“DALLAS” Season One (1978): Episodes Ranking

The first season of the CBS television series, “DALLAS”, aired during the month of April 1978. This premiere season only featured five episode and is regarded by some as a complete miniseries, instead of a season. I regard these five episodes as an entire season and below is my ranking of those seasons:

 

“DALLAS” Season One (1978): Episodes Ranking

(1.05) “Barbecue” – A rehash of the Ewing-Barnes feud, an announcement regarding the Ewing dynasty and a tragedy all combine in this first-rate episode about the Ewings’ barbecue for family, neighbors and friends.

(1.03) “Spy in the House” – Oldest Ewing sibling J.R. suspects Pamela Barnes’ marriage to younger brother Bobby as a ruse, when information regarding a political/business colleague finds itself into the hands of his rival, Cliff Barnes.

(1.01) “Digger’s Daughter” – In this well-made pilot episode, the Ewings are surprised by the marriage of Bobby to Pamela, the only daughter of Jock Ewing’s old rival, Digger Barnes.

(1.04) “Winds of Vengeance” – In this tense-filled episode, a hurricane threatens Southfork, when two men arrive and take the Ewing women, J.R. and foreman Ray Krebbs hostage in retribution for the latter two’s affairs with the women in their lives.

(1.02) “The Lesson” – In this somewhat interesting episode, Pam attempts to win acceptance at Southfork by intervening in Lucy’s life; when she discovers that the Ewings’ only grandchild has been skipping school and having an affair with Ray.

Advertisements

“ROAD TO PERDITION” (2002) Review

07

“ROAD TO PERDITION” (2002) Review

Back in 1998, DC Comics published a graphic novel about a Depression-era criminal enforcer who is betrayed by his employers and forced to hit the roads of the American Midwest with his young son on a quest for revenge. Written by Max Allan Collins, the novel caught the attention of producers Richard and Dean Zanuck and was adapted into film directed by Sam Mendes.

“ROAD TO PERDITION” began during the late winter of 1931, in Rock Island, Illinois. Michael Sullivan serves as an enforcer for Irish mob boss, John Rooney, who seemed to regard him a lot higher than the latter’s unstable son, Connor Rooney. Sullivan is also a happily married man with two sons – Michael Jr. and Peter. However, his relationship with Michael is forced, due to Sullivan’s fear that his older son might turn out to be like him. The Sullivan family attends the wake for one Danny McGovern, a local associate who does bootlegging business with Sullivan family. During the wake, the Rooneys and Sullivan become wary of Finn McGovern, who has expressed suspicions about his younger brother’s death. Connor and Sullivan are ordered by Rooney to talk to Finn.

Connor argues with Finn over the latter’s suspicions about his brother’s death, before killing the latter. Sullivan is forced to gun down McGovern’s men. And this is all witnessed by Michael, who had hidden in his father’s car out of curiosity. Despite Sullivan swearing his son to secrecy and Rooney pressuring Connor to apologize for the reckless action, Connor murders Sullivan’s wife Annie and younger son Peter, mistaking the latter for Michael. He also tries to set up a hit on Sullivan at a speakeasy. But the enforcer manages to kill his would-be murderer first. Sullivan escapes to Chicago with Michael in order to seek employment from Al Capone’s right-hand man Frank Nitti and discover the location of the now hidden Connor. However, Nitti rejects Sullivan’s proposal and informs Rooney of the meeting. The Irish-born mobster reluctantly allows Nitti to recruit assassin Harlen Maguire, who is also a crime scene photographer, to kill Sullivan.

I might as well be frank. The only reason that drew my attention to “ROAD TO PERDITION” was the movie’s Depression-era setting. I have always been fascinated by the 1930s decade, despite Hollywood’s inconsistent portrayal of it in the past 50 to 60 years. The fact that Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law were among the stars in the cast helped maintain my interest until the movie’s release date. However, I still harbor doubts that I would truly enjoy a story about a father and son on the road in early 1930s Midwest or that it would draw any high regard on my part. Thankfully, the movie proved me wrong. Not only did “ROAD TO PERDITION” proved to be both an entertaining character study of various father-and-son relationships, but also a fascinating road trip and crime drama. I once came upon Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel at a bookstore not long after the movie’s initial release. I could not remember exactly what I had read, but I do recall realizing that the movie’s screenwriter, David Self, took a good deal of liberties with Collins’ plot . . . and that he was wise to do so. Enjoyable as the graphic novel was, I could also see that it was not possible to do a complete faithful adaptation of it.

Despite being a combination of a crime drama, a revenge tale and a road trip; the main theme that seemed to permeated “ROAD TO PERDITION” was the relationships between father and son. There is one line in the film uttered by Paul Newman’s John Rooney that pretty much summed up the film:

“Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.”

This certainly seemed to be the case in the relationship between Sullivan and Michael Jr. at the beginning of the film. Sullivan fears that Michael might follow his footsteps into crime, because they share personality traits. Unfortunately, he solves this problem by maintaining an emotional distance from his older son. John Rooney’s relationship with his son Connor is hampered by his lack of respect for the latter, his closer relationship with Sullivan, and Connor’s insecurities. Only Sullivan and Rooney seemed to have a close and easy-going father/son relationship at the beginning of the film, despite a lack of blood connection. And yet, that close relationship ended up being easily shattered thanks to Connor’s act of murder and the determination of both men to protect their own sons. Other gangster films have portrayed the impact of crime on families . . . but not with such complexity.

I believe that “ROAD TO PERDITION” is probably the first motion picture on both sides of the Atlantic that perfectly re-captured the 1930s . . . especially the first half of the decade. One cannot bring up the movie without mentioning the late Conrad Hall, whose brilliant Oscar winning photography re-captured the bleak landscape of Depression-era Midwest. This was especially apparent in the following scenes:

rtp_2982

rtp_3186

RoadtoPerdition1

Richard L. Johnson’s Academy Award nominated art direction and Albert Wolsky’s costume designs also added to the movie’s setting. I especially have to compliment Wolsky for conveying how fashion was in the midst of transforming during that period from the shorter skirts of the 1920s to the longer ones of the 1930s. This was especially reflected in the conservative costumes worn by Jennifer Jason Leigh and other actresses in the movie. Usually I am not in the habit of noticing the sound in any film. But I must admit that I noticed how sound was effectively used in this film, especially in one scene in the second half that featured some brutal murders committed by a Thompson sub-machine gun. Not surprisingly, Scott Millan, Bob Beemer and John Pritchett all received Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound Editing.

There were aspects of “ROAD TO PERDITION” that I found unappealing or puzzling. The movie is more or less a well paced movie. But there is a period in the film – following Sullivan’s failed attempt to acquire employment with the Capone organization – that it nearly dragged to a halt. Director Sam Mendes seemed so enamored of Conrad Hall’s photography of the Illinois landscape during the Sullivans’ journey from Chicago that he seemed to have lost his hold of the pacing. Also, I found myself wondering what happened to Sullivan’s sister-in-law – the one who had offered them refuge at her lakeside home in Perdition. By the time the enforcer and his son arrived, her house had been abandoned. What happened to her and the house? The movie never explained.

The Zanucks, Sam Mendes and the movie’s casting director collected a group of exceptional performers for the cast. “ROAD TO PERDITION” featured solid performances from Ciarán Hinds as the grieving and later murdered Finn McGovern, Liam Aiken as Sullivan’s younger son Peter, and a very entertaining Dylan Baker as the Rooneys’ accountant, Alexander Rance. Both Doug Spinuzza and Kevin Chamberlin were entertaining and memorable as brothel keeper Tony Calvino and his hired bouncer Frank. Stanley Tucci gave a restrained and intelligent performance as Al Capone’s right-hand man, Frank Nitti. Despite portraying the only major female role in the film – namely Annie Sullivan – Jennifer Jason-Leigh let her presence be known as Sullivan’s warm and loving wife, who also happened to know the truth about his real profession.

I realize that many might find this hard to believe, but I first became aware of Daniel Craig, thanks to his very interesting portrayal of Connor Rooney. Someone once complained that Connor never developed as a character. Well, of course not. Any man who would recruit a hophead pimp to kill a very competent hit man like Michael Sullivan Sr. must be a loser. And Craig did a superb job in conveying the character’s insecurities. Jude Law was deliciously creepy as Capone hit man Harlan Maguire, who was not only a very competent killer, but who also seemed to harbor a fetish for photographing dead bodies. Law also had a very good grasp of American dialogue from the 1930s. I was happy to learn that Tyler Hoechlin was still acting. A talent like his should never go to waste. And I must admit that not only he was superb as Michael Sullivan, Jr., he also did a great job in conveying young Michael’s emotional journey throughout the film.

Paul Newman earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the aging Irish gangster, John Rooney. It is a pity that he lost the award, because he was superb as the charming and intelligent Rooney. Newman was also very effective in conveying Rooney’s more intimidating aspects of his character. Although Rooney was not his very last role, it was among his last . . . and probably one of his best. Tom Hanks did not receive any acting nominations for his performance as enforcer Michael Sullivan Sr. Not only am I puzzled, but very disappointed. As far as I am concerned, Sullivan was one of the better roles of his career. He gave a superb performance as the tight-jawed and no-nonsense family man, who also happened to be a first-rate hit man. What I found so amazing about Hanks’ performance is the manner in which he balanced Sullivan’s no-nonsense family man persona and the ruthlessness that made the character such a successful criminal.

If I had to select my favorite Sam Mendes film, it would have to be “ROAD TO PERDITION”. I have never seen “AMERICAN BEAUTY”. And I do not exactly consider his other films better. Yes, the movie has its flaws, including a pacing that nearly dragged to a halt midway. But its virtues – superb direction by Mendes, an excellent cast led by Tom Hanks, and a rich atmosphere that beautifully re-captured the American Midwest during the early years of the Great Depression – made “ROAD TO PERDITION” a personal favorite of mine.

“THE MONUMENTS MEN” (2014) Review

monuments-1

“THE MONUMENTS MEN” (2014) Review

A rarely known aspect of World War II was recently explored in this recently released war film. “THE MONUMENTS MEN” told the story about a group of men, established under the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program in 1943, to recover pieces of art stolen by the Nazi, before they could be destroyed on the orders of Adolf Hitler.

Produced and written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and directed by Clooney; “THE MONUMENTS MEN” began in 1943 in which art conservation specialist and museum director Frank Stokes convinces U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow him to assumble an Army unit compromising of museum directors, curators, and art historians to search for stolen art treasures of the Western world and return it to the rightful owners. Stokes, portrayed by Clooney, assemble six other men:

*Lieutenant James Granger, U.S.A.
*Lieutenant Donald Jeffries, British Army
*Sergeant Richard Campbell, U.S.A.
*Sergeant Walter Garfield, U.S.A.
*Lieutenant Jean Claude Clermont, French Army
*Private Preston Savitz, U.S.A.

Stokes also recruited a U.S. Army enlisted soldier named Sam Epstein to act as his interpreter and driver. And in occupied France, In occupied Paris, an art curator named Claire Simone is forced to allow Nazi officers like Viktor Stahl to oversee the theft of art for either Adolf Hitler’s proposed Führermuseum in Linz, German; or as the personal property of senior commanders like Herman Goering. She is nearly arrested for helping her Maquis brother unsuccessfully recapture such items. And later, all seems lost when Claire discovers that Stahl is taking all of her gallery’s contents to Germany, while the Allies approach Paris. Stokes’ unit is split up for various objectives throughout Western Europe. While most of them are frustrated by the Allies’ combat units, which refuse to restrict their tactical options for the sake of preserving architecture; Granger, who ends up in occupied Paris, meets Simone and discovers that she will not cooperate with the Allies, whom she suspects of also being art looters.

I suspect that true art lovers – especially those enamored of European art – might find “THE MONUMENTS MEN” to be an emotional and satisfying tale in which the Allies not only persevered over the Nazi Army, but also saved a great deal of important art work from being destroyed. And there are those who were probably disappointed that “THE MONUMENTS MEN” was not some kind of stylish caper film in the style of Steven Soderbergh’s “OCEAN’S ELEVEN”trilogy. How did I feel about “THE MONUMENTS MEN”? I found it entertaining, emotional, and surprisingly old-fashioned. Then again, this is a World War II drama about the preservation of famous Western art, in which the ages of the main stars range from early 40s to early 60s. More importantly, “THE MONUMENTS MEN” was released in February – a movie season that usually feature mediocre or bad films.

I could never regard “THE MONUMENTS MEN” a great film. I found the pacing uneven . . . especially in the movie’s first half. I felt that both Clooney’s direction and the script’s depiction of the men’s separation following their basic training rather confusing. I was especially confused by the whereabouts of the Donald Jeffries character. One minute he was in France with Stokes and Epstein. And in his next scene, he is in Belgium with no explanation in the movie’s narrative of how he got there. Come to think of it, both Campbell and Savitz end up in Belgium . . . without Jeffries. Or was it Italy? Very confusing. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I found Matt Damon’s performance rather flat. It almost seemed as if he was phoning it in – especially in the movie’s first half. In some way, I think Clooney tried too hard to make the movie so profound that it ended up feeling . . . hmmm . . . flacid.

Thankfully, the movie’s second half managed to be an improvement on the first. Especially since the Monument Men encountered more danger and their efforts to find the stolen art seemed to improve. Actually, the second half featured some action sequences that managed to inject some energy into the film’s story. Audiences finally get to see the dangers that the Monuments Men faced in order to achieve their goal – Nazi troops in a Belgian convent, straying into the middle of a battleground that became deadly, an encounter with a lone armed German soldier, and a close encounter with a land mine. The second half also featured a few excellent scenes – including Campbell’s reaction to a recorded letter from home during Christmas, Savitz’s exposure of Stahl, Granger and Claire’s near-romantic encounter inside her apartment, and Stokes’ interrogation of one of the S.S. officers responsible for the attempted destruction of some of the stolen art.

Technically, “THE MONUMENTS MEN” is a beautiful and elegant looking film of the old-fashioned kind. First of all, I have to compliment Phedon Papamichael’s sharp and colorful photography of England and Germany, which stood in for World War II-era Western Europe. Production designer James D. Bissell and his team did an admirable job in re-creating Western Europe during that period. I was especially impressed by his work, along with Bernhard Henrich’s set designs in the sequences that featured the Allied camps near the Normandy beaches and the German mine, site of the first batch of art recovered. Louise Frogley’s costume designs struck me as solid reflections of the years 1943-45. However, I must admit that I was not particularly impressed by Alexandre Desplat’s score. I simply did not find it that memorable.

The performances in “THE MONUMENTS MEN” also struck me as solid, despite the star power featured in this film. I really do not see anyone receiving an award, let alone a nomination, for their work in this film. Hell, I would be surprised if anyone’s performance was particularly singled out by critics or moviegoers alike. However, I did notice that Clooney, as a director, allowed each major character a chance to shine in a particular scene. Clooney got a chance to shine in the scene featuring Stokes’ interrogation of the German officer. Both Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett generated a good deal of heat in the scene featuring Granger’s near romantic dinner with Claire Simone. Bill Murray gave one of the most poignant performances in a scene featuring Campbell’s silent reaction to a recording he had received from his family for Christmas. Bob Balaban was marvelous in the scene in which Savitz exposed Claire’s former “supervisor” Stahl as a Nazi and thief with cold precision. Both John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, who had previously worked together in the Oscar winning film, “THE ARTIST”, managed to create a strong chemistry in two scenes that featured Garfield and Claremont’s encounter with a German sniper and their accidental wondering into a battlefield. But I feel that the best acting moment came from Hugh Bonneville, who did a marvelous job in conveying Jeffries’ passion and sense of danger in a scene featuring the character’s encounter with Germans at a Belgium convent.

Look, “THE MONUMENTS” is no classic. And I do not think it is the best movie I have seen this winter. It might be a bit too old-fashioned for the tastes of some (I can endure it). And if I must be brutally honest, the first half of Clooney and Grant Henslov’s script came off as limpid and confusing. But a strong second half and some golden moments by a talented cast led by Clooney more or less saved “THE MONUMENTS” for me.

“A Family Affair” [PG-13] – 7/8

“A FAMILY AFFAIR”

CHAPTER SEVEN

Sunday evening finally arrived. Cole and Olivia appeared in the dining room of the Golden Horn restaurant. A maitre’d fawned over the pair, before leading them to one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms. After the maitre’d had left, Cole said to Olivia, “I hope this plan of yours work.”

“So do I,” Olivia replied, as she picked up her menu. “You know, it’s a good thing that Mark Giovanni didn’t invite us for dinner.”

“He did, but I told him there was an emergency regarding the apartment building and that we would have to cancel.”

Olivia stared at Cole, momentarily. “You know, I keep forgetting what a first-class liar you are.”

The couple fell into a comfortable silence, as they examined the menu. However, Cole’s anxieties about other matters refused to disappear. He continued, “What if they don’t fake it? The Halliwells. What if they try to kill Marbus, again?”

“Paige will make sure that Marbus remains alive,” Olivia calmly assured Cole. “After what happened the last time, I don’t think she will be pushed into that direction, again. And I don’t think that Piper and Phoebe will try to make another attempt. Don’t worry.” She smiled at the half-daemon.

Cole tried to gain assurance in Olivia’s words and smile, but memories of his past experiences with the Charmed Ones made it difficult. All he could do was cross his fingers and pray. Now if only some deity would be willing to accept the prayers and hopes of a reformed half-daemon.

——-

Three figures materialized on the sidewalk, outside Mark Giovanni’s San Mateo home. “Paige, why are we here?” Phoebe demanded. “Why didn’t you simply orb us inside the house?”

Paige sighed. “I don’t know. I wasn’t sure if Cole had removed the spell to prevent us from entering.”

“Might as well find out,” Piper murmured. She gave Paige’s a tight squeeze. Again, Paige sighed before she orbed them all inside the house. They ended up in a private dining room, where their target awaited.

Marbus sighed with relief. “You finally made it. I began to wonder if you would. Ready?”

“I guess Cole and Olivia told you about the plan,” Paige said.

Nodding, the demon replied. “Yes, they did. Now, let’s get on with it. My host thinks I’m searching for something that I may have dropped from my pocket.”

Paige produced a knife and handed it to him. “Here you go.”

Marbus used the knife to form a small cut on the side of his left hand. Then he allowed the blood – which turned out to be red, much to Paige’s surprise – to drip upon the floor. Phoebe produced a bottle of the potion from her jacket pocket. She held it high above her head. “Get ready to scream,” she murmured.

Several seconds passed before Marbus cried out, “What the . . .? How in the hell did you three get in here?”

“A spell!” Piper shouted back. “We’re here to vanquish your sorry ass!” She then rolled her eyes in disgust at her performance.

Phoebe tossed the potion at the blood on the floor. Marbus let out a bloodcurling scream, as smoke and fire materialized before the quartet. “Time to go,” Paige quickly suggested. And they all immediately teleported out of the room.

———

The woman gasped aloud, as Cole materialized in the middle of her apartment. “Where are they?” he demanded in a harsh voice. “Where are the Halliwells?”

“Who are you talking about?” Eva Niccolli demanded. “And who in the hell are you?”

A cold smile stretched Cole’s lips. “Belthazor. Surely the Charmed Ones have told you about me.” His smile disappeared. “Now, where are they?”

Although trembling with fear, Dr. Niccolli faced the half-daemon with a defiance that he found admirable. “I don’t know where they are,” she spat out. “And if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you!”

Cole took a few threatening steps toward the doctor. She took a few steps back. “And what if I made you talk?” he suggested in a menacing voice.

“You wouldn’t . . .” Dr. Niccolli’s chest heaved up and down. “What do you want with them, anyway?”

Chillingly, Cole replied, “They killed my uncle. And I want to repay the favor.” He paused and eyed the Gypsy woman, as if contemplating a sure bet. His smile returned. “Maybe I should just take you, instead. I’m sure they will try to ‘rescue’ you.”

“Get out!” Dr. Niccolli screamed. “Get the hell out of here! Before I . . .”

Cole gripped her arm. Hard. Fear widened Eva’s brown eyes. “Before you what?” he said with a sneer. Then he relaxed his grip. “If you see your friends, tell them not to bother hiding. Because I’ll eventually find them.” His cold smile returned. “Good day.”

Satisfied with his performance, Cole finally disappeared.

——

The shrill telephone ring broke Eleanor Read’s concentration. She heaved a sigh, as she allowed her attention to drift away from the report on her computer screen. Then she picked up the receiver. “Good morning. Cole Turner’s office. How may I help you?”

“Is he there?” an anxious voice cried into Eleanor’s ear. The voice belonged to Mark Giovanni. “Is Turner there? I need to speak to him, right away!”

Eleanor repeated the message given to her by her supervisor, over an hour ago. “I’m sorry sir, but Mr. Turner is not in the office, at this moment. He’s been called away on a family emergency. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Tell him that I need to speak to him about that family emergency! As soon as possible!”

Suppressing a sigh, Eleanor replied, “Of course, Mr. Giovanni. I’ll tell . . .” The line went dead. As the sigh finally left her mouth, Eleanor hung up. She wondered if it was her turn to experience what many of the firm’s employees already had – another one of Cole Turner’s disappearing acts.

———-

Prax burst into Artemus’ office, looking very excited. “Sir, it’s happened!”

The senior daemon glanced up from his computer terminal. “What are you talking about?”

“Marbus.” Prax paused dramatically. “He’s been killed. By the Charmed Ones. Kelson has confirmed it. And now, there are rumors that Belthazor is after them.”

Artemus felt a warm flush of satisfaction spread throughout his chest. “And Giovanni? What about him?”

“Kelson tells me that he’s in a state of panic over Marbus’ disappearance. He’s been trying to reach Belthazor, and has called the police.” A satisfied smile curved Prax’s lips. “However, Giovanni is unprotected.”

A mirthless chuckle escaped from Artemus’ mouth. “Perfect. Now, contact Ms. Kriegler and tell her that it’s time for her warlock to perform that extra task for me.”

“Why not use Kelson?” Prax asked. “After all, he’s close to Giovanni.”

Artemus rolled his eyes. “Please Prax! Get serious! You know as well as I do that Kelson is a miserable assassin! Remember how he had botched killing that wizard, last year? Besides, I need him to keep an eye on Giovanni’s wife, once she becomes a widow. Which means I do not want any suspicion attached to him.” Prax started toward the door. “By the way, tell Ms. Kriegler that I want Vernnoff to leave a body behind. That way, there will be no doubt that Mark Giovanni will be declared legally dead.”

————

Footsteps echoed across the underground parking lot. Harold Vernoff’s eyes watched Mark Giovanni and his fellow warlock, Kelson, strode toward his silver Mercedes. Kelson excused himself from the wine grower, declaring that a file had been left in the offices, upstairs.

After the other warlock returned to the elevator, Vernoff strode toward Giovanni. He pulled a switchblade from his jacket pocket and clicked open a blade. Before he could reach the wine grower, two pairs of hands grabbed his arms. Vernoff started to cry out, but he found himself teleporting out of the parking lot . . . against his will.

“What the hell?” the chestnut-haired warlock cried. He stared at his surroundings with confused eyes. “What the . . . where am I?”

A dark-haired man with blue eyes shoved the warlock into a nearby chair. Vernoff recognized him immediately. Belthazor. “I’ll ask the questions,” he growled menacingly. “Who are you?”

“None of your damn business!” the warlock shot back. He suddenly found himself, experiencing a shortness of breath. “Aaaugh . . .!”

A red-haired woman with green eyes stepped forward. “I’ll stop choking you,” she said softly, “when you start cooperating.”

Still breathless, the warlock quickly nodded. The choking ceased. Vernoff rubbed his throat, as he glanced around. “What do you . . .?” His eyes shifted from an elderly woman sitting in another chair to a fair-haired man sitting on a sofa with three women. “Oh my God! The Charmed Ones? What . . .?”

“Never mind them!” Belthazor barked. “Just answer our questions. First of all, who are you?” When the warlock failed to answer, he turned to the redhead. “Olivia? Or shall I do the honors?”

The warlock, fearful of another choking session, quickly cried, “Vernoff! My name is Harold Vernoff!”

The elderly woman added, “I’ve heard of you. You’re the witch who had killed off the rest of his coven, in order to get your hands on some pendant.”

Belthazor blocked Vernoff’s view. “Who hired you to kill Mark Giovanni?” he demanded.

After a long pause, Vernoff answered, “I . . . I was hired. Anonymously.”

“Liar!” the elderly woman declared. Vernoff stared at her, as she smirked. “Don’t tell me that you can’t detect a fellow telepath, when you meet one?”

Vernoff frowned. “How . . . how did you know I was a telepath?”

The elderly woman rolled her eyes. “Dear Goddess! And this man was hired to kill Mark Giovanni?”

“Who hired you?” Belthazor demanded for the second time.

Vernoff glanced nervously at his captors. “I . . . Look, if you expect . . .” He suddenly clutched his head, crying out in pain. “Ow! Stop! That was . . .” He stared at the elderly woman. “You did that to me?”

The old lady coldly replied, “And I’ll do it again, if you don’t cooperate. Only, it will be a lot worse. You may be a talented telepath, but so am I. And I’m a lot better at it. I’ll make sure that you’ll end up dead with an aneurysm . . . slowly. So talk.”

Belthazor shot the old bag an admiring glance.

“All right!” the warlock conceded. “A darklighter had hired me. Her name is Nina Kriegler.” The fair-haired man gasped aloud. Vernoff continued, “I was hired to not only kill Giovanni, but to send false visions to one . . .” He paused and shot anxious glances at the Charmed Ones. “. . . to one of the Charmed witches.”

The witch with the shoulder-length hair shot up from the sofa. Vernoff realized that she was Phoebe Halliwell. “You’re lying!” she protested angrily.

Vernoff shrugged. “If you say so.” Belthazor gripped his shoulder, sending spasms of pain throughout his nerves. “Ow! Okay, okay! I’m not lying!” He rubbed his aching shoulder. “I did send her those visions.”

Phoebe now loomed over Vernoff. “There’s no way you could have sent me false visions,” she insisted. “Not without me knowing.”

Exasperated by the witch’s denials, Vernoff regarded her with contempt. “What are you talking about? Of course I can! I’m a telepath! There’s no way in the world you could have detected my presence in your mind, without being one. Ask the old lady. Besides, I managed to do it to you, twice. First, with that daemon bodyguard. The one from the Gimle Order. And later, I had sent a false vision of some daemon named Marbus.”

Belthazor frowned. “What daemon bodyguard?”

Shrugging, Vernoff replied, “I don’t know her name. Andrea or something. All I know is that she had been sent by the Gimle Order to protect Giovanni. Nina Kriegler hired me to send a false vision of her killing the man to the witch – oh, about last Monday or Tuesday.”

“Oh my God!” One of the Charmed Ones cried out in shock. Vernoff noticed that her red hair did not match her dark eyes. Obviously a dye job. Was this the half-breed? “That demon we had killed – she was from the Gimle Order?”

The last Charmed One stood up, shaking her head in disbelief. “It was a daemon,” she said in a shaky voice. “She was trying to kill us.”

After a long pause, the red-haired Halliwell added, “At first. Then I think she tried to . . . oh my God! We had killed an innocent?”

“That’s impossible!” the long-haired Charmed One protested.

Vernoff said, “Look, all I know is that I had sent a vision of a female daemon with dark hair and blue eyes killing Giovanni to one of the Charmed Ones. The one with the power of precog . . .” The seer’s fist snaked out struck him on the jaw. He sagged against the chair, throbbing with pain.

“You son-of-a-bitch!” Phoebe screamed. “You used us! And you violated me!”

Rubbing his jaw, Vernoff protested, “It wasn’t personal! Just business. I can’t help it if you witches are so willing to kill a daemon at first . . . oooof!” The seer had delivered another punch – this one to the stomach.

Belthazor grabbed the seer’s arm and dragged her away from the warlock. “Not now Phoebe!”

The fair-haired man, whom Vernoff assumed to be the Charmed Ones’ whitelighter, demanded, “Are you saying that Nina Kriegler is behind all this? Why is she so interested in Cole’s client?”

“How in the hell should I know?” Vernoff shot back. “She had never explained to me what was going on! But I think she was hired by a third party. Someone with a lot of money.”

Belthazor demanded, “Who?”

“I don’t know!”

Heaving a sigh, the half-daemon faced the elderly telepath. Who nodded wearily. “He’s telling the truth.” Glancing at the stricken Halliwells, she added, “About everything.”

Belthazor’s gaze returned to the warlock. “I want you to summon this Nina Kriegler.”

“And tell her what?” Vernoff demanded.

“Tell her . . .”

The red-haired witch with the green eyes finished, “Tell her that a problem has arisen over Mark Giovanni.” She glanced at the Halliwells. “Meanwhile, do you guys still have those crystals Prue once used on Cole? Because I think we’re going to need them.”

————

Inside Harold Vernoff’s apartment, Leo shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe this! I can’t believe that Nina Kriegler is behind this.”

Paige glared at her brother-in-law in frustration. “She’s not! Remember the Magan Corporation? For God’s sake, Leo! We just found out that we had been used to kill two members of the Gimle Order. And all you can do is worry about an old buddy being a darklighter?”

“Of course I’m concerned that you’ve been used!” Leo retorted. “It’s just that finding out about . . .”

Olivia interrupted the pair’s conversation. “Paige, are you ready?”

The Charmed One heaved a sigh. “Yeah. Let’s get on with it.”

“All right,” Cole said, squeezing the warlock’s arm. “As soon as we’re in your bedroom, summon her.” He leaned close. “And don’t forget that we’re watching.” He headed toward the bedroom, with Leo close at his heels.

Vernoff sneered at the retreating half-demon. “Arrogant bastard!” He glared at Olivia. “I’m a telepath. And that old bag isn’t with you. What if I . . .?” He started choking.

“Just a reminder of what can happen to you, if you try to betray us,” Olivia said in a menacing tone. “And besides,” she waved an amulet worn around her neck, “we have protection against your power.” Paige wore a similar amulet.

The two witches joined the men in the bedroom. From there, the quartet watched Vernoff summoned the darklighter. “Nina? Nina!”

A dark puff of smoke appeared, followed by a slender woman with short pale blond hair. Paige overheard Leo’s sharp intake of breath. “What is it?” the darklighter demanded. “Is the mortal dead?”

Vernoff shook his head. “Not yet. There are . . . problems.”

Frowning, Nina Kriegler shot back, “What problems? What’s going on?”

Right on cue, Paige and the others returned to the living room. “We’re the problem,” Cole replied coldly.

Before anyone could stop her, the darklighter produced a knife and slit Vernoff’s throat. Blood rushed from the warlock’s throat before he finally slipped to the floor, dead. Then Kriegler tried to teleport out of the room, but Paige cried out, “Crystals circle!” She pointed at the darklighter, and seven white crystals formed a circle around the latter. The darklighter grunted in dismay, as she failed to escape.

Paige knelt beside one crystal and touched it. Blue sparks lit up the darklighter’s body. She cried out in pain.

“If you don’t cooperate,” Olivia said, “you’ll remained trapped in that ring for a long time. We can arrange it.”

Nina Kriegler’s eyes expressed confusion and pain, as she stared at her captors. Then she focused upon the whitelighter. “Leo? Leo Wyatt?”

Leo’s mouth formed a grim line. “Nina.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe that I would see a former colleague as a darklighter.”

The darklighter rolled her eyes with contempt. “Oh please! Spare me the dramatics, Leo! I really don’t need to hear anymore whitelighter crap!”

“It used to be your kind of crap,” Leo shot back. “My God, Nina! What happened?”

“What do you think happened?” Nina sneered. “I saw the light.”

“Wha . . .?”

Nina sighed impatiently. “You don’t understand, do you? The whitelighters are doomed, Leo. Your day is over. The moment you stopped doing your real job and started this idiotic war with the Source’s Realm, you doomed yourself.”

“May I remind you that the Source’s Realm is in chaos, right now?” Leo retorted.

Nina snorted. “Yeah, thanks to the prophecy that the Elders made sure that the Source would receive. They’ve been planning his destruction for centuries. All because of their arrogant belief that they can wipe away evil from this earth. Idiots!”

“So, that’s your reason for becoming a darklighter? Because you disapprove of the Elders?”

With a shrug, Nina replied, “Not quite. The real reason I became a darklighter is . . . I guess I realized that I couldn’t stand being a whitelighter any longer. I had it with following the orders of self-righteous bores who consider themselves superior to others. I’ve been dealing with people like that during my life, and as a whitelighter. Being a darklighter gave me the freedom to be myself. My true self. And with all of the trouble starting over the Source’s death, I thought it was a good time to switch sides.”

“Well, switching sides isn’t doing shit for you right now!” Cole retorted. “So enough of your bullshit and tell us who had hired you. Who’s behind the Magan Corporation?”

A sneer marred Nina’s pretty face. “I wouldn’t know. My memory is a little faulty.”

“For God’s sake, Nina!” Leo cried. “Tell us the truth! Try to remember that you were once a whitelighter.”

Nina rolled her eyes again. “Please! I’ve been trying to forget that for over a year.”

Paige glanced to her right and noticed Olivia whispering in Cole’s ear. A malicious smile slowly curved the half-demon’s lips. Finally, Cole broke away from the redhead and inched toward the darklighter. “Since your memory seemed to be faulty at the moment, perhaps I can help you.”

“What do you mean?” Nina warily asked.

Cole continued, “One of the new powers I had acquired since my return from the Wasteland is telepathic manipulation. All I have to do is simply make you tell the truth.”

“You can’t . . .” The darklighter’s face turned pale.

“Who hired you to set up Marbus?” Cole concentrated his gaze upon Nina. “C’mon Nina. Tell.”

Paige watched in fascination, as the darklighter struggled, before she automatically opened her mouth. “It was Auuuu . . .” She began to scream, as flames suddenly engulfed her body.

“Cole!” Leo cried. “What the hell did you just do?”

An appalled-looking half-demon retorted, “That wasn’t me!” Nina Kriegler’s screams finally ended as the flames disappeared. A pile of ashes – remnants of her body – remained on the floor. Cole angrily cried out, “Shit!”

Paige sighed. It looked as if the Magan Corporation had managed to cover its tracks in time.

END OF CHAPTER 7