Refreshingly Banal

October 18, 2017:

Finding herself embroiled in a case that's as much legal dispute as it is a mystery, Jessica Jones turns to Matt Murdock for help.

The Offices of Nelson & Murdock, Hell's Kitchen

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Bucky Barnes

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

This evening sees Manhattan crisp and cool, as the pendulum swings back from a summer that hung on just a little too long. The days have grown shorter with the changing of the season; it's seven-thirty and already as dark as it ever gets on the perpetually neon-lit streets of Hell's Kitchen. It's dark, too, in the closed-for-business suite of Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law — and quieter than it is out on the raucous streets of mid-town.

But that doesn't mean it's empty — just that its current occupant has no need for light. After a two-month "vacation" following the stunning verdict of James Buchanan Barnes, Matt Murdock is back in office — and has a lot of email to catch up on. He sits by his laptop and braille terminal, one bud in his hear and the other attuned to warning sounds of the guest he's expecting imminently. Bespectacled, stubbled and loose-tied, with his sleeves rolled up his forearms, it seems almost like nothing's chnaged — like he never left for distant shores.

Seems.

He certainly will hear it soon enough; the beat of someone leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Jessica doesn't run across the intervening rooftops or anything; she's feeling far too lazy for that. She's enjoying the fall, the cool of the evening, and really it's just a couple of blocks. No need to go nuts. She drops in the back of his building rather than out front, then circles back around to the front to come up.

He seems like nothing's changed, and in a way she seems like she hasn't either, despite a year that has been, for her, nothing but change. When she arrives she smells almost like she did when they met. Leather and whiskey— a little whiskey, not a lot— and vanilla with a hint of cigarette smoke, along with all the other little tell-tales of her clothing, her profession, and everyone she's been around (a lot of people).

But of course, all such things can be deciving. She has changed in all manner of ways.

"Man," she greets, when she gets all the way inside. There's a grin in her voice, easy-going. She's feeling more or less relaxed, a state that nobody has ever habitually associated with this woman ever. "I almost feel bad bringing you more work."

The sound of superheroes leaping rooftop to rooftop does tend to catch the notice of super-sensitive ears, and Matt's free one registers Jessica's arrival. He swallows a smile, faint and fond, as she makes her entrance — switching off his text-to-speech and yanking the earplug away so that he can push himself to a rise.

There are trace signs of his time spent in the jungle on him. The lingering red of the African sun on his fair Irish skin, the nearly-healed cut on his lip, the hair that wants for a cut. But for all that Wakanda was its own crucible every bit as much as the Barnes trial itself, Matt mirrors her easy, rested quality. "I got a few days of vacation after Bucky walked," he says with a subtle lift of his shoulders. "So I'm due for it."

First vacation ever, really, and predictably interrupted by calls of distress — but rejuvinating enough that he can still smile about it. "Come on in, make yourself at home. Coffee's in the pot and there's water in the kitchen if you want it."

Booze too — beer, Jameson — but he won't offer that.

Coffee is, fortunately, fine. Especially coffee that Matt has made, distinct from Jessica-coffee in that it actually tastes good. As it is, she's still trying to maintain the illusion that she never slips. A futile exercise with him, but there are some who would get distressed to know that she has taken more than a few tumbles straight off the wagon of late. But none which were terribly destructive, at least.

"Thanks," she says warmly. Her heavy tread makes its way over to the pot and she pours some black, more or less making herself at home. She does look over, studying him; the fact that he got mauled by Light Panthers had been good for a great deal of anxiety when she'd realized it. Which hadn't been right away, as chaotic as everything had gotten. And dark. But here he is, a little rough around the edges but otherwise okay.

She pulls her messenger bag around and starts bringing out some files. She actually did get the paperwork in question translated into Braille, even if she knows he doesn't strictly need her to. All part and parcel of acting as if she doesn't know, and she also figured it might be a little easier for him anyway.

She lays the stack on his desk and says, "So this case I just picked up is probably impacted by legal issues more than any other thing I've ever done. It's a dispute between business partners. So far I can't find any motive for either one of them to do the things they're accusing each other of, but maybe there's one buried inside this contract. And one of the disputes is from the partner who didn't hire me, Elise Campbell. She claims my client, Melody Attah, signed an artist without telling her about it, which she says is some sort of breach of terms. I tried to just read the damn thing but got lost pretty quick."

Laser panthers or no, a cursory examination of the man reveals no handicap, no lingering disability — likely a testament to Zatanna's work. But the suit, alas, was a goner.

And the braille may not be strictly necessary, but that doesn't mean it's unappreciated. Once learned, reading in braille is invariably faster than reading the standard alphabet, and that's true for Matt as it is for anyone else. His fingers are already scanning the first of the documents in smooth, confident increments — all while he listens.

"Yeah, I can give the contract a scan," he says when she's done, lips bent downward. "That's no problem, really. But I assume that signing artists without authorization isn't the kind of accusation we're talking about."

"Well, Elise claims that it would nullify the contract and has told Melody she's welcome to walk away. Melody accuses Elise of trashing some of their merchandise, thus threatening the business and rendering the contract null and void. There was video, but it's poor quality and not the original, stored only on Melody's phone. Elise claims she has an alibi which I'm of course going to check out."

She leans back and takes a sip of her coffee. "I'm not sure I believe either of them did it, but I want to be sure. Because so far it sounds like they're both out any insurance money if either one of them did what they're accusing the other of, and it sounds like if either one did it they're out of the business, too. So why the Hell would either of them bother? I admit I'm struggling to figure out how signing an artist without permission is a huge deal, so I assume it's something in there. Unless there's a loophole that lets them gain something even after doing something shitty…"

She hitches a shoulder. "My guess is either third party, or something downright weird as fuck. But I hate to jump straight to 'weirdness' without exploring run-of-the-mill people being shitty to each other theories. I suppose either of them could also just be off their meds, too."

Matt listens carefully to what Jess lays out, puffing out a little chuckle at the end when she says it could all be chalked up to one of the partners going off their meds. "Yeah, sometimes I do wonder whether all the weirdness that's crept into our lives over the last year has predisposed us to ignore the simplest explanations, which are usually the right ones," he says wryly. "Occam's Razor and all that." But he's a lawyer, so of course there's an other-hand waiting. "Or maybe it's just opened our, ah, figurative eyes to all the possibilities most people would miss."

He mulls the matter at hand. "The only reason to break a contract is if what you stand to gain outweighs the cost of losing," the attorney murmurs. "I can look at the contract and whatever else you brought me — financials for the business, I hope, and details on the artist and the item if we have them. That could give us a good start. If, as you're doing your legwork, it does start to get — well, weird, let me know. I can always help there, too."

"Uh, I'll get you those by tomorrow morning," Jessica says. "I didn't think about financials." But she did say this is her first case like this, and it's not quite life or death. "I do have the lease for their spot in the Checkerbrick building in there, if that helps. Artist's name is Marc Trenton, and Melody says she didn't sign them and doesn't have copies of these supposed contracts yet. They're fighting over who gets to see what, even. Supposedly the fake contracts said that Melody gave Trenton more space than he was supposed to get or some shit."

Suddenly she just snorts out a laugh. "Jesus, it's all so refreshingly banal, isn't it? Especially after the last four months. And this shop is just the most incredibly twee frickin' thing you've ever seen."

She shakes her head, shoulders still shaking a little, and exhales. "I could use some advice about another wrinkle though. Elise went and hired her own PI. Woman named Kate Bishop. Do I need to worry about anything I say to her, from a legal perspective? I've never had some other PI opposite me on a case before."

This is perhaps in fact something that is as much of a legal entanglement as a PI's case, at least as far as Jessica can see.

Matt shrugs at Jessica's demurral on the financials; apparently it's a matter he thinks can wait. And he can't help but crack a smile when she voices appreciation for just how humdrum this case is, much less calls out her client's venue for being egregiously hipster-twee. Boring sounds pretty good to him too, after the trial of a lifetime and a sojourn fighting HYDRA in the surreal Afro-future dreamscape that is Wakanda.

But he turns his attention to Jessica's final wrinkle, and his own brow wrinkles in response. "You can and should assume that Ms. Bishop will be called as a witness if this ever goes to trial, and that whatever you say to her will be relayed to Elsie's lawyers. Speaking of which — communications between you and I will also be discoverable unless Ms. Attah becomes my client. Then certain protections around the way we collaborate snap into effect — privilege, attorney work-product, others."

A beat, and then a dry addendum: "It might be worth an intake interview, if even to see whether she's being straight in all this." Human lie detector that he is.

"That would be good. It might take some selling, because apparently her boyfriend is an attorney and drew up the contracts, but she seems ready to listen to me. I'll talk to her about it. Cause I'd love to see what a sit-down with you shakes out." It would suck to find out she's putting in all this work for the wrong client, but…see, she's glad she asked. Because it changes everything about how she'll approach anything with Bishop. Namely, she's going to be close-mouthed as she can be.

She takes another gulp of her coffee. "But I'm all about snapping protections around our collaborations."

And then, because of course she does, Jessica Jones says, "If you really want in on something weirder, deeper, and more dangerous I've got it, maybe."

Not, of course, for his legal advice on that one. "But I know you might well be getting back to the other project you've been on, and you work yourself into oblivion as it is." Still, she'll invite him to come beat people up with her if he wants in. "If all your leads didn't dry up."

"Huh," Matt says, on hearing that the client's boyfriend is a lawyer. It's a new data point, even if he doesn't know quite where to put it yet. Then he shrugs again. "Set up a meeting? What could it hurt?"

And then Jessica is dangling another opportunity in front of him, drawing a brief, slight smile to his lips. "Yeah, I'm a little worried I've turned my attention away from my own case for too long at this point," the lawyer says with an honestly-felt grimace. "To take on anything really big. You know I'm always down to help out, and lay it on me if you think I can. But — what I was digging into definitely hasn't gone away. Whatever the state of my leads, that much I'm dead sure of."

"I'll get it done," Jessica promises him. She's grateful to have him on board, that much is clear from her tone, because no matter how normal this thing is it's still complicated, and she'd just as soon not get into legal trouble or cause her client legal trouble just because she doesn't understand something.

She contemplates that other case of his, and everything it touches on in her own life, and decides: "Ehn, I'll call you if I get backed into a corner for sure, but I think my thing is more or less under control for now. You're on speed dial anyway." And, in a more joking tone, "Lucky you."

At least these days there are likely to be far fewer, 'Surprise!' attacks, and it's not like everything she's doing isn't, even now, kept available to him to peruse. "I hope I'm on yours, too."

Sure, he routinely demurrs when she offers to help, but that's not going to keep her from doing so.

"Always," Matt says in his warm, quiet wont of speed-dials. Though as she predicts, he makes no immediate effort to enlist her in the great caper he's embroiled in. Chalk it up to a lingering sense of protectiveness, and a promise he made to her months ago regarding the fate of Kilgrave. He'll handle it — and she's not alone.

He draws in a breath, and the smile he gives is true but wreathed in apology. "Anyway, I should get back to catching up on work and then — you know." Get out there, save some people, and knock some heads. It's like old times. "I'll follow up with you tomorrow with my first read on all this."

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