Charmed Role Reversal



The Maltese Locket

Number 534 Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco is what I call just an ordinary looking office building. Nothing flashy or fancy about it, which is just fine with me. Its four floors are taken up with ordinary businesses, like a few import‑export firms, a perpetually struggling publisher, an ambulance‑chasing lawyer ‑ and my office.

The building across the street is very different. It's a high class home to financial advisers ‑ where the rich can go to find out what to do with their money besides spending it.

This all gives the block a mixed street traffic ‑ upper class, middle class and decidedly working class people. Which reflects the range of clients who come to me. Monied or only dreaming of it; working class or hardly working.

But they all have one thing in common ‑ they need help. And that's when they come to see me.

I pulled the key from my pocket as I approached the door to my third floor office. The frosted‑glass window pane in the door stared back at me.  


Philip Chandler, Private Detective

The left half of the "V" in "Detective" got scratched off by a not‑too‑careful delivery man. I know I should get it fixed. But it costs money ‑ they don't paint single letters so I'd have to pay for the whole pane. And in truth, my clients don't really care about that. They have more pressing things on their mind when they come to me.

I opened the door and walked in to the outer office ‑ the secretary's desk and chair, plus a straight back chair against the left wall. The desk was empty, since Margie married her "dream" accountant and moved to the East Bay. She said she'd be back after their honeymoon ‑ they were only going as far as Monterey ‑ but it's been three weeks.

Maybe I should have hired a temp ‑ I'm probably losing some calls without Margie here to answer the telephone when I'm out. But it would have taken a few weeks to train the temp in my "style". And anyway, people who need me will keep calling until they get me.

I went through into my inner office and casually dropped my gray fedora hat on the top hook of the coat stand. I walked past my desk to the window and opened it half way to air out the office after the weekend. I could hear the clang of the California Street cable car's bell a block away. The fog was as thick as it was every morning. I used to say that if San Franciscans ever woke up to morning sunshine, they'd faint from the shock.

But that would be nothing compared to the shock that I was going to get that day.

I was confident that I'd seen everything in twenty years as a private detective and there was nothing new anyone could bring to me. With the sound of the outer door opening, followed by footsteps, I was about to learn how wrong I was.

I turned and saw a woman come through the open doorway of the inner office. But she wasn't just a woman. Short, slim and unquestionably seductive. A quarter‑sleeve black dress, cut low on her back, a dark gray wide‑brim hat with a black velvet bow and black hair underneath it and just the right touch of make‑up. Along with the way she carried herself, she made it clear that she was not an ordinary woman.

I'm 6'1", broad shouldered and weigh about 190. But there was something about her that somehow increased her stature and made it seem that I wasn't towering over her.

"Mr. Chandler," she said, confidently.

Click on the PLAY button

Suddenly I heard music. I turned to look at the half‑open window but it wasn't coming from the street. I looked up at the ceiling and then to the wall that adjoins the office next door. But the music wasn't coming from there, either.

I didn't know what was going on. But it wasn't bothering her. She sat down without being invited to do so, as if nothing unusual was happening. She crossed her legs in a way that she obviously knew would get someone's attention ‑ and it got mine.

She took out a gold cigarette case, removed a cigarette and replaced the case in her purse.

"I'm Prue Halliwell," she said, as the music stopped. She held the cigarette to her mouth and waited expectantly for someone ‑ that is, for me ‑ to light it for her.

Yes, this was a femme formidable. French was not my language but someone I once worked with on a case used that term about another woman. It certainly applied to this woman, too.

I took out my lighter and reached across the desk to light her cigarette. She inhaled, then blew a narrow stream of smoke into the air. I put my lighter away, sat down and looked her over.

"I've been told that you are adept at handling cases that are conventional ‑ or un‑conventional," she said.

"I'm good at everything I do," I replied.

"I'm sure you are," Prue said, a glimmer of a smile in her eyes. "But let's restrict our conversation to your prowess as a detective."

Phew! I thought. There's nothing reticent about her. Straight and direct.

"I've had lots of different kinds of cases, some more unusual than others," I said. "Out of the ordinary problems may need some special approaches. But they don't faze me. In the end they're just like the others ‑ I solve them."

"You have self‑confidence," Prue said. She took another drag on her cigarette, then blew another stream of smoke into the air. "That's good. It will help."

"Help? How?" I asked.

"What I'm hiring you to do is more unusual than anything you've done before," Prue said.

"I doubt that," I said, "but what is it that you want me to do?"

"Find a locket," she said.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I've found missing jewelry before," I said. "People lose valuable things all the time. There's nothing unusual about that."

"It depends upon what makes them valuable," she said.

"Sometimes its sentimental," I said, "but usually it's something tangible. Maybe a diamond or a ruby hidden inside of it."

"This locket has something much more valuable than that inside of it," Prue said. She lifted her head slightly, which raised her wide‑brimmed hat enough to let more of the sunlight shine on her face.

"Powers," she said, looking me straight in the eye. "Mine and my sisters'."

I've had some clients walk in here and say the weirdest things. Sometimes it took a while until I could translate what they were saying into what they meant. There are some people whose brain and mouth aren't always on the same frequency.

But Prue Halliwell didn't fit that picture. She was very much in control of her brain and her mouth.

"Powers?" I asked. "As in..."

"Special powers," she replied. "Powers that let us do things that ordinary people can't do. Powers that we use...to defeat evil."

I looked closely in her eyes. There was no difference in how they looked now than how they had before. No wild, crazy look in them. She looked at me evenly, the same as she had all along.

"You don't mean something like...uh...supernatural?" I asked.

"You can call them that if you like," she said, a small smile tracing her lips

I exhaled. With another client, I would have given her the address of the 'funny farm'. Probably even called the cab and put her in it. But Prue Halliwell wasn't another client. She was serious. And as much as this didn't make any sense to me, there was something about her and the way she said it that told me I should take her seriously, too.

"Tell me more," I said.

"Someone was trying to steal our powers from us," Prue said, casually taking another drag on her cigarette. "We weren't prepared for that so we couldn't have stopped him from taking them. So I put our powers into the locket for safekeeping. It's an antique locket that was made in Malta. It was given to my ancestor about two hundred years ago by some people in Malta, in appreciation of her having protected them and saved their lives.

"The locket has the ability to safeguard special powers ‑ my ancestors' and ours. My grandmother added to it's abilities. If our powers were placed inside of it, the locket would hide itself to protect them, but leave a trail that we could later follow to find it."

A fellow San Francisco private detective had recently mentioned something about looking for a falcon statue from Malta. Interesting, but merely a co‑incidence, I thought.

"And what happened to the locket?" I asked. I have to admit that she had my interest.

"It disappeared," Prue said, "and didn't work the way it was supposed to. It didn't leave enough of a trail so that I could find it. And that's where your abilities come in. I need you to find it. All I could tell from its trail is that it was somewhere in San Francisco."

"The city is big," I said. "It could be anywhere. Even under a rock or under the street." As I said that, I realized that I sounded as if I believed her. Which was not exactly the case.

"No. It was supposed to be found in a logical place," she said. "It's an antique so that would be someplace where antiques would be found."

"You said that your grandmother's...uh...'addition'...didn't work right to leave you a trail," I said. "Maybe this part didn't work right, either."

"The...'things' that she did sometimes had unintended side affects," Prue said. "But they still worked. The locket can be found with good detective work."

I didn't know what to make of what she was telling me. She was serious about the locket. As to why it was really important to her...well, that was something else.

"What does the locket look like?" I asked.

Prue opened her pocketbook and took out a piece of paper. She unfolded it and handed it to me.

"This is a drawing of it," she said.

"Interesting design," I said.

"It has its significance," she added, ambiguously.

This was all strange, to say the least. But it was an intriguing case and Prue Halliwell was an intriguing woman. And at the moment, I didn't have another client so the dough would be very welcome.

"OK," I said, "I'll take the case."

"Excellent," she said. She took a final drag on her cigarette, made another circle of the smoke and put the cigarette out in my ashtray. She took out her purse from her pocketbook, opened it and began casually peeling off a few C‑notes.

"Will this do for now?" she asked, after placing them on my desk.

"It certainly will," I said. A client paying generously up front always made my day.

"Please keep me up‑to‑date on what's happening," she said. "You can reach me at this number."

She handed me a small slip of paper, on which she had written a telephone number. FIllmore 3‑9898. She didn't give me an address but from the telephone exchange I had a good idea of the area she was in. It was a nice, quiet part of the city.

She gave me a small ambiguous smile, stood up and walked out of my office.



Click for Opening Credits

In my line of work, I get to meet people from the most respectable levels of society ‑ and on down. Somewhere at one of the lower rungs was Louie the Lip.

Louie got his nickname because he was always able to sweet‑talk people into whatever business deal and arrangement he wanted, or to get himself out of jams. And that went for cops, too.

Louie's 'establishment" was along a row of small shops on Geary Street off of Jones Street, downtown. Louie's place was a pawn shop‑cum‑second hand store. His neighbors used most of their space for the front of their stores, for their merchandise and customers, with only about a quarter of the space left for the "back room".

Louie's store was just the opposite. His front was crowded with barely enough space for one or two customers to stand by his tiny display case, while his back room took up most of the store. That room was reserved for Louie's "preferred" customers. That is, those who wanted "better" second‑hand items ‑ which until very recently had been "first‑hand".

In police parlance, Louie the Lip was a "fence". Every once in a while some eager, bright‑eyed cop would try to inquire as to just how and when Louie's second‑hand stuff had ceased being "first‑hand". And Louie would dance around the answer until the cop became dizzy and gave up.

I pushed open the door to Louie's store and a set of bells jangled above me. Before they even stopped ringing Louie had come through the steel door from the back room. Somewhere around fifty, short and just a little heavier than he should be, his thinning hair combed back and a pair of rimless glasses sliding down his long nose, Louie looked like a nondescript, simple shopkeeper. It was an image that he consciously projected ‑ and was the opposite of what he really was.

"Oh ‑ it's you, Chandler," he said. "Run out of clients and takin' the day off?"

"Good to see you, too, Louie," I said. "And no, I do have a client. I client I need information for."

"You're always lookin' for information," Louie said. "Me? I'm running a business here. If you want free information, go pick up the phone and dial 4‑1‑1."

I've known Louie long enough to expect that so I was prepared. I took out my wallet and put down a couple of sawbucks on the tiny, cluttered counter. Louie carefully picked up the two tens and put them safely in his pocket.

"OK Chandler," he said, "you've got an account. What are you buying?"

I pulled out the drawing Prue Halliwell had given me, unfolded it and spread it on the counter.

"I'm looking for this," I said. "Have you seen it?"

"You too?" Louie asked. "What gives with this?"

"What do you mean 'me too'?" I asked.

"There was a guy in here this morning," Louie said, "looking for that."

"What kind of guy?" I asked.

"The guy was dressed in black ‑ black shirt, black pants ‑ even had a black tie," Louie answered. "And a black stubble beard. And a look...like he would kill you as soon as talk to you. He didn't just look evil. He was evil come to life.

"Then there was the broad who came in after him," he added.

"Huh...describe her," I said.

"In her late twenties, maybe five foot‑six, blonde hair," he said. That's not Halliwell, I thought to myself.

"With a determined look," Louie continued. "That broad was no wallflower. She knew what she wanted and she was going to get it."

"Did she know about the man?" I asked.

"She must have known about the guy 'cause she asked if anyone else had been looking for it," he said. "It made no difference to me so I told her."

"And what about this piece?" I asked. "You have it?"

"Had it," Louie replied. "Sold it."

"When ‑ and who did you sell it to?" I asked.

"Yesterday ‑ to Ashton Ambrose," he said.

"Ashton Ambrose ‑ the playboy?" I asked, surprised.

"Man about town," Louis corrected me. "That's how he wants to be called. And I keep my customers happy by calling them what they want."

"And Ahston Ambrose is your customer!" I said with some surprise.

"He comes in from time to time," Louie said.

"He's got enough money to buy anything and everything new," I said.

"There are things that are...unique," Louie explained. "Not available anywhere."

"Except in your back room," I said.

"Better quality merchandise," he said. "That's what Ambrose looks for."

"And he was looking for this locket?" I asked.

"Nah...he was just lookin' around and this struck his fancy," Louie said. "But tell me Chandler ‑ why are you interested in this locket? The gold isn't worth much. And the top was stuck ‑ I couldn't even open it."

"I've got a client ‑ it's a family heirloom," I told him.

"Oh yeah? A family heirloom, huh," Louie said. His eyes focused sharply on me, the way they did when Louie was sizing up a piece of merchandise ‑ or a customer. "Three different people are looking for that piece. So tell me, Chandler ‑ just which family's heirloom is it?"


I couldn't tell Louie why the locket was really important. But his observation about the other two who were also after it gave me what to think about on my way to Ashton Ambrose's house.

The family was old San Francisco money. Ashton Ambrose had inherited his father's home on Nob Hill ‑ and his father's money ‑ and had made the most of both. In his mid‑thirties with slightly wavy, brown hair and what could probably be likened to a Hollywood actor's face, he made the rounds of the city's best places. Unless he was throwing a lavish party at his own place, which was not infrequent. Either way there was always a beautiful woman at his side.

I headed up the steep hill on the side of Ambrose's house, carefully parked my new Packard Clipper, then turned the corner to get to the front entrance. What greeted me was not what I was expecting.

Two police patrol cars were pulled up at angles to the curb. A dark blue sedan was parked next to one of them. The cop out front's attention was focused on some passersby and I quietly snuck around behind him and made my way into the house.

The place looked a hurricane had hit it. Everything was strewn all over the floor, cushions from the sofa overturned, a floor lamp knocked over.

And on the floor next to the fallen lamp lay the body of Ashton Ambrose.

"Phew!" I whistled. I pushed my gray fedora up and back and, my suit jacket open, I put my hands on my hips. Ambrose was my link to the locket and now he was dead. This was bad.

"Chandler! What the hell are you doing here?!" a voice shouted.

I recognized the voice ‑ this was bad, too. I turned to see Inspector Boyd Dolan of the San Francisco Police. In his early fifties and maybe half-a-foot shorter than me, his fedora barely sitting on his head, he had 'cop' written all over him. I've never seen him without a sour expression on his full but somewhat pinched face.

Maybe it was the sight of me that put it there. To say that Dolan and I were not the best of friends would be a big understatement. Dolan has no use for private detectives in general and a personal dislike for me in particular.

A few years ago, the family of a woman arrested by Dolan in the case the press called the Sunset Stiletto Murder hired me to find the real killer. A man had been found dead on the beach in the Sunset District, killed with a stiletto. The evidence pointing to the woman was circumstantial. I found the real murderer and Dolan came off looking bad in the papers for arresting the wrong woman and bungling the case. He's held it against me ever since.

"On business," I answered.

"Yeah? What business?" he demanded.

"I came to see Ambrose about something my client wanted to buy from him," I said.

"Your class of clients couldn't afford to buy a toothpick from Ambrose," he countered. "Now get out of here."

"Look ‑ just tell me how and when he was killed," I said.

"That's none of your business," he barked at me.

"You think something was taken, don't you," I said.

"No," he said facetiously, gesturing with his hand around the room. "Ambrose just had lousy maids."

I took a few steps towards the open wall safe. The center section of a bookcase had hidden the safe. I could see some papers, jewelry, even cash inside it. I turned back and looked again at Ambrose's body and the telephone lying next to his hand. He had tried to call for help.

"I'll give you something," I said, "in return for some information about how he died."

"You can't give me anything 'cause you don't know anything!" Dolan said, gruffly.

"The person who did this didn't get what he came for," I said.

"Really? And you know that because ‑" he said, and waited.

"Because if it was in the safe, why ransack the rest of the house," I said. "I assume all of the drawers and closets in the rooms upstairs were emptied too." There was a faint nod of Dolan's head.

"You don't start with the open places and leave the safe for last," I continued. "The killer expected it to be in the safe. It was important enough to kill Ambrose for yet it wasn't in the safe. And if the killer found what he was looking for somewhere else in the house, he would have stopped searching. He wouldn't hang around and make a mess of the rest of the house for nothing."

Dolan's face started turning red. That happened when something was upsetting him. And right now that something was me. I could tell that he knew I was right ‑ and that he hadn't thought of it first himself.

"Time of death was between two and three hours ago," he said. It was killing him to have to tell me. But he knew he wouldn't get away with making believe that he already knew what I told him. He wasn't any good at lying. I always wondered how much money he lost at poker games.

"He was strangled ‑ or so it seems," he added.

"You can't tell for sure?" I asked.

"I would be sure ‑ if there were strangulation marks on his neck," Dolan said. "But there aren't any. There are no marks of any kind on his neck."

 

I thought over Ambrose's murder as I drove away. What I told Dolan was true enough as far as it went. I was pretty sure that whoever killed Ambrose was looking for the locket ‑ and didn't find it. I didn't tell Dolan what the killer was after ‑ nor that there was a second person after the same thing.

From the sequence that Louie gave me, it had to have been the man ‑ evil come to life as Louie described him ‑ who had killed Ambrose and ransacked the house. The woman would have come afterwards. If only the safe was open, she would have assumed someone had already taken the locket and not bothered going through everything in the house. Especially with a dead body lying on the floor. So the evil man had to have been the one who turned the place upside down.

I had a hunch. I learned a long time ago ‑ the hard way ‑ that in my business hunches often pay off. I was just starting out in my job and I ignored a hunch ‑ and I lost out on retrieving my client's stolen necklace.

I parked my Packard as close as I could, then walked the two blocks to the San Francisco Chronicle Building. I had a few connections there ‑ and one of them was Jed Haight, the Editor of the Society Page.

"Hey Chandler, it's been a while," Haight said, greeting me.

"Yeah ‑ clients keep me busy," I said. But not as busy as I wish I was, I thought.

"So what do you need?" Haight asked. He knew me all too well.

"Where was Ashton Ambrose last night?" I asked, hopefully. "A dinner, a party?"

"Yeah...he was someplace," Haight replied. "Let me see...oh yeah, the de Young Museum fundraiser."

"You got pictures?" I asked.

"Sure...couldn't miss that event," he said. "De Young was the publisher of the Chronicle when he started the museum back in 1895. We have to give it plenty of coverage."

"I need to see the pictures of Ambrose," I said. "Every picture your guy shot of him."

"Can't help you, Chandler," he said. "Haven't even developed them yet, let alone printed them. The City Room has a roll from that accident over in Oakland that they're working on. Society doesn't come out until Sunday. I don't get priority in the dark room."

"Jed, this is important," I said. "I need them right away. I'll give you something that will get you top priority. Ashton Ambrose is dead."

"What?!" Haight exclaimed.

"He was murdered a couple of hours ago," I said. "The police are still at his house. You can scoop everyone on this."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"I just came from there," I assured him.

Haight grabbed the phone on his desk, dialed someone and started giving orders.

"Now the pictures of Ambrose," I said.

"Yeah," Haight said, as he dialed another extension at the paper. "I'll call you as soon as I have them."

 

I needed to know about these two who were after the locket. I called Prue Halliwell and asked her to meet me in my office in an hour. I told where the spare key was so she wouldn't have to stand around in the hall if I was late. Yeah, I know I shouldn't leave clients alone in my office because they might want to nose around my files. But somehow I felt Halliwell wasn't like that. Call it another hunch.

The door to my office was unlocked, as I expected. What I didn't expect was the music that started to play as I opened it.

Click on the PLAY button

The same music I heard in the morning when Prue Halliwell first came into my office. Where was it coming from? I turned back to the hallway but it wasn't coming from there. It was coming from inside my office.

And there, sitting at Margie's desk, was Prue Halliwell. She wasn't bothered at all by that music. Or ‑ was it possible that she didn't even hear it?

She was wearing the same outfit with the gray hat she had on in the morning. An unlit cigarette was in her hand. She put it to her mouth and waited.

I pulled out my lighter and lit it for her once again. She took a drag then blew delicate curls of smoke into the air.

"Your secretary wasn't here," she said slowly, "so I thought it would be helpful if I answered the telephone." She paused and gave me a small, confident smile.

"Thank you, Miss Halliwell," I said.

"Call me Prue," she said. "It's less formal."

Anything that would make my relationship with a woman as captivating as Prue Halliwell less formal was a step in the right direction.

"OK," I said, "if you'll reciprocate and call me Philip."

"Fair enough," she said, her small smile returning.

"You had two messages," she continued, slowly. "The first is from Rhoda. She wants to know when you're going to make good on that drink you owe her."

I shrugged. Rhoda was OK but she could sometimes be a pain. And a pain was not what I needed just now.

"The second message is from Jed Haight," Prue continued, from memory. She had obviously not written down either message. "He has your pictures ready."

That was fast, I thought. Ashton Ambrose, even in death, could get things done.

"Thanks," I said. "Those pictures are important."

"Then you have a lead in finding the locket?" she asked.

"Yeah...maybe," I said, hedging a little. "Only he's dead." I filled Halliwell in on Ambrose but not about Dolan's being baffled about the strangulation.

"I told you the locket had powers in it," Prue said.

"And others are after it," I said. "You didn't tell me that part."

"I didn't know anyone else had followed it here," she said cooly. But I could tell there was concern in her voice.

"So tell me who this guy and gal are," I said. "Who am I up against?"

Prue took a drag on her cigarette. She exhaled, and made little circles with the smoke as she gazed intently into my eyes.

"He's someone with powers," she said, matter of factly.

"Powers? Like yours?" I asked.

"His powers are different from mine," she replied. "But they're dangerous powers."

"Phew!" I exhaled. I had seen a lot in my career but this was all new. First supernatural powers in the locket. And now this.

"Dangerous powers," I repeated. "You mean...supernatural powers?"

"Yes," she said. "Evil supernatural powers. From the way you described him and the ruthlessness of the murder that's who he is."

She must have seen the skeptical look on my face.

"You said Ambrose was strangled," Prue said. "If you check with the police you'll learn that there isn't a mark on his neck. Or anywhere on his body. Because he was killed with these dangerous powers. They don't leave any trace."

I hadn't told her about there not being any marks on Ambrose's neck. But she knew about it.

"I already know that," I admitted. Could all of this really be true?

"You're up against someone very dangerous," Prue said. "More dangerous than anyone you've ever known. He's after the locket and the powers that are inside it."

Unconsciously, my hand went to my .38 in its shoulder holster under my jacket.

"That won't help you against a him," Prue said. "Only the powers in the locket can vanquish him."

"The locket that we don't have," I said.

"And you must find it before he does," she said. The way her eyes looked at me, there wasn't anything she asked that I wouldn't do for her.

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"If it turns out that you have to buy the locket back from someone," she said, "I'll pay whatever is necessary."

"What about the woman?" I asked.

"I don't know who she is," Prue said. "You have to be careful. She may be evil, too."

"I'm going over to The Chronicle," I said. "I have to check on something. Can I give you a lift somewhere?"

"No," Prue said. She put out her cigarette in the ashtray and stood up. She leaned over to me and put a small kiss on my cheek. "But thank you." She flashed a small but sensual smile and walked out of the office.

 

I found Jed Haight with a small smile on his face, looking over pictures spread out over his desk.

"You're going to get a raise out of this," I told him, sitting down in the small, uncomfortable hard‑backed chair to the right of the desk.

"Fat chance," he replied. "But maybe I'll get a little more respect from upstairs."

"So it'll be in this evening's edition," I said.

"Front page, at least three column inches, plus a sidebar," Haight said. "If they hustle it may even make the bulldog edition."

"My pictures?" I asked.

"Here," he said, pointing to the ones on his desk. "I've got some more on the shelf. Be my guest."

I collected the ones on his desk and started going through them one by one. San Francisco Society had indeed been out in full force. The Mayor, the museum's trustees, of course, and people whose bank accounts kept them in a very different circle from mine, but whom I recognized from their pictures in newspapers and magazines. And of course, their wives, dressed to the nines.

I went through all of the pictures on Haight's desk but didn't find what I was looking for. I took the stack from his shelf and starting going through it. The first two were of a politician, speaking from the dais, taken from slightly different angles. The distinguished looking gentleman sitting next to the politician's lectern was caught with a decidedly uncomfortable expression on his face. It must have been from his proximity to the hot air from the politician's oratory.

I put them aside and looked at the third picture.

Bingo! I picked it up and turned it to the light, to be sure I was seeing it right.

It was a straight‑face shot of Ambrose from the waist up, with a typical lovely on his arm. Her blonde hair was done up in a chignon, her earrings were long and thin, reaching half‑way down her neck, and she was wearing a knock‑out, one‑shouldered gown with a matching drape. And falling precisely on the small amount of bare skin below the drape was the Maltese Locket.

My hunch had been right. Ambrose had given the locket to his woman of the evening to wear. Which meant that she still had it.

"Who is she?" I asked Haight.

"Ahh...never seen her before," he said. "It must have been a new one for Ambrose."

He grabbed a couple of papers from his desk and began looking through them

"Here it is," he said. "Her name is Barbara Fuller. She's not money and not society. Ambrose must have seen her somewhere and took a shine to her. Or she made it her business to be seen by him."

"I need her address and a copy of this picture," I said.

Haight consulted his paper again, then took a small notepad from his desk and wrote something on it.

"Here's her address," he said, tearing off the top sheet. "And you can keep the picture, I've got another set."

 

The address Haight had given me was in Lower Pacific Heights. It had respectable middle‑class houses, some of them decent Victorians, but definitely none that would fit in on Nob Hill. Which apparently is where Barbara Fuller had set her sights on being.

I parked my Packard in front of her house, walked up the steps to the front door and rang the bell. It took about two minutes until the door slid back about three inches and a pair of lovely eyes stared at me from behind a chain.

"Barbara Fuller?" I asked.

"Who wants to know," she replied.

"Philip Chandler," I said, slipping my card through the opening. She took the card and examined it the way Louie the Lip does when he's making sure a Jackson a customer gave him isn't a counterfeit.

"I want to talk to you about Ashton Ambrose," I said. That got her attention. Someone connecting her with Ambrose was a step in the direction that she wanted. She pushed the door shut, took off the chain and invited me in.

She didn't look the way she did in the Chronicle's picture. Her hair was down and she was wearing an everyday dress. Nevertheless her beauty was still quite visible and I could see what had attracted a playboy like Ashton Ambrose to her.

She showed me into her living room. It was nicely furnished, with a love seat, two end chairs and a coffee table. Middle class, not Ambrose‑class.

"You were at the de Young dinner last night," I said, "accompanying Ambrose."

"Yes, I was," she said with a self‑satisfying smile. "Ashton and I are seeing each other."

"You were wearing a locket at the dinner," I said, taking out the photograph and showing it to her.

"Ashton gave it to me," she practically purred as she said it.

"Ambrose didn't know the locket's history when he bought it," I said, trying to sound diplomatic. "It actually belongs to my client, who lost it. She wants to buy it back from you."

"Lost it?" she repeated. "Nonsense! Ashton would have bought this only from a reputable jeweler who could prove where he purchased it. You can ask him yourself."

I was hoping I could settle the locket issue and get it back without spilling the beans about Ambrose being dead. I figured it would only complicate negotiations. But now I had no choice but to tell her. It would look a lot worse if she realized I had held back what I knew.

"I'm sorry to have to give you bad news," I said. "Ashton Ambrose is dead."

"What? That's ridiculous," she said. "I just spent last night with him..."

She stopped herself before finishing the sentence. But I knew what she had meant.

"He was killed late this morning," I said.

"No...it can't be," Barbara said.

"He was killed in an attempted robbery," I added.

"No...this is dreadful," she said, shaking her head, her hand going to her mouth. "This is terrible."

I wasn't quite sure if she was feeling sorrow for Ambrose ‑ or for herself. She had found her entree into San Francisco society through Ambrose and now that was gone.

"Have the police caught the killer?" she asked.

"No, they haven't," I answered. "And that puts you in danger."

"Me?! Why?" she asked.

"Because the killer was after the locket Ambrose had bought," I said. "The locket he gave you."

"The locket? Why would someone kill Ashton over a locket?" she asked.

"It's a long story," I said, "too complicated to explain. But what I can tell you is that you're in danger as long as you have the locket. The killer is still out there.

"My client ‑ to whom the locket belongs ‑ understands that you accepted the locket in good faith," I continued. "She's not demanding that you just give it to her. She's willing to pay you for it."

She was silent for a moment but her eyes were staring at me. Hungry eyes, hungry for the lifestyle and notoriety that being associated with Ashton Ambrose would have brought her.

"I don't believe you," she finally said. "I don't believe that I'm in any danger. Ashton gave me this locket. With him dead, it's all that I have with which to remember him. I won't give this away."

In my head, I was translating Barbara's little act. What she really meant was that without Ambrose to open doors for her, she'll need something else to open them. What better way than being Ambrose's last date, the last woman the handsome and rich playboy had chosen to spend the evening with. And the last woman he had given a gift to ‑ the locket. That was proof of the importance of her relationship with him and why she had to be taken seriously within San Francisco society.

"My client isn't asking you to give the locket away," I reminded her. "She's willing to pay for it."

"I can't put a price on what Ashton gave me, what I'll remember him by," she said.

Translated, it meant that it would be worth more money in the future, after her relationship with Ambrose, and therefore she, became accepted.

"The evening papers are going to have this photograph plastered over the front page," I said. "It's only a matter of time before the killer sees the picture and realizes that you have the locket."

I saw a flicker of fear cross her face. But it was gone as quickly as it had come.

"You're just trying to frighten me so that I'll sell the locket to your client," she said. But there was less conviction in her voice than in her words.

"Yes, I want to get the locket back for my client," I said. "But I also don't want to see you lying in the morgue tomorrow. I'm a private detective and I've seen how ruthless killers can be. I saw what happened to Ambrose and I don't want it to happen to you. I'm really trying to protect you."

She was silent again as her eyes stared ahead unfocused.

"Thank you, Mr. Chandler, for your concern," she said after a moment. "I will take precautions and keep the locket elsewhere, in a safe place. But I will keep the locket."

She stood up, indicating that I should do the same.

"Good day, Mr. Chandler," she said.

 

I had turned the corner of Montgomery Street, heading back to my office after my unsuccessful visit to Barbara Fuller, when I heard my name being called. I turned around and saw an unquestionably attractive woman standing near the curb. She wore a tailored, padded‑shoulder gray jacket with black piping and two front pockets over an open collar white blouse, a matching black skirt and black flats.

She was probably about five inches shorter than me but her hair made her seem taller. Her blonde hair was set in a Veronica Lake style, reaching just below her shoulders. Parted on the left, the long hair with its soft curl just covered her left ear. The peek‑a‑boo soft curl on the right side partially covered her right eye. Her strong nose, fair skin and soft lips completed her sensual look.

"Yes," I said. "Have we met?"

"No, I haven't had the pleasure yet," she said, a small smile on her lips. "I saw you coming out of Ashton Ambrose's house this morning."

Why would she have been there? I thought. Then it clicked.

"You were the woman who went there this morning," I said.

"Yes. But he was dead and Russell had already ransacked the house when I got there," she replied. There was an assurance in her voice.

"Who's Russell?" I asked. "Did he kill Ambrose?"

"Yes," she answered. "He's ruthless. What he did to me...and to my father..."

I saw a hardness come across her face and in her eyes.

"Let's start at the beginning," I said.

"I'm Irene Astor," she said. "I checked around after I saw you and found out who you are. I want to hire you."

A client, and a beautiful one like that, is always welcome.

"Come up to my office and we can talk," I said.

"I'd be more comfortable someplace less formal," she said. "Let's talk over some drinks."

It was a little early in the day for me but for a client exceptions could be made. I knew a cocktail lounge that was already open.

"OK," I said.

I took her to the Gold Mirror. A few people were there but not enough to prevent our having a private conversation. Clients usually don't like the whole world knowing why they've hired a private detective.

Our table had a view of the bar, and the two ornate paintings of a blonde woman that were on each end. Each elegant woman sat gazing into a gold mirror, which is how the place got its name.

We ordered our drinks ‑ a Manhattan for me and a Sidecar for her, which surprised me. That's not a usual woman's drink, I thought, as I tried to size up my potential client.

Beautiful and sensual, yes, but there was more to her. A serious, toughness lay behind that seductive face.

"I understand that you've been looking for something," she said. "The Maltese Locket."

Since she was at Ambrose's house that morning that shouldn't have surprised me. But somehow it did.

"I have a client who is interested in it," I said cautiously.

"A client who wants to steal it," she said.

"She says it's hers," I countered.

"Hah!" she gave a mocking laugh. "Let me tell you about the locket."

Our drinks arrived and we each took a long sip.

"The locket was made in 1798 as Napoleon was capturing Malta," she resumed. "It's one of the few surviving works of Vincenz Fiorini, a master Maltese craftsman whose attention to detail was legendary. It was thought that an extremely rare star sapphire, whose star‑like light effect was said to mesmerize those who looked at it, was hidden inside the locket, to safeguard it from Napoleon's army.

"But it's the locket itself that's of great value. It was on loan from the British Museum to the LA Museum of History, Science, and Art. My father is a curator there and was responsible for arranging the transfer of the locket and for safeguarding it during its trip. I was helping him with the arrangements."

She paused and sipped some more of her Sidecar.

"And that's when Russell...he used me," Irene said, the toughness showing in her eyes again. "He came on to me, started seeing me, just so that he could be around us and find out about the transportation plan. And then he used that information to steal the locket. And my father has been blamed for it's theft."

"So what happened to it?" I asked.

"Russell had a partner," she said. "They must have had some kind of falling out because Russell killed him. He thought his partner had the locket but he didn't. Maybe his partner had tried to sell it on his own or maybe he gave it to someone to hold to protect him against Russell. And now Russell is after it."

"And the sapphire?" I asked.

"If there ever was one it's long gone," she answered. "My father confirmed that it's empty. The sapphire was likely only a legend. But Russell believes it and wants the locket for the sapphire."

It was an interesting story, I'll admit that, but something didn't quite fit. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

"So why are you after it?" I asked.

"To return it the museum, of course," she replied. "That's the only way that I can ever clear my father's name. To prove that he had nothing to do with the theft. And...to get even with Russell for having used me the way he did."

"Aren't the police looking for the locket?" I asked.

"Hah!" She gave another mocking laugh. "They believe my father stole it. They don't have enough proof to arrest him but their minds are made up. They're not interested in Russell."

"My client has a different story," I said. I didn't add just how different it was.

"She's obviously a good storyteller," Irene said. "But I'm telling you the truth."

"And Prue says she is," I said.

Irene's face suddenly turned hard.

"Prue," she repeated. "That sounds familiar. What's her last name?"

"Halliwell," I said.

Irene thought silently for a moment but I saw her eyes turn ice cold.

"That name...it was on the list," she said. "My father had gotten a list of dangerous people who might try to steal the locket. Her name was on it. She's like a confidence man only she's a woman. But that's not her real name. It's...O'Shaughnessey.

"Somewhere there must be a real Prue Halliwell," Irene continued. "The report said that she studies real people and takes on their names so that if anyone checks on her information it will all be real."

That Prue Halliwell was playing the confidence game was not something I was about to accept. Irene saw that on my face.

"Look, once the locket is found, you'll see the truth for yourself," she said, trying to overcome my reluctance. "But I want you ‑ I need you ‑ to help me find it. I expect you have a lead by now."

"Maybe I do," I admitted.

"I thought so," she said. "Look, you help me get it back and I'll open it and prove to you there's nothing inside of it."

"I know someone who tried to open it and couldn't," I said, referring to Louie the Lip.

"You have to know the combination," she said.

"Combination?" I asked. "On a locket?"

"It's not an ordinary locket," Irene answered. "I told you Fiorini was a legendary craftsman. There are sections outlined on the locket's cover. You have to press the sections in the just the right sequence to unlock it. That probably contributed to the legend about the sapphire hidden inside of it."

I remembered what looked like sections on the drawing of the locket that Prue had given me.

"And Russell got that sequence from you, also," I said.

"No...at least I didn't tell him that," she said. "So Russell's going to smash the locket to open it to get the sapphire that doesn't exist. Like I said, the locket itself is what's valuable. I have to save it from being destroyed by him."

Her story sounding convincing. But I still felt something wasn't quite right.

"And so you followed Russell to Ambrose's house," I said.

"I followed the trail of the locket to Ambrose's house," she corrected me. "I heard that the locket was in San Francisco so I was trying the pawn shops. In one of them is where I learned that Ambrose had it and that Russell knew about it, too. I tried to get there before him but I was too late. So I waited around and watched and that's when I saw you."

I had Prue Halliwell telling me there were some intangible powers inside the locket that she used to fight evil. Then there was Russell, who believed there was a sapphire inside the locket. And Irene Astor, who claims that there's nothing inside the locket, at all.

I took a big sip of my drink. They couldn't all be right. But somehow I had to find out which one was.

"Tell me about your lead," Irene said.

"She probably has the locket," I said.

"Good," she said, with excitement. "Then let's get it."

I shook my head.

"She knows she may be in danger after Ambrose's murder," I said, "so she's stashed it somewhere safe. I offered to buy it from her for my client but she won't let go of it. It's her key to getting some fame and using that to get in to society."

Irene was silent but I could see on her face that her mind was working.

"I can get her to bring it to us," she finally said. "I'll tell her I'm a photographer and I want to sell a story based on her, the locket and Ambrose to Look magazine. It will give her a lot of publicity. But I need her help, girl to girl, because I'm trying to make it in a man's world and this is my big chance. I've got to do this quickly before the men photographers beat me to it."

I thought it over for a moment. Barbara Fuller didn't seem like she cared much about anyone getting ahead besides herself. But the public exposure she would think it would give her on a national magazine might make her take the bait.

"It might work. But she's in danger and I'm not going to just let you just go to her," I said.

"Then we'll call her and have her bring it to us," Irene said. "You make the introduction and I'll take it from there."

I had to get the locket away from Barbara, regardless of who was telling the truth. I wanted to go back to my office to make the call but Irene said it was already late in the day and insisted we make the call from the lounge. She had a point ‑ I didn't want this to drag out another day. Too many things could happen overnight. So I walked with her to the back of the lounge where the telephone booths were.

I dropped the nickel into the pay‑phone and dialed her number, Valencia 4 ‑ 0010. I told her that Irene had a proposal for her and that she should listen, then gave the phone to Irene. She tried to close the telephone booth door but there was no way that I was going to let her talk to Barbara without my hearing at least one end of the conversation. I stood firmly with my hand and foot against the door.

Irene gave me a hard look, then went into her spiel. It took her a while to convince Barbara but after a few minutes she had pulled it off.

"In your office at seven‑thirty," Irene said. "She won't see me unless it's in a 'safe' place ‑ and that you're there, too. Maybe she feels she needs some kind of protection."

Maybe what I had told Barbara about the danger she was in had gotten through to her. Or maybe she thought that after doing a photo interview she could sell the locket to me for more than I had offered her ‑ and get both the publicity and the dough.

I told Irene I would meet her at my office, left her outside of The Gold Mirror, and headed for the main branch of the library. I'm not un‑familiar with that building ‑ I have a library card and take out books now and then. I've read Hemingway but novels were not the point of my interest right now. Instead, I headed for the main reading room where the library keeps the back issues of the Chronicle.

 

I got to my office early, at a few minutes before seven, and found Irene waiting for me.

"You're early," I said, as I unlocked the door.

"I decided that waiting wasn't good," she said, "so I called Barbara and told her to come at seven."

I hadn't given Irene Barbara's telephone number so she must have been looking over my shoulder when I dialed it in The Gold Mirror. I hadn't noticed her doing that ‑ but I should have.

I had just hung my fedora on the coat stand when I heard the outer office door open. I went back into it and saw Barbara standing by the open door.

Barbara walked into the office confidently. She looked at Irene and then at me. Then she looked around the office.

"Where's your equipment, your cameras?" she asked.

"I travel light," Irene answered, smiling. "You have the locket?"

Barbara nodded, unconsciously tapping her pocketbook. But her expression changed.

"No...what's going on?" she asked. "You can't take pictures without any cameras."

"You're right," Irene said, stepping closer to Barbara. Then suddenly Irene raised her arm and punched Barbara squarely on her jaw.

I saw the look of surprise on Barbara's face. Then her eyes closed and with her arms spread outwards she fell backwards to the floor.

"Weak, helpless girl with a glass jaw," Irene said, standing over her. "Typical."

Before I could say anything she bent down, pulled Barbara's pocketbook open and poured its content onto the floor.

"Ahh," Irene said, picking something up from the floor and slowly rising. "The locket!"

"What are you doing?!" I demanded.

"Getting what I came for," she said. "You don't really believe that whole story I told you. I made it up to flush out the locket."

"No father and no museum," I said.

"The only true thing in that whole story was Napoleon's capturing Malta," she said. "It's something I picked up along the way ‑ to be able take one true fact and weave a story around it on the spot.

"Take you, for example," she continued. "You're real. I could weave a story around you. About a private detective who was supposed to be helping his client retrieve something that belonged to her but instead let himself get bamboozled by a sexy and smart woman.

"Oh ‑ but that can't be a made‑up story. That's real ‑ isn't it!"

"So you don't care about Russell," I said.

"Oh, I care about him, all right," she said. "I care about staying one step ahead of him. Which I am. And so I have the locket and he doesn't."

She stared at it in her hand and then looked at me.

"For a detective, you don't detect very well," she said. "I had you fooled."

I had gone along with Irene, not because I was convinced that she was telling the truth but for the same reason she had gone along with me. It was the only way to get the locket away from Barbara.

But because I went along with her didn't mean that I was unprepared for a double‑cross.

"I read the newspapers but I didn't remember reading anything about the locket," I said. "Now I don't read them the way some Clay Street Bankers do, where it's a part of their daily breakfast like their orange juice and omelet. So when I'm working on a case I could skip a day here and there.

"So I spent an hour this afternoon at the library, going through back issues, to see if I had missed the story. A theft of a locket as important as you described would have made the papers. But there wasn't anything in them about it. Not a word."

Irene drew a deep breath and stared at me with cold, hard eyes.

"You're telling me that you knew the truth?" she asked.

"I knew that this was a charade but I didn't know what your angle was," I said.

"My angle was to get the powers that are in here, of course," she said.

The 'powers'. The same thing that Prue had called them.

"But you're not going to win, Irene," I added, as I planned my maneuver.

"Oh, but I already have," she replied. "And by the way ‑ my name isn't really Irene Astor. It's ‑"

"Tara," a voice said from behind me. I turned and saw Prue Halliwell standing in the doorway.

"You know her?" I asked Prue.

"Oh, it's much more than just knowing," Irene said. "We're family. Isn't that right, cousin Prue?"

"And not a confidence woman with a fake name," I said to Irene.

"I had to make up something on the spot when you said that she was here looking for the locket," Irene said. "I so liked the idea of you distrusting Prue and working against her."

"I should have known you were the woman that Philip told me about," Prue said. "After Philip called me and told me to meet him here at seven-thirty, I had a feeling that I should come earlier. And I was right. You tried to steal our powers a few weeks ago with an elaborate plan that almost succeeded."

"Steal?" Irene exclaimed. "I deserve to have the powers. My great‑grandmother Mercy was the older sister and the powers should have been given to her."

"Mercy's mother Priscilla knew that Mercy wouldn't use the powers to help people," Prue said to me. "So she gave them to Mercy's younger sister, my great‑grandmother Patience. Mercy wanted the powers for her own use ‑ to get things for herself."

"And what's wrong with that?" Tara said. "She didn't want to have to live the difficult life that she wound up living. Scavenging scraps of powers where and when she could."

"She could have led a normal life, the way my sisters and I do," Prue said. "We don't use our powers to get things."

I watched this argument with interest. I still didn't believe that there were 'powers' in the locket. Though there certainly was something in it very important to Prue ‑ and to Irene. But Prue was my client. Irene had not only lied to me but she had also double‑crossed me.

Being shot at is an occupational hazard in my line of work. So you learn to be quick on your feet and to have fast reflexes. Irene was concentrating on her back‑and‑forth repartee with Prue. That gave me my chance. I quickly lunged at her and brought my hand down hard on her arm.

"Ugh," she said in surprise as the locket fell from her hand to the floor. I dived for it before she could react and grabbed it with my left hand. As I started to sit up I put my right hand inside my suit jacket and reached my gun in its holster.

But before I could do anything something long and green struck me and wrapped itself about a dozen times around me. It was around my chest, pinning my arms, and around my neck, too. I didn't know what it was nor where it had come from.

Then I saw something in Irene's hand. She threw it at Prue and it wrapped itself around her the same way. Irene looked at me and I felt it tightening around me.

"What is this?" I asked.

"Just something I scavenged," Irene said.

"How are you doing it?" I asked.

"Surprise...I'm a witch," Irene said.

"A witch?" I repeated. I couldn't believe I heard her right. "You mean witches are real?"

"Yeah...BOO!" she said, with a mocking grin. Then her face became serious again. "The locket, if you please."

"Don't give it to her, Philip," Prue said. As I looked at her I saw the thing tightening even more around her. I expected to see fear in her eyes, but there wasn't any. What I saw was determination.

"The locket. Now, Mr. Chandler!" Irene commanded.

I felt the thing tightening around my neck. It was becoming hard to breathe.

"Her concentration is what keeps it tight," Prue said. Irene looked at her and I saw the thing tightening its grasp even stronger around Prue's neck.

My right hand was on my gun but I couldn't move my hand to pull the gun out of the holster. I would have to do something else.

I quickly turned my body and leaned backwards, my holster now pointing upwards, and pulled the trigger.

"ARRGH!" Irene cried and fell to her knees. She stared at me for a second, then fell on her right side.

The shot had gone through my suit jacket and had broken her concentration. Just as Prue had said, the thing around me became limp and loose and I threw it off of me. Prue did the same with the thing that was around her.

I've had to shoot a few people in my time. One of them was a woman. She had pulled a gun on me and was threatening to use it. This thing that Irene had around my neck strangling me was no less lethal than that gun. I had no regrets about shooting her.

But she wasn't going to die. Shooting through my suit jacket at that angle, the bullet had hit her in her right shoulder.

I tossed the locket to Prue. She opened it and I saw what looked like a trail of smoke come out of it. She closed her eyes, looked up and inhaled. She looked like someone standing on the beach, breathing in the fresh air and soaking in the sun. In fact, as I stared at her, I'm sure for a second I saw her face glow and shine.

"My powers are back," Prue said, opening her eyes.

"I was so close," Irene said, bitterly. She had propped herself up on her elbow, her left hand pressed against the wound in her right shoulder. "My plan was perfect."

"Plans always seem that way," I said. "But I've never seen a double‑crosser's plan really succeed. I suppose you can feel good that at least your plan to stay a step ahead of Russell did work."

"No ‑ it didn't," a voice said from behind us. I turned and saw a man near the door. Dressed all in black, with a black stubble of a beard, ruthlessness and evil were written all over his face. Louie the Lip's description of him had been on the button.

"Newspapers are such handy things," he said, throwing a rolled up paper on the floor as he walked in. "Told me who to look for and then to follow. Which brought me here." He glanced around the office.

"Why Tara ‑ is that you?" he asked, seeing her lying on the floor. "Hmmm...it seems you've let a mortal get the better of you. You must be losing your touch."

What must have passed for a smile for him crossed his face.

"Of course, it has been a while since we've, uh, been competing with each other," Russell said. "Now where was it last time? Ah, Rome, wasn't it. We were both going after Giuseppe's power ‑ and you didn't get it."

"I didn't get it...uggh...because it doesn't exist," Tara said. "It was just a myth."

"Really? A myth?" Russell repeated. "The power to squeeze and crush someone's throat from afar." Without taking his eyes off of Prue, he pointed his left hand at Tara and closed his fist.

I heard Tara start to gasp. I looked at her and her left hand was at her throat, as if she was trying to pull something off of it.

"Very useful in convincing someone to tell you what you want to know," he said, relaxing his fist. "Of course, sometimes they keep on holding out and then they die."

So that's what killed Ashton Ambrose. Russell used this on him, probably to make him say where the locket was. And that's why the police didn't find any marks on Ambrose's throat. Just as Prue had said.

"And there was the time on the French Riviera, in Nice, where you tried to outsmart me and grab Armando's power before I could," Russell resumed. "That's when you changed your hair color from black to blonde, to help your escape. But you wound up outsmarting yourself. In your haste you grabbed the wrong power.

"Now what power was it that you got? Oh yes, the power to make up stories. That makes you marvelously qualified to...be a babysitter. Why Tara, I do believe you've found your niche."

"Shut up, Russell," Tara said.

"Hmm...yes, enough of the past," Russell said. "Let's get back to the present."

My gun was in my hand and I turned it towards him when a bolt of lighting came from his hand. But he didn't have any weapon in it. It struck my hand and my gun went flying across the room.

"OWW!" I screamed.

"Philip, are you all right," Prue cried.

My hand was scorched. Blood was running from an open wound. And it hurt like hell. I didn't know how he had done that. It just seemed to come straight from his hand.

"Yeah...I think so," I said.

"And now I'll have the locket," Russell said to Prue.

"You're too late," she said. "I've already taken back my power."

"I don't believe you," Russell said. "You're bluffing."

"She's...ugh... not bluffing," Irene said. "Looks like you've come up short again, Russell." There was a bit of relish in her voice. If she couldn't have the powers ‑ whatever they were ‑ at least he wouldn't have them either.

"Maybe you have yours. But your sisters' powers are still in the locket," he said. "At least I'll easily have those two powers. I didn't bring my ring to extract your power from you that you took back. The powers were in the locket so I didn't expect that I would need the ring.

"Now hand over the locket and don't try to use your power against me," he warned, pointing his hand at Prue. "You can't use your power fast enough. I can burn a hole in you before your can do anything. Of course, if you were dead I wouldn't be able to take your power later. But having your sisters' two powers would do."

I saw what the 'lightening' from his hand had done to my hand. Pointed straight at Prue, I had no doubt if he used it on her it would kill her. I glanced at Prue's face and saw the same determination I had seen when she faced Irene. She wasn't going to let him have the locket.

His attention was on Prue and he wasn't looking at me. That gave me my opportunity. As I said, I had to learn to be fast. I jumped at him before he realized it and knocked him back.

But he was strong and he pushed me off of him against the wall, then aimed his hand at me. Suddenly I felt myself flying through the air and thrown against the far wall near the window.

What happened and how did it happen? I didn't know. What I did know is that I saw another lightning bolt coming from Russell's hand. It burned a hole in the wall where I had just been. Had I not been thrown through the air, that hole would have been in me.

I turned to Prue and saw her holding her hand up. Then I saw her wave it at Russell. My eyes stared in disbelief as I saw him thrown in the air towards the other side of the office, away from me.

He hit the wall and started to get up. But Prue waved her hand at him and threw him into the wall a second time, then again a third time. Russell was stunned and groggy.

I realized that's what had happened to me. Prue had thrown me through the air away from Russell ‑ and saved my life.

Prue grabbed her pocketbook and pulled out a piece of paper from it. She unfolded it and began to read aloud from it.

 "Evil who comes from the depths of darkness,

  To steal our powers of good and light;

  I banish you from this world

  With the fire that will come down now and ignite"

A fire suddenly appeared and engulfed Russell. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He started screaming as the fire became more intense. And then suddenly both he and the fire were gone.

To say that I was stunned at what I had seen was like saying that the Mona Lisa was just a painting. Prue saw the intense shock that showed on my face.

"Russell was a demon," she said calmly, as she put away the paper. "I vanquished him. He had a ring that would have let him take our powers from us. That was the reason I had to hide our powers in the locket. I wasn't ready for him when he first tried to steal our powers. But today I was."

"A demon?" I asked.

"When I told you about him earlier today," she said, "I told you he had evil powers. I felt you might have difficulty accepting my calling him a demon."

"And now he's...gone?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied. "Vanquished."

"The police are looking for him for the murder of Ashton Ambrose," I said. "They won't find him, will they."

Prue shook her head.

"That can't be helped," she said. "But no matter ‑ he won't be able to kill or hurt anyone again."

"Phew!" I exhaled. I was trying to take in everything I had seen over the last ten minutes. It was a lot to make sense of, let alone to accept that it had all really happened.

A groan from Irene brought my attention back to her.

"What do we about her?" I asked.

"I know what you want to do, Prue," Irene said. "You wanted to vanquish me, your own cousin, the last time we saw each other."

"That's when you tried to steal our powers the first time, and didn't care who you hurt to get them," Prue said. "You're evil, Tara, a disgrace to the Warren‑Halliwell family."

Tara shook her head.

"That's just like you, Prue," she said. "Always the 'goody‑goody'. But you're not going to get your wish this time, either."

She propped herself up a little more.

"I have more up my sleeve...ugh...than just a...ugh...a bullet in my shoulder," she said, grimacing.

She moved her left hand from her wound to her jacket pocket and pulled something out. It was round, flat and small, like a miniature phonograph record.

"Another thing I had to scavenge," she said. "This is what I used to get here. And it's a round‑trip ticket." She squeezed the tiny disc between her fingers.

"So long, couz," she said. "Until next time."

And then she was gone.

I stared at the empty space on the floor where until a second ago Irene had been lying. Girls ‑ witches ‑ pressing things and disappearing. Demons throwing lightning bolts...and then fires consuming them. Powers that could throw someone across a room. This was all a new world for me. A world I could never have imagined.

"What happened to her?" I asked.

"She went back to where she had been before she came here," Prue answered. "Wherever that was."

"She's going to try to steal your powers again, isn't she," I said.

Prue shrugged her shoulders. "She's jealous and jealousy can push people to do desperate things," Prue replied.

"She said that she was a witch," I said. "You're her cousin. That means that you're..." I had trouble saying the last words and let the end of the sentence hang.

"A witch, too," Prue said. "Yes, I am. But I'm a good witch."

"I didn't know that there was such a thing as a good witch," I said. Not that I had known that there were any kind of real witches. But the image of the Wicked Witch of The West from The Wizard of Oz popped into my mind.

"We use our powers to help people and save them from demons and other evil," Prue said.

"With those words that you were reading," I said.

"That was a spell," she explained. "I must have the right spell specifically for each demon. I didn't have this one yet for Russell when he first came after our powers."

"That sounds like a big job," I said, then grimaced from the pain in my hand.

"Let me take care of that," she said. It wasn't a request.

"No, leave it. I've had worse," I said.

"You may have had worse," Prue said, "but not while I was around to take care of you. Now give me your hand!" she ordered.

You have to be tough in my business. But the idea of Prue taking care of my hand suddenly sounded very good. So I let her clean the cuts and burns on my hand. Then she went to Margie's desk and took out some gauze, tape and boric acid ointment. Margie thinks that my work is dangerous and so she keeps a bunch of first aid things handy. I never thought much of it but after today, maybe Margie's right.

Prue confidently applied the Boric Acid, then bandaged my hand neatly, like she had done all of this before.

"Irene said there's a combination to open the locket," I said, "and that's why people couldn't open it. But Russell didn't seem concerned about that and you just opened it."

"There isn't any combination," she said. "It simply can't be opened by an ordinary mortal. But it can be opened by a demon."

"Or a witch," I added, and Prue smiled.

"When your ancestor got the locket in Malta, was that in 1798?" I asked.

"Yes, it was," Prue answered as she continued with the bandaging. "Napoleon had just captured Malta and there were certain dangers. How did you know the year?"

"Just a fact I had picked up," I said, not mentioning that it had come from Irene.

"With your hand bandaged you're not going to be able to use your gun for a while," she said when she finished, "so try to stay out of trouble."

"Thank you, Prue," I said. "But speaking of trouble, I have to come up with something to tell Barbara about the locket."

"Tell her Tara ‑ or as she knows her, Irene ‑ made a surprise attack on you and stole it," Prue said, without a moment's hesitation. "And show her your bandaged hand as proof."

Besides all of the other things I knew about Prue, I added her being smart and on the ball. That's one amazing woman, I thought.

"Now that this is all wrapped up, how about my taking you to dinner?" I asked hopefully.

"I'd love to Philip," she said, "but I have to bring the locket to my sisters and give them back their powers. They're in danger without them to protect themselves."

"OK, then come back here after you do that," I said. "I have all night."

"I'd love to, Philip. I really would love to," she said. "But...I can't...come back."

"You're not from San Francisco, are you," I said.

"I am from San Francisco...just not from this one," Prue replied. "Not...here and now".

Not hear and now? I thought. What does that mean?

Before I could try to understand what she said, Prue came closer to me. She looked into my eyes and a smile crossed her lips. Then she put her arms around me, drew me to her and began to kiss me. I put my arms around her as well and we held the kiss for what seemed like forever.

I've kissed my share of women but I never felt a kiss, and an embrace, like that. Not one with so much feeling....on both sides. It felt so different, so satisfying...and so real.

When it finally ended, she let go of me and took a step back.

"What you did today, Philip, is so very important," she said. "Good people, innocents, are going to be saved from evil because you returned our powers to us. I want you to feel proud of what you did."

I thought that I finally understood what she was talking about.

"I won't forget you, Prue," I said.

"No, you won't," she said. "I'll see to that," she added ambiguously.

She took a step towards the office door. Then she stopped, turned around, and came back to me. She threw her arms around me and I reciprocated. If our embrace and kiss the first time had been incredible, this one felt downright magical. I don't know how long we kissed. It could have been for hours, for all I knew. We kissed as if there was no tomorrow, as if we had to put a lifetime of kissing into this one kiss.

Finally we stopped and let go of each other. Prue gently ran her hand along my left cheek. Then she gave me a small smile, and without saying a word, turned around and went to the door.

"Be careful the next time you take on a demon," I said, half in jest. "I won't be there to help you."

Prue turned her head and looked at me over her shoulder.

"I will be," she said, the small smile on her lips again. And then she walked out of my office.

I sighed.

I turned around and looked down at Barbara, still out cold on the floor next to my desk.

When Irene...or I should say Tara...had knocked her out with one punch, she called her a typical weak girl. I don't know how typical Barbara, with her glass jaw and her attempts at maneuvering her way into society, really is. But I do know that Prue Halliwell isn't a weak girl. She was cool, confident and capable in the face of deadly danger. She's my kind of woman.

I sighed again. I missed her already.

Suddenly I felt a breeze. I looked at the blinds that were covering the partially open window but they weren't moving. The breeze wasn't coming from outside. So where was it coming from?

And then I saw it. It looked like those pictures of a comet they had published in Life Magazine's story last month about the unusually large number of comets sighted this year. It was round with it's tail behind it. Only this 'tail' had little sparkles all over it. It was flying around my office, leaving a breeze in its wake.

I watched it in amazement until it finally came down and landed on my desk. The tail and the sparkles disappeared. What was lying on my desk was the Maltese Locket. The locket that had Prue's sisters' powers in it. What was it doing here?

I picked it up, thinking of what I should do. Finally, I opened it.

The powers weren't in the locket. What was in it was a picture of Prue in the lower wing. And pasted inside the locket's upper wing was a small, handwritten note.

     

Prue had said she would see to it that I would remember her. And so she had.

But how did the locket get here?

After everything I had seen that day, I really didn't need to ask that question.

There was a whole other world I hadn't known about before Prue walked into my life. And now I had a different perspective on the world. With this knowledge, I felt that I was more complete as a private detective.

And then I heard it. The music started playing again.

Click on the PLAY button

But Prue wasn't here. And then I understood.

It wasn't Prue's music, after all.

It was my music, all along.

It was the music of my world.

The music of Philip Chandler, Private Detective.





~ Notes and Glossary ~

~ A tip of my gray fedora to:

   Raymond Chandler and his quintessential hard‑boiled private detective Philip Marlowe;

   Robert Mitchum, whose definitive movie portrayal of Marlowe served as the model for my character;

   Dashiell Hammett and his San Francisco private detective Sam Spade, and his classic pursuit of The Maltese Falcon.

~ The one ‑ and only ‑ thing that Prue and Tara agreed upon, Napoleon's capture of Malta in 1798, is indeed true.

~ Michael Henry de Young was both the founder of the de Young Museum and the Publisher of The Chronicle.

~ When Prue says that Tara tried to steal their powers a few weeks before, she is referring to the prior     Charmed Role Reversal episode A Family Affair.

~ The Gold Mirror is a real cocktail lounge that has been in San Francisco since the early 1940s.

~ Look and Life magazines were general circulation magazines very popular in the 1940s.

~ Besides Chandler's saying that another San Francisco detective (Sam Spade) had mentioned a statue from Malta, there are two less obvious references to The Maltese Falcon.

Irene tells Chandler that Prue is lying to him, that she really wants the locket for the sapphire supposedly inside it, and that her real name is O'Shaughnessey. In the Falcon, a woman using a false name lies to Sam Spade and really wants the jewels supposedly inside the falcon. Her real name is O'Shaughnessey.

The actress in the movie playing the woman with the false name who is lying to Sam Spade is Mary Astor, whose last name is used by Irene, also using a false name and lying to Chandler.

~ And of course, the book jacket at the beginnng of the episode is the jacket from The Maltese Falcon.

~ 1940s Glossary:

 sawbuck = ten‑dollar bill    Jackson = twenty‑dollar bill    C‑note = hundred‑dollar bill

Chignon

 chignon = a hairstyle especially popular in the 1940s (shown here with Barbara Fuller's long earrings).




Veronica Lake hair style = a peek‑a‑boo style made famous in the 1940s by the actress Veronica Lake. See the picture (the blonde Irene/Tara) in the opening sequence.

Bulldog edition = the early, first edition of a newspaper


(C) Martin Druck - Please do not download nor distribute


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