“Neighbors” [PG] – 6/11

 

“NEIGHBORS”

Part 6

Cole guided his Porsche into the parking space assigned to him and stopped. He switched off the engine. A minute passed while he remained in the driver’s seat, staring at the view beyond the car’s windshield. At the gray wall of his building’s underground parking lot. Another minute passed. And another.

The drive up the coast had done nothing to allay Cole’s dark mood. In fact, the whole trip seemed to have been a complete waste of time. Perhaps he would have been better off accepting the McNeills’ invitation to brunch. Then again, maybe not. Cole doubted that he could have survived an afternoon of dealing with the Halliwells’ hostility.

He sighed and opened the car’s door. Just as Cole was about to climb out, he heard a voice cry out his name. “Mr. Turner? Hel-lo! Mr. Turner!” Dammit! Cole recognized the voice. It belonged to one of his neighbors, a tenant named Geraldine Boone. Cole could not stand her.

“Mr. Turner! Thank goodness I ran into you!” A forty-something woman with dyed blond hair, jogged up to Cole’s side, breathing heavily. He tried to ignore the tight dress that seemed totally unsuited for her. Especially since it accentuated some very unflattering curves.

Cole’s mouth stretched into an insincere smile. He said in a polite voice, “Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?” He climbed out of the Porsche and shut the door.

The middle-aged woman tittered. “Why don’t you call me Gerry? And I’ll call you Cole?”

Fighting the urge to fireball the woman or transform her into an innate object, Cole’s smile remained frozen. “So . . . Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?”

Discomfort flickered in her pale eyes. “I . . . uh, I wanted to speak with you about building matters,” Mrs. Boone continued. Then her flirtatious attitude returned with a vengeance. “Why don’t we return to the building, together, while I tell you all about it.” She linked her arm with Cole’s and led him toward the parking lot’s elevator.

As the elevator rose, Cole thought he would go out of his mind. The urge to use one of his powers on Mrs. Boone, became harder to resist, as she babbled on about the building’s superintendent and other matters. Before he could act upon his frustrations, the elevator reached the lobby. The doors slid open and relief appeared in the form of Olivia McNeill. She seemed to be struggling with what looked like aluminum trays in her arms.

“Olivia!” Cole immediately abandoned the older woman and rushed forward to help the red-haired witch. He grabbed one of the trays. “Here, I’ll take this.”

The younger woman flashed a grateful smile at Cole. “Thanks! I’m afraid that Mom’s idea of leftovers is two weeks’ worth of food.” She spotted a frowning Mrs. Boone in the elevator and stepped inside. “Oh hi, Mrs. Boone! How are you?”

Looking somewhat less than pleased by Olivia’s appearance, the older woman murmured curtly, “Fine. I . . .”

“Mrs. Boone was discussing the tenants’ problems with maintenance,” Cole explained. “She feels we need a new maintenance supervisor.”

An auburn brow quirked upward. “Really? I don’t recall any maintenance problems. Nor any complaints.” Olivia faced Mrs. Boone. “Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?”

The older woman’s mouth hung open, making her resemble a peroxide fish. Much to Cole’s amusement. He wondered if he should give in and transform Mrs. Boone into one.

The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. The doors slid open. “The fifth floor,” Cole gaily announced. “I believe this is your stop, Mrs. Boone.”

Geraldine Boone – very reluctantly – stumbled out of the elevator. She whirled around and opened her mouth to say something to Cole. But the elevator doors closed shut before she could utter a peep.

Both Cole and Olivia burst into laughter the moment the doors closed. By the time the elevator reached Olivia’s floor, their laughter had subsided. Cole, carrying the larger tray, followed his companion out of the elevator and toward her apartment. Once inside, the pair headed straight for the kitchen, where they delivered the trays on the counter.

“Thanks for helping me,” Olivia said with a smile. “That’s the second time today you’ve come to my rescue.”

Cole returned her smile with his own. “Glad to help. Besides, you came to my rescue just a few minutes ago. Consider us even,” he drawled. Then his smile disappeared. Did he just flirt with his neighbor? Then Cole noticed the frown on Olivia’s face. “What? Did I say something wrong?”

Olivia replied, “I was about to ask you the same thing. You looked a bit . . . odd there, for a moment.”

“It’s nothing. I was just . . .”

“Has it something to do with your ex-wife?” Olivia asked. Her green eyes reflected concern.

Cole immediately shook his head. “No. Uh, no it doesn’t.” He returned to the living room and sat down in one of the chairs.

“Liar.” Olivia shot him a look that mixed reproach and sympathy. “I saw your reaction at my parents’ house, this morning.”

Embarrassment washed over Cole. “Yeah, well, it was . . . it was a shock seeing Phoebe and her sisters. But I guess you were all bound to meet one day. Especially since Leo is also your whitelighter. By the way, how was the brunch?”

Olivia turned up her nose, surprising Cole. “A bit of a disaster, I’m afraid,” she replied.

“Oh. Sorry. I guess I shouldn’t have . . .”

“Are you always in the habit of taking the blame for everything? Look, you didn’t know they were going to be there,” Olivia retorted. “And neither did I. Besides, it wasn’t all about you. The Charmed Ones had accepted my grandmother’s invitation at the last moment.”

Cole shrugged. “I see.”

“No, not quite.” Olivia sighed. “It seemed they had accepted the invitation under false pretenses.” Cole stared at her. “Gran thought they wanted to talk about Mrs. Halliwell. We found out that they simply wanted to talk about warlocks.”

Now Cole understood. If it were not for his present mood, he would laugh at the idea of the Charmed Ones committing such a faux pas. “Warlocks? You mean the one who had attacked you the other night?”

Nodding, Olivia continued, “And the one whom the Charmed Ones had killed last Wednesday in Lafayette Park.” She opened her liquor cabinet and retrieved two martini glasses. “Martini?”

“Thanks,” Cole replied.

Olivia then reached for three bottles. “Gin, vodka or vermouth?”

Cole added, “Gin and vermouth. With an onion. I’m a Gibson fan.”

A smile touched Olivia’s mouth. “Really? So am I.” She returned the vodka inside the cabinet and then reached for a martini pitcher. “I recognized the warlock that the Halliwells had killed,” she continued. “He was part of the Crozat Coven. And so was the one you had killed.” She began preparing the martinis. “The body of a dead witch was found in Candlestick Park, yesterday morning. I had planned to ask you about the Crozats.”

Cole frowned. “The Crozat Coven. Sounds familiar.” He recalled a trip to Seattle he had made some five years ago. “From Seattle? I think I’ve heard of them.”

Olivia stirred the contents of the pitcher with a long spoon, before pouring it into the two martini glasses. “You’ve heard of the Crozat Coven?”

Cole explained that the Crozat Coven had business dealings with his former order, in the past. “The Brotherhood of the Thorn. Ever heard of them?”

“Of course!” Excitement lit up Olivia’s eyes. She dumped an onion in each of the martini glasses. “Organization of upper level daemons, right? You were one of them?”

Cole nodded. “For over a half-century. Until I betrayed the Source,” he added with a bitter smile. His smile disappeared. “I, uh . . . I helped Phoebe and her sisters thwart one of their business schemes.”

Holding the two glasses of martini, Olivia walked over to Cole. She handed over one glass. “And the Brotherhood also had dealings with the Crozat Coven?” She took a sip of her martini. So did Cole. He found it delicious.

“Yeah,” he continued. “The coven conducted their business under . . .” Cole paused, as he searched his memory. “I believe they used some corporation as a front for their activities. It’s called . . . Malehex. And it’s based in Seattle.”

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. A frown creased her lovely face. Lovely? Cole gave his head a slight shake. This was no time to be thinking about someone else’s looks.

“I wonder if they have any holdings in San Francisco,” Olivia commented, breaking Cole’s thoughts.

He shook his head. “I wouldn’t know. I had to go to Seattle to deal with them. And it has been five years.” He paused. “Maybe you can check the internet for Malehex Corporation.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Olivia placed her martini glass on the table. She stood up and headed for the desk that held her computer laptop. Cole followed. “Let’s see,” she murmured, sliding into the chair in front of her desk. Then Olivia typed in the words – MALEHEX CORPORATION. The search proved fruitless. The only information given was the corporation’s name and Seattle address.

“Damn!” Olivia muttered with frustration.

Cole added, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I doubt that a corporation owned by warlocks would reveal so much on the Internet.”

“But the police computer might have some information,” Olivia replied, the excitement on her face growing again. “Or better yet, the Seattle Police. I know a fellow cop . . . who happens to be a witch, up there. I’ll send him a message.”

While Olivia returned her attention to the computer, Cole took the opportunity to examine her apartment. It seemed small, compared to the penthouse. But it still looked pretty spacious in his eyes. The apartment boasted a large bedroom, a smaller one that obviously served as a guest bedroom, two bathrooms and several closets. Cole also noticed that Olivia had decorated her apartment with tasteful, yet expensive furnishings from the early nineteenth century. Many of them, he suspected, may have come from antique shops. He noticed several family photographs on a Midland cabinet. One particular photograph of a handsome, chestnut-haired man with hazel brown eyes, caught his attention. The man looked very familiar.

“Okay,” Olivia said, as she rose from her desk. “I just sent my friend . . .”

Cole held up the photograph of the handsome stranger. “This man looks familiar. Do you know . . .?” He paused at the sight of Olivia’s expression. Surprise, followed by deep sadness permeated her green eyes. She practically looked grief-stricken. “Uh, did I say something wrong?”

“No, I . . .” Olivia’s mouth trembled slightly. She took a deep breath. “That’s my fiancé, Richard. My late fiancé.”

Cole murmured a few words of sympathy. “I’m sorry. How did he . . .? Never mind.” He placed the photograph back on the cabinet’s shelf.

“How did he die? Is that what you were about to ask?” Olivia inhaled once more. “He was killed.”

“By a demon? A warlock?”

Olivia quietly replied, “No, by my aunt. My mother’s sister, Aunt Rhiannon.”

Her answer took Cole’s breath away. “Your . . .aunt? Why would she . . .?”

Another gust of breath left Olivia’s mouth. She walked over to the sofa and sat down. Then she picked up her martini glass and took a large gulp. Cole sat next to her. “Richard used to be a warlock,” Olivia finally said.

Realization hit Cole like a wet rag. “Of course! I thought he looked familiar. He’s from the Bannen Coven! But I heard they had been vanquished nearly two years ago.”

“Thanks to Richard.” Olivia explained that she had become acquainted with the warlock, Richard Bannen, after meeting him at a exclusive charity party, here in San Francisco. Richard had introduced himself with the full intention to become acquainted with Olivia, romance her and kill her. “Apparently, the Source had a contract out on me. To this day, I don’t know why. Richard never knew the reason behind the contract. It didn’t take me very long to realize he was a warlock, but I kept up a charade of innocence to learn the whereabouts of his coven.” She sighed. “Only both of us ended up falling in love. Would you believe it? My family didn’t believe it at first, and wanted Richard vanquished. But Harry and Gran learned that Richard’s feelings were sincere.”

The McNeills eventually accepted Richard as part of the family. Except for one person – Olivia’s aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Davies. Gweneth McNeill’s sister had endured the death of her husband at the hands of another Bannen warlock. “She never really got over Uncle Antony’s death,” Olivia continued. “And Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she tended to be a little too self-righteous. She never liked Dad. She considered him morally ambiguous and not good enough for Mom. But after Uncle Tony’s death, she literally became a one-woman vigilante. You know, obsessed with hunting daemons and warlocks – especially if their name happened to be Bannen.” Olivia’s voice seemed heavy with sadness.

“How did Richard fit into all this?” Cole asked. Olivia’s description of her aunt reminded him of Prue. And of Piper, after Prue’s death.

Olivia paused. Her face assumed a haunted expression. “Following Uncle Tony’s death, several other witches were killed by some of Richard’s cousins. As far as Aunt Rhiannon was concerned, Richard was among those responsible. She tried to hunt down the entire coven, herself. She did kill a few, but she also harmed a few innocents, in the process, when she mistook them for warlocks. Not all of the Bannens were warlocks. Only a handful. Both Mom and I tried to reason with her. But . . .” Olivia sighed. Heavily. “Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she snapped and began accusing us of embracing evil.” She finished the last of her martini, while Cole waited. “Then she attacked us. She . . . uh, knocked me unconscious and was about to kill Mom, when Richard appeared. Aunt Rhiannon had thermokinesis. When she tried to use it against Mom, Richard got in the way and got hurt instead. Aunt Rhiannon was about to attack Mom again, when Richard deflected her attack and killed her.” Her voice choking, Olivia concluded, “And Richard died a few minutes later from his wounds. Right after I had regained consciousness.” Tears fell from her eyes.

Cole immediately handed his handkerchief to Olivia. Who used it to wipe her eyes. Her story had been truly horrible. And sad. Granted, being possessed by the Source, and later vanquished by one’s wife and sisters-in-law seemed worse. But Olivia’s story did strike Cole as pretty damn depressing. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Shaking her head, Olivia wiped away more tears. “Yeah, so am I. It’s been about ten months since it happened.” She paused. “And it still hurts.” Olivia handed the handkerchief back to Cole.

“Something like that . . .” Cole hesitated. “Well, it’s hard to get over.” He sighed. “I know from past experience.”

Personal grief slowly gave way to sympathy in Olivia’s eyes. And curiosity. She said quietly, “Are you talking about you being the Source? How exactly did that happened?”

Cole’s lips formed a bitter smirk. “Didn’t Leo tell you?”

“Well, all I heard was that you had become the Source, betrayed Phoebe and she and her sisters ended up vanquishing you. Leo left out a lot of details.” Olivia shook her head. “And I got the feeling that he didn’t know all the details. It just seemed too simple . . . especially after all you went through to win their trust. I mean, how did you become the Source in the first place, when you were a human?”

Cole sighed and placed his martini glass on the nearby coffee table. “It’s a long story. And I’m hungry. Why don’t we discuss this over dinner?”

Olivia responded, “Okay. How about dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant? I’m not really in the mood to cook dinner. And it’s my treat.”

“Your treat? The Golden Horn is pretty expensive.”

A smile – the first one Cole has seen in a while – touched Olivia’s lips. “Not for a McNeill. Mom owns the restaurant.”

“No wonder it’s your treat,” Cole murmured sarcastically. He stood up. “Okay. I’ll meet you in . . . an hour?”

“An hour’s fine. I’ll see you then.” Olivia’s smile broadened. It was the last thing Cole saw before he disappeared from her apartment.

END OF PART 6

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