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Chapter 7

by Stace

Vincent walked briskly down the corridor toward his chamber with Diana in tow. He still had his reservations about Joe, and he knew Father did too. He sensed that Diana did as well, but it seemed she was stepping out in a hypothesis of faith, since there seemed no other way. Not that Joe wasn't a trustworthy man. Vincent had known from Catherine, and even Diana, that he was. But Vincent also felt the presence of a man of black and white struggling to live in a world that was infinite shades of gray...much like Father at times.

"I've been over this a thousand times in my own head, Vincent, since I found out Mouse was in custody," Diana's voice replied to his unspoken thoughts as they neared Jacob's nursery. His heart quickened, and for a split second, he wondered if he'd spoken his last thought aloud. "Even with all of my resources and the helpers I know you have," Diana stated in a vaguely matter-of-fact way, "I couldn’t come up with another way - not when we're short on time."

They'd just arrived at Jacob's nursery chamber. "I know." Vincent's leonine features softened slightly as he turned to the copper-tressed detective. He gently put his hand on Diana's shoulder. Their hearts skipped a beat at contact, startling them both - but neither moved with a start. Only the eyes and pregnant pause betrayed them both. "There was no time..." his voice trailed off to a whisper. Vincent entered little Jacob's chamber. Wrapping a flannel blanket around his son, he scooped the child up in his arms. Vincent combed the boy’s hair with his fingers and handed him gingerly to Diana. They walked over to the far side of the adjacent wall. His hands reached over for the pipes and felt for the radiant heat of the steam pipe that kept this chamber slightly warmer than most others. Locating the pipe to the left of it, he tapped out the message to come to Father's study, addressed it for William, Pascal, and Mary. Now there was only to head back and wait. And to pray that Father didn’t have Mr. Maxwell in a frenzy already.

"We all share the same concerns, and wonder if things might be done differently; yet know inevitably they could not." His eyes glinted nearly imperceptively at the faint pinprick on his heart; a lesson he was still learning--already gone within the next blink. "Now, we discuss what can be done, and pray for a solution."

"Hopefully a solution that *doesn't* involve us all going to prison," Diana quipped with a smirk, nose to nose with little Jacob. "Because daddy and Father would look undignified in those orange jumpsuits, wouldn’t they?" the cop cooed at the little boy. She had to stifle a grin at the picture in her head of Vincent and Father in "prison wear" jumpsuits.

"Daan-nah!” Little Jacob exclaimed, as he patted the sides of Bennett's rosy, ivory cheeks and laughed. All three of them knew she was being facetious. She even thought she'd seen a stifled smile on her regal friend's face out of the corner of her eye. Which she had, because Vincent suddenly got a mental image of both Father and himself in what were construction sign orange, prison jumpsuits.

"Indeed, may no one have to see such an image," he replied as Diana kissed little Jacob's forehead and handed the babe back to him. Vincent's blue gaze met Diana's own hazel with a faint smirk that dawned across his face. "You, Diana, might look lovely in orange."

“Touché,” snickered Diana as they turned to leave the chamber.

* * *

Maxwell's mind was reeling with everything he'd been told in the past few hours. Suddenly, everything made sense. In the breath of a moment, five years of questions and confusion, like a wisp of smoke, dissipated into the air. Cathy's history and behavior. The elusive Vincent guy that nobody could find. The mysterious Jacob Wells, whom he'd met twice before. Elliot Burch's resigned disposition during his arrest. The invisible and untouchable Gabriel. The old man's words sliced thru his cluttered mind like the crisp crack of a whip.

"My help?" Joe's brow furrowed. "Why? How..." But before he could finish, his lips pursed in mid-question, Diana returned to the chamber, with Vincent, who was cradling a child.

"This is Catherine's son, our son, Jacob," Vincent said softly.

Joe's eyes fell on the child in the large, leonine man's arms. "Can I?" asked the man who hadn’t wanted to hold a child as much as he wanted to today. It was a bittersweet moment. He'd wondered how he'd know if the kid was Catherine's or not. It struck the district attorney as a peculiar thing…looking into this child's eyes, the recognition in them. He just knew. Sometimes it was just like that; apparently, this was one of those times.

“Wow. He's beautiful. Nice work Radcliffe,” Maxwell murmured under his breath to himself. There was something about this kid, who was looking intently at Joe; somehow he seemed solemn. Quiet. Very much like Vincent. He felt like he imagined one of the wise men seeing the Christ child for the first time must have felt. Granted this wasn’t Him, but there seemed to be this ethereal quality. It all seemed somehow almost magical. This child in his arms, this place - Vincent; they were out of a faerie tale or dream. "I still don’t get it. Why, or how, do you need my help?" Joe asked again, finishing his earlier fragment of a statement. "As I was telling Jacob Sr. here, nothing has changed over the past 5 years, so why the sudden change of heart to clue me in?"

"Because you need the full picture to understand how everything is connected, and what is at stake. One of our family, our community...needs your assistance, Mr. Maxwell," Father started, pulling his glasses from his face. "We're afraid that everything we have built here, and the people this place has been made to protect will be in jeopardy of discovery."

"How? Who?" asked Maxwell, handing little Jacob back to his regal father. The boy already had his heart. He hoped he'd get to maybe take him to a ballgame when he was older; maybe Cathy would have liked that.

"He's been arrested, taken into custody." Diana pulled today's paper out of her jacket; she pointed out the article and handed it to Joe. "I sat in on the court hearing. In a nutshell he was cited with a warning for loitering outside a jewelry store; but the reason he was put in jail is because he was futzing with a generator in the park." She shrugged her shoulders. "A beat cop ran towards him, yelling and brandishing a baton, and the kid panicked and charged the police officer with a shopping cart. They have him written up for attempted felony theft, a.k.a. grand larceny, and assault…"

He glanced back at the newspaper. "I remember hearing about this." Joe was getting more agitated by the second, thinking he knew where this was going, and cut her off. "Look, Diana, I can't just wash my hands of... I can’t just turn a blind eye! It's felony theft and attempted assault on a police officer." His voice raised, and he put his hands on his hips. Before the words even came out of Diana's mouth, Joe had cut her off. "Even Ray Charles can figure out that this Mouse kid was going to steal that generator--and who the hell knows about the assault charges." Joe's brow furrowed, and his eyes narrowed at the detective. "I've spent my whole career fighting dirty S.O.B's inside the system and in the city, only to find...all along...that…"

Bennett already knew what Joe was assuming. She drew her arms around herself as she walked across the room. She knew where this was going. She already knew what he was thinking. That familiar calm and focus washed over her like warm oil, and she knew she had to pick her moment carefully. Her hazel eyes locked on Joe, placing the cherry on his statement. "Someone you thought you knew and trusted…Moreno?"

Vincent shot a brief, but concerned glance at Father, wondering if this was possibly not the best of ideas. Father shot back a worried, but reserved look. Should they do something? Neither man was certain if one of them should interject or not at the moment. Needless to say, both men were a bit thunderstruck as to how quickly the situation had seemed to digress. Surprisingly, Jacob wasn’t getting upset or fussing. He was like a cat watching a badminton match. It was almost like little Jacob was watching the scene unfold with interest, as if the child knew something and wasn’t cluing anyone else in. Maybe the little one's presence was the thing that kept both Joe and Diana from hollering at each other.

Maxwell glared at Diana and jammed his hands into the pockets of his jacket, pacing. Joe's brain was going at a hundred miles an hour. "I’ve fought all my life against creeps like that! Only to...I mean, do you know what that's like?!"

Diana sucked in a sharp breath, stifling an irritated sigh. "What's it been like, Joe?"

Was she being patronizing? He frowned over his piercing eyes. "It’s been like herding cats, Bennett," he shot back overly sarcastically. "It’s not like it’s better now than it was back on Cathy's case - or any other. I know it’s always been like that to a degree, but Jesus..." Joe stared at the floor. Not that there wasn’t always corruption, but he'd never known how deep the roots dove into his own backyard. Joe went off into one of his textbook rants that he used to give Radcliffe. "I'd never seen so many shut doors, dirty cops, and dead ends…the invisible strings being pulled by who-even-knows who, corruption *everywhere*--and I'll be damned if I’m gonna turn into one of those guys like Moreno." He folded his arms over his chest. "Not even for Growltiger here and the Swiss family Robinson," he retorted, nodding towards what was now Vincent, Jacob, Father, William, Mary and Pascal. William opened his mouth as if to bellow in protest, but Father's raised hand and glance towards the big man, delayed that thought. At least for the moment.

"Come down off the cross, Joe! We're both on the same team!" Diana groaned. "They aren’t asking you to cover up a murder, for Pete’s sake," she added, rolling her eyes. "Look, I know it was hard to tell on the Chandler case, but now you know why. We've *always* been on the same side, Joe. Even when I pulled myself 'off the case,' I was still on the case." Diana glanced at the floor and sighed. Clues and her flashes of intuition on the Chandler case danced thru her mind as she spoke. "The more I found out about Catherine, the more I realized I simply couldn’t risk the exposure doing things conventionally..." Diana's eyes and voice trailed off for a brief moment, as if she was looking into the past, or maybe the future, as she leaned up against Father's table. Then Bennett's hazel eyes snapped back to the present, and to Joe. "No one here is an island unto themselves. Vincent, the people of this community, Jacob and everyone's welfare, their safety. It *is all* intertwined. If you jeopardize one thing, everyone takes the hit and suffers the consequences."

Maxwell's demeanor loosened up as his mind rewound to those months of the Chandler case and his altercations with Diana. He still had his reservations about this, not to mention her at times. That and not knowing exactly what they were going to ask him to do. It reminded him of an episode of the Twilight Zone. I digress, he thought, Everything from Cathy's death to the present has been like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Was he going to be asked for something he could do with a good conscience? "Well, what are you asking me?"

"I'm asking you to help us figure out how we can help Mouse. Keep him out of…" Diana didn’t get a chance to finish her thought.

"Bennett, won’t a stint in jail teach this Mouse kid a lesson? I mean, he seemed pretty milk-toast to me. From the sound of it, the detox might do him some good," snorted Maxwell.

Diana looked up at Maxwell from under her eyebrows. "Really? Up to 20 years for felony theft, a.k.a. Grand Larceny, is a stint?" Her eyebrow cocked along with her head in annoyance. "Because you and I can both attest," started the detective in a vaguely sarcastic tone, "to the high, successful rehabilitation rate of the kids that get put into NYS as young adults - and the low numbers of repeat offenders." They both knew, those were *not* high or good numbers.

Father broke in, before Joe could comment or reply to Diana's last statement. He saw this as prime opportunity to politely interrupt while he actually had a chance, which was at approximately the same time Mary was about to bore a hole in his head with her for-the-love-of-God-do-something stare. "Normally, Mr. Maxwell, I believe that would be a proper consequence and deterrent to future transgressions," began the older man, as he ambled on his cane over toward Joe and Diana from where he had been standing. "However, I do not think that would be the most useful or effective course of action." Joe had a slightly confused scowl on his face as he scanned between Diana and Father. "Please, bear with me and let me explain. Mouse is a...unique...young man," began Jacob Sr., looking down over his spectacles at the district attorney." We would say that he is somewhat...eccentric. One thing is his complete disregard for grammar and sentence structure." Father cocked a salt and peppered eyebrow. "He finds it to be a waste of time to learn, essentially because *we* are able to discern what he means--even in his broken English." Diana nodded in agreement.

"For that matter, Mouse doesn't completely grasp the concept of property or keeping a kitchen hygienic!" butted in the fairly large statured William, who had been dying to interrupt for the past few minutes. "I'm sure we *all* remember the flour episode a couple of years ago," added the middle-aged man as he wiped his chocolaty hands on the off-white apron and put one out to Maxwell. "I'm William, the head cook down here." Joe stifled whatever he'd planned on saying before, and shook the hand offered to him. "That kid's pet raccoon opened up a brand new sack of flour, ate some and got it all over the damn kitchen." he nodded his head in the direction of the kitchen and proceeded to tell the story as if it happened yesterday.

The older man leaned on his cane in thought for a moment as Joe digested what he'd been told so far. "Although it isn’t specifically mentioned, out of common politeness and gentleman's decency, Mouse comes by his name honestly." The elder man cleared his throat. "He acquired that name due to his eccentric mannerisms, and his penchant for collecting odd things." He nodded his head in silent affirmation. "In those things that interest him, like mechanical devices, or gizmos, as he calls them, he can be quite brilliant and resourceful." It was then that Father pointed to Vincent. "However, had it not been for Vincent, I don’t know what would have happened to him."

Vincent stepped forward, still cradling baby Jacob in his arms, who was terribly fascinated by all the goings-on. "When we found Mouse," began Vincent, as he acknowledged Father with a nod, "he knew no language to communicate, and had no name. We believe he was abandoned or orphaned. Eventually, we won his trust, and the slow process of learning began. "

Hands on his hips, Joe looked at Bennett. "Well, this makes sense out of what I’d heard from Pointer so far. Granted, I'll still have to look over his paperwork in the morning." Diana shook her head in affirmation. The next thing Maxwell knew, he was sitting in a large antique chair, across from Vincent, who went thru the story of Mouse coming to the tunnels and the arduous process of teaching the young man everything. Pascal, Mary and William chimed in there and here as Vincent and Father tagged into and out of the story. In an hour they covered what he'd taken to, what he hadn’t or wouldn’t take to, what he was adept at, what things and concepts he could and couldn’t grasp.

"So..." Joe squinted, trying to get his head around everything. He had calmed down considerably since the beginning of this adventure. "Let me get this straight... This kid is like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and he's up for Grand Larceny, trying to assault a police officer and will be on his way to Bellevue in a couple days for eval? “Wonderful. That wasn’t much time.

Diana shrugged her shoulders. "Well, more or less, that is it in a nutshell." She sighed through her nose. "Mouse isn’t as handicapped as Raymond in that movie. I believe Mouse has a degree of savant-syndrome, but I don’t think he's autistic." Her brow furrowed in thought. "I mean, if he is, Joe, it’s borderline." The detective’s flame-red ponytail whipped to the side as she abruptly turned back toward the district attorney. This didn’t seem to her like it was a morally bankrupt position to be in, nor that difficult; but Joe was stubborn, and probably wanted to make sure he wasn’t being taken for a ride. Another deep sigh escaped her.

"These people are his family - he's got nobody up above. He'll get eaten alive if he goes to prison, and if he goes to Bellevue, he's never going to see his family here again. He'll be totally broken, and this safe place will fall like a house of cards, Joe." Diana shifted her weight from one leg to the other. "Can we keep Mouse out of both prison and Bellevue without sending ourselves to either? We do have a couple of things in our favor.” Her eyes shone brightly with a fierce determination. "First, technically, he wasn’t caught *in the act* of actually stealing anything. Second, is his possible mental state or condition, because his odd behavior was documented by the officer who warned him about loitering. I think the hardest part is going to be helping Mouse understand *how* what he did was wrong, and how to make amends for it - not *just* telling him it’s wrong, because that obviously doesn’t work.

Joe whistled softly aloud. "Wow. That's a helluva tall order, Bennett." He rose to his feet, sliding his hand thru his hair. "Let me think..." He pursed his lips, deep in thought as he slowly paced from the chair to the table. He did see and understand, even if he had overreacted before. He was also glad he felt confident that Diana was still one of the 'good guys'. Granted, this wasn’t going to be easy - because they were going to do this the right way. But even he, now having all the facts, didn’t think Bellevue was appropriate, much less prison. "Can someone tell me more about these 'helpers' that I’ve heard about?"


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