No Lesson At All

January 03, 2018:

Azalea Kingston manages to track Wilson Fisk down to a club he'll never visit again, all to confront him over the fate of one Trish Walker.

Pizzicato Rose, Soho

A wine bistro and piano bar that will probably be a lot more pleasant to visit from here on out.


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The event that finally linked a name and a face to Azalea's long delve into the activities of Union Allied was an infamous one. Almost silently, a man named Wilson Fisk showed up at the Stark Gala to oversee a three trillion dollar donation to the three charities on offer, to be split evenly between them. It was in Union Allied's name, the donation, but the invitation had to go to a person. It was a blip. Blink and you'll miss it.

The same event outed his name to other enemies through other avenues. Voice recognition, both computerized and super-powered. But for the Dark Devil? Good old fashioned gumshoe footwork got the job done just as well, though it probably would have taken her a few weeks more. But the digging proved interesting.

The reclusive man somehow managed to get his name erased from any nudges to get a statement from certain witnesses, for example, from every single one of the law enforcement agencies poking their nose into the thing. Quite the feat, considering NYPD, the ATF, SHIELD and Homeland Security all prowled the giant crime scene.

Then there's the fact that the company declared bankruptcy about one month after the charity event. It had 3 trillion dollars to give, but apparently needed to be reorganized right away. Either someone's really bad at math or something really stinks.

Union Allied, of course, is very fond of donations. NPR got a big one from them just days before Trish Walker got a fantastic new career opportunity.

But tracking down Wilson Fisk's giant presence isn't any easier, really, than tracking down his name. It may not take as much time, once the name is known. Favors can be traded. Information purchased or beaten out of various players. Certainly a lot of the tricks of the PI's trade don't come in much handy. The public records on this guy boil down to a birth certificate, a date of birth, a high school transcript, and a social security number. The man doesn't even have a credit report. Even the illegal tricks of pretexting one's way into bank or phone records would fall flat here. There simply are none. At least, not under that name.

But nothing can stop the determined soul, nor a hunter who has had many a long century to perfect the craft. Xiuhn'azel learns that on certain nights Wilson Fisk takes in performances at an exclusive wine bistro and piano bar called the Pizzicato Rose, in Soho. It's one of those 'hidden gem' places with about 30 places to sit, a spot that requires a reservation. A place that doesn't bother printing prices on any of its menus.

He sits in shadow, clad in an exquisitely tailored dove grey suit with a grey silk shirt, open at the collar. He is outwardly sedate, but there isn't a person in this room, from the bus boy to the bartender, who hasn't picked up on the seething air of menace that seems to roll out of him every time he so much as shifts his corpulent form in the red velvet padding adorning his chair. Massive fingers delicately cradle a glass of wine such a dark shade of red that it's damn near purple, and the very gentleness with which he does this seems to carry some level of threat, some silent awareness that everyone picks up on: it would take but a flex of those enormous fingers to crack the delicate glass, render it irrevocably ruined.

It begins with a whisper. Not to Wilson, no one would dare unless they worked for him, and even now while he was enjoying himself it might be tantamount to sin. The whisper is for the performer, a man who had nearly finished his set as it were. The woman speaking to him may be mistaken for a man at first, her suit black and pinstriped grey, with a red silk button up the color of blood as her undershirt. Her tie is thin and black and and curiously she wears boots, not heels.

With the pianist retiring, there's a shift of her hips to take a seat, and then her legs swing over so that she can glide practiced fingers over the keys. The first chord is struck, hammer hitting string, but it does not sound like the tones that came before it. Part of Xiuhn'azel's soul rends through, an echo of creation that reverberates through the entire room. The progression is a sad one, pulling the mind to all the places where regret dwells, and yet…

Somewhere inside is a message of hope, enough to hang on to. It quells small talk first, then friendly banter. Even those who were ignoring the music entirely will find their attention drawn. Fingers fly and the world falls away, the shadow that Wilson Fisk sits in his only refuge from eyes that might see what such creation can do to him. Normal eyes, in any case.

Crystal blues lift to look at him, to level him with the kind of look that used to pin someone to a chair across the room when she has only The Devil Inside. Now she far worse. She has destruction itself. Deconstructing. Accusatory. It is inescapable, and she does not look away for nearly nine minutes that tick by in slow agony, until the last chord is struck, leaving the audience in a quiet shamble. The room at an awkward pause.

A leg swings back, then the other, and as the atmosphere of the room returns to normal, whispers peak in a spire, but no one can bring themselves to clap. Not while she walks with such purpose, right towards this man who is no one, and yet holds such power. If he has guardians they will see her coming a mile away.

Xiuhn'azel's performance certainly generates a reaction. Wilson Fisk closes his eyes and sinks into the music. He lets it tug at his soul. He has few regrets, but he has a lot of hope.

Of all the people in the room, he is the only one smiling.

It's not that others don't love the music. Everyone does. But kind, decent people tend to have far more regrets than Fisk's sort. There is a woman of 40 and four working behind the bar; she sheds tears for her relationship with her estranged daughter, an estrangement that's entirely her fault. Here is a boy of twenty and two; he finds himself both lamenting for the lover he broke up with in a temper and reaching for his phone to text her in the hopes that it won't be too late. He is one of the patrons; he is sure to silence it. The waitress and the hostess share long, covert looks with one another, and one older patron weeps openly.

Fisk sways along to it as if he mostly only hears the hope bits.

When those beady eyes slide open again, they only glitter at her accusatory stares.

It is hard to accuse one who sees himself as a hero, a pathfinder, a pioneer.

He absolutely has guardians. Three of them. They all tense. Hands move for weapons.

He waves them down almost irritably. The performer may approach as far as he is concerned.

Every emotion in the room is a mirror for Azalea to feel her soul reflect on. Wilson's is one that she has the hardest time seeing herself in. As she closes on him, there are urges that come to the surface, urges that began well before Xiuhnel had known human form. Anger is a universal constant, a primal emotion. It smolders in her eyes, and when she was given avenues to express it on Earth, it made her into a monster.

Here and now, she must ride it's wave like she used to ride the energies that created the universe. She must turn something negative into something positive. Ignoring the guards for what the net of safety they represent, she does not slow when they think to interpose, but Fisk's gesture that they back off makes it easier for her.

There she stands on the other side of the table, staring at him, through him, judging him before they've eve been formally introduced. But that isn't far off. "Tell your men to wait outside, Wilson. What I have to say is for you alone."

There is every inference that if he does not, this tiny slip of a person will do something about it. Make certain that no one else is privy to their conversation. He'd already taken care to choose a seat far from others, and the crowd is distracted by their own emotional turmoil. All that's left were these three men.

Anger is a universal constant.

Azalea Kingston's words immediately help Wilson Fisk find the fury in his own heart. The seething sensation of his very soul surges, a tidal wave in motion in his emotional landscape. Nobody speaks to him that way; the men all tense knowing it. His laconic, amused, 'I'm going to talk to the really good piano player now' mien falls away. What lies beneath is a beast, a snarling dire boar that is howling for blood at the taste of this insult alone.

But she said his name, and he can do the math on the equation her soft inferences have laid forth for him.

"Leave us," he says, his characteristically rough bass taking on a quality that is now a growl, now a hiss.

The wine glass is empty. It is just as well, for the cracks appear in the glass as if some harmonizing soprano had hit the proverbial highest of high Cs. One of his men whisks it away, eager to rid Wilson Fisk of this annoyance if he cannot rid him of the other. Then they are leaving him, and the figure known as the Kingpin withdraws a lily white handkerchief.

He shakes it out, uses it to dab at the inconsequential droplets of blood he has cut into his own hand.

His tone turns conversational. "I have rained misery and agony on the heads of many a fool for smaller insults, Miss. I hope what you've got to say is extremely entertaining."

The threat comes without the anger that his order left behind, and so she considers it more of a cautionary tale. People threaten her all the time. Caution her to stay back. To stay away. It is physical by that point, deterministic. She will bring justice to those who will not seek redemption. Or worse, those who think they have no deed worthy of apology. How long had she been thinking about what she would say to him? At least as long as she knew someone had pushed Trish away, denied her a chance for reconciliation by providing her with a happiness she could not match.

Or perhaps she could, but to the ruination of her career.

No, she could not do that. But she knows how this game goes. Knows it does not end, for men like him. She takes a seat, her gaze on his handkerchief, and then moving back to his eyes.

"I'm sure you have. I'm sure you're quite the monster when a monster is called for. However, I'm more interested in the times when you exhibit a lighter touch. After all, overt ruination, even murder.. bodies pile up. You seem to be a man who knows which lever to pull. I'd like you to explain the one you pulled on Trish Walker."

It is a demand phrased as a question. It lets him know the why, it lets him know a pressure point. She is either not very clever, or she considers this conversations a zero sum game.

Either Azalea Kingston does not care about these consequences, her inquiry at an oblique one to Trish's fate, or she can hurt Wilson far more than he can hurt her.

Two predators sit at a fine piano bar and assess one another.

People at this piano bar, prey all, find other places to be. The ones that stay are the staff, and they all find themselves finding reason to press to the back of the room, huddling around the failed mother at the bar, all staring at drinks they're not supposed to be drinking in determined fashion, drinks that got poured for them by a bartender/owner who is feeling a little loosey goosey about liquor license requirements and staff decorum tonight.

Wilson Fisk does not spare a glance for any of it.

He takes his time. He finishes with the handkerchief. He drops it casually to the side; the bloodstained thing, crimson and snow, will be someone else's problem later. It is no longer his, and any active bleeding has already stopped.

He now gives Azalea Kingston a closer look.

"Ah, yes. I know who you are now, Miss Kingston." he says thoughtfully.

Some warnings are overt, some far more covert.

He is not afraid of her, that much is clear. He might recognize and respect what she can do. Might even know some portion of it, or not. But there is no scent of intimidation, or fear.

There is a shift. In body language. In the way his eyes fall on her. He's acknowledging her as some sort of equal. That might be infuriating to a god-girl, an insult, but it is, in fact, the highest compliment Wilson Grant Fisk is even capable of paying.

He takes out a cigar. The No Smoking sign casts neon red light over his bald pate. He pulls an appetizer plate that once held fois gras over to serve as his ash tray, and then he lights up. He takes a long drag. "Miss Walker had the misfortune of blundering into one of my operations. I believed it was innocent on her part, so I chose to turn that into her good fortune instead."

A slight twist of irony at the end that indicates that was hardly the only reason, but…it was part of it. That perceived innocence mattered to one Wilson Fisk. The difference between an intent to come after one of his operations and merely landing there because other switches have been flipped, other flags waved.

In the end she cannot blame him for looking at her through the lens of his world. Even if he knew the truth, what could he do, really, but show her the highest rung on his ladder and place her name next to his? In a world filled up with men and women who can topple mountains, it's the man who looks them in the eye and tells them to say a prayer that are the most dangerous.

Azalea doesn't take it as a slight. The Devil Inside would have, had this happened months ago. Instead she takes his confirmation as an admission. Guilt of meddling. Not that he feels guilty, but that he is guilty. This man is the one, then, to give her the final push.

Eyes narrow just slightly. "You also enjoy her show, don't you?"

When wracking her brain for reasons why he would not twist Trish's arm in some overt way, there was the obvious. She went to parties with Captain America, had a sister who could lift a slow moving car, and shared a bed with a monster. But Azalea suspects those things, her high profile, none of it would keep her safe if a secret needed keeping. Except that some things simply cannot be replaced. Life is short, and to snuff out an artist is to snuff out further creation.

Maybe she's wrong, but as she loses him in swirls of smoke, layered upon him like an obscene mask, she hopes she is right. It will make all of this much easier.

Kingpin's eyebrows lift. "No. Her show is not to my taste in the slightest. Inviting all of New York to get on the air to spout off about this opinion or that. 'Lifestyle' topics. She can do more. I think that much is obvious. And now she is. But that would have been foolishly sentimental."

He drops ashes into the little plate.

"It was the most tactically sound move given her connections, Miss Kingston. And her personality. She is distractable by such baubles. Others in your circle, and hers, are not." He takes another slow drag on the thing. It's a ritual. Something for his hands to do, as he will not trouble the petrified staffers for more wine.

He tilts his head. "I admit I'm intrigued. I've never had someone infuriated with me for raining favors upon one of their paramours before. The Acela Express is still running, even in this dreadful weather. It will take two hours and 52 minutes to go see her whenever you wish. Those who find their loved ones sent to the grave instead find the trip a little more burdensome."

It all makes sense now. The gaps filled in. His reasons. His actions. But there is the source of her anger to explain. "My concern was that you would see her as an opportunity, an asset to be worked in the future, or held over someone's head, should circumstance come to it. I am here to make certain your interest in her has passed. That you will not be tempted to remove from her the happiness you have arranged, or think her someone you can use for your own ends. You see, it is not distance that divides us. Now that she has everything she has always wanted in her career, well. I am a monster, Mister Fisk, but even I have my limits. Visiting her might force her to make a terrible choice."

It is a matter of the heart, and as such does not follow conventional wisdom. Perhaps it is sentiment that he will find disgusting. Maybe a notion he cannot fully understand. But the reason for her confrontation, in this context, is one that might quell his intrigue, if only a little. Her gaze is flat, and it is clear that she does not consider his actions to be magnanimous. He has explained his reasons, ones she did not have full knowledge of. But now she knows that killing Trish would simply have stirred an insurrmountable hornet's next. All that is left is to make certain she is not toyed with, no matter how tempting.

"You seem like a man who has not reason to swear something he means to betray. So put my concern at ease. It will not lay my anger to rest, selfish as it is, but it will be directed at you no longer."

Her gaze says it all, almost enough to snuff out his cigar alone, but she does not disrupt his ritual. Does not ask him to stop or take care. If she were being honest, she enjoys the smell, because it reminds her of a time when she was someone else, someone not burdened with this morality that brings her into confrontation with another monster.

Believe it or not, Wilson Fisk gets matters of the heart.

"Ah. Rest easy, Miss Kingston. My interest has indeed passed. The affair which she had inadvertently involved herself in was torn apart by others. If she is content to stay put in DC, I am content to let her. She is far from my empire now, and so long as she does not repeat her mistake good fortune will continue to smile upon her. If I can convince you to steer clear of my affairs perhaps greater fortune still shall rain down upon her. The donations have done all they can, but it would be an insanely simple matter for me to ensure she gets the kinds of interviews, stories, and tips that she hungers for. I could make her the next Larry King, feeding that hungry intellect even as I feed her ratings with some well-placed advertisements, some blogger buzz."

He takes another long drag on the cigar. "As you have observed, I do keep my word, and my bargains, so long as all parties uphold their end of the contract. It is obviously somewhat concerning to me that we are having this conversation at all. And so, an amicable agreement that not only exceeds the content of your concerns, but satisfies my own."

Wilson Fisk is a far more agreeable monster than she ever was, in any form. Even those who had tact, who held back at the right times. Who could stalk the Hellfire club, and not lash out at a moment's anger. It lets her know his danger, through and through, but so to does not force her to explain just why he really has no choice here. In the end, Wilson Fisk is just a man, with limited time to find fruition in his accomplishments. Azalea will live until the universe starves of energy, and every star winks out. The certainty that she will one day have to see Trish die eases any threat that might come to her, and so there is an imbalance in the measures between Azalea and Wilson. But they are brought to an even keel by a morality that she has been saddled with.

Fate always finds a way to balance the scales.

"You've done quite enough." Enough to drive her away, put her in her own version of Heaven. You would make me play Devil to get her back. Her fingers curl into fists. It makes her want to destroy him. But she struck a bargain. She rises, careful to push her chair back in, and here she fixes The Kingpin with an even look. "I consider the matter closed, as is. She'll make herself the next Larry King. She looks much better in suspenders, in any case. I will not promise your affairs oblivious to my eye, but, you have my reprieve for now. If we start again, we start anew, a new game. A new board. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Mister Fisk. Remember the lesson of my song."

The lesson was not obvious, but perhaps it will leave Wilson with some introspection. Some lesson on the difference between hope and regret, and how really they are bound. Maybe, there was no lesson at all.

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