Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup (Punisher focus)
Wordcount: This part, 1907
Rating: General for now
Summary: Karen gets to work. Her first source is a fool, her second is distant. She still can't let go of Matt.
“He was huge,” swore the man in the hospital bed. “Six-five, at least. Big scar on his cheek. Long hair. And he kept shouting, ‘I’m the Punisher, I’m the Punisher!’”
Karen scribbled a few words in her book, trying not to roll her eyes. “And did it seem at all strange to you at the time that a fugitive vigilante would announce himself to the entire room and then allow several victims to escape and spread the word?”
Beside her, Ellison stifled a chuckle. The patient looked disappointed; he had probably expected his story to dazzle them. “I got out ‘cos I was fast,” he protested. “And lucky. He fired at me a bunch of times, but he missed.”
Karen leaned back in her chair and raised an eyebrow at Ellison, knowing he would see the evidence without her needing to say it out loud. The physical description alone would have proven that it wasn’t Frank, but she was somewhat insulted on his behalf that anyone would believe the real Punisher could fire repeatedly at a single target and leave him with no worse than a grazed shoulder.
The patient wouldn’t tell them anything about himself or anyone else who had been involved in the firefight, which Karen had expected. She and Ellison found an otherwise empty waiting room and sat down with vending machine coffee, a sacrifice she was willing to make for the sake of the privacy the small room offered over the cafe downstairs.
“I guess this was inevitable,” Karen ventured. “As soon as the underworld caught on, they were going to start playing Punisher with each other. Blame everything on a man who can’t be found and always has a motive, and they think they’ll just get away with it.”
“I take it your plan now is to not let them get away with it?” he said dryly.
She smiled and took a sip from her paper cup. “I’ll need more than this. It’s probably been happening for a while now.” A list of names was already compiling in her mind, people who might have heard something. Aside from the obvious, of course. “Used to know a nurse who worked here,” she mused. “This would have been a good place to start.”
“Maybe it’s still a good place to start. At least the witnesses in here won’t open fire on you for asking questions.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll play it safe.”
He leaned forward on his knees, holding his cup by its top, and turned a steady gaze on her. “Sounds like I’m being dismissed.”
She tried to sound casual. “You’ve got better things to do.”
“And your source won’t show if you’re not alone.” He didn’t wait for a confirmation or denial. “If you get the story, I don’t need to know the how and why, but past experience shows you have a funny definition of playing it safe. Find out what you can about skulls on vests, but if you actually see a skull on a vest, get out of there. I don’t care whose face it’s under. You get out of there.”
They had graduated from flowers in the window to phone calls, but Frank was still reluctant to spend too much time in Karen’s apartment. He hadn’t invited her to his, a nondescript studio in an old but clean building halfway between David’s suburban neighborhood and the ghetto. He wasn’t sure he ever would. These days, his fears that her life was in danger had subsided somewhat, but Karen’s relentless pursuit of justice could endanger more than her life. If she was around Frank for too long, she might take up a burden she couldn’t easily lose. That fear was alive and well.
So when she asked if she could see him, his first question was whether it was important.
“It’s not a social call, if that’s what you’re asking,” she replied. Her voice was dry, and he didn’t enjoy the thought that she was stung by his attitude, but he didn’t backpedal. She agreed to meet him at an industrial port in Queens, one which had a park bench incongruously looking out on one of the city’s worst waterfront views.
It was windy, and Frank saw Karen shivering on the bench and instantly regretted bringing her out here. “Hi,” she said in a small voice.
He didn’t sit down. “You want to go in the van?”
She looked back at the ominous black vehicle he had driven here, and laughed. “How about my car?” she countered, pointing toward a modest sedan parked nearby. Frank thought about her last car, the one he had totalled. This was probably an improvement, but it wouldn’t have the same sentimental value for her.
He got into the passenger’s seat, and waited while she closed her door and straightened her windblown hair, then asked her, “You okay?”
“Yeah. I said so on the phone.”
He didn’t say anything, and before long she gave in and answered the unspoken part of the question. “There’s been some snafu I thought you should know about,” she explained. “Or if you already know about it, maybe you can fill in some gaps for me.”
The snafu didn’t directly involve her, which would have been good news, except that it involved him instead and, as usual, she had picked up the story. Gangsters wearing his trademark, killing each other under his name. “No,” he said when she had finished the tale. “This is the first I’m hearing about it.”
Karen looked faintly surprised. “Really?”
“I been keeping my head down, alright?” He drummed his fingers irritably on the car door. “I thought that’s what you, what everyone wanted me to do. I can’t keep track of what every asshole in this city is doing if I’m trying not to let them drag me back in.”
“But you can’t just ignore this. They’ll drag you back in without ever coming near you.”
She was right, and the urgency in her voice wasn’t unwarranted, but Frank didn’t know what kind of response she wanted. He tried to think of what he would do if Karen was taken out of the equation. It didn’t help. “Kill them all” just put him back in the vicious circle, where there would never be an after.
Finally he leaned his head back and asked, “Can you get me anything on the copycats?”
“Gang affiliations. Territories. Names of survivors.” Her fingers danced restively at her lips. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet. I, uh…” He looked at her squarely. “When I do know, I’m not gonna tell you, alright?”
Karen’s expression tightened, and for a moment he thought she was going to read him the riot act, but instead she gave a single, sharp nod. “You know what’s funny? Definitely not ha-ha funny?” She smiled wearily. “When we first heard about you, we thought you were a Daredevil copycat. A Devil Worshipper, they called them back then.”
Funny or not, he couldn’t help giving her a look of mock offense. “Psh.”
“You did turn out to be quite another thing altogether.” Her voice took on a nostalgic tone as she gazed through the windshield at the bleak grey river. “Speaking of Matt, um…”
“Funeral got a date yet?” Last time they had talked, she had mentioned that preparations were underway. There was a part of Frank that was still aflame with jealousy, to the point that it was hard to distinguish from rage, whenever Murdock’s name came up. The man had never had it easy, but he had protected his people, and Karen had loved him, and now his battle was over. If he had survived, things would have been complicated between them. He hadn’t, though, and Frank wasn’t going to let jealousy win over respect.
Karen looked down, so that her hair hid her face. “Not yet. Foggy talked to Father Lantom yesterday, and Father Lantom won’t do it because he thinks Matt might not be dead.”
Frank set a hard gaze on her and held it there, his hands flexing in his lap. “What do you think?” He gave it a slow count of three, then asked again. “Karen. What do you think?”
“I...I don’t know. I mean, no. It’s impossible. Isn’t it? If this were for the Bulletin I wouldn’t spend five seconds on it, and I can’t be credulous about something just because I want it to be true.” She lifted her head and hugged her midriff. “But I’ve met this priest, and he’s no schmuck either. Maybe he knows something we don’t. Crazy things used to happen around Matt all the time, why should this be any different?”
Unable to remain cold in the face of her distress, Frank reached over the gearshift and took her hand, and she squeezed it tightly without hesitation. “It ain’t impossible,” he offered. “Doesn’t mean you should start planning for it.”
“I just hate not knowing. I’ve been looking forward to this funeral, how sick is that, to look forward to a funeral? But I swear, a little bit of closure would make so much difference. God, can we just go get a coffee? This place is depressing.”
Frank looked around at the drab concrete and featureless parking lot. “Yeah? I thought it was kinda homey.” He buckled his seatbelt. “Just drop me off at my van later.”
She looked calmer once she had started driving, which was probably the real reason she had wanted to move. They talked about Murdock a little, and death, and whether Frank would come to the funeral if there was one. She warned that she wouldn’t be able to sit with him, but seemed relieved when he said he would come regardless.
Instead of finding somewhere indoors to order coffee, she went through a drive-thru, and informed Frank that this was on him, since he still owed her two dollars.
He didn’t remember what she was referring to until he was thumbing through his wallet, and then he let out a deep, genuine laugh. “I thought that was charity, ma’am,” he objected even while handing her the cash so she could pass it through the window.
“I thought you were homeless, sir,” she retorted, but she smiled back at him, giving him her full attention while they idled at the pick-up window. “How are you doing, Frank? Really?”
“Good,” he said after just a second’s hesitation. “Good, y’know, best I could hope for.”
She nodded and reached out for the coffees, handing him one and setting the other in the driver’s side cup holder. “And, fake Punishers notwithstanding, there hasn’t been any trouble?”
“I told you I’m out. I don’t look for trouble.”
“So why did you think we had to meet out at the pier to talk? Was that just for old times’ sake?”
He knew what she wanted him to say: some habits are hard to break, he was being overcautious, next time they would speak over a meal or at her home like civilized people. Instead he kept silent until the question had hung in the air long enough to become rhetorical, and then he said, “Lemme know when you got anything more on this. I’ll come pick it up from you, if that’s easier.” He looked out the window, away from her. “And keep me in the loop about that funeral.”