“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Act 2 (Part 3)

“A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS”

ACT II – Part 3

Cole and Andre were among the last guest to arrive at the Vorando Club that night. Everyone else seemed to be there – including the McNeill men, Darryl, Leo, Paul Margolin, personal friends of Bruce, a handful of Golden Horn employees and . . . Jason Dean. The latter’s presence took Cole by surprise. He had no idea that Dean was friends with either Bruce or Harry.

The red-haired witch rushed forth to greet the two newcomers. “I see you finally made it,” he commented. “I was beginning to worry.”

“Sorry we’re late,” Cole apologized. “I had an errand to run, on my way home.” He nodded at the newspaper publisher. “I uh, didn’t realize you were going to invite him.”

Harry sighed. “I really had not planned on it. But Bruce asked me to extend an invitation.”

Cole’s brows lifted questioningly. “The question is . . . why?”

“After that article on the Golden Horn in SAN FRANCISCO TODAY, Jason had changed his mind about printing his own article in the BAY-MIRROR. Bruce found out about it and asked me to invite him to the party.”

“Great,” Cole grumbled. “Now I have to deal with both Margolin and Dean, tonight.”

Andre asked, “And who is this Dean character?”

“Jason Dean, publisher of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR newspaper,” Cole answered. “He’s Phoebe’s boss and present boyfriend.” He paused momentarily. “And Olivia’s ex.”

Harry added, “Ex-boyfriend.”

A light chuckle escaped from Andre’s mouth. “Wait a minute! You mean to say that you and this fellow Dean . . . switched partners?”

“Considering that I’ve never dated Olivia, I don’t see how that’s possible,” Cole retorted.

Harry quickly spoke up. “Hey, why don’t you two mingle a little? I have to speak with Riggerio about the booze. Would you believe it? We’re already running low.” He walked away.

The two friends glanced around the club and spotted Darryl Morris sampling food from the refreshment table. “Darryl!” Cole greeted cheerfully.

The police inspector whirled around. “Hey Cole,” he replied. His eyes scrutinized the half-demon’s companion. “I guess you must be . . .”

“Andre. Andre Morrell.” The houngan offered his hand. Darryl shook it. “I’m uh, an old friend of Cole’s. And Cecile’s boyfriend.”

Nodding, Darryl replied, “Yeah, Cecile. Are you . . . Voo . . . I mean, Vodoun, like her?”

Cole spoke up. “Andre is a priest. A houngan.”

“And are you as powerful as Cecile?” Darryl asked.

Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Not really.”

“Bullshit!” Cole retorted fondly. “Don’t let him fool you, Darryl. He’s very powerful. Anyway, Andre, this is Darryl Morris, Olivia’s partner. He is also an old friend of the Halliwells.”

The Vodoun priest’s eyes narrowed. “Darryl Morris? You’re the one who was possessed by Dako’s spirit, last December. Right?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Darryl heaved a large sigh. “That’s one experience I never want to experience again. Cecile told me that his spirit hasn’t really been vanquished.”

Andre responded with a disarming smile. “Afraid not. His spirit was probably returned to the netherworld. We Vodouns believe that death is not the end . . . if you know what I mean. Dako can be summoned again . . . unless his loa has been reborn in another body.”

Loa?” Darryl frowned. “That’s spirit, right?”

“Yeah.” Andre added, “Cecile had told me that some warlocks had Dako’s spirit trapped in some urn or jug. And that someone had sent it to them.”

Cole said, “Some bokor named William Dagbani. He’s never been found by the police. Just disappeared . . .” He halted at the sight of Leo, Margolin and Jason Dean approaching them. “Look who’s here,” he murmured. “Three of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

“Gentlemen,” Jason announced politely. “Enjoying yourself?”

Darryl smiled. “Very much. How about you?”

Jason replied, “I’m fine.” He turned to Andre. “Are you a friend of Bruce’s?”

“You can say that,” Andre said. “But I’m also a friend of Cecile Dubois’. And Cole’s. Andre Morrell.”

The publisher’s smile lost some of its warmth. “Oh. Yeah. Nice to meet you, too.”

Margolin offered his hand to Andre. “Paul Margolin. I met Cecile, two days ago.”

Andre shook Paul’s hand. “Oh yeah. She told me. She also told me that you work at the . . .”

“At the District Attorney’s Office. I’m an ADA.” Paul finally acknowledged Cole’s presence with a nod. “Turner.” Then he returned his attention to Andre. “What exactly do you do?”

Andre replied, “I’m a private investigator in New Orleans.”

“Oh really,” Jason said. “I’m a newspaper publisher. For the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Perhaps we can use your skills here in San Francisco. Especially since our police department,” he gave Darryl a pointed look, “seemed to be having trouble doing their job.”

Rolling his eyes, Darryl sarcastically retorted, “May I assume that you’re referring to Nick Marcano’s escape?”

Blue eyes frosted slightly. “Yes Inspector, you may assume. This isn’t just another rant against the police force, about the press. Marcano had killed one of my employees. Remember DeWolfe Mann?”

Darryl stiffened. “I’m well aware of that fact, Mr. Dean,” he replied coolly. “I’m also aware that whoever helped him escape, killed two County Sheriff guards.”

Jason added, “Don’t you mean, incinerate? One of my employees got the details on the killings. Do the police have any idea how that happened?”

“I have no idea,” Darryl said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Sensing an opportunity for mischief, Cole spoke up. “Perhaps the killings happened because of some supernatural phenomenon.” His companions stared at him.

“Cole . . .” Leo began, wearing a disapproving frown.

Jason quickly interrupted, “Is this your idea of a sick joke, Turner? DeWolfe Mann was one of your clients.” His face expressed outrage at Cole’s comment.

Cole coolly added, “I’m not joking. Tell me this – how do you explain the burnt bodies? Or for that matter, Portia Della Scalla? She mysteriously appears at your newspaper and you hire her without any references.” Jason visibly winced, much to Cole’s pleasure. “And when Marcano is arrested, she quickly disappears. I mean, exactly who . . . or what is Portia Della Scalla? And how did the bodies of those guards end up scorched like that? Did someone at the County jail see Marcano’s rescuer with a blow torch, or something?”

Caution radiated from Darryl’s tone. “Cole, maybe this isn’t the right . . .”

“Wait a minute!” a shocked Jason cried out. “Are you trying to say that Portia Della Scalla is some kind of supernatural being? And that magical forces were behind DeWolfe Mann’s mur . . .”

Andre quickly interrupted. “Uh . . . say Cole, look over there!” he said in a falsely jovial voice. “I do believe I see an old friend.” He grabbed Cole’s arm. “Why don’t we say hello?” Cole allowed the other man to drag him away from the others. The moment they were out of earshot, Andre rounded on the half-daemon. “Dammit man! What the hell’s wrong with you? Are you crazy? Speaking out on magic like that?”

“Oh c’mon!” Cole protested. “I was just having a little fun with the guy. He was getting on my nerves.”

Andre gave Cole a shrewd look. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he’s Phoebe’s boyfriend?” He paused. “Or that he used to date Olivia?”

Cole responded by rolling his eyes. “Look, the guy is annoying bastard. Olivia’s family seemed to think so. And didn’t you see the way Darryl was looking at him?”

“Uh-huh,” Andre grunted. The two friends approached the nightclub’s owner, who was engrossed in a conversation with one of his employees. After the latter walked away, Andre rushed toward the owner, grinning widely. “Well, look who’s here!” he proclaimed loudly.

Riggerio stared at the pair and his lips broke into a grin. “Andre! Mio amico! What are you doing here? I have not seen you in a long time!”

“Not that long,” Andre shot back. “Maybe four years.” He enveloped the daemon into a bear hug.

Riggerio returned Andre’s hug. “Longer than that. Perhaps five. We last saw each other in Marsailles, in 1998. What have you been doing, since?”

Andre shrugged. “Oh, not much. Gave up on being a bokor.”

A frown appeared on Riggerio’s face. “You no longer practice magic?”

“Oh! Oh no!” Andre said with a laugh. “No, I haven’t given up on that. I just . . . uh, I’m a hougan now, not a bokor.

Nodding, Riggerio said, “Ah! I understand. You are one of the ‘buoni tipi’, now. Good guys. Or how do you say it? ‘Sul percorso diritto e stretto’. Sì?”

“Straight and narrow . . .? Me?” One of Andre’s brows formed a dubious arch. “Listen man, I may have given up being a bokor, but I’m no saint.”

Riggerio nodded. “My apologies,” he replied smoothly. “I did not mean to insult you. I must say that you and Belthazor seemed to be creating a trend of our kind rejecting the uh . . . dark side. Becoming good guys. No?”

Cole smirked. “C’mon Riggerio. We all know there those among our kind who don’t follow a darker path. And I seem to recall that your coven does not serve one side or the other. In fact, you never have. And you’re offering your club for a witch’s bachelor party.”

A disarming smile graced Riggerio’s lips. “I am a businessman, il mio amico. Why should I pass up an opportunity for profit?”

“Why indeed?” Cole added. “By the way, I was wondering if you could help me on an important matter.”

“You are speaking of the Streghone who had recently escaped from jail. Yes?”

Cole nodded. “Right, as usual.” He paused. “When you first told us about Portia Della Scalla, you had also mentioned an older sis . . .”

Riggerio interrupted. “Claudia. She is . . . was Portia’s older sister.”

“Do you know if she’s . . .?”

Again, the daemon interrupted. “Yes, she is here in San Francisco. I have just recently discovered. The word is that she is looking for revenge ag . . .”

This time, Cole interrupted. “Against Bruce.” He sighed. “So, she must have been the one responsible for the jail break. I should have known.”

“Should have known what?” a new voice asked. The other three stared at the guest of honor, who stood behind Cole. “What are you talking about?”

Cole, Andre and Riggerio hesitated. Finally, the half-daemon spoke. “We were talking about Nick Marcano. We uh, might have an idea who’s behind his escape.”

Bruce stared at the trio. “Like who? Portia Della Scalla is dead. I killed her.”

“She had a sister,” Cole continued. “Claudia Della Scalla.”

A sigh left Bruce’s mouth. “Great! And I bet she’s after me. Right?” When Cole and the others failed to answer, he nodded. “Yeah. Thanks for the answer. I think that any chance of me enjoying this party has been shot. Other than surviving long enough to marry Barbara, I can’t see anything that will put me in a good mood.”

Harry’s voice boomed above the music. “Take a seat, everyone! It’s time for our stripper!”

Andre turned to Bruce. “Well, there’s something to look forward to.”

———

“So, when is the stripper going to perform?” Paige impatiently asked Cecile. The pair sat before P3’s bar, sipping their drinks. Paige held a glass of Seven-Up, while Cecile nursed a margarita. An Aimee Mann song blasted from the club’s sound system. “Don’t get me wrong. The party’s great, but I’ve been looking forward to my first male stripper.”

Disbelief shone in Cecile’s dark eyes. “Your first?”

“Okay, my fifth,” Paige retorted. “But I’ve never seen one at a bridal shower.”

Cecile frowned. “What about Piper and Phoebe’s bridal showers?”

Paige took a sip of her Seven-Up. “I wasn’t around when Piper and Leo got married. And Phoebe and Cole had a pre-wedding supper for the family. It was nice, but considering that Cole was possessed at the time . . .”

“Well, be thankful that neither Barbara or Bruce are demonically possessed,” Cecile said to the younger woman.

“Yeah, but they still have a vengeful succubus and Nick Marcano to worry about.” A sigh left Paige’s mouth. “Why can’t Wiccan weddings go smoothly?”

Cecile added, “From what Cole had told me, he and Phoebe were married by a priest.”

Paige corrected her. “A demon disguised as a priest. I mean, a dark priest from the Underworld.”

“And yet, weren’t they originally supposed to be married in a Catholic chapel?” Cecile demanded. “So, why didn’t they have a Wiccan ceremony?”

“I don’t know. I never really bothered to ask.” The music continued to fill the nightclub. Paige watched some of the guests sway to the music. She saw Piper leave the club’s kitchen, carrying a tray of canapés. Phoebe sat on the Halliwells’ official sofa, holding Wyatt. The younger Mrs. McNeill sat with her. The others – including Olivia, Mrs. Dubois, and Barbara, were on the dance floor. Caught up in the music and the atmosphere, Paige failed to hear Cecile’s next words. “What did you say?”

Barely shouting above the music, Cecile repeated, “I was asking about the daemon who had taken Cole’s powers!”

Paige frowned at the other woman. “You mean Barbas? Why are you interested in him? He’s dead. Cole killed him.”

“Oh.” Cecile paused. Took a sip of her margarita. Then, “Before Cole got his powers back, did you and your sisters try to kill Barbas?”

Wondering what this conversation was leading to, Paige stared at the priestess. “Uh, yeah. We tried using the Power of Three spell – the same one we had used on the Source – but it didn’t work. With Cole’s powers, Barbas was too strong.”

Cecile took another sip. “This Power of Three spell, it’s the one in which you had also invoke the powers of your ancestors. Right?”

Paige forgot about her drink. “Okay Cecile, what’s this about?”

“Listen, I’m not sure I should tell you this,” Cecile began. “In fact, I’m not sure if I should tell anyone. It started when I first met . . .” She broke off, as two other figures approached the bar. Her mother and Olivia’s grandmother. “Hey Mama, Mrs. McNeill! Enjoying the party?”

Elise McNeill smiled at the two younger women. “It’s not bad. Although I could use a little Tony Bennett. Or Nat King Cole.” She said to Cecile, “When is the stripper going to perform?”

“Huh?” Paige blinked. Did she just hear a seventy-something woman ask about a male stripper.

Blue eyes twinkled merrily. “I was asking about the stripper. I may be seventy-nine, but I’m also a woman.”

“Ditto,” Mrs. Dubois added.

“Why is everyone asking me?” Cecile demanded. “Olivia planned this party.” The other three continued to stare at her. She sighed. “Okay, the stripper should be showing up around nine. Happy?” Both Mrs. McNeill and Mrs. Dubois expressed delight. Cecile rolled her eyes.

Recalling her previous conversation with the younger Vodoun priestess, Paige decided to bring it up. “Cecile, what were you about to tell me? Something about Cole’s powers, I think.”

Discomfort flashed across Cecile’s face. “Oh. That. Uh, it’s nothing. Well, maybe . . .” She sighed. “Okay, I might as well mention it, especially since I wanted to talk to you, Mama, about it. And Mrs. McNeill. I had a vision. When I met Olivia’s new friend at Pier 39, Wednesday night.”

“Paul Margolin?” Mrs. McNeill demanded. “What did you . . .?”

Mrs. Dubois added, “Why don’t you just show us, cherie?”

Cecile glanced around. Then her eyes widened. Paige realized that the telepath was about to send her vision. “Uh, wait . . .” The Charmed One gasped, as the vision overwhelmed her mind. Once it had ended, she cried out, “Oh my God!”

“You’re telling me!” Mrs. McNeill added in astonished tones. “Did I just see Olivia kill Cole?”

Nodding, Cecile said to Paige, “That’s why I was asking about that Barbas guy.”

“But that’s impossible!” Paige exclaimed. “How could . . . how would Livy be able to kill Cole, when we weren’t able to vanquish Barbas when he had Cole’s powers?”

Cecile shrugged. “Don’t ask me.”

“Why would Olivia kill Cole in the first place?” Cecile’s mother asked.

An uneasy feeling overcame Paige. “Maybe . . . Do you think that Cole will turn evil, again?”

Mrs. McNeill commented, “I’m wondering why this vision came to Cecile, ‘after’ she had shook Paul’s hand. And why did he have that strange expression on his face? He looked so . . .”

“Smug?” Mrs. Dubois suggested. The elderly woman nodded.

“Yeah, I also noticed that,” Cecile added. “There’s just something about him that . . . I don’t know. He just makes me feel uneasy.”

Paige asked, “Will you tell Olivia?”

Cecile sighed. “I don’t know. What am I going to say? Tell her to break up with . . . what’s his name?”

“Paul,” Mrs. McNeill added.

Continuing, Cecile said, “What do I say to Livy? Tell her to break up with Paul, because I had a vision of her killing Cole . . . after shaking Paul’s hand?”

“Don’t tell her,” Mrs. McNeill ordered. “At least not yet. Wait and see how this . . . friendship with Paul turn out. If it becomes serious and affects Cole, then tell her.” She sighed. “Or maybe you should simply go ahead and tell her, anyway.”

Cecile’s mouth formed a grim line. “Shit! There are times I wish I never had this damn power! Seeing the future sure can be a curse!”

A sympathetic Paige nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s how Phoebe feels, sometimes.”

———-

A tall, muscular figure emerged from the apartment building and started toward the blue-gray Toyota, parked next to the curb. Just as Lee Carver leaned forward to open the car door, a second figure materialized beside him, causing the dancer to nearly jump out of his skin.

“Christ! You scared the hell out of me! What do you want?” he demanded in an irritated voice.

“Pardon signor,” the man replied in a smooth accent. Italian. “I am . . . eh, new to San Francisco and I am trying to find someone. Uh, a Signor Lee Carver. Do you know him?”

Lee peered closely at the man. The latter seemed respectable. Non-threatening. He was a tall, dark-haired man with a slender, yet wiry frame. “I’m Lee Carver. What do you want?”

The stranger expressed surprise. “Oh! You are Signor Carver? Who works at the Strobe Light Club as a dancer?”

Wariness overcame Lee. How in the hell did this guy knew where he worked? “Okay Dude, who in the hell are you?”

The man responded with an easy smile. “My name is Alessandro Pelligio. I am the . . . new owner of a club in North Beach. I am looking for new dancers. After seeing your act at the Strobe Light, I thought you would be interested in a new job. That is . . . if you’re the same Signor Carver.”

“I’m him!” Lee’s interest perked a bit. “I’m Lee Carver. Listen, I have a gig, tonight. At a private party. So, why don’t we deal with this later?”

A smile stretched Pelligio’s lips. “Don’t worry, Signor. This will not take long.” His eyes suddenly glowed red.

Lee’s eyes widened in fear. “What the . . .?” Seconds later, his entire body seared with heat. Lee blacked out, but not before his voice filled the air with screams of pain.

———

Cheers and whistles from onlookers filled the Vorando Club. On stage, a scantily-clad female gyrated to the music blasting from the club’s sound system. Every man had his eyes glued to the dancer – save for a handful. Both Jack McNeill and Riggerio were engaged in some kind of conversation. Leo seemed downright embarrassed by the dancer’s performance and focused elsewhere. Cole simply felt bored. Strippers had never done much for him.

Once the performance ended, the bachelor party’s guests broke into a round of applause. The stripper waved and left the stage. Riggerio left Mr. McNeill’s side and walked onstage to present the next act. Cole rolled his eyes in disgust. It was another stripper. Great. When the next act began, Cole slipped off the bar stool and strode out of the club.

Outside of the club, Cole took a few deep breaths and watched the cars speed along Powell. A few minutes passed and he became aware another figure leaving the nightclub. “Cole?” a voice declared in a surprised tone. “I didn’t realize . . .”

The half-daemon glanced to his left and heaved an annoyed sigh. “Leo. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Huh?” The whitelighter’s blue eyes widened. “No! I mean . . . no, I uh, I just stepped out for some fresh air.”

A smirk curled Cole’s lips. “Oh, I see. The entertainment wasn’t much to your taste.”

“No.” Even in the dark, Cole could tell that Leo was blushing. “I mean . . . it’s like I said – I needed the air. That’s all.”

“Okay. Sure.” Cole turned away from the whitelighter and continued to watch the passing traffic. He added, “Personally, I didn’t care for the entertainment. Watching strippers were never my style.”

Frustration tinged Leo’s sigh. “Look, I wasn’t bothered by the strippers, okay?. They were around in my day too, you know.”

“I didn’t say that you were bothered by them,” Cole shot back.

Leo retorted, “Maybe not, but you seemed bent on hinting that I . . . that I’m some kind of prude.”

His sense of peace shattered, Cole snarled, “You know Leo? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think about the strippers! Okay?”

“You never seemed to care what anyone thinks,” Leo shot back. “At least, lately.”

Cole glared at his former brother-in-law. “That’s right. I don’t care! You see, I’ve grown wiser over the past several months.”

“Well, if you were so ‘wise’, you would have never made that crack about magic to Jason!”

Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted, “I was just pulling the guy’s leg! Besides, he will have to learn the truth about Phoebe and the others, one of these days.”

“It was dangerous, Cole! Just like that deal you made with the Seer to become the Source. Tell me, was it wise for you to come back from the Wasteland?” Leo faced Cole, his blue eyes chips of ice. “Had it ever occurred to you, Cole that you should have stayed dead?”

Anger washed over Cole. “First of all, I had made a deal to use the Hollow to take the Source’s powers temporarily, not become the Source! Second . . .”

“Oh come on, Cole! Who are you kidding? Those powers turned you into the Source!”

Cole took a deep breath and counted to three. One . . . two . . . three . . . “Leo, those damn powers DID NOT turn me into the Source,” he growled. “If they had, then Piper and Paige’s powers should have made the Source two-thirds of the Charmed Ones! And they, along with Phoebe would have never been able to vanquish the Source using a Power of Three spell! But they did, because the Hollow didn’t give him their essence. In fact, it wasn’t until after they had killed the bastard that his essence began to take possession of my body. If you and the Self-Righteous Ones had bothered to stop and consider how I became the Source, you probably would have found out! How many fucking times does someone have to tell you?”

Leo began, “And what about . . .?”

“As for my decision to leave the Wasteland,” Cole continued, “I didn’t plan on it. Not at first. I was about to give myself up to the Beast when the power of a vanquished daemon fell upon me. So I took advantage of the situation and gathered more powers.”

Shaking his head with dismay, Leo replied, “And you never stopped to think that you shouldn’t have done it?”

“Maybe the Halliwells shouldn’t have killed me when I was possessed!” Cole snarled. “Or . . . did you ever stop to think that your little scheme to marry Piper behind your bosses’ backs was wrong?”

Leo’s face hardened. “You were responsible for them finding out! And I wanted to marry Piper! How is that wrong?”

Cole retorted, “I don’t know, Leo. Perhaps it was, because you were so willing to risk the sisters’ lives to get what you wanted. Well, I wanted a second chance with Phoebe! Unlike you, I didn’t get my wish. Hopefully, I might have a chance with someone else.”

“If you’re speaking of Olivia, forget it!” Leo’s voice bridled with contempt. “She has interests, elsewhere.”

Cole gave the whitelighter a shrewd look. “And all according to plan. Right Leo? Isn’t Olivia the reason you had talked Margolin into applying for a job, here on the West Coast?”

Leo shot back, “It’s for her own good! Considering your talent for bringing chaos in your wake, I thought it was prudent that Olivia became interested in someone who’s a lot safer and more dependable!” He paused, as horror over his revelation filled his eyes.

A knowing smile touched Cole’s lips. “So, Paige was right after all. She told me what Margolin had said to her at Nathalie Gleason’s party. About your little matchmaking scheme.”

The whitelighter’s body stiffened. “I suppose you’re going to tell her. Tell Olivia.”

“Perhaps.” Cole grinned. “Then again, maybe I won’t have to. Your plan for Margolin and Olivia wasn’t the only thing I had learned at Nathalie’s party.”

“What do you mean?” Leo demanded.

Cole paused dramatically. “That’s between me and Olivia, Leo. Enjoy yourself.” He turned his back on Leo and returned to the bachelor party.

——–

Strains of Rod Stewart singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” filled P3. All eyes were focused on the muscular man gyrating on the stage. When ripped away a pair of white trousers, revealing a black thong underneath, whistles and screams filled the club. Even Barbara could not help but admire the man’s . . . assets. Although Bruce could definitely give him competition.

The dancer completed his performance and the women broke into applause. The only person missing seemed to be the club’s owner. Piper had disappeared into her office with baby Wyatt, once the stripper had appeared on stage. Sure enough, the applause died down, the stripper left the stage and Piper – with Wyatt in her arms – reappeared. “Is the show over?” she asked. The oldest Charmed One glanced at the stage. “Oh, I guess he is.”

Nathalie Gleason heaved a mournful sigh. “Unfortunately.” She turned to Olivia, who sat next to the bar with Mrs. Dubois. “Where did you find that guy, anyway?”

Olivia shrugged. “At some place called the Strobe Light Club. Apparently, he’s very popular with the customers.”

“Apparently?” Barbara replied knowingly.

“All right! I saw him there!” Olivia shot back. She glared at the blond woman. “You have to admit that he’s not bad.”

Nathalie snorted. “Not bad? Honey, he’s more than just ‘not bad’!”

A smile tugged at Mrs. Dubois’ lips. “I don’t know. I’ve seen better, myself.”

“Oh!” Olivia’s face lit up. “That dancer at the Hurricane Club on Bourbon Street! I remember him.”

Mrs. Dubois heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Yeah, so do I.”

Looking somewhat dubious, Nathalie replied, “Oh-kaay. Although I can’t see anyone being better than Surfer Boy, up there.”

“Uh, now that the entertainment is over,” Piper said, cutting into the conversation, “is everyone ready for dessert?”

Detecting a familiar pressure on her bladder, Barbara said, “In a minute. I have to make a little trip to the Ladies Room.” She slid off the bar stool and strode toward the bathroom.

After completing her tasks, a few minutes later, Barbara washed her hands and left the bathroom. She had not taken more than eight steps, when she collided with a burly figure. It was the stripper that Olivia had hired. Fully dressed, this time.

“Oh,” she said, feeling a wave of heat flame her cheeks. “It’s you. Excuse me.”

The dancer responded with a dazzling smile. With those blond looks and smile, Nathalie had been right to nickname him, Surfer Boy. “Of course. I . . . uh, I hope that you enjoyed the show.”

“Actually, I did. You were pretty . . .” Barbara halted in mid-sentence. The dancer’s looks transformed right before her eyes. Blond hair became dark. Blue eyes now shone dark-brown. The wide face narrowed. And so did the body, which changed from broad and muscular to slim and wiry. “What the hell?” she cried.

Before Barbara could say anything further, those dark eyes became penetrating. Hypnotic. And the blond witch’s mind slipped into oblivion.

——–

Claudia Della Scalla teleported into the middle of P3’s narrow hallway. She saw her minion, Alessandro, holding a blond woman in his arms. “Excellent work, Sandro,” she said. “Now, take her back to the house.”

Alessandro hesitated. “I understand that you do not want her dead, Padronessa, but do I have to stay with her? I have not . . . eh, received my pay. Yet.” His eyes cast downward. “And I have another dance to perform.”

“And I look forward to seeing it.” The older succubus’s eyes swept appreciatively over her younger counterpart’s body, causing the latter to blush. “Do not worry, Sandro. Just take her to the villa and return. The Streghone, Rosa and Giancarlo will look after her.” Claudia added, “About the amulet I gave you . . . did it work? Or were the old lady and the Vodoun priestess able to sense your true identity?

Shaking his head, Alessandro replied that both telepaths had not detected him. “Nor had the Halliwell seer.” A groan left his mouth. “Scusatemi Signorina, but may I leave now? The witch . . . she is getting heavy.”

Claudia nodded. Alessandro sighed and disappeared with the witch in his arms. The succubus grabbed hold of the amulet around her neck and stared at it. After learning from Marcano about the three telepaths, she had invoked a spell around three amulets to block any telepathic activity toward her or her assistants. Satisfied by Alessandro’s assurances that it worked, Claudia allowed her body to transform into another. She slipped into the Ladies’ Room and checked her image in the mirror. A smug smile curled her lips. Perfect. She looked exactly like Barbara Bowen.

END OF ACT II – Part 3

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