“A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS”
Act II – Part 2
“Debo . . .” Cole paused, while he listened to his client ramble on. “Yeah, Deb . . . Yes, I realize this must be disturbing for you.” The voice on the other end of the telephone continued. “Uh, yeah. Look, Deborah . . . No! No, I don’t think that will accomplish anything. It’s obvious . . . Yeah, but didn’t you just say that the police believe he had an accomplice?” He sighed, while Deborah Mann ranted and raved about the San Francisco Police and the County Sherriff’s Department. “Look Deborah, suing them is not going to accomplish anything. Just give them a little time and I’m sure they’ll catch Marcano.”
Deborah Mann responded in a wavering voice, “Are you sure, Cole? What if . . . what if that monster decides to come after me?”
“I’m sure that he won’t,” Cole said in his most reassuring voice. “If he wanted to, he would have came after you before he was caught.”
A long sigh filled the telephone’s earpiece. “I guess you’re right. But if the police doesn’t capture that bastard by the following Monday,” Cole’s client said in a voice that suddenly hardened with resolve, “I’m suing their ass!”
“Of course, Deborah! I understand. Look, why don’t you get some rest? Okay?”
A pause followed before she finally answered in a defeated voice, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s just this news . . .”
“I understand,” Cole said gently. Then, “Bye Deborah. I’ll talk to you, later.”
“Good-bye Cole,” Deborah replied. “And thanks.” She hung up.
Cole hung up and heaved a large sigh. For the second time this week, he had to stop a client from making a big mistake. If Deborah Mann had gone ahead with her lawsuit, the circumstances surrounding Nick Marcano’s escape would have made matters . . . difficult. For him, and especially for the McNeill family. According to Deborah, Darryl Morris had informed her that the police believed that Portia Della Scalla may have been responsible for the escape. If demonic forces were behind it, Cole surmised that the succubus’ sister might be in town. And the idea of facing another succubus filled him with dread. He still harbored vague memories of Portia taking away his control through seductive promises, kisses, a pair of hypnotic sherry-brown eyes and a few other magical means. After being manipulated by Andras, Raynor, the Seer, the Source’s essence, the Siren, Barbas and Portia, Cole hated the idea of facing someone else capable of assuming control over him on that level.
He needed a drink. Badly. Only Cole desired a cup of coffee. Just as he was about to buzz his assistant to fetch him a cup, her voice blasted from the intercom box. “Mr. Turner,” she announced, “Ms. Altman would like to see you.”
“Show her in,” Cole replied. “And Eleanor, could you get me a cup of coffee? Milk and two sugars.”
Seconds later, a tall, dark-haired woman with gray eyes and dressed in an expensive tailored suit, entered Cole’s office. “Good afternoon, Mr. Turner,” she greeted gaily. Veronica Altman happened to be one of Cole’s fellow attorneys, who worked also worked in Jackman, Carter and Kline’s Corporate Division.
“Veronica,” Cole politely replied. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say that you wanted something from me.”
The other attorney’s smile stretched into a wide grin. “As a matter of fact, I do. Remember that contract you had written for the Markham case, last December? You know, the one that got you the bonus from the Senior Partners?”
“Yes, I remember.” Cole’s eyes bored into Veronica’s. “Why?”
A sigh left Veronica’s mouth. “Because, I would like to see it. Borrow it. Use it as a template for this contract I have in mind.”
Shaking his head, Cole could not help but smile. “In other words, you want to borrow my work to impress your client.”
“You don’t mind, do you?” Veronica gave him one of her patent innocent looks that have made her such a success in the courtroom.
Cole gave in. He really did not mind if Veronica wanted to copy his work. Besides, she happened to be one of the few people at Jackman, Carter and Kline with whom he was friendly. She was a pleasant, outgoing woman, who did not allow her own ambition to get in the way of friendship.
When Eleanor entered the office, carrying a cup of coffee, he asked her to fetch the Markham files. Once the assistant left, Veronica smiled at him. “Thanks Turner. You’re a true friend. If you ever need a favor, just ask.”
Favor. Cole then remembered his conversation with Andre, last night. The one about him finding a date for Bruce’s wedding. Hmmmm. “Listen Veronica, there is a favor you can do for me.”
Gray eyes narrowed. “Like what?”
“How would you like to go to a wedding?”
Veronica paused. Confusion whirled in her eyes. “You want to take me . . . to a wedding? Me?” Again, she regarded him with suspicion. “Why? Is this some kind of date?”
“Well, no . . . uh, I mean . . .” Cole found himself in the undesirable position of being tongue-tied. He squirmed under Veronica’s direct gaze. “What I meant was . . .” Hell, he might as well be truthful! “Yeah. Yeah, this is a date.”
Veronica continued to stare at him. “Uh-huh. Well, I would accept . . . if I knew the reason behind this offer.”
Now Cole did not know whether to feel insulted or embarrassed that he might have just been found out. So, he assumed an outraged expression and shot back, “What the hell? It’s just an offer for a date! What the hell did you mean by that?”
“Cole?” Veronica’s tone assumed one of a patient mother speaking to her child. “Now, you know that in the entire year you have been here . . . aside from those few months you were gone . . . not once have you ever expressed interest in me. Or I in you.” She gave him another close scrutiny. “Why haven’t you asked your friend, Olivia?”
“It’s her brother’s wedding.”
Veronica shrugged. “So?”
Cole paused. “She’s going to the wedding with someone else.”
“Oh.” Gray eyes widened with realization. “Oh!” Veronica declared. “Now, I understand. I heard that she was seen at Top-of-the-Marks with that new ADA from the East Coast. What’s his name?”
Through clenched teeth, Cole murmured, “Paul Margolin.”
“Oh yes,” Veronica continued, nodding. “I’ve seen him at the Hall of Justice. Delicious.”
Maintaining his temper, Cole snapped back, “Look, are you interested in going to the wedding? Or do you want me to arrange a date between you and Margolin?”
“I’d bet you’d like that,” Veronica murmured.
Cole glared at his colleague. “Veronica?”
“Is this an attempt to get Olivia, jealous?” she asked shrewdly.
Realizing that he had lost of the game of deception, Cole sighed. Women. Or else he must be losing his touch. “Yes,” he replied in a defeated voice. “If you must know, I’m . . .” Another sigh left his mouth. “Shit! I’m trying to get Olivia jealous. Yes.”
“Thought so,” Veronica shot back. “I could tell you two were interested in each other, as far back as February. Too bad you didn’t realize this, back then.”
“Veronica . . .” Cole’s voice radiated strained patience.
She quickly spoke up. “I would love to go.”
Veronica added, “By the way, if I meet someone I like at the wedding, consider yourself abandoned. Okay Turner?”
“Deal,” Cole shot back.
Eleanor entered the office, carrying two thick files and a coffee mug. “Here you go, Ms. Altman,” she said to Cole’s colleague. Then she placed the mug on Cole’s desk. “And your coffee, Mr. Turner.”
“Thank you, Eleanor.” Veronica flashed a smile at the legal assistant. Then she said to Cole, “See you on . . .”
“Saturday,” Cole finished. “I’ll pick you up around eleven.”
“I’ll be ready.” Veronica turned on her heels and left the office. Eleanor followed closely.
The moment the door closed behind the two women, Cole leaned back against his leather chair and sighed. Satisfied that he had completed at least one task.
Inside Carla Bianchi’s North Beach home, Olivia consoled the older woman after delivering the news of Nick Marcano’s escape. The Strega, who happened to be an old friend of Gweneth McNeill and Olivia’s godmother, stared ahead, her face etched in deep anxiety. On the other side of her sat Michael Bianchi, Aunt Carla’s oldest son.
“I can’t believe it!” Carla declared in shocked tones. “Nick has escaped? And with the help of a daemon?”
Olivia nodded. “I’m afraid so, Aunt Carla. I wish that Darryl and I had come by earlier, but we had an investigation to do. Plus, we had to warn Bruce and Barbara.”
“You think he’s going to go after them, again?” Michael Bianchi demanded. He was a good-looking, stocky man around thirty-seven years-old. Just three years older than Bruce. Like Carla, he possessed penetrating black eyes, and thick dark brown hair. Only he merely displayed hints of gray near the sideburns.
Darryl, who had accompanied Olivia to the older woman’s home, said, “It’s a possibility. Considering his feelings for Barbara.”
“I still can’t believe that Nick had killed some newspaper columnist, plotted to kill Bruce and summoned a succubus!” Michael’s voice tinged with dislike. “I mean, I knew the guy had a few screws loose, but good grief! Sometimes I wish that Aunt Nina had never married that jerk.” Olivia knew to whom Michael referred. Nick’s late father – Joseph Marcano.
Carla’s eyes pinpointed her oldest son’s with a hard stare. “Michael! You’re talking about your cousin!”
“Look Mom, I know! But . . .”
With quiet intensity, Carla continued, “Your cousin may have committed a few mistakes, but he’s a human being. A living being. And like all living beings, he is capable of following the wrong path.” Michael’s face turned red, as she paused and took a deep breath. “The question is . . . where is he now?”
Olivia shrugged. “I’m sorry, Aunt Carla, but we don’t know. We believe that it was a daemon who had sprung him, but there was no way Nick could have summoned one without the proper tools. So there’s the possibility. . .” She hesitated.
Both Carla and her son stared at Olivia. “Possibility of what?” Michael demanded.
Sighing, Olivia continued, “There’s the possibility that another succubus may be responsible for Nick’s escape.” She paused. “It seems Portia Della Scalla has a sis . . .”
“Claudia.” Carla’s comment took both Olivia and Darryl by surprise.
Darryl demanded, “You’ve heard of this demon?”
Nodding Carla continued, “Yes. I’ve heard of the Della Scalla sisters.” She turned to Olivia. “I’m surprised that you didn’t ask me about the other sister – Portia. When Nick was first arrested.”
“Considering that the two succubus come from another part of Italy, Aunt Carla, I’m surprised that you even knew about them,” Olivia said.
With a shrug, Carla said, “My mother came from Venice. That’s where she and Papa met. During the war. World War II. She used to tell me a lot of stories about the Della Scalla sisters. Especially since one of them – Portia – tried to seduce my grandfather, once.”
Looking confused, Darryl said, “I don’t understand. Why do you keep calling them by human names? Especially since they’re supposed to be demons?”
“Because they’re descended from a human,” Michael replied. “Their grandfather.”
Carla added, “He was a member of a noble Venetian family, who was seduced by their grandmother. Their child, anadamitici . . . or a wizard, took his father’s name of Della Scalla. This wizard was the sisters’ father. Portia, the younger sister, is the one whom Bruce had killed. She was smart, like her sister. Only . . . a bit rash. And she didn’t stick with the coven.”
A frowning Olivia asked, “What coven?”
“La Congrega de Della Scalla,” Carla announced.
“The coven is named after them?”
Carla nodded. “Claudia, the oldest, founded it over 150 years ago. It mainly consists of other incubus, succubus and some low-level daemons.”
Olivia dreaded asking the next question. “How big is this coven?”
A long stretch of silence followed, increasing Olivia’s feeling of dread. Finally, Carla answered. “Very big. If she is behind Nick’s escape . . . I only hope and pray that she will not come after Bruce or Barbara.” In other words, the McNeill family had a major problem on their hands.
With forced brightness, Carla asked both Olivia and Darryl if they would each like a slice of tiramisu. Darryl immediately said yes. Olivia considered the added calories . . . and Cecile’s reaction to a missed opportunity for a sample of the dessert. She sighed. “Sure. Why not? Could you also cut an extra slice for Cecile?”
Around ten, the following morning, Paige descended the staircase leading to P3, the nightclub owned by Piper. There, she found her older sister supervising workers for tonight’s party. “Hey! What’s up, Sis?” she greeted. “Need any help?”
Piper frowned at the younger witch. “I already have Cecile helping me. She and her boyfriend are due here, any minute. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“Nah, Barbara closed the shop for the day,” Paige explained. “Wedding rehearsals.”
“Well, aren’t you supposed to be there?” Piper added. “After all, you’re one of the bridesmaids.”
Paige replied, “Rehearsals aren’t until two, this afternoon. Olivia is a little busy this morning. You know, the escape.”
Piper ordered one of her employees to inflate more balloons. “Oh. You mean that . . .” She glanced around uneasily, to ensure that no one was listening. “. . . that witch who’s in love with Barbara?”
“Yeah, Nick. Everyone’s in an uproar over it. Remember how Jason reacted, last night?”
Recalling the BAY-MIRROR owner’s rant over the Nick Marcano escape, last night, Piper shuddered. “Remind me to wait a while before I consider inviting him to dinner again. At least until he cools down.”
“I thought you liked Jason,” Paige said, giving her a light punch on the shoulder.
Piper sighed. “I do. And I think he’s good for Phoebe. Especially after Cole.” From the corner of her eye, she noticed the slight frown on Paige’s face. “But I just wish . . . God! I wish he could be a little more . . . subtle. And not so intimidating. Anyway, why are the McNeills in an uproar over . . . whats-his-name, Nick? The demon he had summoned is dead.”
“She had a sister. Remember what Cole’s friend, Riggerio, told us?”
“And they’re not going to cancel the wedding?” Piper asked in a dubious voice.
Shrugging, Paige replied, “Barbara insists upon going ahead with the wedding. You should be happy. Olivia is paying you a nice amount for holding the bridal shower, here at P3.” She paused. “Unless she has cancelled . . .”
“No, she hasn’t,” Piper said, interrupting. “Thank goodness. I can use the money.”
Paige walked behind the bar. Piper watched, as she reached for a glass and filled it with tap water. “By the way, who have you hired for tonight’s . . . entertainment?”
Piper’s eyes narrowed, as she examined her sister. Despite the innocent expression on the latter’s face, Piper could spot a hint of anticipation in those dark eyes. “If you must know, we’ll be having a male stripper.”
A broad smile creased Paige’s lips.
“Olivia gave me a name,” Piper continued. “Some guy named Lee Carver, who works at some place called the Strobe Light Club.” From the corner of her eye, she saw one of her employees walk toward a stack of boxes. “I’m supposed to be calling him, tonight.”
A noise heralded the arrival of two newcomers – Cecile Dubois, and a tall, black man with rich brown skin and a handsome regal face that had both Piper and Paige staring, open-mouthed and wide-eyed.
“Hey guys!” Cecile greeted with a smile. “Where ya at?” She indicated her handsome companion with a tug at the arm. “I’d like y’all to meet a friend of mine. Andre Morrell.”
Piper opened her mouth to speak, until she realized that not a sound had come out. She gave her head a small shake. “Hi,” she said, clasping Andre’s outstretched hand, “I’m Piper Halliwell.”
He smiled. Radiantly. “Andre Morrell.” His voice was deep. And rich. He turned to face Paige. “And you are?”
“Huh?” Piper jabbed her sister’s side with her elbow. “Oh.” Paige blinked. “Paige. Paige Matthews.”
Confusion lit up Andre’s brown eyes. Cecile added, “Paige is Piper and Phoebe’s half sister.”
“Oh.” Andre nodded. “So, what do you want me to do?”
Certain thoughts entered Piper’s mind, until she remembered that she was a married woman. “Oh . . . uh, could you and Cecile help decorate the place with balloons and streamers?”
“Sure thing,” Cecile said. She grabbed Andre by the arm. “Let’s go, cherie.”
The two Charmed Ones watched the New Orleans couple walk over to the other employees. Their eyes remained fixed on the tall man, whose body radiated a lean, muscular frame. “My God!” Paige exclaimed. “Too bad he’s not the male stripper.”
“Paige!” Piper tried to sound outraged, but failed. She felt the same. Then she remembered. “Isn’t he an old friend of Cole’s?”
Paige nodded. “Yeah. They’ve known each other for nearly ten years. Apparently, Andre used to be a bokor. You know, like that guy who had possessed Darryl, last December.”
“Figures,” Piper muttered. “Great body and looks like a god. Like our former brother-in-law. Must be a requisite for the evil male. Thank goodness Leo is simply good-looking.” She glanced around the club and frowned.
“What is it?” Paige asked.
Piper replied, “I don’t know. What happened to that guy who was here?”
Once more, Piper looked around. Maybe she had imagined things. “Nothing. It’s nothing.” And she and Paige returned to work.
END OF ACT II – Part 2
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