The Best Job in the World

October 26, 2017:

The clients are ready to let Kate Bishop and Jessica Jones into their store at last. Jessica tries to take the opportunity to forge an alliance, only to be derailed when the Case of the Checkerbrick Effect takes an entirely new twist.

The Checkerbrick, NYC

A building that's quickly turning into a real PITA.

Characters

NPCs: Quite a few, emitted by Clint Barton.

Mentions: John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Elinor Ravensdale

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's around 9 pm on Thursday night when the two investigators are let into Melody Fur Elise on the ground floor of the Checkerbrick Building. Neither of their clients are entering with them. In fact, it's an employee who lets them both in. The employee says she'll be at Elise's desk in the back doing bookkeeping if they need anything. Their respective clients are likely close to their phones as well, should they need anything during the course of the investigation.

The shop is smallish, but exceptionally neat and well laid-out. It's the kind of shop that encourages discovery without being cluttered. A lot of the merchandise is interesting, though a bit too twee to be truly unique. The walls are hung with fine art, and the one-of-a-kind pieces are set apart on pedestals or under glass to mark them from the mass-marketed trinkets that are considerably cheaper. Even so, there's an admirable unity to the merchandise presented. They've clearly worked to create an aesthetic.

It's fairly quiet. The coffee shop next door, Espresso Express, has just closed. It's a weeknight, so presumably many of the upstairs tenants are home.

As she walks into the Checkerbrick, Jessica Jones gets a text from one Elinor Ravensdale.

Whatever it is causes her to hiss, "Shit," under her breath, but she stows the phone for now. She strides inside, interested in getting a look at the place— and this other PI.

She's got on a red V-necked T-shirt, black leather jacket, jeans, fingerless gloves. Some sort of necklace on a leather cord disappears beneath the V. Her black hair is tousled and windblown. Brown eyes narrow thoughtfully at the store proper, the first time she's ever been allowed into the thing. She starts an initial walkthrough of the place, looking for anything that seems out of place.

"So, Bishop," she says, no particular challenge in her voice. Nor rancor, nor snark. The words are casual, her posture moreso. She's not even looking at the other PI right now, though she's most definitely feeling the other woman out. "I understand you're new to this gig?"

"I hate my life," Kate announces under her breath as she arrives at the building, hands stuffed in the pocket of her high-collar jacket. She had to shove all her archery gear into a bag, throw it in her car, and hastily wipe off her masked avenger make-up on the way over. She's sure she's got a smudge of something still on her temple, and she vigorously rubs at it as she crosses into the entrance of the artsy… firm? She's still not sure what to call what these ladies do.

Kate's at least traded in the awesome leather pants for some jeans, though she still wears her archery jacket complete with reinforced forearms. Hopefully no one will notice. She is rubbing at the spot at her right temple as she turns slightly toward Jessica. Her brain takes a few moments to wrestle out just which gig that Jones might be talking about. Finally, her brain clicks. "Oh, yeah. PI-ing. Yeah, kinda… I mean, I did some weird work early on, but nothing official."

"Well, welcome to the best job in the world," Jessica says, as she continues her walkthrough. She hasn't seen anything out of the ordinary yet. Time for a more focused search. She heads right behind the counter to start looking around the cashier's station.

With that, she says, "So I gotta tell you, I don't like your client for the crimes at all. Alibi checks out, she has no real motive— indeed, she stands to lose a Hell of a lot."

She throws that out there, again without much looking at Kate Bishop. If she notices the Avengers make-up she doesn't react to that either, other than for her jaw to tighten for half a second. But that has nothing to do with Bishop herself, really. She says it all in the same neutral, distracted, professional tone.

Kate actually seems to accept the welcome quite earnestly with a broad smile, but she does no more than nod her acceptance beyond that. There's something else to say instead. "Hey— good news is that I don't like your client for this either." Kate actually starts to grin slightly, her amusement evident in her voice and easy expression. "I wonder what that means in the grand scheme of things."

The archer-turned-PI continues her snooping around with Jones. "So, does make me wonder who is actually behind all this, huh?"

Completely by coincidence, both women catch sight of something near them. Only the overhead lights of the shop are on, and not the various smaller display lights. Near each of them is a soft yellow glow. It seems to be coming from what looks like a decorative crystal. However, there doesn't seem to be a power source to said stones. On closer inspection, there seem to be a handful spread throughout the shop.

And that was the phrase she was looking for. Jessica looks up and finally meets Kate's eye with a faint smile.

"Yeah. So…I'm thinking maybe we might get further if we put our heads together on this one. I'm willing to offer you open access to all my evidence if you're willing to offer me open access to all yours. Though— you should be aware some of mine is right in the realm of weird. I want to warn you about that now, because I don't want you to think I'm b.s.ing you when you see it or hear about it." Because really, that's the next feeler she'd like to put out. Avengers may routinely deal with weird, but Jessica Jones isn't sure how long Kate has been one of those; she got the impression they were short on detectives when they hired her for that consult, months ago.

She spots the crystals, and adds: "Don't touch those." The tone is one of urgency and concern.

Magic. They are probably magic, and if Jessica has learned anything about magic she's learned it's nothing to toy with. The ones who do toy with it put in a lifetime of study and practice that she certainly will never match. She will snap a photo of the things, though.

"I think you're gonna find that I'm pretty open-minded. Plus, mine is kinda weird, too." Kate is glancing around when she spots the decorative crystal, particularly the glowing kind. "Huh. Speaking of weird." She then blinks at Jess's concern, and she looks at the crystals again. "Well, don't worry… I wasn't going to. I think that's pretty much Rule #1 when dealing with weird things: don't touch it. She's seen enough movies. She gets that pretty easily.

Kate starts to look around a bit, edging in closer toward the crystals. "Solar powered, maybe?"

"My guess is magic," Jessica says bluntly, now that's out of the way. "I got an e-mail from an occult consultant I work with. She says the ley-lines in this building are jacked up in a way that could cause paranoia. I'm thinking I might have to call in the big wizard guns here."

She does take a count of the crystals though; she's learned enough, from her association with Zee and Constantine, to know numbers matter sometimes. She looks for a pattern in their configuration, then walks to the door of the back office. And she calls back to the employee in the back, "Hey, do you have any sales receipts for these crystal things?"

"Magic?" Kate says flatly, and she gives Jess a suddenly suspicious look. "I don't think there's actually any such thing as magic. Aliens, sure… psychics, okay. Inhumans, definitely… but I don't think there's really magic." She sounds a touch more dismissive than perhaps expected, and she takes a small step away from Jess, and toward the crystals.

She knows not to touch it, so she grabs the closest pen or pencil she can find and prepares to poke at one of the crystals.

The employee sticks her head out from the back and looks around to see what Jessica's referring to. "Oh, the glowy crystal things. I don't know. I thought Elise just put them out as decoration or something. Lemme check." She disappears into the back again.

"Don't do that either," Jessica says. Skepticism is to be expected when she speaks of magic. It's a rare soul who can take her at face value about such things. "Moving their configuration could trigger an effect. Look, there are six of them; that's usually a pretty evil number in magical numerology. I wonder if the coffee shop has any. I wonder if they're serving as…amplifiers of some kind. Taking the Checkerbrick Effect, making it stronger. But if that were the case, wouldn't there be a sudden upswing of problems? There were plenty before this shop was here."

Thinking out loud, she glances back into the back, wanting the information and yesterday. "But then again, the incidents are happening hotter and faster than ever, aren't they? And we've got some sort of…person pretending to be each of our clients. He or she might have placed them here to jack with them…"

"Dude, I'm not totally inept." Kate's tone takes on an edge of defensiveness as she leans in to poke at the crystal with the eraser-end of the pencil she's found. "I'm not a total moron." Those words are said under her breath, and carrying an even deeper level of uncertainty. Toward Jess, of course. Kate knows exactly what she's doing. She slowly begins to turn one of them over, as if to examine it more closely without actually touching it skin-to-mineral.

The employee sticks her head out again, "I have no idea where those things came from. Neither do Melody and Elise. I just noticed them like, yesterday. But I assumed they'd been there since before the whole fight. I have no glowy crystals on any shipping manifests from recently. It's weird, man."

Shit. Without physically manhandling the other PI she can't stop her one bit. Jessica looks over at the employee and says, "Thanks ma'am."

She's noticed the defensiveness, but, well. She was a prickly bitch for years, and this is Prickly Lite as far as she's concerned. "I'm not saying you're inept, Bishop. I'm saying moving those crystals, before we know more, could be bad news."

She wants to text John Constantine, but she's suddenly alert and wary instead. She might have to act fast here to prevent a disaster, and that's the honest truth. She didn't expect to find anything magical in this shop, or she'd have called him already, before anyone walked into the building. And now?

Now she's starting to think she was a dumbass. She looks down at her phone.

They don't photograph for shit. That's another telltale sign of magic. The last magical disaster she tried to photograph came out much like this, too.

She's got to handle this carefully, in a way that manages this situation.

"You heard the lady, right? Someone planted those things here. They're dangerous, whether you believe they're magic or not, and we have no way of identifying them."

Kate sighs heavily and rolls her eyes in the most teenage fashion. She hasn't been a teenager for long enough to know when she's acting like a teenager. Except, she's not really noticing it. In fact, she seems like she's totally okay with it. She shoots Jess a look. "Well, I'm standing right here and everything's fine." She narrows her eyes slightly. "What are you trying to pull here, Jones? I thought you said that my client was innocent, but now it sounds like you're trying to make me sound as crazy as Melody thinks Elise is."

Which makes sense! Right? Right?? Kate starts to reach slowly toward the crystal, preparing to pick one up to show that they are totally benign. Not magical at all. Plus, she wants to prove Jess wrong. So badly.

There's suddenly a very loud ruckus upstairs. There's shouting and thudding feet and the sound of something breaking. Something hits the floor hard enough to shake the roof and bounce the delicate light fixtures hanging over a jewelery display. It sounds very much like a marital spat, but with more heat to it.

And that's the tipoff.

"Shit. Kate."

Not Bishop this time, but Kate.

"You're under the Effect. Check yourself, I bet you have a heat rash. Come on, we've got to get you out of here. Yes, I believe both our clients are innocent, no, I am the last person who would ever accuse anyone of being crazy, but please, I am begging you, step away from those things and come out of the shop right now."

Shit. She's going to have to be a real asshole here in a moment. Around a bunch of fragile crystals. She's sure of it. And she hates the thought, because the last thing she wants to do is manhandle this woman. Especially this woman.

Then the crash upstairs. "Shit, shit, shit."

Between Kate at the crystals and the possible murder upstairs…

She charges up the stairs at full speed.

The thud distracts Kate momentarily, so does the rattling of the light fixtures. But that's not what really gets her to turn from the crystals. It's Jess.

"Check myself?" Kate's outrage is what stops her from touching the crystals, which might be Jess's intention. She turns, prepared to initialize the verbal onslaught that's about to come, and then she blinks at Jess booking it up the stairs.

"Hey! HEY!"

Kate pushes forward, totally ignoring the crystals now. She turns toward the employee, and points meaningfully. "Stay here." Then she is moving to chase Jess up the stairs. "JONES! Where the hell do you think you're going!" Paranoia makes you miss the obvious sometimes, too.

It's only a short flight of stairs up to the first floor, to the apartment above the shop. The shouts are getting louder.

"I swear to god, Martin! Stay the fuck there!"

"Angela, please, honey, please stop! I don't know where you got those pictures, but it's not me!"

The man's voice sounds more pleading, while the woman sounds teeth-gnashingly angry.

"Fuck," growls Jessica Jones. This situation is getting more untenable by the minute. She'd pull the fire alarm to get everyone out and take the consequences later, but then maybe the fire department shows up and ends up under the Checkerbrick Effect as well.

Maybe what they ought to be doing is shattering crystals. But she's up here now, so she kicks the door down. Time to sound like a cop without ever actually calling herself a cop. "He's telling the truth. Sir, ma'am, I'm going to need you to evacuate the building."

She does her best to project authority like crazy.

Kate is quick to get behind Jess, but misses her just casually kicking in the door and instead sees Jess breaking into some innocent people's door. She blinks several times, and looks almost bewildered. "What the— "

She probably is here to just ruin Jessica's day as she balks a bit at the sight and words from Jessica. "Jones, what is going on?"

The door breaks down on a…really nice apartment. It's in an older building, but the tenants have done a lot to modernize it. Clean lines, a chef's kitchen, and a large flatscreen TV with one of those smart speakers that's pretending to not be a creepy government surveillance device.

It's a little hard to pay attention to those details because a woman with a stylish brunette haircut is pointing a gun at her equally stylish husband. There's glossy pictures splayed out across the table showing the husband having sex with a blonde.

The woman turns the weapon on Jessica. She's wide-eyed and panicky. She steps backwards. "Stay back!" Since it's such a mild night, the window to the fire escape is open, which pushes a light breeze through the apartment. She's backing up towards that side of the apartment, gun held remarkably steadily.

Sitting on the table, next to the incriminating pictures is a decorative bowl. In said decorative bowl is one of the yellow crystals.

Oh boy.

Jessica puts her hands up and speaks in slow, measured tones.

Thank god she's wearing bulletproof shit, but that won't protect her head.

"Listen to me. All of you."

Please believe her. "My name is Jessica Jones. This is Kate Bishop. She's an Avenger. I work with the Avengers myself." Even though right now Kate is part of the problem. Maybe appealing to her Avenger side will make her part of the solution. "Kate's going to stay back so nobody gets spooked though, aren't you, Kate?"

"Everyone in this building is being impacted by an outside force. It turns you paranoid. Angry. Violent. People get hurt. People get dead. It gets exacerbated by the fact that someone is running around pretending to be other people to create incriminating evidence. Ma'am, believe me when I tell you that you don't want to shoot anyone. It will ruin your life. Please. Give me the gun, okay? You don't want to hurt him, and you don't want to hurt me."

Kate casts Jessica a sharp look. "Why the hell would they be scared of me? You're the one getting all on about magic crystals." Though she is also not armed and is recognizing that she's stepping into big trouble with an anxious woman who is. So, she does put up her hands and steps sideways a bit, venturing further into the room without really stepping forward — a careful sidestep, as it were.

She casts a glance toward the photos, frowning slightly as she does.

Angela seems more…resolved and steady than one would expect of someone who is under the influence of a weird crystal. Maybe it's righteous anger. Maybe she's had training with that gun. Either way, she doesn't seem to be moved by Jessica's words.

Just then, the fancy smart speaker system makes a ringing sound.

"Angela…" says the distraught husband, with tears running down his face.

That name seems to trigger the smart speaker to accept the call. Suddenly, the flatscreen TV is filled with an image of a woman absolutely identical to the one backing away and holding a gun.

"Hey baby. I hope you got my message about subbing in for Kay at the conference. They actually got me on an earlier flight so I landed ahead — Martin, who are those women?"
The web camera is pointed towards the rear of the apartment, where the others are, not at the doppelganger with the gun.

Suddenly, the woman's features turn into something of a smile. She shrugs, then quickly fires off a shot, aimed squarely at Martin's gut. She also fires a few shots above Kate and Jessica's head for good measure, then turns to dive out the window onto the fire escape. She's fast, and agile too.

The smile is the tip off.

Jessica Jones flings herself between the woman, and Martin. She takes the shot directly to her own gut, though it lodges in her layers of bullet proof clothes. It still doubles her over, a high-powered bullet, at short range, right in the soft spots. "I hate getting shot, so much," she grates. "Bishop, what are you waiting for? Run her down!"

She sure can't, though she decides she's fucking had it. She may not have the expertise to fix ley lines, but this is getting stupid. The configuration obviously doesn't matter, nor the number, so she grabs up the crystal and simply tries to crush it to powder so the Avenger can function.

It doesn't take super-strength to crush the crystal into a fine sand, but it helps. The glow dies off once it's mostly destroyed.

Crystals or no, Kate recognizes weirdness when she sees it — even if she's still convinced Jess is to blame for it. When the Smart TV activates and shows another Angela, Kate looks at her and blinks. "What the — "

This is just in time for the shot to go off, rattling her as she spots Martin's gut hit. She almost fails to duck, crowding suddenly behind the nearest piece of furniture to gain some kind of cover. "Shit, shit, shit," she says under her breath. She suddenly wishes she hadn't left her bag of gear in the car. She could use it, not that she's fully sure what's going on.

She knows one thing though: she seriously hates Angelas. She looks over at Jessica briefly before she pushes up off the furniture and goes barreling toward Not-Angela, aiming to quickly close the distance, grab Angela's firing hand, and go about a rather classic disarming move in hopes of getting that gun to go clattering.

Kate manages to disarm the NotAngela. The gun goes clattering. But she also gets a powerful kick to the gut in response that will send the archer flying backwards. And then she's out the window, scrambling down the fire escape. The alleyway is only a short jaunt to a busy street. The second she's among the crowd, she disappears into it.

Angela, the real Angela, meanwhile, is freaking out on the big screen. She's nearly hyperventillating and yelling at someone else to call the police and send them to her address.

"Bag the gun," Jessica suggests. But then…shit. Ugh. The cops. There goes their chances of lifting a print. Great. Bad all around, really. Cops under the Checkerbrick Effect.

Jessica decides to use this time as wisely as she can. "Martin, any more of those crystals in your apartment, man?" She needs to bag at least one as evidence herself. And wrap it in whatever protective hedge spells she can manage until she can get it to Constantine. But the evidence could save a young man from a lifetime in prison, may, when rendered safe enough, be admissiable in court. She can't risk them all disappearing either. She'll just have to go straight to her friend as soon as this is sorted, there's no getting around it.

Kate should have seen that coming, but she doesn't. She does see a lot of confusion flashing across her eyes as she lands heavily into a rather nice bookshelf and sends a waterfall of books over her head. She groans slightly under the weight of the tomes, shifting around uneasily.

She is working herself out of the fallen books just as she hears Jessica talk about those stupid crystals again. One thing she definitely doesn't seem worried about is the cops coming.

Martin is still sort of lying on the ground, shell-shocked and trying to murmur words of reassurance to his wife. "Crystal? What? No, I didn't…" he looks over at Jessica and shakes his head. "I don't know where it came from."

There's already the sound of sirens wailing towards their location. The cops will be there in no time, but too late to do anything about the actual culprit.

Downstairs, the six crystals slowly start to fade, until they turn inert and a totally unremarkable misted yellow colour. With the crystals faded, the most immediate effects of paranoia goes with it. For those affected however, it will take a good 12 or so hours for the effect to completely wear off.

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