Description: Chasing the biggest bounty of her life, Bulleta tracks Pepper Green down to the small city in Oklahoma where her team's been keeping her out of the public eye while the controversy of commissioning said bounty fades.
It's not uncommon for celebrities, especially young ones, to have some sort of big breakdown that results in them disappearing from the public consciousness. The entertainment industry is built on the backs of picking up young talent, processing it for all it's worse, then spitting the chaff out on the other side. There'd be no surprise if Pepper Green's vacation became permanent after her little explosion during one of the more recent Saturday Night Fights that happened to involve, among other problems, a $1M bounty.
The problems compound because anything involving the Lightning Spangles brand is touchy. The matter involving Jezebel Faiblesse, who has been a curse on the brand for damn near forever is one part, but the more important aspect is that Pepper Green is a walking problem of nuclear levels.
Parents killed coming out to sign the deal to make her the new Lightning Spangles in one of the worst disasters Metro City and the world ever faced. With no family left, an agent was assigned to act as guardian, but nobody wanted to get their hands dirty enough to feel responsible, and the kid had seemed fine... right up until she got put in the same place of Jezebel and the floodgates opened.
At this point, if anything goes wrong enough with Pepper, the number of lawyers who would be champing at the bit to take up her case against everyone involved would be remarkable. And with Pepper's apparent ability to be utterly genuine with whatever she sets her mind to... it's not hard to see a lot of courts siding with an orphaned 14-year-old girl instead of major corporations. And a trial like that would be nothing but bad publicity.
Which is why the decision was made to have Pepper move somewhere more relaxing, far away from all the cameras and spotlight so that she could recover from being "overworked." A simple phrase that usually meant that the celebrity in question hadn't meant to shout racial epithets or get into a fight rather than trying to get someone else killed. As close to relaxing as they could find for Ms. Green was Stillwater, Oklahoma, not too far from where Pepper had grown up in a much smaller town.
Unfortunately, it still wasn't small enough to completely keep gossip journalists from reporting on where she was, but since she'd seemed content to just keep quiet as she shifted almost back to a blank slate, it was easy enough for some bodyguard enforcers to keep a decent bit of distance with the photographers, and she wasn't doing much else to make the pictures worth more day after day.
In fact, she didn't go out much, aside from occasionally getting some food. Silently eating dinner at Barbeque Place, her hair done up with Pepper's usual pair of practical braids, and that same sheepskin coat. Everything about her looks a thousand miles away... which isn't helped by the fact that she's alone at her table, bodyguards set a good distance apart.
Once the word of Pepper Greene's 'vacation' to recover from 'exhaustion' in 'a random city in Oklahoma' made the gossip rags, Bulleta went to work. She'd already tried reaching out through official channels via burner, probing around the subject to take the temperature. Once that didn't work, she turned to social media, dropping a vague message or two about wanting to discuss a Lightning Spangles project from an independent producer as privately as could be managed.
Mercifully, the paparazzi intervened before she could start cold calling rehab centers, just to see. Sleuthing helped from there; wiring money to a greedy gossip monger helped even more, affording the hunter enough information to get a sense of the embattled starlet's habits. She doesn't go out /much/, but she goes out-- and for a woman with dreams of a million dollars dancing in her head, that's plenty.
A tip from her source brings Bulleta to Barbecue Place during Pepper's meal, dressed in a t-shirt with the actress' likeness, a red skirt, and a red headband over her short, blonde hair. After a calculatedly deliberate scan of the restaurant, she stops on Pepper and the thought of what a million dollars could do for her brings a big, beaming smile to her lips. Sucking in a hard, sharp breath, she regards the girl with starstruck eyes, takes a few steps-- pauses-- visibly breathes in to compose herself-- then resumes approaching.
If the bodyguards are at all spottable, her eyes slide their way several times as she goes.
"... god," is softly uttered once she's close enough. "This is-- gosh, this is /so/ embarrassing, but I-- well, I just /love/ your work, and-- oh, /gosh/, you're /here/, you're /right here/, eating barbecue where, where /I/ eat...!" She /tries/ to play it cool as she sputters, but she can't seem to help herself in the presence of THE Lightning Spangles.
It really isn't that hard to notice bodyguards among the rest of the clientele. Even trying to dress casual, they're a little too clean and a little too stiff with everything. L.A. hires trying to do a job that, had people been more willing to go off their usual call list, could have ben locals. No telling if that would have helped keep Pepper's location a secret to begin with, but they'd definitely have stood out less like a sore thumb.
In person, and without everything all the make-up and costuming, Pepper Green is rather clearly her own age and not so much the sparkling showmanship of LIGHTNING SPANGLES. She looks up from her ribs more slowly than the bodyguards shift, with eyes clearly watching the excitable girl and looking quite on-edge.
For her part, Pepper just sits there, letting a faint smile pull at her lips as she puts on a face. It's definitely not LIGHTNING SPANGLES herself, but it's at least the sort of warmth you'd expect from a friendly celebrity who was supposed to be worn down at the moment, but still wants to give it her all.
"If I'm coming back to Oklahoma, I'm going to make sure I get some real food," she says, putting an upbeat and casual tone in her voice. "You can't get anything near this good if you make your way out to the coasts."
The beaming fan lets her smile shrink somewhat once she gets a good look at Pepper's and she hesitates to make much eye contact with her. Real food is, of course, a great excuse to look a tired, famous girl in the eye, though; the quip earns a laugh, a lingering look up, then a self-consciously bitten bottom lip once her eyes inevitably go back down. "Damn right," she murmurs before clearing her throat a bit. "The ribs are so tender, and the /sauce/..."
After a dreamy sigh, she takes another breath to brace herself so she can meet Pepper's eyes again.
"Sorry to, well, uh, /bug/ you and all, but. I just..." She chews on that lip for a beat spent fighting the urge to look away. "You so... well, /brave/, and... oh." A soft exhale ends in brief, sheepish laughter as she digs around the sizable purse hanging from her shoulder. "I should... probably let you /eat/, but... well, I was hoping..."
A phone is brandished, unlocked, and turned towards Pepper. Lowered and tilted just so to ensure that the starlet is the only one who sees the screen:
'My name is Bulleta,' a memo app reads, 'and I'm here about the :dollar_sign: :dollar_sign: :american_flag: :cowboy_hat:'
"... to at least get a picture with you-- maybe have a cup of coffee, after, if you aren't too crazy busy like you totally probably are-- hah. /God/-- my name is B.B., and I swear I'm usually not a total goon..."
'I've got the bitch on the hook; wanna talk?'
It's been made clear that Pepper is exceptional at keeping herself in character whenever she wants to be. All that time being the perfect LIGHTNING SPANGLES. All that time acting as if there was nothing wrong with her. All that time pretending to just be what she needed to be.
And with a glance at the phone, there's not even a hitch of hesitation. The mask on her face stays perfect, despite the imperfections. From the outside, it wouldn't be hard to guess that she was putting on a brighter face for a fan despite not really feeling up to it.
To the bodyguards, everything is going wrong, but none of it is going wrong in the ways that need them to step in to intervene, lest they cause more damage to the image on display.
"Well, the doctor says I ain't supposed to have any coffee at my age, and he'd get real made if I had some while I was supposed to be resting," Pepper says, an appropriate level of apologetic flowing into her voice, "But what sort of Oklahoma girl would I be if I turned down a friendly picture with a local girl?"
The smile is turned up to 'appropriate for photo' levels as she pushes back a layer of weariness. "You can just call me Pepper, if you like, B.B." she says before grabbing one of the paper napkins from the dispenser and reaching into her purse to pull out a pen. "I'm guessin' you'd like an autograph, too. No need to be ashamed about that."
There's a quick scrawl of a 'y' on the napkin, left for a moment as she mumbles under her breath, "Oh... pen's not being friendly." A few test motions are done, as if getting the pen working again, and then she scrawls an autograph all around the previous letter, letting it disappear into the exageratted flow.
Blue eyes flick to the letter for a second. When they return to Pepper, they're brimming with relief-- with /joy/-- she said /yes/!
LIGHTNING SPANGLES is gonna take a picture with her!
B.B.'s smile returns at full blast. The girl scampers and crouches a bit so she's level with Pepper, opens the camera, and brings the phone up into position. Her finger shifts towards the shutter, but a glance towards the screen stops her.
"... aah," she exhales while fussing with a few locks of hair so they lay just right and smoothing a hand over her clothes. Turning her head, leaning at an angle that leaves her near Pepper's ear.
"Dump the tag-alongs," Bulleta whispers, "and we can sit down somewhere."
Once she's looking /just right/ for the 'gram, B.B. shows teeth and starts snapping. "It's /so awesome/ to meet you, Pepper, like, man, god, /god/, you're so /cool/, too," she gushes. Her head shifts this way or that every few pictures in pursuit of the perfect angle. "Like, you always hear about people meeting celebrities, and they're, just, they're so /fake/, and /rude/, and-- well, you're not LIKE that. You're one of the /good/ ones, and that's... just, /wow/. THANK you, Pepper, for being so down to earth! Here--"
A couple of quick swipes brings the memo app back with the keyboard at the ready. The phone is offered to Pepper and she takes the napkin in return.
"You should take one too, I dunno what you're... well, like, you probably don't HAVE a bad side, but..."
The ease with which Pepper shifts back up to full-tilt, friendly celebrity from subdued, but friendly is remarkable. With each layer carefully placed on top of the one beneath it, ready to be drawn back to the 'real' state beneath it. If she weren't already in acting, she'd definitely have the potential for a career in it. If she weren't in acting anymore, she'd probably have potential in the world of crime.
With each photo, Pepper almost effortless matches the intensity on B.B.'s face, creating a perfect complementary expression for the image. It certainly explains a lot about how few stories there are about the new LIGHTNING SPANGLES being rude or fake there have been thus far.
In fact, up until that last SNF fiasco, there wasn't a doubt about her from any respectable source.
"Oh, sure, let me just... ooops, accidentally closed that, how do I get back to the camera?" Fumbling with the phone as if hunting to make someone else's unfamiliar tech work, she manages to fudge out a quick message in the memo app: ':toilet: 10m'
"There we go, looks like I'm all thumbs right now," she says as she raises the phone back up for one last pic, putting on a bright and beaming face before she snaps it and then hands the phone back. "It's been nice talkin' with a fan, B.B. Knowing I've got people like you out there rootin' for me sure cheers me back up."
Like the napkin, B.B. clutches the phone to her chest for a moment after taking it, as if even her /own/ property is more valuable after having been in LIGHTNING SPANGLES' possession, however briefly. Both are dropped into her purse, then she throws an arm around the celeb for an awkward hug. "Selfies've taken down /way/ less cool people than you, it's cool! It's been SO nice meeting you, I-- hoo, I should, uh, probably get a TABLE or something, huh?" She sheepishly laughs as she withdraws, gives a quick wave, then hurries back to the host stand to offer apologies for blowing into the restaurant to bug a customer and beseech a table.
The next nine minutes and thirty seconds are spent ordering, sipping cola, trying not to stare at Pepper, eating onion rings, checking her phone's clock, making a puddle of ranch and ketchup for the rings, eyeing the bodyguards, waiting... waiting...
... and /WAITING/...
... until she finally has to use the restroom.
After checking the stalls with the help of a handy compact mirror, she heads for the sinks and starts washing her hands.
Pepper receives another broad, beaming smile when she eventually arrives, even though her adoring fan is nowhere to be seen.
"Is it real?" Bulleta cuts right to the chase. Eyes locked on Pepper via the mirror, she shakes the water from her hands and reaches for paper towels to dry them. "It's super easy to /say/ you've got a million dollars, but, y'know what they say about believing what you see on TV, and, well. You /are/ an actress." She winks and the smile shrinks. Jittery excitement's cooled to composed professionalism, the girl - /girl/, a few years older than and no taller than Pepper - regarding the LIGHTNING SPANGLES of a new generation as a client now that they're safely ensconced in the ladies room of Barbecue Place.
"You're pretty good, by the way," she idly notes. "I would /watch/ you."
Among the many mistakes that her agency has made is a very simple one that shows just how easy it is to overlook some of the most basic and simple of potential problems.
Every one of Pepper Green's bodyguards is male.
This isn't really an issue until ten minutes later when, mostly finished with her meal, Pepper gets up from her table and starts walking. One of the bodyguards moves closer to check up on the starlet, only to get a quick, dull glare as she says "I need to use the ladies room," accompanied by a motion toward the door.
There's some awkward repositioning as none of them try to draw too much attention to themselves by standing too close to the door or spending too much time staring at it, but Pepper wastes no time disappearing into privacy...
...only to be met by a different sort of very similar bubbling excitement once inside. Only this time, there isn't a waste of a smile on Pepper's face, merely a muted expression. Everything about her stands at a level of peace, waiting until Bulleta settles down.
"...I've got money. They probably rip me off a bit, but not too much. I don't even think they know who's actually supposed to be my guardian," she says, her tone even, a faint hint of sadness in her voice. "It's not hard to save money when you have nothing to spend it on... and people throw it around like it's a band-aid when they feel guilty about things they can't ignore."
"Can you prove it?"
It's hard to tell how much that pang of sadness and Pepper's listless demeanor register with Bulleta, who's drying her hands as casually as one might while discussing shades of lipstick rather than blood money. Paper gets wadded and tossed aside so she can bring the phone back up, hit WorldWarriorStar, and pre-emptively offer some proof of her own, from Jezebel's recent Blue League Pro belt defense:
Seconds after kicking her opponent - Bulleta, wearing a red hoodie and calling herself 'B.B. Hood' - through the roof of a Spangles restaurant, Jezebel breathes hard, teeth rolling over her lips, ceiling tiles falling around her, as she stares up. And she turns back to the camera, to the crew. She stares at them. "What." She threatens. "What's the matter with all you people. What is WRONG with you. Why do you judge me, every time I'm happy? Why do you judge me because someone who NEEDS me is just a little younger than me?" Just a little younger. "I wanted to be a child, I always want to be a child, I always wanted to have a child who would love me as much as I loved her, I always want to be YOUNG. And." She points up in the hole. "I can help her. I can finally help her as only a beautiful, grown woman can. Just like how I helped Hayley, just like how I helped Honoka, how I helped my Fishy Friend Naerose, and just like how I helped Pepper. I love each and every one of them. But now.... now I have someone who loves me back. Loves me for WHO I am. Who can hurt me... who can hurt me as hard as she can."
"She is fuuuuuucked. Up," Bulleta lowly observes during the rant.
The video ends after the rant and Bulleta tips the phone onto its face. Leaning against the counter, she crosses her arms over her chest and studies Pepper for a quiet beat before leaning a little closer. They're alone, sure, but things are best asked quietly, closely:
"She... she really hurt you, didn't she?" the hunter wonders, letting some softness enter her tone. "A million dollars... even for someone who's got it, got it /easy/, that's-- it's a /million dollars/. I saw your match, it was fucking... she messed up, messed /you/ up /bad/. Didn't she?"
Every motion now is crisp and smooth. There's no real energy to anything that Pepper does as she slips her hand into her purse to pull out her phone (trapped in a gaudy LIGHTNING SPANGLES OFFICIAL iPHONE X CASE), and unlocking it with a remarkably long string of motions without even needing to look down at the screen.
No, all of her attention is focused on the offered evidence of Bulleta's own capability.
Twisting it around, it shows a series of bank accounts, the largest of them suggesting that it is locked. The bulk of the rest of them add up in the 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars... the locked account approaches $10M.
"...$25k for a TV episode. Up to $30k for live events. A few thousand for TV fights, even ignoring title fights. Likeness rights for merchandise. If I wanted to do an exclusive birthday party for a Saudi prince I could make more than a million," she says emotionlessly, only a twinge escaping as she adds, "They paid me $5M to make up for the fact that I'll never get to see my parents again..."
The phone is twisted away, a touch reckless compared to her more composed motions before as she slips it back into her purse. "I'd pay every penny to get the heads of those monsters that destroyed Metro City... but my parents wouldn't have even been there if Jezebel wasn't such a waste of life... and if the universe can't seem to actually punish her, then why the hell shouldn't I make sure she gets what she deserves?"
Bulleta scans, listens, adds-- nods, slowly. The smile drops off as Pepper talks about her parents, about Metro City...
"I have family there, y'know," she quietly says. "And I lost someone /I/ loved to a monster too." Both statements are true, even if they don't link up in quite the same way they do for Pepper. A hand goes for Pepper's shoulder as Bulleta shakes her head, and she offers a squeeze-- a /strong/ one, for being as small as she is.
"I'm not saying that I understand," she continues, "because, well, I don't, exactly, how could I? 's your pain, not mine. But: I get wanting to do anything to make the pain a little easier to deal with. Being frustrated because you know the only way to get things done is to do them yourself..." She bites her bottom lip and lowers her eyes for a beat. When they return, a small smile reasserts itself.
"I can't understand what you're going through, but I /can/ help you make it better. /Try/ to, anyway. You saw that shit, she's... I have her. She went a little nuts on me at the end, kicked me because I wouldn't give her what she wanted... but she still wants me. Which means I /have/ her. Which means that now, you have to think - really hard, really carefully - about what she 'deserves', exactly... right?" Both hands brace against the edge of the sink so she can haul herself into a seat upon it. Idly kicking her legs, gesturing around a little with one of her hands, she continues, "You just want her head? I can do that, I can bring it to you. You wanna see it /happen/? I can bring you /her/, and... well. Like I said."
That smile isn't quite so small, all of a sudden.
"You've got options to consider, now. All /kinds/ of options. You don't have to pick 'em today, if you don't wanna. Just know that if you take /too/ long, it's probably just gonna be the head, because /y i k e s/." She tosses her head a little, then adds, "There'd be extra fees and bonuses associated with said options, of course, but it's nothing you couldn't handle."
There's hardly more than brief flickers of emotion from Pepper. Instead she's hardly more than a blank slate in this state, a ready canvas for some new expression as needed. Attempting to comfort her is like trying to comfort a rock for all the response it really gets from the starlet. It's really not that hard to see part of why nobody has ever really bothered to treat her like a grieving child despite all she's been through.
There's something almost unnerving about her. Like she's just shutting down, which must only get worse when she's able to slap on the upbeat mannerisms of LIGHTNING SPANGLES at a moment's notice.
"I don't care," Pepper replies to all the offers, barely giving a shrug of her shoulders. "She's got to be definitely dead, and you'll probably want proof you did it... because I bet when word gets out that Jezebel is dead, if you can't prove it, there will be hundreds of other people trying to claim credit."
Pepper doesn't seem to want - need - comfort, or even to explore more exotic options for punishing her bete noire, so Bulleta lets it go. No point in expending the effort to play to a dead audience, after all.
"Proof's no problem," Bulleta assures with a shrugged shoulder. "Once we're done here, I'll touch base with her, arrange a meeting..."
Her attention turns towards the mirror as she speaks, so she can preen and play with her hair a little. "Just gotta make sure she doesn't try and gimme the Glenn Close..." she adds in a murmur. "How does someone even /get/ like that? Swear to god, I've never..." After a quick shake of her head, she glances over at Pepper. "Lady's in her own goddamn world, it's super weird. Did you /work/ with her? Like, /before/?" Her attention drifts back towards the mirror, her primping; a grimace starts to form after a couple seconds, prompting her to turn her eyes full to the starlet again.
"How am I getting in touch with you? Because I can do this again, but, uh, does either of us really /want/ me to?"
"...The only other time I'd ever seen her in person, she was attacking an Easter Egg hunt at the White House wearing a playboy bunny outfit," Pepper says flatly in response to the inquiry about working with Jezebel before. By the time that Pepper had taken up the mantle, Jezebel had already been on her meteoric fall from grace.
And then a hand is extended. "Give me your phone, I'll put a number in it for you," she says, waiting until it's returned to her hand and quickly putting in her digits, and listing the name as Dawn E. Light before handing it back over, making sure to turn it so that Bulleta can inspect the information first.
And then she turns to the other sink, thoroughly washing her hands. "When it's done, just send me a message 'My Condolences' with a bee Emoji so that I know it's you. We'll sort things out after that," she says as she walks over to quickly use the hand dryer, filling the entire bathroom with the noise.
With sanitary concerns complete, Pepper Green turns toward the door, then pauses. "You might want to wait a minute or two before coming out so that they're not watching the door anymore," she adds, then slips back out into the restraunt, more or less ignoring the bodyguards as she casually drifts back to her table to finish her meal.
The phone is handed over, reclaimed, and slipped into Bulleta's purse. The instructions get a small nod of acknowledgment as she watches Pepper clean up; the warning, nothing at all.
"See you around," she offers with a finger-wave and a smile. "Good luck with your 'exhaustion', comeback, all'a that." A slight pause, the smile shrinks some, and: "Seriously, kid... you look /tired/. Down to the soul." Her tone is sympathetic, for whatever that's even worth coming from her.
And then Pepper's gone, leaving Bulleta to sit, kick her legs, and count the seconds until it's time for B.B. to eat her ribs.
She spends every one of them dreaming about the five most valuable syllables she'll ever text.
Log created on 20:45:08 05/30/2018 by Bulleta, and last modified on 11:43:03 05/31/2018.