For Want of a Vision

July 18, 2018:

Everyone is looking for the person who called in the bomb threat at PS 135. Claire Temple finds him.

East Harlem, NYC


NPCs: Ricky Hernandez, AKA "Taggy," emitted by Kingpin

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

When Foggy worked his contacts with the police on Claire's behalf he'd have learned young Ricky Hernandez is wanted by the police because they are pretty sure he is the one who called in the bomb threat at PS 135. Ricky disappeared instantly into another neighborhood somewhere, evaporating as if he never was. To just about anyone who isn't plugged in to certain street networks.

But Claire is.

And eventually the word gets back around to her. He's staying with his abuela's sister, with no conceivable plan to speak of as far as dealing with the fact that the police are going to want him for the foreseeable future, and Claire has an address.

She blends in here - she fits. There's an ease in handling the old guys with the dominos and other chatty comments on the street. Longish denim shorts, long sleeved shirt, but easy breatheable cotton to withstand the heat. Ridiculously practical 'in case I need to chase an idiot'/'in case I do something idiotic and need to run from danger' shoes.

Claire is rolling on up with a covered dish of empanadas out of mom's kitchen, cause showing up with food just seems polite. Even if it may start a mini turf-war over who's is best, but for now? She's banking on a teenager's endless gaping maw of hunger when she comes up to knock on the door.

It's the old woman who answers. Her eyes fall to the food, and then up to Claire. In Spanish: "Who are you? What do you want?"

She wedges most of an ample body into the crack in the door, blocking any view of her apartment. The smell of something good cooking on the stove wafts out, as do the sounds of a television program playing on in the background. Wheel! Of! Fortune! She is wearing a yellow house dress and her long grey hair is tumbling down her shoulders. She's got plenty of wrinkles, most surrounding sharp, gleaming eyes.

There is no gatekeeper quite so fierce as a protective family member.

It's a ferocity Claire speaks well, so there's no posturing or machismo to bully herself in. There is, however, a healthy dose of name dropping and an easy drop into Spanish. "My cousin Lucinda is a friend of Conchita's. Your grand nephew helped me out the night of the explosions, and Conchita thought I might be able to return the favor and help him out now."

She shifts the tray over to rest precariously on her hip, the better to reach down and open her bag and the mostly empty spray cans within. "You can ask him if he remembers the nurse. And if you say it's alright, I'd like to come in."

The woman's face softens just a little bit as Claire gives her credentials. In Spanish still: "Okay. Wait here."

She closes the door, and there's silence for probably a full three minutes.

Finally, she opens the door and waves Claire in.

It's a one-bedroom apartment. Ricky apparently lives on the couch. It's made up like a bed. He's hunched there, looking even younger than his 15 years, his knees drawn up and his chin atop. He's wearing a jersey and a pair of jeans and a backwards cap, but his basic lack of confidence here says nothing in any of this makes him feel as cool as it might have before.

The apartment makes good use of space, with lots of clever verticle shelving and hanging that gives him a form of a closet. The woman who rules this roost is relentlessly organized. She goes back to her kitchen, which really overlooks the entire living room, and gestures to the dining table to indicate where Claire can leave her offering.

Meanwhile, Ricky looks up at her. "Hey, nurse-lady," he says, sounding wan.

Look. It was a long walk. There's half an empanada hanging from Claire's lips when the door opens again and she's smoothing the foil back down. Caught with her hand in the snack jar so to speak. And yeah, she looks a little sheepish about it. She snakes a hand up to retrieve what's left and rest it on top of the covering as she follows the older woman in. "I brought these to make peace, but they may measure up to whatever you're making," she admits as she sets them down.

Things in their place (respect for the organizers of the world!), Claire turns around to look at Ricky. All angles and awkward teenager kid-dom. "Hola, Taggy." She smiles at him, not some sort of fake reassurance, but with the ease of someone used to being there at some of the most tense moments of peoples' lives. It's a look that says 'it'll be alright. Maybe not right away. We're gonna get there.'

"First thing's first - how are you doing? Have you been coughing? Sore throat? Anything bothering you?" She sticks to Spanish for the moment, lets the concern stuff happen first. Because if Auntie is listening? Hopefully that'll help put her at ease.

"Yeah. Coughin' up some black shit all the time," Taggy admits. He sniffles. "It comes out of my nose too. Headaches, sore throats. Feel like shit, nurse-lady."

He looks a little hopeful. "You can fix me up? Without me havin' to leave?"

Auntie is definitely listening. To every single word. She nods to the empanadas and takes one. Tastes it. Hmm. Yes. These will do. Claire gets the nod of 'your empanadas are acceptable despite you having sniped one.'

She speaks in Spanish and so does he. The ritual of food and shared language and help all sort of rearranges the energy of the room slowly. Claire becomes accepted; if not as one of the family, then as someone trustworthy enough, for the time being. Someone they'd invite to dinner, anyway.

Claire gestures the boy over so she can take his pulse. "I'm going to listen to you breathe and some stuff. The black stuff worries me - tell you what. You can get extra gross and tell me how thick it is, and how much, and stuff like that if you like too. And maybe get a sample. I'm going to do what I can, as long as you promise me that when you -can- go to a doctor, you will. But we'll get you started, okay?"

She takes one of the chairs from the dining room table and puts it by the couch, the better to do some work. The bag is set down, items pulled out and arranged so she can do some work. "Usually I'd do the breathing first, but let me work up to that. Ricky, I'm worried. Folks know the police are after you. I have a really smart friend, a lawyer, that will help you out and figure out what's best. But I'll only call him to come see us if you two tell me it's okay. He's found out a little about why they're looking for me."

She pulls on the Purple Gloves of Duty. "Maybe you want to tell me in your own words, first?"

"I ain't never gonna be able to go to no doctor," Ricky says glumly. "I don't know if your lawyer friend can help me. They must know I called in. About the bombs. I didn't do nothin' directly, but I'm in the gang that did. I helped Tito get in the school so he could put them in. But I couldn't go through with it."

Talk of how gross and black the stuff he's spewing up is derailed by talk of this. Fortunately (?) he demonstrates. He grabs a Big Gulp cup that is empty of its soda and coughs and hacks until he just spews up this big glob of ash. He inhaled a lot, running around with her, and has no superhuman genetics or healing factors or anything of the sort to help him heal the damage. Like a lot of Hell's Kitchen's residents and visitors on that day, without the benefit of the immediate medical care. He disappeared the moment he was done helping her.

"And sometimes the police are less scary than the people behind everything," Claire concurs as she checks the glands, works on the other medical checks that won't depend on her telling him not to talk and just breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Oh, they'll definitely get there. But there's a lot of questions. And a frown at the Big Gulp. She points to that and then says, "I'm gonna bet your great aunt tells you that you should drink less of that and more water, right? For the next few months, she's right. You're going to need to stay hydrated, but all the sweet stuff doesn't help it."

Claire sits back in the chair and opens up the cup to look inside a she talks. "If anyone can help, it will be my friend. You've probably seen him on tv and everything. That's not the best way to tell if a lawyer is good or not, by the way." She's keeping her tone even, the medical questions and nosy ones asked the same matter of fact, but compassionate way.

"It's good you couldn't go through with it. It's good you called in - it was the right thing to do. But how did you and your friends get roped into it in the first place?" Mmmm. Black sputum. Don't mind worried face.

He breathes into whatever she tells him to breathe into, and here comes Auntie with a water bottle and a vigorous nod. Despite the life or death stuff he gives the most long-suffering teenage face and eyeroll, uncaps it, and drinks it down. "That's way above my paygrade, nurse-lady," he says. "Order came down from the top of the chain. Tito's the best bomb guy we had. They just needed me to open a few doors, let him in the back, you know? And lift the janitor's keys, which was dead easy. Play lookout while he set them. Then I left. Tito called me in sick, pretended to be my Dad. I hadn't gone to none of my classes that day, you know? Just moved around with the other kids. Nobody notices if you know what you're doin'."

He sniffs a few times, a couple of tears falling. "I didn't even know we were settin' other bombs. Tito didn't say. I just knew what I was supposed to do. But when I got home I just got so sick to my stomach. I started thinkin' about who'd be around. Coach Garrett, he's always nice to me, and Becky, and Miss Shapiro, and … just I don't know, my school has some assholes but they don't deserve to be blown up. S-so I called it in. Shoulda used a burner or a payphone, but I wasn't thinkin' straight. I used a Google number thinkin' they couldn't trace that. Turns out they trace Google numbers real good."

Gangs with bomb people. Enough bomb people to have a BEST bomb guy. Claire's turn for a deep breath in, deep breath out. She takes it in, but doles out the medical. "So save some money. Water." She recaps the cup and looks over to his aunt. "I'll write some things down to do to help. Stop by with a humidifier. It takes a while to heal, and I'll tell you what to look out for."

She hooks the stethoscope around her neck and pulls off the gloves. "How's the rest of your gang doing with everything? I mean, with seeing what happened afterwards. Our neighborhood, their houses and stuff. I mean, did anyone guess just how big it was all going to get?" She's being careful, trying not to push too hard too fast in the search for links to the top of that chain. "Do they feel safe with whoever got them to do this? Do -you- feel safe that none of them are coming after you? Because cops or no, keeping you safe and alive is most important to me."

"The gang's in deep shit because of me, and they're all pissed. Tito got shot in the head. Someone's cleanin' up everyone havin' anything to do with those bombings, nurse-lady, and if anyone knows you found me and talked to me? They're gonna clean you up too. Nobody knew though. Everybody was pretty horrified. PS 135? Different gang's territory. We never realized some bastard was off rigging up our own shit. But I mean. That don't absolve us. That don't make us okay. That don't make us anything but real shitheads, because we knew we were lookin' to blow up a school at least, and probably some other buildings too. When I went out that day? I went to buy a candybar, figuring it was done. And then…you know the rest of the story."

He wipes at his eyes and hunches his shoulders. "I don't feel too safe. I don't deserve to feel safe, but I don't wanna die either."

A candy bar. Something inside her flinches, but nope! No showing it. Claire leans forward so her face is close to Ricky's. "Hey. The gang is in deep shit because they didn't think better of setting those bombs. Whoever's cleaning up would have been doing that, your call or not. Doesn't mean you don't have to deal with the consequences," Claire says, voice quiet, but intense.

She puts a hand on one of those hunched shoulders. "People say I know what you're feeling, or that they can picture it. I can't - I can't imagine what you're going through. Making those choices. But you're not alone in dealing with it, okay? When you had a chance to save lives by telling someone the part you knew? You did. When you had a chance to save lives by staying with me and helping? You did. You looked the worst of all of it right in the face. If we get you through this? I think maybe you could make a good EMT, the people that run in while other people are running away."

With that, she straightens up and looks between Auntie and Ricky. "So - you two okay with me bringing in my friends to help you from the legal end? They'll have more questions, but I vouch for them."

'For want of a vision, the people perish.'

For a long, long time, Taggy has not had a vision of anything except violence, drugs, and the money it brings. He hasn't seen other options for himself. Hasn't seen a future for himself. And in a few quiet words, Claire opens a door. Just a sliver. Lets him imagine himself as something else. Something more. Someone who helps other people. "That felt good," he admits. "Helpin' you. Best I've ever felt, even while I felt like shit because I knew I was involved."

He chews on his nails. One right after the other. It makes him look about 7. Finally he nods, slowly. "I…got a little money for a lawyer," he says. "But it's um. Not from real good sources."

He digs into a makeshift compartment in his sneakers and pulls out just this huge wad of money. He must trust Claire a lot, because he pushes it at her. Or maybe he's just tired of having money from not-good sources burning a hole in his heel. Still, it's clear agreement. He will let the lawyer help.

Claire Temple looks at the boy (and there's no mistaking he's a boy) and the money for a second before reaching out to accept it. She counts out a portion of it, two stacks. One? It's going to the lady working at the store he got the paint from that night, with a bonus for pain and suffering. The rest? Well. Taggy may have unknowingly started the PS 135 scholarship for future first responders, or HK cleanup and recovery fund. Something to help people out, at least if Claire can convince Matt and Foggy.

All that done, she'll move on to sit with his aunt and come up with a treatment plan. And then? A call placed to the best of all Avocados.

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