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


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...


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...

Act II

"This is bogus, Tony," the dark haired man said with no little anger. He'd been tapping away on his computer for well over thirty minutes, even though he knew within the first ten that the disks weren't what they wanted. A bunch of the files were written documents -- contracts, letters, even a really bad attempt at a novel -- and some more picture files, but none of them were compatible with any known accounting programs. As if that weren't bad enough, some of the more interesting files were actually encrypted, the current disk included. He hit the eject button on the disk drive, grabbed the black disk, and placed it back in the plastic filing box. "There's nothing here. Whatever Fins did with the information on those pages -- it ain't here."

Tony looked across the room at his so-called 'expert.' "Michael -- You're telling me you can't find ONE little thing? I'm down. You wanna kick me too?"

The dark-haired man shifted in his seat, reached for his beer, then leaned back. "None of the disks are the encryption program either. So even if you DO find the files -- you need the computer or the master encryption program disks to decode them."

Tony rolled his eyes. "I was being sarcastic, but thanks anyway." Before leaving the room, he filled his cut-crystal tumbler with an expensive liquor from the well-stocked bar. Only a few steps into the living room, he had already finished the double shot and set the glass on a side table. "We're going back to Joey's."

Jax and Dom looked up at the man, their faces identically afflicted with tense confusion.

"Not that you're wrong -- but why would we be going back?"

He wasn't in the mood to have to explain his own mistake, and the two muscle men really didn't need to know. "I thought we'd ask the neighbors if they know where Fins kept the money." His voice dripped sarcasm, even if the two men didn't understand it. He sighed. "Because I said so, Dom. Go get the car." Before Jax could ask anything further, Tony turned and left the room, grabbing up his tumbler as he went. "I'll be right out. I need another drink."

They'd checked over the house four times in the course of two hours. Besides a bit of cologne on Fins clothing, they found nothing to help. The Forensic team had been gone for a half hour, the coroner's unit a half hour before that. Neighbors had gone back to their homes and the perimeter officers dismissed. Only Simon, Jim, and Blair remained on the premises, and one final team to seal the crime scene. After a phone conversation with Serena, the computer had been tagged and taken back in Forensics van, saving her a trip the next day. Sandburg had volunteered to help pack it up. The three men stood in the den surveying the empty desk. They couldn't help but notice where they were -- back at square one, with nothing to go on.

The extensive searching had drained the Sentinel's energy, straining his already tenuous mood. Blair noticed the twists and bends Jim covertly attempted in order to ease the discomfort. One stretch caught Banks' attention and he laughed at the sight.

Simon raised an eyebrow and chided his friend. "Getting old, huh?"

When Sandburg began to chuckle, Jim pinned him with a stare while his hand rubbed the crick in his neck. "I didn't sleep much last night. And all this sniffing around is giving me a headache."

Sandburg immediately apologized for pushing so hard, a hint of laughter still in his voice. In stifling his mirth, he caught the unamused look on Jim's face and choked rather unceremoniously.

Catching the latest in the pair's actions, Simon shook his head and inquired about Ellison's sour temper. "You've been in a mood since you got here..."

"I told you -- I didn't sleep much last night." Ellison glared at his partner, who just choked back another chuckle. "I'll be fine, sir." His hand connected with the back of Blair's head, the action bringing a slight respite from the ache up the back of his neck.

The swat to the back of his head let Sandburg know that Jim was feeling a bit more like himself and less like the stubble-faced monster he'd met that morning. Allowing a small smile, he ducked around his partner to examine the stereo system, his curiosity getting the better of him. The system at the loft was nice, but Blair had to admit that Fiorelli had one of the best stereo set-ups he'd ever seen. With all the dials and slides, the equalizer, speakers perfectly placed around the room, he was itching to test it. How loud does this puppy... The thought stopped there, his mind already backtracking. "Loud!"

"Not now, Chief." Seeing his friend's face light up as he examined the sound system, all Jim could imagine was a test drive. And anything with the word 'test' made him cringe. "We're not here so you can play with all the nobs and stuff. Maybe Simon will let you come back tomorrow." He heard the captain chuckle and turned to find Blair shaking his head.

"You don't get it?" When they didn't answer, Blair set a hand on Banks' shoulder. "The stereo -- was it on when you got here?" Simon shook his head. "Was it on when Mrs. Halliday found the body?"

Simon remembered the woman saying she'd entered the house because no one had come in answer to the doorbell -- the music had been too loud -- and he relayed that information to the bouncing young man.

Blair was ready with his next question. "Who turned it off?"

"Why don't you just wait for the report, Sandburg?" There was no getting around it. Rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, the captain shrugged. "The first officers on the scene, I think."

Blair hit the power button, smiling as the disc player's digital display came on, confirming that it did still hold a disc. Motioning for the Sentinel to cover his ears, he hit the play button. The initial strains of the sonata began, the sound soothing even though it was louder than the level at which the average person would listen.

They listened to the music for a minute or so, the expectant look on Sandburg's face quickly becoming one of disappointment. As soon as Jim had felt comfortable, he'd removed his hands from his ears and attempted to focus on the disc itself. It didn't work. He didn't hear anything but music -- and with the enhanced hearing, it felt as if he was standing in the middle of the concert hall, but he couldn't hear anything unusual. As Simon was moving to turn off the stereo, Jim moved pushed past him. Something in the background had caught his ear. Moving quickly to the window, he looked over towards the Halliday home. What he saw was only marginally unusual. What he heard, though, was completely unreal.

"Mama. Joey music."

Before his finger could reach the control button, Simon felt the powerful hand on his shoulder. Whatever Sandburg had been saying about the musical selection was lost in the detective's words.

"Let it play," Ellison said, sparing just a slight smile for his partner before he headed for the front door, Sandburg right behind him.

With a glance towards Heaven for strength, Banks voiced his curiosity then followed the man to the front door. "Leave it, he says. Sure. Fine. Whatever -- ah, Hell..."

Once outside the house, Jim could still hear the music. Even with the door shut, the music was perfectly clear with his Sentinel senses. Walking across the lawn, he shook his head. Joey Halliday was fighting his mother to get out on the front porch. Ellison could hear the boy repeating the same thing over and over -- the phrase about the music. His gaze went from Fins' closed front door to the Halliday's opening front door. Suddenly, the boy was on the front step, arm going in time with the music, his mother directly behind him. She was attempting, unsuccessfully, to drag the boy back inside.

Blair touched his friend's elbow. "You hear it, don't you?" He watched Jim nod in affirmation. "And JoJo hears it too, right?" At the confusion on Ellison's face, he smiled and slapped his hands together in extreme pleasure. "YES!" Blair said, his hands balling into fists of victory.

Jim didn't know what to think. "C'mon, Chief. You're telling me Joey Halliday's a Sentinel?"

"WHAT?" Simon felt his blood pressure shoot up, a headache immediately knotting at the base of his skull. "Explain that one to me, Sandburg." Putting up a hand towards the young man, he closed his eyes in pleading. "The short form, please."

Pointing towards Joey Halliday, Sandburg gave his superior a chance to absorb the sight. "You remember that I told you heightened senses are sometimes a side effect of mental illness? Well, you can include neurological disorders in that mix as well. Evidently Joey Halliday can hear the music from Mr. Fiorelli's stereo the same way Jim can -- with extended hearing."

"So the kid IS a Sentinel?" Simon just didn't believe it.

"No. Joey's not a Sentinel, but one of the most unusual aspects if Autism is that it usually enhances one or two senses. I -- uh -- I did a bit of study on it for my masters." Bouncing a bit on his toes, Blair settled his hands in his pants pockets and stepped back so he could see both Jim and Joey. The Sentinel was watching the young boy with extreme interest, and he was watching them both just as intently, thoughts of his graduate research funneling through his mind. Some of the studies he'd done, the subjects he'd documented, were Autism and Asperger's Syndrome related. He'd published a set of articles about the need for more testing in persons with heightened senses and how it could lead to healing therapies.

Ellison stood there, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing the back of his neck, as he watched the boy across the street. For some reason, he felt more confident about Joey Halliday now than he had earlier. "Would now be a good time to question him? He seems to have connected with the music."

Pointing to a still-struggling Mrs. Halliday, Blair shrugged. "If we can get past his mother, I'd say yes. Of course, we could just grab the CD for later. It's up to you."

Banks looked at his two detectives and smiled. He knew his best team wouldn't let him down. "Why don't we go see what Mrs. Halliday has to say on the matter."

"Say that again, but just a bit slower." Tony looked over the front seat of the Cadillac, catching Jax's face in the rearview mirror.

Jax turned around in the driver's seat, motioned over his left shoulder, and repeated his sentence. "I said 'There's that kid that was sitting on the porch when we were here earlier.'"

Tony rolled his eyes at the man. He'd literally taken every word slowly, enunciating like a puppet on a children's show. "Good. I just wanted to be sure I heard you correctly." Watching the goon turn back to face the steering wheel, he added "So I know exactly WHY I'm gonna beat you senseless. You idiot! You saw the kid there earlier and didn't tell me?"

Jax ducked as far down into the seat as he possibly could, turning pleading eyes to Dom who didn't seem to want to jump into the conversation. "He wasn't doing anything. Just sittin' there like he is now." He pointed out the window, to the kid and house on the left side of the street.

"Yes. He's sitting there -- staring directly at Fins' HOUSE, you moron." Tony kicked the back of the driver's seat, jarring the big man sitting there. "Do you suppose he could have seen us at Joey's earlier? Do you know what they call that? Do you?"

Jax didn't want to answer. He knew that missing the witness earlier was a major screw-up. And with Tony, you weren't supposed to screw-up -- be it major, minor, or ever. "He's a kid, Tony."

"I know he's a kid." Looking out the front window, Tony had a clear view down the street to Fins' house. They'd parked several houses up the block and had watched the last hour's worth of activity. Of course he'd been surprised to find the cops all over the place so soon. They hadn't been as neat as they should have been, but Tony knew Joey didn't have many visitors. At the earliest, he though maybe later that night.. There should have been enough time to get back to Fins, get the computer and leave. No such luck.

Several cop cars had pulled past them, heading out from the crime scene. Two unfamiliar vehicles sat on the street in front of Fins' house. Tony figured they were detectives from the looks of them. He'd been surprised to count three of them as they'd traveled out to the car and truck once or twice each. Forensics had been all over the house, inside and out, when they'd arrived and quietly parked. Several bags and small boxes were removed from the house by uniformed officers. And while Tony still couldn't figure out what had been in the large, white boxes labeled 'CPD Forensics Unit,' he knew instinctively that whatever it was, Mr. DiSabitino wouldn't like it touched, particularly by the Cascade Police Department. He'd just about gotten over that little glitch when Jax had made his observation. Now he had something else to worry about.

Lifting the binoculars to his eyes, Dom watched the three men exit the house. He'd seen the kid run out onto the front porch, the mother right behind. From their spot halfway up the block, though, he didn't know whether or not they'd missed anything. Evidently something was going on that drew the attention of both the boy and the cops. Quickly surveying the surrounding area, Dom set the binoculars back on the front seat and faced his boss. "They're all outside. I don't know what's going on, but it looks like the cops are on their way over to the kid's house."

Tony leaned forward and looked up the street. The kid didn't recognize us, did he? His heart skipped a beat at the thought. Just to be certain the boy wasn't giving away the Cadillac, he tried to focus on the parties in question. Sure enough, the three men were heading across the street. He grabbed the man in the driver's seat by his shoulder, his grip communicating the harsh urgency of his message. "Your chance to redeem yourself just came up."

At first, he thought it was just the headache kicking back at him, then Jim's hearing picked up the engine's acceleration and the first hint of squealing tires. For all its prominent residents, there were no street lights on the block. Lots of lighted walkways and doorways, but they didn't provide enough radiance to identify the car the Sentinel knew was heading their way. The overcast Cascade skies didn't help. The night wasn't that old, but it was certainly dark. In the past hour, the darkness had crept in around the houses and gotten thick. His eyes dilated, sight opened up fully, allowing him a brief glimpse of two men in the front seat of a dark colored Cadillac that was bearing down on the three of them much too quickly. Unfortunately, Jim didn't have the time to stand there and further study the car or the men.

"CHIEF, MOVE!" Yelling the warning, Ellison pulled his partner by his jacket towards the far side of the street, safely out of the way. Without checking his friend's condition, he turned to face his captain, finding him on the opposite side of the street, standing on Fiorelli's lawn.

"What the heck was that?" Blair looked around, trying to follow the car which was turning out of sight, the taillights its only giveaway.

Banks looked across the street to his men. "Either of you get a license number?" Shaking his head, he started to cuss out what he thought was another reckless driver.

But Ellison didn't answer, his head was pitched at an angle, eyes staring blankly towards the tail lights that had just disappeared around a corner. Blair could see his friend's senses were locked on the car that had almost run them down. Setting a hand on Jim's back, the pair fell into their usual working silence, the connection between them keeping them both calm and on-task.

Jim caught the squealing wheels again, accompanied by a skid and a gunned engine. Seconds later, the car reappeared around the corner, this time coming UP the street at them. It was obvious to Jim that the occupants were going to try to hit them again. "They're coming back!" That said, he looked around for the nearest cover, but both their cars were parked across the street at Fins' house. Ellison pulled his weapon and pushed Blair towards a large tree while stepping forward and hoping he could get a couple of shots at the speeding car's tires. He was about to shoot when the car slowed slightly and an ominous sound caught the Sentinel's ears. Without a second thought, Jim focused in on the open passenger's side windows, but more importantly, the gun barrels protruding from them. But something wasn't right. Jim knew immediately that only one gun was pointed at the officers.

"SANDBURG- THE HOUSE!!!" Pointing towards the Halliday's home, Jim spared a brief glance over his shoulder to find his partner already on the move towards JoJo and Mrs. Halliday. By the time he refocused on the car, the shooting had begun, a steady barrage making its way towards them, marking trees and vehicles alike up the street. Mrs. Halliday had her arms wrapped around her son, pulling the child towards the front door of the house, but Joey clung to the railing by the steps, stubbornly refusing and yelling about the music. "Music?" Making the quick association, Jim pointed to Fiorelli's house and yelled for Simon to go turn off the music.

"Music? Oh, come on..." As Banks ran towards Fins' house he questioned the sanity of his best detective.

Several of his shots hit the front end of the Caddy, but Ellison didn't have the time to aim properly. More concerned for the civilians, he ran towards the house, reaching the porch just as Blair finally managed to pry JoJo's hands from the railing. Several shots hit the house and its windows, each just inches closer to the four on the porch. There wasn't enough time to get in the house, and making a swift calculation, Jim lunged from the bottom of the steps towards Julia Halliday, tackling the woman just before bullets peppered the front door of the house where she had been standing.

Simon exited the Fiorelli house just in time to see Jim and Julia go down. Aiming for the taillights of the vehicle, he squeezed off a number of shots. With a brief smile of satisfaction, he heard glass breaking and knew the rear window must have broken. Still, the car sped away, the lights disappearing around the corner at the end of the street. Banks ran for his friends, afraid of what he might find.

Sandburg released Joey, glancing around apprehensively, finding only Simon coming across the lawn. "JoJo? Are you okay? You got all your fingers and toes?"

"JoJo has ten fingers and ten toes."

The boy moved away from him, edging towards the house, towards Ellison, who was just moving. Blair bounded up the steps, his attention clearly focused on his friend. "JIM. Oh, man. You hurt?" He watched as his partner shifted sideways, his legs coming up under him and he managed to kneel next to the woman he'd landed upon.

"I'm okay." He would have elaborated further, but he really was ONLY okay. The headache still lingered, and now his back was wrenched a bit from his leap. He looked down at Mrs. Halliday and noticed the fear in her face. "Mrs. Halliday? Julia?"

"JoJo," she whispered.

Blair looked down and realized immediately that things were not okay with everyone. A large red spot marred the woman's left shoulder. As he went to reach for her, JoJo appeared next to him, Captain Banks just behind the boy. "Jim, man."

Ellison was one step ahead of his partner, though. He'd already removed his jacket, balling it up and placing it under her head. "Get me something. Towel -- rug -- shirt -- ANYTHING..." With a nod, Sandburg headed into the house. Jim looked up at his superior officer, who was already on his cell phone calling for an ambulance, then down to Mrs. Halliday. "It's okay. You're gonna be fine."


"Mama's here, JoJo." Grabbing his hand, Julia reassured her son that she was there. Taking a quick breathe as her body spasmed in pain, she looked up into worried blue eyes. "Sandburg --"

"Right here, Mrs. Halliday." Kneeling next to the woman, he handed Jim a bundle then focused his attention on Julia. "It's okay. Jim was a medic."

"JoJo." Another pain gripped her chest making it hard to focus or breathe. With what little strength she could spare, Julia grabbed Blair's shoulder, wincing at the irritation it caused. "Please..." she pleaded, handed him her son's hand, then closed her eyes to the pain.


Blair looked at Joey's small hand in his. "Mama will be okay." He saw the boy's other hand cover their clasped ones, then looked up sharply as Joey spoke.

"Mama's broke."

"Joey, it'll be okay. Mama will be fine. Captain Banks has called for an ambulance and Jim is taking care of Mama." For all the good vibes Blair was feeding into Joey, he still didn't feel any better about things at the moment. Mrs. Halliday was unconscious and JoJo seemed almost placid, possibly in shock. He knew Simon was calling for backup and paramedics, so all he had to do was keep himself and Joey calm. Taking the boy by both hands, Blair led him to the porch steps, settling him on the top step by the railing. "You need to sit here. Watch for the ambulance. You can do that for Mama, right?"

"Red and blue, red and blue."

Sandburg smiled. "Yes. Red and blue lights. I'm going back to help my friends." He turned to walk back but stopped at Joey's words."

"Okay, Chief."

Blair stared, wide-eyed, and was about to go back to the child when Ellison called his name.

"Only you, Sandburg..." He'd unwrapped the bundle that his partner had handed him, only to find a half dozen pieces of bread inside a hand-towel. Blair had used the trick before, when he'd cut his hand with a carving knife. Ripping the woman's shirt across the top shoulder seam, Jim mashed the bread into the wound then covered it with the towel so he could apply pressure. He heard Simon on the phone, knew the ambulance was on its way, but Jim's concern now was for his friend. With Julia's bleeding somewhat under control, he glanced over to Blair, who had just stepped away from Joey. The look on his partner's face was one of pure astonishment. Jim could only smile. He'd heard Joey call Blair 'Chief,' and he'd been somewhat amazed for a moment. Only a moment as he reminded himself that Joey Halliday had heard Fins' music from across the street. Jim had only been at the curb when he'd called Blair by the familiar moniker.

Coming up behind his partner, Sandburg tried not to fluster at the injury. He never got used to blood or death, and seeing the woman's condition was definitely unnerving. After several controlled breaths, he set his hand on Jim's back and spoke softly. "Did you get a good look at the car?"

Jim nodded, then motioned for Simon, who was STILL on the phone, to come closer. "Dark blue, newer Cadillac. Four door, power windows, and the last three digits of the license plate are 859..."

With a nod, Banks relayed the information to the officer on the other end of the phone. Settling his hand over the receiver, he asked about the occupants.

"Three men -- but I didn't get a good look at them. The car was coming too fast." He shook his head, then redirected his attention to Julia Halliday. Her pulse was strong and steady, but her breathing somewhat shallow. Jim had felt around the shoulder area, gauging the damage to the muscles, and didn't like the fact that the bullet was still in her shoulder. Checking her pulse once more, he sighed then grabbed Simon's sleeve. "Get me a blanket from inside..." With a nod, the man was gone and Jim took a long, deep breath.

Sandburg stepped over to his friend, kneeling next to the man and leaning in close. "How you holding up?" There was no answer, just Ellison's typical blank stare into space. "She doing okay?" Just as his friend was nodding, Simon returned from inside with a blanket and Joey's jacket. He watched the man lean against the porch railing and stare at them.

"Forensics is on their way back out. I'm gonna go block off the street -- see if I can find some of that glass I shattered." As he stepped around the group, he patted Jim on the shoulder. "Ambulance should be here soon."

"Three blocks, red and blue."

Simon looked over at the boy who sat some 8 feet away. There was no doubt that Joey had heard the question, but his answer needed verification. "Jim? Is that what you get?" He watched his detective nod slightly. "And I suppose you're going to tell me how long it'll take to get here at its current speed?" He watched Jim shrug and started to chuckle.

"One minute, 24 seconds."

Sandburg looked at Ellison and smirked. He noticed, however, that Jim was busy staring at the captain. Looking up, he found the man rubbing the back of his neck. "Problem Simon?"

"Problem Simon," he mimicked in a not-too-pleasant whine, then motioned to the boy and shook his head. Withdrawing a fresh cigar from his carrying case, Banks took the stogie in his fingers and raised it to his lips. "Dare I ask Joey how many bullets were fired, too?"


Simon held up his hand, palms facing Sandburg. "Don't even start with the lecture..." Placing the cigar between his teeth, he stalked off the porch and headed towards the street.

"Say, Chief," Jim started, casting a covert glance over his partner's shoulder towards the boy on the step, "you're sure he's not a Sentinel?"

Blair glanced at the boy, smiling at the question. But when he turned around, he saw something unusual in his partner's stare. Something he hadn't seen since a beach a long time ago. Something scary, something -- protective. "Jim, man. You okay? You're not getting any weird vibes from this are you? I mean. He's just a kid..."

"I know that. It's just..." But he didn't finish, just shook his head and stared off again. With the Sentinel senses came the territorial prerogative, the overwhelming desire to keep his tribe and its lands safe. But the feeling was intensified with the Halliday child. He couldn't explain the growing anger in his gut at the people who had fired on an innocent child, or the very real fear that the parties responsible would try again. Sure, he felt that way with so many of his tribe, but this was intensified. Almost like when... the thought stopped and he looked over at his partner, who was watching the ambulance pull up in front of the house. Like when she killed you. A flash of something hot went straight into Jim's chest, working up to his neck and then to his shoulder. He looked at the spot and realized Blair's hand was shaking him, urging him to move aside. As he stood, the connection was broken and the feeling subsided.

"Jim?" Simon and Blair stood in front of the man, trying to read their friend's face. Blair had stepped aside to let Joey in next to his mother. He studied Jim's expression, watching the jaw clench and relax as steely blue eyes focused on something rather intently. He rationalized it was Joey and turned to say something, only to find himself the subject of the intense stare. "Man, are you okay?"

"Huh? Yeah. Yeah." The words came out, but there was no conviction behind them. Jim knew it, he just hoped Sandburg didn't want to explore it at home later. Home? That word stuck in his mind and he turned to face the captain. "Simon. With Mrs. Halliday in the hospital, who's going to take care of Joey?"

"That's a good question." Mrs. Halliday wasn't available to give that information, she'd slipped into unconsciousness, and the paramedics were in the middle of prepping her for transport. The captain had thought the child would be more emotional than he was, but no. Joey Halliday was kneeling next to his mother, stroking her hair back off her face while the medics went about their jobs. "I could call Social Services. They have facilities that'll keep the boy comfortable. Give him the attention he needs."


Banks looked at the two men who had just answered in unison. It seemed his detectives were of the same mind after all. He'd often said they shared a brain. With a soft smile and a puff of his cigar, he looked at the two men. "You have a better idea?"

Jim only wanted to protect the child. He had no idea what had come over Blair. Speechless, he motioned for his partner to explain, knowing anything the man came up with would be better than a typical Ellison "because."

"I've got the background experience to handle Joey's condition and Jim's got the tribal protection thing locked down -- WE could, should take custody of Joey Halliday." Looking up at his partner and roommate, Blair was rewarded with smiling eyes.

Simon eyed the pair warily. "You okay with this, Jim?"

With a nod, Ellison agreed. "Yeah. I think this is the best plan. We don't have much to go on with these guys. Don't even know why they went after the Hallidays..."

"You think this was deliberate?" Blair asked, suddenly looking around and knowing, really knowing, that Jim was right. It hadn't occurred to him before, but the house was the primary target. The gunmen had gotten cars and shrubs and trees during the drive-by, but the majority of bullets had hit the house. Running a hand through his hair, Sandburg nodded. "Yeah. I see it."

Banks didn't like the disappointment he heard in Blair's voice, but he wasn't ready to call Social Services either -- too much hassle. "Okay. We'll handle it like a witness protection. I'll see if I can slip the info to Social Services on the QT. In the meantime, Sandburg, I suggest you go inside and get what you'll need to take care of the boy. You can't stay here..."

"Right." With a quick look to Jim, Blair smiled then maneuvered around the two men to get to Joey, who was still next to his mother even though the medics were ready to move her to the ambulance. "JoJo. You need to show me your room. The paramedics will take care of Mama."

"Okay, Chief."

Once again, Simon shook his head at the boy's behavior, then rolled his eyes as Sandburg and the boy headed into the house. He looked over at his remaining detective, noting the strain on the man's face. "Still not feeling well?"

"Just a hell of an end to a very long day, sir." He exhaled heavily, then stepped forward towards the railing, his eyes spying a few splotches of blood on the porch boards. It sent a slight shiver up his spine and he grabbed the railing with both hands, his knuckles white from the pressure.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Simon stood facing the street. "You two want help on this?"

Jim smiled briefly. "You volunteering?"


The smile widened.

The tall black man chuckled, uncrossed his arms and removed his stogie from his mouth. "Megan needs something to do..."

"Oh, I'm sure she does." With a laugh, Jim watched the man step back and head for the steps.

"Right. Okay. That's fine, sir," Jim said for the fourth time in as many minutes. They'd only been at the loft for fifteen minutes when the phone rang. Simon was calling to give them information that had come in while they'd been at the hospital with Mrs. Halliday. She'd come through surgery fine, the bullet removed, and the wound closed successfully. They'd waited until she'd come out of recovery and roused enough to sign the consent for Jim and Blair to take charge of the boy. As it turned out, she didn't have any relatives in the state. A widow for almost 5 years, there was only Julia's sister, who lived down in Oregon, almost a full day's drive from Cascade. Even though it was nearly 11 o'clock at night when they called, there was no answer anyway. She'd agreed almost instantly, even when told that the men would have to shelter the boy at their home. Still she'd agreed, then turned over her house keys and given Sandburg permission to take whatever he needed, but most importantly, she gave him the location of Joey's Care-giver book. Julia had actually smiled when Blair had asked her where it was. Not 'if,' just 'where.' He'd already figured that an organized woman such as she was, she'd have one handy -- he just hadn't found it when they were at the house before.

They'd gone back to the house to get it, as well as some other things that Mrs. Halliday had put on a list. Once they'd gotten the necessary items, they'd locked the house down, and headed back to the loft. To the pair's amusement, Joey fell asleep in the truck on the way there. Jim had carefully carried the boy from the truck to the building. For practical purposes, they'd put him in Blair's room, and Sandburg had been prepared to take a couch for as long as necessary. Jim wouldn't have it, though, and insisted that Blair take his bed and he'd stay downstairs.

They'd just gotten that issue settled when Simon called. It had been a half hour and Jim was still on the line with the man. He suspected that Banks' paternal side kicked in once the paperwork had been completed. Over the past twenty minutes, the normally stoic captain had given no less than ten pieces of advice on how to handle everything from an upset stomach and fever to nightmares and finicky eating. Ellison had to stifle his laughter at the mention of 'finicky eating.' He did, however mention it to his partner, who promptly laughed for him. Blair had been reading some of the particulars from Joey's Care-giver Book on the ride home. As far as Jim could tell, Joey had more rules and regulations associated with him than any major sport known to man. There were certain foods that Joey wouldn't even smell, let alone eat. Certain colors, textures, and shapes that could send him into fits, and if they were anything like the one earlier that evening, then Jim was more than willing to go along with the book in order to avoid them.

The long list of advice from 'Uncle' Simon had come to an end, so they said their goodnights and hung up. He glanced over to his partner, who sat in his favorite spot on the living room rug. Blair's back was against the one sofa, the large coffee table pulled in close to his chest, and a plethora of books and papers littered the table. Jim watched as Sandburg leafed through book after book, paper after paper, until he found something he deemed necessary, then he'd scribble some notes on a piece of paper and go on to the next page of Joey's book. Grabbing two bottles of water from the fridge, he headed for the living room and took a seat on the empty sofa. He set one bottle of water in front of his studious companion, then sat back to relax a bit and exchange some information.

"Hey, man. Thanks," Blair managed without looking up. "What all did Simon have to say?"

Jim explained that the Social Services papers had been filed quietly, since parental consent was given. Banks had gotten no information back on the Caddy, but Megan had already begun compiling a computer generated list of Fins' known associates so they could run them down the next day, and on his way home, Simon had gotten the word out that Jim wanted to see Sneaks the next day. The captain had also gotten back a preliminary report from Serena on the computer. She'd started a program to break the encryption program's password and hoped to have it cracked by the next morning.

Having finished his overview, Jim sat forward and examined the books on the table. He grabbed one and read the title, laughing rather loud and smiling. "An Anthropologist on Mars," Jim read. "Hey, Chief. Is this your Autobiography?"

Sandburg shook his head. "No, man. That was a big part of my research during my Masters. It explored the realities of Neurological Disorders. It was HUGE in terms of helping to diagnose and treat several major afflictions. It also helped me to redefine my thesis topic, as well as shape my criteria for study." At his friend's interested look, Blair went on to explain that Autism, while definitely a neurological disorder linked to chemicals in the brain, had never been conclusively linked to genetics.

"So, why did you study it?" Jim slid sideways on the couch, lying out long-ways as he leafed through the book, he head supported by one hand and the pillow scrunched in the middle.

"To learn about sense control. I thought it might come in handy if I ever met a real Sentinel." The pair exchanged wry smiles.

Flipping a couple of pages, Jim tried to find something interesting in the book's table of contents. "So? What'd you learn? Anything useful?"

Sifting through the papers, Blair found and handed over a bunch of other books on Autism. "Think of your senses going berserk all at once."

Jim laughed. "Been there. Done that." He examined the other books, some with pictures that drew his attention.

"No man. I mean each and every one of your dials cranked to the max." Blair motioned as if he were twisting the dials himself and smiled as he saw Jim wince at the imaginary pain. "I can see you don't like that idea. Well, imagine that you live in that pain. Every day, every minute. Your senses are completely open. What would you do?"

Ellison couldn't answer immediately. Looking at Blair, he realized the man was waiting to see what he'd say. He shrugged, thought a minute more, then responded. "I'd try to shut them all down, find the dials, and start back at the beginning."

Sandburg considered that idea, realizing that they'd had to do that once or twice with Jim's senses already. The first time with his hearing, when he'd had his ears cleaned. "A person with Autism doesn't really have dials. More like floodgates, and they're wide open all the time. And they never seem to manage to close all the flood gates, let alone regulate them for normal flow."

That hit Jim hard. He couldn't imagine going through that much chaos in his brain. It would be almost like when he'd been working on the Switchman case, when his senses first went out of control. Things were nuts. HE thought he was nuts. Never in his life had he felt so out of control. Then he'd met Blair, and they'd worked through his senses, giving each a significant amount of study until they all worked together. "So, if they can't control all their senses at once, maybe they should try to control them one at a time."

"Exactly," Blair stated, and smiled at his friend. "Only, in order for an autistic person to control a sense, they have to connect with it almost exclusively. They control their senses by going INTO a zone-out. They fixate on one sense long enough that it blocks out all the other senses and therefore eliminates the chaos in their heads."

Jim thought he understood and attempted to process the idea. "So let me get this straight. I lose myself when I zone, but Joey FINDS himself when HE zones?"

"Pretty much." Sandburg pushed the table away a bit and took a couple of the books from Jim, opening them to certain dog-eared pages. "Most autistics have one sense that grounds them. Usually touch. They like to have certain items within reach, the textures help them to focus. Things like balls, blankets, even tendrils of hair -- the feeling on the fingers helps them to connect so they can divert all their energy away from the other senses."

Curious, Jim asked, "what about hearing or sight?"

Blair nodded. "Some of my research subjects made connections through hearing. One had a fixation with things that made a rhythmic sound -- watches, trains, even beepers. The sounds had to be even or darn close. I had to take an electric metronome with me every time we talked. And I had another one that used beach sounds, sort of an all-powerful white noise, if you will. Joey does the same thing with music. It allows him to gain control when he's listening."

Part of it made sense, but something still nagged at him. "Okay. At the house after the attack. Simon was asking questions and Joey was answering them. Simon had turned off the music, so how did he focus enough to know those things?"

Blair smiled. "Savant. Joey obviously has some mathematical savant skills." Seeing his friend's blank look, he explained further. "He has a gift for numbers. No one knows how or why, but some people with neurological disorders seem to have exceptional skills in one mental capacity, even though others suffer. I should have suspected something when I realized Joey's communication skills were severely underdeveloped."

Ellison shook his head slightly and listened as the academic rambled on profusely. He didn't want to admit it, but he had missed the long-winded prattlings that had been a Sandburg conversational mainstay. He listened as Blair went on, mentioning something about studies showing a relationship between low communications skills and high math, music, mechanical skills. The entire ramble was interesting, and when his friend finished, Jim actually thanked him for the information.

The young man looked at his friend and smiled. Jim Ellison had actually just thanked him for an academic explanation. He was about ready to go on, when he saw the large man motion to him.

"Since you're busy with all that, lemme have that Care-taker's book."

With a chuckle, Blair handed it over to his partner. "Care -- GIVER book, man. BIG difference."

Pushing the throw pillows into the corner, Jim settled back to read. He knew he was in trouble from the first couple of pages. In addition to the lists of Joey's likes and dislikes, there were emergency numbers for counselors, doctors, his teacher, and school. After that were the directions for most everything in Joey's life. Jim had to chuckle. "That kid's day is more well planned than most Black Ops missions. I think Julia Halliday should go into the military..."

"It has to be that way, Jim."

Flipping the page, he sat up quickly. "You have to arrange his food as well as his plate and glass and stuff. What's that all about?"

Blair pushed the table away and pulled his knees up, resting his elbows on them. With a sigh, he clenched his fists and tried to relax the rest of his body. Studying his notes and books had brought back a lot of painful memories. Institutions, foster homes, overcrowded special schools... he'd been so naive about the affliction and it's victims. Not just the kids either, their parents and family members. The only good thing was the fact that a healthy percentage of autistics actually break free of the disorder's grip and go on to somewhat normal adulthood. He knew that Jim didn't understand fully. Blair was surprised he, himself, understood as much of it as he did. The rest he just had to accept since there was no logical or medical reason for it. The best he could do for his partner was to put it in terms the Sentinel would understand.

"Remember when you overdosed on the Golden?" Blair looked up, his eyes connecting with Ellison's. "Do you remember how you functioned without your sight?"

Scratching his head a bit, he tried to give the best answer he could without being flippant. After all, Blair had been there for most of it. "Chief, I was pretty much blind to everything outside of four feet or so."

"Right. You worked on your memory of the loft's layout, where the furniture was, what you could smell in the fridge, and so on." Encouraged by Jim's nodding head, he continued. "You didn't trust anything outside your reach."

Except you, Jim thought briefly, then contemplated the idea. "It was all I had to go on. Just what I could get to process."

"Exactly. If you couldn't sense it and know it was already part of your familiar territory, then you didn't trust it. And you didn't give up, just because you couldn't see."

Jim nodded again, then shrugged in half-understanding. "So Joey operates the same way?" When Blair nodded, he tried to imagine that horrible time once more. The idea that Joey could exist in a shadowy world of intangible shapes and unsure distances was disturbing. "So he's pretty much blind?"

Blair shook his head. "Not so much blind as blindered. What he sees isn't real to him unless he can touch it, feel it -- connect. He has to be close to things in order to recognize them. He could look right at you but never see your face, man. That's why the diagrams for the place settings -- and the furniture arrangement. One of us will need to guide him wherever he goes in the loft."

"That's gotta be your job, then," Jim said, then laughed a bit. When Blair didn't respond, he glanced over, only to find his friend's head settled back on the couch cushions, eyes closed and an arm over his forehead. Finding the clock on the VCR, he realized it was well after one in the morning, and the day had been exhausting. He sat up, nudged Blair on the shoulder and pointed towards the bedroom when bleary blue eyes opened and blinked a bit at the light. "Up, Sandburg." The younger man went without argument and Jim settled himself back on the couch with the book, a random thought forcing a smile on his face. Let's see if YOU can sleep there tonight. Bet you forgot... I didn't.


Next morning...

Jax looked over at Dom, who was idly enjoying his coffee, oblivious to the fury in the next room. The voices were loud enough to discern certain words. Just the important ones, he decided. What could be more important than 'this is a problem' or 'don't get me mad'? Especially to Pasquale DiSabitino. Jax's father and brothers all worked for the man, and the one thing they'd never done was make the man mad. Making Mr. DiSabitino mad was the quickest way to find yourself a problem. And everyone knew that Mr. DiSabitino didn't like problems. He had them eliminated. Hearing both those phrases thrown around on the other side of the door didn't put the man at ease. At a little over 6 foot 3 inches, Jax wasn't the kind of guy to let many people irk him. He weighed in at a good 190 pounds and worked out every day. People looked at him in his expensive suit and sunglasses and they just didn't bother him.

Mr. DiSabitino was different, though. When that man was unhappy, Jax wished he was invisible. He wished that right then -- desperately wished just exactly that. He'd known that capping Joey Fins wasn't going to make a lot of people happy -- but he had no idea it would anger the old man so much. They hadn't found the money, but they would. It just took time. Someone somewhere would need to get in touch with Fiorelli. When they found out the man was dead, they'd try to contact someone in charge of the estate, and since the estate -- namely the house -- was owned by DiSabitino, it would all come back to him. No problem.

But by the tone in Mr. DiSabitino's voice, there WAS a problem. Jax took another look over at Dom who was lounging on the couch watching the news. There were reporters asking questions about something. The man in the back -- the tall black man in the long trench coat -- caught Jax's eye. Fortunately, Dom wasn't flicking the channel and he was able to read the caption at the bottom of the screen. Captain Simon Banks, Major Crimes. Oh, geez! Grabbing a fistful of his own hair, he tried to pull it a bit and relieve the sudden banging in his temples. He crossed the room in a few long, heavy strides, came to stop in front of the bar and poured himself a good dose of whiskey. He'd just downed it in one gulp when he heard the voice behind him.

"Now THAT's a smart man."

Turning around, Jax stared directly at the small man next to Tony. "Who? Me, Mr. DiSabitino? I was just trying to ease my sore throat." He smiled to the man, who smiled in return. Tony, however, was scowling. Dom stood up and fixed his jacket, anything to impress the old man. But Jax couldn't move, just stood there, glass in hand.

"Take another if it'll help, Jax. Don't want you coming down with anything life-threatening." He smiled at the man, knowing his employee was wise to be nervous. Unlike Tony, who had come to think he was indispensable to him. Pasquale DiSabitino turned a glare to the smug man next to him. There was no hiding the anger and contempt he felt at that moment. Tony had pushed his buttons and Pasquale didn't like to be pushed -- ever. "I don't want to hear about this anymore. I'm going to assume you took care of things. Do I make myself clear, Tony? Now -- you have other responsibilities, get to them."

Berated and unamused, Tony nodded, then watched the little man go back into the office and shut the doors. Glancing to his two companions, he shook his head and raised his hand, effectively cutting off their questions. Pointing to the door, he walked out, the others following him, and they didn't talk until they were at the front door. "Were taking the Lincoln. I'm having some work done to the Caddy."

Dom took the wheel and didn't say anything more until after they were clear of the gate, off the property. "Where to, Tony?"

"Downtown. I need to see a woman about a TV..."

"You'll be okay?"

It was the fourth time Ellison had asked that same question. Blair just nodded and pointed to the door.

"You're sure?"

Joey was the one who answered. "Yes, sir."

At the sound of Joey's voice, Jim smiled and left, waiting for the sound of the locks sliding into position. That done, he headed downstairs and out to his truck. Pulling out his phone, he punched in the autodial for Simon's desk and waited while the truck warmed up a moment or two. Even though he was heading for the station, Jim wanted to know what was going on, just too anxious for information to wait until he was at his desk.

There were no new developments in terms of witnesses. An early morning canvas of the neighborhood proved futile. No one had been home at the time of Fiorelli's death -- except Joey and his mother. There were a couple of other mothers on the block, but none close enough to the Fiorelli house to have seen anything. Simon had given the phone over to Megan who had compiled the list of associates, but so far, most of them were in jail or deceased. Simon had just taken the phone again and informed Jim that Sneaks had sent word that a meet that afternoon was good, when Ellison noticed a silver Mercedes was still with him after almost seven blocks and three turns.

He had an idea of the car's occupant, but he wasn't ready to force the issue. Taking another quick turn, Jim found the Mercedes was again right behind him. Slow, fast, left or right lane. No matter what he did, the car was right there, so he led him to the best place he knew to pull over and have a chat. Central Precinct's parking garage. As he pulled into the empty spot, he watched the other car pull in right behind him, blocking the truck's escape. Leaving his cell phone on and in his pocket, Jim exited the truck and stood next to the Mercedes' rear door, watching as the window lowered and a small man smiled up at him.

"Detective Ellison, a few minutes of your time."

The door opened in invitation, so Ellison looked around then stepped in and took a seat in the small back seat. "Mr. DiSabitino, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

"We can be civil, detective. Joey Fins was a lousy accountant, but he was a friend of mine." Turning to face the officer, Pasquale realized that Ellison exuded confidence and control. "I wish to cooperate." That said, he held out a set of keys to Ellison.

Jim was skeptical. "What are these?"

"They're the keys to Joey Fiorelli's house -- at least they're my keys to everything that belongs to me. I know it's a crime scene, but I'd rather not have the doors or locks broken." There was a moment of hesitation before Ellison took the keys, but when he did, Pasquale smiled.

Once he took the keys, Jim looked at the well-dressed man and shifted in the seat so he faced the man a bit more. "You're sure about this?"

"The house is actually in my name, and my lawyers have encouraged me to cooperate." Pasquale was rewarded with a small smile from the officer. "Personally though, I'd rather you have access to everything than go around busting things in. I don't know if my insurance would cover the damage." There was something DiSabitino recognized as a small laugh and smiled a bit more.

Assessing his opportunity, Jim nodded a bit, his cheek hitching up a bit in his typical facade when things didn't exactly seem to add up. "This is nice. We appreciate your cooperation. Would you be available for questioning some time?"

"Me?" He laughed. "I think, Detective Ellison, you'd best take the keys and be happy with them."

With one last look at DiSabitino, Jim figured it wouldn't hurt to push a bit more. It was obvious they weren't going to kill him. They would've left the garage if that was the case. At least he hoped so. Turning a wide smile to the small man, Jim used his best diplomatic voice. "You're sure?" When the man laughed just a bit harder, he opened the door and stepped halfway out. "If you change your mind, I can be reached at that number." He removed a business card from his wallet and watched DiSabitino take it, suddenly a bit more somber, the laughter changing to a short chuckle.

Impressed. Pasquale DiSabitino was impressed with Jim Ellison. Impressed enough to realize the man was only half joking about the questioning. He took the officer's business card then removed one of his own cards from his card case and offered it to the man. "If you need to speak with me, you can make an appointment with Albert."

With a firm handshake, the meeting was over. Jim stepped out of the car to find Simon waiting by his truck. He shut the door and watched as it pulled out of the garage. Once the car was out of sight, Jim turned to his captain and dangled the keys in front of him.

"DiSabitino give you a nice parting gift?" Simon asked.

"You didn't hear?" Ellison asked, suddenly panicked, then looked at the quirked eyebrow and lopsided grin on his friend's face. Waggling a finger at the man, he followed him up to Major Crime. As they exited the elevator, Jim was still examining the keys. There were about eight keys on the ring, the most obvious front door and garage keys, as well as one to the storage shed they'd seen in Fins' backyard the night before.


The rest of the keys were forgotten as Jim and Simon reached the bullpen doorway and were greeted by the boisterous voice. Ellison heard his friend groan and stopped, then followed his friend back a step into the hallway. The voice had come from the opposite side of the bullpen and he immediately spied the foreign body, a rather plump man in a dark blue suit with thick-soled black shoes and a crisp white shirt complete with coffee drops down the front that were only partly covered by his wide charcoal gray tie.

"Don't give me any bunk, lady. He's got a lot to answer for and I know he's in the building. Now, you find him for me or I'll have you back down in records by the end of the day."

Rhonda seemed unfazed by the threat, as far as Jim could see. Then again, she was wearing heels and had a good four inches on the man. Rafe and Brown had heard the sharp words, as had Taggart, and all three were making their way towards the woman's desk. Seeing the man point a finger at the woman and try to start something again, Jim asked, "What the hell is that?"

"THAT -- is Lieutenant George Holland," Simon answered, then shook his head. "Juvenile."

Ellison nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I can see that. What department is he in?"

"He works Juvenile out of Social Services in the State Building two blocks over." Banks wasn't in the mood for this right now. He'd expected a phone call or something, but this was too much. "He's not really friendly with me, and I think he just found out about your witness."


With a deep, controlling breath, Simon ran a hand over the back of his neck. "So, he's gonna do everything he can to give me grief over this."

"Grief over what, Sir? It's clear that Mrs. Halliday gave us temporary, protective custody, and the paperwork just needed to be filed. Why does he want to rattle you so much?"

Scrubbing a hand over his jaw, Banks sighed. "He applied for a job in Major Crime about four months before Sandburg joined on as your observer. I didn't have the funding or approval for another detective then, so I had to turn him down. He's reapplied every year since, and every year I turn him down for the same reason. Then when..."

Ellison understood fully. "Then when Sandburg got approval and such, he just decided to make your life hell."

Simon nodded. "You know that he watched the department every year after Sandburg joined? Almost every bit of aggravation I got for the past four plus years has involved that man in one way or another. He even lodged a formal protest when Blair was offered the chance for his badge. There have been times, Jim... oh, man..." With a clenched fist, Banks peered around the corner of the doorway to see Rhonda leaning against her desk, staring the man in the face and speaking loud and clear for him and everyone else in the room.

"The shades are open, the door is open, the chair is empty. Take a look, Lieutenant. Be my guest. Captain Banks stepped out and I don't know when he'll be back. We took the homing device out of his skull the last time he was kidnapped, we figured it wouldn't happen again. Maybe we were wrong."

Bristling up and huffing a bit, the man adjusted his tie and headed in the opposite direction.

Waving politely, Rhonda saw the man glare at her so she smiled. "Buh-bye. I'll have him call you when he comes back..." Once he was out of sight, she turned to face the several members of Major Crime who were standing behind her, half the reason Holland had left instead of sticking around for more verbal sparring. As they applauded lightly, she bowed to the adulation, then laughed and took her seat.

Simon was still thanking the almighty powers that had pointed the annoying man out the side door instead of the main bullpen doors, thus avoiding contact. Stepping into the bullpen, he crossed quickly to Rhonda, but his eyes never left Holland as the man opened the stairwell door. Luckily, the disgruntled lieutenant never looked back, because Simon felt as exposed as a goldfish in a bowl through the glass windows of the bullpen. Once his nemesis had disappeared, he sighed and looked at his assistant. "Are you okay?"

Rafe and Henri laughed at the question.

"All right you guys. Now, get back to work or I'll sic her on you two..." Simon smiled as the partners disappeared so quickly not even the Sentinel could track them.

Jim followed the captain into the inner office and took a seat on the end of the conference table, as usual. He was anxious to get back to the case at hand, and confirmed Simon had heard the conversation. Not only had he heard it, he'd hit the memo button on his phone and recorded it as well. Ever the skeptic, Banks wondered if the keys were on the level.

"Only one way to find out."

Simon nodded, surveyed the papers littering his desk, and sighed. "Hold on, Jim. I'll come with you." He saw Ellison wave his hand in understanding and twirl the keys about on his finger. Grabbing a spare cigar, Banks shut his outer door and smiled at Rhonda, then grabbed a pen and paper. With a wicked smile, he hung the sign on his office door window, then walked after his detective. "Say, I meant to ask you if you were feeling better. You look better today."

"Oh, yeah. I feel great. I was on the sofa last night..." Jim said with a smile.

Banks looked at his friend, slightly confused at the happiness in his voice. He'd slept on those couches before. Sure he'd been rested, but nothing to be so happy about. "Well, what's wrong with your bed? Need a new mattress?"

"Funny you should say that." With one finger, Jim pushed the elevator's down button, then turned his smile to his friend. "See, it's Sandburg's week to do the laundry..."

The bell dinged and the doors opened before them.

"Banks is WHERE?" They heard the voice, recognized it, and scurried away quickly. The pair stepped into the car, Jim hitting the door-close button before one person was barely off. As the doors closed, the annoyance was blissfully cut off in mid sentence.

Not so for those in the bullpen, but at least they didn't have to deal with the man for long. Whatever had prompted Holland's return was forgotten as soon as he'd read the sign Simon had made.

Taggart walked by just after the man had gone. Seeing Henri, Rafe, and Rhonda laughing, he stopped to see what was so funny. They told him about Holland's visit then pointed to Simon's door. Taggart read the sign out loud, "Gone to State Building," and left laughing so hard he was almost in tears.

They'd gone over the house another four times, but still nothing of use. Just as DiSabitino had said, the keys fit every lock in the house -- even the wine cellar in the basement. There was still nothing unusual about the place. Nothing that got the Sentinel's attention, and after a while, there wasn't much more to do than lock up.

"I've had it. Why don't we go get something to eat?" Jim looked over at Simon who was busy examining some of the bric-a-brac in the den's curio cabinet.

Smiling, he turned around and headed for the front door. "That's music to my ears, Jim."

"Music." He snapped his fingers then looked around the room before heading into the kitchen.

What now? Simon thought and peered around the corner only to find Ellison coming right back with a large paper bag. "What's that for?"

Jim explained that Blair had searched the Halliday house for any music they had, but there weren't that many CD's. Julia had even mentioned that Joey was always more interested in his "own" music and would go outside to sit on the porch. Other than that, there was usually just the radio. So, they figured that Fins' CD collection would probably have all the stuff Joey'd been enjoying and Blair wanted Jim to grab a bunch if he could get it cleared.

"I think these," and Jim jangled the keys, "are good clearance." He smiled at Simon as he placed some of the less dusty cases into the bag. He grabbed for one on the desk, but knew by the weight that it was empty, and mentioned it to his captain.

"Check the player -- the one from yesterday is probably still there." Pointing to the stereo, Banks shrugged. "I didn't take it."

Jim gave a single chuckle then pushed a button on the disc player. Sure enough, there was the disc in the player, but before he could touch it, his senses detected a slight smell emanating from the disc. Very carefully, he removed it using a pen from the desk. "Simon, open that case and give me a hand."

Seeing his friend balancing the CD on the pen, Banks quickly complied, then questioned. "What's on it?"

Ellison wrinkled his nose. "Smells like cologne and sweat, but I can just make out a partial print on the edge."

Placing the case in his inside pocket, the captain smiled. "I'll get it to Serena this afternoon. Now, how about lunch?"

Jim smiled. "Oh, sure. But I've got a stop to make, first. Gotta pick up a gift..."

Banks shook his head. "What did he mean when he said my loafers weren't bargaining material? These are good shoes!"

Jim laughed at the distress in Simon's voice. "Good for you, maybe, but not for him..." He pointed to the man walking happily down the street, a sporting goods bag in his hand. For a snitch, Sneaks was one of the best, and he liked Ellison. Jim knew it, knew also that it took a long time to develop such a rapport with reliable informants. Over the years, Sneaks had been good to him, and he, in turn was good to Sneaks. That's why the man was walking away with a brand new pair of cross-trainers from one of Cascade's finer sporting goods stores.

"I just hope you got your money's worth." The captain shook his head. The less he knew about Jim's snitches, the better. He never questioned the reimbursements from the Snitch Fund, and he never would again where Ellison was concerned. He just hoped the money was worth it. Looking at the smile on his friend's face, Simon had an idea it was. "Give."

"Not here." Jim smiled, then walked towards his truck. Once they were inside the cab and safely on their way back to the station, he relayed the Sneaks' information. "Seems Fins really WAS getting ready to retire."

"And your point would be?"

Ellison continued, unfazed by his captain's sarcasm. "He'd already purchased a little place" he paused, giving Simon a quick glance for effect, "in Bermuda. How does a lousy accountant, as DiSabitino put it, save enough to move to Bermuda?"

At that, Banks shrugged. "Considering DiSabitino's actions this morning, he could have given him a nice retirement bonus. I mean, I got the impression from your little discourse earlier that he's really upset over Fins' murder."

"I got that impression, too. Sneaks said Pasquale canceled all his meetings for the rest of the week and headed to church this morning for a couple of hours," Jim replied. "He's also insisting he didn't want Fiorelli dead."

With a sigh, Simon cast his gaze out the side window. "So who DID, then?"

Jim smiled deviously. "Did I mention that Tony Corrozzi needs money and he needs it YESTERDAY? He's in deep to a local bookmaker. No one knows just how deep, not even DiSabitino. But it seems no one's willing to lend Tony any cash either."

"But DiSabitino DOES know Tony's in debt, right?"

Jim nodded. "He knows. Word is he gave Tony notice to get the money together or he'd let the bookie's leg-breakers have him."

Simon considered the information. "Joey Fiorelli had money for a house in Bermuda, but no one knows where it came from, and Tony Corrozzi needs money and no one knows where he's gonna get it..." That put a smile on the captain's face. "Okay. So maybe Fins is skimming from DiSabitino and Corrozzi finds out about it somehow. Blackmail?"

Ellison's cheek hitched up again in that lopsided grin of his and he nodded ever so slightly. "Sneaks said Fins had hinted that he'd been taking a cut of each deposit he'd made for the business -- to the tune of just about a million dollars. I'd say blackmail is a definite probability. Tony would get a portion of Joey's skimming in exchange for his silence. But that's assuming DiSabitino didn't know anything about the skimming."

"That's assuming a lot. And since we're putting our assumptions on the line -- how about we assume DiSabitino is on the level with not contracting Fins' murder," Simon shot back, seeing Jim nod. "But if Tony wanted a cut, why is Fins dead?" Idly rubbing his jaw, Banks added "And what does any of this have to do with Joey and Julia Halliday?"

Ellison had been wondering that as well, but hadn't come up with any connection yet. "Let me get back to you on that one..."

"Uhn-huh..." Simon deadpanned, then smiled. His next thought was interrupted by his cell phone. Reluctantly, he answered the call, just a bit afraid it was Lieutenant Holland over at the State Building looking for him. Luck was with him, and the call concerned both Simon and Jim. A courtesy call from dispatch -- the 911 operators had taken a call for a fire, an abandoned car in a not too pleasant part of town. Emergency service had already been dispatched, and firemen on the scene were reporting it as a dark colored, newer Cadillac. One of the 911 operators knew Major Crime had reported a matching vehicle the night before and had made the contact personally.

Jim hit the emergency lights and headed for the address, which was mere blocks from their present location. Screeching to a halt, he jumped out of the truck and headed into the crowd. Uniformed officers had the onlookers under control, fortunately. By the time he and Simon arrived, the fire was out and the crews were clearing gear. A couple of firemen were still standing by the vehicle, rather what was left of it. The license plates and VIN plates were gone, as well as the wheels and battery, but that didn't mean it wasn't a torch job, just that it was supposed to look like a typical stolen vehicle that had been junked.

Ellison approached the car and felt certain the moment he saw it that the burned metal box belonged to their mad driver. He'd shut off his sense of smell, knowing the gas fumes alone would have constricted his throat from a block away. Instead, he focused on his sight, which immediately found the bullet holes in the trunk. As the pair drew closer, Jim pointed out the spots to his captain. Grabbing a flashlight from one of the firemen, he looked the car over more intensely, carefully keeping his hands away from the smoldering carcass. A quick glance through the left passenger's side door frame and Jim motioned Simon over, pointing to the car's dash and ceiling. There was a perfectly round hole in the dashboard, right over the radio, and just the right size for a bullet hole. The vinyl and plastic dash had been melted quite a bit on the bottom, but the top half was in fairly decent condition. From what his eyes could see, the slug was still in the dash.

"I think the hole in the roof and the ones in the trunk are the same way," Ellison remarked quietly. "How much you wanna bet we can match those slugs to your gun?"

The two men were more than easily convinced that it was their perp's vehicle, so Simon called CPD's impound yard to come pick it up. Banks wanted forensics on it ASAP. With that handled, Simon sighed and turned to his friend. "Okay, Ellison. What now?"

"Well, the Vehicle Identification Number plate is gone from the dash, but this is a Caddy..." Jim walked to the front of the car where the hood was up showing the engine had been stripped of its readily removable parts. "There we go..." The engine wall was sooted and grimy from the fire, but the secondary VIN plate was still partly intact. While the vehicle was still too hot for Jim to use his touch to feel out the number or to reach in and pry it off with his multi-tool, it was also too matted with soot for Jim's sight to help immediately. Jim grabbed a broken broomstick and some newspaper from a nearby garbage pile and worked them together to scrape off most of the soot, making the number mostly legible. He read the numbers off to Simon, thinking his captain was writing them down. When he turned around though, he found the captain on the phone -- with DMV.

"Right. Sure I'll hold Janine." Pacing back and forth in the alley, Simon tried to remain mentally calm. A moment or so later, Janine gave him the vehicle's information and he thanked her, then folded the phone up and stuck it in his pocket. "You wanna guess the name on the registration?"

"Pasquale DiSabitino -- or some subsidiary company thereof."

Simon nodded, seeing Jim's face brighten. "And you'll never believe who called it in stolen this morning."

"Uh -- Tony Corrozzi?"

"Uhn-huh." Before Banks to say more, Jim pulled out his cell phone. "What're you doing?"

"I'm making an appointment for another little talk with Mr. DiSabitino..." He pulled the business card from his other pocket and dialed the number listed. "You could say I'm going to see a man about a car."

Blair watched the boy sitting in the middle of the living room floor and sighed. It was nice to see the boy relaxed and playing. He'd worried about not taking JoJo to school that day, wondering how one day out of routine would affect the boy. The partners had discussed it. Blair had volunteered to stay at the school for the day since he was more experienced in that area, but Jim had nixed the idea because of the danger Joey's presence posed to his schoolmates. In the end, Ellison took the lead on the investigation while Sandburg watched the witness.

At first, Blair thought he'd have no trouble handling a day with Joey. Then he realized his entire interaction with kids like Joey was in the name of science, and he was suddenly nervous. But as soon as JoJo finished breakfast, the boy had taken up a spot on the living room floor and stayed there most of the day. Sandburg had brought a number of the boy's favorite items from the Halliday home, things that had been specified in the care book, but also some things JoJo wouldn't leave. If Jim had come home at that moment, Blair wasn't sure how the man would react to the intricate set up of toy cars and army men. Probably arrange them in some famous battle layout and explain the tactical and historical relevance of each maneuver...

Smiling at the idea of Jim on the floor playing with the little green men, Blair moved from his spot on the couch to get another cup of tea. "JoJo. Do you want something to drink?"

"No, thank you, Chief."

Smile still on his face, Blair walked to the end of the cooking island and stood, elbows resting on the counter as he watched the boy enjoying the free time. The sound of the phone shook him from his quiet moment, and Blair grabbed the handset off the cradle. "Hello? Oh, hey, Serena. Tell me you've got good news..."

Banging his fist happily, Sandburg quickly covered his glee, trying to see if the sudden motion had startled the boy. Joey never moved, so Blair banged his fist a couple of more times. "Yes, I agree, you're a goddess and I'll buy you the biggest box of Godiva I can afford..." He paused, the smile never leaving his face as he listened to her retort. "Funny. Very funny, Serena. But I think I can afford a little more than a single piece at the counter in the mall... Right. I'll be waiting for it. Thanks again."

Hanging up the phone, Sandburg opened his laptop computer and fired it up, making certain the phone line was connected correctly. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, he was connected to the Internet and his e-mail.

Serena had sent him a number of files she'd taken off Fins' computer, one of them being the encryption program. Blair recognized some of the files as accounting programs, but a couple seemed to automatically install as soon as he saved them, so he noted their file names just in case he needed to remove them quickly. There were about twenty other files that Serena had sent along, documents if Sandburg understood their file extensions. He tried to open them, but couldn't get past the encryption notice requesting a password. Evidently, the encryption file still required the password -- probably because Serena had just copied the entire file and sent it on. He'd just picked up the phone to call the woman back when JoJo spoke.


Taken a bit off guard, Blair took the boy by the shoulder and quickly escorted him to the bathroom for safekeeping. It wasn't until he was waiting for his guests, that he actually thought about Joey's hearing. Jim, man. I have GOT to get you two into a lab somewhere...

Simon knew Jim would be proud of his partner. Knocking on the door, he'd immediately gotten no response. It wasn't until after he'd identified himself with, "Sandburg -- open the door. I know you're in there. Jim told you not to leave." that the door was opened for him. There was no one in sight, so he decided to come through the doorway anyway. Once inside, he felt something cylindrical and ominous press into the middle of his back.

"Don't make me hurt you Sandburg." Banks turned around slowly, finding the long-haired man with a large grin on his face.

Shutting the door, Blair locked it up then turned to face his friend. "I had to be sure it was you and that you were alone. Hey, it's good procedure and good protection..."

The captain started to respond when he caught sight of the rolling pin tucked under Sandburg's arm. Grabbing it from the officer, he laughed. The marble rolling pin had wooden handles, just about the right size to mimic a gun barrel. "Just what would you have done if I'd pulled a gun on you? Rolled me to death?"

Blair smiled and took the rolling pin back. "You would have been seeing stars faster than you could have turned around, sir."

Simon shook his head in amused disbelief, then carried his bundle to the dining table. "I have gifts for you -- care of Jim." He set the bag down just as the side split and a wall of CD's fell across the table. Looking around, he realized his detective had disappeared suddenly. A moment later, Banks watched the young man lead the Halliday boy out of the bathroom, words of safe reassurance being repeated. Blair stopped at the table while Joey headed back to his toys. "We made a stop."

"Cool. You got these from Fins?" Blair sorted through the pile, not waiting for an answer from his captain, then returned to his seat at the table. While Simon sorted through the plastic cases, he tried again to access the mysterious files, but repeated failures brought unpleasant words to his lips.

Banks smiled. He'd seen the kid upset, but had never heard Sandburg swear. "I think that's my cue to leave."

"Sorry, captain. I think I'll play with this later, after my headache is gone." He replied, removing his glasses and rubbing at his temples.

"Speaking of aches -- just what did you do to Jim's laundry that he's not sleeping?"

Blair smiled mischievously. "Well, it wasn't what I did TO his laundry, but what I did WITH his laundry. He was busy in the basement and you know how fussy he is about wrinkles and stuff -- especially with his senses -- well, he hates wrinkles in his sheets, so I thought I'd go ahead and make his bed for him." He saw the hand come up at that point.

"This is about WRINKLES? He can't sleep on wrinkles?" Simon shook his head. "Figures."

Before Blair could go on, though, Simon's phone rang.

"Banks. Yeah. I'll be right there." He closed the phone and headed for the door, his conversation forgotten. "I have to go. Jim wanted me to remind you to keep the door locked, windows covered, and your gun ready." When he saw the eyes roll, Simon tried to be serious and stern, but found it too easy to be caring and concerned. "No one WANTS to have to use it, Blair. It just helps to have it around." With a smile, he turned the last lock and opened the front door. "Besides. You only have one rolling pin. What if the gunman AND his driver show up?"

"You wanted to see me, Detective Ellison?"

The detective turned around to find DiSabitino standing in the doorway of what looked to be an office. The butler had led him down a hallway into an open room with a large fireplace and a big TV, then instructed him to wait. Ellison had immediately opened up his hearing, taking in everything from the maids' gossip to the sound of DiSabitino opening the office door. He'd known the man was in the next room over, he just wanted to see how long he had to wait. Glancing down to his watch, Jim did the math then smiled. At least he didn't keep me waiting long.

"Would you like something to drink?" Pasquale crossed to the bar and poured himself a short drink, holding out the decanter as a second invitation. When Ellison smiled and shook his head, he stoppered the crystal container and took a seat on the couch. "So, what can I do for you?"

"I was wondering what you meant when you said Joey Fiorelli was a lousy accountant?" He stood watching the little man sip the drink. "It's stuck in my head. If he was such a lousy accountant -- why did you keep him employed?"

DiSabitino finished off his drink in one smooth draw, placed the glass on the end table, and relaxed further into the sofa cushions before answering. "Joey and I were friends for a long time. Old neighborhood friends. We worked together to make my business prosper, and I was grateful for his help. He had no family but mine. My kids called him Uncle Joey. Over the last few years we did a lot more business, so I hired a few new accountants and divided up the businesses between them to relieve the strain on Joey." He watched the officer take a step forward and lean against the back of an easy chair. "I knew he messed up the books, but I just couldn't fire him. He only had a little while left till his official retirement. But I think he really needed the job to keep him going -- he had nothing else, no wife, no kids. And I think I needed to know I'd done right by my friend -- just for my own peace of mind."

"But he didn't just mess up the books, Mr. DiSabitino." Jim took a step sideways, wary of what the man was going to say and removing himself from the direct line of verbal fire.

"Oh, I'll bet you're referring to the rumors of small discrepancies." With a small sigh, he sat back on the couch. "I can't remember seeing anything in the ledgers that I didn't know of or approve." Pasquale watched as Ellison absorbed that information, a nod of understanding the only acknowledgment he received.

Son of a b... Jim smiled. So, DiSabitino knew Fins was skimming money, but he let the man do it anyway. "I take it you knew where he was going when he retired?"

"Bermuda. He bought a very nice villa down there. My realtor got him an excellent price." Standing, Pasquale straightened his tie and jacket then headed back to his office. "I was going to buy a new plane, just for the regular trips I'd be taking. I'll be using the money for the funeral instead." He stared at the floor for a moment or so, then glanced out the window. "Now, if there's nothing else, Detective, I have some calls to make -- a funeral to arrange." With a last glance to the officer, he walked to the doorway.

Jim knew the sad look in Pasquale's eyes was genuine. The man was truly upset by the loss of his friend. "Just a few other questions, Mr. DiSabitino." He saw the man stop, but not turn to face him. "Do you know a Tony Corrozzi?" By the flinch, Ellison knew the answer was yes. "We have reason to believe he was involved in Mr. Fiorelli's death."

"Yes, I know Mr. Corrozzi. He's one of my employees." Pasquale's voice was controlled, even if his emotions weren't, and he balled his fists up until he could feel his fingernails cutting into the skin of his palm. He'd known Fins was moving on; he'd just wanted his account ledgers, wanted the security of knowing he was protected. Joey had promised to have them done by the weekend before, but the weekend and the week had come and gone and still nothing. That's when Corrozzi had offered DiSabitino a deal. Tony would go get the books and ledgers from Fins. In return, DiSabitino would give him a finder's fee.

Pasquale had agreed, but for reasons he didn't share with Corrozzi. He wanted to test Fins' loyalty, wanted to see if Fins could be easily 'persuaded.' If Tony came back empty handed, Pasquale figured he'd relax and give Joey and Tony both bonuses for their loyalties. If Tony came back with the books -- well, Pasquale figured he'd still be arranging a funeral... He loved the man, true, but he'd rather have Fiorelli dead than disloyal.

Taking a step closer to DiSabitino, Ellison continued his line of questioning. "Does he normally drive a dark-blue, 1997 Cadillac Seville registered to your company?"

Pasquale nodded, casting an apprehensive glance at the detective.

"Did Tony tell you he reported the vehicle stolen this morning?" Jim listened to the quickened pace of DiSabitino's heart and noted the flush to the man's cheeks. "I see he didn't. Well, I can tell you this: it was found earlier today, in an alley across town. There's barely half of the vehicle left. The computer had to cross match on color and the partial VIN number since the car had been stripped. Even the license plate's gone." There was no mistaking the slight drop in DiSabitino's stance. His shoulders hunched a bit and his face fell out of its stern alignment. "Do you know where Corrozzi is?"

Pasquale looked back at the detective, who repeated the question. "No. I don't know where he is. We met here earlier, but he left." Anger made it hard to think, and DiSabitino couldn't help but be angry over the events. Not only had he lost his friend, but Tony had returned without the ledgers saying Fins refused to give up the books. Corrozzi said they'd argued and when Joey had threatened to take the books public, he'd taken care of the situation as quickly as possible. According to Jax and Dom, the three of them then turned the house upside down looking for the ledgers, but they weren't there. Pasquale had no doubt the men had done a thorough job of searching. Otherwise, he wouldn't have let his lawyers talk him into giving Cascade PD the keys to the house.

With a sigh, DiSabitino set aside his thoughts and looked over at the officer. "If I see or hear from Tony, I'll tell him you're looking for him."

"I'd rather you not." Jim caught the question on Pasquale's face. "Just give me a call at this number -- it'll go straight to me and I'll get a crew over here so fast you'd think they were the neighbors." By the look in the little man's eyes, Ellison knew his threat had been understood. They would be watching the place, just in case DiSabitino wasn't in the mood to cooperate that day. "If Corrozzi shows up here, call me, then try to keep him in one spot until help arrives."

Pasquale felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "You act as if he's a dangerous man. Is there something you're not telling me, Detective?"

Ellison looked the man in the eyes and spoke carefully. "We need to question him about an associated case -- an incident that happened last night -- we believe it's related to Joey Fiorelli's death."

Pasquale was suddenly very still. He hadn't heard of any other trouble -- yet -- but it didn't mean there wasn't any. "Did he get into a fight or something?"

Jim heard the subtle break in DiSabitino's voice and knew it was a caused by more than just curiosity. "No. A young boy and his mother were the victims of a drive-by shooting. The woman was injured, but luckily the boy escaped physical harm. A vehicle matching the description of your Caddy was carrying the shooters." Before Pasquale could even think about disputing the car, Jim added in a slightly louder voice. "And even burned out, your car's carcass shows several bullet holes that are being analyzed down at the Cascade Police labs as we speak."

DiSabitino was quietly seething. None of the three men had mentioned a boy or woman OR an attack. There had been a brief mention of something like that on the TV and radio stations, but all the details were being kept very, VERY quiet. It struck him, then, exactly why Jax had been nervous that morning. No wonder. He turned to face the officer. "I'll be certain to call if I see the man." Pasquale scowled. He better hope I don't find him first, though. With a genuine smile, he waved the detective out. "If there's nothing else, I have things to do."

Without another word, DiSabitino entered his office and shut the door behind him. He picked up the receiver and dialed a number, waiting as it rang through. "Marcus -- what car did Tony take today? The Lincoln, okay. Find it. Find the car -- and Tony -- AND his companions and bring them to me -- NOW. You understand?" He slammed his fist on the table. He should have known better than to trust Tony. Should have trusted Fins more. A little embezzlement between old friends was nothing. He could have cared less if Joey had doctored the books and taken a cut. Hell, the man had been doctoring books for him for decades. And if Fins was going to take money, at least he didn't get TOO greedy. If Joey had made it through the next two months till his retirement, he would have had just about 2 million dollars. Pasquale knew that Joey could have taken more, but he didn't need it that badly.

But he knew someone who did -- Anthony Corrozzi. He knew the man was in deep, but not how deep. It didn't matter though, 2 million would float him pretty well. Pasquale chided himself for not listening to his conscience the other day. He knew something was wrong when Tony had volunteered to 'reason' with Fins about the books, but thought it was only Tony's way of kissing up. The thought had actually occurred to him that Tony was working up courage to ask for a loan. But when Corrozzi had come back with empty hands and a loaded story -- that should have been the real tip-off.

He sighed, then headed out of his office to the bar in the other room. Pouring a double shot of whiskey, Pasquale sat on the sofa and clicked on the TV, finding the local news. A few minutes into it, he recognized the tail end of a burned out Cadillac and the reporter standing in front of it. He usually couldn't stand the woman but today he turned up the volume, not wanting to miss a word.

"...As far as the media have been informed, this vehicle matched the description of one used in a drive-by shooting last night. The victims were an 11-year-old boy and his mother. The woman suffered a gunshot wound and has been admitted to a local hospital. There is no information available on the boy save to say he escaped serious injury. The investigation is being kept very quiet. Oddly enough, the incident happened directly in front of several detectives who were investigating a murder on the same street. The murder victim was Joseph Fiorelli, better known as Joey Fins. Mr. Fiorelli was a long time friend and associate of Pasquale DiSabitino, a noted businessman in Cascade whose dealings have been investigated quite regularly by the Cascade Police Department. With DiSabitino's indictment history -- of which there have been no convictions -- the police have not ruled out Organized Crime involvement. This reporter was AT that scene last night, and I can verify the officer behind me HERE -- Captain Simon Banks -- was ALSO at the murdered man's home last night. One can only assume the two crimes are related... This is Nina Durantte reporting..."

Act IV

"All right, Banks. Let's see what you and your team are up to now." He settled himself into the chair behind his metal desk. His keyboard tilted every time his fat fingers hit a key, but he didn't bother to move it off the pile of files where it sat. It wasn't like he had any other place to put the files, and they weren't going to get worked on any time soon. Punching in a bunch of access codes, he quickly found the file numbers for the papers he needed. Picking up the phone, he dialed an extension in the building.


"Hi, this is Lieutenant Holland. I need a copy of some paperwork faxed to me. File # HAJ -- 04457."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. In order to keep his hands busy, he tapped a pencil on his desk blotter. From the nasty looks he was receiving, the other officers in his area weren't thrilled. He gave them a snide smile then turned away. A second or so later, he heard the voice come back.

"Your clearance code?"

Without hesitation, he gave the code, trying desperately to control his nervous energy.

"Okay, Lieutenant, I'll have it to you in about an hour."

He stood up quickly and spoke harshly into the phone. "You'll have it faxed to me in the next 15 minutes! I've got a lot riding on this information, and if I lose this kid in the system, I'll be all over your butt for the rest of your natural life!" His peripheral vision caught a slight movement and he glanced up to see everyone staring at him. He quickly turned away.

With his back turned though, Holland missed the several women who made gagging gestures at his words. They knew he wouldn't care anyway, but it was amusing to them.

"I'll see what I can do."

She hung up on him, but he didn't care. Slamming the phone down hard, Holland grabbed his coffee mug and headed for the opposite side of the office where both the coffee pot and fax machine were. He knew that his mere presence at the machine would ward off anyone who might interfere with his arriving documents.

For the seventeen minutes he stood there, no one went near the fax machine. They didn't care what he was receiving, they just knew they didn't want to be near him should things not go his way. The entire office breathed a sigh of relief when he snatched up his fax, then grabbed his coat and left the room.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. When the woman answered, he decided he'd better be nice. "Well, hello. I have some information for you... Now when have I ever brought you bogus stuff? I'm hurt. Really." When her tone didn't soften to his liking, Holland sniped at her. "Just meet me in twenty minutes at the usual place." He stepped onto the empty elevator and continued his conversation. "I've got the connection you need between that drive-by and the murder." He smiled to himself, imagining all the trouble Banks was going to have explaining THIS one.

Very simply put, Blair was stuck. He'd spent most of the afternoon playing with the files Serena sent him. AFTER she'd sent him the password to the encryption program, that is. But for all that the files were now readable, they still weren't making any sense. There were columns of numbers and names and nonsense. He'd printed them out just so he could sit on the couch and try to make sense of them. While Joey sat on the floor playing with his cars and army men, Blair read the sheets over and over until he could recite the numbers without the printouts. The names were easy -- all composers, but then there were long lists of numbers. They looked like accounting sheets, but there were no totals. Just the names and something like numerical dates, then nonsense numbers and letters mixed. The whole thing had driven his patience to sore ends. As if that weren't enough, he hadn't slept much the night before and fatigue was starting to dampen his body's usual natural high. I am NOT telling Jim I couldn't sleep. NO way! he thought to himself, then tried to laugh at his own pain. The bed had only been marginally comfortable, not like his own, and the stress of worrying over Joey had only compounded his restlessness. The result was the headache that wouldn't go away. It had been there all day, making the paperwork all the more difficult.

Placing the papers on the sofa, he walked over to the kitchen, refilling his glass with iced tea then searching the cabinets for the aspirin. It wasn't that he really wanted to take the medicine, he just really didn't have time to deal with the pain anymore.

Finding the bottle and taking two of the little white pills, Sandburg leaned against the sink, setting his cold glass against his temple. The names and numbers were still swimming around his cerebral cortex. Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Wagner were among the most frequently mentioned. But none of the numbers seemed to have any relationship with the composers. He'd tried counting the number of accounts to see if they matched the number of pieces each composer had written. No. Blair tried adding and subtracting numbers, rearranging the digits, forming telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, anything he could think of. But it was all going nowhere. At one point, he even sat down and tried to translate the numbers to an alphabetical equivalent. First he tried using the telephone's alphabet arrangement, where each number represents three letters, but it was obvious from the first three tries that it wouldn't work. Then he tried simple one to one numbers to letters, but that only brought out silly words like 'boongl' and 'dpthwilk.' With a deep breath and long, heavy sigh, Blair closed his eyes in an attempt to relax.

It worked momentarily, allowing him some respite. The pain lessened momentarily and he opened his eyes, looking towards the living room where Joey was still playing in the middle of the floor. He laughed softly then asked the boy for help. "So, Joey. Just what DOES Mozart mean and what has it got to do with accounting?"

"Joey music."

"Yes, Joey's music," Blair confirmed for JoJo, then focused on the comment. Joey knew Mozart was part of Fins' usual listening. Something in Blair's mind clicked and he immediately headed for the piles of CD's on the dining table. If he remembered correctly, Mozart was on the CD player at Joey Fiorelli's when the man was killed AND when the attempt was made on Joey and Julia Halliday. There was a possibility that JoJo's hearing-associated memories would be triggered by the music. If so, then the boy could know something to help with the numbers.

"I'll bet you like Mozart." Sorting through the stacks, Blair found the one marked Mozart and opened the case. From the outside, the CD case looked like any other you'd buy in a store, but when opened, the disc inside was a re-writeable CD, like the ones you could copy yourself. With a soft Chuckle, he grabbed his laptop and inserted the CD into the drive. He didn't want to put the music on the large stereo, even at a low setting it would still be too loud for his headache. The small computer, though, would have a low enough setting. One that would allow Joey to enjoy the melodies while giving Blair some peaceful background. Certainly, if Joey could hear music from across a neighborhood street, then he could certainly hear from across a room.

As soon as the disc was loaded, Blair clicked open the CD-ROM program controls and hit play. The piano sonata began, and he turned to see Joey immediately sit up and stare, a smile on his face. Within seconds of the opening bars, the boy was fully engaged, his arm conducting with perfect timing and attention to rhythm. Sandburg was just heading back to his spot on the sofa when he heard the computer beep as it activated a program. "Oh, man. Don't tell me that's a virus."

Dreading the contents of the pop-up window, Blair sighed and took a seat at the table. But what he saw wasn't so much alarming as it was intriguing. "Modem not found. Please check connection and retry." Not certain he'd understood, Blair read the text again, then questioned the computer. "What do you need a modem for?" Eternally curious, he plugged in the computer's modem and clicked 'retry' with the mouse. The modem engaged, dialed, and connected. Pop-up windows appeared on the screen welcoming him and asking for a password. Unable to fully comprehend, Blair read the window's text out loud. "Welcome to Cayman Islands International Banque. Please enter your password."

"N -- I -- C -- K -- E -- L -- S."

He was so wrapped up in the computer's behavior, Blair missed Joey's message. "What password?"

"N -- I -- C -- K -- E -- L -- S."

Sandburg looked over at the small boy. "JoJo, did Joey talk when he played his music?" There was no answer, just Joey continuing to conduct. He looked back at the computer screen and tried to focus his thoughts. "Nickels. Nickels are worth five cents! Perfect for a guy who's lucky number was five..." He hesitated, clenched his hands briefly, then typed in the word. As soon as Blair hit the "Enter" key, the computer screen came to life and a series of security notices flashed up before the program stopped on a personal accounting page. Program! He sat back in the chair, running his hands through his hair. A couple of the programs Serena sent him had self-installed. Blair figured they were half of the interactive software necessary for access to the bank accounts. The other half was on the CD.

The computer beeped and Blair found a message displayed across the screen. The bank was asking for account numbers. He quickly headed to the sofa to retrieve the printouts. Looking at the columns, Sandburg sought out the entries marked Mozart. There was the first problem -- there were dozens of numbers designated Mozart. That led to the second problem -- which of the three columns was the account number? His eyes scanned the page horizontally, reading the numbers as he rushed back to the table and computer. "Which one? Which ONE? 01-12-16-12- 99? Maybe 1-561-789/1-661-789? Or JF6691 --"

"JF6691 dash 922 dash 6755."

Blair stopped talking, letting Joey finish the number out loud alone. He was right before. He set his fingers to the keys and punched in the numbers. The hourglass appeared, then the page began to reload but this time numbers materialized on the screen. He read across the information and just about fell out of the chair. There were all of the account's transactions, including one from the day before. Blair stared at the time of the action -- it was within the time frame the coroner had estimated for Fiorelli's death. Scanning through the numbers, Blair started to make sense of Joey's coded filing system. For each of the columns on the printout, there were corresponding dates and cash amounts for nearly every one.

There was a sudden crashing sound from the living room. Standing quickly, Blair found Joey throwing his army men and toy cars around the room. One of the boy's hands had formed a tight fist and he was banging it on the side of his head while the other hand threw the toys. Sandburg rushed to the child, dodging flying cars and plastic men as he did. "JoJo! What's wrong? Tell me what's wrong... It's okay to tell me. I want to help..."

"Joey's broke. JOEY'S BROKE!"

Blair grabbed the boy up into his arms before another metal car took flight. Cradling Joey in his arms, Sandburg rocked him and tried to calm him. "It's okay, JoJo. It's okay. We know Joey's broke. We know. It's okay, though, Joey. We're gonna get the people who hurt him."

"Joey's off. Mama's BROKE!"

With a deep, calming breath, Blair closed his eyes. He didn't know what to say to the boy, in spite of the fact that he'd studied and worked with tormented souls like Joey Halliday before. He realized, though, that all his experience had been scientific observation. He'd never really dealt with the fits and seizures, the nurses had. He wasn't certain he even had the right frame of reference to help with this one. A few classes in Psychology were a far cry from being a Grief Counselor. Jim was the one who'd witnessed death so early in his life. Jim was the one with the senses and the discipline and the experience. Jim was the one who'd helped Blair through the first few bodies, helped him to get past the guilt of being human in an inhumane world.

But Jim wasn't there, he was. His headache survived the aspirin, and the adrenaline rush from solving the mystery of Fins' books was quickly waning, leaving a sinking feeling in Blair's stomach. The rhythm of their rocking was hampered by Joey's arms which flinched uncontrollably as the boy tried to physically throw the pain away. Sandburg felt his mind turn fuzzy and realized he was drowning in a pool of stress. Drowning. It's worth a shot... He thought.

"Joey... Joey you have to listen to me. It's okay. Things will be okay. I've been --" he swallowed hard. "I was broken. Joey? Did you hear me? Blair was broken."

The boy stopped flailing his arms and Blair stopped rocking.

"Mama's broke. Chief broke?"

Pulling the boy tightly into a warm embrace and settling his chin on Joey's head, Blair smiled. "Yes. Chief was broken. Chief was -- off... But I'm fine now. Mama will be fine, too. Very soon." Blair felt the boy take a deep breath and sigh heavily.

"Joey fine?"

Blair's heart skipped a beat. "No, JoJo. Joey's not fine. Joey's gone to Heaven." He watched the child somehow consider that idea then begin to rock again.

Several quiet moments later, Blair heard JoJo speak.

"Joey's with Daddy."

Sandburg was suddenly reminded that Mrs. Halliday was a widow. "Yes. Joey's with your Daddy." He felt the boy relax, then Blair felt the warm tears soak into his shirt sleeve and he wanted to cry himself. He hugged the boy and rocked some more, holding on as the boy cried softly. He had a feeling JoJo's tears weren't just for Joey Fiorelli. Knowing the rarity of emotional moments for children like Joey, Blair let him go on as long as he needed.

"How'd your little follow-up chat with DiSabitino go?" Banks set a hand on his detective's shoulder as he stood next to the man's desk.

Jim looked up from his seat and half-smiled. "Much better than expected."

"Join me in my office for a cup of coffee." He held out his mug in invitation, a smirk on his face. "And don't forget to bring your notes with you. This coffee ain't free."

Jim stood and followed his captain to the office. "Well, gee, sir. Since you put it so nicely..."

The smart-alec tone wasn't lost on Simon, who just smiled and chuckled to himself. "Be nice, Ellison -- or I'll pipe in some lovely elevator music and hide your white-noise generator."

"You really know how to hurt a guy, sir." Shaking his head, he shut the door to the office.

"Okay," she said flatly, "I'm here. What have you got?"

Holland looked her up and down as she walked towards him. "My, my, Nina. Don't you look wonderful. That studio sure does treat you well." He smiled smugly, watching as she rolled her eyes at him. When she held out her hand for the envelope he was holding, George shook his head and made a clucking noise with his tongue. "Now hold on, Ms. Durantte. What's it worth to you?"

She put a hand into her coat pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. "What? Having you slobbering all over your shoes staring at me like I'm a roast pork sandwich? Gee? I think I'll give you $200 for that." She smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes at him. "Give me a hint, at least."

"Well, I already told you it was the one connection you needed. What would you say if I told you Simon Banks is hiding a kid who's a witness to the Fiorelli murder?" He watched her nod. Holland had been sitting at his desk in his dank little corner of the State Building when her news bulletin came on. Seeing Banks in the background had given him all the impetus he needed to do a little calling around. He'd known about Banks keeping a juvenile under wraps through Major Crime. So he'd had the file information faxed to him. They couldn't say no to him -- he had all the right clearances and just enough people afraid of him. When Holland reviewed the papers, he knew he couldn't keep the information to himself. So he'd called Nina and arranged to meet her in their usual place, safe from prying eyes.

"Holland -- how much?" She kicked his foot, causing him to lose some of the balance that kept him leaning against his car.

The kick startled him, causing him to scowl at the woman. "$500. Now." He watched her count out the bills then hand them towards him. When he tried to take them, though, she refused to let go, motioning instead for the envelope he held. He handed her the envelope, releasing his grip on it at the same time she released the money. Smiling, Holland counted the bills then opened the car door, preparing to leave. "Enjoy. I'm sure you'll do a great job with the story. Just," and he cast a quick glance over his shoulder to her, "leave my name out of it."

"An excellent idea, Mr. Holland."

The deep male voice made him turn quickly, his hand already going for his gun, but it was too late. Holland watched the man step out of the shadows just as he felt the searing pain in his chest. With a last look at Nina, Holland sneered a final comment. "Bitch."

Corrozzi waved Jax and Dom forward with a hand, then pointed to the officer's body with the gun. "Put him in the car -- lock the keys inside with him." He watched his men do what they were told, then turned his attention to the woman by the little sports car. "Ms. Durantte, how can I ever thank you?"

With a smile, she stepped up to the man and put a hand on his lapel. "I'm sure I'll think of something...later."

Wrapping an arm around her waist, his empty hand touched her face, lifting it up so he could kiss her hard on the mouth.

Ellison opened the office door and headed for his desk. It was quitting time, something he'd looked forward to all day. He wanted to just head home and veg on the sofa, maybe watch a game on TV. During the meeting with Simon, the hospital had called to inform the captain of Mrs. Halliday's progress. She'd be released in another day. Jim had greeted the information with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he wanted Joey back with his mother, but on the other hand, he still felt the need to protect the boy. When he'd asked his superior officer about their housing and safety, Banks smiled. One of the safe-houses had become available that day and the DA had put the Halliday's as top priority. Jim felt certain that Simon had a little something to do with that.

Simon was waiting by Rhonda's desk when Rafe stuck his head out of the conference room. "Jim. Simon. You guys better get in here."

The men exchanged unhappy glances then made their way towards the room. When Jim entered, the TV was on and he felt a sudden panic rise in his chest. DAMN, I hate this room. He lost his train of though when he recognized the woman on the screen. She'd been nosing around the car fire that afternoon.

"...the witness, a Joey Halliday, has not been seen or heard of down at Central Precinct. At least no one I spoke with had any information regarding the boy. My sources say there's an elite cover-up in Central, starting with Captain Simon Banks of Major Crime. You may recognize the name and face from my report this afternoon. Yes, it is the SAME Captain Banks who investigated that seemingly lowly car fire earlier. And the very same man who was on the scene of last night's murder. With no one at the precinct willing to speak to the media, it makes you wonder just WHY they're being so guarded? A source close to this reporter felt compelled to confess his fears for the witness, saying that paperwork had been deliberately re-routed and proper channels ignored. It was his belief that Captain Banks and his investigating crew were delaying the investigations. One can only hope that he hopes to err on the side of caution..."


He turned around to find Rhonda standing in the doorway, shock written on her face. "Rhonda? What's the matter?"

She walked to the table, her legs slightly unsteady. "I just got a call. Uh... A couple of security guards at the mall -- they, uh -- they found a body in a car. Two shots to the chest."

Hitting the mute on the remote, Simon heard the TV go quiet but missed all eyes turned on him. He was more concerned with Rhonda, who seemed extremely upset. Jim pulled out a chair and helped her sit.

"A body. Yes. Rhonda? Did they ID the body?" She nodded and Jim heard every heart in the room skip a beat. He knelt next to her. "Who is it?"

Her wide eyes were rimming with tears. She could feel them. "Lieutenant Holland." For all the ills she'd wished the man, she'd never wanted him dead.

Jim and Simon looked at each other then to the other members of Major Crime, who were staring at them. Scrubbing a hand over his face, Banks clicked off the TV, took a deep breath, and tried very hard not to throw a chair across the room. With a stern look, he pointed to Rafe and Brown. "You two -- go check it out. Get the information from dispatch."

The two men headed out the door, but not before taking a moment to make eye contact with Rhonda. Just something to let her know she wasn't alone.

"Megan..." Simon started, but stopped when his cell phone rang. "Banks." The party on the other end sounded apologetic and concerned. She kept repeating the same thing over and over again. After a moment or two, Simon finally got the idea of what had happened. "Okay, Sheila, calm down. I understand he had all the clearances. You didn't know what would happen." He put a hand over the speaker end and spoke directly to Jim. "You get Sandburg on the phone now. Evidently Holland bullied the Halliday file from a Social Services records clerk. That's how Nina Durantte got her information. The order giving you temporary custody was in there. I wouldn't worry, but with George dead, -- I just get a bad feeling about this."

"You and me both." Pulling his own phone, Jim dialed the loft, but all he got was a busy signal. Trying Sandburg's cell phone only got the voice mail since his partner didn't seem to have the phone ON at the time. He was attempting to call the loft again when the busy signal stopped. Jim re-dialed the number but wasn't any happier when he heard the operator's recorded message. "The number you have dialed is experiencing line trouble. A crew has been dispatched to that location..."

Without another thought, Jim waved Megan to follow him and headed out the door. "I'm going, Simon! There's something wrong at home."

Banks handed his cell phone to Rhonda, letting the women deal with each other, then headed out right after his two detectives.

Blair stretched his arms over his head, straightening the kinks out of his back. After getting Joey settled down, he'd tucked the boy under a blanket on the big couch. Blair figured a nap would do the boy good and allow him some time to further explore the CD's. In the hour and a half that had passed, he'd had gone through seven CD's. Only five of them, though, contained any information. Each of the five discs was a different set of accounts, as well as a different banking institution. Besides the Cayman Islands, there were banks in Switzerland, Italy, Holland, and Bermuda. And there were still ten names on the printouts and at least 20 discs to explore.

He'd just switched compact discs and signed on when the error message came up on the screen. "The modem has experienced a break in communications. Do you want to reconnect? Do I WANT to reconnect? Of course I do..." But when he clicked on the box, the error changed to "No dial tone." Disconnecting the modem from the laptop, Blair grabbed the phone to check for service, but there was no sound whatsoever. "I'm not liking this." Grabbing his jacket, he searched for his cell phone, remembering at the last minute that he'd forgotten to recharge the battery.

Not liking the entire situation, Blair crossed the room and picked Joey up off the couch, took him to his bedroom and got his shoes on. Whoever had cut the phone lines was obviously still in the vicinity of the building. Considering the loft's main phone line came in off the alley, Blair didn't think he wanted to head out there too soon. Of course he didn't want to chance the front entrance just yet either. Getting Joey's coat from the hangar by the door, he grabbed his own, as well as his cell phone. The plug was in his bedroom. If he could get just a couple seconds worth of time...

He'd no sooner gotten the phone plugged in then he heard the front door splinter and crash inward. Peeking out the French doors of his room, he saw two men come through and start looking around. Blair thought that maybe he'd gotten a break, so he quickly opened the back door, the one in his room, only to find a large man standing there, arms crossed over his chest. Slamming the door in the man's face, he tried to throw the deadbolt but the man was too heavy and pushed into the little room. Blair scooped Joey up under his arm and made a mad dash for the front door, only to find his way blocked by another large man with a rather ominous looking gun.

"What do you want?"

Tony laughed and stepped forward. "You're a detective?" He laughed again, seeing the long-haired man put the child down and step in front of him protectively. "You know I want the kid. You know I'd rather not hurt you." He locked gazes with the officer. "But I will if I have to. Now, just give us the kid and all I'll do is have Jax knock you out."


Tony nodded towards the man and saw Jax move in behind him, trying to grab up the kid. It didn't work though, and he watched as the long-haired officer jammed an elbow into Jax's chest, pushing the man away.

Each time Jax moved towards Joey, Blair was able to defend them and block the man's attempts. He was doing fine until they almost shot him. He looked at the splintered cabinet behind him then to the man holding the gun directly at him.

"Next time it'll be your head." Tony stared at the detective. "Jax -- get the kid."

Reaching behind the young man, he grabbed JoJo by the arm and pulled him away. The boy immediately started fighting, flailing his arms, gnashing his teeth, and making such an unusual noise that Jax released him. He watched the detective kneel down and grab for the kid. Then he noticed the way the officer was speaking.

"JoJo, it's okay. I'm here. I'm here."

Tony noticed it, too, as well as other things about Joey Halliday's behavior, and he laughed. "He's retarded. The damn kid is retarded..."

Blair lost all common sense at that moment and let his anger take over. He hated that man, whoever he was. Blair knew he just hated him. Seeing the man's gaze drift away from them, he let out a loud cry of anger, and lunged for the little man, who was so taken off guard that his hand flew back against the chair, releasing the gun, which clunked to the floor out of sight. Once on the floor, Sandburg found the man had even less brawn than brain. Grabbing him by the collar, Blair landed a couple good shots to the jaw before he felt the blow to the back of his head.

Pushing the long-haired man off him, Tony stood up, watching as the Halliday kid immediately went to the man's side.

"Blair's broke... Blair's BROKE!!!"

Corrozzi looked around a bit dazed, but realized that no one was doing anything about the kid. "SHOOT the kid... NOW! Then we can get out of here."

Jax felt his face flush with anger. He'd been through all kinds of hell for Tony Corrozzi, but he wouldn't hurt that kid if it cost him his life. "No."

Looking from Dom to Jax and back again, Tony shook his head. "What did you just say?"

Jax pushed the man out of the way and stood between Dom's gun and the kid. "You're not hurting the kid, Dom. You'll have to shoot me first."

"Shoot." Tony ordered, but Dom didn't respond. Throwing up his hands, he looked around the place. "Where's my gun? I'll shoot all three of you. Jax, you stupid idiot..."

Jax stared Dom in the face, seeing that the gun never dropped. It didn't seem like Dom was helping Tony, but then he wasn't helping Jax either. "Dom -- he's just a kid. Look at him."

Blair barely heard the conversation, but he did see the one called Jax fall to the floor. The boss, the man who'd laughed at Joey, had grabbed the goon's gun and shot the other one. Looking up and around from his spot on the floor, he saw the two men laugh, then suddenly stop. He looked behind him only to find that Joey had a gun in his hands. "JoJo..." he whispered. "JoJo, put it down."

"Stop Tony."

Dom didn't wait for more, just backed up, straight out the front door of the apartment and into a very angry looking man who held a big gun. He turned around briefly, seeing the other detective, then marched forward again. "Uh, company, Tony."

Just inside the door, Jim looked around the room to find Tony standing and two men on the floor. Halfway up the steps, he'd heard the gunshot, smelled the blood. His heart had completely stopped when Joey yelled that Blair was broken. If it hadn't been for Megan's reassuring hand on his back, Jim might have rushed the apartment and gotten himself hurt. "Everybody get your hands --" He stopped; the sight of Joey with the large gun frightened him. Worse yet was his partner standing in the way, trying to deal with the boy's behavior. Jim could see the bloody spot on the back of Blair's head and knew the man was fighting heavily against the pain of a concussion.

"Stop Tony. Tony stop Joey..."

Megan watched as Jim lowered his weapon and slowly crossed to Joey and Blair. She watched as he approached the boy cautiously, speaking softly. Seeing Joey's attention focused elsewhere, she cuffed the man who'd backed into them on the landing, then watched the tete-a-tete a few feet away.

"Joey. You can't stop Tony that way." Jim edged closer, holding his hands out so the boy wouldn't feel threatened.

"Tony broke Mama and Chief!"

Blair smiled, trying to force back a wave of nausea. "I'm okay, Joey. I'm fine, now."

"Liar," Jim whispered, then suddenly regretted it as he saw Joey point the gun directly at Tony. But he saw something else, something painful in the boy's eyes. He'd seen that pain before. In a whisper only loud enough for them to share, Jim spoke to Joey. "You can't shoot him, Joey. I know he hurt your mom and Blair, but if you shoot him then you're just like Tony." Jim saw the head tilt a bit and continued the whispers. "You're too smart for that, JoJo."

"Jim stop Tony."

Blair was swimming through consciousness, his head playing tricks with his hearing. He wasn't sure he heard Joey correctly until the boy repeated his request.

"Jim STOP Tony."

Reaching a hand out to the boy's shoulder, Jim refused quietly. "No. I won't do it, JoJo." He moved to take the gun, placing his hand on the barrel and feeling the boy release his grip. As soon as he had the weapon, Jim pulled the boy to him feeling the small arms come around his neck. "Good boy, Joey. I knew you were smart."

"Jim smart too."

The whisper took him by surprise and Jim smiled at the boy. "If you say so, Joey. If you say so."

Simon glanced around the room and smiled. After getting the bad guys removed, and the door temporarily fixed, the three detectives attempted to get over the adrenaline rush and calm down. Megan had called from the hospital. Jax wanted to make a deal -- as an initial offering, he gave up Tony AND Nina Durantte for Holland's murder. Nina would also face conspiracy charges for giving Corrozzi the information from the file, which had led to the attempt on Blair's and Joey's lives. After calling Rafe and Brown to go pick up Durantte, Simon sat back to listen as Sandburg explained about Fins' CD's, the bank accounts, and the ledgers. In return, Banks gave Blair the lowdown Jim had gotten from DiSabitino. Getting all that straight, Simon called the District Attorney -- at home, no less -- and informed him that he had DiSabitino's books and they'd be in Simon's office until someone from the DA's office came to get them. But he wanted Major Crime to get full credit for the find.

Draining the last of his coffee, Banks glanced at his injured friend, who sat with a bag of half-frozen peas on the back of his neck. He'd never know why they couldn't just get normal ice packs. If it worked, then more power to them. As he stood and crossed to the sink, Simon chanced a glance to the "boys" on the living room rug. They had pushed back the furniture and taken over the rug with a mess of army men and cars. From some secret stash, Jim had produced a set of Lincoln Logs and built several 'command centers.' He and Joey were engrossed in a wonderful battle, it seemed. Banks chuckled and watched the two arrange row after row of green men and tiny vehicles. Whatever they were planning, it was something only they shared. Simon and Blair saw their lips move, but didn't hear any words. Pointing to the battle zone, Banks asked, "Do you know what's going on?"

"You got me, man. I never cared for military history." Blair stood up carefully, feeling his body protest. No part more violently than his head, though. "Oohhh."

Jim looked up at his partner, whispered for Joey to continue the layout, then stood and walked to the kitchen. "You okay, Chief?"

"No -- I'm broke." Blair smiled and flipped the bag of peas over and placed it back on his neck.

Simon and Jim laughed.

"Oh," Banks started "I spoke with the DA, and the safe house is set. Joey and his mother will head out tomorrow. Bet you'll be glad to get your bed back, huh, Sandburg?"

"Definitely." At the good news, Blair automatically bounced a bit, then stopped as the pain in his head increased. "Anything but upstairs." He immediately regretted opening his mouth.

But Ellison wasn't letting his partner off that easy. "HA! I KNEW it wasn't just me."

Simon laughed. "Don't tell me. You can't sleep on wrinkled sheets either?"

"Wrinkled sheets?" Jim scowled at his friend, who tried in vain to say something, but Jim's hand was firmly planted over Blair's mouth while Simon explained their earlier conversation. Ellison just shook his head. "Oh, no. Wrinkles are fine. I'd PREFER wrinkles to what I've got. He didn't tell you that when he was making the bed, his bushman's bracelet broke and the beads were all in between the mattress and boxspring. Felt like someone put rocks under the sheets."

Banks was silent. "Bushman beads?"

"BANTU -- my Bantu bracelet," Blair said, as Jim's hand came away from his mouth. "They're about the size of pebbles. HARDLY rocks. Mr. Sensitivity here --"

Crossing his arms over his chest, Ellison tried to stop the conversation before it got any worse. "There were like two dozen of them. All in one spot."

Banks laughed and headed for the door. "You know, Jim. I seem to remember a bed-time story my mama used to tell me -- about a princess and 18 mattresses. Seems someone put a pebble or something under the very bottom one..."

Jim waved to Simon, hearing the man still chuckling all the way downstairs. "That's great. Really great." Turning to face his laughing roommate, Jim gave him an unhappy stare and mocked the laughter. "Heh heh heh. Laugh it up." Turning back to the living room battleground, he smiled to Joey and mumbled. "All's fair, Chief... All's fair."

~ Finis ~

E-mail the author of this story, Eddie, at wnnepooh@erols.com
Read Eddie's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Wnnepooh's FanFic Grotto
  • A SUPER big thank you to Toni Rae for beta'ing above and beyond the call of duty; my wonderfully indulgent, grammaritarian, and all around pen sharpener. That marshmallow covered Jim is on its way...
  • A low bow to Mackie. May her virtual highlighter never run out and her eels swift and deadly...
  • And a big thanks to Jane, for knowing that writers are fickle creatures...
The photographs in Acts I and IV were provided by Eddie
Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode
E-mail Faux Paws Productions at fauxpawsproductions@yahoo.com
NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: The Kindness of Strangers (2/16/00, FPP-520) by Hephaistos and Linda S. Maclaren (Mackie)
    Every season must have its obligatory 'In the Woods' episode. This is ours.

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