“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”
Olivia glanced at the sketching made by a fellow officer, Marcus Anderson, of the assailant who had murdered Stefan Kostopulos and robbed the store newly two weeks ago. “Grace,” she said to the homeless woman who had provided the description, “are you sure this is the man that you saw?”
Grace nodded. “That’s him, all right. He had taken off his hood, while leaving through the back door. Actually, it was a stocking.” Her eyes fell longingly upon the white container of food on Darryl’s desk. “Say, uh . . . is that it? My lunch?”
“In a minute,” Darryl said. He turned to Marcus. “Check the drawing against the perps we have on file.”
“Sure Darryl.” Marcus gave a quick nod, took the drawing and left the squad room.
Darryl handed the plastic container to Grace. “Here you go. Knock yourself out.” Grace eagerly took the tray and began to open it. “Uh . . . why don’t you eat your lunch inside the breakroom? It’s down the hall.”
“Sure.” Still clutching the container, Grace stood up. She hesitated and said to the two partners, “Hey, if you ever need any help from me, I’ll be glad to be a snitch for you.”
Olivia and Darryl exchanged looks. The former realized this was the homeless woman’s way of acquiring another source of free meals. Darryl sighed, while Olivia smiled at the other woman. “Sure thing Grace,” she said. “In fact, why don’t you drop by around here, every day around one? To check and see if we have an assignment for you.”
“Great!” Grace flashed a grateful smile, revealing two missing teeth. Then she scurried out of the squad room, clutching her lunch.
Darryl turned to Olivia and wryly commented, “Whaddaya know? Our own personal snitch. I wonder how many free lunches we’ll be investing in over the next several months. Or years.”
Olivia snorted. “Probably half or less-than-half the amount we usually pay on a weekly basis for lunch. I only hope that Grace . . .” She broke off, when Scott Yi and Carlotta Trujillo approached Darryl’s desk. “Hey guys. Where have you been?”
“Going over Kostopulos’ inventory,” Scott wearily replied. “And matching it to what we’ve found inside the store. God, that man had a lot of stuff!” He was a young man of Chinese descent, with a narrow, handsome face and high cheekbones. Scott, a six-year veteran of the city’s police force, happened to be two years younger than Olivia.
Darryl frowned. “Olivia and I were at the store, this morning. Where were you two?”
Carlotta Trujillo, a tall and attractive woman, whose parents had immigrated from Costa Rica over thirty years ago, dropped into the empty chair next to Olivia’s desk. “Having an early lunch. Being inside that store was driving us crazy.”
“Find anything missing?” Darryl asked.
“Oh, wait a minute.” Carlotta sat up straight. “We found one or two items missing.”
Carlotta removed a folded spreadsheet from her purse. “Item 215,” she said, as she handed the sheet to Olivia.
“Item 215?” Olivia glanced at the sheet. “And that happens to be . . . a medallion? Made from gold.” She stared at Carlotta and Scott. “So, this medallion is missing?”
Scott nodded. “It’s certainly not there.”
“How do you know?” Darryl asked.
Carlotta handed him a small photo. “There’s a picture of every item in the store. You should see the boxes where Kostopulos kept them. The medallion in that photo is missing.”
Olivia shook her head in disbelief. “What do you know? He managed to keep all that stuff organized in some way.” Darryl handed her the photograph. She stared at the medallion with the strange inscriptions. “This looks as if it belongs in a museum, instead of a store.”
“Scott thinks it may have been some kind of antiquity,” Carlotta added. “Maybe even a religious piece.”
Darryl stared at the other man. “Really? I didn’t realize you were some kind of art historian, Scott.”
A pink flush colored Scott’s face. “I, uh . . . I dabbled a little in the subject, while in college. I’m no expert or anything.” He sighed. “I don’t know. I guess it looks like something out of Indiana Jones. And I can’t image what that inscription meant.”
“I know this museum curator,” Carlotta added. “I used to date him, a few years ago. Maybe he can help. Want us to question him?”
Darryl shrugged. “Go ahead. And when you finish, I want you and Scott to look more into the Liederhoff case. Ask Liederhoff’s assistant if anything similar to this medallion is missing.” He returned the photo to Scott.
“Okay.” Carlotta patted Scott’s arm. “Let’s go, partner.” As she headed toward the door, Scott remained rooted to the spot, staring at the photo in his hand with a frown. Carlotta paused to call for him. “Scott?”
“Yeah, I hear you.” And Scott followed his partner out of the room.
Meanwhile, both Olivia and Darryl exchanged knowing looks. “Did you see the inscription on that medallion?” the latter asked. “Looked similar to what was on that box I had nearly opened.”
“The language on that medallion looked a hell of a lot older,” Olivia commented. She paused momentarily. “Didn’t Liederhoff’s assistant tell us that a rare medallion that Liederhoff owned was also missing? Strange, isn’t it? If these two missing medallions have anything to do with the occult, it looks like we have more than a simple double murder-robbery on our hands.”
Darryl heaved a long sigh. “I was afraid you were going to say to say that.”
Later that evening, Phoebe and Paige stared at the two whitelighters with disbelieving eyes. “Say that again?” the middle sister demanded.
Leo took a deep breath. “You girls have a new whitelighter. This is Chris. Chris Perry.”
Paige shook her head. “I don’t understand. Your wings got clipped again?”
“No. The . . . uh, the Elders had decided to let me keep my wings,” Leo morosely added. “I just won’t have any charges for the next six months. I’ll, uh . . . I’ll be assisting the Mad Queen . . . I mean, Ludmilla Kamilova in the Sorting Department.”
Phoebe asked, “The Sorting what?”
Leo explained that the Sorting Department assigned whitelighters to their new charges. A fellow whitelighter named Ludmilla Kamilov ran the department. He sighed. “She can be . . . pretty difficult.”
“How long will you be working in this . . . Sorting Department?” Everyone turned to Piper, who had asked the question.
Leo hemmed and hawed. “Six hours a day,” he answered. “That’s about eight or nine hours a day, here on Earth.”
“So, you’ll be working regular hours, every day? Including weekends?”
According to Leo, he would be forced to work four Earth hours in the Whitelighter Realm on Saturdays. Nearly beside herself, Piper silently relished over Leo’s new assignment. One glance at her younger sisters told her that they did not share her opinion. Especially Phoebe.
“So, you’ll be stuck in some bureaucratic division, while this guy,” Phoebe pointed at Chris, “will be acting as our new whitelighter? How is he supposed to handle both his charges and yours at the same time?”
Both Leo and Chris exchanged glances, before the former replied, “Chris doesn’t have any charges, at the moment. I mean, he didn’t before he was assigned to mine. At least not in this time period.”
“Time period?” Piper wondered if she had heard right. “Uh, Leo . . .?”
The other whitelighter added, “I’m from the future. About twenty-three years in the future. I . . .”
“He had come to the past to warn the Elders about the Titans,” Leo quickly finished. “Before they could attack. Unfortunately, Chris lost his only means back to the future. He’s stuck here.”
Paige murmured, “Too bad.”
Chris’ face turned red.
“I’m sure that he’ll do a good job,” Piper added, coming to Chris’ defense. The others stared at her. “What?”
Resentment flaring in her dark eyes, Phoebe murmured, “Nothing. I guess you have nothing to be upset about.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Piper demanded. But Phoebe remained silent. Which suited Piper just fine. In fact, Leo being forced to work eight hours a day like any working man suited her just fine. For the first time since Leo had lost his wings, they had a chance of having a normal relationship.
“Well, I have to introduce Chris to the rest of my old charges,” Leo said, breaking the silence.
Piper gave her husband an affectionate peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.” Leo and Chris orbed away.
The moment the two whitelighter had disappeared, Phoebe rounded on the older sister. “How could you stand there and say nothing, Piper? Aren’t you pissed off that the Elders have dumped some green whitelighter on us?”
“No Phoebe, I’m not,” Piper coolly replied. “And you want to know why?”
Paige added sardonically, “Oh, I think we have a pretty good idea. You finally get to have more of Leo for the next six months.”
“What? Is that a problem? I don’t see why you two are upset. Both of you were pissed at Leo for his little plot against Cole and Olivia. Aren’t you satisfied that he’s now being punished?”
Both Phoebe and Paige opened their mouths to retort and ended up, looking speechless. A scowl appeared on Phoebe’s face, as she snatched her purse from the sofa. She marched toward the door and opened it. “I’m going to see Cole.” She left the house and slammed the door with great force.
Piper turned to Paige, who sighed. “I guess I’ll watch some TV.” The youngest Charmed One started toward the Solarium. Piper allowed herself a small smile and headed for the nursery.
Blue lights appeared inside the office above the Golden Horn restaurant. Bruce and Harry glanced up from the book on the former’s desk, and watched Leo materialize with a dark-haired stranger.
“Leo,” Bruce said, frowning at his former whitelighter. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The blond whitelighter winced at Bruce’s hostile greeting. “Hey, Bruce. Harry.” He sighed. “Uh, I’d like you to meet Chris.” He nodded at the stranger.
Harry coolly nodded at Leo’s companion. “Nice to meet you. Chris who?”
Chris stepped forward, much to Leo’s obvious discomfort. “Chris Perry. I’m your new whitelighter.”
Bruce stared at Leo, while his brother snorted with derision. Noticing the frown on Chris’ face, Bruce explained, “I guess Leo never told you. We don’t have a whitelighter.”
“Maybe that was true after Leo had received his suspension,” Chris replied. “But the Elders Council . . .”
Rolling his eyes, Harry retorted, “Look, I don’t wish to bust your bubble, Chris, but maybe my brother hasn’t made it clear. Leo hasn’t been Bruce and Olivia’s whitelighter for years. Over a decade, as a matter of fact. And I’ve never accepted him as mine. Nor do we accept the Elders Council’s authority. It’s like a family tradition.”
“But . . . all witches have a whitelighter.”
“Actually, that’s not true,” Bruce replied firmly. He frowned, recalling something Chris had said. “Did you say that Leo has been suspended? What the hell is going on?”
Leo sighed, while Chris’ glance fell to the floor. “I’ve been suspended from my duties,” Leo explained. “I won’t be acting as whitelighter to my charges for the next six months.”
Harry frowned. “You lost your wings, again?”
“No, I . . .”
Chris interrupted. “The Elders have reassigned him to another duty in the Realm.”
In other words, the Elders have punished Leo for the debacle surrounding Olivia’s attempt to kill Cole. Bruce could hardly believe it. Whether they were punishing Leo for an unauthorized action or for the plan’s failure, he could only guess.
Harry managed. “So, the Elders are making you pay for that mess regarding Livy and Cole, huh?” he said to the older whitelighter. “What about the Elder who had planned the whole thing? What’s her name? Mathilda?”
Leo glanced away, while Chris answered, “She has been removed from the Council. She’s no longer an Elder. As for me not being your whitelighter . . .”
“That’s right partner,” Harry added. “You’re not.”
“But . . .”
Bruce turned to his former whitelighter. “Leo, I think you better explain to your friend that he’s wasting his breath.”
A sigh left Leo’s mouth. He jerked Chris’ arm. “Let’s go. We’re through here.” He orbed out of the office. A confused expression stamped on his face, Chris quickly followed.
Harry turned to Bruce. “Well, that was interesting.”
Elder Sylvester Monroe stifled a yawn, as he marched along the corridor toward his quarters. Another difficult day in the Whitelighter Realm. News had arrived of three whitelighters joining a faction headed by the rebellious Natalia Stepanova.
If he had to be honest with himself, Sylvester could say that the Whitelighter Realm was sliding into chaos. Slowly. This had been the case, ever since the Source’s final death over a year ago. Whitelighters were either abandoning the cause of good in favor of evil and becoming darklighters, or were clinging to that upstart Stepanova’s idiotic notion that whitelighters should encourage their charges to focus more on spiritual matters and less on fighting evil. After four hundred and six years as a whitelighter, Sylvester wondered if his world was falling apart.
At the next meeting, perhaps he should . . . Sylvester gasped out loud, when a sharp pain pierced his chest. He glanced down and discovered that someone had shot him with an arrow. The pain spread throughout his chest. When shortness of breath followed, Sylvester realized with horror that he had been struck by a darklighter’s arrow.
Struggling to maintain his breath, Sylvester tried to make his way to the nearest chamber. But the arrow’s poison had quickly spread. He had not taken ten steps, before he finally fell to the ground and slipped into darkness . . . and death.
END OF CHAPTER 3
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