January 15, 2018:

Matt Murdock goes to visit Andrew "Badger" Warhol, the head of the watchdog group known as Friends of Compassion.

A Dingy Office, Harlem

It's cold, it's tiny, and bullshit leaks right out the seams.


NPCs: Turk Barrett, Badger



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

One would think 'at your convenience' might have inspired the Friends of Compassion people— one Andrew (Andrew, he insisted on the phone, and not Andy)— Warhol— and actually if you want you can call him Badger, he says— to, oh, maybe not suggest anything at all until the near-blizzard and blackout conditions abated. But apparently Justice Waits for No Weather, or some combination of the two, because he suggests a sit-down at the frigid office around 4:00 PM.

They've got themselves an office on the southside of Harlem, in a location that's just shy of kissing the east side of Morningside Heights.

Office is a little generous.

The place is maybe about as big as four walk-in closets jammed together with a bathroom stuck haphazardly on the back end, one that produces a distracting gurgle which hints that someone really ought to go and jiggle the handle a bit. Two desks sit across from each other, and only one is in use.

Doing a little advance surveillance produces not a whole lot of much for awhile. Badger has lit up a bunch battery-operated candles, each generating its own little pinprick of light and faint heat. He's got a propane space heater running both dangerously close to his legs and dangerously close to the desks, but apparently the risks are well-calculated, because nothing goes particularly wrong. The scratch of pen on paper and the occasional dab-squelch of an envelope moistener might indicate he's working his way through a very passionate letter-writing campaign at true snail mail handwritten speed, deprived, as he is, of mail merges and word processing. He writes with the hard heartbeat and rapid scratch of someone producing some serious diatribes.

And for awhile, this yawn-fest is the extent of it. Just a do-gooder carrying his cheap Mainstays Flameless LEDs against the darkness.

Then? Turk Barrett shows up to shoot the shit, carrying a backpack of full of something that carries an acidic air. Vinegar-like but not, it is very nearly the scent of heroin, mingled with a sort of plasticky-perfume smell.

For most trained in the art of advance surveillance, an operation of this kind would mean wiretaps, binoculars, and a stakeout on a rooftop (all of them snow-decked at the moment), or perhaps in some abandoned apartment across the street with a window and a good view. The stuff of movies. For Matt Murdock, it just requires a little bit of time and patience, and 5'10 worth of space anywhere in the immediate vicinity — in this case it's a next-door coffee shop open and operating on candles and gas.

After a year of this strange new life, Matt's become a patient and practiced observer, endlessly curious and attuned to even the most mundane of details — the kind that may come in handy someday. He hangs on every scritch of ink on paper. And when Turk Barrett of all people finally arrives, roughly in-time for his own appointed meeting and carrying clear contraband in his bag, Matt decides it's time to go have a closer look. He leaves a generous tip for the barista and makes his slow, careful, deliberative way up. It's alright if he's a few minutes late — especially if he catches some stray conversation between Barrett and Warhol on his way in.

Eventually, though, he'll knock on the front door of the modest office and announce himself.

Warhol: "Whoa, hey, dude, you're an hour late, man. I got a meeting. Let's make this quick okay?"

Barrett: "You wanna get in a brother's face for screwing up your dayplanner? I don't know if you've noticed but the city ain't exactly. You know. Working."

Warhol exhales with some manner of impatience. "Look, the chick's lawyer's the one who is coming, okay? Can we hurry this up?"

Barrett, dryly: "Yeah I don't know. I don't know if it will take me any less than five hours to drop off some god damn drugs. Relax. Here they are. Jesus, slap one on your arm before the corkscrew in your ass winds any tighter. You'll spin right through your damn roof."

Warhol: "And this batch is free? I don't owe you nothin'?"

Barrett: "Yeah yeah yeah. Seriously, take one. It's the new good shit. Never grows less potent. Brought you the patches. Don't use them all in one place."

And that's about the time that Barrett heads for the door. "Scuse me," he drawls to Matt, stepping aside to let him in. "Damn man, you got balls. Blind man wanderin' around on all that ice. Shit if I didn't fall down like eight times. Got more bruises on my ass than a goddamn—"

And before Barett can graphically describe the state of affairs on the southern half of his person, Badger nudges his backpack of goodies under his desk and stands up, cutting him off. "Mr. Murdock, man, good to see you. Come on in, get in close to the heat. Advantage of a small office, heats up fast. Turk, man, great to see you, gotta take this meeting man, okay? Okay bye."

And he firmly closes the door behind the dealer.

It's a surreal moment. How many crimes has Matt Murdock caught Turk Barrett in the commission of over the last year? How many times has he beat on him? Four? Five? He knows what it feels like to snap the incorrigible delinquent's wrist, he can recall with exactitude the sound of his fist landing on Turk's jaw. He can almost taste the man's blood on his lips. And now, after all that, to be faced with the prospect of polite conversation? It stretches his powers of composure that safeguard his double-life to their very limit. Somehow, he manages a flicker of a smile as he makes his careful way inside, cane tapping. "Yeah, I've got a few bumps and bruises myself," he says dryly, in the casual tone one would reserve for a passing stranger.

Then Andrew is introducing himself, and Matt allows himself to be ushered further inside the small space. "Mr. Warhol, it's good to meet you too," the lawyer answers, his tone affable as he makes his way carefully forward in the direction of said heat. He feels for a chair and finds the back of one with a searching hand. He waits to claim it, though. "And thanks for agreeing to meet under these — unusual circumstances. I wouldn't have even asked for a meeting if it weren't important."

"Oh please, dude, by all means," Andy says, gesturing to the chair. His silhouette indicates a fantastic crest of dreadlocks. He's about 5'11", wirey and energetic, though the scent of him definitely says he is the end-user for all that heroin. Apparently not the sort of user who is going to get lost for hours without accomplishing anything though, because he was very productive while Matt was listening, and is not under the influence right this second. A functional addict.

"I'd offer something to drink but the cold drinks are frozen and the hot drinks aren't happening," he adds. "And I mean don't worry about it, I'd have been here no matter what." That, at least, has the ring of truth about it. And not just because of the drop-off. He has a laid-back baritone, and his hands constantly cut through the air as if to emphasize this point or that, even when there's no point in particular to be made.

Matt knows all about high-functioning addicts. Some would say that he is a high-functioning addict, even if his particular high is more exotic than any opiate. The gesture to the chair wins… well, a blank gaze. But after an acceptable number of beats to demonstrate he missed the tell, Matt carefully claims the seat of his own accord and rests his cane beside it.

He puts up a gloved palm to stay Warhol. "Don't sweat it," he assures him. "I had something to drink before I came." Then he's taking off said gloves, one at a time, and stuffing them into the overcoat he hasn't bothered to take off. It's become part of his workday uniform, in those hours when he's not rushing through the blizzard rescuing trapped senior citizens in their apartments or the like.

"So as I'm sure you've heard," Matt says with a spread of those bare hands, knuckles reddened from the cold and, really, who knows what else, "your P.I. and my client, Jessica Jones, has just been sued for harassment by Councilwoman Mariah Dillard of Harlem."

It's like Warhol doesn't notice either the beats or the blank look, to be honest. Or if he does he doesn't catch up until Matt sits a few beats late. Either way he just sort of forgets that he just gestured to a blind man like he had a hope in Hell of getting somewhere with that. Under the table his leg bounces up and down, not out of nerves, but because this guy cannot sit still for the life of him. Indeed, as Matt gets settled he's tap-tapping a pencil rapidly against a legal pad too.

Then Matt is mentioning the PI he hired and he's reaching over to obtain, and to squeeze, what smells and sounds like a stress ball. "Yeah, she told us we might get sued? I mean…how's that even possible? She's the one getting all her campaign money from bribes. Her cousin's a ganster and everything. The Cottonmouth. If she's doing bad stuff I don't see how she's got grounds for a suit."

Like any wide-eyed crusader who thinks the world ought to be "fair," on the surface he is all grumbly indignation. But the shift to the meat of the conversation makes his heartrate start ramping up. Not super-fast, but fast enough; enough for all signs to say he's bullshitting and he has no fear, whatsoever, of being sued.

"What kind of retainer do I gotta pay you to keep us protected? I mean we're real small, we run on donations…"

He is willing to pay for real though. But then he's not really going to be building that smokescreen with his own money.

Matt's eyebrows drift upward when Andrew mentions putting N&M on retainer. Andrew's duplicity and complicity were obvious by now, but that was a move he hadn't expected outright. "Well, we work with several nonprofits, so I'm sure we could come up with a retainer amount that works for both of us," the lawyer offers in that sober, quiet cadence. "But before we get to all that, I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."

And the fact is, he won't wait for Andrew to answer before he starts talking. "Because you're absolutely right — if we can establish that Mariah really is dirty, it will be a powerful disincentive for her to pursue a lawsuit against either you or Ms. Jones. So I was hoping you could tell me a little about this — ah, Cottonmouth, as well as what led you to hire Jessica to investigate the councilwoman."

"His real name's Stokes. Cornell Stokes. Word on the street is the dude mostly runs guns. Protection rackets too. He has a club called Harlem's Paradise; Mariah's in there all the damn time." He doesn't seem to care if Mariah gets nailed to a wall or not, at least not by reactions. As long as he keeps his own ass covered. He set up the dominos, how they fall isn't his problem as long as he doesn't get crushed beneath them. He seems to believe every part of what he's saying during this bit. "This is stuff everyone local knows," he adds. "But nobody has proof."

He shrugs. "As for Jones? She came recommended. Got good Yelp reviews and stuff. Had some interesting YouTube videos. Saw her on TV a few times. Asked good questions when we met, heard about the kind of work we do and even slashed her retainer down to basically nothing."

This is sort of truth and lie dancing a merry jig with each other. She came recommended is the most true; and all the other reasons are not exactly lies, but neither did they matter to him. He checked, though, just in case those questions ever got asked of him.

Jessica's decision to take a pittance to finish sealing her role in her own set-up? Pretty much just icing on the cake for this guy.

Matt arranges his stubbled features into an expression of polite attentiveness as Andrew Warhol dissembles, prevaricates, and splits any number of hairs on his way to an explanation for why he hired Jessica Jones to investigate Mariah Dillard. That the charges against Dillard seems to ring true in Warhol's own mind is exceedingly useful information.

"Yes, Ms. Jones is one of a kind," he says by way of rueful agreement. A beat. "So this is something your organization does often?" the lawyer asks, angling his head slightly to the right. "Investigating political corruption? Have you hired P.I. firms to do this sort of work in the past?"

"Not often, they're usually too expensive," Warhol says, his hands cutting through the air once more as if he could slash the expenses in half. "We save it for special occasions, when we think it's really going to make a difference. But it's not unheard of. The last firm we hired was out of business this time though. Rohan and um…What was it. Zucker, that was it. Rohan and Zucker. Two old police dudes, finally retired and closed the firm down. We'd have had to pick up someone new no matter what. Last politician we went after was…three years ago, I think. Councilman Frank Hebert. Evidence didn't get him charged with anything, but it was enough to back the papers when they started reporting on his corruption, enough to keep them out of court, you know? Dude lost the election. But for the most part it's protests, letter writing campaigns, viral videos, social media, raising awareness, letters to the editor."

This bit is all truth, given the cadence of his heartbeat. And for the most part, Warhol seems to care about the work he's doing. His voice gets a little more passionate as he discusses Hebert's eviction, for example. As well as when he starts in on the other ways he pursues this organization's particular crusade.

That passion in Warhol's voice sees Matt raise his chin, as he realizes the most disappointing parts of all this. Matt wants to like Andrew Warhol. He believes in the sort of work community groups do, and as a student found himself inspired by the same watchdog bent. A summer clerkship for the ACLU; membership in the National Lawyer's Guild and its assorted work of standing up for crusading protesters engaging in all manner of civil disobedience. This is not the first dilapidated office-space of an underfunded nonprofit Matt Murdock has visited.

But Matt has to square that with what he's learned: that Warhol is somehow, for some reason, setting up his friend to get sued. That he was part of a string-pulling operation that got the lead witness in the case against Wilson Fisk killed at Riker's Island. That he is, for all the passion he honestly demonstrates has he recounts his organization's fight against corruption, himself hopelessly compromised. "That's good," Matt says with a shrug of his shoulders, forcing himself to play through this kabuki to get whatever he can from the man. "A history of work in this field will help establish that this wasn't harassment, it was an exercise of your basic rights. That's an area Jessica tells me your organization also does some work in — working to close Guantanamo Bay, and the like." Fighting SHIELD's jurisdiction and involvement in the case against a local crimelord, for another.

"Yeah, that place is just sick," Warhol says, with honest disgust. "No luck there. That place is just— the radioactive turd of politics right now, I guess. Nobody wants to stand up and admit they want it open, but nobody has the guts to close it either. Because 'it's the right and human thing to do' doesn't play well in the papers or whatever; what gets screamed instead is anyone who suggests maybe that's not a good way to handle things wants terrorists planting bombs under people's pillows like the god damn toothfairy, right? It's friggin' insane. But really the whole prison system is messed up. Wars on terrors. Wars on drugs."

He snorts. "Just excuses to put black and brown people in prison, mostly. The new legalized slave trade. When we could just legalize the stuff, create a zillion jobs, leave people to decide what to put in their own bodies and pump enough tax revenue into the state to make really fixing our neighborhoods with crazy things like affordable housing and schools that don't have mold in them a snap."

He seems prepared to go on with this rant for some time, really, if Matt will let him. Speaking in soundbites that might play well on Democracy Now or some similar show seems almost second-nature to him. Speaking in soundbites that may be useful to the lawyer across the table from him, maybe not so much, but he certainly gets less close-lipped and careful the more they talk about things that piss them off and the less they talk about PIs and lawsuits.

Matt probably listens to Democracy Now, but he's also realist about juries and how someone like twitchy Andrew Warhol would play in front of one. Especially when he's up against a polished and telegenic personality like Mariah Dillard. Of course, he's not really going up against her, is he?

"No, of course I agree," Matt says with a shrug of his shoulders. "A lot of people who come to Nelson & Murdock looking for help haven't committed any kind of violent crime. The system's broken." Each of those words is chosen carefully, as if the person sitting across from him could read his heartbeat in turn.

Matt draws in a breath. "Well, look. We're going to be meeting Dillard's attorney soon and get a sense of how serious they are. We'll push them hard to drop the case outright; it's frivolous given her stature as a public figure. If they don't… we'll see about next steps."

The lawyer's lips purse. "Have you met the councilwoman before? Is this the first time you've investigated her?"

"Not personally, no," Andy says, shaking his head. "Some of my organization have; lobbyists and the like. It's the first time we've put any serious effort into investigating her. One of my larger donors actually brought her to my attention, made it clear she was worth looking into. Donor was the initial one to recommend your gal, too. It didn't take us long to figure out Dillard would be a great target. Be honest? I believed in her, till they did. You know? I hear her speeches, she kind of talks a great game, and if you don't look much beyond her public works she seems to be kind of awesome. There've always been rumors but I mean there are always rumors. But sometimes those are the worst kinds. I mean look…"

He leans back in his chair, an energetic third grader who hasn't figured out to keep all four legs on the floor, except that he's well on the other side of 35. He tap taps his fingers against the knee of his pants. Sounds like blue jeans.

"Not even activists have time, energy, inclination or even the understanding to keep up with every last obscure piece of paper those guys sign, right? So it's not always easy to see when favors are getting passed around. It takes the whole community staying on top of this stuff to get anything done, it really does. Everyone who cares."

"Politicians always disappoint," Matt says with a little shrug of his shoulders, slipping into the banter and back and forth of cynical leftist dialogue with little effort. "They're always looking for their next job, and doing whatever they can to get to it. She's playing a dangerous game with this lawsuit brinksmanship, though, and we'll make sure she knows it."

A furrow forms between the man's brows. "And your donor suggested Jessica Jones?" he asks. "She doesn't work for too many big-spenders, as you might have gathered. And where she does " his smile is tinged with a wry, gallows sort of humor " well, this doesn't seem like Tony Stark's alley."

The question is implicit.

"Yeah I dunno. I didn't ask him what she did for him," Warhol admits. True, he did not care. "I'd tell you his name but it would violate his privacy and stuff. But I mean who knows, right? We didn't really talk about how we heard about her or even who referred her, she just sort of…I dunno, came in, asked what our deal was, what we wanted, got right into asking questions, took a zillion notes. Didn't waste any time shooting the shit, which was actually I mean— I mean you know, our old guys, they did small talk, and I think that's one of the first things they wanted to know. How'd you find out about us?"

His tone turns almost genuinely bemused. "I didn't really hire her for her personality," he admits.

"I mean, I asked her how she was finding this weather and she gave me a look like she'd just eaten a whole lemon and like I maybe sounded like the dumbest shit on the planet before pretending I hadn't said that and moving right along. Which I mean I guess seemed like a good sign at the time, even if it wasn't…pleasant? Man, old Rohan, that dude spent maybe an hour trying to convince us we ought to be impressed. 35 year law enforcement career, blah blah blah, was happy to name drop every client he could get away with name dropping. This lady, it was like she didn't give a shit if we hired her or not, like she figured if she was there she had the job and now she just wanted to get on with it. Didn't even mention Stark or any of that. Is that important? To the whole lawsuit thing?"

Matt spreads his hands and shrugs a little when Andrew demurs on the matter of his funder. On a surface level, the man is right that organizations like his are sensitive about how they talk about their donors — though in the case of a 501c3, their donor list is free and public for all to see. He'll have Stephanie look into that. But even if it isn't public — even if this is some shadowy c4 group — Matt has a good enough idea about who this major donor really is. No need to press.

"I guess you don't need to sell yourself when your work speaks for itself," Matt says dryly of Jessica Jones. "She's good at what she does, and my guess is, at the end of the day, she'll get even this job done — for all the hiccups along the way."

He draws in a breath and lets out an exhale; summons the briefest of smiles. "I'll let you know how the initial meeting with Ms. Dillard's attorney goes. If it seems like we're in it for the long haul, we can discuss retainers and all that business. Fair enough, Mr. Warhol?"

"Sounds great to me, Mr. Murdock," says a man who has no idea that he has basically broadcast his role in all of this to the unassuming man on the other end of the desk. His foot nudges at the backpack, he sounds distracted, as if he really is thinking of getting into that bag almost as soon as the famous (or infamous, depending on where one's opinions fall) attorney leaves his office. "I hope everything goes well."

That, of course, rings false, just cause again, he isn't possessed of a whole lot of care on that regard. Or concern. But he makes as good a showing as someone who doesn't know that they're sitting with a human lie detector can. "Be careful out there, I mean my buddy was kind of crass about it but I know people are falling down all over the place, just left and right. You can wait in here if you want your ride to come right up to the building or anything, no need to stand in the cold."

Eager though he may be to get the office to himself again, he is not so indecent that the thought of a blind man freezing to death doesn't genuinely concern him. His moral compass needle may take awhile to spin back to that thought, but it does get there eventually.

The corners of Matt's lips twitch at that roundabout concern before he shakes his head. "Nice of you to offer, but I've already imposed enough on your time," Matt says as he briskly pushes himself up to a rise and grabs his red-handled cane. "I'll ring a friend to pick me up downstairs at the coffee shop next door."

And then, he's turning to tap-tap and slowly show himself out. "You stay warm, Mr. Warhol. Nelson & Murdock will be in touch."

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