“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 2/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART II

Later that evening; Olivia, Cole, the two visitors from New Orleans and the Halliwells appeared at the McNeills’ house for the dinner party hosted by Jack and Gweneth McNeill. No sooner had the guests arrived, they – along with the McNeills – gathered inside the large drawing room and waited for the family manservant to announce dinner.

“I just read the latest copy of THE LUNAR VOICE,” Barbara said to Piper. The blond-haired witch, who was married to Olivia’s older brother, had joined the redhead, Cecile and Piper near the fireplace. “And I saw an ad placed by a P. Halliwell . . . for the position of nanny. Was that . . . Did you place that ad? Is that the reason why Paige was asking me about local Wiccan newspapers?”

Piper sighed. “Yeah. I . . . I’m trying to find a permanent nanny for Wyatt.”

“Why?”

Olivia immediately came to Piper’s defense. “Barbara!”

Her sister-in-law assumed an innocent and confused expression. “What? I simply asking Piper about that ad in THE LUNAR VOICE.”

“Yeah, and with all the subtlety of a Gestapo interrogator. Is there a problem?”

Barbara let out a gust of breath. “No, there isn’t a problem. I’m simply curious, that’s all. I mean . . . this is Wyatt we’re talking about. He’s only nine months old and already he’s had more supernatural activity surrounding him than all of us in a period of three years. And I’m just . . . surprised . . . well, you know what I mean!”

“I understand,” Piper replied. “That’s why Olivia had suggested that I place the ad in ‘certain’ newspapers and shops in the city.”

“Where’s Wyatt right now?”

Olivia pointed to where Paige, Phoebe and her grandmother stood. “Over there, in Gran’s arms.” She said to the other women, “I had also asked Cole’s uncle – Marbus – if he knew of anyone who could baby sit Wyatt.”

“What about Leo?” Barbara asked.

Piper’s face immediately became a cold mask. “What about him?”

“Um . . .” Barbara began. But a quick jab in the side by Olivia cut her short, leaving her to finish lamely, “Never mind. What about that Elf Nanny?”

Piper continued, “Oh, she, uh . . . vowed never to step foot inside the manor, after those two warlocks tried to attack Wyatt. She likes a quiet household. So, I need a new nanny, fast. Like I had told Olivia, I’m having trouble with P3 at the moment. And splitting my time between Wyatt and the club – along with dealing with demons . . . and Leo’s absence . . .” The Charmed One sighed. “I don’t know. It seems like everything is falling apart.”

“In other words, this whole mess started, because Leo decided that being an Elder was a lot more important than his family.” The other women stared at Cecile, who had broken her silence. She stared back. “What?”

Frowning, Olivia commented, “Is it just me, or are you sounding a little bitter right now?”

“I’m not being bitter,” Cecile protested. “Just telling the truth. If Leo had really loved Piper . . . or if she was that important to him, he would have never become an Elder.”

Piper’s eyes cast downward. “I think you might be right,” she muttered.

Triumph gleamed in Cecile’s dark eyes. “See? You really can’t trust a man’s love. First, they’ll move heaven and earth to possess us. Then sooner or later, they end up taking us for granted. We become like background noise to them.” The others continued to stare at her. “Well, am I wrong?” Cecile let out a gust of breath, turned on her heels and walked away.

“Wow,” Barbara murmured. “What’s wrong with her? You don’t think that she and Andre are having troubles, do you?”

A new voice added, “She’s frustrated. Cecile, I mean.” Olivia and the other two women found Phoebe standing behind them. “I could sense Cecile’s frustration.” Annoyed, Olivia bit back a retort.

Piper, on the other hand, made her displeasure known. “Phoebe! Do you mind?”

Looking slightly affronted, Phoebe protested, “What? Cecile is obviously frustrated about something! Probably Andre.”

Her older sister heaved a sigh. “We all know that you’re now an empath, Pheebs. But could you please put a sock in it?”

“I can’t help sensing everyone’s emotions!” Phoebe retorted. “I don’t know how to control this new power. At least not yet.”

Olivia tartly added, “But I’m sure that you can control that tongue of yours. Must you broadcast everyone’s feelings to the world, every time you sense them?”

A deep silence fell between the four women. Phoebe’s face turned pink. “Excuse me,” she said in a stiff voice, before walking away.

Feeling slightly remorseful, Olivia apologized to Piper. “Sorry about that. I guess I had lost my temper.”

“I’m not,” Piper grumbled. “That new power of hers has been driving us crazy. Just over a week ago, Paige had lost her temper and shoved an apple into Phoebe’s mouth.”

The image of Phoebe’s mouth plugged by an apple nearly sent Olivia into a spate of giggles. Nearly. Instead, she kept her mirth to herself and said, “Oh well. At least you can’t deny that Phoebe is right about Cecile. She is frustrated.”

“Do you think it has to do with Andre?”

Olivia responded silently with a slight shrug.

————-

The following morning, Andre and Olivia met the latter’s grandmother outside of an antiquity shop on Union Square. “There you are,” the elderly woman declared. She glanced at her watch. “You’re late.”

“Only by fifteen minutes,” Olivia muttered. She retrieved a key from her purse and used it to unlock the shop’s front door. “Here we go. Welcome to . . .” Her face formed a slight frown. “Well, I haven’t renamed it, yet.” She switched on the lights.

Andre took one sweeping glance around the shop’s interior and whistled.

“My sentiments exactly,” old Mrs. McNeill added. “Goddess! I’ve never seen so many . . . How much is all of this stuff worth, Livy?”

With a sigh, Olivia answered wearily, “You really don’t want to know. Fortunately, Alexis Kostopulos wanted to get rid of the shop so badly that I managed to buy it at a cheaper price.”

“Why?” Andre asked.

“Well, his father had been murdered by someone looking for a medallion that used to be in this shop. Didn’t Cole tell you about the Erebor medallions, and the attack on the Whitelighter Realm?”

The houngan nodded. “Oh yeah.” His eyes fell upon a small, sandalwood box with Druidic symbols carved on the sides. “So, where are the . . . um other pieces that you were talking about?” He picked up the box. “Besides this?”

Olivia replied, “The rest of the items are scattered throughout the shop. Mixed with the other items. Hopefully, you and Gran will be able to identify and separate them from the regular items. While I’m at work.”

“Hmmm.” Mrs. McNeill swept a finger across one of the glass casings. “This looks like a job that might take a week or two.”

Andre added, “That’s no problem for me. Besides . . .” he paused, wondering if he should allow the two women in his confidence.

“Besides what?” Olivia asked.

The houngan sighed. “This trip should give me plenty of time to find . . . a ring. To buy.”

“A ring?” Mrs. McNeill frowned. “What for?”

After a brief hesitation, Andre decided to confess. “Well, I plan to ask Cecile to marry me. I’m looking for an engagement ring.”

The two women reacted with delight. “Oh my God!” Olivia cried. “I can’t believe it! Finally! After all these years!”

“I’m so happy for you,” Mrs. McNeill added. Then she frowned. “But . . . you mean to say you couldn’t find a ring in New Orleans?”

Andre sighed. “Yeah, I did look around for one. But I couldn’t find one that satisfied me. You know, the right one. Maybe I’ll find one, while I’m here in San Francisco.”

Olivia’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Wow! An engagement! I can’t wait for Cecile to find out. Maybe this will get her out of that bad mood of hers.”

A smile illuminated Mrs. McNeill’s lined face. “Oh, I’m sure that it will”

————

Cole and Cecile silently stood side-by-side inside the elevator, as it conveyed them to the spacious boardroom of McNeill Enterprises. The half-daemon tried to think of something to say. He even considered discussing the upcoming business conference, but they had covered that topic more than adequately, in the past few days.

A quick glance at Cecile’s forlorn expression told him that she was not in the mood to talk. Come to think of it, the Vodoun priestess has been in a bleak mood since her arrival, yesterday. Unable to deal with the silent tension any longer, he finally murmured, “Penny for your thoughts.”

“Huh?” Cecile stared at the half-daemon with wide eyes.

Cole continued, “You seemed to be deep in thought. Is there something on your mind? The upcoming meeting?”

Cecile shook her head. “No. I’m fine. I . . .” She sighed. Long and hard. “Have you ever thought that your life might be in a rut, sometimes? That no matter how much you try, everything stays the same?”

Wondering what brought on this rant, Cole stared at her. “Uh . . . well, considering the changes I’ve been through during the past three years . . . not really.”

Another sigh left Cecile’s mouth. “What about those years before that? Before you first met Phoebe? I mean . . . didn’t you feel then that your life was in a rut?”

“What are you getting at?”

“I . . .” The elevator stopped. The doors slid open and Cecile walked out before she could form a coherent answer.

The pair found themselves greeted by a well-dressed young executive. “Ms. Dubois? Mr. Turner? Hello, my name is Milo Kendrick. I’m Mr. McNeill’s assistant. Please follow me.” He led Cole and Cecile into an expensively furnished boardroom, where Harry and Jack McNeill awaited them. Along with other members of the Board. As the door closed behind them, Cole realized that Cecile’s surprising revelation would have to wait for another time.

————

A young man in his late twenties burst into Daley’s herbal shop off Telegraph Road, later that morning. The Vodoun sorceress recognized the newcomer, and rang up her customer’s purchases. No sooner had the latter left; she led the younger man to the stockroom in the back.

“Did you and Jeffrey find out anything about these . . . Charmed Ones?” Daley asked.

The young man, a narrow-faced novice bokor with rich brown skin and handsome features named Marc Beaudine, breathlessly sat down on a nearby stool. He removed a small notebook from his jacket pocket. “Yeah. They’re practically famous in the local Wiccan community.”

“That’s nice,” Daley commented tartly. “The question is . . . why are they famous?”

Marc removed a few sheets of folded paper from his jacket and handed them to Daley. “I got that from the Internet. There’s this tale, or legend or whatever about these three sisters from a long line of witches, who are destined to become the world’s most powerful witches. Called the Charmed Ones. They were destined to kill the leader of some demonic faction. Someone called the Source.”

Daley read the sheet of paper, which had been printed from an Internet website on Wiccan mythology. “I think I had heard about this Source. From a warlock I used to know. Too bad he’s dead.”

“Well, I know this other warlock,” Marc added. “And he told me and Jeffrey that this Source is dead. He had been killed nearly two years ago. By these witches called the Charmed Ones. Wilson – he’s the warlock I had spoken with – told me a lot about them.”

“So, who are they? The Charmed Ones?”

Marc continued, “Like I said, three sisters who happened to be witches. They’re believed to be the most powerful witches ever.”

A frown appeared on Daley’s face. “What do you mean by . . . believed? Aren’t they the most powerful Wiccan witches?”

“Well . . . not really. According to Wilson, they would have been, if it wasn’t for the Aingeal Staff Bearer.”

“Now, I’m confused. The who?”

Sighing, Marc added, “A witch from some Scottish family, who happens to be the bearer of a powerful wizard’s staff. The present bearer is a descendant of this wizard. But no one knows his or her identity. But the Aingeal Staff Bearer is just as powerful as the Charmed Ones. And these sisters are only that strong when they come together as the Power of Three.”

Daley took a deep breath. “And what is the name of this family of witches?”

“Halliwell,” Marc replied. “Right now, the family’s name is Halliwell.”

“That name sounds familiar.”

A sly smile curved Marc’s lips. “It should. Phoebe Halliwell. Of the ‘DEAR PHOEBE’ column of the BAY-MIRROR.”

Daley felt flabbergasted. “Are you kidding me?” The idea of a local celebrity being a powerful witch would have never occurred to her. “Wait a minute. She’s one of the Charmed Ones?”

“Yep! And so is the owner of that nightclub on Fremont. You know . . . P3? Her name is Piper Halliwell. There’s a third sister, but Wilson didn’t get her name. As for Piper, she’s the mother of this powerful child you had told me about. Do you remember that day, over eight months ago, when we weren’t able to perform any magic?”

Nodding, Daley replied, “Yeah. I never did find out what happened that day.”

Marc leaned forward, his brown eyes glittering with intensity. “That was the day Piper Halliwell gave birth to her son. His father is believed to be a whitelighter.”

“A what?”

“Whitelighters. They’re daemons. Only they’re on the side of good. Guardian angels or something like that.”

Daley said, “So, what you’re saying is this child is the son of an extremely powerful witch and a daemon.”

Marc continued, “And he’s also an extremely powerful little baby. He has great magical powers. Stronger than his mother, his aunts, his daddy and everyone else. Other daemons and warlocks have been trying to get their hands on his powers for months.”

The idea of possessing the Halliwell child’s magic struck Daley as very appealing. With such power, she could destroy the leadership of the local Vodoun community. Or any other magical community that opposed her. And protect her little side business, so that it could develop into a multi-billion dollar business. If only she could get her hands on the child.

“By the way,” Marc added, “I’ve discovered something interesting about the Halliwell baby.” He handed Daley a newspaper. “That’s one of the local Wiccan papers. Called THE LUNAR VOICE. Turn to page eight.”

Daley turned to the page as instructed. It was filled with employment ads and notices. “What am I looking for?” she asked.

“The ad near the bottom of the page. In the column, second from the left.”

Sure enough, Daley founded what she was looking for. It was an ad seeking a nanny for a nine month-old baby. It featured a telephone and a person of contact – namely P. Halliwell. The sorceress smiled. This sounded promising. Very promising, indeed.

END OF PART II

Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENT CARTER” Season Two (2016)

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Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENT CARTER” SEASON TWO (2016)

1 - 2.02 A View in the Dark

1. (2.02) “A View in the Dark” – SSR Agent Peggy Carter’s investigation into the death of an Isodyne Energy employee in Los Angeles ends up with huge ramifications; when the wife of Isodyne’s owner, Hollywood actress Whitney Frost and another employee from the company, Dr. Jason Wilkes (who has volunteered to help Peggy), are exposed to the Zero Matter from the company’s particle accelerator.

2 - 2.07 Monsters

2. (2.07) “Monsters” – While Peggy plans a rescue mission for former Leviathan agent Dottie Underwood, who had been captured in the previous episode, Whitney Frost covers up her murder of husband Calvin Chadwick and some members of the Council of Nine, a secret organization of U.S. industrialists. Whitney tortures Dottie into revealing why Peggy is interested in the Zero Matter and sets a trap that involves Jason Wilkes, along with Edwin and Anna Jarvis.

3 - 2.05 The Atomic Job

3. (2.05) “The Atomic Job” – Peggy and her colleagues must find a way to prevent Whitney Frost and Calvin Chadwick from stealing and using an atomic blast to test the Zero Matter.

4 - 2.03 Better Angels

4. (2.03) “Better Angels” – Whitney Frost convinces hubby Calvin Chadwick to frame Jason Wilkes as a Communist spy, while Peggy’s investigation of Isodyne and the Zero Matter puts her in conflict with SSR Director Jack Thompson and War Department official Vernon Masters, who is also a member of the Council of Nine.

5 - 2.06 Life of the Party

5. (2.06) “Life of the Party” – When Peggy realizes she cannot save Jason Wilkes on her own, she turns to former adversary Dottie Underwood for help, while Whitney Frost makes a move to control the deadly Zero Matter.

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (2004) Review

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (2004) Review

I have another of my many confessions to make . . . I have never been a big fan of Agatha Christie’s 1930 novel, “The Murder at the Vicarage”. Never mind that it featured the first appearance of elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, in a feature-length novel. I am just not a big fan.

One could assume that the novel’s setting – in the small village of St. Mary Mead – could be the reason why this particular tale has never rocked my boat. Not particularly. I can think of numerous Christie tales set in a small village – including St. Mary Mead – that really impressed me. The problem with “The Murder in the Vicarage” is that I never found it to be a particularly thought provoking tale. Nor did it include any special circumstances that made it unique. And my borderline apathy toward the 1930 novel even extended to the television movie adaptation that aired in 1986. Some eighteen years later, another adaptation of the novel aired on television. This particular version starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. And its running time was at least eight minutes shorter.

In “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE”, the citizens of St. Mary Mead are rocked by the murder of Colonel Protheroe, the local churchwarden and magistrate, whose body was found inside the study of the vicar, Reverend Len Clement. The man was disliked by many; including the vicar, the vicarage’s curate, Protheroe’s second wife Anne, her lover Lawrence Redding, Protheroe’s daughter from his first marriage Lettice, the vicar’s wife Grieselda Clement, and a mysterious new resident named Mrs. Lester who seemed to have produced a strange reaction from Protheroe. Not long after the vicar discovers the body, Lawrence Redding, who is a painter, confesses to the murder. Although he has been clashing with Colonel Protheroe over his painting of Lettice, it turns out that he has been Anne Protheroe’s lover for quite some time. Upon learning about his confession, Anne confesses as well. Miss Marple eventually points out to Inspector Slack that it was impossible for either to commit the murder and suggests that the latter search for the killer among other St. Mary’s Mead citizens.

As I had pointed earlier, I am not a big fan of Christie’s novel or its 1986 adaptation. But for some reason, I enjoyed this adaptation. For example, it is a bit more colorful than the previous version. I am aware that all of the Miss Marple television adaptations of the 1980s and early 1990s tend to look rather faded. But there are more reasons why I find this 2004 version more colorful. I realize that many tend to demand that a movie or television adaptation is faithful to its source novel. But I thought the changes made by Stephen Churchett made the production somewhat more lively for me. One, Churchett changed two characters (one of them an archeologist) by giving them a World War II connection to Protheroe and a reason to want him dead. And two, Churchett included World War I flashbacks of a brief love affair between Miss Marple and a married Army officer. At first glance, these flashback seemed irrelevant to the main story. In the end, they served as a tool in which Miss Marple managed to ascertain the murderer’s identity. But the best thing I can say about “THE MURDER IN THE VICARAGE” is its pacing. This is a well-paced film, thanks to Charlie Palmer’s direction. For me, this is an important element for a low-key mystery like “THE MURDER IN THE VICARAGE”.

But there are other aspects of the movie that I enjoyed. I was really impressed by Nigel Walters’ cinematography. It was sharp, colorful and perfect for the movie’s setting. The photography also enhanced Jeff Tessler’s production designs, which struck me as a perfect reflection of an English village in 1951. He also had the task of re-creating a London railway station circa 1915-1917. And he did a pretty good job. But I really enjoyed Phoebe De Gaye’s costume designs. I found them colorful and very spot-on for each particular character, based upon age, class, personality, etc. By the way, Ms. De Gaye had also served one of the two costume designers for the BBC’s “THE MUSKETEERS” and the 2002-2003 miniseries, “THE FORSYTE SAGA”.

The performances were first-class. I tried to think of one that seemed somewhat off. But . . . I thought they were all well-done. “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” marked Geraldine McEwan’s second time at the bat as Miss Jane Marple. I feel this particular performance might be one of her better ones. I found her performance intelligent, sharp and particularly poignant. Other performances that impressed me came from Janet McTeer and Jason Flemyng, the adulterous couple, who found themselves at the center of village gossip and police inquiries following Protheroe’s murder. On paper, television viewers should have been outraged at their infidelity. But both McTeer and Flemyng gave such poignant and passionate performances that they managed to allow viewers to care about their fate.

Rachael Stirling gave an exuberant performance as the vicar’s outgoing wife, Grisielda Clements. At first glance, it seemed as if Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the victim, Colonel Protheroe, would come off as a one-note blustering idiot. Thankfully, there were moments when Jacobi infused a good deal of humanity into his performance – especially in scenes involving the mysterious Mrs. Lester. Mark Gatiss’ portrayal of the vicarage’s curate Ronald Hawes, who seemed torn over his past actions involving the embezzling of funds at his previous assignment struck me as rather emotional and a bit sad. I also have to commend Stephen Tompkinson for his complex performance as the irascible Detective Inspector Slack. I enjoyed how he slowly allowed Slack’s character to develop an admiration for Miss Marple’s detective skills. The television movie also featured solid performances from Tim McInnerny, Herbert Lom, Christina Cole, Jane Asher, Robert Powell, Angela Pleasance, Miriam Margolyes and especially, Julie Cox and Marc Warren, who gave affecting performances as the younger Jane Marple and her World War I lover.

I may not be a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1930 novel. But I cannot deny that I rather enjoyed its 2004 television adaptation. Thanks to director Charlie Palmer and screenwriter Stephen Churchett, “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” proved to be a colorful, yet emotional tale about love, passion and ghosts from the past. The production was also enhanced by some eye-catching behind-the-scenes artistry and excellent performances from a cast led by the incomparable Geraldine McEwan.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1870s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1870s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1870s

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1. “The Age of Innocence” (1993) – Martin Scorcese directed this exquisite adaptation of Edith Wharton’s award winning 1920 novel about a love triangle within New York’s high society during the Gilded Age. Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder starred.

 

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2. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this colorful adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

 

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3. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

 

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4. “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015) – Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen starred in this well done adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman who attracts three different suitors. Thomas Vinterberg directed.

 

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5. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956) – Mike Todd produced this Oscar winning adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel about a Victorian gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Directed by Michael Anderson and John Farrow, the movie starred David Niven, Cantiflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton.

 

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6. “Stardust” (2007) – Matthew Vaughn co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Neil Gaman’s 1996 fantasy novel. The movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfieffer.

 

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7. “Fort Apache” (1948) – John Ford directed this loose adaptation of James Warner Bellah’s 1947 Western short story called “Massacre”. The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar and Shirley Temple.

 

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8. “Zulu Dawn” (1979) – Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Peter O’Toole starred in this depiction of the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South Africa. Douglas Hickox directed.

 

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9. “Young Guns” (1988) – Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips starred in this cinematic account of Billy the Kid’s experiences during the Lincoln County War. The movie was directed by Christopher Cain.

 

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10. “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011) – Jon Favreau directed this adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s 2006 graphic novel about an alien invasion in 1870s New Mexico Territory. The movie starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.dom

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 1/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

RATING: PG-13 Adult language and mild violence.
SUMMARY: A Vodoun sorceress develops an interest in Wyatt’s powers and becomes his new nanny. Set three weeks after “An Afternoon in Babysitting”. AU S6.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, Wyatt Halliwell and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, Cecile Dubois and Andre Morrell, are thankfully, my creations.


————-

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART I

Piper Halliwell examined last month’s profit sheet one last time and shook her head in despair. “Oh my God! I can’t believe this! I just can’t . . .”

“What’s wrong?” Paige asked. The Charmed Ones sat inside the manor’s Solarium, as they watched television. Actually, Paige and Phoebe watched TV, while Piper focused her attention upon her nightclub’s profit sheets.

Heaving a sigh, Piper continued, “Last month’s profits for P3. They’re . . . Oh my God! Has it really gotten this bad?”

Phoebe glanced away from the TV screen and frowned. “Profits are down?” She continued to gently rock Wyatt, who was fast asleep in her arms.

“That’s the understatement of the year,” Piper muttered. “They’ve been down before. But not like this. By at least twenty-five to thirty percent. I guess I’ve just been too busy with Wyatt.”

The middle Charmed One continued to rock her nephew. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

Her eyes still glued to P3’s account book, Piper answered, “Well, I’m going to fire Everett for starters. He had really let things slide. What in the hell had he been doing . . .?” She broke off with a sigh. “Looks like I’ll have to fix this. At least until I can get a new manager.”

“And Paige and I will take care of Wyatt, while you deal with P3,” Phoebe added, before planting a light kiss on the baby’s forehead.

One of Piper’s brows formed a dubious arch. “During the daytime, as well? While you two are working? And what about when you two are out on dates?”

“Get Leo to baby sit,” Paige declared. “I’m sure that he won’t mind.”

The mention of her soon-to-be former husband brought a grimace on Piper’s lips. “Well that sounds great. I’m sure that Leo had abandoned his family, so that he could baby sit Wyatt, in between Council meetings.”

Paige shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sure that Leo won’t be stuck in Council meetings forever. On the other hand, you can always consider hiring a new nanny or an au pair for Wyatt. Didn’t you once consider hiring one before he was born?”

Piper stared thoughtfully at her youngest sister. “You know, that’s not a bad idea. Except . . . how do we find someone willing or capable of dealing with a magically powerful baby? Or deal with demons or warlocks like those two who had tried to snatch Wyatt a few weeks ago? I’d consider rehiring that Elf Nanny, but you saw how she had reacted, after the last attack.” Two warlocks had recently appeared at the manor, disguised as employees from the city’s Publics Works Department, and tried to kidnap Wyatt. Without any help from the Charmed Ones, Piper’s infant son managed to stop the warlocks all on his own.

“Try placing an ad at some local occult shop,” Paige suggested. “I’m sure that Barbara might know which shops you can do that. Or maybe Chris or Leo can ask around in the Whitelighter Realm. Or, you can place an ad in one of the local Wiccan newsletters or newspapers.”

Impressed and a little surprised by her sister’s suggestions, Piper stared at Paige. “Wow! You sure got it all figured out, don’t you?”

“Just remembering some ideas I had the last time you thought about hiring a nanny.” Paige’s gaze returned to the TV screen. “Oh. By the way guys, don’t forget that we’ve been invited to dinner at the McNeills, one week from tonight.”

Phoebe frowned. “Why?”

“Cecile and Andre are coming to San Francisco,” the youngest Charmed One continued. “They’ll be here for at least a week or two.”

Now, it was Piper’s turn to frown. “Who?”

“Hel-lo? Cecile Dubois? Olivia’s friend? And her boyfriend, Andre Morrell? Who’s also Cole’s friend? Remember them?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Now Piper remembered. Olivia and Cole’s Vodoun friends. To be honest, she had forgotten about the dinner invitation. Concern over P3’s profits have occupied Piper’s mind during the past several days. And now, she has a new nanny for Wyatt to think about. Speaking of a new nanny . . . “Uh Paige, could you do me a favor and ask Barbara, Olivia or Harry about where I can place an ad for a nanny?”

Paige reassured the older woman that she would do as the latter asked. Satisfied, Piper returned her attention to P3’s account book.

———

Located near the northwest corner of Fredrick and Cole, the Red Pyramid happened to be a popular coffeehouse that also served as an occult shop for past 30 years. Not only did students of the occult frequent the place, but it also counted many of the city’s magic practitioners as regular customers. One of the Red Pyramid’s regular customers happened to be a bokor – or a sorceress named Daley Baker.

A native of nearby Oakland, Daley’s family had emigrated from Alabama to California, back in the mid-1930s to seek financial security during the Depression. At the age of thirteen, Daley had discovered that she possessed a psychic ability – namely, thermo kinesis. And even more importantly, a talent for sorcerery. Her grandmother suggested that she study under an old Vodoun priestess from Baton Rouge, which she did for several years. Although Daley’s skills in magic eventually developed, the spiritual aspect of Vodoun only eluded her. Quite frankly, she never had the desire to use her skills to help others. Only herself.

On one particular afternoon in late October, Daley dropped by the Red Pyramid to purchase some figure candles for her altar and gris-gris bags. She had tried the Botanica Yoruba on Valencia, but that particular shop did not have what she needed. While searching for her items, she overheard two voices from the other side of the one of the store’s shelves.

“. . . is dead,” a female’s voice said. “Can you believe it? Killed by a child.”

Her ears perked with curiosity, Daley held her breath. The woman’s companion replied, “Well, what did you expect? The boy is a child of one of the Charmed Ones.”

The Charmed what? Confused, Daley shook her head. What the hell was a Charmed One?

The woman exclaimed in a soft hiss, “A child of one of the Charmed Ones? You mean the Halliwells? The witches who had vanquished the Source and God know how many other daemons and warlocks? You mean to say . . .?”

“Yes!” the man retorted in exasperation. “I’m saying that the baby is a child of the oldest Charmed One, and her whitelighter. Well, former whitelighter. No one knows what happened to him. As for the child, I hear that he’s extremely powerful. Probably the most powerful magical entity around.”

Daley’s brows rose several millimeters toward her hairline. Hmm, how very interesting.

The man continued, “Which is why Sidney and Dominick didn’t have a chance, when they tried to snatch him.”

“Because of this child?” the woman demanded.

“They wanted the baby’s powers. Who wouldn’t?”

The woman replied, “Not me.” Daley found her answer hard to believe.

Apparently, so did the woman’s companion. “Oh please! Are you serious? You mean to say that you would pass up the chance to acquire all of that power?”

“Yes,” the woman replied. “I’m saying . . . yes, I would. Look Michael, I’m very satisfied with what I am right now. I don’t need the extra powers. Nor do I want it or have to deal with everyone else trying to steal them from me. Personally, I think that Dominick and Sidney were fools to go after that child. They would still be alive if they hadn’t.”

The man conceded, “You’ve got a point. Still . . . could you imagine yourself with all of that power? Frankly, I rather like the idea.”

So would I, Daley silently added. Maybe she should contact Marc Beaudine from Oakland . . . and hire him to search for more information on these Charmed Ones. And the baby.

————

The two men and the woman materialized in the middle of Cole’s penthouse. “Here we are,” the half-daemon declared. “Home sweet home.” He had just teleported Cecile Dubois and Andre Morell from the former’s New Orleans house. “At least, while you’re here in town.”

Cecile glanced around. “Both of us are staying here?”

“No. You’ll be staying at Olivia’s apartment, as usual. In fact,” Cole glanced at his wristwatch, “she should be home in another twenty minutes or so.”

The Vodoun priestess said in a voice that struck Cole as slightly cool, “Could you send me there, anyway? I’m sure that Livy won’t mind.”

Andre stared at his girlfriend. “What’s the big hurry? Frankly, I could use a drink, after all that traveling.”

“Traveling that took us a few seconds,” Cecile retorted. “Besides, I want to get unpacked. Get everything ready for tomorrow’s presentation.” Her dark eyes penetrated Cole’s. “Do you mind?”

With a shrug, the half-daemon waved his hand and sent the priestess and her luggage to Olivia’s apartment. Once Cecile had disappeared, he frowned at Andre. “Is there something wrong with Cecile? She seemed a little . . . I don’t know . . . withdrawn.”

“I think she’s worried about the presentation,” Andre replied, as he sat down in a nearby chair. “Ever since she had approached Olivia’s dad about selling her new computer software program to his company, she’s been . . . well, a little on edge. Anxious.”

Cole went over to the liquor cabinet to prepare a drink for himself and Andre. “Anxious? Hmmm, she seemed more . . . distant to me. Cold. Not anxious.”

“Well, she’s been pretty moody lately. Ever since she began this little project.” Cole handed Andre a glass of whiskey and soda. “Thanks.”

The half-daemon poured himself a glass of bourbon. “I know why Cecile is here – considering I’ll be acting as her legal representative. But what about you? What are you doing here?”

“Didn’t Olivia tell you?” Andre asked. “It’s about her new shop. The one that used to be owned by that guy who ended up killed. She wants me to do a little appraising for her.”

Taking a sip of bourbon, Cole replied, “But Olivia already had that shop appraised. Before it officially became hers.”

A knowing smile appeared on Andre’s lips. “I’m talking about certain . . . items in the shop. Of the supernatural variety. It seemed this Stefan Kostopulos or Whatever, was quite the collector. You mean to say that Olivia didn’t tell you all of this?”

Cole sighed. “She probably did. But I’ve been so busy lately with Cecile . . . becoming her new attorney and helping her set up this deal with Jack McNeill that I must have forgotten.” As he took another sip of bourbon, he noticed Andre staring at something. “What is it?” he asked.

“What’s that?” Andre pointed at a small, folded newspaper on the coffee table.

Cole replied, “Some newspaper or newsletter for local Wiccans. Olivia must have left it.”

Andre placed his drink on the coffee table and snatched up the newspaper. “Hmmm. A friend of mine operates a newsletter at home for Vodoun practioners. But this seems more like a newspaper. The LUNAR VOICE.” He opened the paper and read. “Not bad, he said before turning to another page. “It even has want ads and job positions. I’ve got to tell Bobby about all . . .” Andre broke off, as his eyes narrowed into slits. “What the hell? Say, what’s the name of your ex-wife? Piper or something, right?”

Cole stared at his friend. “It’s Phoebe. Why do you . . .?”

“And isn’t her last name – Halliwell?”

“Yeah.” Cole paused for a brief moment. “Why?”

Andre tossed the newspaper to the half-demon. “Check out page eight. Someone named P. Halliwell, at 415-306-1468, had placed an ad for a nanny.

It was not hard for Cole to find the advertisement. He reeled in shock, as he read the following:

“WANTED – Nanny for nine month-old baby Salary $8.00/hour
Contact P. Halliwell 415-306-146”

“What the hell is the matter with her?” Cole exclaimed. “Is she crazy?”

Andre frowned. “Which sister are you talking about?”

“Piper! Phoebe’s older sister. You know, the one who can freeze time.” Cole stared at the advertisement. “What the hell is she doing, getting a nanny for Wyatt? That kid is too powerful to be placed in the hands of some stranger. Hell, I’ll bet that Leo would agree with me.”

A sly smile appeared on Andre’s face. “Maybe. Of course, she could always get you to baby sit Wyatt, again.” Cole stared at him. “Olivia told me and Cecile about your little babysitting job, last month.”

Cole groaned. “Oh God! Thanks for reminding me! Between Wyatt’s crying, eating my shirt and stealing other people’s stuff, I had one hell of a time dealing with that kid! And Piper expects some stranger to handle him?” He shook his head in disbelief. “What the hell is that woman thinking?”

END OF PART I

“DEADPOOL” (2016) Review

 

“DEADPOOL” (2016) Review

The Hollywood industry received a great surprise when it discovered that a low-cost superhero movie became the first box office hit for 2016. The movie? “DEADPOOL”, which is based upon a character from Marvel comics and the “X-MEN” franchise.

Actually, “DEADPOOL” is the eighth installment in the “X-MEN” movie franchise and it starred Ryan Reynolds in the title role. This was not the first time that the character appeared in one of the franchise’s films. Nor was it the first time that Reynolds portrayed the character. He also portrayed Wade Wilson aka Deadpool in the maligned 2009 film, “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE”. In the 2009 film, he was a mutant special forces operative who worked under U.S. officer, William Stryker. Wade is transformed into Deadpool, a being with the powers of former mutants who were either dead or captured by Stryker. In this film, Wade is simply a well-trained former Special Forces operative who becomes a mercenary. He meets escort Vanessa Carlysle at a local bar and they become romantically involved. A year later, Wade collapses after proposing marriage to Vanessa. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides that he does not want her to watch him die. A recruiter for a secret program approaches Wade with an offer of an experimental cure for his cancer. Wade finally decides to undergo the procedure. Unfortunately, Wade meets Ajax aka Francis Freeman, a weapon expert and leader of the program. The two end up disliking each other and Ajax subjects Wade to days of torture that eventually triggers the latter’s latant mutant genes, which cures his cancer. Unfortunately . . . Ajax continues to torture Wade and ends up disfiguring the latter’s face. Unwilling to subject Vanessa to deal with his disfigurement, Wade leaves her, changes his name to “Deadpool” and searches for Ajax in revenge for what happened to him.

What can I say about “DEADPOOL”? Well . . . it is rather funny. It is a very witty film, thanks to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Even the movie’s opening credits featured more of the movie ‘s sharp humor and ability to mock the comic book hero genre. And the screenwriters, the producers and director Tim Miller were lucky to have Ryan Reynolds as the star of the film. The actor seemed well-suited for the film’s style of humor and the main character in general. It is not surprising that the character’s penchant for breaking the fourth wall and mocking the comic book movie genre – especially the “X-MEN” film franchise – appealed to so many moviegoers. I certainly found it appealing. The film’s sharp humor seemed to manifest in the supporting cast’s performances as well. For me, the funniest performances – other than Reynolds’ – came from T.J. Miller as Wade’s best friend Weasel; Leslie Uggams as Wade’s elderly and sardonic roommate, Blind Al; and Brianna Hildebrand as teenage X-Men trainee, Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Even leading lady Morena Baccarin, who portrayed Vanessa Carlysle, had her moments of sharp humor, especially in the movie’s first half hour. And although voice actor Stefan Kapičić portrayed X-Men Colossus in a straightforward manner, his interactions with Wade provided the movie with a good deal of humor.

What else did I like about “DEADPOOL”? Well . . . nothing. I hate to say this, but aside from the movie’s wit, I was not impressed with “DEADPOOL”. Not one bit. For a movie that was supposed to mock comic book hero films, it eventually sank into one. This was pretty obvious in the movie’s last half hour, as Deadpool prepared to rescue lady love Vanessa from Ajax and the latter’s assistant, Angel Dust. And what led Deadpool and Ajax to become such bitter enemies? They pissed each other off. Simple as that. Between Wade’s uncontrollable sarcasm and Ajax’s penchant for torture, they became enemies. And Deadpool sought revenge against Ajax for the torture and leaving his face scarred. Ajax retaliated after a near miss and went after Vanessa in revenge. I have never felt so disappointed over a pointless movie plot in my life. It seemed so weak.

To make matters worse, the Vanessa character was also a mutant named “Copycat”. For some reason, the producers and screenwriters decided to remove her mutant abilities and simply portray her as Wade’s girlfriend. Baccarin made a big deal about how Vanessa was no “damsel in distress” . . . that she was a kickass. Yes, Vanessa managed to escape from being tied up on her own. And she even managed to drive a pole (or stake) into Ajax, even if her action failed to cause him any harm. But in the end, she was a “damsel”. Finally, there is the matter of the Wade/Vanessa romance. Overall, I had no problem with it. Reynolds and Baccarin made an engaging on-screen couple. They even provided a good deal of pathos, when the scene demanded it. But could someone please explain why it was necessary to include a montage of Wade and Vanessa in a series of sexual positions as a means of conveying their love for one another? A sexual montage? Really? What is this? “CINEMAX AT NIGHT”? Accuse me of being a prude if you like. But I stand by my words. I would not have minded if there had been one sex scene. But a montage? I get the feeling that the screenwriters and Miller had included this scene for the benefit of the immature fanboys.

Actually, this entire film seemed to be an ode to comic book fanboys. This is the only way I can explain this pointless film. I find it ironic that many “X-MEN” fans and Reynolds had put down the 2009 film that first introduced the character. I would not regard “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” as one of the best Marvel films, let alone one of the best in the “X-MEN” franchise. But I thought it was a hell of a lot better than this mess. No amount of sharp humor, breaking the fourth wall or comic performances could save this movie . . . at least for me.

Chateaubriand Steak

Below is an article about the dish known as Chateaubriand Steak:

CHATEAUBRIAND STEAK

My knowledge of various steak dishes is very minimal. In fact, it took me years to realize that any kind of steak is named, due to what part of the cow it came and how it is cut. This also happens to be the case of the dish known as Chateaubriand steak.

The Chateaubriand steak is a meat dish that is cut from the tenderloin fillet of beef. Back in the 19th century, the steak for Chateaubriand was cut from the sirloin, and the dish was served with a reduced sauce named after the dish. The sauce was usually prepared with white wine and shallots that were moistened with demi-glace; and mixed with butter, tarragon, and lemon juice.

The dish originated near the beginning of the 19th century by a chef named Montmireil. The latter had served as the personal chef for the Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand and Sir Russell Retallick, diplomats who respectively served as an ambassador for Napoleon Bonaparte, and as Secretary of State for King Louis XVIII of France. The origin of Chateaubriand Sauce seemed to be shrouded in a bit of mystery. Some believe that Montmireil was its creator. Others believe that it may have originated at the Champeaux restaurant in Paris, following the publication of de Chateaubriand’s book, “Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem)”.

Below is a recipe for Chateaubriand Steak from the Epicurious website:

Chateaubriand Steak

Ingredients

1 center cut Tenderloin fillet
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (10-ounce) center-cut beef tenderloin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In an ovenproof, heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot but not smoking.

Season the meat with salt and pepper, then brown it in the pan on all sides.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 130°F (for rare), 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board and tent it with foil.

Pour all but a thin film of fat from the pan.

Add the shallot and saut it over medium-low heat until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the wine and raise the heat to high, scraping up any brown bits from the pan.

When the sauce is syrupy (about 5 minutes), turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.

Carve the meat in thick slices and drizzle with the pan sauce.

“MAD MEN”: Wasted Partnership

 

“MAD MEN”: WASTED PARTNERSHIP

Looking back on Season Two of AMC’s “MAD MEN”, it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and a supporting character named Herman “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. At least on this subject. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.

Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of the Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Creative Director Don Draper a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also told Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman “Duck” Phillips.

In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds were hovering on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of veteran copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). Don dismissed the idea, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées – Smith “Smitty” (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) “Flight 1”. And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.

In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) “Three Sundays”, Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.

But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts – only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in “The Gold Violin”. Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.

Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative was the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one had ever considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck’s (and Pete’s) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.

But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be were the only ways. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don’s creative talent. Don needed Duck’s business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.

In the end, Don’s career managed to survive, despite the failures of two marriage and the near failure of his career, due to personal problems, heavy drinking and shirking. Duck, a former alcoholic who resumed his old habit in later years, was simply plagued with bad luck. Sterling Cooper’s British owners fired him after he had indulged in a brief temper tantrum. He worked at an advertising firm called Grey for a few years, before being reduced to a corporate recruiter. Copywriter Peggy Olson and Accounts executive Pete Campbell learned to maintain a balance between Creatives and Accounts whenever they worked on an account together. Yet, every now and then, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Don and Duck had managed to achieve the same.

“Perils of a Matchmaker” [PG-13] – 2/2

“PERILS OF A MATCHMAKER”

SUMMARY: Tom Paris helps Pablo Baytart win the affections of Sue Nicoletti and endangers his own pursuit of the Chief Engineer in the process. Set during late Season 3.

Part 2

“Where in the hell were you?” Sue Nicoletti demanded, as she glared at Tom inside Voyager’s Engineering Section. “We were supposed to work on your holoprogram, together! Instead, I nearly got electrocuted by that klutz, Baytart!”

In his most persuasive voice, Tom begged forgiveness. “Since it was a training program for pilots, I thought Baytart could take my place. Besides, I didn’t think you would be this upset.”

“Upset? I nearly died!” Sue’s voice nearly rose to a shrill, attracting stares. Looking embarrassed, her face turned pink. Tom’s eyes fell to the floor, avoiding the stares of others.

“For God’s sake, Sue!” Tom hissed through clenched teeth. “You merely suffered a few burns! There’s no need to exaggerate!”

Cold blue eyes stared pointedly at Tom. “If that’s the way you feel Paris, I’m sure you can finish your program all on your own!” Sue turned her back on the pilot and stalked away.

“Sue . . . Sue! Dammit!” Tom rushed after the engineer, ignoring more stares. He followed her to a console on the upper level. “I’m sorry, Sue,” he said, after catching up with her. “Look . . .”

“I have work to do, Lieutenant Paris,” she replied icily. “Do you mind?”

One glance at that haughty expression and Tom knew he was facing defeat. Dammit! Cold Hands, Cold Heart Nicoletti!. He had forgotten how cold and stubborn Nicoletti could be. As far as Tom was concerned, Pablo was on his own.

* * * *

Later that evening in the Mess Hall, Tom broke the news to Baytart. The latter responded with uncharacteristic panic. “You can’t stop! Not now! What am I going to do?”

“Why don’t you take a chance, Pablo?” Tom wearily suggested. Hours of flying Voyager and fielding off curious stares and questions about Sue had left him exhausted. “Ask her out. You don’t need my help.”

Panic filled the ensign’s dark eyes. “I can’t!” he cried. “I can’t face her like that! Please Lieutenant! I can’t do this on my own! Not after what happened in the Hololab.” The young pilot stared at Tom with beseeching eyes.

A long sigh escaped Tom’s mouth. If only Pablo could face Sue at this moment. He would have broken the engineer’s defenses within seconds. “All right,” Tom conceded with great reluctance. “I’ll help you. I still say you should be up front with Sue. But, if you’re that reluctant . . .”

“Thanks a lot, Lieutenant!” Pablo was all smiles. “I won’t forget this.”

A familiar voice asked, “Won’t forget what?”

Both Tom and Baytart glanced up to find two newcomers standing before them. Both Harry and B’Elanna held lunch trays. “What are you two talking about?” Harry continued.

Tom opened to mouth to answer, but Pablo spoke first. “It’s nothing, Ensign Kim. We were talking about a personal matter. Uh, see ya!” The pilot stood up, flashed a quick smile and beat a hasty retreat out of the Mess Hall.

B’Elanna and Harry stared at Tom. Who indicated the two empty chairs, opposite him. “Have a seat,” he said. The pair quickly filled the seats.

“Did Baytart say something about a favor?” Harry asked. He took a sip of his juice. “Has this anything to do with Sue and the Hololab?”

Tom shrugged. “Somewhat. He did a favor for me by working with Sue. So, I’m doing a favor for him in return.”

“Which is?” Harry insisted.

Aware of Pablo’s desire for secrecy, Tom merely replied, “A favor.” Relief appeared in the form of Sue Nicoletti. Who had just entered the Mess Hall. Tom rose to his feet. “Excuse me, guys. I have a personal matter to deal with.” And he headed straight for Sue.

* * * *

Two pairs of dark eyes followed Tom, as he strode toward Nicoletti. B’Elanna struggled to fight back a wave of jealousy. “I guess Tom wants to apologize for what happened in the Hololab,” Harry commented.

B’Elanna gave her friend a pointed look and grumbled, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a lot more to apologize for than Sue getting electrocuted by Baytart.”

“What else could it be? You don’t think Tom would ask Baytart to take his place during a date, would you?”

B’Elanna sighed. “Of course not, Harry. Maybe Tom had hoped it would become a date. I don’t know!” Her last sentence came out in an angry outburst.

Harry’s next question threw B’Elanna into a fix. “Why are you so upset?”

“Wha . . .?” Shock immediately became annoyance. “What are you talking about? I’m not upset! Do I look upset?”

“Well, to be hon . . .”

B’Elanna continued to growl, “Kahless, Harry! If you must know, I don’t give a rat’s ass about anybody’s social life! Including Tom Paris!”

A knowing smile curled Harry’s lips. “Whatever you say, Maquis.”

B’Elanna glared at her friend.

* * * *

“No!” Sue continued eating her pleeka rind casserole.

Tom let out a sigh. “C’mon Sue. How many times do I have to apologize?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re wasting your breath,” Sue snapped.

Ignoring the curious eyes around him, Tom fell to his knees. “Look at me, Sue. I’m no my knees. Begging for your forgiveness. Please?” He blasted her with every ounce of emotion his blue eyes could muster.

Not even “Cold Hands, Cold Heart” Nicoletti could resist the pilot’s pleading eyes. She sighed. “All right! I forgive you.” She gave him a slight smile. “When do you want to resume working on the program?”

Tom smiled with relief. “Tonight would be just fine. At 20:00?”

Sue nodded. “Okay, 20:00, the Hololab. But if you’re running late or unable to meet me, just let me know. I don’t need anymore surprises,” she added. “And that includes sending Ensign Baytart in your place.”

Tom’s smile disappeared. He had no intention of repeating his earlier mistake. Yet, Sue’s words hinted that she wanted nothing to do with his second-in-command. Silently, he realized he would have to take the gloves off. Try something a little less subtle. Like the old “stuck-in-the-turbolift” trick.

* * * *

Baytart stared at Tom with confused eyes. “I don’t understand,” he said. The two pilots stood inside the Shuttle Bay, where Tom had just completed a staff meeting for the Conn Division. “You want me to get into Turbolift One on Deck Ten and head for Deck Two?”

“That’s right,” Tom calmly replied. “At 13:03 hours, to be precise. Tomorrow.”

“Why?”

In preparation for his latest scheme, Tom had spent a least a week observing Sue Nicoletti’s daily habits. He explained one particular habit to Pablo. Unless a special project, a battle or any other special situation made it impossible, Sue always left Engineering at 13:00 hours and boarded Turbolift One for the Mess Hall. “Only tomorrow,” he added, “you will join her when the lift reaches Deck Ten. Somewhere between Decks Six and Seven, the turbolift will stop.”

“Stop?” Pablo frowned momentarily, until realization lit up his eyes. “Wait a minute! Is this the old “stuck-in-the-turbolift” routine? Is the best you can do?”

Tom gave him a cool stare. “Well, I had better ideas, but they didn’t exactly work. Gee, I wonder why?”

Baytart had the good grace to blush. “I’ll be in Turbolift One at exactly 13:00 hours, tomorrow.”

“Good,” Tom said, nodding. “Now, if something happens to prevent Sue from leaving Engineering on time, I’ll let you know.” He gave the young pilot a friendly pat on the back. “Don’t worry, Pablo. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll soon have Sue Nicoletti in your arms.”

* * * *

Everything went according to plan. At precisely 13:00 hours, the following afternoon, Lieutenant Nicoletti interrupted work on the magnetic constrictors and left Engineering to have lunch. The minute she headed for the doors, Carl Ashmore contacted Tom.

The Chief Helmsman then alerted Pablo Baytart to head for Turbolift One. The junior pilot followed his chief’s orders. When he stepped inside, he was relieved to find the object of his desire, alone. The dark-haired engineer took one look at Pablo and immediately stiffened. His heart sank at the realization that Lieutenant Paris’ participation in this scheme was easy – getting him and Sue together. He had the more difficult task of wooing the haughty engineer.

Don’t freeze, Pablo, he said to himself. For once in your life, get your thumb out of your ass and talk with the woman. You’ve already done it, twice. Before dumping a plate of dim sum on her lap and electrocuting her. Pablo took a deep breath. Think positive thoughts. Remember, you’re a Starfleet officer, not an idiot.

Pablo turned to the engineer to speak. Before he could open his mouth, he realized that the turbolift had failed to stop between Decks Six and Seven. Instead, it continued on, until it stopped at Deck Two. The doors slid open and Sue Nicoletti stepped out, leaving behind a flabbergasted pilot.

* * * *

Tom watched the entire debacle from his monitor on the Conn Station. Once again, fate, this time in the form of an unstoppable turbolift, came between Pablo Baytart and Sue Nicoletti.

“What the hell happened?” a stunned Tom muttered under his breath.

Another voice broke him out of his reverie. “Did you say something, Mister Paris?” Captain Janeway asked.

Tom’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest. He took a few deep breaths and managed to subdue his rapidly beating heart. “Everything’s fine, Captain,” he calmly replied. “Just a little problem with the navigational relays.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should summon someone from Engineering.”

“Don’t bother, Captain. If you don’t mind, I’ll just head down to Engineering, myself. I’m soon due for my lunch break. That way, I can kill two birds with one stone.” He flashed the red-haired captain his most reassuring smile.

Fortunately, Janeway nodded her assent and Tom immediately headed for the turbolift. His first stop – the Mess Hall on Deck Two. Tom popped his head inside the doorway and spotted both Pablo and Sue – sitting yards apart. The young pilot immediately saw the older man and sprang toward the doorway.

“What the hell happened?” Pablo demanded, once the pair retired to the corridor, outside. “The turbolift was supposed to stop between Decks Six and Seven! It didn’t!”

Tom retorted, “I know what the damn thing was suppose to do! Something must have gone wrong the programming.”

“Now what do I do?”

There were times Tom wondered how Baytart ever managed to become a Starfleet officer. Hell! Even Harry Kim has shown more boldness in pursuit of other females. And he was two years younger than Pablo. And less experienced. An impatient sigh left Tom’s mouth. “Why don’t you just ask her out, Pablo? At least try to strike up a conversation. You were doing great at the party and in the Hololab.”

Pablo cried out, “Until I dumped food on her and nearly electrocuted her! I just can’t do it on my own, Lieutenant! I can’t!”

“Then why in the hell did I even bother to plan that little turbolift scheme in the first lace? Surely, you didn’t expect me to hold your hand all the way to Deck Two?”

A little shrug from Pablo’s shoulder reminded Tom of himself at the age of twelve. “I almost said something in the turbolift,” the younger man mumbled. “But it continued on to Deck Two before I could.”

“Look,” Tom said, “I’m heading down to Engineering. Maybe Ashmore can help me find out what went wrong.” He paused. “And hopefully, we can try again.”

Hope brimmed in Pablo’s eyes. “We will?”

Tom reassured the pilot that they would make another attempt to trap Nicoletti in the turbolift. Smiling, Pablo returned to the Mess Hall. And Tom continued on to Deck Eleven. Upon reaching Engineering, he found Ensign Carl Ashmore working at a console on the upper level.

“What happened?” were the pilot’s first words to the engineer, repeating both himself and Baytart.

Ashmore’s light brown face puckered into a frown. “It didn’t work?”

“The damn thing didn’t even stop. What went wrong?” Tom watched as the other man punched in a few codes into the console.

“According to the computer,” Ashmore continued, “there’s nothing wrong with the program. So, it must be . . .” He punched in a few more entries. “Oh, here it is. We’ve been having problems with the computer’s relay circuits.”

A crewman appeared out of the blue, startling the two officers. “Excuse me, Ensign Ashmore?”

Ashmore glanced at the crewman. “Yes, Soltay, what is it?”

Crewman Soltay expressed difficulty with several ESP circuits connected to one of the ship’s gel packs. Ashmore excused himself to help the crewman. He told Tom, “I’ll get to you about this. How about later this evening?”

Tom sighed. All this scheming on Baytart’s behalf has proven to be very exhausting. And distracting him from his own pursuit of B’Elanna. “At the resort,” he said wearily. “Holodeck One, at 20:00 hours.”

Ashmore and Soltay left. Tom glanced at the chronometer. It read 13:53 hours. Realizing that he had an extra seven minutes, along with an hour for his lunch break, he left Engineering and headed for the nearest turbolift. Might as well enjoy every free moment until his return to duty. The moment he stepped into the turbolift, a voice cried out, “Hold the lift!” Was that . . .? Seconds later, B’Elanna Torres dashed into the turbolift. Tom could not believe his luck.

* * * *

The moment the turbolift doors slid shut, B’Elanna barked an order to the computer. “Deck Two.” Slightly winded, she took a deep breath. A familiar scent filled her nostrils. Kahless! Was that . . .?

“On your way to the Mess Hall?” Tom Paris asked in his usual soft voice. B’Elanna closed her eyes momentarily. Of all the people to find herself alone with! Dammit!“Hello? B’Elanna?” Tom continued. “Paris to Torres! Cat caught your tongue? Or is this some new ploy of yours? The silent treatment?”

Her dark eyes flashed with irritation. B’Elanna whirled on the pilot. “Keep it up, Flyboy! And I’ll give you my version of the silent treatment! Only you’ll be the one unable to speak. Especially with a broken jaw.”

“Ah! Nice to see that your tongue hasn’t been paralyzed after all.”

An impatient growl rose from B’Elanna’s throat. “What the hell you want, Paris?”

Tom protested. “Hey! All I did was ask you a question! Like, are you heading for the Mess Hall?”

“I asked for Deck Two!” B’Elanna snapped. “What do you think?”

“Well,” Tom leaned forward and waggled his brows lavisciously, “maybe we can share lunch. Like a bowl of Ktarian pudding?”

Only Tom Paris could make a simple lunch between friends seem suggestive. B’Elanna sighed. What did he have in mind, anyway? Ktarian pudding spread all over her body for him to lick? The idea of Paris’ tongue on her body brought forth erotic visions and feelings that immediately aroused B’Elanna. Even worse, were thoughts of her licking the pudding from his body. She took a deep breath to vanquish the images and Tom’s familiar scent hit her again. Good grief! Couldn’t she stop thinking about the man?

“Hello? Hey, B’Elanna!” Tom’s voice interrupted her forbidden musings. “Why am I having trouble in holding your attention for a few minutes?”

B’Elanna shot him a dark look. “Perhaps you haven’t said anything worth my attention. And as for lunch . . .” The turbolift lurched to a stop, taking the two occupants by surprise. “What the hell? Computer, resume turbolift!”

“Unable to comply,” the computer’s voice droned. “Turbolift One is malfunctioning.”

Irritated, B’Elanna shot back, “Malfunctioning? Where is the turbolift located now?”

“Turbolift One is located between Deck Six and Deck Seven.”

Something like a gasp escaped Tom’s mouth. B’Elanna stared at him. Then she tapped her combadge. “Torres to Engineering, what the hell is going on? I’m stuck in one of the turbolifts.”

A voice responded. It belonged to Carl Ashmore. “Uh, sorry Lieutenant. There seemed to be some problem with the computer’s circuitry. It must have affected the turbolift.”

“Well, do something about it!” B’Elanna barked.

Nervousness tinged Ashmore’s voice. “Uh, yes ma’am. I mean, uh, sir.” A pause followed. Then, “I’ll get to right away. Ashmore out.”

An amused Tom commented, “Poor Carl. After the way you had applied the whip, he’s probably pissing in his pants, by now.”

B’Elanna glared at the pilot. “Never mind about Ashmore,” she retorted. “What do you know about this?”

Blue eyes widened innocently. “What do you mean?”

“I saw the way you reacted when the computer mentioned we were stuck between Decks Six and Seven.” B’Elanna stepped closer, invading Tom’s personal space. “You know something about all this, Tom Paris. And I want the truth.”

A self-deprecating smile touched the pilot’s lips. “Okay. If you must know, I had Carl program the turbolift to stop right here.”

“I knew it!” B’Elanna crowed triumphantly. “I just knew you had something to do with this! What’s your game, Tom? Another half-assed attempt to get me alone? First, I’m going to tear Carl’s limbs apart and feed them to the warp core. But that’s . . .”

Tom interrupted, “Okay, B’Elanna. Before you go off half-cock, let . . .”

“What I’m going to do with Carl is nothing in compare to what I have planned for you! Of all the immature, idiotic . . .”

“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT THE HELL UP?”

Immobile with shock, B’Elanna stared at the pilot. “What did you just say?” she asked in a deadly whisper. “Did you just tell me to . . .”

“Yes! I told you to shut up and let me explain!” Tom grabbed hold of the engineer’s shoulder, surprising her even further. “Now, are you going to let me talk?”

B’Elanna’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Tom did not realize it, but he was seconds away from a broken jaw. “Okay, explain.”

He took a deep breath. “Like I said, Carl and I had programmed the turbolift to stop her for a good reason.” Tom hoped that Baytart would forgive him for this next bit of indiscretion. But if it meant saving him from pain at the hands of an angry, half-Klingon, too bad. “The reason we programmed the lift to stop was to trap Baytart and Sue Nicoletti inside, for a half-hour or so.”

A small frown creased B’Elanna’s brow. “Wait a minute! Are you saying . . .?”

“Look, this goes no further than you.” Tom paused. “Pablo had asked me to help him win over Sue Nicoletti. He’s in love with her and it seems he is too shy to approach her, himself.” He went on to explain his failed attempts at matchmaking – the dinner party, the Hololab and this latest attempt in the turbolift.

Comprehension hit B’Elanna like a wet rag. “That explains everything,” she murmured. “The little talks with Nicoletti and why you were always . . .” B’Elanna glanced up and became aware of the blue eyes staring at her. “Never mind.”

“Never mind, what?” Tom demanded. “What were you talking about? What talks with Sue?” He eyed B’Elanna questioningly.

Her mouth hung open. “I . . .” A wave of embarrassment washed over her. Kahless! When will she ever learn to think before she opened her mouth?

Tom’s eyes lit up mischievously. He slowly maneuvered B’Elanna against the turbolift’s walls. “You were about to say, Lieutenant?” he whispered in suggestive tones. His mouth hovered inches away from hers.

Keep hold of your emotions, Torres. Don’t let it overwhelm you. B’Elanna’s eyes refused to meet Tom’s. Instead, they focused on his square jaw. That delicious piece of flesh that she felt tempted to sink her teeth into. She took a deep breath. Big mistake! Tom’s scent, again invaded her senses. With great effort, B’Elanna ignored the scent and replied, “Actually, I meant to offer my help.”

“Excuse me?” Tom’s brows quirked upward.

B’Elanna continued, “I want to help. I’ll have a talk with Sue. Let her know that Baytart is interested in her. And suggest that she go on a date with him.”

Tom frowned. “What if she says no? I don’t think Sue is in any mood to give Pablo a chance. Especially after what happened at my party and in the Hololab.”

“Then he’s screwed,” B’Elanna replied bluntly. “And I would suggest he search in greener pastures.”

A sigh left Tom’s mouth. “That’s what I’ve been telling Pablo. Only he can be such a stubborn bastard, sometimes.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” B’Elanna murmured. She ignored the pilot’s pointed stare and tapped her combadge. “Torres to Engineering. How are those repairs coming along?”

Ashmore’s voice replied, “We’re almost finished, Chief. The turbolift should be back on line . . .” Before he could finish, B’Elanna felt a jolt. The turbolift began to move.

“Never mind, Carl. It’s moving. Good work.”

“No problem, Chief. Ashmore out.”

The turbolift resumed its journey. The two occupants rode in silence. Once it reached Deck Two, the doors slid open and the pair strode out and into the corridor. “Like I said,” B’Elanna continued, “I’ll have a talk with Sue. And you can convince Baytart to ask her out. Who knows?” They finally reached their destination. “Maybe something will happen between them.” She flashed Tom a smile and the two entered the Mess Hall. Dammit! Why did she have to smile at him, like that?

* * * *

“Nicoletti! I need to see you in my office, right away!”

The dark-haired woman warily headed for her superior’s office. B’Elanna could see by the set of her shoulders that she would rather keep her distance away from the Chief Engineer.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” Nicoletti answered, once she stepped inside the glass-encased room. “You want something?”

B’Elanna hesitated. She hated getting involved in the affairs of others. On the other hand, she had opened her big mouth and promised Tom to help him with his little matchmaking scheme. “Uh . . . Sue,” she began, “have you been noticing something odd, lately?”

“Odd?” Blue eyes stared at B’Elanna with one of those ‘what-did-I-do-now?’ looks. “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I . . .” Again, a hesitation. This felt so embarrassing! Why in the hell did she allow Paris to talk her into this? B’Elanna conveniently forgot that she had volunteered. Dammit! She might as well get this over with now! “Look Sue, have you been encountering Ensign Baytart a lot? Lately?”

Slowly, Nicoletti replied, “Ye-ess-ss.” She paused and blinked. Realization lit up her eyes. “Yeah,” she added in a soft voice. “I wonder why.” B’Elanna told her about Tom’s matchmaking efforts. Nicoletti’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. “What?”

“All those little encounters with Baytart – the dinner party, the Hololab and the turbolift – had all been engineered by Paris. He’s been helping Baytart to get a date with . . .”

Sue angrily cut in. “Get a date with me! So, that’s why Paris has been hounding me all week long! And those damn accidents with Baytart! They were all his fault?”

An uneasy feeling grew inside B’Elanna. She wondered if Nicoletti felt disappointed that Baytart was the interested party and not Tom. “Sue, calm down. Neither Tom or Baytart meant any harm.”

“Any harm?” The other woman’s blue eyes blazed with anger. “How would you like to be the target of some cheap, matchmaking scheme?”

Impatience and her volatile temper finally caught up with B’Elanna. “Kahless, Sue! You act as if Baytart and Tom had played some dirty trick on you! Don’t you get it? Baytart is interested in you! He’s so infatuated that he risked his pride and asked Tom to help him. You asked if I would like to be the target of someone’s matchmaking? A part of me would say no. But another part of me would say . . .” Realizing that she was about to reveal one of her inner feelings, B’Elanna immediately clamped her mouth shut.

Nicoletti stared at the Chief Engineer. “You would say, yes?”

B’Elanna took a deep breath. She had not expected matters to get out of hand, like this. But, Sue deserved an answer. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Maybe.”

The two women fell silent. Then Sue asked, “Do you really think I should go on a date with Pablo?” For the first time, B’Elanna wondered if she and Sue shared a lot of traits – a tendency to become too involved in work, insecurity and a reserved nature.

“Sure. Why not?” B’Elanna replied, with a shrug. “Unless you’re interested in someone else.”

A knowing smile curved Nicoletti’s lips. “You mean, someone like Tom Paris. Hmm.” She paused, as if contemplating a decision. “Well, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be the only female on this ship to consider a date with Paris. Of course, what’s the point in longing for a man who has eyes for someone else?”

“Who are you talk . . .?” B’Elanna paused, suddenly aware of the mischief in Nicoletti’s eyes. She growled, “Never mind!”

“Chief?”

B’Elanna grabbed a PADD from her desk and pretended to be interested in the contents. “If Baytart ever finds the courage to ask you out,” she continued, “will you say yes?”

Nicoletti shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.” Which meant, B’Elanna realized, yes.

* * * *

Sheer panic filled Pablo Baytart’s eyes. “You told Lieutenant Torres everything?” he cried out. The two pilots stood inside Tom’s quarters. The latter had just finished his shift on the Bridge. “Why? I thought this was between the two of us!”

“I had to tell her,” Tom insisted. “It was either that or let her beat me to death for causing the turbolift to stop.”

Pablo demanded, “What are you talking about? That damn lift didn’t even stop! Or have you forgotten?”

Tom sighed. “It did stop, Pablo. Only an hour later than it was suppose to. And I ended up trapped with Torres.” He sat down in one of his chairs. Baytart sank onto the sofa. “Once she found out the truth, she offered to help.”

“Help?” Baytart frowned. “How?”

Here comes the tricky part, Tom realized. “Well, B’Elanna had volunteered to have a talk with Sue and convince her to go out on a date with you, if you asked. In fact, I believe they’ve already had their conversation.”

“WHAT?” The young pilot’s voice vibrated around the cabin.

Tom winced from the cry that rang in his ears. “God, Pablo! Not so loud!”

“Are you . . . do you mean to say that Sue knows everything? She’ll never go out with me, now!”

“She won’t if you try to avoid her like some ten year-old who’s frightened of girls!” Tom retorted. He heaved another sigh. “Look, according to B’Elanna, Sue is willing to have a talk with you. Give you a chance. All you have to do is face her and ask for a date.”

Baytart’s face expressed uncertainty. “But, what if . . .?”

“Dammit Pablo! You can’t hide from her, forever! What do you want me to do? Go on the date for you?”

Apparently, the idea did not appeal to Baytart. “N-n-no,” he stammered. He sighed. “I guess not. Maybe I should face her. Do you know where she is at the moment?”

Holding back his glee, Tom shrugged. “Why don’t you check with the computer?”

According to the computer, Lieutenant Nicoletti could be found in Engineering. Just as Tom had expected. “Well?” he said to Pablo.

The younger stood up and flashed an uneasy smile. “Well, wish me luck.” He squared his shoulders and gave Tom a nod. “Thanks for the advice, Lieutenant. And for helping me find my nerve.”

“Good luck, Pablo,” Tom replied, before Baytart left his quarters. Once alone, Tom raised his eyes heavenward and allowed himself a heartfelt sigh. “Thank God!” he shouted to know one in particular. Now, he finally had the time to return his attentions to other matters. Namely, a certain chief engineer.

* * * *

FOUR DAYS LATER . . .

“I don’t believe it!” Harry declared in a disbelieving tone. “I see it, but I don’t believe it! Is that Pablo Baytart with Sue Nicoletti?” He pointed at a couple, sharing a table on the other side of Sandrine’s, inside Holodeck One.

Both B’Elanna and Tom glanced at the couple. The former allowed herself a satisfied smile. As she had suggested, Sue accepted Pablo’s invitation to a date. She learned from Tom that the pair ended up having dinner together at simulation of a Parisian bistro, created by the Chief Helmsman. Fortunately, the date turned out to be a success.

“I had a great time!” Sue had gushed on the morning, following her first date with the pilot. “The dinner was delicious and the atmosphere, fantastic! Later, Pablo and I took a walk along the Left Bank. Very romantic.” Naturally, B’Elanna had not demand any further details.

Tom chuckled over Harry’s comments. “Well, they look like Pablo and Sue to me. Make a cute couple, don’t they?” His blue eyes danced merrily, sending shivers up B’Elanna’s spine.

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said reluctantly. His eyes returned to Tom’s face. “What are you grinning about? You look like the cat who just swallowed a canary.” Suspicion gleamed in his dark eyes. “Say, did you have anything to do with . . .?”

Laughter poured out of Tom’s mouth. “Boy, Harry! You do catch on ‘fast’, don’t you?” Harry’s face turned red. “As a matter of fact, I had everything to do with them being together.”

B’Elanna arched an eyebrow and stared at Tom. “Excuse me, Flyboy,” she said caustically. “Only YOU were responsible?”

Embarrassment quickly replaced Tom’s triumphant expression. “Sorry. I meant us. I managed to convince Pablo to get over his shyness and ask Sue for a date. And B’Elanna had convinced her to give him a chance.” He went on to explain the entire situation to Harry.

The Ops officer shook his head after Tom finished. “The pilot and the engineer. Who would have believed it?” His remark caused B’Elanna to nearly choke on her drink. Both Harry and Tom stared at her with concerned eyes. “Are you okay, Maquis?”

“I’m fine,” a slightly hoarse B’Elanna replied. “My scotch went down the wrong way.”

Harry again, contemplated the two newly formed lovebirds. “So Tom, you were helping Baytart set up a date with Sue? That explains all those lunches and dates with Sue in the Hololab. And to think, B’Elanna thought . . .”

The moment he spoke her name, B’Elanna knew what Harry was about to say. She panicked and gave him a swift kick in the shin. Followed by a menacing stare that expressly ordered him to shut up. The younger man winced in pain. But B’Elanna also achieved her goal. Harry quickly clamped his mouth shut.

Tom glanced at his friends with barely concealed amusement. “Are you okay, Harry?”

“Fine,” the Ops officer muttered. “Just a muscle twinge in the calf.”

Feign innocence lit up Tom’s eyes. “Oh. I see. By the way, you also mentioned B’Elanna. What exactly were you about to say?” A smile threatened to quirk his lips.

He knew! Embarrassment filled B’Elanna’s guts. The teasing bastard had obviously guessed what Harry nearly revealed. Dammit! She had to get out of here. In order to make her escape, B’Elanna rose from her chair. “I just remembered. I have an Engineering report to finish,” she gushed. “I’ll see you two, later.”

Tom stood up. “Okay. I’ll walk you home.”

“I don’t need an escort, Paris!” B’Elanna retorted. Couldn’t the man take a hint? “I’m a big girl now.”

An appreciative smile curled Tom’s lips. “All the more reason to walk you back to your quarters.”

B’Elanna speared the pilot with her deadliest glare. His smile grew wider. She sighed in defeat. “All right, you can follow me.”

“Have fun you two,” Harry added. His eyes danced with glee. Both B’Elanna and Tom glared at him, but he ignored their stares and continued drinking.

Once they left Holodeck One, Tom did not follow B’Elanna to Deck Nine. Instead, the pair strolled together, side-by-side, without touching each other. B’Elanna made sure of that. They finally reached her quarters. She punched in the codes to her room and turned to face the pilot. “Well, here we are. Thanks for the uh, escort.” The doors slid open.

To her horror, Tom did not walk away. Instead, he brought up an embarrassing subject she long thought dead. “What exactly did you think about Sue and me?”

B’Elanna’s eyes grew wide. “What?”

“Harry mentioned something about why I was having all those lunches with Sue. Then he said that you thought . . . before everything went blank and he suddenly developed a ‘muscle cramp’.” A smirk touched Tom’s lips.

Again, B’Elanna’s breathing became irregular. “Nothing,” she quickly replied. “It was nothing. I . . .” Her mouth hung open.

Tom leaned closer, his mouth less than a millimeter from hers. “You what?” he whispered. The soft timbre of his voice sent waves of heat throughout B’Elanna’s body.

Dark brown eyes met blue ones. B’Elanna found her resistance to the handsome pilot slipping away. ‘Kiss him’ her mind barked. ‘Just lean forward and press your mouth against those soft, firm . . .’ Voices in the corridor broke B’Elanna out of her trance. She snapped back, growled a quick “good night” and immediately slipped inside her quarters.

Once the doors slid shut, the Chief Engineer leaned against them and sighed. Her body still shook from the memory of her close call with Tom. She felt relieved that she had escaped from becoming Tom Paris’s next conquest. Yet, she could not forget the disappointment that flashed in his blue eyes. Or ignore that same disappointment that refused to leave her heart.

THE END