AKA Millennial Pink and Unicorn Latte

October 13, 2017:

Jessica Jones catches a new case. Is it as simple as a dispute between business owners? Or is something deeper going on here?

The Checkerbrick

A lovely, hip building.

Characters

NPCs: Melody Attah, emitted by Clint Barton

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Peggy Carter, Michael Carter, John Constantine

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The case doesn't sound overly fascinating in the email that Alias Investigations received while Jess was in Wakanda. It does have the benefit of being relatively fresh, with a client who followed up and said they still didn't have an investigator to take their case.

The client is Melody Attah, one of two proprieters of an Instagram/Pinterest friendly shop located near the Javitz Convention Centre. The shop, rather obnoxiously is named Melody fur Elise, after herself and her business partner and best friend, Elise Campbell.

Or perhaps that should be: former best friend.

Melody didn't go into details on the phone, except to say it's a conflict with her parter. She asked Jessica to meet her at the coffee shop next to her business called Espresso Express. It's a lovely building, nicknamed the Checkerbrick for its black and white brickwork. It's on a block with a lot of similarly character-filled, good-repair buildings, though a few are looking a bit more worse for wear.

Melody is sitting at a table near the window. She's a very well put together young black woman in her late twenties or early thirties with a head full of neat braids. Her wardrobe is upscale, but understated. She has a nose ring and silver earrings that are long enough that they almost reach her collarbone. She's scowling at something on her phone and angrily typing something out.

*

Jessica had at least been answering her e-mail in Wakanda, so she'd had the opportunity to explain she was pursuing a case abroad. Frankly, she's a little surprised, and a little pleased, that someone might wait for her to return before pursuing their case, because she had in fact referred the Melody to a couple of other PIs.

Business partner disputes can be a bitch. Sometimes what they need is a mediator and a hug, and if that's the case she'll refer them to Nelson and Murdock. She isn't sure if those two are doing any mediation work, but they'll know who is. Or, hell, maybe they'll decide to start.

She arrives wearing a grey V-neck t-shirt, jeans, her black leather jacket, fingerless gloves, and a panther-toothed pendant on a leather cord. Some things are part of her now, and she feels weird without that on, though she sometimes slips it under her shirt collar instead of wearing it out.

She orders herself a black coffee, singularly unimaginative in coffee shops even when presented with other options, and helps herself to a seat. She'll let Melody finish her angry texting before she tries to initiate a conversation, and she's feeling a bit more patient about the whole thing than she might, otherwise. Maybe far too many things are in perspective for her these days. Maybe she's just glad to have cases right now that seem so simple in comparison to trying to work a cold case involving international terror rings, isolationist nations, and friends on a deadline. Whatever it is, well, even she's enjoying it while it lasts.

*

"Are you Jones?" asks Melody as she looks up from her phone and feels eyes on her. "Oh, thank god. Have a seat, please." She's English, from the sounds of things. Either that or she's doing the Madonna pretentiousness thing and putting it on. It sounds a little more Estuary in contrast to the received pronunciation of people like Peggy and Michael. "You come highly recommended. And you've got good reviews on Yelp. I honestly wasn't even sure I was going to pursue this until the other day." She taps her phone a few more times and then sets it face down.

*

"I'm Jones," Jessica says, offering a hand. "Nice to meet you, Melody."

She's heard Peggy's, Michael's, Constantine's and of course Kilgrave's the most, but this has only given her three different flavors, enough to tell her there's more accents than 'generic English' in the UK. Here's a fourth, and she listens to some of the differences with interest. Of further interest is the wide variety of reasons people come to her. With Zatanna, it was word on the street which said she could take a beating. Tony'd had some dossier on her all along. T'Challa had used his intelligence service. Danny, of course, had wandered in and asked Ted. 'Good reviews on Yelp,' a service Jessica has spent zero point zero minutes looking at, ranks right up there as one of the most normal reasons why anyone has contacted her in the past year. It's actually a little endearing. It's also nice to know former clients are not talking shit about her.

Really, it makes her feel like everything's ultimately going to be ok, like there's a wide open road ahead of her. Over the summer, she'd been unable to really work, and had been unsure how her testimony might impact things. Answer: not at all, thank you Yelp, and that makes her pretty damned happy.

"Why don't you give me the rundown on what's going on?" she suggests.

*

"Hiii," says Melody in a way that is a bit grating, but also genuine. She squeezes Jessica's hand like she was just introduced to a friend's friend. Her nails are painted baby blue, and they don't look like she did them herself.

The cheerfulness fades when Jessica gets to the heart of it. "Oh my god. It's been a complete nightmare. So about a year ago, I went into business with my mate Elise. We've been friends for like, five years, right? We met in school. Parsons. I was studying lighting and interior design and she was studying photography and communications design. We hit it off like, right off. It was like, synergy." She pauses a moment to sip her latte.

At that moment, a bit of a disturbance breaks out towards the rear of the coffee shop. A customer is getting very irate at a barista who looks confused. The customer slams down a cup hard enough to break it and storms out, leaving the staff looking perplexed.

Melody eyes the commotion, before shrugging it off and returning to her story. "Anyway, long story short, last year we opened our shop. It's right next door. Things were going well enough, but we've started to butt heads. See, she got mad into Instagram and Pinterest and all that and keeps wanting to push us to buy lots of shit from China that just happens to be millenial pink and unicorn latte or whatever the fuck. I want to make the space somewhere local artists can exhibit. I thought we had found a balance, until two shipments of artwork got damaged in a row. And I know, it was totally rotten of me, but I looked at the CCTV." She starts to flip through her phone, presumably in search of the video.

*

While Melody's tale unfolds, Jessica Jones drinks her coffee. She just sips and she listens. Melody will never have to doubt she has the full attention of the detective, whose face remains neutral yet open throughou the conversation. A cup of coffee isn't as great for maintaining that aspect as a smoke can be, but they're inside a cafe and she's not about to try to light up here.

It's also safe to say the disturbance is noted. Maybe not immediately counted as relevant, but Jessica notes it. She tends to catalogue a lot of details either consciously or subconsciously, storing them till she needs them later. Angry customers in New York City are just kind of par for the course though, so she doesn't note it long.

She's already developing a list of questions, but for now she just listens, waiting for Melody to cough up the CCTV. She presumes she's about to see Elise doing something completely batshit on camera, but she'll wait till she's actually seeing it.

She leans forward a little to look at the video once Melody has it.

*

"Ah, here it is." Melody flips past a few photos of sculptures with visible damage before she finds the CCTV footage. "I taped the playback with my phone because I was worried it might disappear. And it bloody did! The original got 'corrupted.'" She snorts. Then she holds up the phone and hits play.

The video is a little distorted for being a cell phone video of a slightly low-res camera, but it's visible enough. It shows a woman with short dark hair shoving aside a series of boxes. When one of the sculptures wrapped in bubble wrap falls to the ground, she doesn't seem to care. The woman in the video rips off the manifest and scans it, then pushes over one of the boxes and walks out of frame.

"See? Bullshit, right? These are one of a kind pieces trusted to us by artists, some of whom we went to school with. And she has a fit! So what I need is some more proof of her fucking about so I can break our contract. Right now we're at a stalemate because she claims I signed up some other artists without talking to her, but I bloody didn't. That crazy bitch signed my signature to some papers and called it proof."

*

Jessica frowns thoughtfully. "Have you consulted a lawyer about this? I mean you're holding video of her committing an act of vandalism against your inventory. Usually that's exactly the kind of shit I plunk down on my client's desks as solid work product, that kind of thing right there."

She did hear the operative word 'more' in front of that proof, but how much better does a video get?

Granted, she's not a lawyer. That might be the kind of answer Matt or Foggy would have for her directly off the tops of their heads, but there it is. And she won't take this woman's money without knowing whether there's something she can do for her. Especially if legal care is what she really needs instead of detective TLC.

*

Melody tosses the phone down on the table. "She swears the video is a fake. She says she was in Westchester visiting her sister at the time of the timestamp on the video. They did a Skype chat all together with her mum with her nieces and nephews." She rests fingers against the side of her head. "Plus, she says that the contracts she says I signed breached our agreement. She says if I want out, I just walk away. But I have a lot of bloody money tied up in that shop!"

*

"Alright, so there's two possibilities here."

There are actually three. But one of them, she won't mention.

"The first is that she's lost her shit and is guilty as fuck, wants the shop to herself and is doing a bunch of shitty stuff. If that's the case, I'll find out about it, and will get you what you need to deal with it. The second possibility is a third party is sowing discord between the two of you for her own purposes, and if that's the case, I'll find out about it."

Possibility 3, of course, is that this is Melody's attempt to commit fraud by doing what she's accusing Elise of doing. And if that's the case, Jess will find out about it, and deal with it.

She takes out a standard contract. "Either way, I'll take the case."

Fortunately, even her Internet-printout contract has clauses in it which cover things like 'if Jess finds out you're doing shit you shouldn't be doing you don't get your money back and you probably go to jail when Jess turns that shit in to the right people.' She reminds herself yet again to go to her lawyers to fix this paperwork.

"Rate's $200 an hour, I ask for a 10 hour deposit up front, the bare minimum it takes to competently even do preliminary work on all but the most open and shut cases, which this won't be. Sign there and there, cut the check, and then first thing's first…I wanna go look at the back room of that shop with you in person. I also want a full list of your vendors and artists, and anyone, and I mean anyone, who might hold a grudge against either of you, mean you harm, or stand to profit if your business goes down in flames. You also need to stop escalating the situation as of yesterday. Get yourself a lawyer to look over the contracts, communicate with Elise only through your lawyer, and stop accusing her of things. You're going to do that because you don't know what's going on yet, and you could end up screwing yourself over bigtime if you keep arguing with her. We don't know anything yet, that's what you've gotta get into your head, and if it's something you haven't considered yet you might find yourself in a position of wanting to salvage this relationship later. And whatever's going on, the more you talk now the harder it's going to be to get satisfaction later, got it?"

*

Melody sits there, hand to head, other hand holding her phone. Though she's actually listening to Jess rather than half-disconnecting. She seems to be cradling the device because it contains evidence of a friend's wrongdoing. She seems a little crestfallen when Jessica goes down the possibilities. If she really is stirring shit up, she's a good actor. She does seem rightly conflicted the way one would be when faced with a friend's betrayal. "Can I send you an e-transfer? Just send me a PayPal invoice and I'll pay it straight away."

Meanwhile, there's a crash in the back, raised voices, and the sharp sound of sobbing. The young barista who was being yelled at by the customer earlier storms through the cafe, dropping her Espresso Express branded apron on the ground. An older man emerges from the back and shakes his head and sighs. He walks over to pick up the apron. "Sorry about that, folks. Mark, get that tray of madeleines from the back, please." One of the other employees disappears, then starts handing out the delicate little cookies to the dozen or so patrons. The young man sets the cookies down in front of Jess and Melody with a sheepish look.

*

"Oh, yeah, sure."

Jessica does have a few more modern ways of getting paid in place. This is literally the first time someone has asked to use it. She pulls out her phone to generate the Paypal invoice and email it over though, fingers flying over her holographic keyboard, and adds, "You two didn't use a social media platform called iDol did you?" Whenever she hears Social Media and Trouble in the same sentence she immediately thinks back to the tech startup apparently wrapped up with an influx of Primordial Darkness, and the sweeping mystical case she only half understands. So she has to ask that as well.

Then…more trouble in the back.

Jessica immediately feels for the older man, and thus her habitually severe expression gentles. "Rough day?" she asks him. She picks up a cooke and salutes him with it, then takes a bite out of it. Not even Jessica Jones turns down free cookies, c'mon.

*

"Naw, just the regular platforms. Elise is addicted to Insta and Pinterest though." Melody opens the email and clicks through quickly. Before long, Jessica's phone is pinging to indicate the money has been transferred.

The older man looks over as Jessica addresses him. He sets hands on his hips and shakes his head. "I had to let someone go. I never like doing that. They're good kids, but some have their troubles and can't quite keep it out of work. Sorry for the disturbance, ladies."

"Yeah, the girl who left. I've seen here her for months. Always remebered my order. Talked a bit much but otherwise seemed lovely. What did she do?" Melody takes a small bite of the cookie.

The older man shakes his head. "I don't want to get into it, but there were some incidents with a few customers. Sometimes people seem just fine, but their troubles leak out in unexpected ways."

*

"Good. Stay off iDol," Jessica warns. "I'll let you draw your own conclusions about why a PI might tell you to steer clear of a social media platform."

Conclusions which she bets won't have a thing to do with the real reasons, but that's okay. So long as Melody does it.

Jessica lifts an eyebrow at the old man's explanation. Now this is bugging her a little, this whole exchange, but it's like the word 'yellow' in A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's just wandering through her mind, searching for a place to connect, and it isn't finding anything yet.

"Sorry to hear that," she says. Money in her account, which means it's time to suck down her coffee and finish her cookie. "Alright, Melody. Let's go have a look at the back room of Melody fur Elise," she says.

She even manages to say that store name with a straight face.

*

Melody also signs the contract without looking too closely. People really should be less trusting, but she's of a generation that blindly clicks through terms of service without reading anything and gives apps too much control. Her signature is almost artistic. It's legible but without being overly constricted.

"All right, but we'll have to be quick. We've both agreed not to go in the shop unless we have to. But I would call this have to." She lifts a hand to the manager of the coffee shop who looks distressed at what just went down. He nods in farewell before disappearing into the back.

*

"Well, you just stay outside and I'll go in," Jessica replies easily enough. "I need to take some photographs and look around the scene of the vandalism is all. I'll do a walk around the outside as well."

There are lawyers that might split hairs about the distinction, so she adds, "Did you agree in writing with the help of an attorney, or was this a verbal agreement shouted over the phone?" It doesn't matter much for Melody's agreement to go into the shop, but it might matter for Jessica's ability to walk in there and have a look around, as an agent for Melody's interests. Granted, she won't get much farther than walking the scene before she is going home to do workups on everyone who winds up on the other woman's lists. "You can make those lists for me while I work," she adds, with a wry smile. Fun, fun, fun for everyone, that's Jessica Jones. But she stands, and lets the woman lead the way.

*

"Angry text, actually…" says Melody a bit guiltily with regards to the 'agreement.' "Some of the pieces were already sent off for repair or returned to the artist, but there's a box of things still left." She leads Jessica around to the rear of the checkerbrick building. The coffeeshop and Melody fur Elise's loading docks are separated only by the rear entrance for the tenants above. It really is a lovely piece of architecture. Even the fire escapes that zigzag up the building looks well-cared for and have detail and character.

"I actually have all my vendor files on my laptop at home. I need to look over them and take off some contact info. If you really need to get in touch with someone on that list, I'll give you the info, but I'd probably get in shit if they knew I just gave it to you. Some of them cut us a special deal by working with us at all. They usually only do much bigger outfits."

*

"I'll tell you right now I'm going to need to get in touch with people on that list," Jessica says flatly. "Trust me, the way I got the information is at all times chalked up to 'Private Detective.' If you scrub the info I could have just gone right ahead and unscrubbed it."

She wriggles her fingers, like 'oooooh, magic' and waggles her eyebrows in deadpan fashion before leaving Melody to it.

She is going to start with an exterior examination of the loading docks, as well as any other entrances into the shop itself, back or front. She's looking for signs of forced entry, or anything else out of the ordinary. Sure, Elise could have just walked in and hit the back. That's certainly Melody's theory of the crime. But is it true?

"Fire that video over to my email while you're at it," she adds.

Once she's finished with that she'll walk into the back via the loading bay doors and do exactly the same things, in addition to taking a closer look at the box of things that remain, swapping fingerless gloves out for evidence collection gloves before she does. She's ready to take pictures of anything that hops out at her.

*

"Did this contract of yours say something about confidentiality on your part?" says Melody as she digs out her copy of the contracts to try and read it. Then she's busy on her phone to send Jess the needed documents. She puffs out her cheeks. There's a few pings on her phone as she responds to other text messages.

The loading dock leads into a storage area, and two desks that are partitioned with dividers and curtains to make the workspaces look like they're…not on a loading dock. The two women clearly have good taste, because they didn't do a terrible job. It's fairly easy to tell from a glance, even with the short time they've know each other, which space is Melody's. It's very neat, with neutral lighting and modern touches. The other area is a bit larger, but that's because it has a lightbox for photographic merchandise. There's a literal mood board on the wall above the desk with snipped out bits from magazines. It's also got a full computer with a large monitor as opposed to Melody's space, which just has docks for the laptop that's not there. There's a small kitchenette, again, rather clean.

Jessica's phone pings to signal the arrival of the video. From it, it's easy to locate the camera and where the merchandise in question was damaged. It was towards the entrance to the loading dock. There is a box sitting there that is clearly damaged, and when the detective steps forward, her foot hits a piece of ebony-coloured sculpture and sends it skipping across the floor.

*

"Yep, the confidentiality bit is standard."

Which you'd know if you'd read the damn thing before just blindly putting your name all over it, Jess thinks, but Melody only radiates Normal Person, not Decency to the Degree where Jess will risk chasing her off by trying to teach her Life Skills 101. At least she's sending the information the PI will need to get her job done, and that's something.

Jessica bends down to pick up the piece of sculpture. She puts her earbud in and dials Melody from inside the building. "Why'd you guys keep this box in particular?" She examines the shard first, then will take a photo of it and the rest of the sculpture it goes to. She also looks around to try to identify both the piece, and the artist.

She looks longingly at the computer and decides against it. They're in a dispute, and trying to break in to read Elise's emails isn't 100% legal. Sometimes Jess doesn't really care, but if she's going to help here she's got to stay more or less above-board. She's got a few ideas anyway that are a lot less grey area, but for now…the sculpture.

*

Melody is a little perplexed at why Jessica is calling her at first, but then she remembers it's so she's technically not inside. There's the sound of her shifting her phone. "I haven't been able to discuss the damage with the artist. He's currently in Bolivia. The pieces were all consignment, so that's a lot of money we're out. If she willfully damaged it," is that doubt in her voice? Or is she just working the angles like Jess? "If someone had broken in and damaged it, our insurance would cover it."

*

Score one point against Elise doing it then, because Elise stands to gain exactly nothing if her alibi doesn't hold up. "Do you have intrusion alarm services? If so, who with and who has codes? Who has keys to the doors?" She hadn't seen any signs of forced entry yet. She kneels down and opens up the damaged box, deciding to just collect the ebony sculpture shard as evidence.

She does not, of course, engage or even offer sympathy for the money problems; that's not what she's here to do. She still hasn't gotten a chance to research the client herself, she just wants to strike while the crimescene is hot. Speaking of which: "Did you file a police report about this or did you just keep it to angry texts? Have you spoken to your insurance company at all yet?"

All important things to keep track of here, all notes that will go into her case file later.

*

"The alarms were supposed to be installed later this month," says Melody regretfully. "We thought it would be a good idea as we started hosting more expensive pieces. But there's a gate on the front and that door if you look, is pretty solid." By that door, she means the loading dock door. Which is indeed heavy and solid with an industrial deadbolt. The garage-style loading dock door is likewise solid. At the moment though, it looks like it doesn't quite meet the ground. There's about a quarter to a half an inch gap.

As for the police report? "No, you have to understand, Elise has been my best mate forever. I didn't want to get the cops involved even if there was something illegal. At least not at first. Should I have?" then, "No, no insurance yet. Like I said, we'd need proof it wasn't one of us to collect. I went over the policy really closely. It covers accidental damage, but not up to the full worth of the pieces, but full coverage if someone broke in."

*

"You've got me now," Jessica says with a shrug. "Cops are just going to take a report and it might not even be as thorough as mine. Mine still holds up with the courts and the insurance companies when the time comes." That wouldn't be true of every PI, but Jessica is professional and makes sure of it.

She studies the collection of ebony swirly sculptures, takes a photo, and sees nothing of interest there in particular. Then she goes to take a look at the locks. She takes a picture of the deadbolt, noting the brand. She also gets right down on her hands and knees and looks down at the floor beneath that loading dock door. "How long has this door been screwed up? That new?" She looks up to see if it's just off its track or what might otherwise be wrong with it. She's not sure how a half-inch gap could get someone in, but she's going to take note of it anyway. It's out of the ordinary, and right now that's right on the list.

She also refrains from saying 'alarms are a good idea from the moment you open a friggin' business.' For one thing, she's Jessica Jones, owner of Alias Investigations, home of the Multiple Friendly Break-Ins.

*

There's the shadow of feet as Melody checks the other side of the door. "Shit, I don't know." Her voice can be heard through the phone and also through the door. "We would have noticed water come in the last time it rained, so it must have been after that. And, I forgot to answer a question you asked earler. There's a key for each of us, a spare key in a safety deposit box, and one with the landlord."

Then, "I don't want to rush you, but I just remembered that Elise talked about coming by for her camera. Best if you're not creeping about when she does. Though if she checks the security camera…"

*

"She'll see someone acting like a PI. Morgan," Jessica asks her voice assistant on her phone. "Date of the last time it rained?"

She takes pictures of the door that's been tampered with. The security cameras will keep her from dumping out trash or something too. Damn it. She grimaces around the room. And decides not to tell Melody that she's not going to be able to get through this investigation without talking to Elise too, but one thing at a time. "Don't forget to send over your landlord's contact information too."

With that, she decides to go ahead and leave. Maybe she can talk Elise into letting her have a closer look later, simply by pointing out it's right within her best interests to do so. Either way, her nervous client is probably going to bust a gasket if she keeps at it much longer.

She hangs up the phone and adds, "I want you to call me if you think of anything else, or if anything else happens."

*

The digital assistant confirms that the last time it rained was a day or two before the timestamp on the video. "I will," says Melody. She stands outside, though she looks towards the shop with what looks like longing. It's quite a thing to be shut out of something you helped build. "And thank you. For taking this case."

*

Don't thank me yet, Jessica thinks grimly, but the truth is she believes Melody. She'll still follow her around, check all of her records, including her credit report, and generally treat her like a suspect until it's clear she has no reason to, but for the most part, as of right now, she more or less believes her. She just isn't going to make any real judgments till she knows all the facts.

She also feels a little bad for her. She has reason to empathize, given she was barely able to do her job during the summer months. Not entirely the same, but enough to provide context.

So what she actually says is, "You're welcome. We'll get this resolved. Promise. Just try to keep calm. Your job is to avoid doing anything rash."

*

Melody bites the edge of her lip and nods. "Look, a big part of me would be happy if you find out someone has just been having a laugh at us. Because that means I wouldn't lose my shop and my friend. But that was her in the video. I'm sure of it."

*

"Well, and I don't want to tell you that you don't recognize your own friend," Jessica says. "It could be her. But since we can't prove it either way yet, my job is simply to uncover the facts and let the facts point to the proof and tell us the full story. We'll find what we need to nail the right person to the wall."

It's a difference in thinking between investigators and the people who hire them, Jessica supposes.

And a difference in thinking between most investigators, and one who routinely deals with magic, superpowers, and psychics; and whose experience certainly touches on mind control. The fact that people are losing their shit right over there at the next door coffee shop is still nagging at her, but she doesn't have enough facts to say it's related. It could be. And it could be the barista had a shit day and got tired of smiling about it.

The work is separating the evidence from the maybes and could bes.

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