Who is Billy Russo?

October 04, 2018:

Jessica Jones has some questions for Frank Castle about the convention he didn't shoot up.

Outside Frank's Apartment, Hell's Kitchen, New York

Characters

NPCs: Max

Mentions: Luke Cage, Billy Russo, Zane Oldman

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Frank Castle isn't easy to find, but neither is he impossible. After all, he's still out and about despite the heat on the street. It helps when the police are busy protecting people from demons. It's also nice to blow off a little steam dealing with demons himself. Coming back toward the crappy-ass basement apartment that he's paying cash for as 'really late at night' turns into 'really, really early in the morning,' Castle has a watchcap on, going without his usual hoodie. His torso is still bulked out, however, likely from some form of protection under his light winter jacket, and he has a backpack over one shoulder that is oddly stretched around something relatively long and certainly hard, likely some form of long submachine gun or wildly illegal combat shotgun.

*

It's probably not smart to surprise a jumpy ex-Marine who carries a lot of guns. And Jess is awfully not in the mood to get shot again. She's still reeling from having been shot the first time.

So she doesn't. She's leaning right outside the door of his apartment when he arrives, smoking a cigarette and making absolutely no effort to conceal herself. Punching demons has become a lot like going out for groceries, a regular feature of her day, but it's nothing she's wholly devoted herself to. It's just like taking out the trash or doing the dishes. Oh. There are some demons. Oh. They are in my way. Oh. They are in the way of some nice lady trying to get her kids to daycare. Time to punch.

But that hasn't stopped her from case work, for a whole host of reasons. And while she has surely worked supernatural cases before, this one strikes her as above her paygrade until and unless someone asks her for help.

Frank Castle, however…

"We should talk," she says, by way of greeting. Full of social graces as always.

*

Frank's mouth twists into a sour grimace as he spots Jess leaning against the wall, and he shifts his step a little, loosening his grip on the backpack slung over one shoulder to make it more readily accessible. When he realizes what he's doing, his frown deepens and he very definitively hitches his backpack up onto the center of his back again and shoves his hands in his pockets to hold his coat closed. "Should you be outta bed?" The question is gruff and growl-y as ever, but he relents a little as he adds, "Beefcake said you got shot." Maybe neither of them is going to be teaching etiquette classes any time soon.

*

"I heal quick," is Jessica's response. It's a response that barely encompasses the coma, or the struggle of her recovery, but it's also truth. "And you know, a fucking dragon landed where I was convalescing, so it seemed to be the time to put my pants on."

She tilts her head and says, "I was there when they tried to frame your ass at TCLEC."

And then, with no explanation of how it's at all related, asks: "Do you know a Marine named Bryan Russo? Looks like he got discharged right around the same time you did?"

His sour grimace doesn't even seem to have phased her. Not exactly the first time someone has made a face at the sight of her. Definitely won't be the last.

*

"What brilliant thought gave you the idea that I didn't shoot those cops at TCLEC? Fact that — " the mention of Russo stops him immediately though, "Bryan Russo no. Billy Russo, you stay the hell away from him." He stops a few paces away, shoulders squared and head ducked pugnaciously. "Billy deserves everything that he's earned." That's going to be really rough when Frank realizes the truth, but like he's told others, it's the ones you love the most that can hurt you the worst. "You fuck with him, it's a one-way trip to my list, no matter how much I like your boy."

*

"Because you're not a cop killer? Because there were no gangsters there? Because there was a lookalike? Because you recently killed a dude named Blacksmith and a mercenary company called ANVIL used it as an opportunity to swarm out of the woodwork and show what a great security company they were?"

Jessica cocks her head to the side. "So you do know Russo. Well I'm not going to fuck with him, but he may be fucking with you. He owns ANVIL."

It was Billy. Damn it. The aphasia's still happening. Jessica pulls out her notebook to make sure it's written the right way. She said the wrong Russo name to Wayne too, but it's written down correctly every time, as Billy. She sighs at that, but she doesn't address her slip any further. "Between the interesting naming scheme and the fact that you got out when he did, I wondered if there might be a connection. Your response tells me there definitely is. And that maybe Russo isn't quite as protective of you as you are of him, Castle."

*

The suggestion of a connection between Blacksmith and ANVIL causes Frank to blink, looking confused a moment, then he shakes his head, "Of course I know Russo. He's my brother." There's a moment's pause, and then he relents, "Blood spilled, not blood-born." He looks past Jessica to the door to his apartment, then back to her, "We both decided we'd had enough of the shit we were in, Twiggy. Because we both got lines we don't cross." Well, one of them does, at least. "You ever think that maybe Billy's people came out of the woodwork because they were tryin' to help? Billy's good people. Period." Until the start of the next sentence.

*

"Oh sure, Rambo. That's exactly what I usually think when conveniently named mercenary companies show up in the middle of carnage, remaining calm and helpful while even some of the cops are freaking out. Nick-of-time arrival like that never strikes me as suspicious."

The detective takes a drag on her cigarette and says, "I don't expect me to tell me what top-secret shit you two got into together, but my guess? Something went down some way different than you think. Or went down for different reasons than you think. This guy's screwing you. He might have been screwing you for some time. Make of it what you will. Maybe ANVIL by itself is just a coincidence. ANVIL, and they try to frame you?"

Jessica arches one dark eyebrow. "Unless you're going to tell me yeah, you totally were there and you shot up a few rookie wet-nosed uniforms. Oh, and one of the possible shooters, person of interest in custody? Left his ID in his other pants and looks a whole lot like you. Not a whole long list that knows the Punisher and Frank Castle are the same man. Or what he looks like."

*

"Last time I saw him, he saved me from throwing everything away." He steps forward then, one finger jabbing out to stop a foot or two short of Jess, "So unless you've got more than some bullshit suspicions about a man you don't know for shit, back off him." It doesn't take much to rile Frank Castle to anger, but apparently judging Billy Russo is one of those things, because his growl shifts to a snarl as he speaks. The pointing also lets his coat fall open a bit to reveal a hint of white spray paint on black cloth beneath. "You didn't hear about that… what-the-hell-ever… podcast or blog or whatever. VigiWatch. While lot of people know I'm the Punisher now." He pauses a moment, then relents just a little, "But someone who didn't do nothin' is a fucking idiot not to bring his ID to a cop convention."

*

Jess raises her eyebrows as Frank jabs his finger at her. She looks underwhelmed. "I came to ask you about him. Now I know a little bit more," she says mildly. "Suspicions are part of my job. And okay, VigiWatch, sure, it was a law enforcement convention on the vigilante phenomenon so I'm sure a few Zane Oldman fans were floating around. So, fine, I'll give you that one. So. Let me ask you about something else. One of the attendees found an X-ray of someone's headshot wound in a part of the conference center where all the cameras had been spraypainted over just before the shooting started. Got any clue what that could be about?"

And she takes another drag on her cigarette, just as if he weren't two steps in front of her bristling like a Doberman threatening violence.

*

Frank shoves his hand back into his pocket, frowning at the further news and then grunting, "Podcast Boy used my X-Ray as the main picture, apparently." Shaking his head in something between annoyance and disgust, his frown slowly fades away, replaced by just the slightest hint of a smirk at one corner of his mouth. "And yeah, someone's definitely trying to frame me. For Reyes and Tepper and Gordon too. At least, they were. Pretty sure that's been dealt with now." Up-nodding toward his door, he adds, "Mind if I go in? Dog's probably running in circles trying not to piss by now."

*

Jessica steps aside to let him into the house. She's going to have to go find what Vigiwatch had to say about Frank. She hadn't even realized he had been covered by Vigiwatch. The brain thing is really getting old, fast. And if any of her friends realized she's still struggling they'd all sit on her. So she plays it off. The truth is she did go to deeper resources than Google and skipped past the basic bit. An oversight she won't fall prey to again. She notes the other names. Reyes and Tepper. Gordon she already knew about of course.

Still, he's answered all her questions. She pushes off the wall, taking another drag. "You feel like you want to tell me more about your blood brother there, or anything else, give me a call. My man happens to like you too, and just because I don't approve of you shooting up my neighborhood doesn't mean I think you deserve to get fucked over for shit you didn't do." And despite all of her senses not being on point, she says this bit definitively.

"Something stinks about as bad as your carpet will if you don't get in there. So watch your ass."

*

Frank steps around Jessica, still wary enough to keep out of arm's reach, but otherwise seeming fine with turning his back to her. He unlocks the door and gives it a little kick on the bottom corner to unstick it, then steps in, swinging aside his backpack to drop it off so that he can greet the 'whoof'ing bundle of fur, muscles, heart, and very few brains that is the rottweiler-mix that comes up to him wagging its tail and looking for ear-ruffles. "Max, get your nose outta my crotch." This sounds like a common complaint by his tone. Pulling down a leash, he clips it on, then steps out and looks back to Jess as Max performs a more intensive sniff-test of the PI. "I told you, the guy who was framing me, he's done. Don't know about his minions, but if they stick their heads into my business…" he shrugs a little helplessly.

*

Now…thing about Jess and dogs?

She loves them. She loves kids and animals. So when Max comes to sniff her, she bends down to one knee and offers him a gentle hand. She doesn't try to pet him. She just offers the hand out, the same way she might offer a human a shake. "Hey Max," she says, as if she were greeting a human, only the tone's a lot more gentle. "You seem like a good dog," she tells him.

She looks up at Frank while she allows the dog to sniff her, and asks dryly, "You'll blow their brains out? So okay. Catch me up please. Blacksmith was the one framing you? Or was it some other asshole? Honestly I'm still playing catch-up from being bedridden, man. The TCLEC thing concerned the crap out of me, and so here I am."

*

Sadly, Max does not know how to shake. Frank's not exactly a trainer, and the Irish taught him to be a guard dog. So instead he sniffs Jess's hand and then starts to give it doggie kisses. Because people who like dogs are good people in his mind. He even 'whuff's his apparent agreement with the suggestion that he is a good dog.

Frank watches with amusement, "Worst. Guard dog. Ever." Still, he doesn't sound disappointed. "If they push too hard… yeah. Probably." The request for the update causes him to shift a little uncomfortably, looking down to the dog, "Max… do your business so you can go back inside." That buys him the time to settle things in his head, "Best guess, yeah. Blacksmith was tryin' to frame me. He's the one who was behind…" even with the pause, he doesn't have the raw nerves all covered, and he looks down, his teeth grinding together for a moment before he growls, "Behind my family gettin' shot. He was bringin' tons of heroin and somethin' way worse into the Tri-Cities. Now he's not."

*

Jess stands up so the dog can go do his business, smirking at worst guard dog ever. "No PI lasts long in the business if they don't know how to make friends with dogs," she points out with a smirk.

But she listens thoughtfully. She takes out her notebook again, frowning, marking dates off, scratching things on her timeline as she tries to get it straight. And for a moment she looks uncertain. Could she be wrong? Could the names be coincidental? Could she be barking up the wrong tree while beating the proverbial dead horse? She taps her pencil against the pad a few times, then finally shakes her head. Maybe she's wrong. Maybe she's just hit a dead end.

"So. We can expect the end of your shooting spree soon then?"

*

"Like I told your guy, I'm almost done." While Max is relaxing into a nice leg-lift against a tree, Frank's words come out tight, like there's a ribbon of adrenaline running through the man as he says them. "The list is real short now." His right index finger — his trigger finger — taps against Max's leash, and he takes in a long, slow breath, eyes slightly widened, "So yeah. It's almost done. Close enough I can smell it. Then…" there's a pause, and Frank comes down a little off that slight mania, his lips twisting together in a grimace, "You know… you got a good thing, you should hold onto it, Twiggy. Don't ever let it go."

*

Jessica stuffs the notebook away. She doesn't answer right away. "Try not to," is what she says at last. "I don't know that I've got the best track record at not fucking up good things, but I try not to."

She softens though, sighing. It's harder to get irritated with Frank when she knows, which is…probably why he didn't tell her when he was first standing in her office, bullshitting her so he could go after his own targets. Her mouth works. There are dozens of things she thinks of to say. A dozen things she rejects. Her mouth sours. EQ isn't really her thing. That's more Luke's thing, or Matt's. She hasn't reached a level with Frank where she can be at all comforting, or anything other than brusque.

But what she finally says is this: "Try not to burn down the house while you're standing in it, Frank. Thing about loss is…it never stops hurting like living Hell, sure. It's always gonna be part of the fabric of who you are, even after you come to the end. But…if you can manage to stand outside the house while you're burning it down, sometimes other good things find their way to you. You gotta let 'em, and that ain't easy, cause all along you're thinking…I'm going to let myself want this. I'm going to let myself have this. Love this. And someday it's probably all gonna go to shit too. And yet…you already know you would eat that shit a hundred times over if it meant having the good stuff. But if the house burns down with you in it? You're just a pile of ash, and there's no way forward from that."

She shrugs, and turns to go.

*

Frank nods agreeably enough at her response, then gives her time to work her way through her thoughts. When he doesn't have a particular agenda on the table, he can be quite patient. There's something in the start of her words that causes him to look thoughtful for a moment. Oh yes, the family house may end up burning behind him after he's done with (most of) his list. Still, to his credit, he actually listens. "Yeah. The ones who can hurt you the most, they're the closest ones. The ones to keep around, because they're the ones who you love the most. I'm not lookin' to die just because the ones I loved most did." Did… did Frank and Jess actually just agree on something? Or at least agreeably talk slightly past one another? He nods again, "Sorry to end your investigation before it got goin'. Let me know if something else comes up. Beefcake's got my number." The way he's giving out the number of the burner Babs gave him, he might actually have to leave the battery in it more than five minutes at a time a couple of times a day.

*

"It's fine, I didn't conduct it worth a shit anyway," Jessica admits, rubbing at her head.

Maybe because she's not even sure what she's trying to accomplish with it. The fact is she isn't entirely sure why she agreed with Barbara enough to send Luke out there to go after the Blacksmith. She's still playing catch up on the people he has killed and she certainly doesn't agree with the body count he's racking up. She's killed, but the way he kills is way beyond her lines. And yet it's also not. She's stood by and silently nodded and agreed while Bucky racked up a similar body count. She just happened to agree with all his targets, and he and Jane are just much quieter about it. So she can't entirely judge Frank either. Because they're kid killers, the people he's going after. He holds they killed his kid. And she's really not entirely sure she'd do different.

It's a moral mess. She both is and isn't on his side. She thought she smelled something deeper, something that stank, but maybe it really was the one Unicorn in her job. A coincidence.

"Usually I'm better at it," she mutters. "Guess getting back in the saddle comes with some bumps in the road."

She shoves her hands into the pockets of her jacket, sort of slinking away, cheeks flushing at how she came to pepper him with questions with research behind it that turned out to be pretty half-ass, going off half-cocked in a way she hasn't done…well. Really since she was a rookie, back in 2014. At the scramble in her own brain that continues to insist there is more here without showing her how to get to it, or even why it's important to get to it.

Should have gotten back in the saddle with a simpler, more straightforward, less morally messy case, maybe. Maybe should have stuck to demon punching until I was absolutely sure my fucking brain worked right again.

But she of course shares none of this, adding only, "Take care of yourself, Castle. Be careful, okay?"

Because that's the other thing. She's starting to like the guy too. Which…great. Just great. Things are so much easier when she can just be unequivocally annoyed.

Still, all of this culminates into a detective who is out of his hair in short order, leaping up to the top of the nearest building and striding across it to drop down the other side, disappearing from sight.

*

"You got shot. That gives everyone the jitters the first time it happens." Sometimes, it's possible to see the quality platoon leader that Frank Castle was in the Marines and he sinks back into 'counseling the grunts' mode, "If you need to talk to someone, I might know a guy." Curtis usually talks to vets, but he'd make an exception if Frank asked. There's a little snort of amusement when someone else tells him to be careful, and he just notes, "I'll get the mission done." But then she's… jumping over a building. Frank watches, eyebrows raised, then shakes his head in a cross between amazement and annoyance. Giving Max's leash a little tug back toward the door, he notes, "Come on, Max. Some of us don't have damned super powers and need to actually work."

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