“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 9

“OBSESSIONS”

Part 9

The opportunity for Phoebe and Paige to pay a second visit to DeWolfe Mann’s apartment finally arose on Saturday. Apart from the police tape attached to the front door, they found nothing. Nor had Phoebe been able to conjure up a premonition. Which did not surprise her. Summoning premonitions had always been difficult for her.

“Have you ever thought of practicing?” Paige suggested. “You know, learn how to summon a premonition? I mean, Cecile does. She even uses spells, sometimes.”

It took all of Phoebe’s efforts to bite back a retort. Meeting Olivia’s friend, Cecile Dubois, had made her feel even more inadequate about her powers. Not only did Phoebe lately found herself wishing she had a more active power, she also envied Cecile’s control over the latter’s own psychic abilities.

“I don’t have the time,” Phoebe finally shot back. “And I doubt that Cecile’s control over her own premonitions is that great. Besides, I tried it once some four years ago, and it didn’t work.”

Paige added, “Maybe you shouldn’t give up so . . .”

“Paige! Please? Not now!” Phoebe continued to touch the various items and furniture inside the apartment. Nothing. “This is a waste of our time. I should have told Olivia, when she asked me. Let’s get out of here.” The two sisters returned to the Halliwell manor.

While Paige called Olivia, Phoebe found herself contemplating the interview between Jason, Olivia and Darryl, last Wednesday. The former had been right about the red-haired inspector. Olivia’s attitude toward Jason had been cruel and needling. Phoebe noticed how she seemed to take great pleasure in making the young publisher feel uncomfortable. Phoebe brought up the matter, once Paige hung up.

The youngest Charmed One dismissed Phoebe’s accusation with a wave of her hand. “C’mon Phoebe! Olivia may be a little direct at times, but she isn’t cruel. At least not deliberately.”

“You weren’t there, Paige. She really seemed bent upon putting Jason through the wringer,” Phoebe insisted.

Paige shrugged her shoulders. “From what I’ve heard, he’s the only one who has a motive to kill ‘Wolfie’.”

“Jason’s not a killer! Unlike some people!”

“Oh. You mean us?” A twisted smile formed on Paige’s mouth.

Phoebe glared at her younger sister. There were times she wished that Paige did not possessed such a twisted sense of humor. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded.

Paige rolled her eyes. “Jeez, Phoebe! Lighten up! As for Jason, I’m sure that Olivia and Darryl were only doing their jobs. Does Olivia still believe that Jason’s guilty?”

“No.”

“Well then,” Paige continued, “what’s the problem? Or maybe there’s a reason for Olivia’s attitude toward Jason.”

Phoebe cried out, “Like what? According to Jason, they had a mutual breakup!”

Paige fell silent for a brief moment. “Are you sure?”

Her sister’s question reverberated in Phoebe’s mind. It continued to do so, two days later, while she was standing next to the water cooler inside the BAY-MIRROR’s main newsroom. However, the question disappeared from her mind, when she spotted a tall and strikingly beautiful woman step out of the elevator.

No one seemed capable of keeping his or her eyes off the woman. Including Phoebe. Who could ignore the statuesque figure, the long and curly dark hair and air of sophistication. “Ho-ly mackerel!” one male staff member, who stood near Phoebe, exclaimed. “Would you take a look at that? We’re in the presence of a goddess!”

Another reporter – female – merely sniffed. “Hmmm, couldn’t one be anymore obvious? She’s practically a walking ad for sex!”

“Yeah, but she does it with such style,” gushed the male reporter. He regarded the newcomer with lust filled eyes. Everyone watched as she strode toward one of the editors’ offices.

Phoebe declared, “She’s going to see O’Keefe.”

“Huh.” A smirk formed on her male colleague’s face. “I guess you know what that means. O’Keefe has found someone to replace dear old Wolfie.”

Sure enough, the beautiful stranger knocked on Milo O’Keefe’s office door. A few seconds passed before she entered. “Her?” Phoebe’s voice echoed with disbelief. “She’s going to be the paper’s newest food critic?”

“Hell, I’d sample anything she happens to recommend,” the male reporter suggested. Both of his female colleagues rolled their eyes. He leaned back against the wall and sighed. Happily.

* * * *

Jason Dean stared at the beautiful woman who sat opposite him. He barely acknowledged the tall, lanky man who stood near his entertainment console. “Your name is . . .?” he began.

Milo O’Keefe answered instead of the new guest. “Portia. Portia Della Scalla. Her background includes . . .”

“Thank you, Mr. O’Keefe,” Jason said, interrupting the Food Editor. “But I’m sure that the lady can answer for herself.” He smiled broadly at his newest employee.

The Italian woman leaned forward. Jason found it difficult to ignore her full lips. Or the sherry-brown eyes that sparkled with promise. “Yes. Of course. My name is Portia Della Scalla. I’m originally from Venice, Italy. I have spent the last seven years writing about food and restaurants for various magazines and newspapers, including here in the United States.” The last two words seemed to roll enticingly from her tongue.

Jason’s smile remained fixed on his face. “Well, I believe that says it all. Even Mr. O’Keefe seemed impressed by your as. . . uh, qualifications. When will you be available to begin work?”

Ms. Della Scalla spread out her arms in an appealing manner. “Is today too soon? It is only,” she glanced at the clock on Jason’s desk, “only nine forty-three.”

“Well . . .”

The lips and eyes were once again in full view. “Please? I would so love to begin work, immediately.”

A workaholic. Jason approved. “If you insist. Uh, some of Mr. Mann’s belongings are still inside his office. I guess we can find a desk for you – until his office is cleared.”

Grazie,” Miss Della Scalla said with a smile. Then, “Oh, one more thing. Signor O’Keefe has informed me that this Signor Mann was involved in a story, when he died. I would be more than happy to complete the assignment.”

Last assignment? Finally, Jason remembered. The McNeills and the Golden Horn restaurant’s silver anniversary. “Oh, that story is dead,” Jason replied. “I’m sure that Mr. O’Keefe can find something new for you.”

“But this is the Golden Horn restaurant we are talking about,” Miss Della Scalla continued. “I have heard of it and the owner, Gweneth McNeill. She is one of the world’s most renowned chefs. And her son, Bruce, who is the current executive chef, is developing his own reputation. Also, I understand that the restaurant will be celebrating its silver anniversary. You want to forget about the story?”

Mustering all of his patience, Jason explained that he wanted the newspaper’s Food Section to focus less on exclusive restaurants and more on establishments that the average reader can afford. “You know,” he added, “places like Eliza’s, La Taqueria, the Sear’s coffee shop, and Zarzuela.”

“And Morgan’s,” O’Keefe added. Jason shot him a quick glare. Morgan’s happened to be the other McNeill-owned restaurant in San Francisco. “Anyway, you see what I mean, don’t you?”

Sherry brown eyes grew rounder. Ms. Della Scalla’s lips became fuller. In fact, they almost formed a pout. Jason became aware of her scent. Gardenias and . . . sex. “I understand, Signor Dean,” she finally said. Her voice seemed so bell-like. “Believe me, I do. But I also believe that an excellent restaurant . . . is an excellent restaurant. No matter the price of the meal. And if there is an excellent restaurant in this city, it is my job as a food critic, to write about it.”

Jason felt himself completely enveloped by her presence. As if there was nothing else in the world. He smiled. “Well, Ms. Della Scalla, you’ve got my vote. The Golden Horn story will continue.”

Ms. Della Scalla smiled. Beautifully. “Grazie. Uh, do you know if Signor Mann had left any notes on the story?”

“In his office,” O’Keefe replied. “I can show where it is.”

Jason insisted, “Actually, I can.”

Both men made a move to help the new columnist out of her chair. Jason reached her first.

* * * *

When Cole strode inside the BAY-MIRROR’s newsroom, it occurred to him that he has not stepped foot inside for the last six months. Six very long months. He turned to his companion and asked, “Are you sure that you’re ready for this?”

Deborah Mann nodded. While holding an empty cardboard box in his hand, Cole led the bereaved woman toward her late brother’s office. Several employees nodded at the pair. Or stared. Cole had no idea if what his presence or Deborah’s that seemed to be attracting the attention.

They finally reached DeWolfe Mann’s office. When Cole opened the door, he was surprised to find three other people inside – including Jason Dean. “Uh, excuse me. May I help you, gentlemen?” He glanced at the beautiful woman standing beside Dean. “Miss?”

Recognition flickered in Dean’s eyes. “Turner! What are you doing here?” His glance fell upon Deborah. “Who is this?”

“This . . . is Ms. Deborah Mann,” Cole explained. “DeWolfe Mann’s sister. And she’s here to collect his personal belongings.” He indicated the box in his arms.

Dean’s face turned red with embarrassment. “Oh. Uh, yeah. Of course.”

“What are YOU doing in here?” Deborah demanded. Her voice bridled with hostility. “You shouldn’t even be in here! At least not until I clear out Wolfie’s belongings.”

Both Dean and the other man – whom Cole figured to be Milo O’Keefe – looked even more embarrassed. The former said, “Yes, of course. Please excuse us.” The three visitors began to file out of the office.

The third visitor approached Cole. He could not help but noticed how beautiful she looked. Nor could he ignore the familiar sensation, as she walked past him. A familiar sensation at the base of his neck. One that usually hinted . . . danger. He frowned at the woman.

“And who are you?” Deborah sharply demanded, knocking Cole out of his reverie. He realized that his client had also noticed the woman. “Who is this woman? And why is she in this office?”

The object of Deborah’s questions turned to face the grieving woman. Her lovely face expressed compassion and understanding. “Buena sera, Signora,” she said in a bell-like voice. “My name is Portia Della Scalla. I am so sorry for the loss of your . . . husband?”

“Brother,” Deborah shot back. “And thanks. I think. So what are you doing here?”

Dean spoke up. “Miss Della Scalla has been hired as one of our new food critics. She’ll be taking over your brother’s column.”

“How comforting.”

Detecting hostility from his client, Cole spoke up. “Uh, thank you for your kind words, Miss Della Scalla.” He held out his hand to shake the other woman’s. As he gently clasped her hand, the sensation of danger returned. He briefly glanced into her sherry brown eyes, before she looked away and released his hand. “However, if all of you won’t mind,” he continued, “Ms. Mann would like to be alone, while she gathers her brother’s belongings.”

The other three murmured apologies and marched out of the office. Cole turned to his client. “Why don’t you go ahead, Deborah? There’s someone I need to speak with.” The grieving woman nodded and Cole left.

* * * *

Phoebe sat behind her desk, staring at her laptop computer screen. She tried to concentrate on the letter in her hand, but images of DeWolfe’s dead body continued to flash in her mind. Along with the mysterious woman who had appeared at the office just a little over an hour ago. Did this woman have any connection with Wolfie’s murder?

A knock on her door broke Phoebe out of her thoughts. “Come in!” she ordered. Seconds later, she found herself regretting her words, as a surprise visitor entered her office. Stunned, Phoebe stared at the tall figure before her. “Cole?”

Her ex-husband nodded. “Phoebe.

“What . . . what are you . . . what do you want?” God! Could she sound even more paranoid?Calm down, Phoebe. He’s not a threat. At least not yet. Taking a deep breath, Phoebe asked in a calm voice, “So, what brings you here?”

“My client,” Cole replied, “Deborah Mann. She’s here to gather her brother’s personal belongings from his office.”

Phoebe nodded. “Oh. That’s right. Wolfie had told me that you were his lawyer. And his sister’s.” She paused, before adding in a pointed tone, “So, why are you here? Inside my office?”

Cole sighed. “Come here.” He cracked open the door.

“Why?” Phoebe protested, feeling wary.

Rolling his eyes, a caustic Cole shot back, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you, or anything like that.” Phoebe could not help but wince. “I want you to see someone. Out here.”

Slowly, Phoebe rose from her desk. She walked over to the door and stood next to her ex-husband, desperately trying to ignore the effect his nearness was having upon her. “See whom?” she asked in a soft voice.

Cole widened the door, slightly. “You see that woman with your boyfriend and the skinny guy outside DeWolfe’s office?”

Phoebe peered outside. She spotted Jason, along with Milo O’Keefe and the beautiful stranger that had attracted the office’s attention. “Do you know her?” she asked.

“No. She had introduced herself as Portia Della Scalla. Apparently, she’s been hired to take over DeWolfe’s column.”

Phoebe let out a gasp. “Oh my God! Lee had been right! I didn’t realize they would replace Wolfie so soon.”

“Yeah. Neither did Deborah. Listen,” Cole closed the door and faced Phoebe, “do me a favor, will you? Keep an eye on her. I’ve got a very funny feeling about Ms. Della Scalla.”

Frowning, Phoebe asked, “What feeling? Are you saying that she’s some kind of warlock or demon?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Just keep an eye on her, okay? I find it highly suspicious that DeWolfe’s old position would be filled within a few days after he was killed.”

Phoebe could not believe it. Cole had come into her office to ask her to act as a spy? And nothing else? Resentment welled within her. “If you’re so suspicious about this woman, Cole, why don’t you just tell the police? You don’t need me as a spy and I’m sure that Olivia would be more than happy to help you.” The moment she had spoken, Phoebe wished she could take back her words. But her resentment proved to be stronger, as she added, “Besides, the last time you had asked me for a favor, a certain slumlord ended up dead.”

Blue eyes turned cold as chipped ice. Cole’s face became a mask. Phoebe mentally kicked herself for her big mouth. She also felt guilty for bringing up the past and throwing it in Cole’s face. Especially since all he wanted was her help for a good cause. The apology came quick. “God, Cole, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to . . .”

“Sure you did,” Cole replied sharply. “But you’re right. I’m probably better off telling Olivia and Darryl. I’ll be seeing Olivia this evening, anyway. See you around.” He turned his back on his ex-wife and left.

Phoebe’s shoulders sagged with defeat. Shit! Why did every encounter with Cole had to end on a bad note? And why was it always her fault?

* * * *

Ever since learning about DeWolfe Mann’s murder, Bruce had been fighting the disappointment that threatened to overwhelm him. Yes, he felt bad that the columnist had met a violent death. And he certainly felt sorry for Deborah Mann, who by Cole’s account, had taken her brother’s death very hard. But what Bruce mainly felt was disappointment. Disappointment that the Golden Horn would not be featured in a newspaper story in time for its silver anniversary. And if his disappointment made him seem selfish, Bruce took comfort in the knowledge that he was not alone. The restaurant’s staff shared his feelings.

Bruce sighed, as he contemplated the menu for the second week of May. With his wedding and honeymoon over two weeks away, he had decided to make plans plans for his upcoming absence. Plans that included the daily special during the last week of April and three weeks of May. What should he consider as the special for the second Tuesday of May? Duck Tangine With Apples? Or the . . .

The telephone on his desk rang. Bruce immediately picked up the receiver. “Hello, Golden Horn restaurant. Bruce McNeill speaking.”

The first thing that struck Bruce was the caller’s foreign accent. Italian, perhaps. The second thing he noticed was that the caller’s voice had a breathy quality that hinted sex. “Hello? Signor McNeill? Bruce McNeill?”

“Yes.”

A heavy sigh of relief followed. “Buena sera. My name is Portia Della Scalla. I have just been hired as a columnist for the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR.” Bruce could not help but admire the way “San Francisco” rolled off her tongue. She continued, “I understand that a certain Signor DeWolfe Mann was supposed to write an article about your restaurant. As it so happens, I have been assigned to write the story in his place.”

Euphoria gripped every nerve in Bruce’s body. He could not believe his ears. “So you . . . you’ll be writing the article, instead? On the restaurant?”

Si Signor.” The Italian woman paused. “By the way, when will you be available for the first interview? Tomorrow? This evening?”

* * * *

Unaware of the danger facing one of his former charges, Leo focused his attention on another and one of his present charges. All in the name of acting as matchmaker. And his plans led him inside Paul Margolin’s office, at the city’s criminal courts building.

“Leo!” The ADA nearly jumped out of his seat in shock. “Wha . . . what are you doing here?”

The whitelighter eased into one of the chairs on the other side of his charge’s desk. “I came to see how you’re doing. I haven’t heard from you in nearly a week.”

“I’ve been busy,” Paul tersely replied. “Trying to become acquainted with the cases I’ve been assigned.”

Quietly, Leo added, “Including the DiMatteo case?”

Paul’s face became a mask. “Of course. Why do you . . .?”

“C’mon Paul! I haven’t heard hide or hair of you since that day you came by the house! That was almost a week ago! And I think we both know why.”

The New Yorker leaned back and heaved a sigh. “Yeah. I’m . . . I’m sorry. It’s just finding out that Olivia is friends with a demon . . .”

“. . . who once was my brother-in-law,” Leo finished.

Shaking his head, Paul continued, “And that I can’t understand, Leo. I mean, why? Why would any of you associate yourselves with a demon? A notorious killer like Belthazor?”

Leo proceeded to reveal Cole Turner’s long history with the Halliwells. And his recent history with Olivia and the other McNeills. “Lately, I’ve been having suspicions that Olivia and Cole were more than just friends. That they were attracted to each other,” Leo continued. “But I’m not sure. It’s been nearly six months, and they haven’t . . . you know, start dating.” The whitelighter’s face flushed with embarrassment. “I think Cole still hopes that he will win back Phoebe. Someday.”

“Which means,” Paul finished, his voice reflecting hope, “he might be using Olivia to make Phoebe jealous. And Olivia might be free, after all.”

Leo added, “And considering the way she warmed up to you at our house, I don’t think you should give up on her. At least not yet.”

Silence fell between the pair. Leo watched Paul whirl his seat around to face the windows behind. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s time I pay Olivia a visit.” He whirled around to face Leo. “Do you, uh . . . know her address, by any chance?”

The whitelighter allowed himself a triumphant smile, as he reached for a pen and piece of paper.

END OF PART 9

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