“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 10/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART X

Phoebe could not accompany her sisters and the other three to the Halliwell manor, since she had to return to work. But the other four found themselves standing outside the salmon-colored house nearly a half hour later. 

The two witches, the Vodoun priestess and the half-daemon entered the house, as Piper cried out Donna’s name. When a faint voice responded, the quartet headed toward the Solarium. There they found the nanny on the sofa with her charge, watching television. Donna glanced up and smiled. “Piper! What are you doing here?”

“Oh, uh . . .” The Charmed One became speechless, for Olivia had suggested that they did not directly confront the nanny.

Olivia came to Piper’s rescue. “I’m here to borrow some herbs from Piper. We just came back from lunch.”

Piper smiled weakly. “That’s it. Uh, you remember Olivia and Cecile, don’t you? Paige told me that you had met them.”

Donna smiled at the redhead and the black woman. “Oh yeah. Nice to see you, again.” Then her gaze turned to Cole.

“Oh,” Piper added, “and this is Cole. Cole Turner. He’s Olivia’s boyfriend. Cole, this is Donna Thompson. Wyatt’s new nanny.” Olivia noted that the Charmed One failed to mention the half-daemon’s past link to the Halliwell family.

The nanny smiled at Cole. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same here,” Cole replied politely.

“So,” Piper continued, “how is Wyatt doing?” She reached for her son, who had been sitting in Donna’s lap contentedly. As Piper drew Wyatt into her arms, he gurgled happily. “Hel-lo sweetie! How are you? Hmmm. Well, he seems to be doing fine.”

Donna added, “Aren’t you going to get those herbs for Olivia?”

“Huh?” Piper’s eyes widened in confusion. It took all of Olivia’s efforts not to roll her eyes at the Charmed One’s attempt at deception. She noticed that both Cole and Cecile did not bother suppress their efforts.

Olivia then spied an empty glass of water on a nearby table, and an idea came to her. “While you’re at it, Piper, could you get me a glass of water?”

The other witch nodded. “Sure.” Then Piper left the Solarium, while Olivia and her other two companions indulged in small talk with the nanny. Cole politely talked about his job at the law firm, and his relationship with Olivia. Cecile talked about Vodoun practices in New Orleans and Olivia regaled the nanny with hers and Cole’s experiences in babysitting Wyatt – much to Cole’s obvious embarrassment. Eventually, Piper returned with a glass of water for Olivia. And a brown paper bag.

“Thanks,” Olivia said to Piper. Then she deliberately paused and glanced at Donna’s neck. “Oh by the way, Piper. You should see Donna’s necklace. I saw it yesterday, and it’s gorgeous. Right Donna?” She smiled at the nanny.

Donna’s eyes blinked. “Huh?”

Olivia pointed at the leather strap around the nanny’s neck. “Your necklace. The one that you had dropped, yesterday. Why don’t you show it to the others?”

Donna hesitated. “Well . . .” The other three stared at her. “I guess. Uh, it’s . . .” Slowly, she withdrew the object from underneath her blouse. “I bought it at the Red Pyramid. It’s supposed to be some kind of ward against evil. After that daemon had attacked us, I thought it would come in handy.”

Olivia peered at the amulet. It took one glance for her to realize that it was not the one that Donna had worn, yesterday. Obviously, the other woman had made a switch. Or the other amulet was somewhere hidden in a pocket or something.

Both Piper and Cecile glanced at Olivia, before gazing at the amulet around Donna’s neck. “Very nice,” Cecile commented. “Don’t you think, Piper?”

The Charmed One added, “Yeah. But . . .” She directed her gaze at Donna. “But why keep it around your neck?”

“Like I said, it’s a protection ward,” Donna explained. “Don’t want to expose it, if I’m attacked.”

“Oh.” Piper handed the glass of water and paper bag to Olivia. “This is for you.”

Keeping her disappointment in check, Olivia began to drink her water. Wyatt picked up a small rubber ball and threw it at Cole, attracting everyone’s attention. Olivia glanced at the empty glass on the nearby table, and an idea came to her. While the others continued to focus on Wyatt and Cole, she dumped the rest of her water into a potted plant. Then she placed her glass on the table, whipped out her handkerchief and snatched up Donna’s empty glass. As she quickly stuffed the glass into her purse, Cole glanced at her. He frowned. Then Olivia glanced at her watch. “Oh, I better be getting back.” The others stared at her. “Say Piper, could you give me a lift back to the store?”

“Uh . . . sure.” Piper turned to Cole and Cecile. “You guys need a lift as well?”

Cecile nodded, while Cole replied, “I wouldn’t mind.” He continued to stare at Olivia.

The four people then bid both Donna and Wyatt good-bye and left the manor. As they marched down the stoop leading to the sidewalk, Piper asked, “Was that the amulet that you saw?”

Olivia shook her head. “Either she had switched amulets, or I was mistaken. It did look similar to the one that she wore, yesterday.”

“So much for Wyatt’s nanny being a danger,” Cecile commented.

“I’m not so sure.” Olivia reached the black SUV, first.

Cole added, “I assume you’re talking about that glass that you had put in your purse.” Olivia smiled at him.

Piper frowned. “What glass?” Olivia explained what she had done with the glass of water that she had received from Piper. And the glass that she now held inside her purse. “You have one of my glasses?”

“Don’t worry,” Olivia told her. “Just as soon as Forensics check the prints, you can have it back. Meanwhile,” the three women and the half-daemon climbed into the jeep, “can you drop me off at the precinct?”

————

Piper’s voice rang over the telephone. “Nothing happened, Phoebe. We all got a good look at Donna’s amulet. Especially Olivia. It wasn’t the same one that I saw around that demon’s neck. And Olivia claimed that she saw a different amulet, yesterday.”

Phoebe heaved a sigh, as Piper’s words sank in. So much for her suspicion of Donna Thompson. Then an idea came to her. “Wait a minute, Piper. There’s a good chance that she may have switched amulets. Especially after what happened between her and Olivia, yesterday.”

“Phoebe . . .” Piper’s voice hinted skepticism.

“C’mon Piper! Don’t tell me that isn’t possible!”

Another sigh filled Phoebe’s ears, as Piper continued, “Yes, it is possible. In fact,” she hesitated, “that’s what Olivia thinks. Which is why she had decided to steal a glass that had been used by Donna. She’s going to have the police check the prints. She’s still concerned about two Donna Thompsons being born on the same day and in the same year.”

Phoebe exclaimed, “Thank God someone is showing sense!”

“Thank you very much, Phoebe, for that little reminder. Are you now saying that I’m not showing the proper concern for my son?”

Oh God, Phoebe thought. Time for another round of ‘Piper’s Defense Mode Number One’. “Honey, I didn’t say that.”

“Really? Then what?” Piper added, “Look, I’m just as concerned for Wyatt as anyone else. Even more. And at least I haven’t abandoned him to fulfill some kind of lame ass destiny.” Thoughts of Leo flashed in Phoebe’s mind. “Besides, it’s been at least three days since I had hired Donna. Why hasn’t she done anything yet?”

Phoebe sighed. “I don’t know, Piper. Maybe it’s like Cecile had said. Maybe she’s got some elaborate ritual planned. And what about that demon who had attacked you? Nairn?”

“What about him?”

The middle Charmed One continued, “Maybe we should look into this guy. Find out if Donna had hired him.”

This time, Piper sighed. “I knew you were going to say that. I wish I could, Phoebe, but I’m going to be busy, tonight. And tomorrow night, as well. I’ve booked this local band that’s becoming big, and there’s a good chance I’ll have a large crowd on my hands.”

“Well, Paige and I . . .”

Piper interrupted, “Phoebe? You’re not going to drag Wyatt all over creation just to hunt down information on some demon that’s already dead.”

Again, Phoebe sighed. “All right! We’ll keep an eye on Wyatt. At home.” Then another idea came to her. “Or . . . I can ask Paige to get Harry, so they can look into . . .”

“Phoebe, I wouldn’t even bother.” Piper hesitated. “Cole said that he and Andre would look into Nairn’s background. Olivia and Cecile will be busy tonight. And since it has to do with some coven meeting that Paige told me about, I suspect that Harry will be taking her, as well.”

Cole. Well, of course he would be the right man for the job. Phoebe sighed. As she always did whenever she thought about her ex-husband, these days.

“Phoebe?” Piper’s voice expressed concern. “Are you okay?”

The younger woman answered, “Yeah, I’m fine. I guess it’s been a long day for me and it’s not even three o’clock yet.”

“Maybe you should leave work early today,” Piper suggested. “I’m sure that Elise would . . .”

Someone knocked on the door, causing Phoebe to glance up. Jason poked his head inside her office. “Phoebe, are . . . Oh! I’m sorry to interrupt.”

“No, that’s okay.” Phoebe returned her attention back to her sister. “Uh, Piper, I’ll get back to you, later. Bye.” She hung up the telephone, before Piper could respond and smiled at her boyfriend. “Jason! Hi! What can I do for you?”

The newspaper magnate returned Phoebe’s smile with a suggestive one of his own. “I have something in mind, but I don’t think that this is the right moment for it. I missed you at lunch.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I had lunch with Piper.”

Jason headed toward Phoebe’s desk and leaned over. “I came to ask if you’ll be free, tomorrow night.”

Phoebe frowned. “Tomorrow night? Not tonight?”

“I have a business meeting, tonight,” Jason explained. “Something special.” He paused. “Well, to be honest, tomorrow night also has to do with business. Jack McNeill is having some kind of cocktail party, which has to do with that deal between McNeill Corporation and Olivia’s friend. Cecile. The deal that you told me about.”

“But what does that have to do . . .?”

Jason interrupted, “I had asked McNeill if he could get Olivia to re-introduce me to her friend. Instead, he invited me to the party. I must say it was pretty decent of him . . . considering how my relationship with Olivia had ended.” He added, “And I was hoping that you would join me.”

Disappointed that Jason did not have romance in mind for tomorrow night, Phoebe mumbled, “Cecile’s computer software must be that great, if you want to meet her that badly.” A thought came to her. “Wait a minute! Haven’t you met Cecile before? When you were dating Olivia?”

“Once. But we never really became acquainted. Besides,” Jason smiled curtly, “Olivia and I only dated for about two months. I didn’t see Cecile again, until a few years later at Bruce’s wedding.” He paused and gave Phoebe a pleading look. “You don’t mind, do you, baby? Joining me for tomorrow night?”

Phoebe stared into Jason’s dark blue eyes and sighed. How could she resist? “No, I don’t,” she finally said. “As long as I’m with you. But on Saturday, you’ll take me to some place special. Right?”

“Whatever you say.” Jason leaned even further and planted a light kiss upon Phoebe’s forehead. “I’ll pick you up around seven, tomorrow night. Bye.” He blew her a kiss and left the office.

Another sigh escaped Phoebe’s mouth, as she leaned back into her chair. She thought about Piper’s refusals to heed her warnings; and being forced to sit back and wait, while Olivia and Cole deal with the Donna Thompson situation. And now, Jason wanted to use her as the Token Girlfriend for the McNeills’ party, tomorrow night. Despite being a powerful witch and successful career woman, she was beginning to feel pretty useless.

———–

Strains of a jazz band filled Andre’s ears, as he and Cole entered the elegant nightclub on Powell Street. The houngan glanced around the establishment, recalling the last time he had visited Vorando’s – for Bruce’s bachelor party, last spring. He still could not help but admire the nightclub’s Art Deco-style interior.

Upon making their way to the bar, he and Cole ordered drinks. Andre asked for a Black Russian, while Cole ordered a whiskey-and-soda. After the bartender served their drinks, Cole added, “By the way, is Riggerio here?”

The bartender’s face became mask-like. “Who?”

Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted, “Just tell him that an old friend from Portofino is here to see him. He’ll understand.”

Looking slightly uneasy, the bartender nodded and headed toward the back of the club. While the pair sipped their drinks, Andre said, “Guess what? I finally bought the ring, today.”

“What?” Cole stared at his friend.

Andre sighed. “The engagement ring. For Cecile?” He continued, “Olivia and old Mrs. McNeill had convinced me to go ahead and ask Cecile to marry me.” He shot a quick glance at the half-daemon’s stoic expression. “I suppose you think that I shouldn’t bother.”

Blue eyes widened, as Cole protested, “I never said such a thing. In fact, the reason Cecile wanted to break up with you in the first place was because she wanted to get married . . . and thought that you didn’t.”

The news took Andre by surprise. “What? Do you mean to say that I’ve been worried all this time for nothing? Damn man! Why didn’t you . . .?”

“Hey! We were interrupted,” Cole shot back, looking defensive. “When Olivia and Cecile had shown up for dinner. And you kept disappearing on me, after that!”

Andre opened his mouth to protest, but the bartender returned. “Uh, Riggerio can see you, now. Follow me.” He led the houngan and the half-daemon toward an inconspicuous-looking door at the far side of the nightclub, and ushered them inside an office.

Although different in color tone, Riggerio’s office had also been designed in the sleek, Art-Deco style. The club’s owner sat behind a large desk, peering at his computer and obviously enjoying the music that came from the live band. The moment the two visitors stood before his desk, the handsome-looking daemon glanced up and smiled. “Well, look who’s here! Andre!” He nodded at the bartender and ordered another round of drinks, before the latter disappeared from the office. “When Frederico mentioned Portofino, I had been expecting only Belthazor.” He stood up and shook Andre’s hand. “How are you, my friend? I have not seen you in . . . what? Three months?”

Andre smiled. “Actually, four months. Not since you had hired me to find that missing . . . friend of yours. And I believe I had ended up finding his corpse, instead.”

Riggerio turned to Cole and shook the latter’s hand. “Belthazor. What brings you here? Is the lovely Signorina McNeill with you?”

Cole smiled wryly at the mention of Olivia’s name. “The . . . lovely Signorina McNeill is doing fine. Unfortunately, she and her family are attending some kind of meeting for their coven, tonight. Cecile had joined them.”

“Ah! The beautiful Signorina Dubois is in town, as well.” Riggerio nodded, as he repeated his earlier question. “So, what brings you two here?”

Cole paused, before answered. “Information.” Andre noticed how Riggerio’s face quickly became businesslike. “Have you heard of a daemon named Nairn? He used to be an assassin.”

Riggerio frowned. “Used to be?”

Andre explained, “He was killed a few days ago. While trying to kidnap the Halliwell baby.”

Surprise illuminated Riggerio’s dark eyes. “Nairn is dead? This is certainly news to me. Did the Charmed Ones kill him?”

“The oldest sister,” Cole murmured. “Piper. Along with some Vodoun priestess, who happens to be the baby’s nanny.”

Riggerio seemed saddened by the news of his fellow daemon’s death. And yet, Andre could not help but feel that Riggerio’s grief did not seem genuine. “Poor Nairn,” the daemon said with a shake of his head. “I knew that his luck would one day run out. I supposed that going up against a Charmed One was a lot more difficult than the head of the Lehme Order. Still, accepting an assignment involving the Halliwell child.” Again, he shook his head. “Very dangerous for a mid-level daemon. Even one as skilled as Nairn.”

“Did you know that he had protection, all those years?” Cole added. Riggerio stared at him. “Some kind of amulet that blocked the powers of others.”

“And yet, he still ended up dead?”

Cole sighed. “That’s another story. Right now, we need to know who had hired him.”

The other daemon shrugged his shoulders. “How would I know? I did not know that he was dead.” He paused, as his eyes hardened. “Not that I mind, to be perfectly honest. That bastard had killed a member of our coven, back in the late 70s. He has been on our shit list, ever since. As to who may have hired him,” Riggerio’s expression became less hard, “I don’t know. But . . . I have a pretty good idea who can provide you with that information.”

Andre warily eyed his host. “Exactly how much is this piece of information is going to cost us?”

Riggerio stared at the houngan, before he threw back his head and laughed. “Ah, my friend! You know me too well.” He quickly sobered. “Do not worry. This information will cost you nothing.”

“So, who is this person that can give us the information we need?” Cole demanded.

Riggerio paused before he replied, “A witch.”

Both Andre and Cole exchanged shocked looks, before staring at the daemon in disbelief. “Say that again?” Andre demanded.

“I said a witch.” The daemon continued, “After Nairn had killed a member of our coven, we began searching for him. We never managed to catch up with him, but not long ago, one of my . . . colleagues discovered that a witch named Esmerelda Ross had acted as an agent for him. All of Nairn’s jobs had been arranged through her.”

Andre wondered if he had heard correctly. “You mean to say that a witch is associated with a demonic assassin? Are you sure she’s not a warlock?”

Riggerio shook his head. “No, my friend. Signorina Ross is neither Stregheria, Wiccan or a member of any other recognized Pagan religion. She belongs to a sect that . . . well, practices a darker view of mysticism. Which means that she has not broken her oath, as a witch.”

“And which is why she’s a witch and not a warlock,” Cole added. “Is she some kind of Satanist?”

“No, no, no. From what I had learned, her kind – like the Wiccans and the Streghore – does not believe in the concept of Satan.”

The bartender returned with another round of drinks for Andre and Cole. He also served a glass of white wine to Riggerio and left. Andre turned to Riggerio and asked, “Where can we find this Esmarelda Ross?”

With a sigh, Riggerio replied, “Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question.” He took a sip of his wine. “I have no idea where she lives. I only know her name.” The daemon turned to Andre. “But if I were you, il mio amico, I would go back to that little investigation you had done for me. The ‘missing friend’, whose corpse you had found, was the one who had told me about Signorina Ross. He had disappeared not long after our last conversation.”

Andre continued to sip his drink, as he contemplated Riggerio’s words.

END OF PART X

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 9/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART IX

McNeill Corporation’s corporate officers filed out of the boardroom, as they chatted happily over the new deal that had been reached. Even Cecile felt better than she had in the past week. Especially since her business deal with the corporation had concluded successfully. Crescent Software’s list of clients has just spread beyond the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Southeast to include the West Coast. Cecile allowed herself a smile, as she followed Cole and the McNeills to the CEO’s office.

“That went off well,” Jack McNeill declared, as he settled into the leather chair behind his desk. “Once the contracts are signed and processed, we can set about arranging training sessions for our employees. Um . . .”

Cecile interrupted. “I suppose we can discuss the training schedules, later.”

Harry corrected, “Sure. But just to let you know, your employees can train our tech people who are employed at the corporate level. After that . . .”

“You will provide training to all of your companies,” Cecile finished. “That’s fine with me. But right now, I feel like celebrating.”

Cole shot her a penetrating glance. “Well, you’re certainly in a good mood, today. A first this week, isn’t it?”

Cecile’s smile faltered, thanks to the half-daemon’s cool observation. She suspected that he was thinking about Andre. “Yeah,” she said, staring at him. “I guess I am.” Cole looked away. “Of course, I . . .” Her cell phone rang. Cecile retrieved it from her purse. “Excuse me. Hello?”

“Hey Cecile, it’s me! Olivia! Are you busy?” The redhead’s voice rang in her ear. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for the past hour.”

The Vodoun priestess commented, “I’ve had my cell phone turned off. What do you need?”

“I’m just calling to let you know that I’ll have to take a rain check on our lunch, today,” Olivia continued. “Something has come up.”

Suspicion glimmered in the back of Cecile’s mind. “Does that something have to do with Donna Thompson?”

A brief hesitation on Olivia’s part followed, before she finally answered, “As a matter of fact . . . yeah. It does. Why? Do you want to help?”

Cecile glanced at Cole. “Well, I was thinking about lunch with Cole and Harry.”

“Bring them along. Especially Cole.”

“Uh . . .” Cecile faced the others. “I’ll ask.” She removed the cell phone from her ear. “Are any of you guys interested in helping Olivia with a little investigation, this afternoon?”

Harry answered, “Sorry, but I have an appointment. Business.”

“So do I,” Mr. McNeill added.

Once more, Cecile glanced at the half-daemon. “Cole?”

He shrugged. “Sure. Why not? My schedule is free.”

“Cole and I will join you,” Cecile informed Olivia. “Where do you want to meet for . . .?”

Olivia told her. “Meet me at P3 in about an hour from now. I have to get something from my apartment. I’ll see you then.”

“I’ll see you.” Cecile disconnected her telephone. Then she turned to Cole. “Olivia wants us to meet her at P3.”

Looking slightly confused, Cole demanded, “Why? By any chance does this have to do with Wyatt’s new nanny? I remember her trying to talk about this Donna, during last night’s dinner.”

Cecile sighed. “I’m afraid so. Olivia had an encounter with her, yesterday. And now she’s become paranoid over the woman. And when she gets like . . .”

“Yes, we all know how Olivia can be when her paranoia gets the best of her,” Mr. McNeill wearily added.

Cole murmured, “But she usually turns out to be right.”

“Can’t deny the truth,” Mr. McNeill shot back. Then he added, “By the way, Gwen and I will be holding a little cocktail party, tomorrow night. To celebrate today’s deal. It’ll start around seven.”

Cecile frowned. “Not tonight?”

“Our coven is holding a meeting, tonight. At Phil Bannen’s home.”

“Oh. I’ll be there.” Cecile turned to Cole. “Ready?” The half-daemon nodded, as he and the Vodoun priestess bid the McNeills good-bye, before setting out for their new destination.

———-

Family always mattered to the Halliwells. It certainly mattered to Piper, who loved her family very much. But there were moments when her family could be the biggest pain in her ass. Like now.

“Phoebe,” the oldest Charmed One said in her most patient voice, “please stop this. Please? I’m trying to finish this inventory of liquor and you’re still going on about Donna.”

The younger woman had dropped by the nightclub to invite Piper for lunch. Unfortunately, the club owner had no choice but to decline her sister’s offer due to her heavy workload. Between checking the inventory, booking new acts for the next two months and finding a new manager, Piper really had no time for ninety minute lunches. But instead of leaving, Phoebe decided to hang around the club . . . and nag her to death about her son’s new nanny.

“But Piper, don’t you find it strange that she was the last applicant to arrive? One would say that it was pretty convenient that she was around to help you vanquish that . . .” Phoebe glanced around to ensure that no one could hear them. “. . . that demon.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “A demon that she had allegedly hired to attack me?”

“Yeah.”

“Phoebe, if Donna had hired a demon to attack us, why did she help me vanquish him? Why did he attack her?” The younger sister’s mouth fell open. Piper moved in for the kill. “With me dead, no one could have stopped Donna and that demon from taking Wyatt. But that didn’t happen, Phoebe. I’m alive and we still have Wyatt with his powers intact – thanks to Donna. And she hasn’t made a move in the past few days. Can you explain that?”

Uncertainty replaced the fervent gleam in Phoebe’s eyes. “I don’t know, Piper. But I can’t help how I feel. There’s just something wrong about her.”

“Something wrong about whom?” a third voice asked. Both Piper and Phoebe looked up and saw two figures descend the nightclub’s staircase. It was Cole and Cecile. As usual, Phoebe’s face turned slightly pink at the sight of her former husband. The two newcomers approached the sisters. Cole added, “Were you two talking about someone?”

Phoebe remained silent, while Piper sighed. “Wyatt’s new nanny. Donna. Phoebe thinks there’s something suspicious about her.”

“Oh no!” Cecile groaned. “Phoebe too?”

Piper frowned. “What do you mean?”

The Vodoun priestess continued, “Olivia is also suspicious. Something to do with a necklace or amulet that she thinks your nanny has.”

An uneasy thought entered Piper’s mind at Cecile’s mention of an amulet. “Are you saying that Olivia believes that Donna has that demon’s amulet?”

Footsteps clattered on the staircase. Seconds later, Olivia appeared before them, carrying a thick book. “Hi guys! What’s going on?”

“You tell us,” Cole said, as he greeted her with a light kiss. “You asked us to join you here.”

Piper added, “We’re talking about Donna. Whom Phoebe seems to think has designs on my son. And now, Cecile tells us that you’re also suspicious.”

Olivia placed the book on the bar’s flat surface. “And you’re not?”

“What for? She hasn’t done anything! I’ve been trying to tell Phoebe, but she won’t listen.”

Phoebe retorted, “She hasn’t done anything . . . yet. For all we know, she might be biding her time. I mean, this is Wyatt we’re talking about. Donna probably has some special potion to strip his powers.”

“Or a special ritual,” Cecile added. Everyone stared at her. “Look, I’m no more suspicious than Piper. So far, I haven’t sensed anything threatening about her and I’m a telepath. But if this Donna is planning on stealing Wyatt’s powers, she would probably use some kind of ritual. I know I would.”

Feeling slightly annoyed, Piper exclaimed, “Okay, this has gone too far! Neither Phoebe or Olivia have any real proof that Donna has some . . . ‘nefarious’ scheme planned for Wyatt. Or do you?”

Olivia exchanged a glance with Phoebe before she declared, “Well . . . here’s something that you might find interesting. Did you know there are . . . or were two Donna Thompsons born on March 14, 1968? One of them died back in 1996 and the other happens to be Wyatt’s new nanny.”

Everyone – including Piper – stared at the redhead. “Meaning?” the oldest Charmed One asked, feeling suddenly uneasy.

The other witch revealed what she had learned from the city’s police records and the Department of Motor Vehicles. “I can understand if there are more than one Donna Thompson in the world. But two that were born on the same day? And in the same city? What’s even more suspicious is the fact that I could only find two driver’s licenses issued to your new nanny. And the first one had been issued about two months after the other Donna’s death. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that seems to be taking coincidence a bit too far. Don’t you think?”

Stunned by Olivia’s revelation, Piper exclaimed, “Are you trying to tell us that my son’s nanny is a fake?” The red-haired witch merely responded with a silent shrug.

“I think that’s exactly what Olivia is trying to tell us,” Phoebe added. “I haven’t been able to sense any emotions from her for the past two days or so.”

Piper retorted caustically, “Lucky woman!”

“I’m serious, Piper. I haven’t sensed anything from her. And considering my lack of control over my empathy, I should be able to.”

Sighing, Piper demanded, “So, what are you saying? That Donna isn’t even human?”

“There’s a good chance,” Phoebe murmured. Piper glared at her. “What?”

“Nothing!” Then, “I just . . . I just find it hard to believe that Donna is a demon. I mean, that demon who had attacked me, nearly killed her.”

Phoebe shot back, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your nanny had arranged that little attack.”

Olivia opened the book that she had placed on the bar. “I don’t know if she’s a daemon or not. I’m still wondering about the daemon that had attacked you.”

“Is that your Book of Shadows?” Piper asked, staring at the thick book.

“Yeah. I wondered if you would be able to identify him.”

Piper shook her head. “I’ve already checked our Book of Shadows. He wasn’t in there.”

“But he might be in mine,” Olivia added. “Your description of him reminded me of someone I had once seen about fifteen or sixteen years ago.”

Believing that she was wasting her time, Piper heaved a sigh, as she began to peruse Olivia’s book. To her surprise, it did not take long for her to find the demon that had attacked her. Olivia had added a rather well drawn sketching the demon on the book’s 14th page. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “That’s him! That’s the demon who had . . .” She stared at Olivia. “How did you . . .?”

“I had spotted him during a family trip to Scotland,” Olivia said. “Just before he had killed an old friend of my grandfather and Cousin Keith’s. A wizard named Adolphus Grant. Since I was the only one who had spotted him, I added a drawing of him in my Book of Shadows. Only, no one knew his name.”

Cole approached the bar and peered at the book. “I know him,” he commented. His name is . . . or was Nairn. A demonic assassin. A soldier-of-fortune.”

“Like you used to be,” Phoebe added. Piper noticed the plaintive tone in Phoebe’s voice.

Apparently, Cole did not. He continued, “Actually, I was never really a soldier-of-fortune. Especially since I had worked for the Source. And the Thorn Brotherhood directly. Nairn, on the other hand, was a true soldier-of-fortune. He worked for anyone who would hire him. He had been on the Source’s hit list for over forty years. Ever since he killed the head of the Lehme Brotherhood, back in the late 50s.”

Curiosity gleamed in Cecile’s dark eyes. “He managed to kill the head of a demonic order?”

“Don’t ask me how he did it,” Cole said with a shake of his head. “Granted, Nairn was a top assassin. But he was also a mid-level daemon. His assassination of Bosaal became the talk of the Source’s Realm over the next forty-two years.” The half-demon assumed a rueful expression. “Until I killed the Triad.”

“Why would he risk the Source’s vengeance with such a job?” Olivia asked. “Who hired him?”

Cole replied, “It turned out that a powerful witch coven in Norway had hired Nairn to kill Bosaal. The latter had killed their leader in order to steal their sigil. Which is supposed to be a source of great power for the coven. The coven summoned and hired Nairn, who completed his job. After Bosaal’s death, the Source retaliated by putting zoltars on his trail and tried to destroy the coven. Unfortunately, Nairn killed every zoltar who crossed his path. And the coven proved difficult to destroy. Only a few members were killed, but their sigil proved to be very effective in protecting them.”

Phoebe stared at her former husband in shock. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that witches had hired a demonic assassin?”

“Yeah.” Cole nodded. “And Nairn completed the job. Just as I had told you.”

“But witches?” Phoebe paused, and shook her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that they would . . . Were they evil witches?”

Cole rolled his eyes in contempt. “Sorry Phoebe,” he said sarcastically, “but the Bla Mane Coven are known throughout the Asatru world as decent witches. The death of their leader had . . . somewhat affected them, I think. At least the coven’s council members. Besides, didn’t Prue and Piper once work with a zoltar to hunt me down? And none of you didn’t mind working with me, for a while.”

Oh God! Piper heaved a mental sigh. She always tends to forget about Krell, the zoltar who had been after Cole after the latter had killed the Triad. She began to fear that little alliance might haunt them forever.

“Oh yeah,” Phoebe murmured. “Krell. I forgot about him.”

Piper added sarcastically, “I wish I could.”

Cecile continued, “So, this Nairn had no trouble being hired by witches? I’m surprised that he didn’t try to double-cross them in the end.”

Cole replied, “The Bla Mane witches had something to offer Nairn in return for Bosaal’s death. Which is why he didn’t double-cross them. Besides, he’s not in the habit of double-crossing his clients. That’s how he stayed in business for nearly a century.”

“Too bad his last client didn’t follow the same policy,” Phoebe muttered.

Cecile shot back, “You don’t know if Donna Whatshername had hired this Nairn.”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

The frowning Vodoun priestess retorted, “How? How is it obvious? Look, I’m not denying that there is something suspicious about Wyatt’s nanny. And I’m not denying that she could have hired that daemon. But we don’t know for a fact that she did. And before we start assuming, I suggest we find more proof.”

Hands on her hips, Phoebe glared at Cecile. “What more proof do you need?”

Cecile glared back. “A hell of a lot more than you do! Has anyone ever told you that you have a bad habit of jumping to conclusions?”

Phoebe opened her mouth to retort, but Olivia interrupted. “I’m more interested in what the Bla Mane coven may have given to Nairn.” She turned to Cole. “Do you have any idea what they gave him?”

Cole shook his head. “Sorry, I haven’t the foggiest idea.” His eyes narrowed. “What do you think they gave him?”

With a shrug of her shoulders, Olivia replied, “An amulet perhaps? One that once belonged to a dominion spirit named Caspiel?” Everyone stared at Olivia, as she revealed what she had noticed about Donna’s necklace, yesterday. Along with her grandmother’s book on the supernatural and her knowledge of dominion spirits.

The revelation flabbergasted Piper. She could not believe her ears. “Dominion spirits? Why hasn’t Leo ever told us about them? And if this Nairn had been wearing the amulet of one . . . Oh my God! No wonder I couldn’t just easily vanquish him!” She frowned at Olivia. “You really think that Donna now has the amulet?”

Olivia sighed. “I don’t know, Piper. I don’t know for certain that she has it. For all we know, it might still be somewhere inside your house. But if the amulet had originally belonged to a dominion spirit, I doubt very much that it had been destroyed, when you and Donna killed Nairn.”

Piper glanced at her watch. It read twelve fifty-one. “So . . . I suppose you want to check to see if she has that amulet?”

Again, Olivia shrugged. “It would be a good idea.”

END OF PART IX

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 8/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART VIII

“Are you sure that he’s here?” Elise McNeill asked her granddaughter. The two women climbed out of Olivia’s BMW convertible and approached the Union Square shop. 

Olivia sighed. “I don’t know. Last I heard, Andre went for a walk, last night. And according to Cole, he was missing this morning.” She placed her hand on the shop’s doorknob. It turned easily. “I guess he is here.” Olivia opened the door and the two witches entered. “Hello? Andre?”

The houngan emerged from the back of the shop. “Yeah, I’m here.” Andre strode toward the women.

“How long have you been here?” Gran demanded.

“Since five-thirty, this morning.” Andre paused, looking slightly uncomfortable. “I had trouble sleeping.”

Olivia sighed. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about Cecile!”

Shaking his head, Andre replied, “No, no! It’s okay. At least I won’t have to waste my time with a wedding proposal.”

Both women reacted with distress at Andre’s remark. “You can’t be serious!” Oliva protested. “I mean . . . don’t you have a ring selected? Gran told me.”

Andre leaned against one of the shelves. “Yeah, I know. But since Cecile’s no longer interested in me . . .”

“Before you decide that’s true,” Gran said, interrupting, “why don’t you see how Cecile will react to your proposal?”

Olivia added, “May I see the ring?”

With a sigh, Andre moved away from the shelf and headed over to the one of the display cases filled with jewelry. He picked up an object and handed it over to Olivia. “That’s the ring I had planned to give to Cecile.”

A quick appraisal by Olivia enabled her to recognize that the ring had a French design and that it dated sometime back in the seventeenth century. She had studied Art History back in college. “Very nice,” she murmured. “There’s nothing supernatural about it, is there?”

“No,” Andre quickly said. “It’s perfectly fine.” He sighed. “So, you think I should ask her to marry me, anyway?”

Both women answered at the same time, “Yes!”

Andre turned to Olivia. “Well Livy, you’re about to make your first profit. I understand that the ring costs around a hundred-and-eighty dollars.”

Olivia walked over to the cash register. “I’ll get the receipt pad and cash box. By the way, did you guys find anything interesting?”

Gran replied, “We found a lot of interesting items. Especially that dagger with those markings on the hilt. Remember Andre?”

Looking slightly distracted, Andre nodded. “Oh. Yeah, I . . . uh, remember. The dagger that belonged to a dominion spirit.”

“A what?” Andre’s news took Olivia by surprise. “Did you say a dominion spirit?” She placed a tin box and the receipt pad on the counter. “Did anyone touch it?”

Gran added, “Andre did.”

“And he didn’t burn? Or get hurt any other way?” Olivia shook her head in disbelief. “Objects like that contain great power, and they usually affect beings who are lesser than dominion spirits – daemons of all kind . . . and mortals.” She paused. “Did the marking show to whom the dagger originally belonged?”

Andre snapped out of his distracted state. “I’ll show you.” He disappeared toward the back of the shop, while Olivia began to write the receipt for the ring. A few minutes later, the houngan returned with a bejeweled dagger.

Olivia reached out to take the dagger. Gran exclaimed, “No Livy! Don’t touch the . . .” She broke off, as her granddaughter grabbed hold of the dagger. “Goddess! You two?” She frowned. “I don’t understand. Neither of you were affected.”

“Maybe you’re wrong about it belonging to a dominion spirit,” Olivia said, as she examined the dagger’s hilt.

Shaking her head, Gran replied, “I can’t be. I saw the marking, myself. It belonged to Caspiel.”

“The dominion spirit associated with fire?” Olivia asked.

Realization lit up the elderly witch’s gray-blue eyes. “Of course! That’s why you two . . .” She turned to Andre. “Are any of your psi powers based on the fire element?”

Andre frowned. “Well, I’m an atmoskinetic. Which means that two of the powers I control – fire and electricity – are based on the fire element.”

“And Livy is a fire witch,” Gran finished. “No wonder you two weren’t affected. If that dagger had come from a dominion spirit associated with another element – like Carnesiel, who deals with the spirit element – you would have been in serious danger.”

Olivia turned the dagger over and spotted the marking on the bottom of the hilt. She gasped. “Is this Caspiel’s mark?” she demanded.

“Yeah,” Andre answered. “Why?”

“I think I may have seen it, before. On something else.” And idea came to the red-haired witch. “I’ve got to go.” She returned the dagger to Andre and headed for the shop’s entrance.

Gran demanded, “Where are you going?”

“To the station. There’s someone I need to check on.”

———–

The images of Donna Thompson removing hair from Wyatt’s brush continued to plague Phoebe’s mind. She found herself becoming so obsessed with the new nanny that she found it difficult to do her work.

Why did Donna’s actions bother her? Why did a knot in her stomach form every time she thought about the other woman? Piper had been right about one thing. There was nothing sinister about cleaning a baby’s hairbrush. So, why did she feel there was? Had it something to do with Donna’s reaction, when she had entered the nursery? Or that flash of guilt and fear in the other woman’s eyes?

Phoebe shook her head. She realized that she was allowing her imagination to get the best of her. If Donna had really wanted to harm Wyatt, she could have done it by now. Besides, the woman did help Piper save Wyatt from a demonic attack. If she had been interviewed before the demon, Piper would have been dead and Wyatt . . .

The middle Charmed One’s thoughts came to a screeching halt. “If she had been interviewed before the demon . . .” Of course! Phoebe shot out of her chair, as the epiphany struck her.

Donna must have arranged for the demon to attack Piper. Phoebe recalled her older sister stating that the Vodoun priestess had been the last to arrive that morning. It all made sense. Donna finds out about Wyatt and the position for his nanny. She arranges for a demon to pose as an applicant. Both the priestess and the demon make arrangements on the order of arrival. The demon attacks Piper. Donna comes to Piper’s rescue. Only Donna double-crosses her partner and helps Piper vanquish the demon before the latter can escape. And the priestess is hailed as a heroine and rewarded with the position of Wyatt’s nanny. Only . . . only Donna has not made any move against Wyatt. And Phoebe could not help but wonder why. Had Donna’s lack of action anything to do with future plans that involved Wyatt’s hair?

She had to warn Piper. Now. Phoebe reached for the telephone and dialed the number to P3. An employee answered and informed her that Piper was in a meeting with a liquor merchant at the moment, and could not be disturbed. Frustrated, Phoebe hung up and reached for her purse and coat. As she marched out of her office, her editor – Elise Rothman – materialized in her path toward the elevators. “Where are you going?” the older woman demanded.

“Lunch,” Phoebe replied. “I’m taking an early lunch, today.”

Elise glanced at her watch. “At ten forty-five in the morning? Aren’t you a bit early for lunch?” Her dark eyes penetrated Phoebe’s.

Oh shit! Phoebe realized that the editor had decided to become difficult, today. “Well . . . yeah. But see, I have this family emergency . . .”

“What kind of family emergency?”

“Um . . . Piper. She’s . . .” For once, Phoebe’s imagination failed her.

Elise smirked. “When you can remember the nature of your . . . family emergency, let me know. Meanwhile, I think you can forgo your early lunch for today.”

Annoyed by the older woman’s tone, Phoebe protested. “Elise! I’m not a schoolgirl, you know! So, do you mind not treating me like one?”

“I’m treating you like an employee who was forty minutes late for work, this morning!” Elise retorted. Her stare remained relentless. “Now, unless you can provide me with a genuine excuse, I suggest that you continue work.”

For a brief moment, Phoebe felt tempted to use the “boyfriend” excuse. But instinct told her that Jason would not cooperate. Especially after a few employees had spotted them indulging in foreplay inside her office, two weeks ago. She realized that if she had decided to use Jason to get her way, the other employees – especially Elise – would resent her. And make her life at work very miserable. A sigh left Phoebe’s mouth. “Fine. I’ll stay.”

“Good.” Elise flashed a bright smile at the younger woman and continued on her way. Unless she can find a way to contact Piper, Phoebe realized that the next hour and ten minutes might prove to be very long.

———

Darryl strolled into the squad room, followed by two members of his team – Carlotta Trujillo and Marcus Anderson. While the other two went toward their desks to deal with a suspect they had just arrested, the police lieutenant was surprised to find his partner seated behind her desk, staring at a computer screen.

“Olivia? What are you doing here?” he demanded, as he sat down in the chair, next to the redhead’s desk. “I thought that you had taken the day off to work in your shop?”

Her eyes still glued to the computer screen, Olivia curtly replied, “I did. An emergency had popped up. Regarding a certain nanny.”

“Huh?” Confusion whirled in Darryl’s brain, until he realized that Olivia had referred to Piper Halliwell’s new nanny. “Wait a minute. Are you talking about Wyatt’s new nanny? What about her?”

Olivia glanced up. “There’s something strange about her. Something I can’t put my finger on. And it has to do with an amulet that had allegedly been destroyed and a dagger in my shop.” Darryl’s partner then told him about her suspicions that had arisen from the nanny’s odd behavior and a magical dagger that bore a mark to the one she had spotted on the nanny’s amulet. “I’m checking our records to see if there’s anything on Donna Thompson.”

“And?”

With a sigh, Olivia finished, “So far, nothing. Well, I did come across three Donna Thompsons. But none match the description of Wyatt’s nanny. Also, one of them is dead.”

Darryl made a suggestion. “Why don’t you check the Department of Motor Vehicles?”

Olivia did as he had suggested. Within less than ten minutes, the pair received Donna Thompson’s DMV records. They also discovered that the nanny lived in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. And that she had been born on March 14, 1968; in Oakland, California. The birth date seemed to have struck a familiar note with Olivia. “Wait a minute,” she murmured under her breath. “That date.”

“What is it?” Darryl asked.

The witch minimized the DMV page, before returning to the police department’s records. Olivia typed in the nanny’s name. Darryl gasped as he read the file. One of the Donna Thompsons in the Department files had also been born on March 14, 1968. In Oakland. Only this Miss Thompson had died on January 21, 1996. “I’ll be damned,” Darryl murmured.

“No kidding,” Olivia shot back, as she smiled broadly. “I’ve got her! Two Donna Thompsons born on the same day and in the same city? How often does that happen?” She switched back to the DMV site. “The driver license for our Miss Thompson will expire in March 2008. Which means that her last license had expired in 2002. Now, that previous license had been effective between March 1996 and March 2002. Which means that she had received this previous license about two months after the other Donna Thompson’s death.”

Darryl shook his head. “You know, this reminds me of Rex Buckland and Hannah Webster.”

“Who?”

“They were two warlocks who had gained control of the auction house that Prue worked at, some five years ago. These warlocks had murdered the real Rex Buckland and Hannah Webster, before assuming their identities. It could be that your Donna Thompson may have done the same. What does the Department’s files say about the dead Donna?”

Olivia returned to the police database. She whistled. “Wow! For someone who had died two months short of her 28th birthday, she sure led a full life. Arrested four times for possession of drugs between the ages of sixteen and twenty. She spent three years at the Valley State Prison for Women for pushing cocaine. Arrested in October 1995 for drug trafficking. Unfortunately, no conviction could be made. Three weeks after she was acquitted, someone murdered her by filling her capsules with drain cleaner. Probably her employer.”

A stunned expression appeared on Darryl’s face. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that Wyatt’s new nanny might be some kind of drug dealer?”

“Of course not!” Olivia protested. Then she hesitated. “Then again . . . I don’t know. But I do have a gut feeling that the real name of Wyatt’s nanny is not Donna Thompson. I think she may have been using that name to avoid detection.”

Darryl shook his head. “Yeah, but there’s something I don’t understand. She’s already close to Wyatt. She’s been close for the past three or four days. What the hell is she waiting for?”

Olivia sighed. “I wish I knew, Darryl. I wish I knew. And I dread the moment when we find out before it’s too late.”

END OF PART VIII

 

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 7/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART VII

While Cole busied himself with putting the finishing touches to the Lamb Kidneys Madeira that he had prepared, Andre entered the penthouse’s kitchen. “Is everything ready?” the latter asked.

“Yeah,” Cole replied. He picked up the platter of lamb kidneys and carried it over to the dining table. Andre placed a dish of Artichokes Bernaise on the table, next to the kidneys. “I only hope this doesn’t get cold, before the ladies arrive.”

Andre shook his head in disbelief. “Man, how in the hell did you find the time to prepare all of this?”

“Left the office, early.” Cole’s eyes closely examined the table’s settings. He spotted one of the knives out of place and corrected the mistake. “Don’t worry about Cecile. I had dropped her off at Macy’s downtown for some shopping. Olivia should have picked her up, by now.”

Andre shot back, “I didn’t ask.”

“Yet.” Cole glanced at his friend. “So, how was your day?”

The houngan’s mouth opened momentarily. Then he shut it. “Oh, what the hell!” he finally said. “I’ve already told Olivia and her grandmother.”

Cole frowned. “Told them what?”

A brief pause followed, before Andre declared with a smile, “I plan to ask Cecile to marry me.”

After Cecile’s revelation of her plans to dump Andre, Cole realized that his friend’s news came as a great surprise. The half-daemon stared at his friend with a stunned expression. “Say that . . . Are you serious? You really plan to marry Cecile?”

“Well, if she accepts my proposal.” Andre sighed. “I know. You’re a bit surprised. To be honest, I’ve been thinking of marrying her ever since Bruce and Barbara’s wedding. But . . . okay, maybe I was a little afraid over how she would react. You know Cecile. She tends to keep her feelings to herself, sometimes.”

Cole murmured, “No kidding.”

Andre stared at him. “What?”

“Nothing.”

The other man continued, “Anyway, I wasn’t sure if Cecile might be interested in marriage. She always seemed so independent, sometimes. You know – ‘me against the world’.” Andre frowned. “God, I hope I’m wrong.”

Cole replied before he could think otherwise, “Don’t worry. You’re not.”

Once more, Andre stared at the half-daemon. Hard. “Now, what in the hell did you mean by that?”

Realizing that he had nearly broke Cecile’s confidence, Cole shook his head. “It’s nothing. I was just . . . Never mind.”

“No, you were about to say something about Cecile. What?”

Cole muttered a silent oath. For once in his life, he had failed to keep his big mouth shut. Perhaps he was growing soft in his increasing age. He took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t know how to tell you this. But . . . Cecile plans to break up with you.”

“What?” Disbelief shone in Andre’s eyes.

“She plans to break up with you,” Cole repeated. “Cecile’s tired of being a girlfriend. She told me that she wants . . . more. Something better. She then told me that what she really wanted was . . .” The doorbell rang. Cole turned away. “Huh, looks like they’re here.” He walked over to the door.

Andre cried out, “Hey! What exactly does she want?”

But Cole barely heard his friend’s words. Opening the door, he found Olivia and Cecile standing in the hallway – dressed for dinner. “Ladies,” he politely greeted. “Dinner is ready.”

Both women nodded mutely and entered the penthouse. Judging from their expressions, neither seemed to be in a positive mood. Cecile wore a sullen expression. And Olivia looked as if someone had stunned her with a cattle prod. Cole shot a quick glance at Andre and noticed that the latter did not look any happier. The half-daemon sighed. It promised to be a long and difficult night.

———–

Daley closed the book on her kitchen table, with an air of satisfaction. Then she held up the amulet that hung around her neck. She had no idea that the object she now possessed, held so much power. The amulet had been created by a dominion spirit named Caspiel. According to the book she had just finished reading, Caspiel’s amulet blocked the magical and psychic abilities of all beings – aside from fellow dominion spirits. Caspiel had also created a dagger that could kill any being – magical or otherwise with a mere stab wound. That is . . . any being aside from a dominion spirit or deity. Apparently, Caspiel had lost track of both the amulet and the dagger, a long time ago. Daley wondered if he still existed.

The amulet did present one problem. Olivia McNeill had spotted it. And seemed very curious, when Daley tried her level best to make sure that she did not have a chance to examine. The sorceress realized that she had to do something about that. Killing the witch seemed out of the question. At least for the moment. However, replacing the amulet with another that bore a strong resemblance seems like a possible solution. Not only would Daley be able to fake out the curious witch, she could hide the genuine amulet in a pocket.

A quick glance at the calendar on the kitchen wall told Daley that the half-moon would arrive on the day after tomorrow. She had everything needed to perform the ritual – except for one item. A strand or two of Wyatt Halliwell’s hair from his hairbrush should do the trick.

Once she manages to acquire the infant’s powers, one last task was needed to complete the ritual. Namely the baby’s death. Daley winced inwardly at the idea of killing a nine month-old baby. But it had to be done. With Wyatt still alive, the danger of someone reversing the ritual would remain constant. Especially since the baby’s mother happened to be acquainted with a Vodoun priest and priestess. The moment she finally possess the infant’s powers, Daley would have to kill Wyatt. The only question remained was . . . how.

————

Cole woke up the following morning with great reluctance. He would prefer to remain in bed. Especially after last night’s near disastrous dinner. But he had a job to deal with. And there was the conversation that he and Andre needed to finish.

Hardly a soul had exchanged a word, last night. Except to praise Cole’s cooking. Or comment about some recent incident – like Cecile’s business deal with the McNeills or the latest demonic attack upon Wyatt Halliwell. Olivia had brought up the subject of Wyatt’s new nanny, but one glare from Cecile had ended the topic. Yet, not once did anyone discuss the cause of the tension that had sprung up between the two couples. With emotions seemingly at the breaking point, no one dared.

Once Olivia and Cecile had left, Cole had intended to finish his conversation with Andre. Only, the houngan decided that he needed a breath of fresh air and left for a walk. By the time he had returned, Cole was fast asleep.

After the half-daemon took his morning shower and dressed for work, he went into one of the guest bedrooms to talk with Andre. Only the houngan was nowhere to be found. Either the latter had failed to return from his walk. Or Andre had left early to avoid another conversation. Cole heaved a frustrated sigh and continued to finish preparing for work. After gathering his trench coat and suitcase, he beamed to the floor below the penthouse and rang the doorbell to Olivia’s apartment.

The redhead immediately opened the door. “Hi,” she greeted quietly.

“Hi.” Cole flashed a brief smile before exchanging a light kiss with Olivia. “Is Cecile ready?”

Olivia’s expression became strained. “She will be in a few minutes.” Then she stepped aside, and allowed Cole to enter the apartment. Once she closed the door, she added, “Uh . . . I realize that it seemed a bit tense at dinner, yesterday. And the reason is that Cecile had told me some weird ass news. It seems she plans to break . . .”

“. . . break up with Andre,” Cole grimly finished. Olivia’s green eyes widened in surprise. “Yeah, she told me the day before yesterday.”

“What? You mean to say that she told you first?”

Cole sighed. “Olivia, I had noticed that she had been acting weird, so I dragged it out of her.” He paused. “And I just told Andre, yesterday.”

Shaking her head, Olivia commented, “No wonder he seemed subdued, last night. So much for his plans for a wedding.”

“Oh, so he also told you about that?” Cole heaved another sigh. “Hmmm. Well, I guess it won’t happen, after all. Just as well, I guess.”

Olivia stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”

Oh God! “What I mean is . . .” Cole broke off, as Cecile entered the living room.

The New Orleans woman eyed the couple suspiciously. “What’s going on with you two?” she demanded.

“Nothing.” Cole returned her gaze with an innocent expression. He wondered if the Vodoun priestess knew that he and Olivia had been discussing about her and Andre. “Are you ready?”

Cecile murmured in a morose voice, “Yeah. Let’s go.” Before she reached the door, she stopped abruptly and glanced around. “By the way,” she said with a frown, “where’s Andre?”

“He wasn’t in his room, when I woke up,” Cole answered. “I guess he decided to head for Olivia’s shop a little early.”

Olivia added, “It’s possible. He has a key.”

Cecile sniffed. “Hmmm. Well, let’s go.” She started toward the door. Cole followed. “See you, Livy.”

As he followed Cecile into the hallway, Cole overheard Olivia’s voice. “I’ll call around lunch.” But Cecile was already halfway down the corridor.

———-

A quick glance at the radio clock on her night table told Phoebe that it was thirty-seven minutes past eight, this morning. And that she was running late. She bit back a frustrated sigh and continued to dress. Since it seemed obvious that she would not make it to the office on time, she might as well not bother to rush.

Once she finished dressing, the middle Charmed One picked up her purse and briefcase, and left her bedroom. She marched along the hallway, when she heard humming from one of the bedrooms. From Wyatt’s nursery. Phoebe decided that a quick good-bye kiss to her nephew would not hurt. She peeked inside the room and found Wyatt fully awake and playing with a red ball inside his crib. The new nanny sat in a nearby chair, fiddling with Wyatt’s hairbrush.

“Good morning!” Phoebe cheerfully greeted.

Ms. Thompson – or Donna, as she preferred to be called – glanced up with a gasp on her lips. “Oh! Uh . . . good morning. Um . . . don’t you usually leave a little earlier?”

“I’m running a bit late, this morning.” Phoebe strode into the nursery. “That’s a nice tune you were humming. I’ve never heard it, before.”

Donna’s shoulders sagged with relief. Curious. “Oh that,” she replied. “It’s just an old tune that my mama used to sing to me. I think it goes back to the time of slavery.”

“Oh . . . uh, how . . .” Nearly at a loss for words, Phoebe finished lamely, “How historic. Huh. Oh well. I . . . I just wanted to say good-bye to Wyatt.” She approached the crib and lifted her nephew from the crib and into her arms. Then she rocked him for a few seconds, before planting a light kiss on his forehead. “I’ll see you later, young man,” she said in a baby voice. Phoebe returned Wyatt to inside his crib and turned to Donna. “I guess I’ll be seeing you later.”

The nanny responded with a polite nod. Phoebe headed for the door. For some unexplainable reason, she paused and glanced behind her. And saw Donna remove a strand of hair from Wyatt’s brush and place it on . . . something. A handkerchief? A piece of paper? Suspicion welled within the Charmed One. What did Donna want with . . .?

“Phoebe!” Piper’s voice cried from downstairs. “Let’s go! You’re already ten minutes late!”

Donna glanced up. Phoebe shot the nanny a quick smile and disappeared into the hallway. The Charmed One found her older sister in the foyer, donning a suede jacket. “Well, it’s about time!” Piper grumbled. “Next time, learn to set your clock before you go to bed. What the hell happened to you, this morning?”

A breathless Phoebe reached for her coat. “It’s nothing. I . . .” Memories of Donna’s actions continued to tug at her thoughts. “Piper, are you sure that you did the right thing in hiring Donna?”

Piper frowned at the younger woman. “What? Did you have a premonition or something?”

“No, I . . .” Phoebe hesitated, before she proceeded to tell her sister what she had witnessed just a few minutes ago.

A mixture of disbelief and scorn filled Piper’s dark eyes. “C’mon Phoebe! You’ve got to be kidding! You’re suspicious of Donna, because she was cleaning Wyatt’s hairbrush?”

“I think she was placing his hair in a handkerchief, or a napkin or something,” Phoebe indignantly shot back. “Don’t you find that strange?” She donned her coat.

“No. But I do thank her for being neat,” Piper sarcastically replied. “Phoebe, has it ever occurred to you that she was preventing Wyatt’s hair from falling on the floor?”

Phoebe opened her mouth to protest, but could not find an argument to Piper’s suggestion. “I guess not.”

“Okay honey,” Piper said, patting Phoebe’s shoulder. “You’ve had your shot at being Nancy Drew for the day. It’s time for you to be ‘Dear Phoebe’. Let’s get to work.”

A sigh left Phoebe’s mouth, as she followed her older sister out of the door.

———–

The moment that Phoebe Halliwell’s figure disappeared from the doorway, Daley heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. Talk about close call! For a moment, she feared that the amulet no longer worked on the seer.

She overheard the front door slam shut. The sorceress smiled and resumed her task. After removing the last strand of hair from Wyatt’s brush, she placed it on the handkerchief in her lap. Then she folded the piece of cloth and placed it, inside her purse.

Daley’s smile stretched wider. Mission accomplished.

END OF PART VII

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 6/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART VI

The moment Chris orbed into the Halliwells’ living room, the doorbell rang. Several seconds passed, but no member of the family appeared to answer the door. Again, it rang. This time, Chris decided to open the door himself.

The whitelighter found a tall, brown-skinned woman standing in the doorway. She smiled politely. “Hi. I’m Donna Thompson. Piper Halliwell had hired me as a nanny, yesterday.”

“Oh! Uh . . .” Chris hesitated, wondering how to introduce himself. “I’m, uh . . . I’m Chris. Chris Perry. A friend of the family.”

Ms. Thompson’s smile widened. “Really? May I come in?”

“Uh . . .”

Piper suddenly appeared and shook Ms. Thompson’s hand. “Hi! Donna! Glad you could make it.” She pushed Chris aside. “Come on in.” The newly hired nanny entered the manor. “You’re early,” the Charmed One continued. “It’s only twenty minutes to eight.”

“I guess I’m a bit too eager, this morning,” the other woman replied sheepishly. “Nerves.”

The oldest Charmed One frowned at Chris. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t know that he was here?” Ms. Thompson asked, looking slightly confused.

Sighing, Piper replied, “Uh, not really. You see . . .”

“I had let myself in,” Chris added, hoping to save Piper an explanation of his status.

Piper rolled her eyes. “Chris is my whitelighter. He’s also my sisters’ whitelighter.”

“Oh! Like your guardian angel, or something,” Ms. Thompson said, staring at Chris. “Never met one, before.”

Stunned by Piper’s revelation, Chris stared at her. “Wait! You told her about me?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Chris!” Piper protested. “She knows I’m a witch. I know that she’s a Voudon priestess. And she knows about Wyatt. I don’t see any reason to keep you a secret.”

Annoyed by Piper’s lack of discretion, Chris fumed in silence. Meanwhile, the other two Charmed Ones appeared on the staircase. “Was that the doorbell?” Paige asked. Both she and Phoebe were dressed for work.

Chris watched as Piper introduced them to the newcomer. “Guys, this is Wyatt’s new nanny – Donna Thompson. Donna, these are my sisters, Phoebe and Paige.”

Ms. Thompson shook Paige’s hand. “Nice to meet you.” Then she hesitated, before shaking Phoebe’s hand. “I’m a big fan of yours,” she added. “I’ve read your column in the BAY-MIRROR. In fact, one of my friends had written a letter to you, over a year ago.”

Phoebe smiled happily. “Thanks. It’s nice to meet a fan. I’d talk a little more, but I have to get to work.”

Nodding, Ms. Thompson said, “Of course.” She continued to smile, as Phoebe and Paige headed for the front door. Chris noticed that the Voodoo woman’s shoulders sagged with relief. Only, what would she be relieved about?

After the two younger sisters left, Piper turned to the new nanny. “Well, let’s get acquainted with your new charge, shall we?” She led Ms. Thompson toward the staircase. Chris followed. As they turned the corner, Piper paused, and frowned at the whitelighter. “Where are you going? Shouldn’t you be leaving now?”

“But I just got here,” Chris insisted.

“Chris . . .” Piper hesitated. Then she sighed. “Never mind.” She continued upstairs, with Ms. Thompson and Chris in her wake. Once they reached the nursery on the second floor, the trio found Wyatt playing with his toys, inside his crib. “There he is,” Piper cooed. “Hel-lo honey!” She smiled at the infant, as he gurgled at the sight of his mother.

Every time Chris saw mother and son together, he found it difficult to reconcile the happy infant with the grown man from his future. How could it even be possible that Wyatt would . . .

Piper lifted her infant son from the crib. She carried him over to Ms. Thompson. “Hey Wyatt, remember Donna? You met her yesterday. She’s going to be your new nanny!”

Wyatt regarded the other woman with curious eyes. Ms. Thompson smiled at him. “Hi Wyatt,” she said cheerfully. “Remember me? It’s nice to see you, again.” The baby responded with silence.

“Maybe he doesn’t remember you,” Chris added. The two women stared at him. He decided to remain silent.

Ms. Thompson said to Piper, “May I?” Chris held his breath, as the witch handed over her son to the other woman. Then the nanny bounced the baby in her arms for several seconds. Chris let out a gust of breath, as Wyatt began to laugh.

“Well, it’s nice to see that he still likes you,” Piper commented.

The nanny smiled. “Yeah. For a moment there, I was worried.” While Wyatt began to play with the buttons on her blouse, she continued, “Uh, is there a schedule for Wyatt, while you’re away? You know, his meals and naps.”

“Yeah.” Piper paused, as she stared at the whitelighter. “Do you mind, Chris? This is business. I’ll meet you, downstairs.”

Chris hesitated. Then, “Um, yeah. Okay. I’ll . . . uh, I’ll be downstairs.” He left the nursery and reluctantly returned downstairs. Several minutes passed before Piper joined him in the living room. “Where’s Ms. Thompson?” he asked.

“Doing her job,” Piper curtly replied. “Now, what do you want?”

Chris informed her that the Elders were pleased that the Charmed Ones had managed to vanquish the demonic shape shifter. “It turns out that he was an assassin and they would like you to find out who had hired him.”

“As it so happens, it was Donna who helped me vanquish him, not Phoebe and Paige.”

Surprised by the news, Chris nearly became speechless. “Oh. Uh . . .”

Piper continued, “As for finding out who had hired him, I’m just as interested in that little tidbit as the Elders. So, you can go back and tell them. Now, if you don’t mind . . . good-bye.”

Chris stared long and hard at her. “Look, I realize that you guys still resent that I had replaced Leo as your whitelighter. But it’s not my fault that he had decided to . . .”

“Good-bye Chris.” Piper glared at him.

A sigh left the young whitelighter’s mouth. He got the message. After shooting Piper a wry smile, he orbed out of the house.

———

Inside Olivia’s new store, Andre lifted a dagger from one of the glass display cases and held it up in the air. “Hmmm. Interesting. And very beautiful.” The dagger’s hilt had been carved from silver. It was also studded with polished gems.

“Do you recognize it?” the elderly Mrs. McNeill asked.

With a shake of his head, Andre replied, “Nope. Looks like . . .” He paused, as he spotted an insignia on the hilt’s bottom. “Huh.”

Mrs. McNeill frowned. “What?”

“Do you recognize the insignia on the bottom?” He displayed the bottom of the dagger’s hilt to the elderly witch.

Softly, Mrs. McNeill exclaimed, “Dear God and Goddess! That’s . . .” Andre placed the dagger on the counter, while she reached for a book on sorcery called ‘The Lemegeton’ that she had brought from home. “That’s the mark of a dominion spirit named Caspiel. Very powerful. And I’m sure that you’re familiar with dominion spirits.”

Nodding, Andre replied, “Oh yeah. An immortal more powerful than daemons like Cole and Leo. Don’t they rule over other daemons, including the Elders and the old Source? I also know that they are responsible for the cosmic order, and for maintaining a balance or something. I wonder how the shop’s previous owner got his hands on this dagger. Which element is he supposed to be the great spirit of?”

“Fire,” the elderly witch replied. “Which is why I won’t touch it. There’s also a medallion or amulet that belonged to Caspiel. Fortunately, it hasn’t been seen in ages.”

Andre let out a low whistle. “Definitely something that should remain locked up.” He and Mrs. McNeill continued to examine the other daggers inside the case. Then they moved on to another – one filled with jewelry. After examining a pair of earrings and a necklace, Andre picked up a ring. It was a small, silver ring with a turquoise stone in the center. Andre could not help but feel that the ring would fit perfectly around Cecile’s finger.

Mrs. McNeill glanced at it. “Very lovely. Looks like it had been made in the 17th century. I can tell by the design.”

“Yeah, it is nice.” Andre continued to examine it. “Do you think it has any magical properties or . . .?”

“Do you see anything odd on it? A symbol or writing?

Andre used a magnifying glass to examine the ring more closely. Other than a phrase in French on the inside that translated into “Love forever”, he could find anything out of the ordinary. And said so. “You know, this would make a great engagement ring for Cecile. Don’t you think so?”

Mrs. McNeill nodded. “Definitely. Why don’t you go ahead and buy it?”

A quick glance at the ring’s price tag revealed that it cost nearly two hundred dollars. It seemed pretty cheap for a piece of jewelry over three hundred years old. “I guess I will,” he said. Andre imagined the expression on Cecile’s face, when he finally presented the ring to her. And smiled.

————-

Olivia and Cecile climbed the manor’s stoop, before the former rang the doorbell. “Just a minute!” a voice bellowed from inside. Over a minute passed before the front door swung open, revealing Paige. She greeted the two friends and ushered them inside the house. “So guys, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to pick up a certain item that you were supposed to return to me,” Olivia coolly replied. “Like my dragon brooch?”

Paige dark eyes reflected a touch of guilt. “Oh! Oh yeah. I was supposed to drop it off, yesterday. Wasn’t I?”

A smile touched Olivia’s lips. “I believe so.”

The Charmed One led the two visitors toward the kitchen. “Would you mind if I hold on to it, a little longer?”

Olivia heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Yes Paige, I would mind. You’ve had it for nearly a week, now. I don’t know if you realize this, but you’ve developed a habit of borrowing a lot of my stuff. I get the feeling that I’m becoming some kind of pawn shop on legs to you.”

“Oh come on, Livy! I’m not that bad.” Paige turned to Cecile for support. “Right?”

A ‘don’t look at me’ expression appeared on Cecile’s face.

The three women entered the kitchen, where they found a strange woman plopping a baby’s bottle into a saucepan. The woman glanced at the newcomers, while Paige made the introductions. “Guys, this is Wyatt’s new nanny – Donna Thompson. Donna, these are friends of mine – Olivia McNeill and Cecile Dubois.”

Both Olivia and Cecile shook hands with the nanny. The redhead noticed that Ms. Thompson had hesitated, before grasping their hands. Interesting. The nanny asked, “Are you two witches, like Paige and her sisters?”

At first, Olivia seemed astounded by the woman’s question. Until she remembered Cecile and Cole’s account of yesterday’s events – “Wait a minute!” she exclaimed. “You’re the one who helped Piper fight off that daemon! Right?”

Ms. Thompson nodded. “Yeah. I, uh . . . I’ve had similar encounters before. With daemons. I’m a . . . a mambo. A Voudon priestess.”

Olivia smiled, as she patted Cecile’s shoulder. “Small world! So is Cecile. And you were right about me. I am a witch.”

A chuckle escaped from Ms. Thompson’s mouth. “I’m beginning to feel even more at home. You can call me Donna, by the way.”

“I better get that brooch,” Paige said with a sigh. Cecile, who expressed a need to visit the bathroom, followed her out of the kitchen.

Once they were alone, Olivia asked Donna, “So, where exactly is home? Here in San Francisco?”

“Oakland,” Donna quickly replied. Olivia noticed that her fingers automatically began to finger a leather strap hanging around her neck. “But I’ve been living in San Francisco for the last three or four years. Expensive.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a necklace around your neck?”

“Huh?” Donna’s hand immediately dropped to her side. “Oh. Uh . . . yeah.”

“May I see it?”

For a brief moment, anxiety flashed in Donna’s eyes. And Olivia wondered why. “Oh . . . uh, sure.” The nanny – very slowly – began to remove the leather thong from around her neck. Olivia saw that it held an amulet.

Paige entered the kitchen, holding a small red velvet box. “Okay,” she said, “here’s your brooch. But . . . are you sure that you want it . . .?”

At that moment, Donna dropped her amulet. Both she and Olivia kneeled to pick it up. The nanny’s hand reached the amulet first. Before she could snatch it from the floor, Olivia managed a quick peek.

“Olivia, about that brooch,” Paige insisted. “Are you sure that you won’t change your mind and let me use it a little longer?”

Olivia forgot about the new nanny and the amulet, as she turned her attention to the Charmed One. “No Paige, I won’t. Why don’t you buy your own brooch? In fact, I’m sure you have a few nice pieces of jewelry, upstairs.”

Paige sighed. “Yeah, but I love your brooch.”

“Well, find one that looks like it. I’ll see if I can get you a nice discount.”

After handing over the brooch to Olivia, Paige retorted, “I’ll hold you to your promise.”

Cecile returned to the kitchen. “Did you get your brooch back?” she asked Olivia.

The redhead nodded. “Yeah. I . . .” Her eyes caught Donna tucking the amulet behind her blouse. Then the nanny removed the baby bottle from the saucepan. Suspicion of the other woman reasserted itself. “Yeah,” Olivia slowly replied. “I did.”

“Good. Let’s go. I had a small lunch, today. And I’m looking forward to Cole’s dinner.”

Paige’s face perked with interest. “Cole’s cooking dinner?”

Cecile nodded. “Yeah.” She turned to Donna and held out her hand. When she noticed that the other woman’s hands were full, she smiled politely. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I hope we get to meet again, before I leave San Francisco.”

Donna smiled at Cecile. “Same here.” Then she faced Olivia. “And it was nice meeting you, too.”

“Yeah. Keep up the good work.” Olivia gave Donna a quick nod. Then both she and Cecile said good-bye to Paige, before leaving the kitchen. Once they were earshot from the youngest Halliwell and the nanny, Olivia commented, “You know, there’s something odd about her. Wyatt’s new nanny.”

Cecile rolled her eyes. “Really? Don’t you ever stop being a cop?”

“I’m serious! There’s something odd about her.” The two women left the manor. As they descended the stoop, Olivia continued, “You should have seen the way she had reacted, when she dropped this amulet that was around her neck.”

“It’s probably some kind of good luck piece for her,” Cecile muttered. “Can you blame the woman? She had just recently survived a daemonic attack.”

Olivia added, “And that’s another thing . . .” The two friends reached Olivia’s BMW. They climbed inside the convertible.

Cecile leaned back against the passenger seat with a sigh. “What other thing?”

Olivia hesitated before she finally continued, “I don’t know. Why would any woman even bother to accept the job of Wyatt’s nanny, after what happened? I realize that she’s also a magic practitioner. But Piper wasn’t even able to hold on to some elfin nanny, after an attack on Wyatt. It just doesn’t make any . . .”

“Good grief, Olivia!” Cecile cried out. “Could you please give it a rest?”

Startled by her friend’s outburst, Olivia stared at the Vodoun priestess. “Excuse me?”

Cecile continued to rant. “Why do you always let your paranoia get the best of you? So what if . . . Donna had accepted the job? The woman is a mambo. A Vodoun priestess, and obviously an experienced magic practitioner. And considering that she even bothered to answer Piper’s ad only tells me that she was desperate for the job. So, please! Give it a rest!”

A long pause followed, as Olivia switched on the convertible’s engine. “Jeez,” she finally muttered. “Who stuck a crowbar up your ass?”

“Meaning?”

Olivia guided the convertible away from the curb and proceeded to drive it down Prescott Street. “Meaning, you’ve been acting like Miss Broodmeister of 2003, since you got here. What the hell is the matter?”

A large sigh – her third – left Cecile’s mouth. “I’m . . .” She paused. Then, “I’m thinking of breaking up with Andre. And I don’t know how to tell him.”

Stunned by her friend’s revelation, Olivia shot a surprised look at the other woman. Seconds before she managed to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming green van.

END OF PART VI

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 5/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART V

Piper felt more than happy that she had finally found the perfect nanny for Wyatt. Donna Thompson turned out to be a Voudon practioner – a mambo, like Cecile Dubois. Although Ms. Thompson’s power happened to be thermokinesis, she also possessed the ability to use other forms of psychic powers through spells and chants. Nor did she seem to mind dealing with the constant demonic attacks upon Wyatt. It seemed that Ms. Thompson had experienced plenty of them, during her years as a mambo. But it was Wyatt’s immediate acceptance of her that led Piper to finally hire her.

“So, when can you start?” the Charmed One asked the priestess. She lowered Wyatt back in his basquinet.

Ms. Thompson replied, “Is tomorrow okay?”

“Sounds great.” Piper led the other woman out of the Solarium. “Uh, how about eight in the morning? Is that okay?”

“Fine by me.”

Piper continued, “You know, I didn’t realize there were any Vodoun practioners here on the West Coast. I mean, my sisters and I had once encountered this witch doctor, but we thought he came from somewhere else.” She noticed that the other woman had stiffened slightly. “Is there something wrong?”

Flashing a prim smile, Ms. Thompson replied, “We Vodoun practioners don’t like the term ‘witch doctor’. We find it insulting. And the word – witch – is considered . . . an insult in the Vodoun world. I know that it isn’t in your world. But it is in ours.”

“Oh. Uh . . .” Now there was something that Cecile or the McNeills had never bothered to reveal. “I, uh . . . didn’t know that. Maybe this guy was a priest. Anyway, I don’t think he was from around here. And Cecile and Andre are from New Orleans. Besides, I’ve always thought that Vodoun was only practiced back East.”

Ms. Thompson added, “I didn’t realize you were that familiar with Vodoun. You’ve been to New Orleans?”

“No, I met Cecile and Andre, here in San Francisco. In fact, they’re visiting the city, this week.” The Charmed One told the Vodoun priestess about the two visitors from Louisiana.

For a brief second, Piper thought she saw Ms. Thompson’s eyes widened in alarm. She realized that she had imagining things, when the other woman smiled. “Really? And this Miss Dubois is a telepath? And a clairvoyant? That’s interesting. My grandmother was a seer.”

“So is one of my sisters,” Piper added. “Phoebe. She’s also an empath.” Then she sighed. “I should warn you about the latter. Phoebe had just received her empathic powers over a month ago. And it’s been driving us all crazy.”

Ms. Thompson smiled. “Thanks for the warning.” Then she glanced at the floor and a frown appeared on her face. “Hey, what happened to that amulet? The one that daemon had been wearing.”

Piper glanced around. “I don’t know. I didn’t see it after we had vanquished him. Maybe it was destroyed.”

“Hmmm. Well,” Ms. Thompson glanced at the grandfather clock, “I better get going. I had promised to pick up a friend in another twenty minutes. Uh . . . see you tomorrow morning? Around eight?”

“Around eight.” The two women shook hands and bid each other good-bye. After Ms. Thompson had left, Piper heaved a smile and returned to the Solarium to begin the cleanup.

Two figures materialized into the room, taking Piper by surprise. It was Cole and Cecile. “My God!” the latter replied. “Piper! Are you okay? Have you been . . .?”

“Attacked? By a demon?” Piper nodded. “Yeah, but I’m fine. How did you, uh . . .?” Realization hit Piper, as she remembered one of Cecile’s powers. “Oh. Yeah. Uh, everything’s okay. I . . .”

Two more figures orbed into view. Phoebe and Chris. The former rushed toward her older sister. “Piper! You’re alive!”

“No kidding,” Piper murmured in her usual sardonic manner. “I’m fine. I’m okay. And the demon has been vanquished.” She paused and stared at both Phoebe and Cecile. “You mean to say that the both of you had visions of me . . .”

Cecile interrupted. “Apparently so.” She stared at Piper. “So, uh . . . you managed to fight off the daemon?”

Piper sighed. “Actually, I had a little help. I probably would have been dead, if it weren’t for her.”

Cole asked, “Who rescued you?”

“Wyatt’s new nanny.” Piper then proceeded to tell the others about Donna Thompson, and the demon who had attacked them. “It turns out that she’s also a Vodoun priestess. Like Cecile. If she had not spotted that amulet . . .”

Chris frowned. “What amulet?”

Piper told them about the amulet that had protected the demon from her powers. “I think it may have been destroyed, when we vanquished him. We couldn’t find it.”

Phoebe enveloped her sister into a bear hug. “Who cares? As long as you’re safe. And alive,” she said. “Is this Miss Thompson here? I would love to thank her.”

“You can do that, tomorrow. She’ll be arriving around eight.” She glanced around the Solarium. “Oh God! Look at this mess! I’m going to be cleaning this up, all day!”

“Why don’t you use that spell that Paige had used when . . .” Phoebe broke off and shot an uncomfortable glance at Cole. Then she murmured, “Never mind.”

But Piper knew what Phoebe was about to mention – namely the spell Paige had used to clean up Cole’s penthouse, after they had killed him. She sighed and decided to thank her younger sister for the advice, later. “I guess I better start . . . cleaning up, right away. Meanwhile, you all can leave. Because once I’m finished, I’ll have to feed Wyatt and then both of us will be taking naps.”

The others mumbled their good-byes and teleported out of the house. Much to her relief.

———–

The doorbell to Daley’s house rang, later that evening. The sorceress made her way to the front door and opened it. Marc stood in front of the doorway, wearing an anxious look. “Well? How did it go?” he asked.

“Everything’s just peachy,” Daley wearily replied. “You’re looking at Wyatt Halliwell’s new nanny. Of course, I had to help his mama fight off a daemon in order to get the job.”

“Say what?” Marc stepped inside the house. Daley led him to her large sitting room, just east of the foyer. He sat down in one of the chairs. “You had to do what?”

Daley settled on the sofa. “Help save her and the boy from a daemon. Some damn shapeshifter, I think. He had disguised himself as some Mexican woman, applying for the job. He tried to kill Piper . . .”

“Who?”

Annoyed by her assistant’s dense questions, she threw a pillow at his head. Marc neatly caught it, instead. “The damn witch who had just hired me! Piper Halliwell! Who in the hell do you think I’ve been talking about?” Daley retorted. “Some daemon had tried to kill her. Strange that he didn’t bother to simply snatch the kid.”

“Maybe he wanted to make sure that this Halliwell witch didn’t come after him. After all, she’s supposed to be pretty powerful, herself.”

Daley sighed. “Good point. Anyway, I helped Piper kill him. And in gratitude,” she allowed herself a smug smile, “she hired me on the spot. No references were necessary.”

Marc nodded approvingly. “So, everything’s okay. Right?”

Daley’s smile disappeared. “Not quite. It seems that one of the other sisters – the newspaper columnist – is clairvoyant. And empathic.”

“That’s not good,” Marc said with a frown. “She might find out the truth about you, before you’re ready to do the ritual.”

“Oh, it gets worse,” Daley added. “The Halliwells are friends of a Vodoun priestess named Cecile Dubois, who also happens to be clairvoyant. And she’s a telepath. And guess who happens to be her boyfriend?” Marc shook his head. “Andre Morell. He’s here in San Francisco. With her.”

A low whistle escaped from Marc’s mouth. “Are you shitting me?” he cried. “Have you ever met . . .”

“No! But, I’ve met the drug lord that he used to work for – Aaron Mercer. And there’s a good chance that he has heard of me.”

Marc shrugged his shoulders. “As long as you two have never met, and you’re using a phony name . . . what’s the big deal? You have nothing to worry about.”

Daley paused, as she walked over to her bar. “Except for this Cecile Dubois, and Phoebe Halliwell. It’ll be nearly a week before the half moon. I don’t want to take the chance of being found out by a bunch of seers.”

“So, what are you going to do? Kill ’em?”

A sigh left Daley’s mouth. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Not now. Maybe I’ll . . .” She broke off and contemplated on how to deal with this psychic double threat. Until she spied an object resting on the bar’s surface. It was the amulet that had been worn by the daemon killed by her and Piper Halliwell. She had snatched the amulet, while the witch’s back had been turned. “Maybe I won’t have to worry about them, after all.”

“What’s that?” Marc asked.

Daley stared at the object in her hand. “I don’t know. Judging from the symbol on this thing, it may have been created by a dominion spirit. All I know is that it prevented that daemon from being affected by the witch’s powers.”

Marc stared at her. “Do you think it’ll work against the two seers?”

“I’ll find out, tomorrow.”

———-

Cole and Andre stepped out of the elevator and made their way toward Olivia’s apartment. They found the two women finishing the last of their breakfast.

“You mean to say that you two aren’t ready, yet?” the houngan protested in jest.

Cecile remained silent, while Olivia shot Andre an amused look. “My, we are impatient this morning! You must really enjoy going through my shop.”

Andre shrugged. “I have to admit that I find it interesting. Reminds me of when I was studying mythology and anthropology in college.” He leaned down to plant a kiss on Cecile’s cheek. “I guess I’ll be seeing you later, baby. Take care.”

“You too,” Cecile murmured. She and Cole watched the other two leave the apartment. Once Olivia and Andre had left, she stood up and headed for the living room. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

Cole replied, “No problem.”

A few minutes later, Cecile emerged from her bedroom, carrying her portfolio and a suitcase. “Okay. Let’s go.” The pair left the apartment and traveled down to the building’s underground garage, via the elevator. After they climbed into Cole’s black Porsche, the half-daemon heaved a sigh. Cecile stared at him. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Cole shook his head. “Nothing. I . . .” He paused, before continuing. “I was thinking about that attack on Piper, yesterday.”

“She got out of it, okay. She’s alive. What’s the big deal?”

Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Nothing. I just find this whole idea of her hiring a nanny, a big mistake. Maybe she should try to get in touch with Leo.”

Cecile snorted with derision. “Seems like he’s more interested in being some high-level guardian angel than being a husband and father.”

Her acid response drew a long and hard stare from Cole. “What brought this on?”

“Brought what?”

“Why are you so bitter? Are you speaking of Leo? Or Andre?”

Rolling her eyes, Cecile retorted, “What are you talking about? Andre hasn’t abandoned me!”

“No, you seem more interested in abandoning him,” Cole shot back. “Olivia told me about that little rant against men. About how we end up shoving the women in our lives into the background. You were talking about Andre, right? Do you think he’s no longer interested in you? Is that why you want to get married?”

Cecile stared at the half-daemon. “Are you always in the habit of asking so many questions, at once?”

“C’mon, Cecile! Don’t bullshit me!” Cole continued, “Do you honestly think that a marriage is going to help you?”

Resentment flickered in Cecile’s dark eyes. “I guess you don’t.”

It took all of Cole’s efforts not to roll his eyes in contempt. “Why do people believe that a wedding ring is going to solve all of their problems?” He slipped his key into the car’s ignition, and switched on the engine.

“This isn’t about solving a problem!” Cecile retorted. “I just . . . I just want something different in my life. Something more solid than a convenient boyfriend on the other side of town. After what you told me about what led you to propose marriage to Phoebe, I thought you would understand!”

The Porsche rolled out of the parking lot and merged into San Francisco’s early morning traffic. “Yeah, well now I know better! I found out that marriage didn’t make my life better or improved my relationship with Phoebe. In fact, our relationship ended in the toilet. Our marriage didn’t solve one fucking thing!”

“You had been possessed around the time you got married!” Cecile retorted.

Cole shot back, “And you honestly think that Phoebe and I would still be together, if the Source hadn’t possess me? Because I can tell you right now that we wouldn’t. I was in love with a woman who wanted a fantasy romance, and who’s still incapable of growing up. And I would have remained a mortal – a state that I hated with every goddamn breath in my body – for nothing! Trust me. Our marriage would have ended, just as our little summer ‘romance’ did, over two months ago. Maybe a wedding ring might give you a little stability with Andre for a while. But sooner or later, your marriage will become a routine that will bore you out of your mind. And once again, you’ll find yourself longing for a change. For something new. You know, you and Andre have a good thing going. Why can’t you appreciate it?”

“Because it’s no longer a good thing! At least to me.” Cecile’s eyes narrowed. “If what you and Phoebe had before your marriage was such a good thing, why did you ask her to marry you?”

The Porsche rolled to a stop at a red light. Cole took a deep breath and growled in a low voice, “Because I was too fucking stupid to appreciate what we had! That’s why!”

“Hmmph! Just as you probably thought that your friendship with Olivia was good enough, I bet,” Cecile said with a sneer. “Until she got frustrated and started paying attention to that bastard, Paul Margolin. Tell me Cole, what if Olivia decides that she wants to be more than your girlfriend? Are you going to make the same mistake that you did, last spring? Pretend that your relationship is fine as it is?”

The light turned green. The Porsche roared into life and continued toward downtown. Cole opened his mouth to say something. Tell Cecile that she was wrong. Unfortunately, he could not find the right words.

END OF PART V

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 4/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART IV

“Hey.” Jason popped into Phoebe’s private office.

Phoebe smiled at her paramour. “Hey yourself. What can I do for you?”

The publisher leaned over Phoebe’s desk, his face hovering inches away from hers. “How about lunch . . . with me?” he asked in a seductive voice.

Smiling, Phoebe automatically picked up a paper weight that had been an office-warming present from Piper. “Well . . . hmmmm. Let me think about that,” she whispered. “Now, where do you plan to take me?”

“Well, there’s the Compass Rose at the St. Francis Hotel.”

Phoebe wrinkled her nose playfully. “Too stuffy. How about . . .?” A gasp left her mouth, as images of a demon attacking her older sister filled her mind. Despite Piper’s best efforts, the demon kills the oldest Charmed One and kidnaps a sleeping Wyatt. The vision ended with the disappearance of the demon and her nephew.

Jason stared at Phoebe, frowning. “Something wrong, honey? You looked a . . . I don’t know. A bit spaced out.”

“Oh, uh . . .” Phoebe quickly tried to think of an excuse. “It’s nothing. Nothing big. I . . . uh, just remembered.”

“Remembered what?”

Think Phoebe, think! Finally an answer came to the Charmed One. “Uh . . . I just remembered that Piper wanted me to a favor for her. Pick up both her and the food she had prepared for some private luncheon at P3.”

Jason’s frown deepened. “A luncheon at a nightclub?”

“Actually . . . it’s a party. Office party.”

“Yeah, but at a night . . .”

Phoebe stood up and walked around her desk. “Oh baby, I’m sorry.” She planted a light kiss on Jason’s cheek. “I’m going to have to take a rain check on lunch, today.” Then she grabbed his arm and steered him toward the door. “We can have lunch, tomorrow.”

Reluctantly, Jason allowed himself to be dragged out of the office. “Okay, but you tell Piper that I’ve got you all booked for myself, tomorrow.”

“Okay baby. Bye.” Phoebe gave Jason one last kiss and slammed the door in his face. She leaned against the wall and sighed. Then she picked up the telephone receiver on her desk and dialed the number for Ostera’s.

After the third ring, a voice answered. “Ostera’s Herbal Shop. May I help you?”

“Hello? Who is this?” Phoebe demanded.

The voice continued, “This is Maddy. May I help you?”

“Maddy, this is Phoebe Halliwell. I need to speak with Paige. Is she there?”

Maddy replied, “Sorry, but she’s making a special delivery right now. I can take a message.”

Phoebe hesitated. Until she realized that she could reach Paige by the latter’s cell phone. “Never mind. I’ll call back, later.”

“Is this some kind of magical emergency?” Maddy’s question reminded Phoebe that the shop assistant happened to be a witch. “I could get hold of Barbara.”

“No, that’s okay. Thanks anyway. Bye.” Phoebe hung up the phone. Then she took a deep breath and cried out her whitelighter’s name. “Chris! Chris, I need you! Now!”

———

Around the same time of Jason’s visit to Phoebe’s office, Cecile sat inside the McNeill boardroom, as she provided the last figures for her presentation to the Board members. “Cresent, Incorporated now provides computer office software to over thirty companies and corporations in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and parts of the Southeast,” she concluded. “With McNeill Enterprises, I hope to expand distribution to the West Coast. I could provide the Board with a list of my clients and their contact numbers. I am sure they will confirm what I have just told you.”

Bursts of conversation broke out among the members inside the boardroom. Both Cole and Harry gave Cecile reassuring smiles. She smiled back, despite the fact that her heart was not really into the meeting at the moment. Cecile had managed to put aside her bleak mood regarding Andre during the meeting. But once she had completed her presentation, her mood immediately returned.

Perhaps she should consider ditching the idea of breaking up from Andre. To be honest, she did not really want to end their relationship. Hell, she was in love with him! Why on earth would she want to break up with the only true love she had ever had in her life?

Then Cecile thought of Piper Halliwell and Olivia’s former whitelighter. She recalled Olivia telling her about the couple’s difficult courtship and the problems they had encountered, getting married. Piper and Leo had viewed themselves as soulmates. Yet, less than three years after their wedding . . .

The vision hit Cecile’s mind without any warning. She saw Piper unsuccessfully fighting a demon. . . Piper dying . . . and the daemon stealing Wyatt from a basquinet before disappearing from the Halliwells’ Solarium. The vision ended and Cecile gasped out loud.

The others inside the boardroom stared at her. “Is there something wrong?” Cole asked.

“I . . .” Cecile began to rub her forehead. “I think I’m getting a slight headache. Uh, excuse me.” She stood up. Cole and the McNeills did the same.

Mr. McNeill gently took Cecile by the arm. “Why don’t you come inside my office, Cecile?” I’m sure that my assistant could find some aspirin or something for your headache. Cole?”

“Yeah.” The half-daemon and the witch escorted Cecile into the latter’s spacious office. Once they were alone, Cole demanded, “Are you really having a headache? Because if I didn’t know any better . . .”

Cecile sighed. “Yeah, I just had a vision. I saw some daemon killing Piper, before kidnapping Wyatt.”

Mr. McNeill frowned. “How is that possible? I thought that Wyatt had some kind of protective shield.”

“I only know what I saw,” Cecile insisted. She turned to Cole. “Maybe we should pop over there. Now.”

Cole nodded. “Yeah. Right.” He took hold of Cecile’s hand. “We’ll back,” he said to Mr. McNeill. Then the two friends teleported out of the office.

————

Twenty minutes before Phoebe and Cecile had simultaneously experienced their visions, Piper ended her interview with Warren Koslo and bid him good-bye. Then she turned to the Latina woman. “Mrs. Madrigal? Could you follow me, please?”

Mrs. Madrigal rose to her feet and followed Piper into the Solarium. The applicant shot a quick glance at the sleeping Wyatt, before she sat down in a nearby wicker chair.

“So,” Piper began, “I understand that you saw my announcement on the bulletin board at the Red Pyramid. Do you . . . go there a lot? Or was that just a one time visit?”

Mrs. Madrigal nodded. “I’m a regular customer. Are you?”

“I’ve been there a few times.” Piper hesitated, unsure of how to ask her next question. “Um . . . are you into . . . uh, the occult?”

The older woman frowned. “Aren’t you? I had assumed that you were also into it . . . considering where you had posted the ad.” She paused. “You are into it. Right?”

Piper replied sardonically, “More than you can imagine.” Mrs. Madrigal’s eyes grew wide. “I’m . . . uh, a witch. One of those Wiccans. I’ve been one for at least five years.”

“Oh.” The older woman’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Well, I’m glad that I wasn’t wrong. You see, I also practice magic.”

Relief flooded Piper’s veins. “Really? Are you some kind of witch?”

Mrs. Madrigal stood up. And right before Piper’s eyes, she transformed into a pale, stocky man with wintergreen eyes. “No,” he said in a deep voice. “I’m a daemon!” He tossed an energy ball at the Charmed One.

Piper let out a squeal, before she flung her hands at the energy ball and destroyed it in mid-air. “Oh crap!” Then she flung her hands at the demon. His body immediately exploded . . . and reassembled within seconds. “Oh crap! Chris! CHRIS!”

The demon flung another energy ball at Piper. She froze it in mid-air and ducked behind the chair. The demon waved one hand and the energy ball continued its course toward her, striking the wall and missing her head by inches. With her sisters at work and Chris failing to show up, Piper realized that she might be in serious danger. “You can’t hide from me forever, witch! And your sisters can’t help you!” The demon sent another energy ball toward Piper’s direction. Before she could destroy it with her combustion power, it blew up the chair in front of her. And led the Charmed One to rue the day she had thought about hiring a nanny, in the first place.

————–

Daley heard a woman’s voice cry out the name – Chris. She frowned. What in the hell was going on in the other room? Then she heard a man shout, “You can’t hide from me forever, witch!” At that moment, the sorceress realized that something was wrong. She had seen a middle-aged woman follow Piper Halliwell into the other room. Where did the man come from?

An explosive sound interrupted Daley’s musings. Without thinking, she rushed into the other room and found Ms. Halliwell cowering before a stocky man with pale skin. And no sign of Mrs. Madrigal. An energy ball formed in the intruder’s hand. Viewing him as a threat to her plans, Daley quickly reached for a dagger in her knit bag and threw it at the man. The dagger’s sharp point pierced his shoulder, forcing him to cry out in pain and dissipate the energy ball.

“You!” the man growled, as he glared at Daley. An energy ball materialized in his hand. As he hurled it at Daley’s direction, she cried out, “Deflect” in Yoruba. The energy ball zinged back toward the man. He ducked before it could strike his body.

Daley rushed toward Ms. Halliwell. “Are you okay?” she asked, breathlessly.

“I could be better,” the other woman shot back. “Do you . . . uh, recognize this demon?”

“He’s a daemon?”

Another energy ball zoomed toward them. Ms. Halliwell flung out her hands and the energy ball exploded in mid-air. “I guess that’s a no.” Desperation shone in the witch’s dark eyes. “Do you know any spell to get rid of this guy?”

“Uh . . .” At that moment, one immediately came to Daley’s mind. “Wait. Here’s one.” She began to chant, “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase.” The two women stared at the daemon. Nothing happened. “Damn! Maybe we should say the spell, together.”

Both women took a deep breath and repeated the spell. “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase!” Instead of the daemon’s death, they were faced with another energy ball that missed Ms. Halliwell’s head by inches. The pair quickly scurried on their knees, toward the sofa.

“Too bad my sisters aren’t here,” the witch commented. “I could use the Power of Three. And why does that spell sound familiar?”

Daley asked, “Why is he trying to kill you?”

“So that me and my sisters won’t come after him, if he steals my son.”

Ah! So the attack was about the child. Then Daley’s eyes narrowed, as she spotted a string holding an object around the daemon’s neck. “Look! There’s something around his neck! Let me . . .” Focusing her attention upon the object, Daley murmured a chant underneath her breath. The string broke, taking the daemon by surprise. Then the object – obviously an amulet – fell upon the floor. “The spell again!”

The two women chanted, “Hell threw you from its inner core, but earth won’t hold you anymore. Since heaven cannot be your place, your flesh and blood I now erase!” Cries of pain poured out of the daemon’s mouth, as flames engulfed his body. Within seconds, he exploded into a ball of fire and light.

Ms. Halliwell rushed over to the basquinet for a peek at her son. “He’s safe,” she said with relief. “Awake, but safe.” She turned to Daley. “Are you still interested in the job?”

Daley struggled not to flash a triumphant smile. “Sure.”

“You’re hired.”

END OF PART IV