“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

 

“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation – the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And the other was the summer film, “SUICIDE SQUAD”

Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of “MAN OF STEEL”, another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD” seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman’s death in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”.

Written and directed by David Ayer, “SUICIDE SQUAD” began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble “Task Force X”, a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:

*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot – an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter

*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn – a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster “the Joker”

*Chato Santana aka El Diablo – a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children

*George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang – an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives

*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc – a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength

*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress – an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress

*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot – a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling

Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard “Rick” Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg’s. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former’s control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman’s body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.

As I had earlier pointed out, the moment “SUICIDE SQUAD” hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU’s earlier entry, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But “SUICIDE SQUAD” got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?

“SUICIDE SQUAD” was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie’s narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad’s other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.

Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg “recruited” the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot’s role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot’s role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for “Suicide Squad” in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad’s other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.

Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected “MAN OF STEEL” with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with “SUICIDE SQUAD”. More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, “JUSTICE LEAGUE” in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller’s failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne’s government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.

I also enjoyed how “SUICIDE SQUAD” began with the introduction of the squad’s “recruits”. While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members’ talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang’s flashback.

Another aspect of “SUICIDE SQUAD” that I found interesting was how the squad’s members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot’s to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn’s disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc’s reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.

There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession – namely her “Daddy’s Lil Monster” T-shirt and “Puddin” choker:

And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley’s possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City’s citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the “Queen of Control” in “SUICIDE SQUAD”. She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress’ heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress’ human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg’s undivided cooperation.

What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about “SUICIDE SQUAD”. I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK III”. And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller’s character was not the movie’s main antagonist, yet Davis’ portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.

Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family’s deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo’s flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney’s portrayal of Australian criminal George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters – both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.

I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. “SUICIDE SQUAD” also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.

Although I had a problem with director David Ayer’s use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD”, I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.

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“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

 

“GHOSTBUSTERS” (2016) Review

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“GHOSTBUSTERS” (2016) Review

I cannot say that the summer of 2016 movie season produced a great number of first-rate films. There were a few that really impressed me. But I cannot deny that it has seen its share of controversy. One of the two controversies that ignited this summer proved to be over the casting for “GHOSTBUSTERS”, Paul Fieg’s reboot of Ivan Reitman’s pair of supernatural comedies from the 1980s.

The movie begins with physics researcher Dr. Erin Gilbert beginning her employment at Columbia University as a professor. However, her employment and bid for tenure is threatened when she learns that her former associate, Dr. Abigail “Abby” Yates had republished a book they had written together about the existence of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Erin decides to assist Abby and the latter’s new partner, engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, on a paranormal investigation. The trio witnesses and documents a ghost, renewing Erin’s belief in ghosts. Unfortunately, Abby has posted a video clip of their investigation and Erin’s reaction, causing the latter to lose her job and tenure bid at Columbia. She joins Abby and Jillian’s project, but they are fired from their position at a technical college, when the director learns the nature of their research. The trio eventually open an office to capture and study ghosts above a Chinese restaurant and name themselves, “Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination”. They also hire a dim-witted, yet handsome receptionist named Kevin Beckman.

Meanwhile, a MTA worker named Patty Tolan witnesses a ghost inside one of the city’s subway tunnels. She contacts the “Conductors” and the group investigates. They witness, document and capture the ghost, using Jillian’s proton containment laser, but their proof is dismissed. Despite this, the group continues its ghost investigations. Patty, who is also history buff, joins the team and provides a historic knowledge of New York City and a redesigned hearse dubbed “Ecto-1”. The newly formed quartet slowly becomes aware of the fact that ghosts are being summoned by an occultist/mad scientist named Rowan North, who hopes to bring about the Apocalypse.

When I first heard that a reboot of the old “GHOSTBUSTERS” movies was being made, I simply groaned with dismay. I would not have minded a second sequel to the 1984 movie. But since one of the stars, Harold Ramis, had recently passed away, I realized it would never happened. But I was not that thrilled by the news of a reboot. And when I heard that the leads would all be women, I privately accused the film’s producers (in which Dan Ackroyd is one of them) of resorting to gimmick casting. A lot of people did and the movie became shrouded by controversy. But I went to see the movie anyway, due to my own curiosity and the public hullabaloo over the four leads. And you know what? I enjoyed it. I enjoyed “GHOSTBUSTERS” so much that it has become one of my favorite movies of the summer.

Mind you, “GHOSTBUSTERS” was not perfect. I found a few aspects of it to complain about. One, I have slightly mixed feelings about the movie’s antagonist, Rowan North. Rowan was an interesting character on his own. But I found it hard to imagine any living person going out of his or her way to commit suicide in order to transform into a supernatural being and bring about an apocalypse. That seemed a bit too much. I have to give kudos to Paul Feig for providing more details into the creation of the four “Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination” . . . or Ghostbusters. But it seemed at times that the movie’s set up of the four characters sped by a bit too fast, despite the addition of more details. There were other moments in the film in which the pacing seemed a bit too fast. And I found the character of Dr. Jillian Holtzmann a little superficial. Thanks to Katie Dippold and Feig’s screenplay, she seemed to have less depth than the other three leads. In fact, she seemed to mainly serve as the team’s comic relief. I wish Feig and Dippold had done more with her character.

Otherwise, I had no problems with “GHOSTBUSTERS”. One, the movie benefited from a first-class screen team. All of them – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon – had a great chemistry together. There were complaints that Jones’ character, Patty Tolan, was not a scientist – especially since the actress is an African-American. I was thrilled that Patty was a history buff and avid reader, which is what I am. I was also a little teed off that many did not regard historical knowledge as “intelligent” as scientific knowledge. I can only assume that many believe we actually live in the world of “STAR TREK”.

And although I thought the idea of a human committing suicide in order to become a destructive supernatural force was a bit too much, I must admit that I also found this plot line very original. And to be honest, this world needs some kind of originality in movies, which seemed to be really lacking in today’s world. Even more original, the “Ghostbusters” in this film are not immediately acknowledged for their pursuit of the supernatural. The quartet keep encountering nay-sayers (including one portrayed by former Ghostbuster Bill Murray) and government officials in the form of New York’s dippy mayor and two Department of Homeland Security agents, who want them to remain silent on their findings. Again . . . original, for this was never done before in the two previous movies.

What was the best thing about this movie? Well, I thought it was a bit scary – especially in the sequence featuring the Ghostbusters’ final encounter with the supernatural Rowan North. More importantly, this was a damn funny movie. Hell, it was hilarious. Some of the movie’s funniest moments featured the four Ghostbusters’ interactions with their personal “dumb blonde” receptionist, Kevin Beckman, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. Watching Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates react to Kristen Wiig’s infatuation with the idiotic and shallow Kevin was a joy to behold. Another hilarious scene featured the Ghostbusters’ encounter with a poltergeist at a live music venue. This led to a very close encounter for Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan, who uttered one of my favorite lines:

“Okay, I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell.”

But it is not surprising that “GHOSTBUSTERS” proved to be so funny to me. Paul Feig and the movie’s casting director really did this movie proud with a first-rate cast. I have already commented on the chemistry between the four leads. Melissa McCarthy was in top form as the sardonic Dr. Abby Yates. I really enjoyed how she mixed her character’s enthusiasm for her profession and her cynical sense of humor. Kristen Wiig provided a fine contrast as the more reserved Dr. Erin Gilbert, who not only renew her friendship with Abby, but also develops a hilarious infatuation toward the group’s receptionist. Leslie Jones gave a sharp, funny and intelligent performance as the group’s historian Patty Tolan. She was especially in fine form in the sequence featuring the live music venue. Although I had complaints about Feig and Dippold’s handling of the Dr. Jillian Holtzmann character, I must admit that Kate McKinnon more than made up for their shortcomings with a very funny and entertaining portrayal of the character.

The movie also featured some very funny performances from the likes of Andy Garcia (who portrayed the dippy New York mayor), Charles Dance, Steve Higgins, and Cecily Strong. The movie also provided solid performances from the likes of Michael K. Williams, Matt Walsh, Zach Woods and Ed Begley Jr. Neil Casey gave a very interesting performance as Rowan North, who proved to be one of the most eccentric and odd villains I have ever come across. And then there was Chris Hemsworth. Many have expressed surprise at his hilarious portrayal of the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted receptionist, Kevin Beckman. I was not surprised . . . just vastly entertained by his performance. After all, I have been aware of Hemsworth’s talent for comedy for the past five years. Last, but not least, the movie featured some surprising cameos. The most enjoyable ones proved to be those cameos from the original cast from the 1980s – namely producer Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts.

Yes, “GHOSTBUSTERS” had a few shortcomings. I will not deny it. But for me, it had a lot more virtues. More importantly, it proved to be one of the most entertaining surprises I have encountered during the 2016 summer movie season. I feel that Paul Feig did an excellent job in rebooting Ivan Reitman’s two movies. He had ample help from the likes of screenwriter Katie Dippold and an excellent cast led by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

Two years following the success of 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Marvel Entertainment released a new “X-MEN” film set ten years after the previous one. The movie proved to be the fourth one directed by Bryan Singer.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” began in ancient Egypt, where the world’s first mutant, a powerful individual named En Sabah Nur, ruled by by transferring his mind into new bodies. Unfortunately, a group of former worshipprs betrayed En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse” by entombing him alive. They also killed his four lieutenants, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, who tried to protect him. The movie jumped to 1983 Egypt where C.I.A. Agent Moira MacTaggert (last seen in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”) has been investigating a cult in Egypt that worships En Sabah Nur. Her accidental exposure his tomb to sunlight awakened the ancient mutant and produced a shock wave around the globe. Following his awakening, En Sabah Nur set out to recruit four mutants as his new “Four Horsemen”:

*Ororo Munroe aka “Storm” – an orphan and pickpocket from the streets of Cairo, who is able to control the weather

*Warren Worthington III aka “Angel” – a mutant with feathered wings on his back, who has resorted to participating in underground fight clubs in Berlin

*Psylocke – an enforcer for the black marketeer mutant Caliban, who is not only telepathic and telekinetic, but can also produce a purple-colored psychic energy

*Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” – a Holocaust survivor and former friend of Charles Xavier, who has the ability to manipulate metal and control magnetic fields, and who is recently grieving over the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter by the Polish police

Apocalypse’s shock wave also caused Jean Grey, an adolescent student and mutant at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to have a nightmare and momentarily lose control of her powers. When Charles Xavier attempted to investigate the power source he discovered that Moira was involved. Although her previous memories of them together were erased, Xavier meets with her to discuss the legend of En Sabah Nur. But when they become aware of the ancient mutant’s plans to bring about the apocalypse; Xavier and Moira recruit fellow mutants like Raven aka “Mystique”, Hank McCoy aka “Beast”, Alex Summers aka “Havok”, and Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver” to stop Apocalypse’s plans. Xavier students like Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka “Cyclops” (Alex’s nephew) and Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler” also join the campaign to stop En Sabah Nur.

Let me be frank. “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was not well received by the critics and many filmgoers. I am not going to explain why they felt this way about the movie. Needless to say, I do not agree with this pervading view. I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was a great film. It was not. I believe the movie had some problems.

One of those problems is that some of the cast members were obviously too young for their roles. This certainly seemed to be the case for James McAvoy Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne, who portrayed Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira McTaggart. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s and portrayed characters who were in their early 50s (late 40s for Moira, I suspect) . . . with no make-up to convey their characters’ aging. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult portrayed Mystique and Hank McCoy, who were slightly younger than Xavier and Magneto. But “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” gave a good excuse for their slow aging . . . Mystique’s blood. Another cast member who portrayed a character much older than himself (without makeup) is Lucas Till, who is at least 25 or 26 years old, reprising his role as the late 30s to early 40s Alex Summers. And finally, we have Josh Helman, who is barely 30 years old, who reprised his role as William Stryker, who must have been around the same age as Xavier and Magneto. Does Singer have something against aging in his “X-MEN” films? And if he wanted to maintain the same cast, could he have at least consider using aging makeup for at least five members of the cast?

Two, what was the point in including both Stryker and Wolverine in this movie? Why? They were not essential to the plot. Was it really necessary for Singer to convey that Stryker had ended up giving Wolverine adamantium after all? Despite the time change in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”? What was the point? Could we at least have one “X-MEN” film in which Hugh Jackman does not appear? I also see that Singer, along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, decided to include Stryker in this tale as a plot device to delay Hank, Raven, Peter, and Moira from reaching Cairo. Pointless. It was the most pointless moment in this movie. Finally, I had a problem with the “Four Horsemen”. Aside from Magneto, the other three were barely used. What was the point in showing how they were recruited by En Sabah Nur, when Oscar Isaac and Michael Fassbender seemed to be the only ones in scenes featuring the ancient mutant and his “Horsemen”, who had the most lines. It is bad enough that once again, Singer indulged in his penchant for ignoring minority characters like Storm and Psylocke. Then he includes Angel into this movie – who was shown to be younger than Storm, Scott and Jean in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” – and barely give the latter any lines.

And yet . . . I still liked “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”. In fact, I liked it more than I did “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. The 2016 movie had its problems, but it never seemed racked with so many plot holes like the 2014 movie did. Without the cloud of time travel hovering over the movie, the writing for “APOCALPYSE” struck me as a little clearer and a lot more straightforward. I can applause Singer for attempting to tackle something complicated as time travel. I simply believe that he, Kinberg and the other screenwriters did not handle it very well. On the other hand, the more straightforward narrative for “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” seemed to suit both Singer and Kinberg.

I did not care for the minor arc regarding William Stryker and Wolverine. And yes, En Sabah Nur’s plot to retake the world seemed a bit unoriginal. But Singer and Kinberg handled this story a lot better than they did the time travel plot for the 2014 movie. And to be honest, I rather liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that En Sabah Nur’s plot had a surprising twist (well, one that I did not see coming) that did not involved his “Four Horsemen”.

I may not have a high opinion of “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. But the movie did provide some interesting consequences that played out in “APOCALYPSE”. One, both movies allowed Xavier and Mystique to become close again, following their estrangement in “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”. In one of the movie’s more interesting scenes, Mystique discovers that she has become something of a legend to some of the younger mutants, including Xavier’s students. The movie also allowed Jean Grey the opportunity to learn to utilize her “Dark Phoenix” powers with more control . . . and without Xavier trying to suppress her. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those fans who actually enjoyed “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But it was nice to see Xavier dealing with Jean’s powers with a healthier attitude. And although I was not impressed by how Singer and Kinberg pushed Storm into the background – especially during the film’s second half, it was nice to get a peek into her life as a young Cairo pickpocket before she ended up as one of Apocalypse’s minions and later, a student at Xavier’s school.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s productions. I thought Grant Major did an exceptional job in not only re-creating ancient Egypt for the movie’s prologue and for the rest of it, the early 1980s. This is not surprising, considering Major’s work with director Peter Jackson on movies such as “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography contributed to the movie’s epic and sweeping look. Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, along with Geoffroy Gosselin and Anne Kuljian’s set decorations struck me as a solid reflection of the movie’s early 1980s setting. But the two aspects of the movie’s visual style that really impressed me were Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman’s editing, especially in scenes that involved En Sabah Nur’s entombing in the movie’s beginning and the X-Men’s showdown with the ancient mutant. I was especially impressed with the movie’s special effects, especially in the very two scenes that I had just pointed out.

The acting featured in “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” also struck me as impressive. Well, to be honest, there were only a few performances that really caught my notice. However, I certainly had no problem with the other performances. Of the four actors who portrayed En Sabah Nur’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, only one left no impression upon me – namely Ben Hardy, who portrayed Angel. The character barely had any lines and if I am mistaken, I could have sworn that Angel’s character was from a younger generation (that of Rogue and Iceman’s) – at least in the current movie franchise. I can also say the same about actress Lana Candor, who portrayed Jubilee. Not only did the actress barely had any lines, she was also portrayed as an Xavier student from Rogue and Iceman’s generation in a previous movie.

Although Alexandra Shipp, who portrayed Storm, and Olivia Munn, who portrayed Psylocke; were shifted to the background after their characters were introduced; both managed to impress me in the end. Shipp’s portrayal of the adolescent Storm struck me as rather lively and energetic. And Munn was effectively intimidating as the mutant enforcer, who becomes one of En Sabah Nur’s minions. The movie also featured solid performances from Rose Byrne, who returned as C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert; Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as the adolescent Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka “Cyclops”; Kodi Smit-McPhee as the younger Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler”; Lucas Till as Alex Summers aka Havok; Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Hank McCoy aka “Beast”; Josh Helman as William Stryker; and Evan Peters as the always amusing Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver”. If you are careful, you might also spot Hugh Jackman, Zeljko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy and of course, Stan Lee.

Only four performances in this movie really impressed me. One of them turned out to be James McAvoy’s portrayal of Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”. At first, McAvoy’s performance seemed solid . . . almost perfunctory. But once it became apparent that Professor Xavier’s fate was connected with with En Sabah Nur’s scheme, McAvoy skillfully portrayed the telepathic mutant with a great deal of emotion and pathos. Michael Fassbender proved to be equally fascinating as the emotionally battered Erik Lensherr. He did a great job in conveying Magneto’s reactions to the deaths of a family and peaceful life, and to being emotionally manipulated by En Sabah Nur. Jennifer Lawrence continued to impress me with her excellent portrayal of the complex Raven aka “Mystique”. I found it fascinating to watch the 20-something actress portray a character who had become battle hardened and mature after spending two decades fighting on behalf of fellow mutants. Many critics have complained about Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of the movie’s main villain, En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse”. Apparently, they could not get past the actor’s make-up or mask. Well, I could. And I thought Isaac did a pretty damn good job in portraying a villain who was not only something of an egomaniac, but also a world-class manipulator. And he did so with great skill and subtlety.

I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was one of the best movies from the summer of 2016. Nor am I saying that it was one of the best in the “X-MEN” movie franchise. But I certainly do not believe that it was one of the worst. As far as I am concerned, the worst in the movie franchise was released four-and-a-half months earlier. But I thought it was something of an improvement over the convoluted plot that seemed to mar “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and an excellent cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

“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