Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup (Punisher focus)
Wordcount: This part, 1762
Rating: General for now
Summary: It's Karen's turn for a talk with Matt's priest. Jessica begins work for Foggy, but...something's up. Is something up? It seems like maybe something is up.
Karen tried the church’s front door and found it unlocked; she knew that was customary for this time of day, but it still felt like the sign she had wanted, that she was welcome here in spite of everything. There was a special quality to the silence of the place, as if the noise and bustle of New York was held back by an invisible shield, and she understood why churches were traditionally considered sanctuaries.
She hadn’t made an appointment and she wasn’t even sure how to find Father Lantom here, but if she didn’t end up seeing him, she could still use the opportunity for a few minutes of quiet reflection. She walked down the center aisle and slid into a pew, the same one where she had sat with Foggy and Matt for Grotto’s funeral. The faint aroma of incense filled her nose, and she fixed her eyes on the faint twinkle of the offertory candles, realizing gradually that she was drawn to their red glass holders. Had anyone ever told Matt that they looked like his glasses?
Barely a minute had passed when she heard the front door opening behind her. Karen stood up to greet the priest, but turned to see an unfamiliar woman there instead.
“Oh,” said the stranger. “I didn’t realize anyone else was here. I was looking for Father Lantom?”
As they spoke, they crossed the short distance toward each other, meeting near the middle of the aisle. “So was I,” Karen replied. “But it’s not urgent, don’t let me get in your way.”
The woman looked concerned. She was about Karen’s age and almost as tall, but broad-shouldered and heavy, with kindness written on her face and a cheerfully patterned dress. “Were you praying for someone? They do daily rosary sessions here. Anyone can join.”
Karen flushed. “Oh, no, I’m -- I’m not even Catholic, I’m just here to -- I guess I was praying for someone, yeah.”
The big woman nodded. “Sometimes I just want to be alone to ask God to watch over my friend. He always seems like he’s in danger, but he only thinks about protecting me.”
Hearing such open-hearted good will swept Karen’s embarrassment away. She smiled ruefully. “I have a friend like that too.” If she asked God to watch over Frank, she wondered, would He listen?
Father Lantom’s voice came from the nave’s side door, rerouting her thoughts from the dark path they had been about to take. “Can I help you, ladies?”
“Hi, Father,” beamed Karen’s new friend. “I have the, um, delivery? It’s in my car?”
He came toward them, slow and dignified in his black clothing. “Thank you, Betsy. If you take it around the back, someone will be there to receive it.” He turned to Karen. “And are you here for the same reason, Miss Page?”
She blinked. “What? No, we didn’t come together.” She lifted a hand to wave to the other woman, who had nodded politely to them both and was headed toward the door that Father Lantom had come from. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Miss Page,” said Betsy.
Karen didn’t have the chance to fit in an introduction with her first name before Betsy was gone, so she turned back to Father Lantom and lowered her voice. “Foggy told me about how he met with you -- what you said -- and I was just wondering if you had a minute?”
He studied her face for a moment before answering. “Would you like to go to my office? When your friend came I had a latte for him, but I’m afraid the machine isn’t working properly today.”
“Thank you, but I’d prefer to stay in here, if that’s alright.” Sanctuary, the back of her mind whispered. He nodded, and she sidestepped into the nearest pew. Father Lantom sat down beside her and said nothing, clearly waiting for her to explain her reasons for coming.
She took a deep breath. “You said you think Matt may still be alive. Why?”
“I believe in many things that can’t be proven, Miss Page. Since first meeting Matthew, I’ve seen him engaged with the extraordinary, time and again. It’s enough to leave anyone with reasonable doubt.”
“So you haven’t...seen anything?” she pressed. “Heard anything? You’re just going by a theory that he can dodge death because he’s extraordinary?”
Lantom looked up at the altar, or the crucifix hanging over it, before answering. “I know it’s caused some hardship for you and his other loved ones, that I refuse to hold his funeral here. I am sorry for that. If the time comes that I can verify that Matthew is no longer with us, I give you my word, he will have the proper rites and observances.”
Karen’s hopes had been so flimsy to begin with that it was barely even disappointing to let go of them. She bit her lip. “This is probably a stupid question…”
“I can all but guarantee I’ve heard stupider. Go on.”
“Okay, so, if Matt is dead, and he hasn’t had a funeral, does that change anything for the state of his soul?” It wasn’t her faith, but it had been Matt’s, and she couldn’t bear the thought of dismissing what he would have wanted. “Can he still, um, go to Heaven?”
His answer came without hesitation. “You don’t need to have any fear on that count.”
“Thank you,” said Karen, and then repeated, “Thank you. I can’t say I believe what you do, what Matt did, but I like to think he’s looking down on us.” She dropped her eyes to her lap, threading her fingers together. “Maybe he’s seeing my face for the first time.”
“That’s a good thought, isn’t it?” He smiled, which was something she hadn’t seen him doing too much. Every time she had met him, it had been funeral-related, and he had been accordingly somber. “You know you’re welcome here at any time, Miss Page. You don’t have to be a card-carrying believer to take comfort in the memory of your friend.”
Her reflex was to think about what he didn’t know about her, and how he would certainly take a different stance if he did. But Foggy had told her what Father Lantom had said about Frank, and it only made sense to apply it to herself as well. She expelled her guilt in a puff of breath and smiled back at him. “Sinners don’t get turned away, right? Even the front-page, terror of the town kind of sinners?”
His expression darkened again. “They don’t get written off, either. If you know any, I’d be glad to talk it out with them.”
Karen closed her eyes against the soft lights and ornate iconography around her. There was no chance that she could convince Frank to come here and get some counseling from a Catholic priest. It was enough, or it should be, that he would be allowed in for the funeral, if it ever happened.
Before she left St. John of the Cross, she lit a candle, as she had every time she had come here. The red glass reminded her of Matt again, but when the flame on the wick came too close to her finger and burned her, she thought of Frank.
Jessica’s technique for tracking criminals differed in a few significant ways from tracking unfaithful spouses, but when she began to witness signs of actual crime from the people she had been following, she knew she was getting closer.
It was dark by that time, but she hadn’t brought her camera along anyway. She wasn’t likely to see anyone in a Punisher vest until her three current targets had revealed a little more about where he was operating. They had been in a bar for hours, and she had been sitting nearby making the best of the situation as they covered various topics, all of them inane and useless to Jessica. Finally, she had seen another man approach their table and sit down to count a roll of bills that they slid over to him. She couldn’t hear what he said to them, but it made all three nod at each other and get up to leave just a few minutes later.
They took a route through the back alleys, so it was easy for Jessica to stay out of their sight, but harder to make sure that they remained in hers. These particular alleys were the kind strewn with trash between the dumpsters, and no windows to stream down any light -- truly private, because nobody would be there out of their own choice.
She scrambled up a fire escape when the trio stopped at an intersection to wait, and managed to situate herself almost directly above them, close enough to hear them complaining about the smell of the garbage and speculating that the ones they were waiting for wouldn’t even show.
Before long, though, three more strangers stepped cautiously into the intersection. Everyone faced each other with hands hovering at their hips, and one of the newcomers broke the silence by asking, “The big noise couldn’t join you tonight, huh?”
“Count yourself lucky,” said one of the men from the bar. “Punisher don’t come out just to talk.”
Jessica instantly took out her phone and set it to record, cursing herself for not being ready with it. She hadn’t expected the name to come up so quickly.
But before any new revelations came out, all six men were moving on, spurred by the sudden appearance of headlights in the alley crosswise from Jessica’s position. She cursed and checked for a path that would keep her concealed. The shadows were darkest on the roof across from her, but she wasn’t sure she could get there without a flying leap, which would mean a loud landing.
As she was scoping it out, something moved out of those shadows and then back into them. She registered that it was a distant human figure, parkouring along the buildings like she was, but couldn’t glean any details except that it seemed to be a fit young male.
And one more thing. He was wearing some kind of unusual, tight outfit, with a hat or a helmet that had two pointed protrusions in the front. The night made it colorless, but her subconscious mind instantly informed her that it would be red.
She shook her head to clear out the preconceptions. “Pull yourself together, Jones,” she muttered to herself. “Not supposed to be ghost hunting, here.”