Like Seeing Double

December 16, 2016:

In an effort to fill in some of the blanks in his ongoing gambit, John Constantine seeks out Jessica Jones.

Somewhere in the city.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, The Winter Soldier

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Last night had been bad. Really freaking bad. It was startling after several weeks of feeling almost herself again, almost normal, surrounded by people who seemed to put her at ease. Maybe it was her fear of getting close to anyone. Maybe it was all the feelings stirred up by her suspicions about Barnes. Maybe it was just that she was due for a flashback ridden nightmare ride. But this morning she has a hangover. Dark glasses and the clothes she slept in are yet again the order of the day.

But she has a lead to pursue, and she has to get functional and fast. Which means a cheap coffee stand somewhere Midtown, where she is doctoring her styrofoam cup of black, hot goodness with a shot from a flask and a shot of Tobasco sauce. She pulls out a bottle of Advil to top all this off with, pouring out about 8 of them, popping them into her mouth, and washing it all down with her fantastically nasty hangover cure of choice.

—-

"Breakfast of champions, eh? You know it's hell on your liver, love." The voice is British, but not the posh accent of an Oxford man. It's Liverpudlian, rough around the edges, and so is the man it's coming out of, though the state she's in makes him look practically polished by comparison.

If she looks around, he'll arch his brow over a bright, sharp blue eye, lift the cup of coffee in his hand and prise one index finger off of the curvature to point not at the flask of alcohol, but at the bottle of Advil. "May as well trade up for the good stuff at that point." His other hand is in his pocket and his posture could not be more relaxed, but there's nevertheless something intense about him, something coiled just beneath the surface, like spring-loaded tension on a mouse trap.

—-

"Thanks for the tip, 'love,'" Jessica says dryly, as she caps the bottle and shoves it back into her pocket. She picks up the coffee and takes another long drag of it. "But I'm not buying. There are a few bankers or something over there somewhere," she waves her hand around to indicate a whole lot of nobody in particular, "Just waiting for something to snort up their noses or shoot up into their arms though."

After such a dismissive statement one might expect her to walk away, but she has shifted her stance just a little, as if not entirely sure whether or not she's dealing with drug dealer, friend—such as the term might be used in her case, or foe, and is not going to turn her back on him until she knows for sure.

—-

It's not often he does this, but: John laughs. It's a quick, grating bark of a sound, momentarily ornamented by a crooked smile, but he corrals it quickly enough into a level, /are you serious/ sort of look. "Do I /look/ like a drug dealer to you." Not a question, exactly.

And before she can answer, he pulls his free hand from his pocket and holds it up, as though to forestall anything of the kind. "No, forget I asked. I don't care. Come on. Let's walk. No sense hanging about. I want to talk to you about a man named Gottfried."

The sidewalk grits under his heel as he neatly turns, strolling away from the cart and into the watered-down December morning light, a trail of hot-coffee steam ribboning in his wake.

—-

That name gets her interest, as he knew it would. She turns on her heel to walk with him. She does not laugh with him, though.

If anything, her lips pull down into a darker scowl. "Yeah? Who are you?" She demands, tone thick with suspicion, keeping up stride for stride. She drains the rest of her coffee — this concoction was never meant for slow sipping — and then crushes the cup. She drops it into a wastebasket as they pass, but her gaze never leaves his face.

—-

Once she's in tow, he doesn't bother to look at her save in sidelong glances, brief at best. He keeps his attention on the milling drifts of humanity that populate the sidewalk, gaze always restless, locked in a mild squint. Here, then, is a man who is always anticipating trouble. "John Constantine, at your service — and you are Ms. Jessica Jones, /detective./" He enunciates the last word with great care, his drawling tone of voice blase. "We have a mutual acquaintence. Dark hair, daddy's money. Good with /knacks/." Two seconds later the corner of his mouth curls and his eyes lid, provoked by some private addition to that list of salient qualities. He elects to keep it to himself, however.

"Thought it was high time I meet you for myself, even if it turns out we can't help one another with this sordid ongoing business."

—-

"Ah." Jessica says, going from defensiveness to business. A little suspicion lingers, but only a little. She seemingly doesn't even seem to bother with delving into what he means with his so-careful enunciation. She simply does not care enough. But she does care enough to talk about this.

"What do you know about Mr. Muller, then?" she asks. She shoves her hands into her pockets without breaking stride, face expressionless. But she gives the impression of focused attention all the same, and if the hangover has left her groggy or incapacitated in any way it would be impossible to tell now.

—-

"Well, for starters, now I know that his real name is Muller," John answers, the wry look on his face so dry as to be practically parched. That one earns her a wink. He spends a moment draining some of the contents of his cup, and the hot liquid causes his next exhale in the cold air to billow like steam. "I also know for a certainty now that he's after a book, and I have the lot number for that book. I'm going to go ahead and assume that you have those pieces, too. If not, consider it a trade for Muller's name."

Passing a bin, he hucks the largely empty cup into it, reaching into an inner pocket of his coat to retrieve a pack of cloves and a metal lighter. A click-snap behind his cupped hand later, and the smoke perfumes the air around his person. He never stops walking, albeit at his unhurried pace.

"I'll be frank, love, I have a personal interest in the situation. 'tanna and I go back a way, but I've known her father since I was young enough to be kicked out of bars in the 'States. I've got a line on finding Muller that I'm reluctant to discuss, but there's no sense my rushing off to act on it when I don't know what 'tanna's other hand is doing, is there? Better if we work together."

—-

She studies him for a long time, really studies him. She never stops walking, but she drops a lot of the attitude. She takes off her sunglasses. Her eyes don't even look bloodshot. Her lips pull into a thin, contemplative line. Her answer might surprise him.

"I agree," she says at last. "I don't know the occult side of this at all, and the deeper this goes the less I want her on hand to explain it to me. And furthermore, I want this solved for her sake."

After making that declaration, she launches right into it again. "From what she told me, you uncovered a whole hell of a lot I never would have found or seen. I wouldn't have even had his first name as a starting point without your work. Anyway. I pretexted Muller's assistant in Germany last night. He's connected with a company called INA Germany, a board member, though I don't know how relevant that is. He's also staying at the Excelsior. I don't know what he looks like or what room he was in, so figuring that out was going to be my next step. Unless something you've uncovered suggests a better one."

—-

John's used to being scrutinized, maybe most especially by no-nonsense women who trust him hardly at all, so he's patient while she does. He smokes and walks, and watches the crowds. And he waits.

Tough to say from his expression if he's surprised, but he looks satisfied with her answer, anyway, cocking his head to regard her for the duration of her explanation.

What /does/ clearly surprise him is how willingly forthcoming she is with information: she decides and then she shares, just like that. No manipulation required, no chatting-up, no pissing about. In John's book, that ratchets her up a notch or two on the ladder of his esteem.

Not that he'd ever say that.

"I can track him wherever he goes, once I have my hands on something someone else has promised to give me. Divination. Elementary as magic goes. Until them, I'll be staying well away from the Excelsior. If 'tanna and I are right and he's in league with that fat bastard downstairs, he's probably been twigged that I'm in town already, and I don't want to make him nervous." He squints, deepening the early suggestion of crow's feet at the corners of his eyes. "What were you going to do once you found him?"

—-

"Break into his room. There's a lot we don't know about who he is and where he fits into this. The first time. I'd thought about bribing the desk clerk for a master key, his room number and a housekeeping uniform. Could lead to nothing of course—he could be the type that doesn't keep anything that's not on his person. After that, though, I'd planned on sticking around the hotel so I could follow him the second time he went out, see who else he was meeting with and what they had to say to one another. But if you're going to be able to Divine him, I'll stick to breaking into his room."

Jessica shrugs, and adds, "Before you arrived I was trying to figure out if he might have magicked up his crap somehow to make that a bad idea. If he has, is there any chance you can do something that would keep me from running afoul of that? I'd offer to get you something of his myself, but if I remove something from his room he'll be tipped off. It was going to be strictly look-and-photograph."

—-

John weighs all of that, lifting his gaze off of her and focusing it to the fore again. For some steps he smokes in silence, running the tip of his tongue over his teeth behind closed lips, pensive and undecided.

"He's probably got wards, yeah. I don't know who he is, but he's in league with literal Princes of Hell, love, so he's got some foot in the game. I can give you some things to protect you, but unless I go with you, I can't tell you what he might have in store for you, and honestly? It's best if I don't. I don't know what he's capable of, I don't know if he'd be able to tell I'd been there or not."

His next exhale is dissatisfied, a stream of white mist. A crease nicks the skin between his brows. "Actually, tailing him to see what he's up to might be /very/ useful…but again, I'm not sure I should risk it. Unfortunately, the big boy downstairs knows I'm here, and it'll be tough for me to keep a low profile. You, though…you'd probably have better luck. He's probably expecting me, but you?"

One of his shoulders lifts, falls.

Two steps later he extends a hand toward her, not to touch her but to stop her, encourage her to step to the side of the flow of pedestrian traffic with him. He turns, angles in, closing their positions. Close, because he's pitching his voice low in an attitude of confidences. "Listen…there's something else I want to talk to you about. Between you and I."

—-

She steps to the side with him, nodding — apparently decided to go ahead and tail him with his words. She also had nodded when he said he can give her some things, but it won't be perfect. There are risks. There always are. That only gets a, "Whatever you can do."

As for this new bit, she just waits, listening but seeing no need to add a bunch of words to say that she is listening. Instead, she leans against wall of whatever building they're nearby, letting him get close enough. The fact that he didn't touch her may have gone a long way towards her allowing this proximity without reacting to it. A good long way.

—-

John has a serious face, or a sarcastic face, or an angry face, but he rarely if ever has a look on his face like the one he's wearing now— not that she could be expected to know that. He's wrestling with something within himself, not sure how to proceed, but whatever it is has roots that run deep, down into a bedrock of endlessly glowing anger. Quiescent for the time being, at least.

Finally, after some obvious internal debate, he opts to begin with a question: "Are you going to be with 'tanna when she acquires that book?"

—-

Jessica frowns thoughtfully. "Odd way to phrase the question. We were going to the auction, but it was my idea, not hers. I assumed something was going down there, since there are people using magic to kill to get to the book. I don't know if she told you about what happened in Chinatown. I thought it might lead us to the killer, or her father. Stealing it was never on my agenda, unless doing so meant keeping it out of the hands of someone who might use it to do something terrible. She's seemed focused on her Dad, not on that book."

But then she narrows her eyes. In thought, this time, not in any emotion. "Did she tell you she intends to take it? Or…is it just the kind of thing that would tempt any magical person, let alone a seriously powerful teenager?"

—-

Curiouser and curiouser.

Something indefinable flickers through his expression, ultimately resolving into a faint twitch of the lips and a low tone that might be something like dark humor. "I'll tell you this: her da is after the book, and 'tanna wants to see her da again more than anything. She means to have it. Without knowing more about what the book /is/ — 'Holy Book' is a bloody awful name for an occult text — I can't tell you what kind of influence it might have over someone who has it. What I /can/ say is that her da's been going out of his way to stay out of sight, and he hasn't reached out to his daughter all this time. He's probably trying to keep her out of it."

Dragging a long breath, he looks down at the clove in his hand, flicks the accruing ash off to one side, and then cuts a hard look at his companion beneath his brows, chin tilted down. "I'm not telling you to get in the way of that, alright? But I'm…/asking/…you to keep an eye on her. Zatara doesn't do anything— " Pause. Smirk. " —well. He /rarely/ does anything without a good bloody reason. And I know this, too: when 'tanna and I were in the prison, Kazinsky told us that Mammon — that's the demon prince in question, love — nearly soiled his trousers when he found out 'tanna was about. Can't tell you why, save I can tell you she's…" He sucks his teeth. "Let's say 'special.' So now, here's what we've got: Muller, who wants the book, and was responsible for arranging Kazinsky's possession by Mammon. 'tanna and I speculate the demon prat wants the book, though we don't know why. And the demon also wants 'tanna. Giovanni, her da, has gone out of his way to see to it that he has no contact with her whatsoever, and he is /also/ after the book."

He lets that stand a moment, then sniffs. "I'm just saying. You seem like you want to keep her safe. She's not going to make the smart decision here, but it's her da, innit? So I'm not going to tell her what to do. Just…know, love, what kind of things we're dealing with, eh? And keep an eye on her. I can't do it. If I turn up at the auction it might cock up everything."

—-

She scowls. "It sounds like that thing ought to be /burnt/ to a crisp." But she's thinking furiously, trying to put the pieces together into a coherent picture, a missing persons case that has become so much more.

"And then there's the third party, the one who was sending the assassin after the guest list and potentially Muller as the most interesting of the names on said list so far," Jessica adds. "With very few leads on what /they/ really want. I have to wonder if there isn't a way to credibly switch out the book for a decoy before that auction. Remove one of the variables, while keeping the bait in place. Nevertheless, protecting Zatanna /is/ my first concern."

—-

"Nobody interested in that book, nobody who knows what it is, is going to fall for a fake, I'm 'fraid," John says with some regret, sliding his hands into his trouser pockets and tilting into a sideways lean against the wall beside her. "I wouldn't worry about the assassin. Once I have what I need, I fully intend to get my hands on Muller and get some answers for myself. In fact, I'd go so far as to ask you to let me handle that when the time comes, though the more you're able to learn about him beforehand, the better— as long as you think you won't run him off. I don't know what would happen if we spooked him. He's dealing with Hell, and men with their necks on that chopping block get desperate and dangerous in a bloody goddamn hurry if they think they might come up short on whatever errand they've been sent on. Infernal politicians don't have much mercy for people who bollix things up."

—-

"Fine by me," Jessica says, shrugging her shoulders. "Unless he's directly a threat to Zatanna, at which point I'm going to try to cave his desperate face in for him, and I'll just have to deliver what's left to you. And I'm not worried about the assassin. I'm worried about the people /behind/ the assassin. But that is probably a problem for another day. We'll see where my efforts get us on Muller. Where are you going to be when the auction is going down?"

—-

/John Constantine, you are one manipulative son-of-a-bitch./

Of course, if Jessica destroys Muller, John himself will be in a world of blood-magic shit…but nevertheless, when she says she'll take him down with no hesitation if he threatens Zatanna, all John can do is nod. A very little at first, barely moving his head, and then more visibly, his smile pained but sincere, for no evident reason. "You do that," he says, quiet.

Back to business, then. He pushes himself up off of the wall with a shove of his shoulder, and reintroduces some space between them, bringing the clove to his lips. "Not sure. If I don't move on Muller before then, that'll be my last opportunity. It depends on how it all shakes out. What you learn. What I do." With his free hand, he retrieves a business card, offers it across. "This is how you can reach me. Give me a day to put together some things for you to take with you when you go. But love…don't expect to rely on them. It's like…getting the flu shot, right? We're /guessing/. You'd do better to go in there expecting to have to use your wits and whatever else you have that's dangerous."

—-

Jessica Jones takes the card, then digs out one of her own. Alias Investigations, Jessica Jones, cell number, e-mail address, address, website. She hands it over, and says, "Only an idiot would do anything else," she agrees dryly. "A day it is, and if I don't hear from you by then I'm going to assume something came up and I'm going to go in and rely on those things anyway. That freaking auction's getting closer every day, and I still have no idea what to expect other than a giant mess."

She appears to briefly memorize what's on the card before entering most of the information onto her phone, then she tucks the card away, keeping that third back-up as well.

—-

John's card just has a number and a name — not even a job description. Not even an /email/.

He answers her with a short, sharp nod, and then summons up the suggestion of a smile for her, though his smiles always have something of the rake in them. "Pleasure doing business. Try to stay in one piece."

He tucks the clove between his teeth, gives her one last twinkle-eyed look, and then slides away from her personal space and back into the flow of foot traffic without so much as a proper good-bye. For a man who spends vast amounts of his time engaged in rituals, he sure doesn't stand on much in the way of social ceremony.

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