention Michael who might be the show’s punching bag as he goes through the entire series stuck this way because of his son Walt… after all, he spends half an episode calling “Walt!” in several different screams and shouts.”

Apparently, the author of this particular website (or page) had decided to make Michael a punching bag, as well. Not only did the author declared Michael as “useless” because he “shouldn’t be a parent”, that person also continued that asnine and never ending joke about Michael calling out the name of his kidnapped son, Walt Lloyd. Yet, TV TROPES also claimed that Kate Austen had “adopted” Claire Littleton’s son Aaron. Adopted . . . instead of . . . say, KIDNAPPED, which is what really happened. Kate had kidnapped Aaron, by claiming to be his natural mother and deliberately kept him from his blood grandmother for nearly three years. Why? Because she selfishly wanted to use Aaron as comforting blanket for the trauma she had suffered during the Oceanic Six’s departure from the island.

But TV TROPES never revealed this about Kate. Yet, at the same time, condemned Michael as someone who should not be a parent, because Walt ended up kidnapped (at gunpoint) by the Others. Or was he condemned as “useless”, because he spent several episodes calling out Walt’s name – something that the average parent would do if his or her child had been kidnapped in that fashion.

I cannot help but wonder . . . if Michael had been portrayed by a white actor, would he have been labeled as the series’ punching bag and running joke by the fans? Or would they have brushed aside or make excuses for his flaws and mistakes, as they tend to do for fanboy favorite, James “Sawyer” Ford? Does this mean that the site authors for TV TROPES are racists or simply hypocrites?

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 6/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART VI

The moment Chris orbed into the Halliwells’ living room, the doorbell rang. Several seconds passed, but no member of the family appeared to answer the door. Again, it rang. This time, Chris decided to open the door himself.

The whitelighter found a tall, brown-skinned woman standing in the doorway. She smiled politely. “Hi. I’m Donna Thompson. Piper Halliwell had hired me as a nanny, yesterday.”

“Oh! Uh . . .” Chris hesitated, wondering how to introduce himself. “I’m, uh . . . I’m Chris. Chris Perry. A friend of the family.”

Ms. Thompson’s smile widened. “Really? May I come in?”

“Uh . . .”

Piper suddenly appeared and shook Ms. Thompson’s hand. “Hi! Donna! Glad you could make it.” She pushed Chris aside. “Come on in.” The newly hired nanny entered the manor. “You’re early,” the Charmed One continued. “It’s only twenty minutes to eight.”

“I guess I’m a bit too eager, this morning,” the other woman replied sheepishly. “Nerves.”

The oldest Charmed One frowned at Chris. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t know that he was here?” Ms. Thompson asked, looking slightly confused.

Sighing, Piper replied, “Uh, not really. You see . . .”

“I had let myself in,” Chris added, hoping to save Piper an explanation of his status.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Chris is my whitelighter. He’s also my sisters’ whitelighter.”

“Oh! Like your guardian angel, or something,” Ms. Thompson said, staring at Chris. “Never met one, before.”

Stunned by Piper’s revelation, Chris stared at her. “Wait! You told her about me?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Chris!” Piper protested. “She knows I’m a witch. I know that she’s a Voudon priestess. And she knows about Wyatt. I don’t see any reason to keep you a secret.”

Annoyed by Piper’s lack of discretion, Chris fumed in silence. Meanwhile, the other two Charmed Ones appeared on the staircase. “Was that the doorbell?” Paige asked. Both she and Phoebe were dressed for work.

Chris watched as Piper introduced them to the newcomer. “Guys, this is Wyatt’s new nanny – Donna Thompson. Donna, these are my sisters, Phoebe and Paige.”

Ms. Thompson shook Paige’s hand. “Nice to meet you.” Then she hesitated, before shaking Phoebe’s hand. “I’m a big fan of yours,” she added. “I’ve read your column in the BAY-MIRROR. In fact, one of my friends had written a letter to you, over a year ago.”

Phoebe smiled happily. “Thanks. It’s nice to meet a fan. I’d talk a little more, but I have to get to work.”

Nodding, Ms. Thompson said, “Of course.” She continued to smile, as Phoebe and Paige headed for the front door. Chris noticed that the Voodoo woman’s shoulders sagged with relief. Only, what would she be relieved about?

After the two younger sisters left, Piper turned to the new nanny. “Well, let’s get acquainted with your new charge, shall we?” She led Ms. Thompson toward the staircase. Chris followed. As they turned the corner, Piper paused, and frowned at the whitelighter. “Where are you going? Shouldn’t you be leaving now?”

“But I just got here,” Chris insisted.

“Chris . . .” Piper hesitated. Then she sighed. “Never mind.” She continued upstairs, with Ms. Thompson and Chris in her wake. Once they reached the nursery on the second floor, the trio found Wyatt playing with his toys, inside his crib. “There he is,” Piper cooed. “Hel-lo honey!” She smiled at the infant, as he gurgled at the sight of his mother.

Every time Chris saw mother and son together, he found it difficult to reconcile the happy infant with the grown man from his future. How could it even be possible that Wyatt would . . .

Piper lifted her infant son from the crib. She carried him over to Ms. Thompson. “Hey Wyatt, remember Donna? You met her yesterday. She’s going to be your new nanny!”

Wyatt regarded the other woman with curious eyes. Ms. Thompson smiled at him. “Hi Wyatt,” she said cheerfully. “Remember me? It’s nice to see you, again.” The baby responded with silence.

“Maybe he doesn’t remember you,” Chris added. The two women stared at him. He decided to remain silent.

Ms. Thompson said to Piper, “May I?” Chris held his breath, as the witch handed over her son to the other woman. Then the nanny bounced the baby in her arms for several seconds. Chris let out a gust of breath, as Wyatt began to laugh.

“Well, it’s nice to see that he still likes you,” Piper commented.

The nanny smiled. “Yeah. For a moment there, I was worried.” While Wyatt began to play with the buttons on her blouse, she continued, “Uh, is there a schedule for Wyatt, while you’re away? You know, his meals and naps.”

“Yeah.” Piper paused, as she stared at the whitelighter. “Do you mind, Chris? This is business. I’ll meet you, downstairs.”

Chris hesitated. Then, “Um, yeah. Okay. I’ll . . . uh, I’ll be downstairs.” He left the nursery and reluctantly returned downstairs. Several minutes passed before Piper joined him in the living room. “Where’s Ms. Thompson?” he asked.

“Doing her job,” Piper curtly replied. “Now, what do you want?”

Chris informed her that the Elders were pleased that the Charmed Ones had managed to vanquish the demonic shape shifter. “It turns out that he was an assassin and they would like you to find out who had hired him.”

“As it so happens, it was Donna who helped me vanquish him, not Phoebe and Paige.”

Surprised by the news, Chris nearly became speechless. “Oh. Uh . . .”

Piper continued, “As for finding out who had hired him, I’m just as interested in that little tidbit as the Elders. So, you can go back and tell them. Now, if you don’t mind . . . good-bye.”

Chris stared long and hard at her. “Look, I realize that you guys still resent that I had replaced Leo as your whitelighter. But it’s not my fault that he had decided to . . .”

“Good-bye Chris.” Piper glared at him.

A sigh left the young whitelighter’s mouth. He got the message. After shooting Piper a wry smile, he orbed out of the house.

———

Inside Olivia’s new store, Andre lifted a dagger from one of the glass display cases and held it up in the air. “Hmmm. Interesting. And very beautiful.” The dagger’s hilt had been carved from silver. It was also studded with polished gems.

“Do you recognize it?” the elderly Mrs. McNeill asked.

With a shake of his head, Andre replied, “Nope. Looks like . . .” He paused, as he spotted an insignia on the hilt’s bottom. “Huh.”

Mrs. McNeill frowned. “What?”

“Do you recognize the insignia on the bottom?” He displayed the bottom of the dagger’s hilt to the elderly witch.

Softly, Mrs. McNeill exclaimed, “Dear God and Goddess! That’s . . .” Andre placed the dagger on the counter, while she reached for a book on sorcery called ‘The Lemegeton’ that she had brought from home. “That’s the mark of a dominion spirit named Caspiel. Very powerful. And I’m sure that you’re familiar with dominion spirits.”

Nodding, Andre replied, “Oh yeah. An immortal more powerful than daemons like Cole and Leo. Don’t they rule over other daemons, including the Elders and the old Source? I also know that they are responsible for the cosmic order, and for maintaining a balance or something. I wonder how the shop’s previous owner got his hands on this dagger. Which element is he supposed to be the great spirit of?”

“Fire,” the elderly witch replied. “Which is why I won’t touch it. There’s also a medallion or amulet that belonged to Caspiel. Fortunately, it hasn’t been seen in ages.”

Andre let out a low whistle. “Definitely something that should remain locked up.” He and Mrs. McNeill continued to examine the other daggers inside the case. Then they moved on to another – one filled with jewelry. After examining a pair of earrings and a necklace, Andre picked up a ring. It was a small, silver ring with a turquoise stone in the center. Andre could not help but feel that the ring would fit perfectly around Cecile’s finger.

Mrs. McNeill glanced at it. “Very lovely. Looks like it had been made in the 17th century. I can tell by the design.”

“Yeah, it is nice.” Andre continued to examine it. “Do you think it has any magical properties or . . .?”

“Do you see anything odd on it? A symbol or writing?

Andre used a magnifying glass to examine the ring more closely. Other than a phrase in French on the inside that translated into “Love forever”, he could find anything out of the ordinary. And said so. “You know, this would make a great engagement ring for Cecile. Don’t you think so?”

Mrs. McNeill nodded. “Definitely. Why don’t you go ahead and buy it?”

A quick glance at the ring’s price tag revealed that it cost nearly two hundred dollars. It seemed pretty cheap for a piece of jewelry over three hundred years old. “I guess I will,” he said. Andre imagined the expression on Cecile’s face, when he finally presented the ring to her. And smiled.

————-

Olivia and Cecile climbed the manor’s stoop, before the former rang the doorbell. “Just a minute!” a voice bellowed from inside. Over a minute passed before the front door swung open, revealing Paige. She greeted the two friends and ushered them inside the house. “So guys, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to pick up a certain item that you were supposed to return to me,” Olivia coolly replied. “Like my dragon brooch?”

Paige dark eyes reflected a touch of guilt. “Oh! Oh yeah. I was supposed to drop it off, yesterday. Wasn’t I?”

A smile touched Olivia’s lips. “I believe so.”

The Charmed One led the two visitors toward the kitchen. “Would you mind if I hold on to it, a little longer?”

Olivia heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Yes Paige, I would mind. You’ve had it for nearly a week, now. I don’t know if you realize this, but you’ve developed a habit of borrowing a lot of my stuff. I get the feeling that I’m becoming some kind of pawn shop on legs to you.”

“Oh come on, Livy! I’m not that bad.” Paige turned to Cecile for support. “Right?”

A ‘don’t look at me’ expression appeared on Cecile’s face.

The three women entered the kitchen, where they found a strange woman plopping a baby’s bottle into a saucepan. The woman glanced at the newcomers, while Paige made the introductions. “Guys, this is Wyatt’s new nanny – Donna Thompson. Donna, these are friends of mine – Olivia McNeill and Cecile Dubois.”

Both Olivia and Cecile shook hands with the nanny. The redhead noticed that Ms. Thompson had hesitated, before grasping their hands. Interesting. The nanny asked, “Are you two witches, like Paige and her sisters?”

At first, Olivia seemed astounded by the woman’s question. Until she remembered Cecile and Cole’s account of yesterday’s events – “Wait a minute!” she exclaimed. “You’re the one who helped Piper fight off that daemon! Right?”

Ms. Thompson nodded. “Yeah. I, uh . . . I’ve had similar encounters before. With daemons. I’m a . . . a mambo. A Voudon priestess.”

Olivia smiled, as she patted Cecile’s shoulder. “Small world! So is Cecile. And you were right about me. I am a witch.”

A chuckle escaped from Ms. Thompson’s mouth. “I’m beginning to feel even more at home. You can call me Donna, by the way.”

“I better get that brooch,” Paige said with a sigh. Cecile, who expressed a need to visit the bathroom, followed her out of the kitchen.

Once they were alone, Olivia asked Donna, “So, where exactly is home? Here in San Francisco?”

“Oakland,” Donna quickly replied. Olivia noticed that her fingers automatically began to finger a leather strap hanging around her neck. “But I’ve been living in San Francisco for the last three or four years. Expensive.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a necklace around your neck?”

“Huh?” Donna’s hand immediately dropped to her side. “Oh. Uh . . . yeah.”

“May I see it?”

For a brief moment, anxiety flashed in Donna’s eyes. And Olivia wondered why. “Oh . . . uh, sure.” The nanny – very slowly – began to remove the leather thong from around her neck. Olivia saw that it held an amulet.

Paige entered the kitchen, holding a small red velvet box. “Okay,” she said, “here’s your brooch. But . . . are you sure that you want it . . .?”

At that moment, Donna dropped her amulet. Both she and Olivia kneeled to pick it up. The nanny’s hand reached the amulet first. Before she could snatch it from the floor, Olivia managed a quick peek.

“Olivia, about that brooch,” Paige insisted. “Are you sure that you won’t change your mind and let me use it a little longer?”

Olivia forgot about the new nanny and the amulet, as she turned her attention to the Charmed One. “No Paige, I won’t. Why don’t you buy your own brooch? In fact, I’m sure you have a few nice pieces of jewelry, upstairs.”

Paige sighed. “Yeah, but I love your brooch.”

“Well, find one that looks like it. I’ll see if I can get you a nice discount.”

After handing over the brooch to Olivia, Paige retorted, “I’ll hold you to your promise.”

Cecile returned to the kitchen. “Did you get your brooch back?” she asked Olivia.

The redhead nodded. “Yeah. I . . .” Her eyes caught Donna tucking the amulet behind her blouse. Then the nanny removed the baby bottle from the saucepan. Suspicion of the other woman reasserted itself. “Yeah,” Olivia slowly replied. “I did.”

“Good. Let’s go. I had a small lunch, today. And I’m looking forward to Cole’s dinner.”

Paige’s face perked with interest. “Cole’s cooking dinner?”

Cecile nodded. “Yeah.” She turned to Donna and held out her hand. When she noticed that the other woman’s hands were full, she smiled politely. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I hope we get to meet again, before I leave San Francisco.”

Donna smiled at Cecile. “Same here.” Then she faced Olivia. “And it was nice meeting you, too.”

“Yeah. Keep up the good work.” Olivia gave Donna a quick nod. Then both she and Cecile said good-bye to Paige, before leaving the kitchen. Once they were earshot from the youngest Halliwell and the nanny, Olivia commented, “You know, there’s something odd about her. Wyatt’s new nanny.”

Cecile rolled her eyes. “Really? Don’t you ever stop being a cop?”

“I’m serious! There’s something odd about her.” The two women left the manor. As they descended the stoop, Olivia continued, “You should have seen the way she had reacted, when she dropped this amulet that was around her neck.”

“It’s probably some kind of good luck piece for her,” Cecile muttered. “Can you blame the woman? She had just recently survived a daemonic attack.”

Olivia added, “And that’s another thing . . .” The two friends reached Olivia’s BMW. They climbed inside the convertible.

Cecile leaned back against the passenger seat with a sigh. “What other thing?”

Olivia hesitated before she finally continued, “I don’t know. Why would any woman even bother to accept the job of Wyatt’s nanny, after what happened? I realize that she’s also a magic practitioner. But Piper wasn’t even able to hold on to some elfin nanny, after an attack on Wyatt. It just doesn’t make any . . .”

“Good grief, Olivia!” Cecile cried out. “Could you please give it a rest?”

Startled by her friend’s outburst, Olivia stared at the Vodoun priestess. “Excuse me?”

Cecile continued to rant. “Why do you always let your paranoia get the best of you? So what if . . . Donna had accepted the job? The woman is a mambo. A Vodoun priestess, and obviously an experienced magic practitioner. And considering that she even bothered to answer Piper’s ad only tells me that she was desperate for the job. So, please! Give it a rest!”

A long pause followed, as Olivia switched on the convertible’s engine. “Jeez,” she finally muttered. “Who stuck a crowbar up your ass?”

“Meaning?”

Olivia guided the convertible away from the curb and proceeded to drive it down Prescott Street. “Meaning, you’ve been acting like Miss Broodmeister of 2003, since you got here. What the hell is the matter?”

A large sigh – her third – left Cecile’s mouth. “I’m . . .” She paused. Then, “I’m thinking of breaking up with Andre. And I don’t know how to tell him.”

Stunned by her friend’s revelation, Olivia shot a surprised look at the other woman. Seconds before she managed to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming green van.

END OF PART VI