"The Sword of Haldane?"
Inside one of the police station's interrogation rooms, Bruce shook his head in disbelief. "Now, where have I heard that before?" He paused. "Oh yeah . . . Barbara. Paige had told her about it."
Cirhan frowned. "One of the Charmed Ones? I did see them at the auction, yesterday. At least two of them."
"The Halliwells are looking for the sword?" Darryl asked. "Why didn't you ask them for help?"
The daemon looked askance - as if reluctant to speak. "To be honest, I'm not so sure if that's a good idea."
"What do you mean?" Scott demanded. He leaned against the doorframe.
Cirhan continued, "As I had told you, the Haldane Sword belongs to one of the Gimle Council members. It's very powerful and was once used to kill a past Source. There's a good chance that the Charmed Ones are seeking the sword on behalf of the Whitelighters Council."
Bruce added grimly, "Who wouldn't mind using it against a new Source, in case something happened to the Power of Three. Or they might try to use it against Cole."
With a sigh, Cirhan added, "We don't know that for sure. But the sword does belong to Ulmund. And the Charmed Ones cannot give the help that I require. You see . . ." He paused. "I have a good idea on who might have stolen the sword. Only . . . she's a sorceress. A mortal."
Bruce finally understood. "I see. And you had wanted Olivia to check her name through the computer."
Scott asked, "What's her name?"
Piper and Phoebe strolled into the squad room and glanced around. Neither Darryl nor Scott could be seen. "That's great," Piper muttered. "Now, what are we going to do?"
"I don't . . ." Phoebe broke off, as several familiar figures entered the room - Darryl, Scott and Bruce. A blond-haired stranger accompanied them. "What's going on?" she asked.
Darryl stopped short at the sight of the two sisters. "Phoebe? Piper? What are you two doing here?"
Piper stared at Bruce. "I was about to ask Bruce the same thing." Her gaze fell upon the blond man, who stood next to Olivia's brother. He seemed slightly familiar. "Have we met before?"
The man's face turned slightly pink. "Um . . . I don't think . . ."
"Wait a minute!" Piper's high-pitched voice drew stares from the other occupants in the squad room. Her face grew hot with embarrassment. Lowering her voice, she said to the stranger. "We have met, haven't we? Well . . . somewhat. Weren't you at an auction, yesterday? On Montgomery Street? And don't bother lying. My sister is empathic."
The man sighed and turned to Bruce, who added, "I don't think this is the place to talk. Let's go back to the other room." The two women and four men headed for an interrogation room.
Once inside, Phoebe spoke up. "Look, before we start, we have to ask Darryl for something, first."
"What about?" Darryl asked.
"Um . . ." Phoebe hesitated, as she shot an uneasy glance at the blond man. "It's private. We need you to find someone for us. A woman."
To Piper's surprise, Scott asked, "And does this woman's name happen to be . . . Mira Novak?"
Piper inhaled sharply. Phoebe's eyes grew round. "How did you . . .?" the middle Charmed One broke off and stared at the blond man. "Who are you?"
The man smiled politely. "My name is Cirhan," he said with a faint Scandinavian accent. "I'm with the Gimle Order. And I believe you must be the Charmed Ones."
The two sisters exchanged stunned looks. Piper opened her mouth to speak. But not a word came out.
"The Sword of Haldane?" Barbara shook her head in disbelief. Just a few minutes earlier, Bruce had called. "So, this guy Cirhan is after it, as well?"
Bruce replied, "Yeah. According to Cirhan, some female wizard named Mira Novak had stolen it. She was an apprentice for one of the Gimle Order's daemons. Cirhan thinks that she might be here in San Francisco."
Barbara paused, as she contemplated her husband's words. "Wait a minute," she finally said. "Does this mean that you're going to help find this wizard?"
"Well, yeah. He asked." Bruce hesitated before continuing. "Um, by the way, Piper and Phoebe came by the station. Which means that the Halliwells will be helping us. So, all of them - Cirhan and the Halliwells - will be dropping by the house, this evening."
Shit. Barbara heaved a long-suffering sigh. "So, you're actually going to get involved in this?"
"C'mon Barbara," Bruce protested. "He asked for our help."
And why isn't Cirhan simply working with the Halliwells?"
Another long paused followed before Bruce answered. "Well, I don't think that he trusts them. He thinks that they might turn the sword over to the Whitelighters. And they seemed a bit wary of him. You know . . . because he's a daemon."
"For God's sake! He's a Gimle daemon!"
Bruce said, "They're just being careful, Barbara. It's not like any of us can verify that Cirhan belongs to the Gimle Order."
An idea came to Barbara. "What about Cole's uncle? What's his name? Marbus? Why not get him to verify Cirhan's identity?"
Bruce sighed. "Cirhan did call for him. Marbus had briefly appeared and verified Cirhan's identity." He paused. "Look Barbara, if you don't want to do this, I'll understand."
If she had to be honest, Barbara wanted nothing to do with the Haldane Sword. She considered herself a witch, not a daemon hunter or some supernatural super heroine. Four years of dangerous encounters with supernatural beings, along with recent encounters with the Della Scalla sisters had left a distaste for such activities in her mouth. But Cirhan, who seemed like a decent sort, needed their help.
"No," she finally said. "I'll help. But let's not make a habit of this. I don't want . . ." Barbara broke off, as another line on her telephone lit up. "Listen, I'll get back to you later. I have another call. Bye."
Bruce replied, "Bye honey." And both he and Barbara hung up at the same time.
The streetcar bearing Mira and several other passengers came to a halt near the intersection of Powell and Clay Streets. The young sorceress climbed off the vehicle and proceeded toward her hotel's entrance, a block away. With just a few feet to go, a force of energy whisked Mira into a deserted alley. Then a strong hand grabbed her arm and forced her to her feet.
"Well, well. If it isn't Miss Novak, at last." A honey-blonde woman with narrow green eyes approached Mira. Who found herself being held by two burly males. "Loxias has been looking for you."
Mira struggled to free herself from her captors. "Well, I'm not really interested in seeing Loxias," the young wizard snapped back.
"Too bad." The woman stood before Mira and stroked the latter's left cheek. "Because it looks as if you'll have no choice. You should have stuck to the deal you had made with Loxias. Now," a cruel smile curved her lips, "it looks as if he will have the sword without having to pay a dime." She nodded at her subordinates. "Let's go. We'll take her back . . ."
Mira took a deep breath. Crackles of electricity surged throughout her body, electrifying the two daemons gripping her. They screamed in pain, until their bodies disintegrated into balls of light. Then the wizard allowed an energy ball to form above her opened palm. Before she could throw it at the wide-eyed blond daemon, the latter teleported out of the alley. Mira heaved a sigh of relief and reached for her cell phone, inside her purse.
"The Mundi residence," an unfamiliar voice answered.
The young wizard demanded, "I need to speak with Oria Mundi, please. This is Mira Novak, speaking." She walked out of the alley and continued toward her hotel.
By the time she reached the hotel's entrance, a female's voice exclaimed, "Mira? Is there a problem?"
"A small one," the sorceress replied. "Three of Loxias' thugs had nearly ambushed me not far from my hotel. They must have tracked me."
Mira soothed the other female wizard's anxiety. "Not to worry, Oria. Two of them are dead and the woman is gone. I'll be collecting my things and moving to another hotel. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how they managed to find me."
Oria asked, "What's the name of the hotel that you're now staying at?"
After a brief hesitation, Mira replied, "Some place called the Carnahan. It's on Po . . ."
". . . on Powell Street?" Oria's voice rang with disbelief. "Darling Mira! No wonder Loxias' thugs were able to find you! The Carnahan happens to be one of three hotels owned by Loxias, in this town. Now, if you plan to move to another hotel, may I suggest that you avoid the Corianna and the Antibes? Both are also owned by Loxias."
Mira felt like an idiot. Despite all of her precautions, she had nearly ended up caught thanks to her failure to investigate Loxias' background and to change hotels. "Thanks for the advice, Oria. I'll uh . . . see you later?"
"Of course, my darling. Until tonight." The line went dead, as the older wizard hung up.
With a sigh, Mira turned off her cell phone and entered the elevator. She had barely been in San Francisco for forty-eight hours and now she found herself forced to move to another hotel. Which made her new task difficult, due to her unfamiliarity with the city. Oh well, she sighed privately as the elevator stopped on her floor. If she could steal the Sword of Haldane from underneath Ulmund's nose, finding another hotel room should not be difficult.
Someone knocked on the door of Darryl's new office. He had moved there sometime between the Christmas and New Year holidays. "Come in," the police lieutenant ordered.
Scott Yi entered the office with a file folder in his hands. "Hey Darryl," he greeted. "I got some information on the woman that the McNeills and the Halliwells are looking for."
"Why don't you run it by the McNeills' home when you get off from work?" Darryl suggested.
A brief pause followed before Scott added, "You're not going to join me?"
Darryl sighed. "I don't think so. This is your world and Olivia's . . . not mine. Thank God."
Scott stared at him with curious eyes. "That's a pretty odd thing for you to say, considering how long you've been involved with the Halliwells."
Darryl leaned back into his chair. "I became involved out of my regard for Andy Trudeau. And although I grew to regard the Halliwells as my sisters, lately I'm beginning to regret ever getting involved with them in the first place. Ever since that incident with those Valkyries or whatever you call them."
"Yeah, but . . ."
"Listen," Darryl began, interrupting the other man, "you might as well hear this from me. And I plan to warn Olivia when she gets back from her honeymoon."
Scott frowned. "Are you warning . . .?"
Darryl continued, "I have this friend in Internal Affairs. He's also a friend of Olivia's. Just yesterday, he told me that certain people have become interested in the Halliwells. A few local cops . . . and maybe even the Feds. And our fellow officer, Liz Sheridan . . ."
"The one who's replacing Olivia until she returns from her honeymoon?"
Nodding, Darryl said, "Yeah, well it seems that Inspector Sheridan was assigned to our unit . . . against Captain McPherson's orders. Someone . . . I think Internal Affairs . . . wanted her on this squad until Olivia comes back."
Panic flashed in Scott's eyes. "Wait a minute! Are you saying that IA is investigating our squad?"
"Actually, I think that they have been investigating us for quite some time," Darryl replied. "Especially me. Neither you nor Olivia have been acquainted with the Halliwells long enough to attract their attention. But I have. And unlike Piper and the others, you and Olivia are a lot better at covering your tracks."
Scott shook his head. "And you're saying that Piper and her sisters aren't?"
Again, Darryl sighed. "Let's just say that poor old Andy had ended up suspended, because of his ties to Prue Halliwell. And that was nearly five years ago. Ever since his death, I've been trying my best to steer legal attention from the girls. It's just sometimes . . ."
". . . they can be a bit careless," Scott finished.
Darryl chuckled mirthlessly. "I think the word 'little' is an understatement."
Scott glanced at the file in his hands. "Maybe I should mail this, instead."
"Just drop it off at the McNeills' place," Darryl instructed. Scott nodded. "Oh, hey . . . one more thing. About you and Piper Halliwell . . ."
Scott held up his hand. "You don't have to warn her about Sheridan. I'll do it."
Leaning forward, Darryl shook his head. "It's not that." He hesitated, wondering how to say what was on his mind. "Look, I don't know how to say this, but just how interested are you in Piper?"
"I'm sorry?" Scott's facial expression immediately became hard.
Darryl cleared his throat. "Olivia and I have noticed that you and Piper have become . . . a little close. I just . . ."
Scott interrupted, "If you think I view Piper as more than just a friend, you're mistaken. Besides, she was dating some fireman not long ago."
Suspecting that his colleague might be lying, Darryl said instead, "Good. Because we think that Piper might still be in love with Leo. No matter what problems they're now having."
"I understand." Scott responded with a tight smile.
Darryl repressed a sigh. "Sure," he said with a nod. "By the way thanks for the head's up on that Mira Novak thing." As he watched Scott leave his nod, Darryl finally gave voice to that sigh. There were moments when he regretted that Andy Trudeau had ever known the Halliwells. And today, he had just experienced one of those moments.
A despondent Paige entered the manor and listlessly tossed her purse and coat on the living room sofa. Phoebe scampered downstairs and greeted the younger woman, cheerfully. "Hey, sweetie! Home from work?"
"She did it," Paige declared in a monotone voice.
Phoebe frowned. "Who did what?"
"Barbara. She docked a half-hour pay from my next paycheck."
Outrage poured from Phoebe's dark eyes. "What?" Then she cried out, "Piper!"
The oldest Charmed One sauntered into the living room, carrying Wyatt. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Before Paige could say anything, Phoebe exclaimed, "Barbara just docked Paige's next paycheck! Can you believe it?"
Piper shook her head. "What happened? You didn't make it back to work in time?" she asked Paige.
The youngest Charmed One's mouth formed a moue, as she shook her head. "I was about a half hour late in getting back from work. Even Maddy looked pissed."
"Still," Phoebe continued, "Barbara didn't have the right to . . ."
"She had a perfect right, Pheebs!" Paige retorted. "She's my boss. Remember?"
Phoebe stubbornly insisted, "Yeah, but it's only one time."
Paige sighed. "Phoebe, ever since Chris started on his agenda for us to kill every demon in existence, I've either been late for work, late back from lunch, or leaving the shop in the middle of the day. I think I've crossed the line, this afternoon. And if it happens again, I'll be out of a job."
With a shrug Phoebe said, "Maybe you should consider quitting. That way, you can spend more time . . ."
"What? Vanquishing demons?" Paige rolled her eyes. "Why don't you quit?"
"I have an important job, Paige."
Paige rolled her eyes. "Doing what? Giving instant advice to those who can't afford or are afraid to seek a real analyst?"
Hands on hips, Phoebe retorted, "Wait a minute! I'm not the one who . . ."
Piper held up one hand. "Okay! Enough already! We're supposed to be sisters!" She turned to her youngest sister. "Look Paige, do you want me to speak to Barbara? Maybe I can . . . you know, ask her not to dock your paycheck. Make her understand that what we do is important? We'll be seeing the McNeills, this evening."
Paige frowned. "Why?"
After a moment's hesitation, Piper answered, "It looks as if we're not the only ones looking for this Haldane Sword." She then proceeded to tell Paige about hers and Phoebe's early afternoon visit to the police station.
The McNeills, along with their guest, finished the last bites of their evening meal. Cirhan leaned back against his chair and sighed. "I must say that was the best Poulet Washington I've ever eaten. And I've been to a good number of restaurants here in the mortal plane, to know the difference."
Bruce, flattered by the daemon's compliment, smiled. "Thanks. I'm glad that you enjoyed the meal."
"I'm glad that I had accepted your invitation for dinner. It was absolutely delicious." Shaking his head in disbelief, Cirhan added, "If Ulmund or any of the other Council members saw me now, they would not be happy."
Harry said, "You can't help it if you have to wait a while for more information. Hell, we've already tried scrying and divination to find her."
"He's right," Barbara added. "And a summoning spell. As I recall, we ended up with a sock. I guess the only thing you can do is wait for that information from Darryl . . ."
Davies entered the dining room. "Pardon me, Mr. Bruce. The Halliwells are here."
"Send them into the Blue Room," Bruce instructed. "We'll be there momentarily." After the manservant left, the oldest McNeill sibling said to Cirhan, "About the Halliwells, I don't think you need to worry about them turning over the sword over to the whitelighters."
Harry added, "Bruce has got a point. I mean . . . I don't trust the Whitelighters, myself - well, at least the current bunch. But I think that Paige and her sisters understand that the sword should return to its rightful owner."
Cirhan nodded. "I hope you're right. You're right about the Whitelighters, you know. In the past five hundred years or so, they've seemed obsessed with the eradication of the Source's Realm. Or evil, for that matter, without considering the consequences."
"But what you're not aware of is that the Halliwells DO NOT like the Elders," Harry continued. "And like I said, now that they're aware of the sword's true owners, they'll probably help."
The Gimle Order daemon sighed. "Hopefully. However, I had noticed that they didn't hesitate to search for the sword, upon the Elders' request. And when I had told them that the sword belonged to Ulmund, they seemed reluctant to believe me."
Recalling Piper and Phoebe's reaction to Cirhan, Bruce began to wonder if the daemon had every right to worry. The three witches and Cirhan stood up and filed out of the dining room. When they finally reached the Blue Room, they found not only the Halliwells, but Scott Yi as well. "When did you get here?" Bruce asked the police inspector.
"About a minute ago," Scott replied. "I've . . . uh, got some information on Miss Novak's whereabouts. Only, she's not using her name."
Barbara said, "She's using an alias?"
Scott nodded. "Mia Newman. And she's staying at the Carnahan Hotel, on Powell Street.
"All of us?" Paige asked. Bruce noticed that she and Barbara seemed determined not to acknowledge each other's presence.
Bruce sighed. "How about four of us? Scott, Cirhan, Piper and myself."
Although Phoebe seemed reluctant about the idea, everyone else agreed to it. Cirhan, Scott, Bruce and Piper linked hands. Seconds later, they vanished from the Blue Room.
Four figures materialized several feet away from a neat, ten-story brick building. "Here we are," Cirhan announced. "How do we ask about Mira?"
Scott held up his badge. "Through the benefit of the law. Let's go." He started toward the hotel's entrance. The other three followed. Once inside the elegant lobby, they strode toward the front desk. "Excuse me," the police inspector announced. Again, he flashed his badge. "Inspector Yi, San Francisco PD."
The desk clerk, a neat, yet unprepossessing man with pale skin, thinning hair and small dark eyes glanced up. "Yes? May I help you?"
Smiling, Scott said, "I'm looking for a guest of yours. We believe that she may have knowledge of an investigation we're conducting. An . . . assault that happened at the airport, recently."
Looking slightly uncomfortable, the clerk replied, "Um . . . we usually don't reveal any information about a guest . . ."
"This is a police matter," Scott said in a gentle, yet intimidating tone he usually reserved for reluctant civilians.
"Of course." The clerk turned to his computer screen. "The name of the guest, please?"
Scott replied, "Mia Newman. She may have checked in the day before yesterday."
After entering the name in the computer, the clerk astounded the others with an announcement. "She checked out this afternoon."
Piper, Bruce and Cirhan exchanged anxious looks, while Scott demanded, "When did this happen?"
The clerk replied, "Around . . . 5:52 this afternoon."
Heaving an exasperated sigh, Scott asked, "What room was she in? I would like to look around . . ."
"Oh, I don't think . . ." Scott seared him with a hard stare. "Um . . . she was in Room 378."
Scott responded with a curt smile. "Thanks." He nodded at the others and they followed him into one of the elevators. Then Cirhan teleported them all to the third floor. "He said Room 378."
"You think he may have warned her?" Piper asked.
"Good chance. That is . . . if he's familiar with her." Shaking his head absently, Scott added, "But I don't think he is. Or else, why would she have bothered to use an alias to check into this place, in the first place?"
The quartet finally came across Room 378. "Here it is," Bruce announced.
Piper began, "How do we . . .?" Before she could finish, Cirhan had teleported them inside the room. "Okay."
As his eyes scanned the hotel room, Scott said, "Look for anything that might tell us where she may have went."
A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Good luck on that," she murmured. Scott heard her, anyway.
A few minutes passed before Cirhan cried out, "Uh, is this important?" He held up a piece of paper. "I found it inside this, uh . . ."
"Trash basket," Piper finished. "It's a trash basket. Haven't they cleaned up, yet?"
Scott took the piece of paper from the daemon's hand. "She'd just checked out only a few hours ago, Piper," he said. Then he read the scrap of paper. "Holiday Inn?" His eyes fell upon a telephone book sprawled on the room's desk. "I guess she went to a local Holiday Inn."
"There's more than one?" Cirhan asked.
A sigh left Scott's mouth. "Unfortunately."
Piper rolled her eyes and muttered, "Perfect."
END OF PART THREE