Orders from Upstairs

October 22, 2017:

Matt Murdock informs Jessica Jones that the case they've thrown in on together is not nearly as banal as they thought it was. Jess doesn't mind too much.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NYC

It's a bit of a mess.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Deadpool, Bucky Barnes, Kate Bishop

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

If Matt called ahead before dropping by Alias Investigations, he would have gotten an understated warning. "It's kind of a mess."

If he didn't, well, then he gets to be surprised by the state of Jessica Jones' office/apartment.

The October air whips straight through the apartment and well into the hallway of the 46th street building, blunted only by the slight scent of cardboard, which patches the missing upper half of Jessica's door. It's coming from the window at the back, which is completely devoid of glass but which has not been covered in cardboard, a project which has apparently been abandoned, or perhaps was never started at all.

All the glass has been picked up, though; there’s no worry that he’ll cut himself lingering anywhere.

Smell of some sort of explosive, smell of some strange man who has never been in there before, smell of someone’s blood. A few days old.

Couch— missing. His radar sense pings on wall where that should be.

Yep. She’s home alright.

She sits there in total calm though, at her desk, typing away on the holographic keyboard she called up on her phone, entering case notes. Her hair is freshly wet from the shower, making the smell of vanilla predominate a little. Cotton and denham. Coffee. The whiskey smells are already fading from her, the little cheats abandoned again, and even the smell of cigarette smoke is more or less easing off. Her heartbeat, despite the remains of chaos around her, thrum-thrums in a steady rhythm that offers no distress.

Matt indeed called ahead asking to follow up about Jessica's case, but her downplayed warning does nothing to prepare him for the wreck of her room, or the signs of pandemonium that tore through it days past. He senses it as soon as he's out of the elevator, his brow furrowing in sudden instinctive concern. What the hell happened here?

The tap-tap of Matt's walking stick will announce him to her, even before his knuckle wraps on the knock on the lower-half of the door. And once allowed in, his compact and familiar form will slip through the door: grey-suited, with his cane in one hand and his briefcase in another.

"Hey, you weren't kidding," the blind lawyer says dryly as he lets himself through the door. There's a note of curiosity in his voice, but he won't press. "Seems like a bomb went off in here." A beat. "Like, literally. You OK?" Whatever he can gauge of her mental state and the past few days from his strange sense of the world, it's still polite to ask.

“No, that went off in the alley, thankfully,” Jessica says, standing up to greet him and sounding very wry. “I’m fine.” And she’s telling the truth.

“I don’t even know how to freaking explain this one. Just… be aware some lunatic calling himself Deadpool may still be running around our neighborhood, I guess.”

She probably should have gone to his office. She’d been a little preoccupied when he called and didn’t really give much thought to what it might be like to come walking in here. Then again she was going to probably call this to his attention anyway, because she adds, “I… might need some pre-emptive ‘don’t get evicted’ support? If Mrs. Alvirez sees all this she might flip her lid. The couch delivery guys won’t be here for another three days and the window guy can’t even see me till the end of the month. She’ll believe I went on a bender for sure.”

She hits a button to put all her work away, and says, “And… You want a cup of coffee or anything?” As completely insecure as the apartment is right now, she’s careful to keep up the charade rather than sending him to make himself at home the way he did in his own office. “I don’t think it came out too undrinkable today.”

Jessica Jones says she's OK, and seems it to his senses, and that's good enough for Matt. He accepts her assurances without pressing further. But then…

"Deadpool?" Matt asks, tone weary and skeptical at once. "Really?"

Come on, 'Daredevil', Stick's sandpaper voice sounds in his head. Like you're one to talk.

"If Alvarez tries to evict tell her she'll have Nelson & Murdock to deal with in tenancy court," Matt says dryly. "That may not stop her, but hopefully it'll give her enough pause for you to get this place back in shape. And no thanks, I'm good. " He waves off the offer of coffee as he makes his way further into the room and claims one of the chairs at her desk, pulling it out and setting his briefcase down beside it. The stick he leans neatly against the desk's front edge.

Then he's clasping his hands and leaning forward. "So, look. I dug around into the contracts. Had a chat with Melody." His lips twitch there. "She's a character, and definitely on edge, but she's not lying about any of it. She did not sign that contract. And she seems to be telling the truth, as far as she knows and believes, about the whole case."

A beat, and then the inevitable: "…but. There's other stuff I found and realized that may make all this seem a little less, ah, refreshingly banal, than it first appeared." He sounds almost apologetic about it, but presses on: "What raises flags for me is not anything about these two women — and it's not about the contract or the insurance. What's strange is the building. I had a case there earlier this year. A homicide."

She gives a helpless shrug at the name of her intruder/rescue, but grins as he says that bit. The name Nelson and Murdock does pretty much strike fear into all hearts these days, after all.

But she listens attentively on the matter of Melody, looking relieved when he says she’s not lying. She hadn’t thought she was either, but having the confirmation is good. “Huh,” she says. “You were the one to represent Briggs’ son? Did he do it?”

Because she had looked up the basic history of the building had gotten the basic details of the fact that a murder went down there recently. But his apologetic mien on it being weird just makes her smile a little bit.

“Is it weird I’d rather it be weird than a case of two best friends ripping themselves apart over petty shit?”

But she pipes down so he can continue.

“Yeah, I did,” Matt says of representing Briggs son, and with a note of regret.

It’s not surprising she hadn’t heard about it. In the media frenzy of the Winter Soldier trial it amounted to little more than a minor footnote — a short Daily Bugle story about “that OTHER crazy client” of law firm Nelson & Murdock. Teenager Ralphie Briggs had murdered his own father — one of New York City’s finest — with a kitchen knife. Ralphie’s crime was more prosaic than the Winter Soldiers’ litany of treasons, and his end was more predictable than the upset win that punctuated the Trial of Two Centuries. He, like most people charged with a crime, pled out for a lesser sentence under the guidance of his attorneys.

That plea allows Matt to be candid, where otherwise he might be constrained by privilege: “He did it, and admitted to doing it,” the young lawyer affirms quietly, before going on to elaborate. “He said he did it because his father was spying on him. It was a rationale that made sense to him at the time, but the further he got away from it — you could tell he was horrified by what he’d done. And this kid — he had no record of violence.”

Matt slouches back in his chair, head tipped upward towards the ceiling as he runs the facts of the case over in his mind — not for the first time today. “Officer Briggs was spying on him, it turns out. Had installed keystroke trackers on his computer a few weeks before the incident. But that was unusual. I mean, he was a cop, yeah, but he was never rough or controlling with the kid. There wasn’t a history of abuse, or even heated arguments. He was this middle-aged, doting widower, kinda like — “

A short beat, a little wince. “Like my dad, I guess. Anyway, I guess you could say that the whole thing never really added up — and I always felt bad that I couldn’t do more for Ralphie.”

Jessica listens closely; by the scratch of pen on paper she’s taking notes. She’ll remember everything he says, but the tactile action of committing it to paper helps seal the pieces of the puzzle in her mind.

The pen stops when he speaks of his Dad, an event which is rare enough to catch her attention. She can well imagine it, the parallels, the way that case must have hit him, and releases a soft breath in response, a faint sound indeed to convey the moment of empathy she feels in response. It’s a fraught thing to respond to verbally, though, and she momentarily finds herself at a loss, wanting to say something somehow but unsure how to do it.

At last she responds to the latter half instead, and says quietly: “Being someone who could see that remorse, respond to it, give a damn about it and see a human being instead of just a killer…it’s kind of a big deal.”

She taps her pen against the pad, and does what she does better…kick it to the practical. “If we can prove he didn’t really do it after all, if we can get new evidence, can we save him even though he pled guilty? Even if it’s something weird? Will that buy him another shot you can take advantage of?”

Gears are turning now.

Jessica commends him for his powers of empathy, and the press of Matt’s lips is almost too slight to be called a smile, but it subtly conveys some of the same sentiment. “Thanks,” he says. “Not that it ended up doing him too much good.” He is selling himself short there — he saved decades off the boy’s sentence — but that’s Matt for you.

To her question, a shake of his head. “You can always make an appeal if new facts come into play, but we just don’t know enough,” is his first answer. “But I’m not even sure what ‘he didn’t really do it’ even means right now. All I’m seeing is a pattern.”

He leans forward in his chair, clasping his hands together on her desk. “Now, you need three for a trend, right? So enter Dorothy Wanamaker, whose family has been tenants in a rent-controlled suite of apartments there since the 1930s. She and her daughter — who lives with her and helps take care of her — are the last ones. But she’s set to leave her apartment, and daughter Julia won’t be taking it over. Now that’s shocking in and of itself, since rent-control passes one generation and Julia could have a two-bedroom apartment in Midtown for $600 a month. But stranger still is that just a month ago, Dorothy Wanamaker pled guilty to assaulting one of her health aides.”

Matt’s bushy eyebrows arch up over the red rims of his spectacles. “She accused her of stealing.”

The hands unclasp, spreading out across the table as if to lay out the case. “Five separate instances of paranoia and suspicion,” he outlines, “Each with varying degrees of explicability. Your business partners’ row. Rory getting more suspicious and worried about Ralphie and his behavior online, and Ralphie’s disproportionate reaction to being spied upon. And then this Wanamaker.”

At the end, a shrug. “And the one thing they have in common? The Checkerbrick.”

The pen is scratching furiously again. “Things got weird in the coffee shop the day I met Melody too. An altercation with a patron, then suddenly one of the baristas goes off the rails and gets fired. So. Definitely something screwy about this building, I’m with you. That black and white brick scheme it’s got going on is unusual, maybe that means something.”

She taps the pen against her notepad again, frowning. “Maybe digging into the site’s history will help determine what the problem is. And I definitely need to talk to Julia. Send Ravensdale to have a look around too.”

Thinking out loud, writing as she does, well into case mode now. She grabs absently for her well-cooled coffee on the desk; puts it to her lips, and puts it right back down again with a shudder. Cold dregs. Augh. But even that can’t really break her focus.

“Did Ralphie describe any weird symptoms or anything when you talked about the case? Headaches, lost stretches of memory, anything like that?”

‘Huh,’ Matt says eloquently when Jessica mentions a fight in the coffee shop that is the subject of the dispute. “And it’s actually a checker-brick building?” he says, askance. “Jesus, that’s way too precious.”

To Jessica’s questions about symptoms, Matt offers a faint smile and nod. “They both complained of headaches,” he answers, tapping once on the top of the table. “Ralphie’s were diagnosed as stress-related, and officers mentioned that Rory seemed tired and complaining of headaches around the office in depositions. It’s something I caught as I was going over my notes from the case. At the time it didn’t seem like anything. Now — has Melody complained at all?”

His brow knits. “We need as much information as we can get, really,” he goes on, thinking as he talks. “So I might actually retract my earlier advice to you. This other P.I. — Kate Bishop — she may have more pieces of the puzzle we could use. I feel like if this actually goes to court, we’ve lost anyway.”

“I’ll ask her,” Jessica says. “The coffee shop was right next door to their shop, and it kind of hit me even then, everyone talking about how unusual everyone was acting. But I just sort of noted it and moved on. Until you brought me all this I didn’t have any reason to pursue that. You know what? I’m going to dig up that barista and ask her, too.”

She smirks at his description of it being too precious. “It really, really is. The building, the little shop, the little coffee shop, the whole thing. Hipster city.”

She nods slowly as he retracts his advice. Well. Maybe retracts his advice. “That would maybe make things easier. She’s one of the Avengers, for Christ’s sake, so I mean, I didn’t think she’d be a bad person to make into an ally if she could be convinced I wasn’t trying to screw her client over. A little bit wet behind the ears, maybe, but…” she shrugs. She has already mentored one investigator and found that she enjoyed the process, and everyone was wet behind the ears once.

“I think she and I have more in common than not,” she says.

Then she leans back, something that puts the broken window she thinks of as Bucky’s smoking window into her periphery, which brings up another thought. Shit. A stab of anxiety hits her, but before she addresses whatever caused it she says, “You are, as ever, an enormous help. Did you spot anything else I should know?”

“A wet behind the ears Avenger,” Matt observes, his dry tone highlighting the contradiction inherent in those six words. “Yeah, sounds like engaging her would probably do more help than harm. I’d go for it.”

He smiles and shrugs off her thanks. “Hope it’s helpful and not a red-herring. I think you’re right that we might all be conditioned now to go to the weirdest-case scenario. But — if you do find something, and it explains any of this, let me know. Maybe it’ll even be admissible in a court of law.”

And then she asks him whether there’s anything more that could be helpful. He thinks it through, and isn’t hurried about it. “Just one weird thing I also caught as I was re-reading,” Matt says distantly. “Both of the Briggers had heat rashes, according to the morgue’s report and Ralphie’s exam at Rykers. Again, at the time it was two different reports and not anything we would have connected — other than that they might have a hot apartment and similar ways of reacting to heat. But now…”

He sighs, and finishes: “Coincidences matter.” A beat. “Anyway, that’s all I’ve got right now. But I’ll let you know if I remember or come across anything else that might be helpful.”

“Heat rashes?” Now that is strange, and Jessica writes it down. For a moment all anxiety is forgotten in favor of the ‘wtf’ moment she has.

Dryly, “Maybe we’re conditioned, and maybe Someone,” she gestures vaguely at the ceiling, “is like, ‘send that shit their way, they’re good for handling it now.’”

But then she thumps the front two legs of her chair down, lightly, again and says, “Before you go, Matt.” She runs her fingers through her hair and lowers her voice a little. She’s reasonably sure nobody’s listening in, but still. Her tone is all but a verbal wince, now, both apologetic and somewhat pained.

“I did something on impulse during a conversation with Bucky, something I ought to have talked to you about first.”

She knows that won’t inspire any confidence but she gives him a moment to respond anyway.

Matt smiles a bit, and widely enough to show a hint of teeth, when Jessica suggests that God is funneling all the weird-shit that needs solving into the laps of their little band of do-gooders. “Well, if the order comes from upstairs I guess we better keep at it, then,” he says.

That would ordinarily be a note to leave on, but Jessica pauses. Her voice modulates, conveying a host of complicated emotions in a few spare words. She’s right that the themes she hints at are likely to set her friend on edge. But whether he’s wearing his lawyer’s suit or his devil’s suit, Matt Murdock is still a patient man who likes to gather all the facts.

“Okay,” he says simply, sitting back in his chair. “Tell me about it.”

That is one quality she seriously appreciates about Matt. That patience of his, the space to admit what might have been a serious screw-up. Her anxiety still ramps up. The woman with such a ferocious temper still gets nervous about making her friends angry. Having them is still such a novelty she keeps thinking she’ll drive them off any minute.

She takes a deep breath. Be a damned adult, Jones.

“He asked me if there was anything he could do to help me, and the first thing I thought was how I’d feel if everyone had been running around trying to rescue me for months, and like, I’m not even a man from the 40s, right? I know I’d want to do something to help pretty much everyone, and not busywork either, or I’d go apeshit.”

Babbling fool Jones. She shakes her head.

“I told him about Kilgrave and the pills and asked him to check in with you and see about getting in on that. He offered to protect me from him if he ever came back the day we became friends for real, after Ozone Park, and I also realized he might be really hurt if I didn’t say anything and he found out later I’d known and let other people resolve it without giving him a chance to contribute.”

And then she shuts up, exhaling.

“Oh,” Matt says after Jessica finishes, fair brow furrowing. There’s a very short pause, and then a dismissive little scoff, paired with a brief, slight, but reassuring smile. “Seriously, don’t sweat it. James has known about me and all my… stuff… for a while now. I actually met James and Jane in the mask first — way before the trial.”

His forefinger taps on the table set between them. “Look, if I have any objection, it’s as his lawyer,” he adds musingly. “It’s why I didn’t bring James or Jane into the CGI-hunt before this. God knows they offered, back when it was just me versus the Russian mob. But people are going to be gunning for him — looking for any sign that he’s regressed, or that his reform is all an act. But he and I can talk that out.”

There’s another moment’s consideration, punctuated by the jut of his jaw and a rueful, self-deprecating sort of smile. “I know I can get territorial about this stuff,” he admits. “But I get that CGI is doing a lot of bad shit to a lot of people. Really, all I ask is that you keep me in the loop whenever you hear about other people in our circles working an angle there.”

“What? No! I didn’t tell him that, I verified he knew that first!” She sounds frankly horrified, even as she drops her voice to a whisper, and her physiology shifts to match.

“I only even did that much because I couldn’t explain the information crossover if he asked, cause I can’t lie to Bucky. And I only did that much cause Jane did the text thing that told me they knew, and even then we did like a spy dance, each trying to determine who knew what. I would never— Jesus! No.”

He takes it so calmly, and she realizes she apparently stressed out over nothing, imagining he’d think or be worried about a bunch of stuff he would not, in fact, think or be worried about.

Something niggles at her, about other people. She doesn’t have enough information, unfortunately, to tell him another piece of that puzzle here and now.

Once she peels herself off the ceiling, it occurs to her he did just admit he can be a little territorial, so maybe making sure he heard it from her wasn’t that bad a move. “I will. I respect that it’s your investigation, seriously. And— I mean I feel a little weird taking you up— both of you up, really— on your offer to handle my shit, but…I’m also really relieved not to have to revisit that again much more than I already have, and…just…thank you.”

Both for doing it, and for not getting mad, maybe, but it stands either way.

Matt puts up his hands, palms first, to stay her protestations about revealing his secret identity. “Hey, I know you wouldn’t,” he assures her with a smile. “I just meant that you didn’t need to worry about endangering my identity by talking to Bucky —”

A beat. Another smile, this one swallowed. “But clearly you know that already. So. It’s all good.”

There are any number of things to say in response to her gratitude, and forbearance, in the matter of Zebediah Kilgrave’s — or really, Kevin Thomson’s — legacy and their respective roles in righting it. All manner of demurrals, assurances, qualifiers, and more. He selects the simplest, and warmest:

“For you? Any time.”

And with that, he pushes the chair back and himself an able rise. One hand grasps the handle of his cane surely; he dips his knees to take the briefcase.

A beat. “Good to see you back in business, Jessica Jones,” says the blind man in the blown-up room with the faintest hint of a smile. “Catch you later.”

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