“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

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 3/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART III

Power transference. Daley heaved a sigh, inside her private office. She had checked her spell book for anything on the subject, but came up empty. Not surprising, since she has never dealt with the transfer of power during her fifteen years as a sorceress.

Another sigh left her mouth and she examined her spell book one more time. Again, nothing. She slammed the book shut. Perhaps she should forget about this insane idea and go ahead with the plans to expand her business. Then again . . . to hell with it! She had to find a way to access that child’s powers.

Out of desperation, Daley scanned her bookshelf for any information she might find on West African magic. She finally came upon a book titled “THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD OF THE IVORY COAST”. It had been written by an early 20th century anthropologist named Jonathan Close. Much to Daley’s surprise, the book contained detailed information on the region’s myths . . . and practices of various West African shamans. Including spells that she never knew had existed. It still eluded Daley that a British anthropologist would come upon such a discovery. And record them. Perhaps he had been so fervent in his desire to record West African culture, he failed to realize that he had exposed practices and spells that others would consider valuable . . . and dangerous.

After removing the book from the shelf, Daley examined it – page by page. She came across rituals that had been performed by now dead houngans, mambos and other magic practioners. Rituals for good health, prosperity, and protection against evil spirits. The latest chapters, however, included spells and ritual on a more sophisticated level. In one of the chapters, Daley finally found a ritual that transferred psychic abilities and magic from one being to another. A ritual, according to the book, that had first been created by a 12th century sorcerer. After reading the details of the ritual, Daley realized that she had found what she was looking for. The sorceress copied details and instructions of the ritual on a notebook. Once she was finished, she reached for her cordless telephone and dialed a number.

“Hello?” a voice finally answered. “This is the Halliwell residence. May I help you?”

Daley replied, “Is this P. Halliwell, who had placed an ad for a nanny?”

“Yes, this is Piper Halliwell. Who is this?”

Taking a deep breath, Daley continued, “Hi, my name is Donna Thompson. I saw your ad in THE LUNAR VOICE newspaper. And I was wondering if the nanny position had been filled.

Piper Halliwell informed Daley that she had not filled the position. “Right now, you’re the second person who has called about the job. Uh, why don’t you come by, tomorrow? Say around eleven in the morning? There might be a few more applicants. And after I finish with the interviews, I’ll . . . make my choice.”

“Okay. Sounds great to me. I’ll see you tomorrow, around eleven. Bye.” After the other woman said good-bye, Daley disconnected the line. And smiled.

———

Around five-thirty that evening, Piper bid good-bye to the third and final applicant for the position of Wyatt’s nanny and hung up the telephone. “Well, that’s three so far,” she said to her guest. “Two women and a man have answered the ad.”

Chris, who had dropped by to warn the sisters about a shape-shifting demon that steals the essence and powers of other beings, frowned. “What ad?”

Piper shot an annoyed glance at the young whitelighter. “The ad I had placed in newspapers and in some of the local occult stores for the position of nanny. For Wyatt.”

“A nanny for . . .” Disbelief poured out of Chris’ blue eyes. “Are you crazy? Getting a nanny for Wyatt?”

“Well, it’s either that or allow my club to sink into bankruptcy,” Piper retorted. “I need some time to get back my customers and attract new ones. Which means I’ll need a regular babysitter for Wyatt. A nanny.”

Chris demanded, “What about Paige and Phoebe? Or D. . .Leo?”

Piper sighed. “Both Phoebe and Paige have jobs . . . and a social life. As for Leo . . .” She rolled her eyes in contempt. “Forget it. He’s too busy being an Elder.”

“Still . . .”

“Don’t you have other charges to see?” she interrupted in a too-sweet voice that failed to match the hard gleam in her eyes.

The whitelighter’s face turned red. “There’s still the matter of that demonic shape shifter . . .”

“We’ll let you know when we find it. Bye.” Piper continued to stare at Chris, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcomed.

Fortunately, Chris got the hint. He gave Piper a sharp nod and immediately orbed out of the kitchen. Much to the Charmed One’s relief.

————

Dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant did not turn out as Cecile had hoped. Or expected. Although Olivia and Andre proved to be lively dinner companions – with Cole providing his usual caustic wit – Cecile remained mired in her present dark mood.

She stared at her boyfriend, while he related his findings at Olivia’s new store. Poor Andre, she thought. He seemed so happy. So energetic. Soon, she would have to pull the plug on his happiness, when she breaks the bad news. Cecile had considered telling him over a week ago. But when Olivia had asked him to accompany her to San Francisco and help appraise certain items in that new shop, the Vodoun priestess had decided to postpone her announcement. She realized that it could wait until their return to New Orleans.

“. . . and the next thing I knew,” Andre said, “I found myself holding a statute of Ammut.”

Olivia frowned. “Who?”

Cole explained, “Ammut. An ancient Egyptian daemon that devours the souls of those whose hearts proved to be too heavy to be sent to the Hall of Maat. Which is where judgment of the dead is performed.”

“Ewww!” Olivia said with a shiver. She said to the half-daemon, “You seemed to know a lot of this stuff.”

“Not as much as Andre,” Cole protested. “He had studied a lot on the mythologies of this world and other dimensions.”

Andre shook his head. “What I can’t understand is how this guy . . . what was his name?”

“Stefan Kostopulos.”

“How did he get his hands on such stuff?” Andre continued, “Including a medallion created by a dominion spirit.”

The red-haired witch replied, “I don’t know. According to his son, Kostopulos was a big collector of antiquities. He also studied the occult, but I got the feeling that he didn’t know the significance of some of the stuff he had collected.”

“I bet that Cecile’s mama would love to get her hands on some of that stuff. Right, cherie?” Andre addressed the question to Cecile.

The Vodoun priestess blinked, aware that she had been drawn into the conversation. “Huh? Oh . . . yeah, I guess.”

“You guess?” Andre shook his head. “Baby, I’ve seen some of the stuff inside your mama’s shop. A lot of those items are pretty freaky. I mean, there’s a reason why she keeps ‘certain items’ locked up in that storeroom in the back.”

Olivia frowned. “Is that what Mrs. Dubois does with her . . . uh, with the certain items in her shop? Lock them up in a back room? Maybe I should do the same. There’s an empty storeroom in the back.” She squirmed slightly in her chair. “Right now, I think I need a trip to the restroom.” She stood up.

Andre also stood from his chair. “Yeah. Same here. Excuse us, folks.” He and Olivia left the table.

The moment the pair exited from the private dining room, Cole turned to Cecile. “Is there something wrong?”

“Huh?” Cecile blinked. Was her bad mood that apparent?

Looking worried, the half-daemon said in a low voice, “You seemed to be on another planet, lately. I’m talking about what you had told me, earlier. About our lives being in a rut. What was that about?”

Oh shit! Cecile could have kicked herself for opening her big mouth. Realizing that Cole would not easily dismiss the matter, she heaved a large sigh. And decided to tell the truth. “It’s about . . .” Cecile hesitated. “I . . . I guess I want something new in my life. You know what I mean?”

A confused looking Cole shook his head. “No, I don’t. What . . .?”

“May I ask you something?” Cecile realized that she had caught the half-daemon off guard. To be honest, she did not really care. “You were the one who first brought up marriage to Phoebe, right? You were the one who asked her to marry you? And not the other way around?”

Cole’s expression became guarded. Almost mask like. “What are you getting at?”

Cecile’s mouth curved into a wry smile. “I guess that’s a big yes.”

“Yeah, I had asked Phoebe to marry me. So what?”

After a brief hesitation, Cecile continued, “Why? What I’m getting at . . . Hell! Look, all I want to know is why you were the one to ask Phoebe, before she could ask you.”

Cole hesitated. Then a slight smirk appeared on his mouth. “I don’t know, Cecile. Because it’s traditional for the man to ask, I guess.”

Cecile rolled her eyes in contempt. “Cole, get real! This is the 21st century. And I know you’re not a sexist. So, stop bullshitting me and please answer the answer the question.”

The half-daemon shot a quick glance at the dining room’s door. And sighed. “All right. If you must know . . . I guess I had wanted something different with Phoebe. Something more permanent. You know, build a life together. Only it didn’t . . .” Pain flashed in his blue eyes for a brief moment. “I guess it didn’t work out.”

Nodding, Cecile said, “Now, you know what I want.”

Surprise reflected in Cole’s eyes. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that you want to get married?”

After a brief hesitation, Cecile shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe.” She paused again. “Yeah, I do. Why not? I’m tired of our old relation . . .” Spotting Andre and Olivia in the doorway, she broke off. “Don’t say anything to Andre or anyone else!” she hissed. “Please? Not until I’m ready.” Then she smiled at the newcomers, ignoring Cole’s stunned expression. “So, are you guys ready for dessert?”

———-

The doorbell rang. Piper glanced at the grandfather clock. It read 10:43 in the morning. It seemed that the first applicant for Wyatt’s nanny had finally arrived.

Doubts began to assail the Charmed One’s senses. Piper took a deep breath. Calm down, she told herself. But what if she was making a mistake? Chris seemed to think so. Along with Barbara McNeill and Cole. And their experiences with that elf nanny seemed to hint to Piper that perhaps a nanny might not be in the cards. After the last attack on Wyatt, the Elf Nanny decided she had enough with the Halliwell household.

Again, the doorbell rang. Piper sighed. Screw it, she decided. Might as well finish what she had started. She fixed a bright smile on her face and opened the door. “Good morning,” she greeted the slender man, standing in the doorway.

The newcomer held out his hand. “Hi! Warren Koslo. I uh, I saw your ad on the bulletin board at Ostera’s.” He referred to the herbal shop where Paige worked.

“Oh.” Piper shook his hand. “Um, why don’t you come inside?”

Mr. Koslo smiled. “Sure.” Piper stepped aside and ushered him inside the manor.

Less than five minutes after Warren Koslo’s arrival, the doorbell rang again. “Excuse me,” Piper said to her guest. Then she left him inside the Solarium with Wyatt and headed for the front door.

The next applicant turned out to be a middle-aged Latino woman with short hair and stoic features. “Good morning,” she greeted in a pleasant voice. “My name is Mrs. Rosa Madrigal. I’m here for the nanny position. I saw the ad on the bulletin board, at the Red Pyramid.”

“How nice.” The Charmed One smiled at the newcomer. She widened the door. “Why don’t you come in?” Then she held a hand to Mrs. Madrigal. “I’m Piper Halliwell, Wyatt’s mother. Uh . . .” She glanced toward the direction of the Solarium. “I’m interviewing another candidate right now.”

Mrs. Madrigal looked slightly disappointed. “You are?”

“Oh, don’t worry. He’s the first one to arrive. Um, why don’t you wait here, until I finish?”

A polite smile appeared on the older woman’s face. “Oh. Okay. Of course.” Then she sat down on the sofa. Piper flashed one quick smile at her, and returned to the Solarium and Warren Koslo.

The doorbell rang for the third time that morning. Piper bit back a frustrated oath, and smiled at Mr. Koslo. Once more, their interview had been interrupted. She sighed and shot a weary smile at the applicant. “Excuse me.” Then she glanced at Wyatt, who seemed fast asleep in his basquinet, and headed for the living room.

On her way to the front door, Piper smiled at Mrs. Madrigal. The doorbell rang one last time, before she finally opened it. Outside stood a slender black woman of medium height, curly long hair, along with wide brown eyes and narrow cheekbones on a narrow face. “Hi,” the woman greeted, “I’m Da . . . Donna Thompson. I saw your ad in THE LUNAR VOICE for the nanny position.”

Piper shook the woman’s hand. “Come on in. You’re the third person to show up.”

Brown eyes widened in surprise, as Ms. Thompson entered the manor. “Third person?” she said with a frown.

“Yeah, um why don’t you take a seat?” Piper indicated the living room, where Mrs. Madrigal sat. “I’ll get to you, as soon as I finish with Mrs. Madrigal, here, and my other applicant.”

Ms. Thompson eyed Mrs. Madrigal with wary eyes. She sat down in the chair, left of the sofa. The two female applicants exchanged polite smiles. Piper heaved a soft sigh and returned to her guest in the Solarium. At that moment, the Charmed One realized that she was in for a long morning and afternoon.

END OF PART III

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 2/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART II

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Wyatt right now?”

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

“What about Leo?” Barbara asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olivia responded silently with a slight shrug.

————-

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Andre asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Besides what?” Olivia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you getting at?”

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

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

————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, who are they? The Charmed Ones?”

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

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

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

“Now, I’m confused. The who?”

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

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

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

“That name sounds familiar.”

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

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

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

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

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

“A what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF PART II

“Buffy’s Relationship With the Scoobies”

I have something of a problem with Buffy Summers’ relationship with her close friends, also known as the Scoobies:

“BUFFY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCOOBIES”

I just finished watching the “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Three episode, (3.07) “Revelations”. I find myself recalling the scene in which the Scoobies revealed to Buffy that they knew that Angel, the souled vampire whom she was forced to kill in the Season Two finale, (2.22) “Becoming (Part 2)”, was still alive and she had been keeping his presence a secret from them. Apparently, one of the Scoobies, Xander Harris, had decided to spy on Buffy, due to her secretive behavior and found her kissing Angel.

Now, I realize that they had a right to be angry that she failed to tell them about Angel being alive. The latter had spent the second half of Season Two as their main antagonist, due to his losing his soul. Because of this, he had caused a great deal of problems for them. He had also summoned the demon Acathla in order to bring about the end of the world. Buffy was finally able to defeat him in “Becoming (Part Two)” . . . but not before fellow Scooby Willow Rosenberg had restored his cursed soul.

But . . . God, this scene when the Scoobies had confronted Buffy in “Revelations” had pissed me off! If there is one thing about Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher Rupert Giles and the Scoobies that has burned me is that she has allowed them to dictate her behavior and moral compass, due to her own fear of losing their friendship. Has Buffy ever put such pressure on Xander, Willow or Giles? I wonder. For years, they put her on this pedestal called “THE SLAYER” and rarely allow Buffy to be herself or have her own life.

Xander was the worst offender of them all. I do not know how this character came to be so beloved by the series’ fans. Granted, Xander could be entertaining. But of all the characters, he was probably the most self-righteous of the bunch. And he has allowed his self-righteousness, along with his jealousy toward Buffy’s relationships with both Angel and Spike to compromise his morals without any remorse. Good examples would be his lie to Willow about Buffy’s wishes regarding Angel in “Becoming (Part 2)” and his attempt to murder a chipped Spike in (6.18) “Entropy” for having sex with the fiancee he had dumped at the altar. Even in “Revelations”, he was behaving in the most self-righteous manner about Buffy’s lie regarding Angel . . . yet, at the same time, was kissing Willow behind his girlfriend at the time Cordelia Chase’s back. Some would say that at least his infidelity with Willow was not a threat to anyone. But his and Willow’s actions ended up hurting Cordelia in more ways than one.

The Scoobies’ attitude toward Buffy reached its pinnacle in Season Six. In (6.01)”Bargaining (Part 1)”, Willow, with the assistance of Xander, his second girlfriend Anya Jenkins and her girlfriend Tara Maculay’s assistance, brought Buffy back from the dead . . . without her consent or anything. An act that led to a year long depression for for the Slayer. And they did this, because they needed “THE SLAYER”. They believed that Sunnydale needed a Slayer. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had managed to exist without a Slayer for nearly a century before Buffy’s arrival.

Is it any wonder why Buffy began to emotionally distance herself from her friends” in Season Seven?

Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and Prince David “Charming” try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Joneaka Captain Hook set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena Mills in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Rumpelstiltskin and Isaac Heller aka the Author.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences. And Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.