“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 8/18

“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 8

The moment Cole’s guest disappeared, the half-daemon gave Olivia a hard stare. “Okay, Miss McNeill, what in the hell just happened?” 

“What do you mean?” Green eyes grew wide with innocence.

Cole continued, “Suz . . . uh, Mrs. Maxwell. She practically ran out of here, with her tail tucked between her legs. What were you two talking about?”

Olivia coolly replied, “Nothing. I merely asked her a . . . few questions. About what she did for a living. Where she came from.”

“In other words, being a very suspicious cop, you couldn’t help but interrogate her.” Cole waved his hand over the spilled brandy and it disappeared. “What did you learn?”

Taking a deep breath, Olivia answered, “Well, that she’s from Vancouver. Until I reminded her that she spoke with an American accent.”

Cole grunted. “And?”

“Then she claimed that she originally came from Portland, Oregon.” Olivia paused dramatically. “Awfully close to Seattle, isn’t it?”

Shaking his head, Cole gave his neighbor an admiring look. “You know, it’s a good thing that the Triad or the Source had never sent me after you. Hell, going against your parents, twenty-five years ago, was bad enough.”

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. Then she reached inside her jeans pocket and retrieved a folded slip of paper. She handed it to Cole. “Look familiar?”

Cole found himself staring at a drawing of a very familiar face. “Yeah. Isn’t this the warlock I had changed into a pebble outside the Tower Bay warehouse, last month?”

“Oh, that’s him alright. Cecile had a vision of him killing some janitor. Whose body was found, this morning. The janitor used to work at the Hopkins Building on Powell.”

“Why would a Crozat warlock kill this . . . what’s his name?”

Olivia answered, “Pablo Alvarez. Darryl and I checked his background. An immigrant from El Salvador, who came to this country, nearly twenty years ago. I also checked with a few fellow witches. As far as anyone knows, he’s mortal.” She paused. A calculated gleam lit up her eyes. “Take a closer look at the drawing. Does he remind you of anyone?”

Cole sat down on the sofa and stared at the drawing. Dark hair and eyes. High cheekbones. Narrow chin. Then a grim smile appeared on his face, as he stared at Olivia. “Of course! Suzanne. So, she’s a Crozat, after all.”

“I had the same thought when I first saw her,” Olivia added.

“The question is . . . what does want with me?” Cole frowned at Olivia. “I understand she might want revenge for the destruction of her coven. But what makes her think she can harm me?”

Olivia shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she has some plan to use you to get to us. Or perhaps . . .” A wicked smile stretched her mouth. “Perhaps she had something else in mind. I noticed that Mrs. Maxwell seemed rather . . . frustrated. Did I disturb something?”

“Nothing happened between us . . . at least not yet,” Cole retorted good naturally. “Besides, what’s wrong with a little seduction? I had hoped to find out what she’s up to.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed playfully. “You know, I have the oddest feeling that I may have interrupted the possibility of some very serious sex. Of course, Mrs. Maxwell, or Ms. Crozat doesn’t exactly strike me as your type.” Olivia stood up and started toward the door.

“I don’t recall ever having a type,” Cole retorted with a smirk. Then his eyes focused on Olivia’s hand and noticed that the bottle of parsley was missing. “Uh, what happened to the parsley I gave you?”

Green eyes blinked. “What?” Olivia glanced at her empty hands and shrugged. “Oh. I guess I forgot about it.”

“Really? I’m beginning to think that you didn’t really need any parsley in the first place.”

Olivia shot Cole a cool stare. “Of course I did. What makes you think otherwise?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you were interested in getting a glimpse of Suzanne Maxwell.”

Disbelief now glimmered in the witch’s green eyes. “Wait a minute! Are you insinuating that I’m jealous?”

Cole responded with a shrug. “Hey, you said it, not me.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “You know what, Cole? Blow me!” She opened the door and stalked out of the penthouse.

“It would be my pleasure,” Cole murmured under his breath, as his eyes examined the shapely backside of his neighbor.

* * * *

Phoebe, Paige and Leo tramped into the kitchen and found Piper preparing breakfast. “Honey, what are you doing?” Phoebe demanded. “Paige and I can fix breakfast. You shouldn’t be on your feet, now that your pregnancy is advancing.”

“And have all of us suffer from an upset stomach? No thanks,” Piper retorted. “Besides, I don’t mind cooking. Helps me relax.”

Paige asked, “What are we having?”

“Nothing special. Scrambled eggs, toast and bacon.” Piper placed both the toast and the bacon on the kitchen table. “The rest of the breakfast should be ready in a few minutes.” The others sat down in the chairs that surrounded the table.

Phoebe reached for the pitcher of orange juice and poured herself a glass. “God, I’m hungry! Come to think of it, I haven’t felt this hungry in a long time.”

“It’s your week off,” Paige commented. “I know exactly how you feel. Ever since I had quit my job, my appetite has increased.” She paused. “By the way, are you still going to help me find some Mugwort from that shop in Chinatown?”

Aware of the stares from Piper and Leo, Phoebe merely stared back. “What did you mean by ‘still going’? Of course I will. Why wouldn’t I?”

Paige hesitated. “Because you’ve barely spoken to me, since yesterday evening.”

Shame overwhelmed Phoebe. She had never realized, until now, how her anger toward Cole and the McNeills had affected her family. Especially Paige. “Honey, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean . . .” Phoebe sighed. “You know, it’s amazing how I have allowed Cole to poison everything. Well you know what? I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of him. Unless he deliberately hurts someone, I couldn’t care less what he does. And if the McNeills want to be friends with him, let ’em. It’s their funeral.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Leo stiffened. “I’m sorry, Leo. I realize that if Olivia, Bruce and Harry want to be friends with Cole, it’s their choice. I only hope they don’t pay the price for that friendship.”

“I understand,” Leo murmured.

Phoebe added, “And Paige, I’m sorry for giving you the third degree. You’re entitled to your own feelings.”

“It’s okay.” Paige smiled timidly. “I’m just glad we’re talking. And that we’ll get to spend the day, together.”

“Honey, I’m afraid that it will only be the morning. I have a doctor’s appointment with Ava, this afternoon.”

The telephone inside the kitchen rang. Piper answered. “Hello?”

Phoebe and the others watched as the oldest Halliwell continued the phone conversation. Curiosity became anxiety, as a concerned frown formed on Piper’s face. She added, “Give us a call if you don’t hear from Darryl or Olivia.” Then she hung up.

“What’s wrong?” Leo asked.

Still frowning, Piper replied, “That was Sheila Morris. Apparently, Darryl is missing. She woke up around five this morning and found him gone. I told her to give Olivia a call.”

“Good suggestion. Olivia is probably the best person to find Darryl.”

Phoebe took a sip of her juice. “Are you sure he’s in danger? Maybe Darryl is at the station. This isn’t the first time he has ended up working at odd hours.”

“Unfortunately, Sheila did call the station. He’s not there.”

Paige added, “And what about that premonition that Olivia’s friend received about Darryl?”

Phoebe retorted, “What premonition? A feeling? According to Darryl, she wasn’t even able to receive a vision.”

“She’s right,” Piper said. “And quite frankly, I’d rather rely on Phoebe’s premonitions.” She faced Leo. “Can you sense him?”

The whitelighter shook his head. “Darryl’s not a witch. Or one of my charges. Sorry.”

Piper heaved a large sigh. “Then I guess it’s up to Olivia.” She served the rest of the breakfast to her family.

* * * *

The morning was proving to be very enjoyable for Cecile. She had joined Olivia’s mother, Gweneth McNeill, on a morning shopping spree around the city of San Francisco. Using the latter’s car, they had already visited several out-of-the way shops, including a rare bookstore, a clothing store and a shop in the Castro District that sold a variety of candy – especially chocolate.

After a purchase of chocolate truffles, the two women returned to Mrs. McNeill’s lime-green Nexus. “Our next stop will be a herbal store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I need some purple basil and lavender for a recipe I’m experimenting on.”

“Isn’t Wu Choi in Chinatown?” Cecile asked. It was the shop she used whenever she visited San Francisco.

Mrs. McNeill steered the Lexus down Washington. “Didn’t Livy tell you? Barbara has opened a new shop. She sells herbs and other substances for potions from all over the world. It has been opened for the past five months.”

“No, Olivia didn’t say a word. How is it doing?”

The older woman nodded. “Not bad,” she said in a soft Welsh accent. “In fact, quite well.”

The two women finally reached their destination – a shop located on the first floor of a late Victorian manor. After Mrs. McNeill found a parking spot, the duo headed for the shop. “Hey! Cecile! Long time, no see!” a beautiful woman with long blonde hair and a cheerful countenance greeted Cecile with a hug. Barbara Bowen also happened to be engaged to Mrs. McNeill oldest offspring, Bruce. “Wow! I seemed to be getting a lot of surprise visitors, today!”

Mrs. McNeill’s green eyes looked confused. “More visitors?”

Barbara nodded at the shop’s other two occupants, standing near one of the large shelves. “Yeah! Look who’s here.”

Cecile and Mrs. McNeill stared at the visitors. The former did not recognize them, but the older woman did. And it seemed obvious that they recognized her.

“Phoebe!” the middle-aged woman greeted the young woman with shoulder-length dark-brown hair. Then she nodded at the other woman. The latter possessed bright red hair – a dye job, Cecile immediately surmised – and the same dark eyes. “And Paige!” Gweneth McNeill added. “What are you two doing here? I didn’t realize you were among Barbara’s regular customers.”

The woman called Phoebe smiled politely. “Paige is looking for some Mugwort. Since this is my week off, I thought I accompany her. She couldn’t find what she was looking for, in Chinatown.”

“Well, isn’t that’s nice,” Mrs. McNeill said with a nod. She turned to Cecile. “I would like you to meet an old friend of Olivia’s – Cecile Dubois. Cecile is from New Orleans. Cecile, this is Phoebe and Paige Halliwell. They’re the sisters of Olivia’s old classmate.” She smiled.

Cecile greeted the two women. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, same here,” the redhead replied. “And I’m Paige Matthew, by the way. I’m Phoebe and Piper’s half-sister.”

Nodding, Cecile said to other woman, “And you must be Phoebe, Cole’s ex-wife. Right?”

The other sister stiffened. Her smile became less warm. “Leo tell us that you practice Voodoo.”

“Vodoun,” Cecile corrected. “It means ‘spirit’ in the Fon language. Voodoo is some European version of the word.”

Phoebe’s brows shot upward. “I guess that means there’s no such thing as witch doctors and zombies, huh?”

“Just as I’m sure that all witches don’t look like Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Or worship the devil.” Cecile’s smile widened, as Phoebe’s disappeared.

Paige asked, “So you don’t have zombies?”

Cecile’s gaze returned to the redhead. Barbara answered before she could. “Zombies don’t really exist in West African Vodoun. Some bokors use a poison from a blowfish called teterododixin to give their victims the appearance of a zombie.”

Paige’s dark eyes widened. “Bokor?”

“A sorcerer who practices magic for evil purposes,” Cecile explained.

“Oh.”

Silence followed. The Halliwell women regarded the new visitors with discomfort. Finally, Barbara rescued the moment by tapping Paige’s shoulder. “By the way, I found that Mugwort you were looking for. Follow me.” She started toward the back of the shop. To Cecile’s relief, the two sisters followed.

Cecile turned to Gweneth McNeill. “Not a very friendly bunch, are they?”

The older woman sighed. “Actually, I believe they’re quite nice. It’s just that . . . well, they’ve been through a lot during the past few years. Especially with Cole. And they’re not exactly thrilled by our friendship with him.”

“No kidding.”

Mrs. McNeill grabbed Cecile’s arm and led her to one of the shelves. “Listen dearie, could you help me search for that purple basil and lavender? Barbara has an enormous stock of herbs and I’m going to need your help.”

It did not take Mrs. McNeill long to find the purple basil. The lavender proved to be another matter. From the corner of her eye, Cecile spotted Barbara and the Halliwells return to the store’s main room. She ignored them and continued the search for the lavender. Not long after the sisters left the shop, a vision gripped Cecile. She saw a shadowy figure shoot bolts of lightning at Paige Matthew, sending the latter flying across a living room.

The vision ended. Cecile gasped and her eyes flew open. Surprising both Mrs. McNeill and Barbara, she raced outside of the shop, yelling, “Wait! Wait!” But it was too late. Paige and Phoebe had climbed into a car. Just as Cecile began to race after it, the car roared away.

END OF CHAPTER 8