DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.


Speak No Evil
by
Eddie

.

Please Read this Note from the Author:

"This story deals with the neurological disorder known as Autism. I am not an authority on the disorder, and make no claim to be. I have researched the topic and feel confident writing about it, but all claims and interpretations of the affliction and its related symptoms are mine and mine alone. I mean no harm or disrespect and all criticisms should be directed to me personally, not to Faux Paws Productions."

Act I

He pushed the button on the computer and watched it devour the compact disc. Taking a sip of his coffee, he moved the cursor down the screen, clicked open the CD-Player program, and started it. The first strains of a piano sonata began and he sat back in his leather chair, a contented look on his face. The whirling and buzzing continued, bringing a big smile to the little man's face. As he heard the modem connect and saw the window pop up for his password, he laughed and spoke out loud. "N-I-C-K-E-L-S." Hitting the ENTER key, he watched the box disappear and the cursor turned into an hourglass as both the computer and he waited for the screen to change. A few seconds later, the page loaded welcoming him to its location. "Well, thank YOU for having me. Now -- let's check those accounts, see how my money's fairing without me." He set his fingers to the keys and punched in the numbers. "Account number JF6691 dash 922 dash 6755," he said as he hit each key in order. Once again the hourglass appeared, then the page began to load and numbers materialized on the plain white background. As soon as he hit the "Enter" key this time, though, a window of Options popped up. "Transfer from" he said as he clicked the radio button. "Account number DS6566 dash 224 dash 1212." The conversation with the computer continued several times as he maneuvered cash back and forth between several accounts. "And the grand total would be?" He asked the computer as he clicked the button graphic for an account balance. A low whistle escaped his lips as he read the figure. "Ah, me. It should be against the law to be so rich... Wait a minute -- it is."

With a very nasal laugh, he sat back, logged out of his account, then pushed the button for the CD-Rom drive to open. He no sooner removed the one CD than he replaced it with another. As the computer went through the same process, he whistled along with the new music. "Good music. VERY good music," he said, resuming his whistling as he sat up and began working over several accounts at another online bank. He chanced a glance out the window, seeing the large yellow bus...


"Okay -- Who's stop is this?" Looking into the large, panel mirror mounted over her head, Doreen saw the small boy two seats back raise his hand and start to stand. "JoJo, is this your stop?"

"JoJo's home," came the meek voice. He didn't notice the bus aide helping one of the older kids, didn't even notice the small girl in the seat next to him beginning to cry when her friend left. He simply walked towards the front of the bus, stopping at the wide, painted white line, the toes of his red sneakers not even a millimeter over the limit.

Doreen smiled at the familiar sight. "The bus is stopped, Joey. You may pass the white line."

Taking a large, deliberate step over the line on the rubber mat, he extended his arm and grasped the railing. As he turned to exit the bus, Joey settled his right foot on the first step down and spoke rather disjointedly. "Be careful -- on the -- steps."

"That's right, Joey. Just like the sign says, careful on the steps." A movement in the corner of her eye made Doreen turn her head towards the street. She watched a large black car pass quickly by the stopped school bus. "Idiots! Like the flashing lights and big red STOP sign on the side aren't BIG ENOUGH..." Shaking her head, she looked over her shoulder at her bus aide, who nodded her head in agreement, but never stopped rocking the poor little girl two seats back. Doreen returned her attention to the little boy who had made his way carefully up the path and was just reaching his front steps. She saw Joey's mother appear at the front door and wave, so Doreen waved back, acknowledging the safe delivery, then shut the bus doors and headed the bus towards its next stop.


She waved to the bus driver and watched the vehicle pull away, her attention immediately returning to the expectant face of her child who was standing a couple of feet away.

"Mama. JoJo is home, Mama."

With a big smile, she opened the door for him, watching as he stepped up to the door mat, wiped his feet -- two times each -- then proceeded inside. "Hey there, Joey. How was school today?" Closing the door behind him, she took his backpack, setting it in the milkcrate by the door, then helped him out of his coat, hanging it on the hook on the wall over top of the crate. "I made cookies today. You want a couple for your snack?"

"JoJo is thirsty."

"Good, Joey. Your cup is waiting." She watched the boy head straight ahead towards the kitchen doorway, waiting a moment or two before following. Once through the door, she watched him grab his cup and turn to wait for her. "What shall we have today, JoJo? Red or blue? Which one would you like?"

"Red, mama. Tuesday is red."

"Right," she said softly, then pulled out the pitcher of red fruit drink and filled his glass.

He took a big sip, then held the cup up for her to fill, which she did happily. After returning the pitcher to the shelf in the refrigerator, she crossed the kitchen to the far counter and opened the cookie jar. "I made your favorite -- chocolate chip. Would you like a couple cookies, JoJo?" He walked carefully across the floor to her, methodically set the cup on the counter, then plunged a hand into the cookie jar removing two cookies.

She smiled as he held them up to her. "Yes, Joey. I'll take your cookies to your spot. Can you get your drink?"

Without nodding, he grabbed the cup and headed directly back to the front door. "Music, mama. Joey is home..." He sat down on the top step, head tilted to one side, cup in hand and cookies on a napkin next to him. Not that he noticed his mother put them there. He was too involved in listening. "Good music, mama."

"Yes, JoJo. Music is good, honey. Enjoy your snack." As she shut the outer door, she sighed. "Thanks, mom," she said to herself. "I really like the cookies. Maybe next time you can make peanut butter -- I'd like something different..." Her voice trailed off, her throat constricting just a little at the harsh realities of her life with her son. Nothing was EVER different. The most simple things, like choosing a different drink, were something foreign to her JoJo. His life was one of repetition... She surveyed the living room with its permanent furniture arrangement, the one that left the three foot wide path to the kitchen from the front door completely open for the length of the room. Tuesdays were red drink; Thursdays were orange; Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were blue. Didn't matter what the flavor was -- as long as the colors matched.

She wouldn't let the tears fall. They were useless anymore. With a heavy sigh, she set her hand to the window, as if she could touch her child as he sat there, caress away the confusion or cuddle away the discomfort of his life. Not that he really knew anything was wrong. He never seemed to know anything more than what was within arm's length. And God help her, but nothing bad would ever come within arm's reach of her child.

Mired in despair, she didn't hear the phone ring the first time. The second time startled her a bit and she grabbed the receiver from the end table next to her. "Hello? This is Julia Halliday... Oh, hello Mrs. Weiss. How was Joey in school today..."


The black car circled the block one more time before pulling into the driveway. As the three, stocky men exited the car, they cast furtive glances around, surveying the impressive brick houses and lush lawns around them. With smiles on their faces, they opened the front door and entered the house without so much as a token knock.

"FINS!" The smallest, yet best dressed, of the three men looked around the entryway. From his spot in the hallway, his bellow could travel up the stairs to his right, through the archway to his left, or through the doorway in front of him. "FINS!!! C'mon! We need to talk to you..."

A small face peered from the doorway straight ahead, glasses pushed down on the man's nose, hands full of papers. "Tony?"

He smiled and walked towards the balding man. "Fins -- where you been? We've been trying to call for an hour..."

Nervously, Fins settled back into his chair as the three men came around the corner and into his den area. "I... I've been on the Internet, which requires the phone line."

"Why don't you get a cable connection," one of the larger men asked, only to receive a quelling glare from Tony.

Fins looked up at the goon and shook his head. "Cost too much money..." he replied, then proceeded to close down his current connection and corresponding program windows before looking at the threesome's leader. "What what... ww-what can I do for you, Tony?" As much as he wanted to, he couldn't seem to control the stammering. Pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, Fins grasped the desk chair arms with his hands, hoping at least to keep them under control.

"Well," Tony began, leaning forward so that his hands rested one on either arm of Fins' chair, effectively trapping the man in the seat, "Mr. DiSabitino sent me here to discuss some financial matters with you, Joey."

"So," Fins looked at the heavy-handed men on either side of Tony, "ww-why are THEY here?"

Glancing between the two men, Tony smiled. "I brought Jax and Dom just to double check my calculations."

Joey knew better but decided not to force the issue. "Ff-Fine." Trying not to let the two larger men scare him, he tried to push further into the chair, away from Tony. "What ff-finances concern him?"

The two goons smiled as Tony stood up. "YOUR finances, Joey my friend." Moving aside, he studied the expensive wall unit which housed a home theater system. One whole case of the credenza was devoted to an impressive stereo with numerous shelves to hold all the CD cases. The music that had softly warmed the corner around the computer desk still played, but Tony noticed that the stereo itself wasn't on. "This is nice, Fins. Lovely tune -- where's it coming from, though..."

Fins pointed to the computer, touched a button on the main unit, then removed the CD from the open drive tray. "Mm-Mozart..." Seeing Tony motion for the disc, he held up the CD for inspection, relaxing slightly as the man nodded then loaded it into the stereo's player himself. Hoping to divert attention, Joey decided to pursue the reason for the men's visit. "So -- ww-what about my ff-finances ... concerns Mr. DiSabitino?" The music had just resumed, the first strains of the sonata helping Joey to relax, when he felt the arm snake around his neck and Jax's hot breath on his cheek.

"Well," Tony said, watching one of his goons manhandle Fins out of the chair, "among other things, how you GOT your finances." He caught the steely set in the little man's eyes and added "And how you intend to keep them..." There was just an instant of vulnerability in Fins's countenance and Tony pounced on it. "You know Mr. DiSabitino is a very cautious man. So he hired a couple new accountants -- to look at things AFTER you got done with them, and they've found a few discrepancies."

The pain in his arm and shoulder doubled, causing Fins to cry out. "WHAT discrepancies?" he asked hurriedly, not liking the pain or the man's bad breath.

Tony shook his head and played with some of the buttons on the stereo, finding the compact disc player controls and the volume. "Let's start with the 1.7 million bucks you skimmed over the last six months and go from there." Joey didn't say anything, causing Tony a moment of panic. He needed what this man had, needed it to save himself. DiSabitino had told him not to come back empty handed. "Okay, Joey. Forget about the money, then. Mr. DiSabitino would settle for your copies of his ledgers and your list of accounts. You need to give them to me."

He couldn't help laughing. The idea that his boss, his very discreet employer, would send a punk like Tony to get such highly guarded information as business ledgers and offshore accounts lists was as improbable as the idea of Fins becoming Pope. "Tell Pat I'll bb-bring them over ll-later."

"I really need them now..."

Fins shook his head.

Tony was seething. The number cruncher wasn't going to cooperate. Examining the buttons and knobs on the stereo, he decided to alter his tactics. "You know, I'll bet this stereo kicks ass. Bet old Mozart really sings..." He smiled ominously as the soft sounds of classical music wafted about the room, then motioned to the large man bending Fins' arm. "Wonder how loud this can get?" With a sick smile, Tony turned the volume up a notch, then another and another as he watched Jax and Dom work over the small man, all the while enjoying the music. "Oh, this is truly amazing, Joey. I have GOT to get one of these..."

Joey Fins watched the digital clock readout on the stereo just as his face made abrupt contact with the shiny black plastic surface. Five o'clock, he thought, then drifted into blackness.


Turning towards the front windows, Julia watched her son, who hadn't moved in the past hour or so. It was getting dark, the night air getting colder, but still Joey sat there, his hand never straying from the repetitive gestures. Up, down, left, right. Over and over, just like everything else in his life. His routine behaviors. Every evening the same thing. She looked at the clock briefly -- 5:55 PM. The time struck her as odd, since it was 25 minutes past the time her son normally retreated to the warmth of the house and solitude of his room. If she hadn't been having such a nice conversation with Joey's school counselor, she wouldn't have missed that simple change in her son's routine. Julia smiled sadly. She'd forgotten how wonderful it felt to talk to another adult. Being a single mother with an exceptional child, it was hard to find time for conversation, let alone much else. Especially if said child was not one for conversation himself.

With a sigh, Julia informed the woman on the other end of the phone that she had to go, but she looked forward to talking more another time. ANY time would be nice... she thought, then set the phone back on the cradle on the phone stand before heading out the front door. She had to wrap her arms around her to keep the chill out, knowing Joey would surely be cold but wouldn't even know it. "JoJo. It's time to come in, honey. I'm making macaronies for dinner. You better come in and get washed up, now."

He didn't move.

She watched the hand continue to move, conducting the music only he heard. As Julia stepped off the porch and stood in front of her son, she sighed. Eyes askew, head tilted oddly, the boy was off in his own world. Making a V with two fingers of her right hand, she placed them in front of his face then drew them to her own face as she spoke. "Joey. Look at me." She was rewarded with some eye movement, but his head remained cocked to the side. "It's time to come in, JoJo."

"Joey music, mama. Good music."

"Yes, I know you like good music, but it's time to go in for dinner. It's cold and you don't want to be sick." She looked around, seeing and hearing nothing. As usual. With a very audible sigh, Julia turned back to her son and reached for his left arm, the one not moving. "C'mon, honey. You can listen to your music tomorrow..."

But he didn't move, just shirked his arm out of her grasp and moved closer to the porch post.

"Joey" she said softly, then grabbed for the other arm as well, intent on picking the boy up, if she had to. Anything to get him inside. But as soon as her touch interfered with his conducting, he began to fuss and throw a fit. Gnashed teeth and screeching met with frustrated groans and a small, exasperated whine. "Not tonight, Joey. And Mrs. Weiss said you did SO well in school today..."

"Joey home, Mama. Joey music."

"What music, JoJo? Mama doesn't hear any music!" She said feeling slightly tense and vastly defeated as she took a seat on the porch step next to her son. "You must be able to hear the Earth rotating, cause I sure don't hear anything." Before she could register what was happening, Julia felt her hand being taken and watched her son moving off the porch. She followed, unwilling to stop the free thought that lead him away from his house, out of his stayed routine.

She grasped his hand more fully, rubbing it as much to soothe him as herself, not to mention to warm his cold fingers. As they crossed the street, she marveled as he stopped and appeared to listen for traffic, then headed across the quiet street. As they walked towards the large house, Julia shook her head. She DID hear music. Faint at first, but it grew louder as they neared the front door, becoming somewhat unbearable to her as she rang the doorbell. Through the full glass storm door, she could see the interior door was half open, a mess of books and papers littering the wood floor. Getting no answer to the doorbell, Mrs. Halliday balled up her fist and banged carefully on the storm door.

Still no answer.

"JoJo. I'm going inside to talk to Mr. Fiorelli. You need to stay right here." That said, she sat her son on the front step and opened the door to the house. As she stepped inside, she pushed the door fully open which in turn cleared an arch shaped portion of floor. "Mr. Fiorelli" she called out several times, but still no answer. Peering around the corner into the front room, she noted the mess of books and papers also included upholstery fabric and stuffing. A sudden chill gripped her... This wasn't an ordinary mess. It looked more like a burglary... And if that was the case, then Mr. Fiorelli was possibly in trouble. She hadn't seen him leave all day -- like anyone on the street could miss his bright red Cadillac of his -- and she could swear he'd gone out to get his mail the same time she had that day. "MR. FIORELLI" she called loudly, her nervousness tinging the words with a bit of desperation. Probably can't hear anything over that music... she thought, then walked towards the room on the other end of the hall. It seemed the litter became more profuse as she headed into the house. More papers, more books, more stuffing, some blood... He heard her scream.

"Mama, Joey off."


Jim pulled the truck to a stop in front of the house, killed the engine, and exited the truck without a word. At his partner's attempt at conversation, he held up a halting hand then headed for the crime scene. Flashing his badge, he pushed between the two officers standing guard at the end of the driveway. A number of locals had begun to clump in the middle of the street, something he hated. Grabbing an unoccupied officer, Ellison made it clear that the people were to be dispersed and the traffic lane cleared. He walked on, unaware of the frightened look on the officer's face.

Blair watched as people deliberately moved from Ellison's path. One look at the man and people cleared a five foot wide path in front of him. Shaking his head, Sandburg exited the truck and headed into the fray. With a smile, he made his way through his partner's wake, up towards the house where he found Jim standing on the front porch staring towards the yard across the street. Suddenly worried, Blair set a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Jim, man, you okay?"

With a shirk removed his arm from Sandburg's grasp and ground out "Oh, yeah. I'm just fine" as he made his way into the house.

Blair followed, shaking his head and sighing softly. "Fine my..."

"I heard that, Chief."

Captain Banks was in the den, a few forensics specialists still milling around taking pictures and such. He could read the dour expression on his detective's face from the end of the hall and let the man into the room without so much as a greeting. The younger man, though, he stopped with a hand. "Sandburg..." and he inclined his head towards their mutual friend.

"Long story." Pushing a stray curl out of his face, Blair waggled his eyebrows and stepped around the Captain.

Banks didn't miss the mischievous glint to the kid's eyes and suppressed a chuckle. Heaven only knew what was going on, so Simon decided to leave it to Heaven to fix -- although he'd get a full explanation from his young associate later. Turning around, he found Jim crouched by the covered body, lifting a corner of the sheet to assess the situation.

Ellison glanced up briefly. "Why do I know him?"

"Joseph Fiorelli -- better known as Joey Fins." Banks watched the recognition wash over Jim's face. "Short and sweet," he said, removing his unlit stogie from between his teeth, "and point blank to the back of his head." As he watched Sandburg move towards Ellison, Simon placed a hand on the young man's shoulder and shook his head, silently informing his friend that seeing the body was not necessary. "Looks like a small caliber right behind the ear..."

With a nod, Blair sidestepped and took an immediate interest in the computer, desk, and entertainment center.

Pushing on his knees, Jim used the leverage to stand up, then quickly surveyed the room as he contemplated the scene and the victim. "Joey Fins -- I'd heard he was retiring soon. Wonder if he'd collected his last check yet?"

The captain shook his head. "Looks like someone didn't want him to collect his benefits."

"Fins?" Blair asked, his curiosity peaked. "Why 'Fins?' Fins like in fish? What?" He saw the smirk on Simon's face, a matching one on Jim's. "C'mon. It's like 'old school' stuff, huh? And I'm the new kid. Is that it?"

"Ooh, Sandburg. You watch how you use that word 'old.'" With a small chuckle, Banks continued. "Fins -- slang for a five dollar bill. Five was Fiorelli's lucky number. Born on five, five, fifty five. It was just a natural thing for him. Get it?"

Blair nodded, slightly disappointed. "Got it. Not very exciting, but got it."

"Well, it's kind of ironic when you figure in the fact that he was found just about an hour ago -- which means he died somewhere in the five o'clock hour..." Simon switched his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, letting a frown crease his brow briefly.

Ellison quirked his eyebrows up, then turned to face his partner. "Guess it wasn't that lucky for him after all." Seeing Blair nod in agreement, he turned back to his superior officer. "What more do you have?"

Scrubbing his hand across the back of his neck, he gave the pair a synopsis of the situation "Neighbor found the body about an hour ago and called it in. The address set off someone's alarm higher up and the call was routed to me from the DA's office, they're insisting Major Crimes take it. I don't know if that's such a good thing at this point, though. So far, we've got no fingerprints, no forced entry, and no suspects. Body is just as it was found -- I called you two as soon as I set foot in the house. I just had this feeling..."

With a subtle nod, Jim silently acknowledged that he and Blair would take the case. From experience, he knew that Simon's hunches were best heeded. If the man thought the case needed their special talents, then it wasn't up to him to argue. "You said no fingerprints?"

"None to go on," Simon's heavy voice confirmed. "Most places not even his," and he pointed to the sheet.

Blair looked at the computer monitor a couple of times and from different angles. Minuscule smudges made their way across the large screen's glass. "Looks like this has been wiped down. Not too precise, but effective."

"It's not like they were looking for the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, Chief," Jim said.

As he moved away from the computer, Blair's foot crumpled a few pieces of the many papers lining the floor. He'd noticed it at the front door, and now it caught his full attention, so he dropped to one knee and pushed around a couple of sheets with a pencil from the desk. "Whatever they wanted, it wasn't in with this paperwork." He examined a couple of the pages more closely. "Just what did this Joey Fins do for a living?"

"Accounting," Jim said with a smirk. "Creative Accounting."

With a baritone chuckle, Simon added, "VERY creative accounting, if the DA's informants can be believed." Chomping on his cigar a bit more, he further explained that Joey worked for Pasquale DiSabitino, trying to keep things looking legitimate. Several investigations had come and gone, but no one seemed to know exactly how Fins had managed to keep everything so carefully concealed. Numerous warrants had been issued to search Fins' home, but the searches had never turn up any incriminating ledgers, books, or notes.

Ellison and Sandburg nodded, then went back to their respective inspections. Jim lifted the sheet once more, his senses examining the man for anything -- no matter how infinitesimal -- that would aid their investigation. He'd already noted the discolored flesh, knuckle indentations, and multiple lacerations that gave away the pain the man endured before his death. Finding nothing else of use, Jim turned down the dials on his senses and gave the body one last glance for the obvious. "Nothing unusual. You're right -- small caliber, neat and fast. Dimple around the entry wound suggests a silencer. He's got some bruises showing, but from what I can see, they worked him over first pretty good. Must have finished him off before the damage had a chance to really show." Simon pondered that information. "Think he told them what they wanted to hear?"

"Not really," Jim replied, then pointed to the papers lying on and around the body. "They killed him, then tossed the joint. Otherwise, the papers would be under him, not on him."

"I agree." And even though he did, Banks sighed anyway. "So they were after what? DiSabitino's books?"

Blair looked up at his captain and partner. "That would be my guess." His statement gained their immediate attention, so he handed up a few of the papers.

"This is encrypted, Sandburg." Simon looked at the paper in his hand, trying not to let the myriad of letters confuse him.

Blair smiled. "Regardless of what's ON the page, take a look at the lay-out. Columns, breaks, etc. Certainly looks like an accounting ledger to me."

With a "hmph," Simon walked to the middle of the floor and examined the entire room. "So all this is proof?" He saw Sandburg shrug and nod. "Looks more like packaging material to me..." Nudging a nearby pile with the toe of his shoe, he shook his head at the mess. "If this is what you think it is, then why is it thrown all around? The DA's office has been after this for well over a year and you're telling me the men who capped Joey just left it here? Why?"

Pointing to an empty spot next to the computer on the desk in the corner, Blair answered. "Looks like something's missing here -- my guess would be a box of diskettes -- and you said it yourself. This stuff IS encrypted. It doesn't really mean anything unless we can find the means to decode it." Biting his lip, he motioned to the computer. "It's worth a shot, Captain... We could let Serena take a crack at it."

Jim chuckled. "If it's that easy -- why didn't they take the computer as well?"

The two older men looked at each other then at the hunk of technology sitting on the expensive desk. Blair noted the look on the captain's face, the one that meant he was waiting for an answer. Or at the very least a viable obfuscation.

Sandburg took a breath and stared at his superior officer. "Maybe they didn't understand they needed the computer? Maybe they took the disks with the encryption key in it? Maybe they just didn't have time -- or know-how -- to dismantle it..."

After a moment's consideration, Simon agreed to have Serena come out the following morning and take the computer. "Jim, you got anything from all of this?" He watched his friend take one last look around the room before shaking his head.

"There's nothing here -- a lot of smudge marks, but nothing else. Not even footprints." With a bit of a huff, Ellison crossed his arms defensively over his chest and stared at the floor. "You sure there were no witnesses? You said a neighbor found the body. Did they see anything? Anything at all?"

Simon motioned for the front door and the two men followed him out. There had been more to the neighbor's report, but he figured it was just a dead issue. Once on the porch, he finally lit his cigar and took a long, relaxing drag. "The neighbor is Halliday." He took out his notebook, flipping a page or so. "Julia Halliday. Lives across the street. She says she didn't see anything, but her son was on the front porch for the entire evening."

"Her son?" Jim questioned with some surprise. "How old?"

Putting the notebook back in his pocket, Simon sidestepped the question. "Mrs. Halliday has been very helpful, but she's adamant that her son won't be able to assist us." He didn't want to sound snippy. He'd spoken with the woman as soon as he'd arrived, but she was very protective of her son. She'd explained very simply that the boy wouldn't be of any help, that he wasn't fully aware of things that happen in the real world. As much as Banks wanted to give the woman the benefit of the doubt, he really wanted a chance to interview the boy. Joey Fiorelli's death was one of those things that could start a war on too many fronts. Either the police would use it to crack open the DiSabitino family, or the DiSabitino family would use it to crack opposing business families' heads. Or, heaven forbid, the DiSabitino family would use it to slip just a bit further beyond the reach of the law. Banks desperately needed Mrs. Halliday to see things from his perspective.

On the other hand, Simon knew her point of view very well. How many times had he protected his own son from the demons he'd unleashed?

Even without his Sentinel senses, Jim knew something was troubling Simon. "Simon? What all did she say? Why won't she let us talk to the boy?"

"I got the feeling she was trying to protect him," he replied simply. "And I really don't know if I blame her. The DiSabitino family isn't known for its compassion towards informants. We've lost our unfair share of undercover cops to that ONE organization. Maybe more than we have to any other."

Blair edged between his partner and the captain. "But who told her the victim was involved with DiSabitino? If she knew before she called in the body, I seriously doubt she'd have volunteered to talk to the police at all -- just given the address and left it at that."

The two large men stared at Sandburg, then looked briefly at each other, each knowing a valid point had been made. Simon scratched the back of his neck a bit while Jim stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and stared at the sky for a moment.

"All right, Sandburg." Banks led them across the street towards the Halliday home, which sat diagonally from the Fiorelli house. "Why don't you try to sweet talk the woman -- see if she'll let you talk to her boy." Seeing the glimmer in Blair's eyes, Simon shook his head and puffed his cigar just a bit more rapidly. He figured the kid would enjoy the challenge, and selfishly hoped Sandburg succeeded.

They were halfway across the Halliday's front lawn when they saw the boy, sitting on the front steps next to his mother. She had an arm around him, holding him close to her as she rocked slightly. He looked to be about 11, gangly legs pulled up under his chin and his arms wrapped around those same legs. His mothers arms overlapped his and they rocked back and forth in unison. Jim could hear her murmuring the same words over and over again, reassurance that everything was going to be fine. Blair took one long look at the tilted head and distant gaze and stopped walking. He turned to Simon, grabbing him by the arm.

The urgent action caused the tall man to turn and look first at his sleeve then at the man attached to it. Banks stopped walking, reaching out a hand to Jim before the man took another step without him.

"Did Mrs. Halliday say anything about the boy's perspective? Anything about his sense of reality?" His mind was whirling, the energy spilling over to his body. Mrs. Halliday's reluctance made more sense to him now.

"Yeah, Sandburg. She said he didn't pay attention to the world around him." He looked at the child, surprise evident on his face. "Of course, I got the impression he was quite a bit younger. She said he wasn't old enough to understand."

Ellison looked from the boy to his partner. "What's going on?"

"Simon -- did she say he was immature or did she just say something about actual age and mental age?"

"Now that you mention it, I think she did use that particular phrase." Rubbing his hand across the back of his neck, Simon tried to sound as apologetic as possible. "I guess I was a bit preoccupied at the time..."

Trying not to be annoyed, Jim set his hand on his partner's shoulder. "C'mon, Chief. A little information here, please."

"I think he's autistic." With a second glance towards the steps, Blair offered "at the very least, Asperger's Syndrome -- similar affliction." He went on to explain that both ailments would hamper how the boy saw things -- and if he actually saw things at all. The main problem with the two illnesses was the fact that they affected the senses. It was probable that the boy didn't see normally, or that he just didn't register what he was seeing unless it was within a few feet of him. There was the remote possibility that the boy had heard something or could relay some pertinent information regarding Fins, but it wasn't likely. Unless... he thought rather selfishly.

The three men were silent for a moment or so.

Blair turned to his captain. "What's his name?"

"Huh? Oh..." Taken off guard, Simon pulled the small notebook from his pocket once more. "Joey," he answered before really looking at the page, then nodded in confirmation. "Joey Halliday. You think you can talk to him?"

Sandburg smiled. "Talk to him? Yeah. Get him to respond? That's a maybe..." He chucked his friends on their shoulders then headed for the porch steps.

Simon turned to Jim, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Think he can do it?"

Ellison just walked quietly towards the front of the house.

She watched the three men approach. Julia recognized the dark-skinned man as Captain Banks, whom she'd met earlier. At that moment, she wished her son hadn't insisted on sitting outside to watch the lights, but after the earlier ordeal, she just didn't want to fight with him any more. The long-haired young man approached them first, his smile somewhat disarming, his attitude refreshingly relaxed. He didn't come right up to her, but stood at the base of the steps and introduced himself. She tried to hide her disappointment when he announced he was a detective. It must have shown on her face since he immediately explained that he was more of a special needs consultant. Not usually one to trust blindly, Julia suddenly felt at ease with the man. "Is there anything I can help you with, Detective Sandburg?"

"It's Blair, please." Looking at the young boy, he smiled. "I'd like to talk to Joey, if I may."

She sat up a bit straighter, her arm tightening a bit more around her son. "I explained to Captain Banks that he probably won't be able to help you."

"Because he's Autistic?" He watched her nod. "I wouldn't ask if it weren't important, Mrs. Halliday." His voice softened and he looked pointedly at the woman. "Would you introduce me to Joey, please?"

Why do I trust him? When her mind didn't answer, she merely nodded, then turned her son to face her. "JoJo. This is Detective Sandburg. He'd like to talk to you."

"Mama's friend?"

Smiling at her son's need for her approval, Julia pushed his bangs out of his face and responded softly. "He's a police officer. The police are always your friend, Joey." To her surprise, Joey held out his hand towards the young man.

Shaking Joey's hand firmly, Blair knelt down in front of the boy. "You can call me Blair. I don't mind." After a brief glance over his shoulder, he made a V with two fingers and put them to Joey's face then drew them towards his own face. "I need you to look at me, Joey. I want to ask you about Mr. Fiorelli."

"Joey music."

"Music, huh? Were you listening to music today?" The four adults watched the boy nod, then move his arm a bit -- up, down, left right. "That's very good, Joey. You like to conduct." Pausing as the boy settled back into his mother's embrace, Blair carefully avoided eye contact with Mrs. Halliday. His main focus was the boy. "Were you sitting on the porch step while you were listening to the music."

"JoJo home."

"That's a 'yes,'" Julia clarified. "He was on the porch the entire time..."

He smiled at her briefly. Wetting his lips, Blair took a deep breath before asking his next question. "Did you see anyone across the street at Mr. Fiorelli's today?"

"Loud music."

Blair looked up at the woman. "Was there any music that you heard? An Ice Cream truck or something?"

Not that she recalled, and she shook her head.

"What about your radio?" Blair asked, thoroughly curious.

"I tried to turn the radio on once, but he had a fit. Insisted he couldn't hear the 'Joey music.' I don't have anything on when he's sitting on the porch -- not even the TV." A slight shiver made its way up her spine as she recalled the fit.

He looked back at Joey, then across the street at the victim's house. "What kind of music were you listening to today, Joey?"

"Good music."

Again the hand began to conduct. The adults smiled awkwardly at the action.

"Joey," Blair started softly, "did you see someone hurt Mr. Fiorelli?"

But Joey didn't answer. He started rocking back and forth, quickly, nervously. One hand had pinched up into a fist, which Joey had settled against his forehead, knocking himself in a dull staccato as his body moved back and forth. He rocked hard enough that his mother's arms relinquished their grip and he teetered on the step repeating the same thing over and over again. "Joey off, Mama... Mama. Joey off."

"It's okay, JoJo," Julia repeated nervously into her son's ear. She was surprised that he would have spoken to Sandburg in the first place, let alone answered questions. But she had no idea that he'd react that way to the questioning. By the way he was acting, there was no doubt in her mind or heart that he'd been witness to part of Mr. Fiorelli's death. As if we don't have enough to deal with already? she thought to herself.

Backing up slowly, Blair quietly thanked Mrs. Halliday for her time then turned around to face his friends. With a sigh, he ran a shaky hand through his hair. He felt more like pulling it out than straightening it up.

"Sandburg..." Simon began softly, only to find he couldn't continue. No words came to him. He had no idea how to react.

Jim, on the other hand, set a hand on his partner's shoulder and turned his friend to face him, all thoughts of their earlier problem completely out of his mind. "You okay, Blair?"

It had been so long since Blair had seen a fit that it physically shook him. Especially when he focused on the fact that his questioning had initiated it. He knew it, and he knew that Mrs. Halliday had seen the apology in his face. It was probably the only thing that kept the woman from throttling him. Well, that and the fact that she was more concerned with her child.

Getting no answer, Jim asked Blair the question again, more emphatically.

"Yeah, Jim. I'm okay -- sort of." Staring back at Joey and his mother, Blair smiled sadly. "He knows something..." He watched his friends nod. "It's a matter of unlocking it the right way. We just have to find the key."

Banks set a hand on the young man's back and asked what kind of key would be necessary.

"It's got to be the music he heard," Blair reminded the two men of the relationship between senses and memory. "There is one possible problem," he confessed. "Joey's music might not be normal music." At the two curious looks he received, he clarified the statement. "His vocabulary isn't that advanced. Being autistic, his verbal skills are limited, which means he might think music is anything from birds chirping to actual music. It's just a concept to him, not something concrete. He may not have any practical application of music."

"You're losing me, Sandburg." Simon settled his hands into his pockets and walked across the lawn with his two detectives. "You mean he may not know what music IS?"

"It's hard to say. Autism affects brain function. No one's sure exactly how, but it messes things up. Scrambles the pathways and makes it difficult for the person to accurately process information." As he spoke, Blair noticed they were heading back to Joey Fin's house. "So, what do we do now?"

Jim had watched Blair talk to the boy, had seen the distress on his partner's face at the reaction, but hadn't been able to contribute to the conversation. Something about the boy's behavior, about the boy himself, had set his defenses on edge. As if the evening's events hadn't gotten him riled up enough, this particular case certainly didn't help. Of all the days...

"Jim?"

The sound of his friend's voice cut through the questions in his head and Ellison lifted his eyes from the ground to stare straight ahead. He was only mildly surprised to find himself standing on Joey Fiorelli's front step staring back at Joey Halliday. Feeling the hand on his arm, Jim turned to find Blair and Simon staring expectantly at him. "Huh? Sorry...What were you saying, Chief?"

"I was wondering what we do now, but I'm more concerned with you." Blair stared at the man.

Shaking off the weird feeling, Jim pointed over his shoulder towards the house. "I'm okay. Let's -- uh -- let's go over the house one more time..." Running a hand over the back of his neck, he turned to enter the house. "There's got to be something here." If only to help the kid...

Continue on to Act II...


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This page last updated 2/2/01.